TO GRAMMAR SCHOOL
Sweet smoke of rhetoric! ( Don Armado, Love's Labour's Lost)
John Shakespeare knew his advantages well enough to take large risks in the early 1570s, and he won local notoriety as an entrepreneur. Once he was accused of illegally sharing in a joint purchase of 200 tods (5,600 lb.) of wool. Even before applying for a coat of arms, he must have looked with immense hope to his son and heir. As a deputy bailiff, he was unlikely to have sent William to any school but the borough one, the only grammar school for miles around. This was the King's New School on Church Street -- scriveners refer to it as the 'free scole' or 'Kynges ffree Schoole'. Its registers are missing, but Nicholas Rowe writes in 1709 that 'Mr. John Shakespear' was a 'considerable Dealer in Wool' who bred William 'for some time at a Free- School' -- and, though he was not always reliable, we have no reason to discredit Rowe's words in this instance. 1 Much more direct, certain evidence that William was in grammar school comes from his plays. The Latin authors he recalls are mainly those he would have studied in class -- the 'grammar gods' -- and since the school was open to sons of burgesses, he would have been enrolled in 1571, when he was 7.
Stratford classes before William's time, and down to the present day, have met in what borough records call 'the chapel!' -- that is within the chapel precincts, either inside or close to the Gild hall. That hall was the seat of the town government, and William was schooled within a few yards of the annexe in which his father met with other aldermen. Formerly pupils had convened in 'Scholehows' (or