0PP0RTUNITY AND NEED
Proud of employment, willingly I go. ( Boyet, Love's Labour's Lost)
It is reasonable to think that at about the age of 15 or 16 Shakespeare helped his father, and that for an interlude he even found alternative employment. In the seventeenth century, John Aubrey was by no means certain that Ben Jonson's report of the Stratford poet's 'small' Latin could be valid. 'He understood Latine pretty well', Aubrey wrote of Shakespeare, 'for he had been in his younger yeares a Schoolmaster in the Countrey.' 1 This is a fairly well authenticated report. Using living sources of information, Aubrey was told of the schoolmastering by William Beeston, whose father Christopher Beeston the player had been a member of Shakespeare's company and had acted with him in Ben Jonson Every Man in his Humour. Memories were long in the profession of the stage, in which recruitment was largely a matter of hereditary castes, and the elder Beeston had been an early member of the Lord Chamberlain's men. The 'Schoolmaster' report is not particularly surprising, unlikely, or merely gossipy.
At 15 or 16 William knew ' Latine pretty well', though with no other qualification he can hardly have begun as a grammar-school master. Unless he taught as an unlicensed teacher for a private employer, he would have needed a licence to be a schoolmaster, and no licence (or record of one) has come to light in his case. Most boys on leaving school either helped their fathers or contracted out, usually after paying a fee to be seven-year apprentices, and there was an exodus from