This handsomely illustrated biography provides a dramatic, human view of Shakespeare as he lived his life. Narrative and pictures follow Shakespeare from his birth and boyhood in Stratford, through his career in the London theatre, and back to Stratford during the last years of his life, in retirement. Included in the 114 illustrationsmany of them taken from sixteenth- and seventeenth-century originalsare two authentic portraits of Shakespeare. Pictures of the houses in which he lived, the theatres in which he acted, the other actors with whom he worked, and the faces of many people who knew him and wrote about himall add a sense of immediacy to the biographical narrative and make Shakespeare come alive within the context of his own age.
Originally published in 1967.
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Shakespeare's Life and Times
A Pictorial Record
By Roland Mushat Frye
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 1967 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
Portraits of Shakespeare
1. Shakespeare's Bust in Stratford
The story of a great man's life tells us much about him, but we also wish to know, if we can, what he looked like, so that we may visualize him as we read his biography. Fortunately, we have two authenticated likenesses of Shakespeare, of which the earliest is the memorial bust in his native parish church in Stratford-upon-Avon. The second portrait is the engraving on the title page of the first collected edition of the plays, which was published seven years after his death and which is reproduced elsewhere in this book. (See frontispiece and Fig.
114.) In that edition of the plays, Leonard Digges wrote a poem "To the Memory of the Deceased Author Master William Shakespeare" in which he referred both to Shakespeare's works and to the sculptured portrait over the tomb in Stratford:
Shakespeare, at length thy pious fellows give
The world thy Works: thy Works, by which,
Thy Tomb thy name must: when that stone
And Time dissolves thy Stratford monument,
Here we alive shall view thee still. This book,
When brass and marble fade, shall make thee
Fresh to all ages.
We know, then, that the monument was completed no later than seven years after Shakespeare's death.
2. Shakespeare's Bust, Another View
The Shakespeare monument was executed in Gloucestershire limestone by Gheerart Janssen (anglicized as Gerard Johnson), an Anglo-Flemish tomb-maker whose shop in Southwark was within a block or two of the Globe Theatre, so that he had presumably seen Shakespeare in the flesh many times. We have no comment as to how closely the figure represents Shakespeare's appearance, but Shakespeare's wife and children were sufficiently satisfied with it to have had it installed in the church. After the fashion of those times, it was placed on the wall of the church, while the grave itself was under the floor.
The monument was originally painted to represent Shakespeare's complexion, but with the passing years the original paint was chipped or worn down, and in the eighteenth century the monument was entirely repainted in "good stone color," to fit the classical tastes of that century. The present colors date only from a repainting of 1861, and are of little or no value.
There is a description of Shakespeare by one of his friends in the London theatrical world, Christopher Beeston, who told his son that Shakespeare "was a handsome, well-shaped man: very good company, and of a very ready and pleasant smooth wit."
3. The Memorial Inscription
There are two inscriptions on Shakespeare's monument, one written in English and the other in Latin. Like the comment of Digges, both inscriptions refer us beyond Shakespeare's effigy to his writings. The English inscription declares of Shakespeare's fame and worth as a writer that his
name doth deck this tomb Far more than cost: see, all that he hath writ Leaves living art but page to serve his wit.
And the Latin inscription describes him in terms of the great figures of classical literature:
A Nestor in judgment, a Socrates in genius,
a Virgil in art:
The earth covers him, the people mourn him,
and Olympus has him.
As the monument was erected by Shakespeare's family, the Latin inscription is most likely the work of his son-in-law, Dr. John Hall.
4. The Chandos Portrait
The Stratford monument and the Folio engraving of 1623 certainly represent Shakespeare. Many other portraits have been claimed as likenesses, but of these the Chandos portrait shown here has the best credentials. Once owned by the Duke of Chandos, from whom it takes its name, its ownership may be traced through Thomas Betterton, the Restoration actor and authority on Shakespeare's life, to Sir William Davenant, who was Shakespeare's godson. Davenant, Betterton, and Dryden all evidently regarded the portrait as a painting of Shakespeare, and it may be that they were right, though it is by no means certain.CHAPTER 2
5. The Pleasant Town of Stratford-upon-Avon
Stratford was the place of Shakespeare's burial, as it was of his birth, and since his own time it has been closely associated with him in the popular mind. Less than a dozen years after the publication of Digges's poem on Shakespeare's works and his Stratford monument, it was apparent that the monument was a tourist attraction. In the late summer of 1634, a Lieutenant Hammond wrote of Stratford that "in the church in that town" there was "a neat monument of that famous English poet, Mr. William Shakespeare, who was born here," while in 1630 an earlier writer described Stratford as "a town most remarkable for the birth of famous William Shakespeare." Close personal friends and associates of Shakespeare seem to have thought of him almost instinctively in relation to Stratford-upon-Avon. Ben Jonson thus referred to him as "sweet swan of Avon," while John Lowin, who acted in many of his plays and was his business associate in the Globe Theatre, applied the same words to him. Sir William Davenant, who from his earliest childhood had known Shakespeare, wrote that at his death each flower on the banks of the Avon hung its head in mourning, while the river wept itself dry, to show its loss. Shakespeare's own close and lasting attachment to his native town will become clear as the story of his life unfolds.
6. A Church of England Baptism
Shakespeare's birth date is not recorded in Stratford, but his baptismal date is, for in the sixteenth century the date of baptism was considered far more important than the date of birth. The parish register of Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, notes that on April 26, 1564, William Shakespeare was christened in the church, and since christening usually took place within a few days after the birth, the birthday has been generally assumed to be April 23. Though merely an arbitrary choice, this date does provide a nice symmetry to Shakespeare's life, for he died on this same date, fifty-two years later, April 23, 1616.
Shakespeare was the first son and third child in a family of eight children born to John Shakespeare (d. 1601) and his wife Mary Arden Shakespeare (d. 1608). John Shakespeare's family were yeomen, while Mary Arden's people were an ancient family of landed gentry, and Mary's father had been landlord to John's father. The marriage of yeomen into the gentry was not uncommon in sixteenth-century England, especially when the yeoman involved was so obviously a rising man as was the young John Shakespeare.
7. Shakespeare's Boyhood Home
Shakespeare's parents owned this house at the time of his birth, and he was presumably born here. During this period Stratford was a prosperous country village of some 1,500 inhabitants, living in 200 or more houses. Such a town would compare to London in Shakespeare's day as an American city of 100,000 would compare to Washington and New York today.
The town records show John Shakespeare's increasing prominence in Stratford affairs, as he was elected to the most important offices, including that of mayor. Some people today love to draw a picture of Shakespeare's father as an illiterate, but the Stratford records do not support this charge. It is true that the elder Shakespeare seems persistently to have signed his name with a mark, but this was a common practice followed by many Elizabethans who could write perfectly well. If we wish to know whether John Shakespeare was literate, we had best look elsewhere for more conclusive evidence, and this we have in the fact that he was not only elected but reelected town chamberlain, with responsibility for keeping all the records and accounts. Had he been illiterate, the town council might just conceivably have made the mistake of electing him chamberlain or secretary-treasurer once (though even this is unlikely), but it is quite inconceivable that they would have reelected him.
8. Religious Art Defaced by Shakespeare's Father
While John Shakespeare was acting as chamberlain, it was decided by the town corporation of which he was a member that the wall paintings in the Guild Chapel should be plastered over, as they smacked too much of "popery" for the protestant Church of England. Exercising his official responsibility for supervision of town property, John carried out the task thoroughly, and reported that the medieval paintings were no longer visible as of January 10, 1564. The picture here shows what was left of the saints' images (telling the story of Saint Helena and the true cross) after John Shakespeare's plaster was removed in the nineteenth century.
In 1565 John was also charged with the responsibility of seeing to the repair of the schoolmaster's house, and at a somewhat later time with selecting a new schoolmaster for Stratford. In 1568 he was elected bailiff or mayor of Stratford, a position of much prestige and one which automatically entitled him to a coat of arms had he wished to pursue his application, which at this time he did not do. As bailiff, he paid four shillings to a group of strolling actors for performing in Stratford. At the time, William Shakespeare was five years old. If he saw the play, it was presumably his first contact with the stage, but during the following years there were a number of such performances in Stratford.
9. A Merchant Displays his Wares
Stratford was a market town for its region in Warwickshire, and as such enjoyed considerable prosperity. As a tradesman, John Shakespeare would lay out his wares in much the same fashion as is shown in this picture, using his house and the street in front of it. Referred to by his fellow townsmen as a glover and leather-dresser, and as a dealer in wool and farm produce, John seems to have been a typical small-town entrepreneur. He enjoyed an apparently growing prosperity for a number of years, but from 1577 until his death in 1601 his fortunes went into a decline from which he was rescued only by the success of his dramatist son.
William Shakespeare was at the impressionable age of fourteen when his father's financial difficulties became apparent in the records. In 1578 the father paid no poor tax, a clear sign of trouble, and the evidence increased as the years passed. He ceased to attend meetings of the Stratford Council, of which he had been so diligent a member; he mortgaged some property, and sold part of his wife's share in her inherited estate; he was cited to come before the court of Queen's Bench to provide surety that he would keep the peace, and when he failed to appear was very heavily fined. By 1587 he was replaced as alderman because he would not come to meetings and had not come for a long time. His absenteeism extended to church, and in September 1592 he was listed for failure to attend church — a legal fault in an age when church attendance was required by statute. It has sometimes been claimed that the elder Shakespeare stayed away from Church of England services because he was a Roman Catholic, or because he was a Puritan, but the evidence is against such claims. The official records state that John Shakespeare was absent "for fear of prosecution for debt." We cannot know definitely the root cause of his difficulties, but the story reminds us of the classic decline of the alcoholic.
10. Stratford's School and its Chapel
The Stratford Guild Chapel is shown on the corner of the street in this picture. It was here that John Shakespeare plastered over the medieval paintings of saints, and it was here that William Shakespeare would have attended worship services every day as a Stratford schoolboy. The Stratford Grammar School was located in the half-timbered houses just beyond the chapel, and beyond the school are the quarters provided by the town for its poor. The school was located a few blocks from Shakespeare's boyhood home on Henley Street, and there may be a note of personal reminiscence in the lines Shakespeare later wrote about
the whining school-boy, with his satchel And shining morning face, creeping like snail Unwillingly to school.
Shakespeare probably entered this school at the age of six or seven.
11. Elizabethan Schoolboys Reciting in Class
In Elizabethan grammar schools the grammar studied was Latin, not English. Before entering a grammar school a boy had already learned to read and write English, and was prepared to go on to a rigorous training in Latin, with a great deal of systematic drill not only in Latin grammar but also in logic, rhetoric, composition, versifying, and public speaking — all in Latin. Boys of all ages studied together and recited in the same room, under a Latin master, as shown in this Elizabethan print. The teachers at Stratford-upon-Avon in Shakespeare's school days were exceptionally well prepared, all holding both bachelor's and master's degrees from Oxford University, and they were attracted by a salary equal to that paid at Eton and other leading schools. The Stratford school in Shakespeare's youth was as good as any school in England, and far better than most. Here Shakespeare would come to know quite well such classical writers as Terence, Cicero, Virgil, Horace, Juvenal, Martial, Seneca, and the Ovid who remained such an obvious favorite during his own active career as a writer. Authorities on the history of education agree that Shakespeare was well prepared by this Stratford curriculum to go on to his own creative work in later years. There is also an ancient tradition, better founded than most such traditions, that before he moved to London and his theatrical career he had himself worked as "a schoolmaster in the country."
12. A Water Pageant for Queen Elizabeth
IN Elizabethan England schoolboys did not give over their entire time to study any more than boys do today. There were many other interesting things to do. In 1575, for example, the Earl of Leicester staged a spectacular water-pageant for the entertainment of Queen Elizabeth at his great Kenilworth estate. Kenilworth was only a dozen miles northeast of Stratford, and as people from miles around came to see the entertainment, it may well be that the eleven-year-old Shakespeare was present at this spectacle. Shakespeare the dramatist later referred in two of his plays to such a pageant — once in Midsummer Night's Dream (2. 1. 155-65) and again in Twelfth Night (1.2. 15), where the reference is specifically to "Arion on a dolphin's back," one of the striking features of the Kenilworth production.
The picture shown here is of a similar entertainment arranged for Elizabeth in 1591 at Elvetham by the Earl of Hertford.
13. Anne Hathaway's Home
This is the house of Richard Hathaway, a well-to-do farmer of Shottery, a village about a mile from Stratford. On September 1, 1581, Richard Hathaway made his will, and in it he indicated that his daughter Anne was already engaged and that her marriage was expected soon. In Elizabethan times marriages were legally recognized when they were entered into by the vows of bride and groom with the consent of their parents, usually taken before witnesses of family and friends. It was often only at a later time that the marriage was solemnized in the church. Ecclesiastical law, dating well back into the Middle Ages, forbade the solemnizing of marriages during certain prohibited seasons of the year (Advent and Lent), so that in 1582 it was virtually impossible for a couple to be married between December 2, 1582, and April 7, 1583.
Excerpted from Shakespeare's Life and Times by Roland Mushat Frye. Copyright © 1967 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents
- Frontmatter, pg. 1
- CONTENTS, pg. 6
- PREFACE, pg. 8
- ACKNOWLEDGMENTS, pg. 9
- Portraits of Shakespeare, pg. 12
- Stratford-Upon-Avon, pg. 16
- Early Years in the Theatre, pg. 26
- The Plague Years and the Narrative Poems, pg. 35
- Later Years in the London Theatrical World, pg. 40
- In the Reign of King James I, pg. 80
- Retirement and Last Years, pg. 104
- BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE, pg. 115
- NOTES ON ILLUSTRATIONS, pg. 116
- INDEX, pg. 120