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William from school to assist him in his business. At the early age of eighteen he married Anne Hathaway, the daughter of an old friend of his father, who lived in the picturesque hamlet of Shottery, about a mile from Stratford. She was older by six years than her husband; but there is no good reason for believing that the marriage was other than a happy
He had three children, Susannah, Judith, and Hanmetthe two last being twins. Hanmet died early. In less than four years
after bis marriage, when he was twenty-two years of age-a young husband and a young father—he resolved to go to London to push his fortune. There he began to alter the rude historical dramas then on the stage. Afterward he produced those grand original plays known like ' household words' to the whole civilised world. He soon came under the notice of Queen Elizabeth, and contracted many valuable friendships among courtiers and literary men, by all of whom he seems to have been admired and loved. He appears at this time to have worked so industriously as to produce a play, on an average, every six months; and this continued for twenty years. He and his friend Burbage, the player, were almost entire owners of the Blackfriars Theatre, and held shares in the Globe also. After twelve or fourteen years of persevering industry in London, Shakespeare found himself the possessor of handsome means, which continued steadily to increase till, there is every reason to believe, he had an income of not less than 1,5001. a year in modern money. Now he began to turn his face back to his native town. He bought the best house in Stratford, called the New Place, and shortly afterwards seven acres of land adjoining. He settled there, and, with the exception of a few visits to London, and the reception of some of his closest friends, such as Ben Jonson, at Stratford, he seems to have lived the life of a country gentleman. Shakespeare had no old age. He had barely reached his fifty-third year when he died. Within a month of his death he had declared himself, in his will, to be in perfect health and memory, God be praised !' And who had ever done so much good, at the age of fifty-three years, in elevating and refining the world which was to live after him ?
This is not the place to make remarks upon the works or genius of England's greatest poet. He is his own best eulogist. Read him and see how true one of his own wise sayings appears : ‘One touch of nature makes the whole world kin. The man is forgotten in his works. He is never himself, but is sunk in his characters. Macbeth, Hamlet, Shylock, Bottom, Falstaff, Coriolanus, and Caliban, are all living characters independent of Shakespeare. He turned all he touched to gold. A genial biographer says: “He takes no trouble to invent a plot. A halfpenny ballad told the “Pityfull Historie of Two Loving Italians,” or “of a Jew who would for his Debt have a Pound of the Flesh of a Christian,” or “of the Moorish Captain and the Merchant's Daughter," and Shakespeare, by a magic alchemy, transmuted them into Romeo and Juliet, Shylock, and Othello!' His writings may be divided into five classes, viz. :—Comedies, such as Midsummer Night's Dream,' "The Merry Wives of Windsor,' 'Much Ado about Nothing,' &c. Tragi-Comedies, as Merchant of Venice, Measure for Measure,' &c. Romantic Dramas, as "The Tempest,' "As You Like It,' &c. Tragedies, as 'Hamlet,' Macbeth,' and 'Julius Cæsar. Historical Plays, as 'Richard III., *King John,' &c. Besides his plays he wrote two poems, Venus and Adonis, and the ‘Rape of Lucrece,' and a number of beautiful sonnets. He died on April 23, 1616, and was buried on the 25th,
in the chancel of Stratford church. Had it been known to his contemporaries whom the world was losing,
Dear son of Memory, great heir of Fame, we should have had fuller particulars of his life and death.
ARGUMENT OF THE PLAY.
The father of a beautiful Italian lady, called Portia, had decreed by his will that a husband should be chosen for his daughter in the following manner. He caused to be placed in Belmont, Portia's palace, three caskets : one of gold, bearing the inscription, Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire ; ' another of silver, inscribed with the words, 'Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves ; ' a third of lead, with the words on it, - Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath.' Suitors for the heiress' hand were to make choice of one of these, and he who chooses the one with Portia's portrait in it will be the successful suitor. Portia herself says of this arrangement, 'I may neither choose whom I would, nor refuse whom I dislike ; so is the will of a living daughter curbed by the will of a dead father; is it not hard ?' Suitors come from all parts, and among others the Prince of Morocco and the Prince of Arragon, who choose the golden and silver caskets, and are unsuccessful. At last comes a young Venetian called Bassanio, who makes choice of the leaden casket, and so gains Portia for his wife. Bassanio is of noble birth, but poor. To carry out the arrangements for his wedding he goes to his friend Antonio, a rich merchant of Venice, and asks him for a loan. Antonio, however, has not the money at present, although he has many richly-laden merchant ships homeward bound. He goes to Shylock, a rich Jew, and borrows three thousand ducats for his friend; and the Jew, seemingly in sport, asks as security a pound of Antonio's flesh. The Jew hates Antonio for his frank and generous nature, and hopes by this means to accomplish his death. While Bassanio and Portia are happy at Belmont news comes to them that all Antonio's argosies have been wrecked, and that Shylock is demanding the “forfeiture of his bond.' The generous Portia sends her husband to Venice to offer thrice the sum of the Merchant's debt, and at the same time follows him with her maid Nerissa, and appears in the court where the trial is going on, dressed as a young Doctor of Laws. She tries in the most beautiful and persuasive words to ósoften his Jewish heart,' she offers him thrice his money—and at last, when she sees that no appeal to his humanity can touch him, she utters her last alternative. Shylock's claim is a just one, he is entitled to a pound of Antonio's flesh, but
• This bond doth give thee here no jot of blood;
This of course is unanswerable, and Shylock departs, outwitted and ruined.
This selection is made to show the good and evil influences at work in the play:
CHARACTER OF PORTIA.
* Portia is endued with her own sbare of those delightful qualities which Shakespeare has lavished on many of his female characters ; but besides the dignity, the sweetness, and tenderness which should distinguish her sex generally, she is individualised by qualities peculiar to herself: by her high mental powers, her enthusiasm of temperament, her decision of purpose, and her buoyancy of spirit.
* But all the finest parts of Portia's character are brought to bear in the trial scene. There she shines forth, all her divine self. Her intellectual powers, her elevated sense of religion, her high honourable principles, her best feelings as a woman, are all displayed. She maintains at tirst a calm self-command, as one sure of carrying her point in the end !
• Yet the painful, heart-thrilling uncertainty in which she keeps the whole court, until suspense verges upon agony, is not contrived for effect merely; it is necessary and inevitable. She has two objects in view-to deliver her husband's friend, and to maintain her husband's honour by the discharge of his just debt, though paid out of her own wealth ten times over.
• It is evident that she would rather owe the safety of Antonio to anything rather than the legal quibble with which her cousin Bellario has armed her, and which she reserves as a last resource.' -Mrs. Somerville's Characteristics of Women.
CHARACTERS IN THE SELECTION.
BASSANIO, friend of Antonio.
PORTIA, an Heiress.