« 上一頁繼續 »
from home of any professional man, an officer in the army or the navy. At all events, tradition informs us that he frequently visited Stratford, which is extremely unlike the conduct of a husband utterly alienated from his wife; and we know, from his purchases of land, that his thoughts were centered in his native town. Tradition always needs some fact in confirmation, and here we have one of strong corroboration.
But we have nothing to substantiate the supposition that he was not attended by his wife and children. In the early part of this volume I ventured to doubt it; and I have since found that the writer in the London and Westminster Review thinks it probable his family lived with him in his house in Southwark, and his occasional visits to Stratford were for his purchases of land, and other matters; his love, for instance, of his parents, brothers, and sisters. There is nothing, to my observation, against this probability except that, in 1596, his only son, a boy about twelve years old, was buried at Stratford. For this, however, many causes may be assigned, and one in particular ; the boy's ill health might have been, naturally enough, a reason for his being conveyed into the country, and placed under the charge of his grandfather. Combatting against groundless surmises, it is but common justice to state conjectures drawn from every-day occurrences in families.
In respect to the fact of no more children having been born after a certain date, “ clearly proving” that a separation of man and wife must have taken place at that date, I have nothing to say. It is unworthy
of comment, though not of a smile at Mr. Moore's experienced reasoning.
Never for a moment did I entertain a suspicion of an "unfriendly feeling” towards his wife in Shakespeare's Will. As such a suspicion has latterly been too much promulgated, my fear is that any interpretation of so inartificial a nature as mine, so free from eloquent appeals, may not satisfy every one; though it has always appeared plain and without difficulty to myself. With this fear I proceed, carefully as I
can, first stating the facts that have given rise to the suspicion.
His wife was in no way alluded to when the Will was first drawn out. All his lands and personal effects, with few exceptions, appear to have been bequeathed between his two married daughters. Afterwards, interlineations were made, leaving trifling sums to his friends, or, as he calls them, his fellows," Heminge, Burbage, and Condell, “to buy them rings ;” and this Item was also interlineated, “I give unto my wife my second best bed with the furniture.”
Well ! there was already a sufficient provision made for the wife, which may properly be presumed, and for which tolerable evidence can be adduced, quite strong enough for the occasion.
Every bequest and every condition in the Will, we may imagine, were made with the wife's knowledge and consent. She, being provided for, could not but be pleased at the division of the bulk of his property between her daughters. Had the property been left out of the family, we might have imagined otherwise. But,
after reading over the Will, preparatory to signing, the testator thought, or it was suggested to him, that some mention of his wife ought to be made, with some memorial for her. When appealed to for her choice of a memorial, she fixed on a particular bed, which happened to be known in the house, and, consequently, must be so designated, as the “ second best bed.” Upon which the bequest, her own choice, was interlined. Such is my interpretation; which, of course, rests much on the probable evidence I can produce of a sufficient provision having been made for her.
In the first place, it was likely she possessed property in her own right, as the daughter of a substantial yeoman; but on that it is not necessary wholly to insist. In his Will every thing he possessed seems specified, with the exceptions of the copyright of his works, or his share of it, and his shares in the theatre. For whose benefit were they? We cannot believe that he had disposed of his interest in the theatre when he retired to Stratford, because we have proofs to the contrary in his having written plays there, and sent them to be performed at his own theatre; and, to the last, he calls his partners his “fellows,” not his former fellows, which he must legally have done, had they ceased to be partners. Farther, the conjunction of memorials, in interlineations, to his three principal partners and to his wife, looks like a share. holding connexion in his mind between them, which was to commence immediately after his death. Is it not then probable that, by a special agreement, he, and afterwards his wife, provided she outlived him, had certain shares in the theatre ? The copyright
also might have been prohibited, by agreement, from publication, as long as either he might choose to withhold his works from the press, or his wife might live, in order to make the performance of his dramas more profitable; or until he chose, as an individual shareholder, if not as the author, to give his consent. Whether we suppose that the copyright was the property of all the shareholders, so that the publication required the consent of each individual, or that it was his own sole property during life, and afterwards his widow's for her life, we still find that her consent as shareholder, or by previous agreement, was necessary for its publication. For her own interest, as a lifereceiver of the yearly profits, it is not unreasonable to suppose she would not consent to the printing of the manuscripts, knowing they remained secure. But what grounds have we for believing all this, besides those already stated ? A fact, I answer, to which, for such a purpose, no allusion has been made,-the publication of all the plays immediately on the death of the widow in 1623! She was buried on 6th August, and the folio was entered at Stationers' Hall on 8th November following. Heminge and Condell were then no longer restrained, and they edited the works for their own profit. We read nothing in their Dedication or Preface; we have heard nothing of any part of the profits being for the daughters.
Probable evidence cannot amount to conviction. But those inclined to doubt it, should consider there is not a shadow of proof, nor of reasonable conjecture, for the suspicion of an inimical feeling towards his wife in the last act of bis life ;-a suspicion that would overthrow at once his character for universal kindliness.
Two intriguing anecdotes are told, chiefly on account of the witticisms they contain, which I can neither believe nor refute. They are worthy of a jest book, for which they seem to have been intended.
Some have given their opinion that Shakespeare's works are, after reading others of his age, comparatively free from verbal impurities; and a few have called him worse in this respect than his contemporaries. Many years ago I profited by a distinction made by Coleridge, in one of his lectures on Shakespeare, showing the innocence of his free expressions compared with those of other poets. Coleridge then observed something to this effect ;—“Whatever we meet with in Shakespeare which may offend the ears of modern society, we must acknowledge there is nothing to corrupt, nothing to intoxicate the passions. His language, however free, is never intoxicating.” This is a grand distinction between him and others. Several of his fables might have admitted of descriptions and continued allusions of a nature like those which we find in his fellow dramatic poets; but he treated them remotely as he could, and his allusions are transient, if not necessary. He is not accountable to the prudery of modern manners, which is a questionable advance in civilization and morality.
The few who censure him as worse than others should consider this; not a vague opinion, but a fact in dramatic history. Only fifty years after his death, when the stage was restored after the reign of the Puritans, the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher, one of