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C. B. Purdom

The Swan Shakespeare - A Player's Edition (Comedies)

Author: C. B. Purdom (editor)

First published: 1930 by J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.

Format: Hardback 8" by 5¼" with 848 pages

  (click image to enlarge)  



This book is one of three volumes of Shakespeare's plays edited by Purdom, the others being the tragedies and histories. The histories volume also contains the poems and sonnets.

The Interior of the Swan Theatre


Drawing by Johannes de Witt, c. 1596

(click image to enlarge)

The book comprises:

Chronology of Shakespeare's plays (1 page)
General introduction to the plays (11 pages)
Notes on the comedies (23 pages)
Biographical introduction (6 pages)
The "Cambridge" edition texts of the 14 comedies (828 pages)

The Tempest
Two Gentlemen of Verona
The Merry Wives of Windsor
Measure for Measure
The Comedy of Errors
Much Ado About Nothing
Love's Labour's Lost
A Midsummer-Night's Dream
The Merchant of Venice
As You Like It
The Taming of the Shrew
All's Well that Ends Well
Twelfth Night; or, What You Will
The Winter's Tale

Glossary (14 pages).

The volume is illustrated by drawings of costumes and scenes by Jean Campbell (49 pages of illustrations).

Reproduced below are the Chronology, General Introduction, Biographical Introduction, and some of the illustrations.






Love's Labour's Lost, 1591
Two Gentlemen of Verona, 1591
Comedy of Errors, 1592
Romeo and Juliet, 1592
Henry VI, 1592
Richard III, 1593
Richard II, 1593
Titus Andronicus, 1593

Intermediate Epoch of the Poems

Venus and Adonis, 1593
Lucrece, 1594

AND THE "HISTORIES", 1594-1601

The Merchant. of Venice, 1594
King John, 1594
Midsummer-Night's Dream, 1594-1595
All's Well that Ends Well, 1595
The Taming of the Shrew, 1595
Henry IV, 1597
Merry Wives of Windsor, 1598
Henry V, 1598
Much Ado about Nothing, 1599
As You Like It, 1600
Twelfth Night, 1600
Julius Cæsar, 1601


Hamlet, 1602
Troilus and Cressida, 1603
Othello, 1604
Measure for Measure, 1604
Macbeth, 1606
King Lear, 1607
Timon of Athens, 1608
Pericles, 1608
Antony and Cleopatra, 1608
Coriolanus, 1609

Intermediate Epoch of the Sonnets, 1608-1609


Cymbeline, 1610.
The Tempest, 1611
The Winter's Tale, 1611

Plays completed by others after his Retirement

Cardenio, 1611
Henry VIII, 1612
Two Noble Kinsmen, 1612




The Swan Shakespeare is in three volumes, containing the Comedies, Tragedies, and Historical plays respectively. The last volume contains also the Poems and Sonnets, so that it is a complete Shakespeare. It has been prepared as an introduction to the plays as works for the stage. The text is that of the "Cambridge" edition, which is printed unaltered with the scene divisions and descriptions.

The notes on the plays are placed at the beginning of each volume. They have been written concisely so as to keep the volumes compact, and in an attempt to convey the maximum of information in a limited space. At the end of each volume there will also be found an Illustrated Glossary of Stage Properties and Costumes, relating to the particular plays in the volume, but occasionally having some bearing on the plays in the other two volumes. Apart from the Illustrated Glossary and this Introduction, each volume is complete in itself.

In preparing the notes I have bad in mind the ordinary reader as well as the student of the stage. Miss Campbell has done the same with the illustrations. Our aim has been to enable the reader with the book in his hand to visualise the plays, as he reads them, as they should appear in performance. To do that he will have to use his imagination, of course; but with the help that we have tried to give him, I hope that he will find the task perhaps a little lightened. Commentators and editors have examined and explained the plays as literary works; but they can fully be appreciated only when they are understood as stage plays with the actual conditions of the stage for which they were written kept in mind.

The plays have the form they have because of the requirements of the stage for which Shakespeare, as a practical dramatist, wrote them. The dialogue, the verse, the characters, the scenes are arranged to create certain effects upon that stage. Shakespeare can be enjoyed in the study because he was a poet; but his poetry was not written to be read from a book in solitude, but to be spoken aloud with a spectacle presented to the eye, in the company of many people. Shakespeare can no more be fully understood from a book than a piece of music from a score. His plays need performance, and if actual performance cannot be got, it must be visualised by the reader: he has to create the performance for himself.

Though we have wished to interest the ordinary reader, the notes and drawings have been prepared with a practical end in view. We have wanted to assist those who attempt to produce the plays in schools, colleges and little theatres, and to start them on the right lines. The study necessary for production does not finish with these notes; they are merely a beginning. The actor and producer will need to be familiar with much more that has been written about the plays. But above all, they will have to be well versed in the plays themselves. There is nothing better than the plays as Shakespeare wrote them as a guide to their production.

I have made it my main effort to suggest the right attitude to each particular play. There are notes on the play itself, its characters, its staging, its costumes, its properties and its music. I have said enough in them, I hope, to enable the student to consider what are the main features of the play he has to deal with, where the emphasis should come, what has to be remembered about the leading characters so that they can be cast rightly, and how the play should be put on the stage. The drawings of the costumes indicate how it should be dressed, and many of the properties are illustrated. The plays can be. done in other ways than I have indicated here, and dressed differently too. But I think that if producers and actors will study our suggestions they will be helped in working things out for themselves.

The Elizabethan Stage

It is not in the spirit of archæological exactitude that the stage for which the plays were written should be kept in mind when the plays are to be produced. The first fact about the plays is that their structure was determined by the physical conditions of their performance. To forget this, or to minimise its importance, is to raise an insuperable bar to their full understanding. Shakespeare was the genius that he was not merely because he wrote sublime poetry, but because his plays perfectly fitted the stage of his time. He wrote them for that stage and for no other; and what we mean when we say that he is the greatest dramatist of the world is that his plays more completely fulfil the conditions of the stage than those of any other dramatist. If we are to see the plays aright we must see them on his stage or on something as near to it as we can get.

That stage had a different shape from ours, and was differently placed in relation to the audience. It is not to be looked upon as a rudimentary stage of which our present stage has become the perfect development. In many respects its principles were different from ours; but its effectiveness was not inferior. On our stage plays are set in a frame, as pictures are, and the actors are separated from the audience by the proscenium. They act in another room, as it were, with the audience looking through the "fourth wall". On Shakespeare's stage the actor played on a platform with the audience around three sides of it.The great merit of this stage was that it gave first place to the actor, bringing him into immediate touch with the audience. It gave scope for pageantry and for gorgeous displays of costumes and properties. There was no room for scenery, except of the simplest kind, and it needed a different technique of playing and staging from that followed in our theatres. Within its limits it was capable of presenting the finest drama that our theatre has ever known.

Unfortunately we have no plan or detailed description of an Elizabethan stage*. Our information is extremely vague. The only illustration of any consequence is a copy of a drawing of the Swan Theatre, London**, made by Johannes de Witt about 1596, contained in Arendan Buchell's commonplace book. This is reproduced as the frontispiece to the present volume.

*Sir Edmund Chambers publishes in The Elizabethan Stage (vol. ii, pp. 436-9, 466-8) particulars of the specifications of the Fortune Theatre and the Hope Theatre, which, however, give little information about the stage except that the Globe stage was to be 43 feet in breadth and to extend just over 27 feet to the middle of the yard; the Hope stage was to be removable, and there were to be no posts or supports fixed on the stage to carry the heavens.

** This was first published in 1888 by K. T. Gaedertz in Zur Kenntnis der altenglischen Bühne, and later in the same year by H. B. Wheatley in the Transactions of the New Shakespeare Society with an article entitled "On a Contemporary Drawing of the Interior of the Swan Theatre." The original drawing is in the University of Utrecht.

This drawing, which was unknown until a little more than forty years ago, was obviously done from memory and cannot be considered correct in detail; but it gives us an idea of the stage. We see a rectangular platform projecting into the auditorium supported on short pillars. At the back is the "tiring-room" for the actors, which was also the place where the prompter stood; it has two double doors. The wall of this building forms the "scene". Over the rear half of the stage are the "heavens", supported by two heavy columns, and over it the "pent-house". Above the tiring-room is the "gallery or lords' room". On the left of the drawing a position for "orchestra" is marked; by this De Witt did not mean a place for the musicians, "but the position occupied by the prelates of highest rank, corresponding to the seats of Roman senators" (Chambers, vol. ii, p. 530). It will be observed that there is no means of access to the stage except through the doors of the tiring-room. It is possible that the tiring-room did not extend across the full width of the stage, and that there was room for the actors to enter on either side of it.

The Swan Theatre stood at the western end of the Bankside. It was built by Francis Langley, a citizen and goldsmith of London, about 1595, and was first used by Lord Pembroke's company. In Sir Edmund Chambers's description of it he says that "accounts show that in 1602 it was fitted with 'hangings, curtains, chairs and stools', and capable of scenic effects, such as the appearance of a throne of blessed souls in heaven and of black and damned souls with fireworks from beneath the stage." (Chambers, vol. ii . 412).*

*For a description of three other engravings of contemporary stages see a paper by G. H. Cowling, entitled "Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Stage", in a volume entitled Shakespeare and The Theatre by members of the Shakespeare Association (1927). The engravings are reproduced in Allardyce Nicolls British Drama (1925).

In the public and private theatres where Shakespeare's plays were performed the general character of the stage was probably similar to that of the Swan. The public theatres, like the Swan, were open to the sky, though the boxes for the more privileged spectators were roofed and there was the "heavens" as a sort of roof to protect the actors from the weather. The first theatres where Shakespearean plays were acted, the Rose, the Theatre, and the Curtain, were made of wood, and their stages were little more than mere platforms, which could be removed or extended as occasion required. Their design was no doubt influenced by the courtyards of the inns in which improvised stages were erected, and also by the halls of noblemen's houses in which plays were given. In the latter the platform was erected beneath and in front of the minstrels' gallery and the actors' entrances were from the doors in the screen beneath.

The features of all these stages were that they were a platform around three sides of which the audience could be placed, and that they had a back wall or "scene" with doors, windows, and a balcony.

The plays in the public theatres were given in daylight, so that no artificiaI lighting was used; but in the private theatres and later in the public theatres when they came to be roofed in, lighting was used.

In preparing the notes that follow I have visualised a rectangular platform, referred to as the fore-stage (or main stage), which has a portion in the centre at the rear curtained off to form an inner stage. There are no curtains to the fore-stage which remains always in full view. The sides of the inner stage are not permanently closed in; they can be curtained off, or movable flats can be used to enclose them. In place of the inner-stage curtains, gates may be placed to represent city gates or the entrance to a tomb, or doors may be fixed or other curtains or tapestries may be hung. There is an entrance at the back of the inner stage through which properties, etc., can be brought and the actors may come, and there are entrances at each side of the fore-stage at the rear, The balcony has permanent doors and windows which can be curtained over. The stage floor has traps in the inner stage and main stage, and there are traps in the floor of the balcony.

The width of the main stage is forty feet, the inner stage being placed at a distance of fifteen feet from the front and having a depth of fifteen feet and a width of twenty feet. The height of the balcony from the stage floor is ten feet. There is a space of six feet behind the inner stage. These dimensions give a practicable stage as near as can be got to the Shakespearean stage. A much smaller stage is practicable, and it is doubtful if the dimensions of Elizabethan stages were as large as those I have given, This stage can be partially adapted to the conventional stage of to-day with its proscenium, though the inner stage and balcony may be difficult to set so that the audience can see the action unless they are brought well forward, which means the erection of a wide apron or fore-stage in front of the proscenium. No proscenium curtain or "tabs" must, however, be used. The main characteristic of the Shakespearean stage is that it is a platform with the means of getting on and off it. No scenery is necessary, nothing but a few properties, the stage being lit so that the actors can be seen. With the inner stage and its curtain and the balcony added to it, there is plenty of scope for changes of scene and properties, and all the resources of present-day lighting systems can be employed. So long as the producer remembers the essential factors he can do what he pleases; these factors are that the playing must be kept forward, that there is no attempt at realism, that the action is continuous without interruption by the dropping of the proscenium curtains, or even by the favourite alternative of "blacking-out".


The method of acting on the Shakespearean stage was governed by the stage conditions. As there was no scenery attention was concentrated upon the actor. His speech, his dress, his movements were what the audience had to give their minds to. He was not seen merely from the front but from the sides as well, and he could move backwards and forwards on the stage among the audience. Naturalistic movement or speech was impossible. The theatres were by no means small buildings, for they seated some thousands of people. The actors had to be declamatory and vigorous, and to conduct themselves as speakers on a platform.. The long verse and prose speeches were undoubtedly spoken direct to the audience. There was no attempt to get realistic conversation. To treat the soliloquies and long speeches in this manner is out of place on our conventional picture stage and within the frame of a proscenium, but when the actor is among the audience the effect is entirely different. There were no women players, the female parts being taken by boys. This fact is of relevance when considering the women's parts in the plays and, the audiences' understanding of them.

The women's parts are often difficult because it is necessary that the audience should not be reminded of sex. They are poetic creations, not real women with "sex appeal". Some parts, notably Rosalind, Cressida, and Cleopatra, are almost impossible for women to play for that reason. We should consider it odd to see those parts played by boys; but there is little doubt that Shakespeare's boy actors played them perfectly. Women can make a success of them only by idealising their playing and with no attempt at realism.

Crowds in the plays should be composed of men. This is almost an invariable rule.

The Text

The text has been edited since the seventeenth century by countless editors and our present text is the result of their labours. It does not give us the plays as they left Shakespeare's hands. We do not know exactly what he wrote, because the plays were never intended for publication. The text that we have to-day was made up from actors' script and prompt copies, and in a good many of the plays is incomplete. Every producer of the plays should have by his side an exact reprint or facsimile of the First Folio edition of 1623, because the punctuation and use of capital letters in that edition usually indicate pause and emphasis. Whenever possible the earlier Quarto editions should be examined for their stage directions often altered or omitted in later editions. A thorough study of the text is the first step in production.

The plays should be cut with the greatest caution, though obscure passages or objectionable words or sentences can be removed without harm being done. Sometimes the text is confused and lines may have to come out for that reason. Otherwise, cutting should be avoided. Speeches or scenes that seem dull or unnecessary may be useful in relieving the attention of the audience, and usually are part of the dramatic effect.

Scenes should never be re-arranged with the idea of getting closer continuity of action, because that cannot be done without injury to the play. Shakespeare knew what he was doing; he got the continuity that his theme required; the construction of his plays was always well considered and done with a definite dramatic object.

The Stage Directions

The scene divisions and the locations of the scenes were not written by Shakespeare and do not form part of the plays as prepared for his stage. The plays printed during Shakespeare's lifetime were printed "in one unbroken continuity", not even being divided into acts. The act divisions were made in the First Folio edition, in which all the plays except six were divided into five acts each, and twelve of them were also divided into scenes. It is difficult to believe that these act divisions or pauses were observed on Shakespeare's stage; there is no evidence that they were, and the form of the plays is all against it. The scene divisions actually mark the place where one group of players goes off and another enters. The scene descriptions are the additions of various editors, mainly in the eighteenth century, starting with Nicholas Rowe, whose edition of the plays was published in 1709. Love's Labour's Lost, for instance, first published in 1598, starts off "Enter, Ferdinand, K. of Navarre, Berovvne, Longavill and Dumaine". This should be compared with the opening in the present edition. The Tempest, in the First Folio, starts: "Actus primus, Scena prima. A tempestuous noise of Thunder and Lightning heard; enter a Ship-master, and a Boteswaine". There is nothing said about "a ship at sea".

Most of the stage directions, few as they are, were inserted by editors. It is a pity that modern editions do not indicate which are Shakespeare's (or the prompter's) original stage directions, and which have been added by editors; for the first were undoubtedly part of the stage action, while the latter are usually literary in character rather than theatrical. The most comprehensive re-writing and extension of the stage directions in any modern edition is that undertaken by the editors of the New Shakespeare, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch and John Dover Wilson (Cambridge university Press: in progress). These additions are interesting and suggestive; but literary rather than for the stage, and should be accepted with caution.

The scenes, as I have indicated, show when one group of players leaves the stage and another comes on. The play goes on though the players change, and the picking up of the action from scene to scene without delay is only second in importance to the picking up of individual cues by the actors. If large numbers of players are in a scene, which means that they take some time to get off, the next scene should probably start without waiting for the stage to empty so long as the actual spectacle is not interfered with. Spectacle, it should be remembered, was an important feature of many plays, especially when kings and nobles appeared.

The scene divisions and even the act divisions should therefore be ignored in actual production. The play should be looked upon as if it were a poem possessing complete unity, and our modern idea of separate acts in different places should be forgotten. The progress of time and change of place are of little account in Shakespeare. What matters is the development of the action, and the plays are so constructed that this development proceeds to the precise dramatic end.

Practical difficulties sometimes arise; the main thing in attempting to solve them is that we should think of Shakespeare's stage, not our own.


In describing the staging in the notes I have used the scene divisions of the text merely as a convenient way of referring to the plays, and for no other reason. Though the action may move from the fore-stage to the inner stage or to the balcony the continuity is not disturbed. The greater part of the action is always on the fore-stage, the inner stage being employed when properties, such as chairs or a table or a bed, have to be used, or action may be placed there to give variety or to give depth to the scene. Almost invariably when the inner stage is used the fore-stage is used too, though sometimes in a short scene with a few characters the actors do not move outside the inner stage. There is never any need to worry aboat "place" in Shakespeare, and the idea that it was necessary to label the stage to describe where the action was supposed to be is fantastic. The suggestions for staging that I have made are intended to give variety to the action and to enable the plays to be done with the greatest convenience.


Ideally, the plays should be performed without intervals. No intervals are required if the plays are staged in the way in which they were intended by Shakespeare to be done. If, however, the audience needs a rest in the course of a performance, one interval or at most two can be got. The place where a single interval can come with least interference to the action is almost invariably between the third and fourth acts.


Much controversy has ranged round the question, How should the plays be dressed ? Some people have argued that they should be done in Elizabethan dress to suit the Elizabethan stage. Others have aimed at historical correctness, assuming a date which each play was supposed to represent. Others again have dressed them in the costume of their own day. So long as the intention is to perform the play with the object of expressing its full meaning, it hardly matters. Everything, however, depends upon the words "its full meaning". Does modern dress express it ? I am inclined to doubt it. Modern dress means realism at once. None of the plays belongs to the real world, so that realistic dress and manners of our own time are the most unsuitable that could be adopted. There are practical objections as well because the plays were written for particular manners and modes, which are not ours. In dressing, therefore, what has to be considered is the play itself, whether it is comedy, or romance, or tragedy, or with elements of all these; whether it is a play of sheer fantasy, or a history, or a play of manners. The nature of the play determines the character of the costume. With that must be taken into account practicability and cost.

In the English historical plays an effort can properly be made to get costumes of the period. There may be anachronisms, but anachronisms are inevitable however the plays are produced. I am no believer in strict observance of Elizabethan ideas of stage costuming. For one thing we do not know much about those ideas, and for another we cannot recreate the Elizabethan atmosphere. The plays should be regarded as living things, and so long as their spirit is expressed it is mere archæology to dress them as Shakespeare did. The same remarks apply to the Greek and Roman plays. We know that actors on Shakespeare's stage did their best with the dressing of their parts: we should do the same.

Changes of costume can take place only when there is time for them, as the action must not be held up for this to be done. The speeches should be carefully studied for references to details of costume, or hand properties, worn or used by the characters; there are a few such references in almost every one of the plays.

The most useful books on historical coslume are Herbert Norris's Costume and Fashion: Vol. I, "Evolution of European Dress through the Earlier Ages (up to 1066)" (Dent, 1924); Vol. II, "Senlac to Bosworth, 1066-1485" (Dent, 1927). And for Elizabethan costume, Francis M. Kelly and Randolph Schwabe's Historic Costume: A Chronicle of Fashion in Western Europe, 1490-1790 (Batsford, 1925).


In the notes a full list of properties is not given, but the more important ones are mentioned and many of them are illustrated. Properties for one play will often serve for another. Usually properties, except hand properties, are used only in the inner stage. Where they are used on the fore-stage they have to be taken on and off in view of the audience and in the course of the action. No properties should be used even in the inner stage that are likely to delay the action or that cannot be put into position and removed quickly. It is seldom that two scenes in the inner stage follow one another, never when any change of properties is required. There is always a scene on the fore-stage, with the curtains closed, between such scenes.


A great deal of the contemporary music for the plays is now lost. I have noted what exists. Where songs are sung they should be unaccompanied, or accompanied by the singer himself, or the musicians should come on with the other characters, except. where the music is clearly from some unseen source. Sometimes for dances the musicians can be placed on the balcony over the inner stage. For the available information about the music and for description and illustrations of the instruments used, reference should bemade to Dr. E. W. Naylor's Shakespeare and Music (Dent, 1896), and his Shakespeare Music (Curwen, 1912).


I do not pretend that there is any scholarship in these notes; I have looked at the plays as dramatic works, that is all; and I have had to be very brief. To acknowledge my indebtedness to others in full would be impossible, for it covers a lifetime. Yet I cannot neglect saying what I owe to Mr. William Poel, not so much for his writings, which have been all too brief, as for his influence as a producer. His productions in the Elizabethan manner have done more to instruct us in the true interpretation of Shakespeare than anything that any other man has done or written. Without him this edition could not have been prepared. I also record my indebtedness to Mr. H. Granville-Barker, again for his productions (few as they were) rather than for his books. The three productions for which he was responsible at the Savoy Theatre in 1912 and 1914 were a high-water mark in Shakespearean performances, and a revelation of the value of the plays as works for the stage. His two volumes of Prefaces to Shakespeare (in which he deals with seven plays) I read when they were published, but I refrained from consulting them again until I had finished my notes; for I feared that otherwise I should be left with nothing to say ! I have taken advantage, however, of them to correct two or three errors, otherwise I have left what I had written without further correction, recognising that where I differed from him I was no doubt wrong. But I have attempted here something slighter than his exhaustive and illuminative work. To Sir Edmund Chambers I owe what all Shakespearean students owe.


September 1930





WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE was born at Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire, on the 22nd or 23rd April 1564. The latter date has been accepted as the more likely, an old tradition stating that he died on the anniversary of his birth, and we know beyond question his death occurred on April 23rd, 1616. His father, John Shakespeare, belonged to a family which had given generations of substantial yeomen to the Midland districts of England. At the time of the poet's birth John was a prosperous "general merchant" in agricultural produce. Corn, malt, hides, wool, leather, hay, are named among the wares in which he dealt. In 1557 John married a local heiress, Mary, younger daughter of Robert Arden, a prosperous farmer of Wilmecote, in the parish of Aston Cantlowe, near Stratford. To John she brought the estate of Asbies, a property of some fifty acres, in Wilmecote, with a house upon it.

William was the third child but the eldest son. The house of his birth is still extant but greatly modified. It is one of the two attached dwellings in Henley Street, Stratford, now held by the Corporation of that town on behalf of the subscribers to the public fund. His father's civic promotion had been unusually rapid. He had passed through all the various offices in quick succession, from that of "ale-taster" in 1557 to "bailiff" in 1568. In the latter year he entertained two companies of players, the "Queen's" and the "Earl of Worcester's" men. In September 1571, he became Chief Alderman, the highest civic position attainable, and held it until September 1572.

About Michaelmas (October) of the latter year, adversity of some unknown kind seems to have fallen upon the busy merchant. His prosperity declined. He was unable to contribute to the customary civic levies for the relief of the poor, etc., his property had to be mortgaged to his brother-in-law, Edmund Lambert, and at last he was deprived of his seat in the Council on the ground of irregularity in attendance.

During the first seven or eight years of his life William had probably known a fair measure of domestic comfort. He would be sent as was usual, to the Free Grammar School at Stratford, an old "foundation" re-organised by Edward VI. His teachers there would in all likelihood be Walter Roche, who was succeeded by Thomas Hunt in 1577 while the "matter" of the instruction imparted would be almost wholly classical. After the boys had gone through the Accidence (cf. Merry Wives of Windsor, IV. i.) and Lily’s Latin Grammar, along with the Sententiae Pueriles, they passed on to the study of Ovid, Virgil, Horace, Livy, Seneca, Cicero, Terence and Plautus, while Baptist Mantuanus, the popular Renaissance poet, was widely read as an introduction to Virgil. Greek was rarely taught in the provinces, and there are no traces of its having formed part of the school course in Stratford until later. That the system of education pursued in Shakespeare's case was thorough is evident from those scenes in Love's Labour's Lost where Holofernes appears, and also in the Merry Wives of Windsor where Sir Hugh Evans is introduced examining his pupil in the early pages of the Accidence. French, likewise, formed one of the branches in which the poet attained considerable proficiency, as the dialogues in that language in Henry V. undeniably prove. Some writers have found difficulty in accounting for Shakespeare's marvellous fund of information by the amount of school training that had fallen to his lot. But he had received a sound middle class education, and had profited by it, as Shakespeare alone could profit. During this period, any boy possessing that marvellous union of keen faculty with receptive capacity characteristic of him, must have amassed, through the medium of the senses alone, just such a vast store of information as he acquired.

Shakespeare's schooldays probably lasted from 1571-1577. At thirteen, owing to his father's increasing commercial difficulties, the boy was removed from school, and according to one tradition was apprenticed to his father's business, according to another, bound to a butcher.

The events of those five years 1577-1582 are wrapped in a mist of obscurity. There can be little doubt, however they must have been years of steady mental growth and the acquisition of stores of knowledge. When next we hear of him he was assuming responsibilities that were to influence the whole of his after career. In November 1582 he married Anne, youngest daughter of Richard Hathaway of Shottery, near Stratford, who, like Robert Arden, the poet's grandfather, was a substantial yeoman-farmer. There is some ground at least for thinking that the union was not a happy one, for the wife was the senior by eight years of her husband. The reference in Twelfth Night (II. iv. 29) to a parallel case has often been regarded as suggested by his own state.

In 1583 their first child Susanna was born, followed in February 1585 by the twins Hamnet and Judith, and early next year the poet in all likelihood withdrew from Stratford. That he was compelled to leave his native town in consequence of his share in a poaching raid over the estates of Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote, is proved a myth by the fact that the Charlecote deer forest was not in existence at the time. Certainly Sir Thomas Lucy was an extensive game-preserver, and, as Lee says, "owned at Charlecote a warren in which a few harts may have found a home, but there was no deer forest there". The tradition goes on to say that Lucy, having prosecuted and punished Shakespeare, the latter retaliated in a satire so bitter in tone that the local magnate's wrath was increased to such a degree against its author, that the latter judged it expedient to withdraw from the district for a time. Whether due to this cause, or to the increasing expenses of a young family, towards the support of which he could contribute but little, or to his conviction that continued association with his wife was impossible under existing conditions, certain it is that by 1586 they were living apart, and the poet was either in London or directing his steps thither.

Tradition reports many tales, obviously fictions, as to his employment during the six years between 1586 and 1592. By one narrator he is said to have been a schoolmaster, by another a soldier in the Low Countries, by a third a vintner's drawer, by a fourth a holder of horses in front of the theatres, and so forth. The most probable of all such tales is that which states that he had been recommended to the players by some of those Stratford friends they had made during their visits there, and that he was employed as prompter's assistant or "call-boy" at Burbage's playhouse, "The Theatre".

If Shakespeare arrived in London in 1586, he would find two theatres in existence, viz. "THE THEATRE", erected in 1576 in Shoreditch by James Burbage, father of the great tragic actor, and "THE CURTAIN", built about the same time as the other in Moorfields. Both were without the City boundaries, as the Corporation of London would not permit playhouses within the municipality. To the former of these Shakespeare became attached, and in the company he then joined - the Earl of Leicester's - he remained until he quitted the stage. Actors in those days were all obliged to shelter themselves under the name of some leading personage. By an Act of Parliament passed in 1571 (14 Eliz., Cap. 2), they were enjoined, if they would escape being treated as rogues and vagabonds, to procure a license to pursue their calling from the monarch, from a peer of the realm, or from some high official of the court. Both Elizabeth and the leading nobles of the time, however, were so liberal in granting permits that no player of any standing had difficulty in procuring the license which gave him a social status. There were at least six companies of adult actors playing at this time; five of them owning the licenses respectively of the Earls of Leicester, Oxford, Sussex and Worcester and the Lord Admiral (Charles, Lord Howard), while the sixth held the permit of the Queen, and was called the "Queen's Servants" or company of players. In addition, there were three companies of licensed boy-actors, formed from the choristers of St. Paul's and the Chapel Royal, and from Westminster School. Between the adult and the boy-players intense rivalry existed, and the dramatists took sides in the dispute. For instance, the most of Lyly's plays are stated on the title-pages to have been produced by "Her Majesty's Children and the Children of Paul's".

Shakespeare's company was, as we have seen, licensed by the Earl of Leicester. On the death of the latter, Lord Strange (afterwards Earl of Derby) issued their licenses, and when he died in 1594 the first, and at his death second Lord Hunsdon - both of whom successively held the office of Lord Chamberlain - took the company under their protection. After the accession of James I to the throne of England, he became their patron, and they were henceforth called "The King's Players".

Subordinate though the position might be in which Shakespeare commenced his dramatic career, his surpassing genius would not be long in asserting itself and raising him rapidly up the successive rungs in the social as well as the dramatic ladder. As an actor, his success was said to have been only mediocre, but that estimate was a comparative one, based on the high standard of Burbage and Alleyn, and influenced moreover by the splendour of Shakespeare's own success in dramatic composition. Contemporary report passed this criticism upon his playing, that he performed parts of a regal and dignified character with a majestic impressiveness that was most effective.

But it was as an adapter and reviser of other men's p1ay to meet contemporary tastes and circumstances that Shakespeare proved of such signal service to his company, and almost imperceptibly he passed from editor into dramatist. His life henceforward, as far as its facts have reached us, was summed up in the production of the successive dramas in the great Shakespearian cycle. There is little else to chronicle from 1592, when the first undeniable contemporary references to him occur, till the time of his death in 1616. Of his career independent of his plays, suffice to say that he appeared along with his company before the Queen at Greenwich in 1594, his name being mentioned second on the list. In 1596, on the death of his son Hamnet, be probably visited Stratford, and afforded material assistance to his old father, for henceforth John Shakespeare's monetary troubles come to an end, and he even applied to the College of Heralds for a Coat of Arms. The application was not successful until 1599, but there can be little doubt that both the proposal and the suggestion as to device and motto proceeded from the poet.

In the following year renewed evidences of prosperity were furnished. Shakespeare purchased New Place, the largest house in Stratford, which, after having repaired and otherwise improved it, he let for a term of years. A few years later he purchased from his neighbours, the Combes, on two several occasions, property to the extent of 127 acres of pasture and amble land adjoining.

In 1599 Richard and Cuthbert Burbage, having built the "Globe Theatre" on the Bankside, in part at least from the materials of the old "Theatre", leased out for a term of twenty-one years, shares in the revenue accruing from the new house, "to those deserving men, Shakespeare, Hemings, Condell, Phillips and others". The shares were sixteen in number, and of these Shakespeare probably held two. They of course entailed responsibility for providing a share of the current working expenses of the theatre.

John Shakespeare died in 1601, and William, as the eldest son, inherited the two houses in Henley Street, the only portion of the property of the elder Shakespeare or his wife, as Mr. Sydney Lee points out, which had not been alienated to creditors. To his mother the poet granted the life-rent of one of them, but she did not long survive her husband, and in 1608 she too passed away. In March 1603 Queen Elizabeth closed her long and glorious reign. Exactly a year later, i.e. in March 1604, James I made his State entry into London, and on that occasion nine actors belonging to the King's Players walked in the procession, each clad in a scarlet robe. First on the list, stands the name of William Shakespeare. In 1605 William D’Avenant was christened, the son of John D’Avenant of the Crown Inn, and Shakespeare stood as godfather. This babe was afterwards to become celebrated in literature as a Restoration dramatist, under the name of Sir William D’Avenant.

That Shakespeare was not only a capable but even a keen man of business has frequently been asserted. Of this no better proof is needed than the investments he chose for his money. Land or house property was invariably his preference. In one case, however, he deviated from his rule, when in 1605 he purchased the unexpired term of thirty-one years of a ninety-two years' lease of a portion of the tithes of Stratford and district. Susanna Shakespeare, the poet's eldest laughter, was married in June 1607 to Dr. John Hall of Stratford, who was yet to achieve fame as a physician and as author of a medical work of note in its day - Select Observations. The poet was tenderly attached to her and to her husband. This is proved by the terms of his will. To them he left the bulk of his property and appointed them the executors of his estate, besides entrusting to them the care of his wife.

In 1611 Shakespeare appears to have left London and retired to Stratford. His life had been a strenuously busy one, and he may have felt the approach of premature old age. Besides, his dramatic work was complete. With that calm, common-sense insight into the inmost soul of things native to him, he may have realized that his plays constituted "a full-orbed whole", that his creative period was ended, and that any additions to his works might only weaken not strengthen his hold on the public. From 1611 to 1616 he lived the life of a Warwickshire country gentleman, attending to his property and paying periodical visits to London. In 1613 his third brother, Richard, died, followed eighteen months later by the poet's intimate friend, John Combe. Whether or not Shakespeare regarded these as warnings to set his house in order, whether or not he felt old age approaching, is unknown, but he seems to have had the idea that his life was not likely to reach the allotted span. Early in January 1616 he gave orders to prepare his will, just a week or two before his younger daughter Judith's marriage to Thomas Quiney, vintner, son of that Richard Quiney whose letter to the poet with respect to the loan of a sum of money is still extant. Almost before the will could be engrossed and the legal formalities completed, he was stricken down, and. on the 23rd April 1616 the light of life for him went out.




The Tempest

Caliban and Ariel

Drawing by Jean Campbell

(click image to enlarge)


Two Gentlemen of Verona

Valentine, Proteus, and Launce

Drawing by Jean Campbell

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The Merry Wives of Windsor

Costumes and masks for Anne Page as
Queen of the Fairies, and two Fairies

Drawing by Jean Campbell

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Measure for Measure

Angelo, Mariana, and Elbow

Drawing by Jean Campbell

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The Comedy of Errors

Above: Antipholus of Syracuse - Antipholus of Ephesus
Below: Dromio of Syracuse - Dromio of Ephesus

Drawing by Jean Campbell

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Much Ado About Nothing

Beatrice and Benedick

Drawing by Jean Campbell

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Love's Labour's Lost

Act V, Scene ii

Rosaline, Katharine, and the Princess of France
in hunting costume

Drawing by Jean Campbell

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A Midsummer-Night's Dream

Titania and Oberon

Drawing by Jean Campbell

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The Merchant of Venice

Act IV, Scene i

Old Gobbo and Launcelot Gobbo

Drawing by Jean Campbell

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As You Like It

1. Phebe
2. Corin
3. Audrey
4. The Duke, dressed as a forester

Drawing by Jean Campbell

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The Taming of the Shrew

Bianca and Katharina

Drawing by Jean Campbell

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All's Well that Ends Well

Helena, Bertram, and the King of France

Drawing by Jean Campbell

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Twelfth Night; or, What You Will

Act II, Scene v

Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek

Drawing by Jean Campbell

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The Winter's Tale

1. Leontes
2. Hermione
3. Polixenes disguised in Act IV, Scene iv

Drawing by Jean Campbell

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The Winter's Tale

Perdita and Florizel

Drawing by Jean Campbell

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The Winter's Tale

Act V, Scene iii
Leontes, Paulina, Hermione, and Perdita
Autolycus and Clown

Drawing by Jean Campbell

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Elizabethan costumes

1. Details of Elizabeth costumes, sleeves, head-dress and ruffs
2. "Thrummed Hat".
The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act IV, Sc.ii
3. Fool's Bauble. All's Well that Ends Well
4. Glove. Much Ado About Nothing
5. Elizabethan shoes for men and woman

Drawing by Jean Campbell

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Hairdressing. XV-XVI century. Italian

Drawing by Jean Campbell

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