By Charles Matthews

Sunday, November 21, 2010

6. Soul of the Age, by Jonathan Bate, pp. 131-161

Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William ShakespeareSecond Age: Schoolboy; Chapter 9, Shakespeare's Small Library; Third Age: Lover, Chapter 10, The Married Man
Ben Jonson was a man of books. Although he didn't attend university, he collected books and commented on them, and played a large part in getting Shakespeare's First Folio published. When his library was destroyed by fire in 1623, perhaps taking his own copy of the First Folio with it, he began collecting again. As Bate comments, "If only Jonson's annotations on Shakespeare had survived instead of those on Justus Lipsius's De Calumnia or Clement Edmonds's Observations on the autobiographical and historical writings of Julius Caesar!"

But no books known to have been owned by or annotated by Shakespeare have shown up, or at least the ones that have shown up are mostly demonstrable forgeries, leading Bate and others to conclude, "Where Jonson was a methodical reader, Shakespeare was an opportune one. He snapped up phrases and ideas from his reading, storing them in his capacious memory. He may not have bothered with underlinings and marginal annotation."

Bate conjectures that he may have borrowed most of the books that served him as sources for the poems and plays, and that one of the people who loaned him books was Richard Field, whom he had known at school in Stratford and who printed not only Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece but also North's Plutarch and a Latin edition of Ovid's Metamorphoses. Field may also have supplied Shakespeare with Holinshed's Chronicles and John Harington's translation of Orlando Furioso, which was a source for Much Ado About Nothing. Shakespeare seems to have paid tribute to Field in Cymbeline with a reference to "a very valiant Briton" named Richard du Champ. When Field printed foreign language books, he sometimes translated his name into the corresponding language on the title page, as when he called himself Ricardo del Campo in several Spanish books.

Another source for borrowed books would have been Shakespeare's patron, the earl of Southampton, and one of the patron's of Shakespeare's acting company, the earl of Pembroke. Ben Jonson may also have loaned or sold him books from his own library of more than two hundred volumes. But "even among literary men in the period it was not common to own large numbers of books," Bate notes. "The greatest scholar of the age, splendidly named Julius Caesar Scaliger, left 1,382 volumes at the time of his death in 1609."
I suspect that Shakespeare skimmed many a new volume at the bookstalls outside St. Paul's, but closely rad fewer books than is often imagined by bookish scholars, who (like everyone who writes about Shakespeare) have a subliminal desire to make him more like themselves than he really was."

Books would also have been a encumbrance for a man who never took permanent lodgings in London and who traveled to Stratford at least once a year. Among the books that Shakespeare may have owned are Golding's translation of the Metamorphoses and North's Plutarch, some of Ovid's other works in the original Latin, Horace's Odes, the plays of Plautus and Seneca, Caxton's Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye and Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, perhaps in the Thomas Speght edition of Chaucer in 1598 or 1602, which would have been where he read "The Knight's Tale," the source for The Two Noble Kinsmen, on which he and Fletcher collaborated. He may also have had a copy of Thomas Shelton's 1612 translation of Don Quixote, where he would have found the story of Cardenio that was the basis of the lost play on which he is said to have collaborated with Fletcher.

He may have known Gower's Confessio Amantis, the main source of Pericles, in which Gower himself appears as Chorus, but since the play was begun by George Wilkins, Shakespeare may have borrowed the book from Wilkins. There are no other borrowings from Gower in Shakespeare's work. When he was working on the history plays, he must have had a copy of Holinshed's Chronicles close at hand, as well as Edward Halle's Union of the Two Noble Illustre Families of Lancaster and York. His biblical allusions suggest a familiarity with the Bible in the Geneva translation and "the officially sanctioned Bishop's Bible," as well as the Book of Common Prayer.

Florio's translation of Montaigne influenced parts of The Tempest, and he probably consulted Florio's English-Italian dictionary and grammar, as well as a "teach-yourself-French handbook called Ortho-epia Gallica, by a Warwickshire contemporary named John Eliot," which would have taught him "enough French to put together the language lesson in Henry V." William Painter's Palace of Pleasure was a collection of stories by Greek, Roman, Italian and French authors, including Boccaccio, whose Decameron provided the story that is the basis of All's Well That Ends Well. The plots and details in Othello, Much Ado, Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, and Measure for Measure come from a variety of Italian sources or French translations of them. Bate suggests that Italian would have been easier for Shakespeare to read than French because of his training in Latin.

Earlier plays were sources for King John, Henry V, King Lear and of course Hamlet. Robert Greene's prose romance Pandosto was a source for The Winter's Tale and Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde for As You Like It. It's unclear whether Shakespeare knew Spenser's The Faerie Queene, but he seems to have admired Samuel Daniel, particularly the sonnet sequence Delia, and probably read Philip Sidney's sonnet sequence Astrophel and Stella. He knew Sidney's prose Arcadia, from which he borrowed for the Gloucester plot in King Lear.
Thanks to his undoubted friendship with Richard Field and his very probable acquaintance with John Florio, Shakespeare had easy access to these books. This body of literature offers a deep insight into the mental world in which he lived. If one bears in mind the method of close reading in which he was trained at school, not to mention his prodigious memory for both the plays that he saw or acted in and the other books he devoured and disposed of more casually, then there need be no anxiety about the idea of a middle-class provincial grammar-school boy having the intellectual resources to write the plays. 

The parish records of Stratford-upon-Avon for 1570 through 1630 reveal that three-fourths of the men who married for the first time did so between the ages of twenty and thirty. "The mean age was twenty-six. The most frequently occurring was twenty-four. These figures are consistent with national averages." Only three men were in their teens when they married, but there was only one of these "in the whole sxty-year period whose bride was pregnant on the day of their marriage: the glover's son, eighteen-year-old William Shakespeare." And people have been gossiping about that fact for the better part of the last four hundred twenty-eight years.

We know that "on November 27, 1582, a license was issued for the marriage of William Shaxpere and Anna Whateley of Temple Grafton." It was a special license, issued when the banns were not going to be read for three Sundays before the wedding, and it required "a bond of sureties, guaranteeing that the prospective partners were entitled to marry. The Worcester registry has such a bond, dated November 28, 1582, referring to William Shagspere and Anne Hathwey of Stratford.... The wedding may be assumed to have taken place in early December 1582.... Susanna Shakespeare was baptized on May 26, 1584, so even if she was born somewhat prematurely there can be no doubt that Anne was pregnant on her wedding day."

Which Anne was it? Whateley, for whom the license was issued, or Hathwey, the name on the bond? (The Shaxpere/Shagspere problem is a negligible one: "Elizabethans were slapdash about names.") And was she named Anne? "Miss Hathaway, whom we always call Anne, is actually referred to in her father's will as Agnes, which would have been pronounced "Annes." Unless you want to make a big deal about it, and some do, it's best to assume that the clerk who meant to write down "Hathwey" got confused in the process, "perhaps because that same day a William Whateley had been involved in a case before the church court." The reference to Temple Grafton, a village much further away from Stratford than Shottery, where the Hathaways lived, is harder to explain. One theory holds that Anne had "been born a Hathwey in Stratford and married a Whateley in Temple Grafton" and that she was a widow. But Anne Hathaway had been recorded as unmarried in her father's will in the autumn of 1581, so that's cutting the whole marriage-widowhood-remarriage thing pretty close. "The probability is that Anne was indeed a 'maiden' and that she was in some form of service, perhaps with a distant relative, in Temple Grafton.

Her pregnancy would not have been much of a scandal: "it was generally agreed that a union was legally binding once a solemn spousal promise had been made, so the bedding often preceded the wedding." The age difference was more unusual: William was eighteen; Anne was "in her twenty-sixth or twenty-seventh year." Some like to read Venus and Adonis, "in which an innocent boy is seduced by a sexually  voracious older woman (or rather goddess)" as autobiography.
I have an instinctive sense that the wooer whom Shakespeare most resembles is Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice: clever but cold, an adventurer and a wordsmith who always looks after himself, a man on the lookout for a wealthy woman to help him out of a financial crisis and who has the good fortune to find one who is beautiful, ultraintelligent, and attracted to him. But there is no more evidence for this fancy than for the idea that William was somehow like Adonis (or Petruchio or Orlando or any of his other characters) or that Anne was like Venus or Kate "the shrew" or Adriana, the put-upon wife of The Comedy of Errors
Shakespeare's marriage may be the result of adolescent infatuation or an arranged marriage between two families who were close to each other. Anne was an heiress and Shakespeare's father was in debt. But Bate finds only "two certainties" in what we know about the marriage: One is that Shakespeare "was a sexually active young man" who found himself the father of three children -- Susanna and the twins Hamnet and Judith -- before he turned twenty-one. The other is that "the first formal record of his life subsequent to his baptism emerges from the diocesan consistory court."

We don't know what happened next, though an old story holds that he became "a schoolmaster in the country," which he couldn't have done in a grammar school of any great repute without a degree from university, although "he could have gained a post in a lesser school or as an 'usher,' a master's assistant." He could have supported his family that way, but sometime in the late 1580s he went to London to seek his fortune. Which he succeeded in doing: "By the summer of 1597 he was in the position to buy his wife New Place, the second-largest house in town -- albeit a property that was in a neglected state of repair, allowing him to obtain it at a knock-down price."

But it's the way he went about making his fortune that's surprising: Nobody got rich as an actor, and even when he realized that and started writing plays as well as acting in them, that was "an even more unlikely source of income than playing.... There were no wealthy writers." Bate sketches out the lives of twelve of the "most highly regarded dramatists among his contemporaries" to prove his point:
  • John Lyly, born 1556, Oxford educated, married once, died "in very modest circumstances," age 52. 
  • George Peele, born 1556, Oxford educated, married once, died "reputedly of syphilis" and in "financial difficulties," age 40.
  • Robert Greene, born 1558, Cambridge educated, married once, died "in extreme poverty," age 34. 
  • Thomas Kyd, born 1558, grammar school educated, never married, died "in poverty," age 35. 
  • George Chapman, born 1559 or 1560, education unknown, never married, died without achieving financial success, age 74.
  • Anthony Munday, born 1560, privately educated, married twice, died, with "an estate valued at the not-insignificant sum of £135," age 73. 
  • Michael Drayton, born 1563, education unknown, never married, died, "with an estate valued at just under £25," age 68. 
  • Christopher Marlowe, born 1564, Cambridge educated, never married, died, "stabbed to death by a twelvepenny dagger inserted just above the eye," age 29. 
  • William Shakespeare, born 1564, grammar school educated, married once, died, "leaving a considerable property portfolio and several hundred pounds in cash," age 52. 
  • Thomas Nashe, born 1567, Cambridge educated, never married, died, in "almost certain poverty," age 33. 
  • Thomas Dekker, born about 1572, probably grammar school educated, married twice, died, "in debt, leaving his second wife in straitened circumstances," age about 60. 
  • Ben Jonson, born 1572, Westminster School educated, married once, died, "impoverished but not in debt," age 65. 
  • Thomas Heywood, born 1573, Cambridge educated, married once, died, "in respectable circumstances," age 68.
Shakespeare's "predecessors can be divided into those who married for money and those who were bachelors, either because they preferred to keep the company of men or because they could not afford to marry. No other major writer of the age married before reaching his legal majority, as he did." Like Shakespeare, Chapman, Drayton, and Munday tried to make a living by writing, but none of them invested in an acting company as he did. Munday, Chapman, Drayton, and Jonson achieved what financial stability they managed from patronage, and not from publication or theater performance. "It is striking that the men who did best out of their writing were the ones who began as actors: Munday, Shakespeare, Jonson, Heywood." The career that most resembles Shakespeare's is Heywood's: He began as an actor, made his reputation with a poem, Oenone and Paris, that he modeled on Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis, and also became a shareholder and playwright for a theater company, the Queen's Men.

Shakespeare made his fortune not by "literary innovation but by a business decision," buying into the Lord Chamberlain's Men in 1594 and sharing in the profits. "The best estimate is that, once fully established, Shakespeare may have made between £150 and £200 per year from his shareholding. Modern comparisons are difficult to sustain, but in early-twenty-first-century terms, that is roughly the equivalent of £30,000-£40,000 or $60,000-$80,000 per year.... A few people in Elizabethan and Jacobean England were very much richer than Shakespeare, but the vast majority were very much poorer -- indeed, a high proportion of the residents of Stratford-upon-Avon were in poor relief." Moreover, Shakespeare sustained his wealth with investments in property in Stratford.
Becoming an investor of this kind, making enough money to keep the family going, and sustaining a marriage for well over thirty years: these are not the achievements of the romantic lover, but they are manifestations of love.

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