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CHRONOLOGY OF THE PLAYS.
1.-THE EPOCH OF HIS EARLY WORK, 1591–1593.
Richard III., 1593.
Richard II., 1593.
Titus Andronicus, 1593.
Intermediate Epoch of the Poems.
Lucrece, 1594. 11.-THE EPOCH OF HIS MATURING ART-THE PERIOD OF THE
GREAT COMEDIES AND THE “ HISTORIES," 1594-1601.
Merry Wives of Windsor,
Much Ado about Nothing,
As You Like It, 1600.
Julius Cæsar, 1601.
GREAT PROBLEM PLAYS, 1602-1609.
King Lear, 1607.
The Winter's Tale, 1611.
Two Noble Kinsmen, 1612.
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 çivic 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 " In September 1571, he became Chief Alderínan, 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 middleclass 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