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The first edition of “The Works of Shakespeare," which I superintended some years ago, having been exhausted, I have, with all the care and diligence of which I was capable, prepared a second impression, with such improvements as seemed called for by the quantity and character of the information acquired in the interval.
The sketch of the history of our dramatic literature and the stage, to the time of Shakespeare, required no material change ; but some points have been farther illustrated, and a few corrections have been introduced.
The Life of Shakespeare continues very nearly in the shape in which it formerly appeared; but various novel matters have been inserted in the places to which they belong, and no industry has been spared to render the whole accurate, perspicuous, and complete. The index appended to this portion of the work is a new feature; and it will not be unacceptable, since it will enable the reader to turn at once to any particular event in the career of our great dramatist, or to any important incident in the theatrical history of the period in which he lived. It necessarily embraces not a few circumstances connected with his literary and dramatic contemporaries, whenever those circumstances could be said to bear upon any point of the biography of Shakespeare.
Some fresh, and not uninteresting light is thrown upon the origin of his family in Warwickshire; and as I was the first to establish that he had a grandfather, so I have since been fortunate enough to discover the particulars of that grandfather's will, with the number and names of his children. Hence we learn that John Shakespeare was his eldest son, and that his youngest son was named William, so that our great dramatist was, doubtless, christened after his uncle. Richard Shakespeare, the father of John, and the grandfather of our poet, was by trade a turner, and having previously, as there is good reason to believe, resided at Snitterfield, died at Rowington as late as 1592.
Whether the Edward Shakespeare, of whom the reader of these pages
will hear for the first time, were descended from Richard Shakespeare, of Snitterfield and Rowington, is a matter that, in the present state of our information, it is impossible to decide; but in the parish register of Cripplegate he is designated “player,” and the death of his “base-born” child is there recorded in August, 1607. The Fortune theatre was situated in that parish, and it seems not unlikely that Edward Shakespeare was an actor in an establishment, erected in competition with those in which our great dramatist was always interested.
Another point I have been able, I think upon sufficient evidence, to prove is certainly not less valuable, in relation to the lyrical productions of Shakespeare. I refer to those poems which were inserted in “The Passionate Pilgrim” of 1599, to which it has hitherto been supposed Richard Barnfield had a prior claim. It will be seen that Barnfield's title is disputed on more than probable grounds; and, therefore, that these poems may hereafter be received as the offspring of the mind of a much loftier poet. Of the manner in which Barnfield, in fact though not in words, repudiated them, I was not aware when I formerly adverted to that part of the subject.
· See this Vol. p. 154, and Vol. iii. p. 214.
Any doubt that may have existed respecting one of our great dramatist's historical tragedies has also been recently dispelled by documents I was lucky enough to meet with in the State Paper Office. I allude to “ Richard the Second,” which, it was once thought, might have been the play selected for representation by partisans of Robert, Earl of Essex, shortly before the, almost unpremeditated, outburst of his desperate enterprise in the spring of 1601. The original examinations of Augustine Phillips, the actor at the Globe theatre, and of Sir Gilly Meyrick, who was present at the performance there, which examinations are now for the first time printed, show that the “Richard the Second," or " Henry the Fourth,” (for it is mentioned by both titles) must have been a considerably older play, of which it is not improbable that Shakespeare availed himself in his own wonderful composition.
As a matter of minor moment, but still of some importance, with reference to the condition of literary and theatrical affairs near the beginning of the reign of James I., the concern of Ben Jonson, and John Marston in the Gunpowder Plot is not to be passed over. The suspicable (if I may use the word) letter of Jonson to Secretary Cecill is reprinted from a literary periodical'; and from Marston I have been enabled to publish (the original being in his own hand-writing) an extremely remarkable communication to a nobleman of that period, as far as we can judge, giving him timely notice of the peril to which he and the rest of the Parliament were exposed (see p. 179). It is not impossible, in the mystery that involves the transaction, that this very letter from Marston to Lord Kimbolton (though the story has hitherto been told differently) was the means of disclosing the whole scheme, and of saving the lives of the king, and of hundreds of the nobility and gentry of the land '.
? See the “ Athenæum" of 15th August, 1857. • Much has been written and printed on the anonymous letter, under such peculiar circumstances, conveyed to the hands of Lord Monteagle, while he was at supper with some friends. Mr. Jardine, after sifting all the particulars with his