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tracing them to their correct sources; and of ten of the rest, she gave imperfect accounts of Shakspeare's materials. Without offering any
criticism on her "Illustrations" of the remaining seven plays, it is evident that there is room for another work on the subject.
Our great dramatist almost invariably selected for the plot of his drama an event of history, a romantic tale, or some previous dramatic composition, and imposed upon himself an almost implicit adherence to his authorities, even in cases where great improvement might have been effected with little pains. For the alterations which he chose to make, he is not often to be praised his additions to his originals are, however, almost always excellent; and so beautifully has he blended the separate actions, that they appear always to have formed one consistent whole.
The characters of Shakspeare's absolute creation are as many as those which he pared on previous hints; and, though his serious dramas far outnumber his comedies, his
comic portraits are somewhat more numerous than his tragic. In point of importance, however, the preponderance is greatly on the side of the tragic characters, and the fact is easily accounted for the materials borrowed were mostly serious fables, or grave historical events; the personages engaged in their transaction were of a corresponding tone of mind, and the poet was compelled to concede them a prominence on the scene in some degree commensurate with their prominence in the narrative.
Scarcely one of Shakspeare's tragic characters was conceived by himself; a singular fact, considering that his comic characters, with the exception of about half-a-dozen, were entirely his own. The conclusion is inevitable that the bent of his mind was decidedly comic. Why, with such a disposition, so large a majority of the subjects selected by him were serious, it is in vain to enquire; but it appears, that he eagerly sought every opportunity which such a selection left him, to indulge his fancy's course. His predilection for the ludicrous required a wider field for
its display than was afforded him in his few comedies; and, with the mask and sock, he gaily rushed upon the consecrated ground of the tragic muse, engrafting incidents purely comic on subjects the most serious.
The biography of Shakspeare, and the History of the Stage are subjects on which every lover of the poet is desirous of information, and with a view of making these volumes a COMPANION TO SHAKSPEARE, both have been added to the original design of illustrating the dramatist by comparing his plays with the materials used in their construction. These additions will contribute, it is hoped, to the general utility of the book; and, with the aid of such information as the commonest editions of the poet afford, the general reader will be furnished with all the eluci-datory information he can require, and be spared the pain of wading through the commentators' tomes of controversy.
LIFE OF SHAKSPEARE.*
A FAMILY variously named Shaxper, Shakespeare, Shakspere and Shakspearet, was spread over the woodland part of Warwickshire in the sixteenth century. They were tradesmen and husbandmen, and their property was at least respectable; different depositories of legal writings proving it to have been frequently the subject of judicial controversy and testamentary disposition.
Of that particular branch of the family whence the poet descended, nothing whatever is known beyond his immediate parent‡, John Shakspeare, who was originally a glover §, and, subsequently,
Rowe's account of the family is this: "It appears by the register, and other public writings of Stratford, that the poet's family were of good figure and fashion there, and are mentioned as gentlemen." This is extremely inaccurate.
§ A manuscript of the proceedings of the Bailiff's Court in 1555, which so describes him.
a butcher*, and also a dealer in wool in the town of Stratford. He filled various municipal offices in the borough; among the records of which his name first appears in 1555, in an account of the proceedings of the bailiff's court. In Michaelmas, 1557, or some time very slightly subsequent‡, he was admitted a member of the corporation. In September, 1561, he was elected one of the chamberlains, and filled that office during two successive years. In 1565 he was invested with an alderman's gown; and in 1568 he attained the supreme honours of the borough, by serving as high-bailiff from Michaelmas in that year to the same festival in the following. Two years afterwards, 1571, he was elected and sworn chief alderman for the ensuing year.§
On Michaelmas day, 1557, John Lewis was the last on the list of burgesses, and there were then four vacancies. The next existing enumeration of burgesses is one dated 1564, in which John Shakspeare stands next but one to Lewis: he, therefore, probably, was elected into one of the vacancies mentioned. On this occasion Malone says, in the text of his Life of Shakspeare, "It appears from a paper inserted below, &c." We look below, and are met by, "See Appendix." We look in the Appendix, and search in vain for the promised document. Similar disappointment is oc
casioned in the two succeeding pages, 76, 77.
§ Regist. Burg. Strat. Whatever respectability the corporation of Stratford boasted, their claims to erudition must have been most humble: out of nineteen members of that