William Shakespeare

Upon a time when Burbage played Richard III, there was a citizen grew so far in liking with him that before she went from the play she appointed him to come that night unto her by the name of Richard the Third. Shakespeare overhearing their conclusion went before, was entertained, and at his game ere Burbage came. Then message being brought that Richard the Third was at the door, Shakespeare caused return to be made that William the Conqueror was before Richard the Third.

— E. K. Chambers, William Shakespeare.
A Study of Facts and Problems
(1930), ii. 212 (from John Manningham's Diary, Harl. MS. 5353, f. 29v, ed. J. Bruce (1868)).

SHAKESPEARE was godfather to one of Ben Jonson's children, and after the christening, being in a deep study, Jonson came to cheer him up, and asked him why he was so melancholy.

'No, faith, Ben,' says he, 'not I, but I have been considering a great while what should be the fittest gift for me to bestow upon my godchild, and I have resolved at last.'
'I prithee what?' says he
'I'faith, Ben, I'll e'en give him a dozen good Lattin spoons, and thou shalt translate them.'

— E. K. Chambers, William Shakespeare.
A Study of Facts and Problems
(1930), ii. 243 (from 'Merry Passages and Jeasts', Harl. MS. 6395, f. 2).

SHAKESPEARE, in his frequent journeys between London and his native place Stratford-upon-Avon, used to lie at Davenant's, at the Crown, in Oxford. He was very well acquainted with Mrs. Davenant; and her son (afterwards Sir William) was supposed to be more nearly related to him than as a godson only.

One day, when Shakespeare was just arrived, and the boy sent for from school to him, a head of one of the colleges (who was pretty well acquainted with the affairs of the family) met the child running home, and asked him whither he was going in so much haste? The boy said, 'To my godfather, Shakespeare: 'Fie, child,' says the old gentleman, 'why are you so superfluous? Have not you learned yet that you should not use the name of God in vain?'

—Spence, Anecdotes, i. 185.
Pope gave Thomas Betterton as his authority, but the anecdote had appeared,
without specific application to Shakespeare and Davenant,
in John Taylor's Wit and Mirth (1629) (James M. Osborn, ed. cit.).

THE Duke of Marlborough talking over some point of English history with Bishop Burnet, and advancing some anachronisms and strange matters of fact, his Lordship, in a great astonishment at this new history, inquired of his Grace where he had met with it. The Duke, equally surprised on his side to be asked that question by so knowing a man in history as the Bishop, replied, 'Why, don't you remember? It is in the only English history of those times that I ever read, in Shakespeare's plays.'

Gentleman's Magazine, xliv (1774), 17 (from Dr. Ferdinando Warner, Remarks on the History of Fingal (1762), p. 26,
'on the authority of judge Burnet', i.e. Sir Thomas Burnet (1694-1753), the son of Bishop Burnet).

Kings must be crowned, and it is fitting that Shakespeare's belated coronation should have been held in the town of his birth. The Stratford jubilee (as its sponsors called it) took place, oddly, not on the bicentenary of the poet's birth in 1764 but five years later, and not, as one might expect, in April when he was born but in irrelevant September....

The most celebrated Shakespearean authority of the age did not attend; Johnson's absence was noted and regretted. Nor did the other intellectuals make the journey. But Boswell, delighted, was there, and as he set foot in that drowsy borough of 2,287 souls he experienced (he tells us) such emotions as stirred Cicero in Athens. On the first morning, Wednesday, 5 September, the thirty cannon roared, bells rang through all Stratford, and the serenaders-fantastically garbed actors-sang, to the accompaniment of clarinets, flutes, hautboys, and guitars:

Let beauty with the sun arise,
To Shakespeare tribute pay.

During the public breakfast in the Town Hall the country militia played Dibdin's 'Warwickshire', and Boswell joined in the chorus,

'The Will of all Wills was a Warwickshire Will: Even the deer-poaching escapade made for local glory: 'The thief of all thieves was a Warwickshire thief.' ...

But the next morning the rains came, first in a drizzle, then a torrent. The procession of Shakespearean characters, with a satyr-drawn triumphal chariot containing Melpomene, Thalia, and the Graces, was called off. Cancelled too was the crowning of the Bard. There were murmurs of complaint that the managers of the jubilee had not provided any awning or covering of some sort in anticipation of such an accident. Now two thousand revellers crowded into the Rotunda built to accommodate half that many. Dr. Arne led the musicians in Garrick's ' Ode to Shakespeare '. During the encore of Mrs. Baddeley's solo, ' Thou soft-flowing Avon ', Garrick in a sudden gesture flung open the doors to reveal the swollen waters surging against the flimsy structure. The effect (according to one observer) was ' irresistible, electrical '. The crowd laughed, but laughter turned to tears as Mrs. Baddeley, that beautiful insinuating creature, went on to sing in her haunting soprano:

Thou soft-flowing Avon, by thy silver stream,
Of things more than mortal, sweet Shakespeare would dream . . .

That night there was a masquerade, at which Corsica Boswell, resplendent in his scarlet breeches and grenadier cap embroidered with Vive la Libertà in gold letters, danced the minuet with water coming over his shoe-tops. Some departing merrymakers regrettably fell into flooded ditches; the more prudent stayed on until daybreak, when they retreated over planks stretching from the entrance to their waiting carriages. Several avowed that the deluge was the judgement of God on the idolatry of the jubilee.

— Samuel Schoenbaum, Shakespeare's Lives (1970), pp. 154, 155, 156-7.

Some time in 1863, after several hole-and-corner meetings of a few literary enthusiasts, it was announced in the newspapers that a National Shakespeare committee had been formed with the object of celebrating in some unexplained fashion the tercentenary of Shakespeare's birth. Hepworth Dixon, the then editor of the Athenaeum, who was always hungering after notoriety, seeing the chance of a little cheap popularity, joined the movement, and speedily placed himself at its head. It was commonly rumoured that Dixon aspired to the honours of knighthood, and hoped to secure these if, when matters were ripe, the Prince of Wales accepted the office of president. His first step was to persuade his friend the Duke of Manchester, whose Kimbolton papers he had edited for him, to act as chairman of the committee. His next was to strengthen the latter by adding many notable individuals to it; after which he autocratically appointed his principal satellites as secretaries, nominating no less than a round dozen of them. He then chose a council who submitted their own names for the approval of the general committee, and were elected by the narrow majority of two, which they thought warranted them in describing themselves as the representatives of the 'intellect, wealth, and commercial enterprise of the nation'. Vice-presidents were next appointed, including a string of noblemen, and three distinguished literary men —Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, Alfred Tennyson, and Charles Dickens.

A section of the committee was strongly of the opinion that Mr. Thackeray should be joined to the foregoing, and at an ensuing meeting I [Henry Vizetelly] proposed inviting him to become one of our vice-presidents. Colonel Sykes, who presided, intimated that in the case of so distinguished a personage as Mr. Thackeray, there could be no question as to the propriety of the proposed course, and was about to declare the motion carried nem. con., when Hepworth Dixon—who had not forgotten a former snubbing Thackeray had given him—interposed with the objection that a circular sent to Thackeray asking him to join the committee had not been responded to. Nothing being thought of this, Dixon's henchman, J. Cordy Jeaffreson, came to his aid, and, after talking vaguely about the inordinate opinion which he knew Mr. Thackeray to entertain of himself, suggested that the committee would be only demeaning themselves by again applying to him. As Dixon had a considerable following, composed of contributors to the Athenaeum, and timid literary men who trembled for their next book, he secured the rejection of my proposal and the carrying of a counter-resolution, little dreaming that he was bringing about the speedy effacement of the National Shakespeare committee at the same time.

It was in the large room at the Society of Arts that the committee meetings were held, but so little interest did the public take in the proceedings that the newspapers sent no reporter to chronicle what transpired, and the outrageous resolution only oozed out by degrees. I took the matter up warmly, and, supported merely by one or two friends, agitated it at one committee meeting after another, suggesting among other things the rescinding of the resolution, and thereby avoiding a public scandal, but to no purpose. I then published an account of the affair in the Illustrated Times, which, as the other papers quoted it, led to the committee being vigorously assailed in all directions for their asinine resolution. Laurence Oliphant, in an indignant article in the London Review, called attention to the circumstance that the two most prominent members on the self-elected council were

'the David and Jonathan of a literary organ whose columns had been disfigured by a virulent and indecent criticism, needlessly cruel, offensive and unjust — on Miss Thackeray's charming novel, The Story of Elizabeth. To one or both of them,' said he, 'the father of the authoress attributed (rightly or wrongly) the slashing review, and was highly indignant at the cruel attack. This was known to the council, and yet, with exquisite taste, they put forward these two gentlemen to invite the adhesion of the greatest satirist of the day to the movement they had assumed the direction of.'

The sad part of the affair was that, within three weeks of this affront being put upon Mr. Thackeray by men unworthy of unloosing his shoestrings, London was startled by the news that the great novelist had been found dead in his bed on the morning of Christmas Eve....

As may be supposed, the painful incident of Mr. Thackeray's death cast considerable gloom over the next meeting of the National Shakespeare committee. Hepworth Dixon figuratively wept crocodile tears, and gravely moved that all record of the slight put upon Mr. Thackeray should be erased from the minute book, which, at one time, he had fondly talked of depositing in the British Museum; and of course Jeaffreson again did vassal's service. The suggestion, however, was too much for the meeting, which peremptorily determined that the offensive resolution, together with the names of its supporters, should remain inscribed on the committee's minutes, but that the committee should record their expression of deep regret at such a resolution having ever been carried. This was the beginning of the end, and a few weeks afterwards a protest against the proceedings of the executive, signed by Theodore Martin, Shirley Brooks, Dr. Brewer, and others, appeared in the morning papers, and the grand National Shakespeare committee, with its superstructure of a dozen secretaries, toppled over like a house of cards.

—Vizetelly, Glances Back, ii. 105-7, 109-10.
The earlier account to which Vizetelly refers appeared in The Illustrated Times, 12/12/1863
(Gordon N. Ray, Thackeray: The Age of Wisdom , 1847-1863 (1958), p. 407).

As if to compensate for their shadowy and doubtful origins, traditions about Shakespeare would, over the centuries, attach themselves to the particular: to actual places and tangible objects. Tradition marked the pew in the Guild Chapel where sat Stratford's most illustrious son. In 1877 the master of the free school, like others before him, proudly displayed Shakespeare's desk to visitors:

'William was a studious lad,' he pointed out, 'and selected that corner of the room so that he might not be disturbed by the other boys.'

The poet who left behind no personal papers nevertheless favoured posterity with innumerable baubles, gewgaws, and toys to mock apes: his pencil-case, walking stick, gloves, brooch, table, spoon, and wooden salt cellars, not to mention a jug in the form of a large coffee pot, with a neat head of the owner, in his fortieth year, engraved on the silver lid. The proprietor of the Shakespeare Hotel took pleasure in showing his visitors Shakespeare's clock, before parting with it at a public auction in 1880: not to be outdone, the nearby Falcon Inn boasted the shovel-board at which he delighted to play. . . .

In the early nineteenth century, Mary Hornby, custodian of the Birthplace, imposed upon the credulous with her bogus treasures. With her 'frosty face, lighted up by a cold blue anxious eye, and garnished with artificial locks of flaxen hair, curling from under an exceedingly dirty cap' (so Washington Irving described her), this garrulous harridan showed off the shattered stock of the dramatist's matchlock, his tobacco box, the sword with which he played Hamlet, a 'curious piece of carving' representing David slaying Goliath, and — among other curiosities — 'a Gold embroidered Box' presented to Shakespeare by the King of Spain in return for a goblet of great value. The presence of these relics must be regarded as miraculous, for when Samuel Vince visited Stratford in the summer of 1787, the only Shakespeare item remaining there was the poet's chair, 'fixed in one of the Chimnies'.

—Samuel Schoenbaum, op. cit., pp. 82-3.