A DAY WITH WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
"Some ardent love-scene in the rich dim gardens of Verona."Juliet. This bud of love, by summer's ripening heat,May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet.(Romeo and Juliet).
A DAY WITH WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.
IT was early on a bright June morning of the year 1599. The household of Christopher Mountjoy, the wig-maker, at the corner of Silver Street in Cripplegate, was already up and astir. Mountjoy, his wife and daughter, and his apprentice, Stephen Bellott, were each refreshing themselves with a hasty mouthful—one could not term it breakfast—before beginning their day's work. For town wig-makers were busy folk, then as now. Every fashionable dame wore "transformations," and some noble ladies, like the late Queen of Scots and—breathe it low—the great Elizabeth herself, changed the colour of their tresses every day.Breakfast, in 1599, was a rite "more honoured in the breach than in the observance." Most people, having supped with exceeding heartiness the previous night, ignored breakfast altogether: especially as dinner would occur some time between 10 and 12 a.m. Those who could not go long without food had no idea of a regular sit-down meal during that precious morning hour which "has a piece of gold in its mouth." They contented themselves with beaten-up eggs in muscadel wine, as now the Mountjoy family; who, being of French origin, boggled somewhat at the only alternative—a very English one—small ale and bread-and-butter.To these good folk, standing up and swallowing their morning draught, entered their well-to-do lodger, Mr. William Shakespeare, up betimes like them—for he was a very busy person,—and shared their jug of eggs and muscadel. Mr. Shakespeare was thirty-five years of age, "a handsome, well-shap't man," in the words of his friend Aubrey,—his eyes light hazel, his hair and beard auburn. He still retained, in some degree, the complexion which accompanies auburn hair, and this imparted a tinge of delicacy to his sensitive and mobile face. He was already slightly inclined to embonpoint: for in the seventeenth century people aged soon, and thirty-five was much more like forty-five nowadays.In all company, with all people, Shakespeare was charmingly pleasant-spoken. He had long since shed any provincial gaucherie, and was of an exquisite courtesy, "of a very ready and pleasant smooth wit,"—again to quote his intimates, "a good-natured man, of a great sweetness in his bearing, and a most agreeable company." Moreover, that indefinable ease of bearing, which accrues with success, was evident in the gracious bonhomie of his mien. For, after many years of stress and struggle, many hard bouts with fortune, innumerable humiliations and adverse events, he was now prosperous, popular, possessed of this world's goods. Although a self-made man in every sense of the word,—although still a member of that despised theatrical profession against which the pulpit thundered, at which the decent citizen looked askance,—he was a distinctly marked personality, not to be ignored. He was part proprietor of the Globe Theatre, the Blackfriars, and the Rose,—he had house property in Southwark and Blackfriars, lands and houses at Stratford-upon-Avon. He had obtained a coat-of-arms for his family from the College of Heralds, thus constituting himself legally a "gentleman"; he was the brilliant author of immensely popular plays. And he was reputed to earn at the rate of £600 per annum—which would be now worth nearly eight times as much.