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twice at least troups of strolling players, the Queen’s Company and the Earl of Worcester’s Company. It is very likely that little Will was taken to see the plays they acted. Then when he was eleven years old there was great excitement in the country town, for Queen Elizabeth came to visit the great Earl of Leicester at his castle of Kenilworth, not sixteen miles away. There were great doings then, and the Queen was received with all the magnificence and pomp that money could procure and imagination invent. Some of these grand shows Shakespeare must have seen.

Long afterwards he remembered perhaps how one evening he had stood among the crowd tiptoeing and eager to catch a glimpse of the great Queen as she sat enthroned on a golden chair. Her red- gold hair gleamed and glittered with jewels under the flickering torchlight. Around her stood a crowd of nobles and ladies only less brilliant that she. Then, as William gazed and gazed, his eyes aching with the dazzling lights, there was a movement in the surging crowd, a murmur of “ohs” and “ahs.” And, turning, the boy saw another lady, another Queen, appear from out the dark shadow of the trees. Stately and slowly she moved across the grass. Then following her came a winged boy with golden bow and arrows. This was the god of Love, who roamed the world shooting his love arrows at the hearts of men and women, making them love each other. He aimed, he shot, the arrow flew, but the god missed his aim and the lady passed on, beautiful, cold, free, as before. Love could not touch her, he followed her but in vain.

It was with such pageants, such allegories, that her people flattered Queen Elizabeth, for many men laid their hearts at her feet, but she in return never gave her own. She was the woman above all others to be loved, to be worshiped, but herself remained in “maiden meditation fancy-free.” The memory of those brilliant days stayed with the poet-child. They were sun-gilt, as childish memories are, and in after years he wrote:

“That very time I saw (but thou couldst not) Flying between the cold moon and the earth, Cupid all arm’d. A certain aim he took At a fair vestal, throned by the West, And loos’d his love-shaft smartly from his bow, As it should pierce a hundred thousand hearts; But I might see young cupid’s fiery shaft Quench’d in the chaste beams of the watery moon, And the imperial votaress passed on,
In maiden meditation, fancy-free. Yet mark’d I where the bolt of Cupid fell: It fell upon a little western flower;
Before, milk-white; now, purple with love’s wound, And maidens call it love-in-idleness.”*

*Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act II Scene i.

Some time after John Shakespeare became chief bailiff his fortunes turned. From being rich he became poor. Bit by bit he was obliged to sell his own and his wife’s property. So little Will was taken away from school at the age of thirteen, and set to earn his own living as a butcher–his father’s trade, we are told. But if he ever was a butcher he was, nevertheless, an actor and a poet, “and when he killed a calf he would do it in a high style and make a speech.”* How Shakespeare fared in this new work we do not know, but we may fancy him when work was done wandering along the pretty country lanes or losing himself in the forest of Arden, which lay not far from his home, “the poet’s eye in a fine frenzy rolling,” and singing to himself:

“Jog on, jog on, the footpath way,
And merrily hent the stile-a;
A merry heart goes all the day,
Your sad tires in a mile-a.”*

*Winter’s Tale, Act IV Scene ii.

*John Aubrey.

He knew the lore of fields and woods, of trees and flowers, and birds and beasts. He sang of

“The ousel-cock so black of hue,
With orange-tawny bill,
The throstle with his note so true, The wren with little quill.
The finch, the sparrow, and the lark, The plain-song cuckoo gray,
Whose note full many a man doth mark, And dares not answer nay.”*

*Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act III Scene i.

He remembered, perhaps, in after years his rambles by the slow- flowing Avon, when he wrote:

“He makes sweet music with th’ enamell’d stones, Giving a gentle kiss to every sedge
He overtaketh in his pilgrimage;
And so by many winding nooks he strays, With willing sport, to the wide ocean.”*

*Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act II Scene vii.

He knew the times of the flowers. In spring he marked

“the daffodils,
That come before the swallow dares, and take The winds of March with beauty.”*

*Winter’s Tale.

Of summer flowers he tells us

“Hot lavender, mints, savory, marjoram; The marigold, that goes to bed wi’ the sun, And with him rises weeping; these are flowers Of middle summer.”*

*Winter’s Tale.

He knew that “a lapwing runs close by the ground,” that choughs are “russet-pated.” He knew all the beauty that is to be found throughout the country year.

Sometimes in his country wanderings Shakespeare got into mischief too. He had a daring spirit, and on quiet dark nights he could creep silently about the woods snaring rabbits or hunting deer. But we are told “he was given to all unluckiness in stealing venison and rabbits.”* He was often caught, sometimes got a good beating, and sometimes was sent to prison.

*Archdeacon Davies.

So the years passed on, and we know little of what happened in them. Some people like to think that Shakespeare was a schoolmaster for a time, others that he was a clerk in a lawyer’s office. He may have been one or other, but we do not know. What we do know is that when he was eighteen he took a great step. He married. We can imagine him making love-songs then. Perhaps he sang:

“O mistress mine, where are you roaming? O, stay and hear; your true-love’s coming, That can sing both high and low:
Trip no further, pretty sweeting; Journeys end in lovers’ meeting;
Every wise man’s son doth know.

What is love? ’tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter; What’s to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies no plenty;
Then come kiss me, sweet-and-twenty, Youth’s a stuff will not endure.”*

*Twelfth Night.

The lady whom Shakespeare married was named Anne Hathaway. She came of farmer folk like Shakespeare’s own mother. She was eight years older than her boyish lover, but beyond that we know little of Anne Hathaway, for Shakespeare never anywhere mentions his wife.
A little while after their marriage a daughter was born to Anne and William Shakespeare. Nearly two years later a little boy and girl came to them. The boy died when he was about eleven, and only the two little girls, Judith and Susanna, lived to grow up.

In spite of the fact that Shakespeare had now a wife and children to look after, he had not settled down. He was still wild, and being caught once more in stealing game he left Stratford and went to London.


WHEN Shakespeare first went to London he had a hard life. He found no better work to do than that of holding horses outside the theater doors. In those days the plays took place in the afternoon, and as many of the fine folk who came to watch them rode on horseback, some one was needed to look after the horses until the play was over. But poor though this work was, Shakespeare seems to have done it well, and he became such a favorite that he had several boys under him who were long known as “Shakespeare’s boys.” Their master, however, soon left work outside the theater for work inside. And now began the busiest years of his life, for he both acted and wrote. At first it may be he only altered and improved the plays of others. But soon he began to write plays that were all his own. Yet Shakespeare, like Chaucer, never invented any of his own stories. There is only one play of his, called Love’s Labor’s Lost, the story of which is not to be found in some earlier book. That, too, may have been founded on another story which is now lost.

When you come to know Shakespeare’s plays well you will find it very interesting to follow his stories to their sources. That of King Lear, which is one of Shakespeare’s great romantic historical plays, is, for instance, to be found in Geoffrey of Monmouth, in Wace’s Brut, and in Layamon’s Brut. But it was from none of these that Shakespeare took the story, but from the chronicle of a man named Holinshed who lived and wrote in the time of Queen Elizabeth, he in his turn having taken it from some one of the earlier sources.

For, after all, in spite of the thousands of books that have been written since the world began, there are only a certain number of stories which great writers have told again and again in varying ways. One instance of this we saw when in the beginning of this book we followed the story of Arthur.

But although Shakespeare borrowed his plots from others, when he had borrowed them he made them all his own. He made his people so vivid and so true that he makes us forget that they are not real people. We can hardly realize that they never lived, that they never walked and talked, and cried and laughed, loved and hated, in this world just as we do. And this is so because the stage to him is life and life a stage. “All the world’s a stage,” he says,

“And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances: And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages.”*

*As You Like It.

And again he tells us:

“Life’s but a walking shadow; a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more.”*


It is from Shakespeare’s works that we get the clearest picture of Elizabethan times. And yet, although we learn from him so much of what people did in those days, of how they talked and even of how they thought, the chief thing that we feel about Shakespeare’s characters is, not that they are Elizabethan, but that they are human, that they are like ourselves, that they think, and say, and do, things which we ourselves might think, and say, and do.

There are many books we read which we think of as very pretty, very quaint, very interesting–but old-fashioned. But Shakespeare can never be old-fashioned, because, although he is the outcome of his own times, and gives us all the flavor of his own times, he gives us much more. He understood human nature, he saw beneath the outward dress, and painted for us real men and women. And although fashion in dress and modes of living may change, human nature does not change. “He was not of an age but for all time,” it was said of him about seven years after his death, and now that nearly three hundred years have come and gone we still acknowledge the truth of those words.

Shakespeare’s men and women speak and act and feel in the main as we might now. Many of his people we feel are our brothers and sisters. And to this human interest he adds something more, for he leads us too through “unpathed waters” to “the undreamed shores” of fairyland.

Shakespeare’s writing time was short. Before he left Stratford he wrote nothing unless it may have been a few scoffing verses against the Justice of the Peace who punished him for poaching. But these, if they were ever written, are lost. In the last few years of his life he wrote little or nothing. Thus the number of his writing years was not more than twenty to twenty-five, but in that time he wrote thirty-seven plays, two long poems, and a hundred and fifty-six sonnets. At one time he must have written two plays every year. And when you come to know these plays well you will wonder at the greatness of the task.

Shakespeare writes his plays sometimes in rime, sometimes in blank verse, sometimes in prose, at times using all these in one play. In this he showed how free he was from rules. For, until he wrote, plays had been written in rime or blank verse only.

For the sake of convenience Shakespeare’s plays have been divided into histories, tragedies and comedies. But it is not always easy to draw the line and decide to which class a play belongs. They are like life. Life is not all laughter, nor is it all tears. Neither are Shakespeare’s comedies all laughter, and some of his tragedies would seem at times to be too deep for tears, full only of fierce, dark sorrow–and yet there is laughter in them too.

Besides being divided into histories, tragedies and comedies they have been divided in another way, into three periods of time. The first was when Shakespeare was trying his hand, when he was brimming over with the joy of the new full life of London. The second was when some dark sorrow lay over his life, we know not what, when the pain and mystery and the irony of living seems to strike him hard. Then he wrote his great tragedies. The third was when he had gained peace again, when life seemed to flow calmly and smoothly, and this period lasted until the end.

We know very little of Shakespeare’s life in London. As an actor he never made a great name, never acted the chief character in a play. But he acted sometimes in his own plays and took the part, we are told, of a ghost in one, and of a servant in another, neither of them great parts. He acted, too, in plays written by other people. But it was as a writer that he made a name, and that so quickly that others grew jealous of him. One called him “an upstart Crow, beautified in our feathers . . . in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in the country.”* But for the most part Shakespeare made friends even of rival authors, and many of them loved him well. He was good-tempered, merry, witty, and kindly, a most lovable man. “He was a handsome, well-shaped man, very good company, and a very ready and pleasant smooth wit,”** said one. “I loved the man and do honor to his memory, on this side of idolatry as much as any. He was indeed honest and of an open and free nature,”*** said another. Others still called him a good fellow, gentle Shakespeare, sweet Master Shakespeare. I should like to think, too, that Spenser called him “our pleasant Willy.” But wise folk tell us that these words were not spoken of Shakespeare but of some one else whose name was not William at all.

*Robert Greene, A groatsworth of Wit bought with a million of repentance.
**John Aubrey.
***Ben Jonson.

And so although outside his work we get only glimpses of the man, these glimpses taken together with his writings show us Will Shakespeare as a big-hearted man, a man who understood all and forgave all. He understood the little joys and sorrows that make up life. He understood the struggle to be good, and would not scorn people too greatly when they were bad. “Children, we feel sure,” says one of the latest writers about him, “did not stop their talk when he came near them, but continued in the happy assurance that it was only Master Shakespeare.”* And so if children find his plays hard to read yet a while they may at least learn to know his stories and learn to love his name–it is only Master Shakespeare. But they must remember that learning to know Shakespeare’s stories through the words of other people is only half a joy. The full joy of Shakespeare can only come when we are able to read his plays in his very own words. But that will come all the more easily and quickly to us if we first know his stories well.

*Prof. Raleigh.

There are parts in some of Shakespeare’s plays that many people find coarse. But Shakespeare is not really coarse. We remember the vision sent to St. Peter which taught him that there was nothing common or unclean. Shakespeare had seen that vision. In life there is nothing common or unclean, if we only look at it in the right way. And Shakespeare speaks of everything that touches life most nearly. He uses words that we do not use now; he speaks of things we do not speak of now; but it was the fashion of his day to be more open and plain spoken than we are. And if we remember that, there is very little in Shakespeare that need hurt us even if there is a great deal which we cannot understand. And when you come to read some of the writers of Shakespeare’s age and see that in them the laughter is often brutal, the horror of tragedy often coarse and crude, you will wonder more than ever how Shakespeare made his laughter so sweet and sunny, and how, instead of revolting us, he touches our hearts with his horror and pain.

About eleven years passed after Shakespeare left Stratford before he returned there again. But once having returned, he often paid visits to his old home. And he came now no more as a poor wild lad given to poaching. He came as a man of wealth and fame. He bought the best house in Stratford, called New Place, as well as a good deal of land. So before John Shakespeare died he saw his family once more important in the town.

Then as the years went on Shakespeare gave up all connection with London and the theater and settled down to a quiet country life. He planted trees, managed his estate, and showed that though he was the world’s master-poet he was a good business man too. Everything prospered with him, his two daughters married well, and comfortably, and when not more than forty-three he held his first grandchild in his arms. It may be he looked forward to many happy peaceful years when death took him. He died of fever, brought on, no doubt, by the evil smells and bad air by which people lived surrounded in those days before they had learned to be clean in house and street.

Shakespeare was only fifty-two when he died. It was in the springtime of 1616 that he died, breathing his last upon

“The uncertain glory of an April day Which now shows all the beauty of the sun And by and by a cloud takes all away.”*

*Two Gentlemen of Verona.

He was buried in Stratford Parish Church, and on his grave was placed a bust of the poet. That bust and an engraving in the beginning of the first great edition of his works are the only two real portraits of Shakespeare. Both were done after his death, and yet perhaps there is no face more well known to us than that of the greatest of all poets.

Beneath the bust are written these lines:

“Stay, passenger, why goest thou by so fast? Read, if thou-canst, whom envious Death hath plast Within this monument; Shakespeare with whome Quick nature dide: whose name doth deck ys tombe, Far more than cost, sith all yt he hath writt, Leaves living art but page to serve his witt.”

Upon a slab over the grave is carved:

“Good frend, for Jesus’ sake forbeare To digg the dust encloased heare;
Bleste be ye man yt spares thes stones, And curst be he yt moves my bones.”

And so our greatest poet lies not beneath the great arch of Westminster but in the quiet church of the little country town in which he was born.


IN this chapter I am going to tell you in a few words the story of one of Shakespeare’s plays called The Merchant of Venice. It is founded on an Italian story, one of a collection made by Ser Giovanni Fiorentino.

The merchant of Venice was a rich young man called Antonio. When the story opens he had ventured all his money in trading expeditions to the East and other lands. In two months’ time he expects the return of his ships and hopes then to make a great deal of money. But meantime he has none to spare, and when his great friend Bassanio comes to borrow of him he cannot give him any.

Bassanio’s need is urgent, for he loves the beautiful lady Portia and desires to marry her. This lady was so lovely and so rich that her fame had spread over all the world till “the four winds blow in from every coast renowned suitors.” Bassanio would be among these suitors, but alas he has no money, not even enough to pay for the journey to Belmont where the lovely lady lived. Yet if he wait two months until Antonio’s ships return it may be too late, and Portia may be married to another. So to supply his friend’s need Antonio decides to borrow the money, and soon a Jew named Shylock is found who is willing to lend it. For Shylock was a money-lender. He lent money to people who had need of it and charged them interest. That is, besides having to pay back the full sum they had borrowed they had also to pay some extra money in return for the loan.

In those days Jews were ill-treated and despised, and there was great hatred between them and Christians. And Shylock especially hated Antonio, because not only did he rail against Jews and insult them, but he also lent money without demanding interest, thereby spoiling Shylock’s trade. So now the Jew lays a trap for Antonio, hoping to catch him and be revenged upon his enemy. He will lend the money, he says, and he will charge no interest, but if the loan be not repaid in three months Antonio must pay as forfeit a pound of his own flesh, which Shylock may cut from any part of his body that he chooses.

To this strange bargain Antonio consents. It is but a jest, he thinks.

“Content in faith, I’ll seal to such a bond, And say, there is much kindness in the Jew.”

But Bassanio is uneasy. “I like not fair terms,” he says, “and a villain mind. You shall not seal to such a bond for me.” But Antonio insists and the bond is sealed.

All being settled, Bassanio receives the money, and before he sets off to woo his lady he gives a supper to all his friends, to which he also invites Shylock. Shylock goes to this supper although to his daughter Jessica he says,

“But wherefore should I go?
I am not bid for love; they flatter me: But yet I’ll go in hate, to feed upon
The prodigal Christian.”

But Jessica does not join her father in his hatred of all Christians. She indeed has given her heart to one of the hated race, and well knowing that her father will never allow her to marry him, she, that night while he is at supper with Bassanio, dresses herself in boy’s clothes and steals away, taking with her a great quantity of jewels and money.

When Shylock discovers his loss he is mad with grief and rage. He runs about the streets crying for justice.

“Justice! the law! my ducats, and my daughter! A sealed bag, two sealed bags of ducats, Of double ducats stol’n from me by my daughter!”

And all the wild boys in Venice follow after him mocking him and crying, “His stones, his daughter and his ducats!”

So finding nowhere love or sympathy but everywhere only mockery and cruel laughter, Shylock vows vengeance. The world has treated him ill, and he will repay the world with ill, and chiefly against Antonio does his anger grow bitter.

Then Antonio’s friends shake their heads and say, “Let him beware the hatred of the Jew.” They look gravely at each other, for it is whispered abroad that “Antonio hath a ship of rich lading wreck’d on the narrow seas.”

Then let Antonio beware.

“Thou wilt not take his flesh,” says one of the young merchant’s friends to Shylock. “What’s that good for?”

“To bait fish withal,” snarls the Jew. “If it will feed nothing else it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies; and what’s his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? If you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.”

Then let Antonio beware.

Meantime in Belmont many lovers come to woo fair Portia. With high hope they come, with anger and disappointment they go away. None can win the lady’s hand. For there is a riddle here of which none know the meaning.

When a suitor presents himself and asks for the lady’s hand in marriage, he is shown three caskets, one of gold, one of silver, and one of lead. Upon the golden one is written the words, “Who chooseth me, shall gain what many men desire”; upon the silver casket are the words, “Who chooseth me, shall get as much as he deserves”; and upon the leaden one, “Who chooseth me, must give and hazard all he hath.” And only whoso chooseth aright, each suitor is told, can win the lady.

This trial of all suitors had been ordered by Portia’s father ere he died, so that only a worthy and true man might win his daughter. Some suitors choose the gold, some the silver casket, but all, princes, barons, counts, and dukes, alike choose wrong.

At length Bassanio comes. Already he loves Portia and she loves him. There is no need of any trail of the caskets. Yet it must be. Her father’s will must be obeyed. But what if he choose wrong. That is Portia’s fear.

“I pray you, tarry; pause a day or two Before you hazard; for, in choosing wrong, I lose your company,”

she says.

But Bassanio cannot wait:–

“Let me choose;
For, as I am, I live upon the rack.”

And so he stands before the caskets, longing to make a choice, yet fearful. The gold he rejects, the silver too, and lays his hand upon the leaden casket. He opens it. Oh, joy! within is a portrait of his lady. He has chosen aright. yet he can scarce believe his happiness.

“I am,” he says,

“Like one of two contending in a prize, That thinks he hath done well in people’s eyes, Hearing applause, and universal shout, Giddy in spirit, still gazing in a doubt Whether those pearls of praise be his or no; So, thrice fair lady, stand I, even so; As doubtful whether what I see be true, Until confirm’d, sign’d, ratifi’d by you.”

And Portia, happy, triumphant, humble, no longer the great lady with untold wealth, with lands and palaces and radiant beauty, but merely a woman who has given her love, answers:–

“You see me, Lord Bassanio, where I stand, Such as I am: though, for myself alone, I would not be ambitious in my wish,
To wish myself much better; yet, for you, I would be trebled twenty times myself; A thousand times more fair, ten thousand times More rich;
That only to stand high on your account, I might in virtues, beauties, livings, friends, Exceed account: but the full sum of me Is sum of something: which, to term in gross, Is an unlesson’d girl, unschool’d, unpractis’d, Happy in this, she is not yet so old
But she may learn; happier than this, She is not bred so dull but she can learn; Happiest of all, is, that her gentle spirit Commite itself to yours to be directed, As from her lord, her governor, her king. Myself, and what is mine, to you, and yours Is now converted; but now I was the lord Of this fair mansion, master of my servants, Queen o’er myself; and even now, but now, This house, these servants, and this same myself, Are yours, my lord.”

Then as a pledge of all her love Portia gives to Bassanio a ring, and bids him never part from it so long as he shall live. And Bassanio taking it, gladly swears to keep it forever.

“But when this ring
Parts from this finger, then parts life from hence; O, then be bold to say, Bassanio’s dead.”

And then as if to make the joy complete, it is discovered that Portia’s lady in waiting, Nerissa, and Bassanio’s friend, Gratiano, also love each other, and they all agree to be married on the same day.

In the midst of this happiness the runaway couple, Lorenzo and Jessica, arrive from Venice with another of Antonio’s friends who brings a letter to Bassanio. As Bassanio reads the letter all the gladness fades from his face. He grows pale and trembles. Anxiously Portia asks what troubles him.

“I am half yourself,
And I must freely have the half of anything That this same paper brings you.”

And Bassanio answers:–

“O sweet Portia,
Here are a few of the unpleasant’st words That ever blotted paper! Gentle lady,
When I did first impart my love to you, I freely told you, all the wealth I had Ran in my veins, I was a gentleman;
And then I told you true: and yet, dear lady, Rating myself at nothing, you shall see How much I was a braggart: when I told you My state was nothing, I should then have told you That I was worse than nothing.”

He is worse than nothing, for he is in debt to his friend, and that friend for him is now in danger of his life. For the three months allowed by Shylock for the payment of the debt are over, and as not one of Antonio’s ships has returned, he cannot pay the money. Many friends have offered to pay for him, but Shylock will have none of their gold. He does not want it. What he wants is revenge. He wants Antonio’s life, and well he knows if a pound of flesh be cut from this poor merchant’s breast he must die.

And all for three thousand ducats! “Oh,” cries Portia when she hears, “what a paltry sum! Pay the Jew ten times the money and tear up the bond, rather than that Antonio shall lose a single hair through Bassanio’s fault.”

“It is no use,” she is told, “Shylock will have his bond, and nothing but his bond.”

If that be so, then must Bassanio hasten to his friend to comfort him at least. So the wedding is hurried on, and immediately after it Bassanio and Gratiano hasten away, leaving their new wives behind them.

But Portia has no mind to sit at home and do nothing while her husband’s friend is in danger of his life. As soon as Bassanio has gone, she gives her house into the keeping of Lorenzo and sets out for Venice. From her cousin, the great lawyer Bellario, she borrows lawyer’s robes for herself, and those of a lawyer’s clerk for Nerissa. And thus disguised, they reach Venice safely.

This part of the story has brought us to the fourth act of the play, and when the curtain rises on this act we see the Court of Justice in Venice. The Duke and all his courtiers are present, the prisoner Antonio, with Bassanio, and many others of his friends. Shylock is called in. The Duke tries to soften the Jew’s heart and make him turn to mercy, in vain. Bassanio also tries in vain, and still Bellario, to whom the Duke has sent for aid, comes not.

At this moment Nerissa, dressed as a lawyer’s clerk, enters, bearing a letter. The letter is from Bellario recommending a young lawyer named Balthazar to plead Antonio’s cause. This is, of course, none other than Portia. She is admitted, and at once begins the case. “You stand within his danger, do you not?” she says to Antonio.


PORTIA. Then must the Jew be merciful.

SHYLOCK. On what compulsion must I? Tell me that.

PORTIA. The quality of mercy is not strained; It droppeth, as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath; it is twice blessed; It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes: ‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes The thronéd monarch better than his crown; His scepter shows the force of temporal power, The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings; But mercy is above this sceptr’d sway, It is enthronéd in the hearts of kings, It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew, Though justice be thy plea, consider this– That in the course of justice, none of us Shall see salvation: we do pray for mercy; And that same prayer doth teach us all to render The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much, To mitigate the justice of thy plea;
Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the merchant there.

SHYLOCK. My deeds upon my head! I crave the law, The penalty and forfeit of my bond.

PORTIA. Is he not able to discharge the money?

BASSANIO. Yes, here I tender it for him in the court; Yea, twice the sum: if that will not suffice, I will be bound to pay it ten times o’er, On forfeit of my hands, my head, my heart: If this will not suffice, it must appear That malice bears down truth. And I beseech you Wrest once the law to your authority:
To do a great right, do a little wrong; And curb this cruel devil of his will.

PORTIA. It must not be; there is no power in Venice Can alter a decree established:
‘Twill be recorded for a precedent; And many an error, by the same example, Will rush into the state; it cannot be.

SHYLOCK. A Daniel come to judgement! yea, a Daniel! O wise young judge, how I do honour thee!

PORTIA. I pray you, let me look upon the bond.

SHYLOCK. Here ’tis, most reverend doctor, here it is.

PORTIA. Shylock, there’s thrice thy money offered thee.

SHYLOCK. An oath, an oath, I have an oath in heaven: Shall I lay perjury upon my soul?
No, not for Venice.

PORTIA. Why, this bond is forfeit:
And lawfully by this the Jew may claim A pound of flesh, to be by him cut off Nearest the merchant’s heart. Be merciful; Take thrice thy money; bid me tear the bond.

SHYLOCK. When it is paid according to the tenour. It doth appear you are a worthy judge; You know the law, your exposition
Hath been most sound; I charge you by the law, Whereof you are a well-deserving pillar, Proceed to judgment: by my soul I swear, There is no power in the tongue of man To alter me: I stay here on my bond.

ANTONIO. Most heartily I do beseech the court To give the judgement.

PORTIA. Why then, thus it is.
You must prepare your bosom for his knife.

SHYLOCK. O noble judge! O excellent young man!

PORTIA. For the intent and purpose of the law Hath full relation to the penalty,
Which here appeareth due upon the bond.

SHYLOCK. ‘Tis very true: O wise and upright judge! How much more elder art thou than thy looks!

PORTIA. Therefore, lay bare your bosom.

SHYLOCK. Ay, his breast:
So says the bond;–Doth it not, noble judge? Nearest his heart, those are the very words.

PORTIA. It is so. Are there balance here, to weigh The flesh?

SHYLOCK. I have them ready.

PORTIA. Have by some surgeon, Shylock, on your charge, To stop his wounds, lest he do bleed to death.

SHYLOCK. Is it so nominated in the bond?

PORTIA. It is not so express’d. But what of that? ‘Twere good you do so much for charity.

SHYLOCK. I cannot find it; ’tis not in the bond.

PORTIA. Come, merchant, have you anything to say?”

Antonio answers, “But little.” He is prepared for death, and takes leave of Bassanio. But Shylock is impatient. “We trifle time,” he cries; “I pray thee, pursue sentence.”

“PORTIA. A pound of that same merchant’s flesh is thine; The court awards it, and the law doth give it.

SHYLOCK. Most rightful judge!

PORTIA. And you must cut this flesh from off his breast; The law allows it; and the court awards it.

SHYLOCK. Most learned judge!–A sentence; come, prepare.

PORTIA. Tarry a little;–there is something else. This bond doth give thee here no jot of blood; The words expressly are, a pound of flesh: But, in the cutting it, if thou dost shed One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods Are, by the laws of Venice, confiscate Unto the state of Venice.

GRATIANO. O upright judge!–Mark, Jew;–O learned judge!

SHYLOCK. Is that the law?

PORTIA. Thyself shall see the act;
For, as thou urgest justice, be assur’d, Thou shalt have justice, more than thou desir’st.

GRATIANO. O learned judge,–Mark, Jew;–a learned judge!

SHYLOCK. I take this offer then,–pay the bond thrice, And let the Christian go.

BASSANIO. Here is the money.

The Jew shall have all justice;–soft;–no haste;– He shall have nothing but the penalty.

GRATIANO. O Jew! An upright judge, a learned judge!

PORTIA. Therefore, prepare thee to cut off the flesh. Shed thou no blood; nor cut thou less, nor more, But just a pound of flesh: if thou tak’st more, Or less, than a just pound,–be it but so much As makes it light, or heavy, in the substance, Or the division of the twentieth part
Of one poor scruple,–nay, if the scale do turn But in the estimation of a hair,–
Thou diest, and all thy goods are confiscate.

GRATIANO. A second Daniel, a Daniel, Jew! Now, infidel, I have thee on the hip.

PORTIA. Why doth the Jew pause? Take thy forfeiture.

SHYLOCK. Give me my principal, and let me go.

BASSANIO. I have it ready for thee; here it is.

PORTIA. He hath refus’d it in the open court; He shall have merely justice, and his bond.

GRATIANO. A Daniel, still say I; a second Daniel! I thank thee, Jew, for teaching me that word.

SHYLOCK. Shall I not have barely my principal?

PORTIA. Thou shalt have nothing but the forfeiture, To be so taken at thy peril, Jew.”

So, seeing himself beaten on all points, the Jew would leave the court. But not yet is he allowed to go. Not until he has been fined for attempting to take the life of a Venetian citizen, not until he is humiliated, and so heaped with disgrace and insult that we are sorry for him, is he allowed to creep away.

The learned lawyer is loaded with thanks, and Bassanio wishes to pay him nobly for his pains. But he will take nothing; nothing, that is, but the ring which glitters on Bassanio’s finger. That Bassanio cannot give–it is his wife’s present and he has promised never to part with it. At that the lawyer pretends anger. “I see, sir,” he says:–

“You are liberal in offers:
You taught me first to beg; and now, methinks, You teach me how a beggar should be answered.”

Hardly have they parted than Bassanio repents his seemingly churlish action. Has not this young man saved his friend from death, and himself from disgrace? Portia will surely understand that his request could not be refused, and so he sends Gratiano after him with the ring. Gratiano gives the ring to the lawyer, and the seeming clerk begs Gratiano for his ring, which he, following his friend’s example, gives.

In the last act of the play all the friends are gathered again at Belmont. After some merry teasing upon the subject of the rings the truth is told, and Bassanio and Gratiano learn that the skillful lawyer and his clerk were none other than their young and clever wives.


Among the best books of Shakespeare’s stories are: Stories from Shakespeare, by Jeanie Lang. The Shakespeare Story-Book, by Mary M’Leod. Tales from Shakespeare (Everyman’s Library), by C. and M. Lamb.


Histories. – Henry VI (three parts); Richard III; Richard II; King John; Henry IV (two parts); Henry V; Henry VIII (doubtful if Shakespeare’s).

Tragedies. – Titus Andronicus; Romeo and Juliet; Julius Caesar; Hamlet; King Lear; Macbeth; Timon of Athens; Antony and Cleopatra; Coriolanus.

Comedies. – Love’s Labour’s Lost; Two Gentlemen of Verona; Comedy of Errors; Merchant of Venice; Taming of the Shrew; A Midsummer Night’s Dream; All’s Well that Ends Well; Merry Wives of Windsor; Much Ado About Nothing; As You Like It; Twelfth Night; Troilus and Cressida; Measure for Measure; Pericles; Cymbeline; The Tempest; A Winter’s Tale.


OF all the dramatists who were Shakespeare’s friends, of those who wrote before him, with him, and just after him, we have little room to tell. But there is one who stands almost as far above them all as Shakespeare stands above him. This is Ben Jonson, and of him we must speak.

Ben Jonson’s life began in poverty, his father dying before he was born, and leaving his widow poorly provided for. When Ben was about two years old his mother married again, and this second husband was a bricklayer. Ben, however, tells us that his own father was a gentleman, belonging to a good old Scottish Border family, and that he had lost all his estates in the reign of Queen Mary. But about the truth of this we do not know, for Ben was a bragger and a swaggerer. He may not have belonged to this Scottish family, and he may have had no estates to lose. Ben first went to a little school at St. Martin’s-in-the-fields in London. There, somehow, the second master of Westminster School came to know of him, became his friend, and took him to Westminster, where he paid for his schooling. But when Ben left school he had to earn a living in some way, so he became a bricklayer like his step-father, when “having a trowell in his hand he had a book in his pocket.”*


He did not long remain a bricklayer, however, for he could not endure the life, and next we find him a soldier in the Netherlands. We know very little of what he did as a soldier, and soon he was home again in England. Here he married. His wife was a good woman, but with a sharp tongue, and the marriage does not seem to have been very happy. And although they had several children, all of them died young.

And now, like Shakespeare, Jonson became an actor. Like Shakespeare too, he wrote plays. His first play is that by which he is best known, called Every Man in His Humour. By a man’s humor, Jonson means his chief characteristic, one man, for instance, showing himself jealous, another boastful, and so on.

It will be a long time before you will care to read Every Man in His Humour, for there is a great deal in it that you would neither understand nor like. It is a play of the manners and customs of Elizabethan times which are so unlike ours that we have little sympathy with them. And that is the difference between Ben Jonson and Shakespeare. Shakespeare, although he wrote of his own time, wrote for all time; Jonson wrote of his own time for his own time. Yet, in Every Man in His Humour there is at least one character worthy to live beside Shakespeare’s, and that is the blustering, boastful Captain Bobadill. He talks very grandly, but when it comes to fighting, he thinks it best to run away and live to fight another day. If only to know Captain Bobadill it will repay you to read Every Man in His Humour when you grow up.

Here is a scene in which he shows his “humor” delightfully:–

“BOBADILL. I am a gentleman, and live here obscure, and to myself. But were I known to Her Majesty and the Lords– observe me–I would undertake, upon this poor head and life, for the public benefit of the State, not only to spare the entire lives of her subjects in general, but to save the one half, nay, three parts, of her yearly charge in holding war, and against what enemy soever. And how would I do it, think you?

EDWARD KNOWELL. Nay, I know not, nor can I conceive.

BOBADILL. Why thus, sir. I would select nineteen more, to myself, throughout the land. Gentlemen, they should be of good spirit, strong and able constitution. I would choose them by an instinct, a character that I have. And I would teach these nineteen the special rules, as your punto,* your reverso, your stoccata, your imbroccata, your passada, your montanto; till they could all play very near, or altogether, as well as myself. This done, say the enemy were forty thousand strong, we twenty would come into the field the tenth of March, or thereabouts, and we would challenge twenty of the enemy. They could not in their honour refuse us. Well, we would kill them. Challenge twenty more, kill them; twenty more, kill them; twenty more, kill them too. And thus would we kill every man his twenty a day. That’s twenty score. Twenty score, that’s two hundred. Two hundred a day, five days a thousand. Forty thousand; forty times five, five times forty; two hundred days kills them all up by computation. And this will I venture by poor gentleman-like carcase to perform, provided there be no treason practised upon us, by fair and discreet manhood; that is, civilly by the sword.

EDWARD KNOWELL. Why! are you so sure of your hand, Captain, at all times?

BOBADILL. Tut! never miss thrust, upon my reputation with you.

EDWARD KNOWELL. I would not stand in Downright’s state then, an you meet him, for the wealth of any one street in London.”

*This and the following are names of various passes and thrusts used in fencing. Punto is a direct hit, reverso a backward blow, and so on.

(Knowell says this because Bobadill and Downright have had a quarrel, and Downright wishes to fight the Captain.)

“BOBADILL. Why, sir, you mistake me. If he were here now, by this welkin, I would not draw my weapon on him. Let this gentleman do his mind; but I will bastinado him, by the bright sun, wherever I meet him.

MATTHEW. Faith, and I’ll have a fling at him, at my distance.

EDWARD KNOWELL. Ods so, look where he is! yonder he goes. [DOWNRIGHT crosses the stage.

DOWNRIGHT. What peevish luck have I, I cannot meet with these bragging rascals?

BOBADILL. It is not he, is it?

EDWARD KNOWELL. Yes, faith, it is he.

MATTHEW. I’ll be hanged then if that were he.

EDWARD KNOWELL. Sir, keep your hanging good for some greater matter, for I assure you that was he.

STEPHEN. Upon my reputation, it was he.

BOBADILL. Had I thought it had been he, he must not have gone so. But I can hardly be induced to believe it was he yet.

EDWARD KNOWELL. That I think, sir– [Re-enter DOWNRIGHT. But see, he is come again.

DOWNRIGHT. O, Pharaoh’s foot, have I found you? Come, draw, to your tools. Draw, gipsy, or I’ll thrash you.

BOBADILL. Gentlemen of valour, I do believe in thee. Hear me–

DOWNRIGHT. Draw your weapon then.

BOBADILL. Tall man, I never thought on it till now– Body of me, I had a warrant of the peace served on me, even now as I came along, by a water-bearer. This gentleman saw it, Master Matthew.

DOWNRIGHT. ‘Sdeath! you will not draw! [DOWNRIGHT disarms BOBADILL and beats him.

MATTHEW runs away.
BOBADILL. Hold! hold! under thy favour forbear.

DOWNRIGHT. Prate again, as you like this, you foist* you. Your consort is gone. Had he staid he had shared with you, sir. [Exit DOWNRIGHT.

BOBADILL. Well, gentlemen, bear witness, I was bound to the peace, by this good day.

EDWARD KNOWELL. No, fait, it’s an ill day, Captain, never reckon it other. But, say you were bound to the peace, the law allows you to defend yourself. That will prove but a poor excuse.

BOBADILL. I cannot tell, sir. I desire good construction in fair sort. I never sustained the like disgrace, by heaven! Sure I was struck with a planet thence, for I had no power to touch my weapon.

EDWARD KNOWELL. Ay, like enough, I have heard of many that have been beaten under a planet. Go, get you to a surgeon! ‘Slid! and these be your tricks, your passadoes, and your montantos, I’ll none of them.”


When Every Man in His Humour was acted, Shakespeare took a part in it. He and Jonson must have met each other often, must have known each other well. At the Mermaid Tavern all the wits used to gather. For there was a kind of club founded by Sir Walter Raleigh, and here the clever men of the day met to smoke and talk, and drink not a little. And among all the clever men Jonson soon came to be acknowledged as the king and leader. We have a pleasant picture of these friendly meetings by a man who lived then. “Many were the wit-combats,” he says, “betwixt Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, which two I behold like a Spanish great gallion and an English Man of War: Master Jonson (like the former) was built far higher in learning; solid, but slow in his performances. Shakespeare, with the English Man of War, lesser in bulk but lighter in sailing, could turn with all tides, tack about, and take advantage of all winds, by the quickness of his wit and invention.”*

*Thomas Fuller, Worthies.

Another writer says in a letter to Ben,

“What things have we seen,
Done at the Mermaid! heard words that have been So nimble, and so full of subtile flame As if that every one from whence they came Had meant to pit his whole wit in a jest.”*

*F. Beaumont, Letter to Ben Jonson.

And so we get a picture of Ben lording it in taverns. A great good fellow, a stout fellow, he rolls his huge bulk about laying down the law.

So the years went on. Big Ben wrote and fought, quarreled and made friends, drank and talked, living always on the verge of poverty. At length, in 1603, the great Queen Elizabeth died, and James of Scotland came to the English throne. All the way as he journeyed he was greeted with rejoicing. There were everywhere plays and feasts given in his honor, and soon after he arrived in London a Masque written by Jonson was played before him. The new king was fond of such entertainments. He smiled upon Master Ben Jonson, and life became for him easier and brighter.

But shortly after this, Jonson, with two others, wrote a play in which some things were said against the Scots. With a Scottish king surrounded by Scottish lords, that was dangerous. All three soon found themselves in prison and came near losing their noses and ears. This was not the first time that Ben had been in prison, for soon after Every Man in His Humour was acted, he quarreled for some unknown reason with another actor. In the foolish fashion of the day they fought a duel over it, and Ben killed the other man. For this he was seized and put in prison, and just escaped being hanged. He was left off only with the loss of all his goods and a brand on the left thumb.

Now once more Jonson escaped. When he was set free, his friends gave a great feast to show their joy. But Ben had not learned his lesson, and at least once again he found himself in prison because of something he had written.

But in spite of these things the King continued to smile upon Ben Jonson. He gave him a pension and made him poet laureate, and it was now that he began to write the Masques for which he became famous. These Masques were dainty poetic little plays written for the court and often acted by the Queen and her ladies. There was much singing and dancing in them, and the dresses of the actors were gorgeous beyond description. And besides this, while the ordinary stage was still without any scenery, Inigo Jones, the greatest architect in the land, joined Ben Jonson in making his plays splendid by inventing scenery for them. This scenery was beautiful and elaborate, and was sometimes changed two or three times during the play. One of these plays called The Masque of Blackness was acted by the Queen and her ladies in 1605, and when we read the description of the scenery it makes us wonder and smile too at the remembrance of Wall and the Man in the Moon of which Shakespeare made such fun a few years earlier, and of which you will read in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Besides his Masques, Jonson wrote two tragedies, and a number of comedies, as well as other poems. But for a great part of his life, the part that must have been the easiest and brightest, he wrote Masques for the King and court and not for the ordinary stage. He knew his own power in this kind of writing well, and he was not modest. “Next himself,” he said, “only Fletcher and Chapman could make a mask.”* He found, too, good friends among the nobles. With one he lived for five years, another gave him money to buy books, and his library became his great joy and pride.

*Conversation of Ben Jonson with Drummond of Hawthornden.

Ben Jonson traveled too. For a time he traveled in France with Sir Walter Raleigh’s son, while Sir Walter himself was shut up in the Tower. But Jonson’s most famous journey is his walk to Scotland. He liked to believe that he belonged to a famous Border family, and wished to visit the land of his forefathers. So in the mid-summer of 1618 he set out. We do not know how long he took to make his lengthy walk, but in September he was comfortably settled in Leith, being “worthily entertained” by all the greatest and most learned men of the day. He had money enough for all his wants, for he was able to give a gold piece and two and twenty shillings to another poet less well off than himself. He was given the freedom of the city of Edinburgh and more than 200 pounds was spent on a great feast in his honor. About Christmas he went to pay a visit to a well-known Scottish poet, William Drummond, who lived in a beautiful house called Hawthornden, a few miles from Edinburgh. There he stayed two or three weeks, during which time he and his host had many a long talk together, discussing men and books. Drummond wrote down all that he could remember of these talks, and it is from them that we learn a good deal of what we know about our poet, a good deal, perhaps, not to his credit. We learn from them that he was vain and boastful, a loud talker and a deep drinker. Yet there is something about this big blustering Ben that we cannot help but like.

In January sometime, Jonson set his face homeward, and reached London in April or May, having taken nearly a year to pay his visit. He must have been pleased with his journey, for on his return he wrote a poem about Scotland. Nothing of it has come down to us, however, except one line in which he calls Edinburgh “The heart of Scotland, Britain’s other eye.”

The years passed for Jonson, if not in wealth, at least in such comfort as his way of life allowed. For we cannot ever think of him as happy in his own home by his own fireside. He is rather a king in Clubland spending his all freely and taking no thought for the morrow. But in 1625 King James died, and although the new King Charles still continued the poet’s pension, his tastes were different from those of his father, and Jonson found himself and his Masques neglected. His health began to fail too, and his library, which he dearly loved, was burned, together with many of his unpublished manuscripts, and so he fell on evil days.

Forgotten at court, Jonson began once more to write for the stage. But now that he had to write for bread, it almost seemed as if his pen had lost its charm. The plays he wrote added nothing to his fame. They were badly received. And so at last, in trouble for to-morrow’s bread, without wife or child to comfort him, he died on 8th August, 1637.

He was buried in Westminster, and it was intended to raise a fine tomb over his grave. But times were growing troublous, and the monument was still lacking, when a lover of the poet, Sir John Young of Great Milton, in Oxfordshire, came to do honor to his tomb. Finding it unmarked, he paid a workman 1s. 6d. to carve above the poet’s resting-place the words, “O rare Ben Jonson.” And perhaps these simple words have done more to keep alive the memory of the poet than any splendid monument could have done.


ALTHOUGH Ben Jonson’s days ended sadly, although his later plays showed failing powers, he left behind him unfinished a Masque called The Sad Shepherd which is perhaps more beautiful and more full of music than anything he ever wrote. For Ben’s charm did not lie in the music of his words but in the strength of his drawing of character. As another poet has said of him, “Ben as a rule–a rule which is proved by the exception–was one of the singers who could not sing; though, like Dryden, he could intone most admirably.”*


The Sad Shepherd is a tale of Robin Hood. Here once more we find an old story being used again, for we have already heard of Robin Hood in the ballads. Robin Hood makes a great fest to all the shepherds and shepherdesses round about. All are glad to come, save one Aeglamon, the Sad Shepherd, whose love, Earine, has, he believes, been drowned. But later in the play we learn that Earine is not dead, but that a wicked witch, Mother Maudlin, has enchanted her, and shut her up in a tree. She had done this in order to force Earine to give up Aeglamon, her true lover, and marry her own wretched son Lorel.

When the play begins, Aeglamon passes over the stage mourning for his lost love.

“Here she was wont to go! and here! and here! Just where those daisies, pinks, and violets grow, The world may find the spring by following her, For other print her airy steps ne’er left. Her treading would not bend a blade of grass, Or shake the downy blow-ball from his stalk! But like the soft west wind she shot along, And where she went the flowers took thickest root– As she had sowed them with her odorous foot.”

Robin Hood has left Maid Marian, Friar Tuck, Little John, and all his merry men to hunt the deer and make ready the feast. And Tuck says:

“And I, the chaplain, here am left to be Steward to-day, and charge you all in fee, To don your liveries, see the bower dressed, And fit the fine devices for the feast.”

So some make ready the bower, the tables and the seats, while Maid Marian, Little John and others set out to hunt. Presently they return successful, having killed a fine stag. Robin, too, comes home, and after loving greetings, listens to the tale of the hunt. Then Marian tells how, when the huntsmen cut up the stag, they threw the bone called the raven’s bone to one that sat and croaked for it.

“Now o’er head sat a raven,
On a sere bough, a grown great bird, and hoarse! Who, all the while the deer was breaking up So croaked and cried for it, as all the huntsmen, Especially old Scathlock, thought it ominous; Swore it was Mother Maudlin, whom he met At the day-dawn, just as he roused the deer Out of his lair.”

Mother Maudlin was a retched old witch, and Scathlock says he is yet more sure that the raven was she, because in her own form he has just seen her broiling the raven’s bone by the fire, sitting “In the chimley-nuik within.” While the talk went on Maid Marian had gone away. Now she returns and begins to quarrel with Robin Hood. Venison is much too good for such folk as he and his men, she says; “A starved mutton carcase would better fit their palates,” and she orders Scathlock to take the venison to Mother Maudlin. Those around can scarce believe their ears, for

“Robin and his Marian are the sum and talk Of all that breathe here in the green-wood walk.”

Such is their love for each other. They are “The turtles of the wood,” “The billing pair.” No one is more astonished than Robin Hood, as he cries:

“I dare not trust the faith of mine own senses, I fear mine eyes and ears: this is not Marian! Nor am I Robin Hood! I pray you ask her, Ask her, good shepherds, ask her all for me: Or rather ask yourselves, if she be she, Or I be I.”

But Maid Marian only scolds the more, and at last goes away leaving the others in sad bewilderment. Of course this was not Maid Marian at all, but Mother Maudlin, the old witch, who had taken her form in order to make mischief.

Meanwhile the real Maid Marian discovers that the venison has been sent away to Mother Maudlin’s. With tears in her eyes she declares that she gave no such orders, and Scathlock is sent to bring it back.

When Mother Maudlin comes to thank Maid Marian for her present, she is told that no such present was ever intended, and so she in anger curses the cook, casting spells upon him:

“The spit stand still, no broches turn Before the fire, but let it burn.
Both sides and haunches, till the whole Converted be into one coal.
The pain we call St. Anton’s fire, The gout, or what we can desire,
To cramp a cook in every limb,
Before they dine yet, seize on him.”

Soon Friar Tuck comes in. “Hear you how,” he says, “Poor Tom the cook is taken! all his joints Do crack, as if his limbs were tied with points. His whole frame slackens; and a kind of rack, Runs down along the spindils of his back; A gout, or cramp, now seizeth on his head, Then falls into his feet; his knees are lead; And he can stir his either hand no more Than a dead stump, to his office, as before.”

He is bewitched, that is certain. And certain too it is that Mother Maudlin has done it. So Robin and his men set out to hunt for her, while Friar Tuck and Much the Miller’s son stay to look after the dinner in the poor cook’s stead. Robin soon meets Mother Maudlin who has again taken the form of Maid Marian. But this time Robin suspects her. He seizes the witch by her enchanted belt. It breaks, and she comes back to her own shape, and Robin goes off, leaving her cursing.

Mother Maudlin then calls for Puck-hairy, her goblin. He appears, crying:

“At your beck, madam.”
“O Puck my goblin! I have lost my belt, The strong thief, Robin Outlaw, forced it from me,”

wails Mother Maudlin. But Puck-hairy pays little attention to her complaints.

“They are other clouds and blacker threat you, dame; You must be wary, and pull in your sails, And yield unto the weather of the tempest. You think your power’s infinite as your malice, And would do all your anger prompts you to; But you must wait occasions, and obey them: Sail in an egg-shell, make a straw your mast, A cobweb all your cloth, and pass unseen, Till you have ‘scaped the rocks that are about you.

MAUDLIN. What rocks about me?

PUCK. I do love, madam,
To show you all your dangers–when you’re past them! Come, follow me, I’ll once more be your pilot, And you shall thank me.

MAUDLIN. Lucky, my loved Goblin!”

And here the play breaks off suddenly, for Jonson died and left it so. It was finished by another writer* later on, but with none of Jonson’s skill, and reading the continuation we feel that all the interest is gone. However, you will be glad to know that everything comes right. The good people get happily married and all the bad people become good, even the wicked old witch, Mother Maudlin.

*F. G. Waldron.


SOME of you may have seen a picture of a brown-faced sailor sitting by the seashore, telling stories of travel and adventure to two boy. The one boy lies upon the sand with his chin in his hands listening but carelessly, the other with his hands clasped about his knees listens eagerly. His face is rapt, his eyes the eyes of a poet and a dreamer. This picture is called The Boyhood of Raleigh, and was painted by one of our great painters, Sir John Millais. In it he pictures a scene that we should like to believe was common in Sir Walter Raleigh’s boyhood, but we cannot tell if it were really so or not. Beyond the fact that he was born in a white-walled thatched-roofed farmhouse, near Budleigh Salterton in Devonshire, about the year 1552, we know nothing of Raleigh’s childhood. But from the rising ground near Hayes Barton, the house in which he was born, we catch sight of the sea. It seems not too much to believe that many a time Walter and his brother Carew, wandered through the woods and over the common the two and a half miles to the bay. So that from his earliest days Walter Raleigh breathed in a love and knowledge of the sea. We like to think these things, but we can only make believe to ourselves as Millais did when he went to Budleigh Salterton and painted that picture.

When still quite a boy, Walter Raleigh went to Oriel College, Oxford, but we know nothing of what he did there, and the next we hear of him is that he is fighting for the Huguenots in France. How long he remained in France, and what he did there beyond this fighting, we do not know. But this we know, that when he went to France he was a mere boy, with no knowledge of fighting, no knowledge of the world. When he left he was a man and a tried soldier, a captain and leader of men.

When next we hear of Raleigh he is in Ireland fighting the rebels. There he did some brave deeds, some cruel deeds, there he lived to the full the life of a soldier as it was in those rough times, making all Ireland ring with his name. But although Raleigh had won for himself a name among soldiers, he was as yet unknown to the Queen; his fortune was still unmade.

You have all heard the story of how Raleigh first met the Queen. The first notice we have of this story is in a book from which I have already quoted more than once–The Worthies of England.

“This Captain Raleigh,” says Fuller, “coming out of Ireland to the English Court in good habit (his clothes being then a considerable part of his estate), found the Queen walking, till, meeting with a splashy place, she seemed to scruple going thereon. Presently Raleigh cast and spread his new plush cloak on the ground, whereon the Queen trod gently, rewarding him afterwards with many suits for his so free and seasonable tender of so fair a foot cloth.”

Thomas Fuller, who wrote the book in which this story is found, was only a boy of ten when Raleigh died, so he could not have known the great man himself, but he must have heard many stories about him from those who had, and we need not disbelieve this one. It is one of those things which might very well have happened even if it did not.

And whether Raleigh first came into Queen Elizabeth’s notice in this manner or not, after he did become known to her, he soon rose in her favor. He rose so quickly that he almost feared the giddy height to which he rose. According to another story of Fuller’s, “This made him write in a glasse window, obvious to the Queen’s eye,

‘Fain would I climb, yet fear I to fall.’

“Her Majesty, either espying or being shown it, did underwrite:

‘If thy heart fails thee, climb not at all.’

“However he at last climbed up by the stairs of his own desert.”

Honors and favors were heaped upon Raleigh, and from being a poor soldier and country gentleman he became rich and powerful, the lord of lands in five counties, and Captain of the Queen’s Own Body-Guard. Haughty of manner, splendid in dress, loving jewels more than even a woman does, Raleigh became as fine a courtier as he was a brave soldier. But soldier though Raleigh was, courtier though he was, loving ease and wealth and fine clothes, he was at heart a sailor and adventurer, and the sea he had loved as a boy called to him.

Like many another of his age Raleigh, hearing the call of the waves ever in his ears, felt the desire to explore tug at his heart-strings. For in those days America had been discovered, and the quest for the famous North-West passage had begun. And Raleigh longed to set forth with other men to conquer new worlds, to find new paths across the waves. But above all he longed to fight the Spaniards, who were the great sea kings of those days. Raleigh however could not be a courtier and a sailor at one and the same time. He was meanwhile high in the Queen’s favor, and she would not let him go from her. So all that Raleigh could do, was to venture his money, and fit out a ship to which he gave his own name. This he sent to sail along with others under the command of his step-brother Sir Humphrey Gilbert, who was setting out upon a voyage of discovery. It was on this voyage that Sir Humphrey found and claimed Newfoundland as an English possession, setting up there “the Arms of England ingraven in lead and infixed upon a pillar of wood.”* But the expedition was unfortunate, most of the men and ships were lost, Sir Humphrey himself being drowned on his way home. He was brave and fearless to the last. “We are as near to Heaven by sea as by land,” he said, a short time before his ship went down. One vessel only “in great torment of weather and peril of drowning”* reached home safely, “all the men tired with the tediousness of so unprofitable a voyage to their seeming.” Yet though they knew it not they had helped to lay the foundation of Greater Britain.

*Hakluyt’s Voyages.

Nothing daunted by this loss, six months later Raleigh sent out another expedition. This time it was to the land south of Newfoundland that the ships took their way. There they set up the arms of England, and named the new possession Virginia in honor of the virgin Queen. This expedition was little more successful than Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s, but nothing seemed to discourage Raleigh. He was bent on founding a colony, and again and yet again he sent out ships and men, spending all the wealth which the Queen heaped upon him in trying to extend her dominions beyond the seas. Hope was strong within him. “I shall yet live to see it an English nation,” he said.

And while Raleigh’s captains tried to found a new England in the New World, Raleigh himself worked at home to bring order into the vast estates the Queen had given to him in Ireland. This land had belonged to the rebel Earl of Desmond. At one time no doubt it had been fertile, but rebellion and war had laid it waste. “The land was so barren both of man and beast that whosoever did travel from one end of all Munster . . . . he should not meet man, woman, or child, saving in cities or towns, nor yet see any beast, save foxes, wolves, or the ravening beasts.” And barren and desolate as it was when Raleigh received it, it soon became known as the best tilled land in all the country-side. For he brought workers and tenants from his old Devon home to take the place of the beggared or slain Irish. He introduced new and better ways of tilling, and also he brought to Ireland a strange new root. For it is interesting to remember that it was in Raleigh’s Irish estates that potatoes were first grown in our Islands.

Raleigh took a great interest in these estates, so perhaps it was not altogether a hardship to him, finding himself out of favor with his Queen, to go to Ireland for a time. And although they had known each other before, it was then that his friendship with Spenser began. Spenser read his Faery Queen to Raleigh, and perhaps Raleigh read to Spenser his poem Cynthia written in honor of Queen Elizabeth. But of that poem nearly all has been lost. Elizabeth was not as yet very angry with Raleigh, still he felt the loss of her favor, for Spenser tells us:–

“His song was all a lamentable lay, Of great unkindness and of usage hard, Of Cynthia, the Lady of the Sea,
Which from her presence faultless him debarred. And ever and anon with singults* rife, He criéd out, to make his undersong,
‘Ah! my love’s Queen, and goddess of my life, Who shall me pity when thou doest me wrong?'”**

**”Colin Clout’s come home again.”

But Raleigh soon decided to return to court, and persuaded Spenser

“To wend with him his Cynthia to see, Whose grace was great and bounty most rewardful”*

*Colin Clout.

You know how Spenser was received and how he fared. But Raleigh himself after he had introduced his friend did not stay long at court. Quarrels with his rivals soon drove him forth again.

It was soon after this that he published the first writing which gives him a claim to the name of author. This was an account of the fight between a little ship called the Revenge and a Spanish fleet.
Although with the destruction of the Invincible Armada the sea power of Spain had been crippled, it had not been utterly broken, and still whenever Spanish and English ships met on the seas, there was sure to be battle. It being known that a fleet of Spanish treasure-ships would pass the Azores, islands in the mid- Atlantic, a fleet of English ships under Lord Thomas Howard was sent to attack them. But the English ships had to wait so long at the Azores for the coming of the Spanish fleet that the news of the intended attack reached Spain, and the Spaniards sent a strong fleet to help and protect their treasure-ships. The English in turn hearing of this sent a swift little boat to warn Lord Thomas. The warning arrived almost too late. Many of the Englishmen were sick and ashore, and before all could be gathered the fleet of fifty-three great Spanish ships was upon them. Still Lord Thomas managed to slip away. Only the last ship, the Revenge, commanded by the Rear-Admiral Sir Richard Grenville, lost the wind and was caught between two great squadrons of the Spanish. Whereupon Sir Richard “was persuaded,” Sir Walter says, “by the Master and others to cut his main-sail, and cast about, and to trust to the sailing of the ship. . . . But Sir Richard utterly refused to turn from the enemy, alleging that he would rather choose to die, than to dishonour himself, his country, and her Majesty’s ship, persuading his company that he would pass through the two squadrons, in despite of them.”

For a little time it seemed as if Sir Richard’s daring might succeed. But a great ship, the San Philip, came between him and the wind “and coming towards him, becalmed his sails in such sort, as the ship could neither make way, nor feel the helm: so huge and high-carged* was the Spanish ship. . . . The fight thus beginning at three of the clock of the afternoon continued very terrible all that evening. But the great San Philip having received the lower tier of the Revenge, discharged with cross-bar shot, shifted herself with all diligence from her sides, utterly misliking her first entertainment. . . . The Spanish ships were filled with companies of soldiers, in some two hundred, besides the mariners; in some five, in other eight hundred. In ours there were none at all beside the mariners, but the servants of the commanders and some few voluntary gentlemen only.” And yet the Spaniards “were still repulsed, again and again, and at all times beaten back into their own ships, or into the seas.”

*The meaning of the word is uncertain. It may be high-charged.

In the beginning of the fight one little store ship of the English fleet hovered near. It was small and of no use in fighting. Now it came close to the Revenge and the Captain asked Sir Richard what he should do, and “Sir Richard bid him save himself, and leave him to his fortune.” So the gallant Revenge was left to fight alone. For fifteen hours the battle lasted, Sir Richard himself was sorely wounded, and when far into the night the fighting ceased, two of the Spanish vessels were sunk “and in many other of the Spanish ships great slaughter was made.” “But the Spanish ships which attempted to board the Revenge, as they were wounded and beaten off, so always others came in their places, she having never less than two might galleons by her sides and aboard her. So that ere the morning, from three of the clock the day before, there had fifteen several Armadas* assailed her. And all so ill approved their entertainment, as they were, by the break of day, far more willing to hearken to a composition** than hastily to make any more assaults or entries.

*Armada here means merely a Spanish ship of war.

**An arrangement to cease fighting on both sides.

“But as the day increased so our men decreased. And as the light grew more and more, by so much more grew our discomforts. For none appeared in sight but enemies, saving one small ship called the Pilgrim, commanded by Jacob Whiddon, who hovered all night to see the success. But in the morning bearing with the Revenge, she was hunted like a hare amongst many ravenous hounds, but escaped.

“All the powder of the Revenge to the last barrel was now spent, all her pikes broken, forty of her best men slain, and the most part of the rest hurt. In the beginning of the fight she had but one hundred free from sickness and four score and ten sick, laid in hold upon the ballast. A small troop to man such a ship, and a weak garrison to resist so mighty an army. By those hundred all was sustained, the volleys, boarding and enterings of fifteen ships of war, besides those which beat her at large.

“On the contrary, the Spanish were always supplied with soldiers brought from every squadron; all manner of arms and power at will. Unto ours there remained no comfort at all, no hope, no supply either of ships, men, or weapons; the masts all beaten overboard, all her tackle cut asunder, her upper work altogether razed, and in effect evened she was with the water, but the very foundation of a ship, nothing being left overhead for flight or defence.

“Sir Richard finding himself in this distress and unable any longer to make resistance, having endured in this fifteen hours’ fight the assault of fifteen several Armadas, all by turns aboard him, and by estimation eight hundred shot of great artillery besides many assaults and entries; and (seeing) that himself and the ship must needs be possessed of the enemy who were now all cast in a ring round about him, the Revenge not able to move one way or another, but as she was moved by the waves and billow of the sea, commanded the Master Gunner, whom he knew to be a most resolute man, to split and sink the ship, that thereby nothing might remain of glory or victory to the Spaniards: seeing in so many hours’ fight, and with so great a navy, they were not able to take her, having had fifteen hours’ time, above ten thousand men, and fifty and three sail of men of war to perform it withal. And (he) persuaded the company, or as many as he could induce, to yield themselves unto God, and to the mercy of none else, but as they had, like valiant resolute men, repulsed so many enemies, they should not now shorten the honour of their nation, by prolonging their own lives by a few hours, or a few days. The Master Gunner readily condescended and divers others. But the Captain and the Master were of another opinion, and besought Sir Richard to have care of them, alleging that the Spaniard would be as ready to entertain a composition as they were willing to offer the same. And (they said) that there being divers sufficient and valiant men yet living, and whose wounds were not mortal, they might do their country and their Prince acceptable service hereafter. And whereas Sir Richard alleged that the Spaniards should never glory to have taken one ship of her Majesty, seeing they had so long and so notably defended themselves; they answered that the ship had six foot water in hold, three shot under water, which were so weakly stopped as with the first working of the sea, she must needs sink, and was besides so crushed and bruised, as she could never be removed out of the place.

“And as the matter was thus in dispute, and Sir Richard refusing to hearken to any of those reasons, the Master of the Revenge (while the Captain won unto him the greater party) was convoyed aboard the General Don Alfonso Bacan. Who (finding none overhasty to enter the Revenge again, doubting lest Sir Richard would have blown them up and himself, and perceiving by the report of the Master of the Revenge his dangerous disposition) yielded that all their lives should be saved, the company sent for England, and the better sort to pay such reasonable ransom as their estate would bear, and in the mean season to be free from galley or imprisonment. To this he so much the better condescended as well, as I have said, for fear of further loss and mischief to themselves, as also for the desire he had to recover Sir Richard Grenville, whom for his notable valour he seemed greatly to honour and admire.

“When this answer was returned, and that safety of life was promised, the common sort being now at the end of their peril the most drew back from Sir Richard and the Master Gunner, (it) being no hard matter to dissuade men from death to life. The Master Gunner finding himself and Sir Richard thus prevented and mastered by the greater number, would have slain himself with a sword, had he not been by force with-held and locked into his cabin. Then the General sent many boats aboard the Revenge, and divers of our men fearing Sir Richard’s disposition, stole away aboard the General and other ships. Sir Richard thus over- matched was sent unto by Alfonso Bacan to remove out of the Revenge, the ship being marvellous unsavoury, filled with blood and bodies of dead, and wounded men, like a slaughterhouse.

“Sir Richard answered he might do with his body what he list, for he esteemed it not. And as he was carried out of the ship he swooned, and reviving again desired the company to pray for him.

“The General used Sir Richard with all humanity, and left nothing unattempted that tended to his recovery, highly commending his valour and worthiness, and greatly bewailing the danger in which he was, being unto them a rare spectacle, and a resolution seldom approved, to see one ship turn toward so many enemies, to endure the charge and boarding of so many huge Armadas, and to resist and repel the assaults and entries of so many soldiers.

“There were slain and drowned in this fight well near one thousand of the enemies, and two special commanders. . . . besides divers others of special account.

“Sir Richard died as it is said, the second or third day aboard the General and was by them greatly bewailed. What became of his body, whether it were buried in the sea or on the land, we known not. The comfort that remaineth to his friends is, that he hath ended his life honourably in respect of the reputation won to his nation and country and of the same to his posterity, and that being dead, he hath not outlived his own honour.”

This gallant fight of the little Revenge against the huge navy of Spain is one of the great things in the story of the sea; that is why I have chosen it out of all that Sir Walter wrote to give you as a specimen of English prose in Queen Elizabeth’s time. As long as brave deeds are remembered, it will be told how Sir Richard Grenville “walled round with wooden castles on the wave” bid defiance to the might and pride of Spain, “hoping the splendour of some lucky star.”* The fight was a hopeless one from the very beginning, but it was as gallant a one as ever took place. Even his foes were forced to admire Sir Richard’s dauntless courage, for when he was carried aboard Don Alfonso’s ship “the captain and gentlemen went to visit him, and to comfort him in his hard fortune, wondering at his courageous stout heart for that he showed not any sign of faintness nor changing of colour. But feeling the hour of death to approach, he spake these words in Spanish and said, ‘Here die I, Richard Grenville, with a joyful and quiet mind, for that I have ended my life as a true soldier ought to do, and hath fought for his country, Queen, religion, and honour, whereby my soul most joyfully departeth out of this body, and shall always leave behind it an everlasting fame of a valiant and true soldier that hath done his duty as he was bound to do.’ When he had finished these or other like words he gave up the Ghost, with great and stout courage, and no man could perceive any true signs of heaviness in him.”**

*Gervase Markham.
**Linschoten’s Large Testimony in Hakluyt’s Voyages.

Poets of the time made ballads of this fight. Raleigh wrote of it as you have just read, and in our own day the great laureate Lord Tennyson made the story live again in his poem The Revenge. Tennyson tells how after the fight a great storm arose:

“And or ever that evening ended a great gale blew And a wave like the wave that is raised by an earthquake grew, Till it smote on their hulls and their sails and their masts and their flags,
And the whole sea plunged and fell on the shot-shatter’d navy of Spain. And the little Revenge herself went down by the island crags To be lost evermore in the main.”

So neither the gallant captain nor his little ship were led home to the triumph of Spain.

It is interesting to remember that had it not been for the caprice of the Queen, Raleigh himself would have been in Sir Richard Grenville’s place. For he had orders to go on this voyage, but at the last moment he was recalled, and Sir Richard was sent instead.


SOON after the fight with the Revenge, the King of Spain made ready more ships to attack England. Raleigh then persuaded Queen Elizabeth that it would be well to be before hand with the Spaniards and attack their ships at Panama. So to this end a fleet was gathered together. But the Queen sent only two ships, various gentlemen provided others, and Raleigh spent every penny of his own that he could gather in fitting out the remainder. He was himself chosen Admiral of the Fleet. So at length he started on an expedition after his own heart.

But he had not gone far, when a swift messenger was sent to him ordering him to return. Unwillingly he obeyed, and when he reached home he was at once sent to the Tower a prisoner. This time the Queen was really angry with him; in her eyes Raleigh’s crime was a deep one, for he had fallen in love with one of her own maids of honor, Mistress Elizabeth Throgmorton, and the Queen had discovered it. Elizabeth allowed none of her favorites to love any one but herself, so she punished Raleigh by sending him to the Tower.

Mistress Throgmorton was also made a prisoner. After a time, however, both prisoners were set free, though they were banished from court. They married and went to live at Sherborne where Raleigh busied himself improving his beautiful house and laying out the garden. For though set free Raleigh was still in disgrace. But we may believe that he found some recompense for his Queen’s anger in his wife’s love.

In his wife Raleigh found a life-long comrade. Through all good and evil fortune she stood by him, she shared his hopes and desires, she sold her lands to give him money for his voyages, she shared imprisonment with him when it came again, and after his death she never ceased to mourn his loss. How Raleigh loved her in return we learn from the few letters written to her which have come down to us. She is “Sweetheart” “Dearest Bess,” and he tells to her his troubles and his hopes as to a staunch and true friend.

We cannot follow Raleigh through all his restless life, it was so full and varied that the story of it would fill a long book. He loved fighting and adventure, he loved books too, and soon we find him back in London meeting Ben Jonson and Shakespeare, and all the great writers of the age at the Mermaid Club. For Raleigh knew all the great men of his day, among them Sir Robert Bruce Cotton of whom you heard in connection with the adventures of the Beowulf Manuscript.

But soon, in spite of his love for his wife, in spite of his interest in his beautiful home, in spite of his many friends, Raleigh’s restless spirit again drove him to the sea, and he set out on a voyage of discovery and adventure. This time he sailed to Guiana in South America, in search of Eldorado, the fabled city of gold. And this time he was not called back by the Queen, but although he reached South America and sailed up the Orinoco and the Caroni he “returned a beggar and withered”* without having found the fabled city. Yet his belief in it was as strong as ever. He had not found the fabled city but he believed it was to be found, and when he came home he wrote an account of his journey because some of his enemies said that he had never been to Guiana at all but had been hiding in Cornwall all the time. In this book he said that he was ready again to “lie hard, to fare worse, to be subjected to perils, to diseases, to ill savours, to be parched and withered”* if in the end he might succeed.

*Raleigh’s Discovery of Guiana.

Raleigh was ready to set off again at once to discover more of Guiana. But instead he joined the Fleet and went to fight the Spanish, who were once more threatening England, and of all enemies Raleigh considered the Spaniards the greatest.

Once again the English won a splendid victory over Spain. Before the town of Cadiz eight English ships captured or destroyed thirty Spanish great and little. They took the town of Cadiz and razed its fortifications to the ground. Raleigh bore himself well in this fight, so well, indeed, that even his rival, Essex, was bound to confess “that which he did in the sea-service could not be bettered.”

And now after five years’ banishment from the Queen’s favor, Raleigh was once more received at court. But we cannot follow all the ups and downs of his court life, for we are told “Sir Walter Raleigh was in and out at court, so often that he was commonly called the tennis ball of fortune.” And so the years went on. Raleigh became a Member of Parliament, and was made Governor of Jersey. He fought and traveled, attended to his estates in Ireland, to his business in Cornwall, to his governorship in Jersey. He led a stirring, busy life, fulfilling his many duties, fighting his enemies, until in 1603 the great Queen, whose smile or frown had meant so much to him, died.

Then soon after the new king came to the throne, it was seen that Raleigh’s day at court was indeed at an end. For James had been told that Sir Walter was among those who were unwilling to receive him as king. Therefore he was little disposed to look graciously on the handsome daring soldier-sailor.

One by one Raleigh’s posts of honor were taken from him. He was accused of treason and once more found himself a prisoner in the Tower. He was tried, and in spite of the fact that nothing was proved against him, he was condemned to die. The sentence was changed, however, to imprisonment for life.

Raleigh was not left quite lonely in the Tower. His wife and children, whom he dearly loved, were allowed to come to live beside him. The governor was kind to him and allowed his renowned prisoner to use his garden. And there in a little hen- house Raleigh amused himself by making experiments in chemistry, and discovering among other things how to distill fresh water from salt water. He found new friends too in the Queen and in her young son Henry, Prince of Wales. It was a strange friendship and a warm one that grew between the gallant boy- prince of ten and the tried man of fifty. Prince Henry loved to visit Raleigh in the Tower and listen to the tales of his brave doings by sea and land in the days when he was free. Raleigh