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it does not, it surely does show that he had studied Master Lilly's book, which, be it remembered, is itself, not in English, but in Latin, after the strange, pedantic fashion of the times when it was written. The scene between Sir Hugh and William, in The Merry Wives of Windsor, is as surely evidence of the writer's knowledge of the Latin grammar. “Singulariter, nominativo, , hic, hæc, hoc," does not lie very far over the threshold of that elementary book ; but the question which elicits the declension, “ What is he, William, that does lend articles ?" by which the pragmatic parson tries to trip the poor boy up, shows an intelligent acquaintance with the rudiments of the Latin language.
Italian and French were not taught, we may be sure, at Stratford Grammar School ; but this is the most convenient occasion on which to say that Shakespeare appears to have learned something of them before he became too busy a man to study. It was probably in his earlier London years. Both these languages, and especially the former, were much in vogue among the cultivated people of that period. Shakespeare was likely to be thrown into the society of those who taught them; and their instructions he might well requite, if he were sparing of money, by orders of admission to the theatre, which have been held to pay many a larger debt in later times. He has left several traces of a knowledge of Italian, which might be great or small, scattered through his plays; but in two passages, there are indications of an acquaintance with two Italian poets, which, though hitherto passed by, cannot, I think, be mistaken. When Othello, in the dawning of his jealousy, chides Desdemona for being without the handkerchief, his first love-token, he tells her,
“ There's magic in the web of it. A sibyl, that had number'd in the world
The sun to course two hundred compasses,
In her prophetic fury, sewed the work." The phrase "prophetic fury" is so striking, so picturesque, and so peculiar, that in itself it excites remark, and remains upon the memory as the key-note of the passage; but when we regard it as applied to mood in which a web was woven or embroidered, all these characteristics are much enhanced. Now, in the Orlando Furioso there is the following passage about a tent which Cassandra gave to Hector, and which descended through Cleopatra to Constantine, who gave it to Melissa :
“ Eran de gli anni appresso che due milia
Che fu quel ricco padiglion trapunto.
Canto XLVI. St. 80. Here we have the identical thought, and, in their Italian form, the identical words, furor profetico, used in the description of a woman, sibyl-like, if not a sibyl, weaving a cloth of magic virtues. There is, too, in both passages the idea of a great lapse of time, though in one it is applied to the weaver and in the other to the thing woven. It would seem impossible that this striking coincidence of thought, of incident, and of language could be merely accidental; and there was no other translation of the Orlando Furioso into EngThus rendered by Rose :
"Two thousand tedious years were nigh complete,
Since this fair work was fashioned by the loru Of Trojan maid, warmed with prophetic heat;
Who'mid long labor, and 'mid vigil sor": With her own fingers all the storied sheet
of the pavilion had embroidered o'er.”
lish in Shakespeare's time than Sir John Harrington's, published in 1591, and in that the phrase “prophetic fury,” or any one like it, does not occur. *
Again, when Iago, distilling his poison into Othello's ears, utters the often quoted lines, “ Who steals my purse, steals trash ; 'tis something,
nothing; 'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands; But he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed,” he but repeats with little variation this stanza of Berni's Orlando Innamorato, of which poem, to this day, there, is no English version :
“ Chi ruba un corno un cavallo un anello,
E simil cose, ha qualche discrezione,
E tanto più odio e pena è degno
Canto LI. St. 1. Now, when we consider that the faculty and habit of assimilating what he read was one of Shakespeare's mental traits, and that both these passages of his, so identical in thought and in expression with others in two Italian poets who wrote on kindred subjects, occur in a play founded upon an Italian novel which had not been rendered into our language in his day, can we reasonably doubt that he was sufficiently an Italian scholar to read Ariosto, Berni, and Giraldi Cinthio in the original ? * The consideration of this subject has diverted us from the course of Shakespeare's life, and has given us an anticipatory glance of one of its few landmarks; which, however, are so well known, that I have not sought and shall not seek solicitously to show them only in due order.
* See Harrington's Orlando Furioso in English. Canto XLVI. St. 64. Ed. 1591.
+ As no English translation has been made of the Orlando Innamorato, I must ask the reader who cannot command the original to be content with this rendering of the above stanza :
The man who steals a horn, a horse, a ring,
Or such a trifle, thieves with moderation,
But he who takes away a reputation,
His deed is robbery, assassination,
John Shakespeare's prosperity hardly lasted to his eldest son's adolescence. Betterton heard a tradition that the narrowness of his circumstances and the need of his son's assistance at home forced him to withdraw William from school; and the evidence of town registers and of court records corroborates the story. In 1578, when the young poet was but fourteen years old, his father mortgaged the farm at Ashbies for forty pounds to Edmund Lambert. That this step was taken not to raise money for a venture in trade or for a new
* See the Introduction to Othello, Vol. XI. p. 361 of this work. Mr. Halliwell in his Life of William Shakespeare, p. 190, quotes from a MS. entitled The New Metamorphosis, which was written " by J. M. Gent. 1600," the follow. ing lines, which he, not having Berni's stanza in mind, naturally regards as an imitation of the passage of Othello in question, and therefore, of course, as evi. dence that that play was written before the date of the MS.:
“The highwayman that robs one of his purse
And in exchange give obloquy and shame.” But J. M.'s lines are, on the contrary, a manifest imitation of Berni's, rather than Shakespeare's; and if they have any bearing at all upon the question of the date of Othello, (which, in my opinion, they have not,) they show that it was written after 1600.
purchase, but on account of serious embarrassment, is shown by a concurrence of significant events, all pointing in the latter direction. In the same year when his fellow-aldermen assessed themselves 6 s. 8 d. each towards the equipment of pikemen, billmen, and an archer, he is set down as to pay only 3 s. 4 d. Again in that year when the other aldermen paid 4 d. each a week for the relief of the poor, it was ordered that John Shakespeare should not be taxed to pay any thing. In March, 1579, the inhabitants of Stratford having been assessed for the purchase of arms, he failed to contribute his quota. In October, 1579, he sold his wife's share in the Snitterfield property, and in 1580 a reversionary interest in the same, the latter for forty pounds. Six years afterwards his little wealth had found such wings that a distraint having been issued against him, the return made upon it was, that he had nothing upon which to distrain ;' whereupon a writ of capias was issued against his person; he who as high bailiff had but a short time before issued such writs against others.* He seems even to have been in hiding about this time; for the town records show that in 1586 he was deprived of his alderman's office, the reason given being that “ Mr. Shaxpere dothe not come to the halles when they be warned, nor hathe not done of longe tyme ;” and it appears, on the same authority, that he had thus absented himself for seven years. But before March of the next year he had been arrested, and was imprisoned or in custody, doubtless for debt, according to the cruel and foolish practice of which our brethren in the mother country have not yet rid themselves. This we know by his suing out a writ of habeas corpus in the Stratford Court of Record. Per.
The Shakespeare Society of London was in possession of two such writs.