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(1564-1616) “I loved the man, and do honour his memory, on this side idolatry, as much as any. He was indeed honest, and of an open and free nature; had an excellent phantasy, brave notions, and gentle expressions, wherein he flowed with that facility that sometimes it was necessary he should be stopped.”
“His mind and his hand went together: And what he thought, he uttered with that easiness that we have scarce received from him a blot in his papers.” - HEMINGE and CONDELL, Editors of the First Folio
edition of the Plays (1623).
“The stream of time, which is continually washing the dissoluble fabrics of other poets, passes without injury by the adamant of Shakespeare.”
DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON.
“The greatest genius that perhaps human nature has yet produced, our myriad-minded Shakespeare."
- SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE.
Early Surroundings. — There is on Henley Street, in Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire, an old house, with gabled roof and low-ceilinged rooms, which every year is made the object of thousands of pilgrimages. Here William Shakespeare was born, on or about the twentythird day of April, 1564. His father, John Shakespeare, the son of a small farmer in the neighboring village of Snitterfield, added to his regular business of glover sundry dealings in wool, corn, and hides, and possibly the occupation of butcher. His mother, Mary Arden, the daughter of a wealthy farmer near Stratford, was connected with one of the oldest and most distinguished families in Warwickshire. The Ardens came of both Norman and Saxon blood, and thus represented
two great race elements that have gone to the making of the typical modern Englishman.” The influences about Shakespeare's youth were such as growing genius naturally adapts to its use. Then, as now, Warwickshire was full of that abundant and peaceful beauty which has come to represent for us the ideal English landscape. In Shakespeare's day its northern part was
overgrown by the great forest of Arden, a bit of primeval woodland like that which we enter in As You Like It; while southward of the river Avon, which runs diagonally across the county, stretched an open region of fertile farmland. Here were warm, sunny slopes, gay with those wild flowers that bloom forever for the world in Shakespeare's verse; low-lying pastures, where meditative cows stand knee-deep in grass, and through which wind the brimming waters of slow-flowing and tranquil streams. Stratford lies in this more southern portion;
but in Shakespeare's day the forest of Arden reached to within an easy distance of it for an active youth. Near his native town the young Shakespeare could loiter along country lanes, past hawthorn hedgerows or orchards white with May, coming now and then on some isolated farmhouse or on the cluster of thatched cottages that marked a tiny village. There was Snitterfield, where he must have gone to visit his grandfather; Shottery, where he wooed and won Anne Hathaway. There, in the midst of this rich midland scenery, was his own Stratford with its low wood-and-plaster houses and straggling streets, its massive grammar school, where, as a boy, he conned his Lilly's Latin Grammar. A little apart, by the glassy Avon, stood old Trinity Church, its lofty spire rising above the surrounding elms. There is abundant evidence that Shakespeare loved Warwickshire with a depth of attachment that nothing could
alter. These early surroundings entered into and became · a permanent part of his life and genius. His works are
full of country sights and sounds; he defines for us the essence of the ideal shepherd's life; and in many a song, written to be sung in crowded London theaters, his imagination escapes to the fields and flowers of his native Warwickshire.
And Shakespeare's Warwickshire added to natural beauty the charm of local legend and the traditions of a splendid past. Within easy reach of Stratford lay Warwick, with its fine old castle, once the home of the great king-maker of the Wars of the Roses. The whole region was bound by tradition and association to that great civil strife which is one of the chief themes of Shakespeare's plays on English history. Near by was Kenilworth, the castle of Elizabeth's favorite, the Earl of Leicester, where the Queen was received (1575) with