[Illustration: SHAKESPEARE’S BIRTHPLACE, STRATFORD-ON-AVON.]
The great dramatist’s birthplace lies in the midst of England’s fairest rural scenery. When two Englishmen were asked to name the finest walk in England, one chose the walk from Stratford to Coventry, the other, the walk from Coventry to Stratford. A short distance northeast of Stratford are Warwick with its castle, the home of the famous king-maker, and Kenilworth Castle, whose historic associations were romantic enough to stir the imagination of a boy like Shakespeare.
He was the son of John Shakespeare, an influential merchant, who in 1571 was elected chief alderman of Stratford. The poet’s mother was the daughter of Robert Arden, a well-to-do farmer. We are told that she was her father’s favorite among seven children. Perhaps it was due to her influence that he had a happy childhood. His references to plays and sports and his later desire to return to Stratford are indicative of pleasant boyhood days.
Probably his mother was the original of some of her son’s noblest conceptions of women. His plays have more heroines than heroes. We may fancy that it was his mother who first pointed out to him—
“...daffodils, That come before the swallow dares, and take The winds of March with beauty; violets dim, But sweeter than the lids of Juno’s eyes."
We may imagine that from her teaching, as she walked with him over the Stratford fields, he obtained suggestions which enabled him to hold captive the ear of the world, when he sang of the pearl in the cowslip’s ear, of the bank where the wild thyme blows, of the greenwood tree and the merry note of the bird. Many of the references to nature in his plays are unsurpassed in English verse.
[Illustration: CLASSROOM IN STRATFORD GRAMMAR SCHOOL.]
What He Learned at School.—In all probability Shakespeare entered the Stratford Grammar School at about the age of seven and continued there until he was nearly fourteen. The typical course in grammar schools of that period consisted principally of various Latin authors. One school in 1583 had twenty-five Latin books on its list of studies, while the only required works in English were the Catechism, Psalter, Book of Common Prayer, and New Testament. Children were required to study Lilly’s Latin Grammar instead of their mother tongue. Among the works that Shakespeare probably read in Latin, AEsop’s Fables and Ovid’s Metamorphoses may be mentioned.
Although English was not taught, Shakespeare shows wonderful mastery in the use of his mother tongue. We have the testimony of the schoolmaster, Holofernes, in Love’s Labor’s Lost to show that the study of Latin led to facility in the use of English synonyms:—