In Whitman's Hand


About this Item

Title: His earliest printed plays

Creators: Walt Whitman, George Walter Thornbury, unknown author

Date: 1844 or later

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00173

Source: Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Transcribed from digital images of the original item. Reprinted from G.W. Thornbury's Shakspere's England; or Sketches of our Social History in the Reign of Elizabeth (London, 1856). For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the marginalia and annotations, see our statement of editorial policy.

Editorial note: These notes drew from Collier's Works of William Shakespeare, first published in 1844. The references to the Illustrated London News indicate that Whitman worked on portions of this document in late 1856 (see Walt Whitman: Notebooks and Unpublished Manuscripts, ed. Edward F. Grier [New York: New York University Press, 1984], 5:1743.

Notes written on manuscript: On surface 1, in an unknown hand: "1"; on surface 3, in an unknown hand: "2"; on surface 5, in an unknown hand: "3"; on surface 8, in an unknown hand: "4"; on surface 10, in an unknown hand: "5"; on surface 12, in an unknown hand: "6"; on surface 17, in an unknown hand: "7"

Contributors to digital file: Lauren Grewe, Nicole Gray, Ty Alyea, and Matt Cohen


Paste-on | Whitman's Notes on Paste-on | Whitman's Highlighting on Paste-on | Erasure | Overwrite

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His earl[illegible]iest printed plays 1597

Romeo & Juliet
Richard 3d
& Richard 2d
Chapman's trans. of Homer, printed 1600.


The gift of the £1000, was without much doubt, made about 15943, when Southampton was 20 years old, and Shakespeare 29—

? I suspect earlier than that?


1596—his sone Hamnet died, in the 12th year of his age.


1598 To this year, only five of his plays had been printed—although he had been a public writer for twelve years.—

(Positively, he was by certain parties, more or less numerous, adjudged already to deserve a place among the great masters, as early as this date—16598

in the [illegible] 35th year of his age


The printing of Shakspeares dramas was without his instigation or assistance—It is thought quite certain he was indifferent to their appearance in print—and did not mind even the blunders and omississions that marred them

probably for the same reason that Forrest would not like to have his plays in print now


1598—Now, (12 years after going to London,) he returns to Straftford, purchases and lives in one of the best houses of the place—"New Place"

1601 his father died, aged 71—his last years were probably comfortable.

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? ? 1600
As the first translations (worth‑mentioning) of the Iliad and Odyssey were published in 1675, Shakespeare was probably not intimate with those poems.—


Queen Elizabeth no doubt often saw Shakespeare as an actor, and applauded him.

1603—James 1st of England & VI of Scotland

James 1st must also have seen him
commenced—previously of course Queen Elizabeth reigned.—

1607 Susanna, his eldest daughter, aged 24, was married to John Hall, "gentleman" —a physician.—

1608 his mother died—a little previous, his brother died. —the mother was probably over y 70 years of age.

Shakespeare, at this time, [illegible]1608 wasseems to have had his reputation at its height.—

£400 a year is supposed to have now been his income. 1608


Burbage died worth £300 a year.—


about 16037—(15 years after the "Venus and Adonis,) Lord Southampton still befriends Shakespeare—writing a letter to the Lord Chamberlain in behalf of him and Burbage

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1600 and for some time before and after, juvenile companies were much patronised—They must have been very good companies too.—

Shakespeare owened in both the Globe and Blackfriars theatre.

—Bought and sold, bargained, was thrifty, borrowed money, loaned money had lawsuits

Richard, his youngest brother, died in 1612—aged 40

His brother Gilbert two years his elder, probably resided in Stratford in 1612—and before & afterward

His sister Joan, (5 years younger than he) married William Hart, hatter,—they called their first child "William."

His daughter Susannah made him a grandfather when he was 45 years old.


1605 Had a chancery suit

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[illegible]uld write an epic poem in [illegible]'s history that he lived in [illegible]t us ama[illegible] [illegible]SHAKESP[illegible] [illegible]t of ev[illegible]

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Did right and wrong—was entrusted with commissions—lost by fires, thieves, cheats—committed follies, debaucheries, crimes—

1616—Feb.; his daughter Judith married to Thos. Quiney a vintner.— Judith had 3 children She died 1661—2


Made his will—signed it twice with unsteady hand


Death—at the age of 52

Death. "Shakespeare, Drayton & Ben Jonson had a merrie meeting, and, it seems, drank too hard, —for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted."

Rev. John Ward's Diary.

made an final effort with firmness on the final singnature "By me William Shakespeare"

His wife Anne outlived him she died 1623


His last lineal descendant died 1670

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☞ See Shakspere vs. Sand—printed following

The half‑length upon his monument (erected anterior to 1623,) "conveys the impression of a cheerful, good‑ natured tempered, somewhat jovial man."

(It is evident to me, beyond cavil, that Shakespeare, in his own day,

and at death, was by many placed among the great masters, and acknowledged.)

and yet the florid style of praise was applied to everybody and almost everything in those times.

"He was a handsome, well‑shaped man, very good company, and of a very ready, and pleasant, and smooth wit." Aubrey.

Some think Shakespeare was lame,
and, for that reason, retired from the stage—lame perhaps, from some accident.—

"gentle" is the epithet often applied to him.

? at that was ^time was not its signification "like a gentleman" "of highblooded bearing"?

Fuller speaks of the "wit combats between Shakespeare & Ben Jonson at the Mermaid club.

"Myriad minded Shakespeare."

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Evidently he was familiar with the Iliad.—

His autograph is in a translation of "Montaigne's essays"—he then must have been familiar with Montaigne.—


"Venus & Adonis" passed through six editions, in Shakespeare's lifetime, and a number more afterwards.

Sonnets—first printed 1609.

Milton admired and loved Shakespeare —writes praises of him.—

But yet he charges harshly against Charles 1st that the monarch had a copy of Shakespeare in his cabinet for his constant use.


The character of the bastard Falconbridge, —his animal gloating pleasure over the fact that h[es?]e is the bastard of a kindg rather than the legitimate son of a knight— what was this but ^either from a sentiment now repudiated or to please the aristocracy?—Yet, what was it also but a true depicting of those days?—a true depicting also [illegible]of thousands of men's minds these days?


Shakespeare is much indebted to the ancients—Hamlet's soliloquy,                                                                                        )[illegible]? is this so? "To be or not to be" is taken almost verbatim from Plato— —To the Iliad, every one of his ^best plays is largely indebted.—

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☞ See Emerson's "Shakespeare."

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Shakspere as a Man.

—It is a nobler thing to know that such a man as Shakspere was created than to be familiar with the shelves of whole libraries of dusty tomes. The advent of a soul so richly gifted, of a nature so intensely ideal and so richly passionate, is an era in the history of man. No poet ever reached a hight so lofty, described so grandly, speculated so daringly, or felt so deeply; and none ever seemed so little conscious of an effect. His grandest thoughts flow so naturally, that it is easy to see that they are familiar and accustomed to his mind; and his gayety and mirth are equally characteristic of himself. Hamlet and Mercutio, Macbeth and Romeo, Prospero and Benedick, are all Shakspere in his different moods; the [illegible]ver, the wit, the idealist, soldier and sage, each and all bear the impress of having originated from the same mind. There is probably less known of Shakspere personally than of any man of mark in English history. He lived in an age of heroes, and he was a foremost man among them. His contemporaries bowed before his master spirit, and the most colossal minds of all Europe have acknowledged his sovereignty. And yet we have a better knowledge of men who died a thousand years ago, before printing perpetuated tradition, when chroniclers were few, than of this wondrous man. There is not, we have reason to think, a single letter of his writing preserved, and scarcely a contemporary anecdote. There are portraits not one of which can be proved to be authentic; a bust which seems genuine, but cannot be warranted. This man, the real spiritual king of England, is in his individuality as much a myth as Homer. But this we do know, a man there lived whose intellectual and moral nature was a microcosm which embraced the ideal of humanity, and that he left behind a hundred representatives of his own mind, none like each other, but all like himself,

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by whom every passing speculation or reasoning is best illustrated, and in whom every emotion finds its noblest and most genuine utterance.


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The Elizebethan theatre must be viewed as little better than Richardson's shows, as far as appliances go. The curtains pull apart, and there is a tapestry representing a town—that in Troy. To make sure of it, there's a board overhead with the name written upon it, like a finger-post. At the back of the stage is a platform and balcony—that is the city-wall, where Helen will see the armies, of eight men each, pass in awful procession—the Greeks a little knock-kneed, the Trojans two of them squinting. The musicians are in a high stage-box. The actors enter—Troilus in hose and doublet, and Cressida, a plump boy of fourteen, in fardingale and scarf. A man in a black velvet cloak, heralded by a trumpet, has before this entered as Prologue. Such is Shakspeare's stage. On the boards at each side are gallant's smoking and laughing. The pit is standing, and the second gallery cracking nuts and pelting Hector with rotten apples. But in the best boxes we see some rather eminent men—Burleigh, for instance, and Sidney and Raleigh, while Shakspeare acts Archilles.—Thornbury's Shakspeare's England.

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Shakespeare put such things into his plays as would please the family pride of kings and queens ^and of his patrons among the nobility.— He did this for the Queen Elizabeth, and for James the 1st.— ^His renderings of many phases of character—The rabble, Jack Cade, the French Joan, the greasy and stupid canaille that Coriolanus cannot stomach, all these are marked, in his renderings of them, with the as he renders them, take mean and please ^feed ^fed the arist[illegible]ocratic vanity of the young noblemen and gentlemen ^and feed them in England yet.— —Family Common blood is but wash—the hero is always of high lineage.—


Doubtless in so rendering humanity, Shakespeare strictly rendered ^what was to him the truth. ^—and what was the truth.— The class of mechanics, tailors, sales[illegible]men, attendants, &c, in Europe then, perhaps even now, are they ^or are they not properly reflected by such reflections as Shakespeare gives of them?—

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Illustrated London News.

Oct. 25, 1856

a paper read by William Henry Smith, author of "Was Lord Bacon the author of Shakespeare's Plays?" —"What Pope says of some of the Plays of Shakespeare is probably of true of all—that they were pieces of unknown authors, or fitted up for the theatre while under his administration,—revised and added to by him."

It seems according to Malone that "the London Prodigal" was acted at his theatre and afterwards printed with his Shakespeare's name on the title page—and, though he had never written a line of it he was indifferent to the cheat and to the printer's impudence. —Bacon, according to W.H. Smith, was most probably the ^real author —he goes on with his reasons therefor, some of them very curious and plausible, especially a contemporary letter ^to Viscount St Albans calling Bacon saying "the most prodigious wit that ever I knew of [any?] my nation, or thi of this side of the sea, was of your Lordship's name, though he be known by another."

Jan '57—Smith continued these lectures

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Many little things are too much overcolored, in Shakespeare—far too much.— The features of beloved women, ^compliments, the descriptions of ^moderately brave actions, ^professions of service and hundreds more, are painted too intensely. It is no answer to this, to say that a lover would so state the case about a woman he loved, or that a strong rich nature would be apt to describe incidents in that manner; and ^that therefore Shakespeare is ^therefore correct in so presenting them.— Immensely too much is unnaturally colored—the sentiment is piled on, similes, comparaisons, defiances, exaltations, divinities, immortalities, are all bestowed upon themes certainly not worthy the same,—^—thus losing proportion.— (Also, ?? many most of the discursive speeches of the great and little characters are glaringly inappropriate, both words and sentiments such as could not have come from their mouths, ^in real life and therefore should not in the plays.—).— Yet on great occasion the character and action are perfect.— This is what saves Shakespeare —Is he imitative of Homer? If so, where and how?

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