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  • Writer's pictureKirk Jenkins

The Courier-Journal Considers the Contemporary Evidence of Shakespeare’s Life and Death

From the Louisville Courier-Journal, April 12, 1914

. . . It is worthy of note that the death of Beaumont, though in died in harness in London in the same year, excited no more interest than did that of Shakespeare. Indeed, it is open to doubt if his deceased evoked “the meed of one melodious tear,” even from Fletcher, “though, being a Beaumont, he found a grave along with his brother in Westminster Abbey.” The case of John Webster, who comes nearer to Shakespeare, is also apposite, “the brilliant poet and still more brilliant writer of plays, and whose life is wrapped in an almost impenetrable mystery.”

Ben Johnson alone of all the dramatists of that era collected and published his plays – for which he was much ridiculed. Between the years 1576 and 1642 over 2,500 plays, excluding masques, were put on the stage, and “not one original manuscript of even a single play of this vast number has survived.” Few plays had more than one consecutive representation but were constantly altered and furbished up to suit the popular demand for variety. It was in that way that Shakespeare learned his art, he being the “absolute Johannes Factotum,” whom Greene denounced in his “Groatsworth of Wit,” and it has been conjectured that part of the trilogy of Henry VI was founded on plays on which Greene was part author, and which were improved, altered and made into tremendous successes by Shakespeare; hence Greene’s outburst and paraphrase of the line, “O tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide,” into “player’s hide.”

[Editor’s Note: I don’t agree with the author’s assertion that the early quartos of Henry VI were written by someone else and plagiarized by Shakespeare, or worse yet, that they are somehow memorial reconstructions of Shakespearean plays of which there is no record whatever until 1623. I agree with Shakespearean scholar Eric Sams that the early quartos are initial approaches to the Henry material by a much younger Shakespeare.]

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