Shakespeare’s Early Years, Lost Years

Shakspere might have received a good education at pre-school then Stratford Grammar School – but we can only presume that he did attend, for there is no evidence, just repeated belief that he did as his father became “the Queen’s Officer” to the town.

Presuming Shakspere became Shakespeare, as a boy and youth, grammar School would have fed his open and natural genius, and his prodigious memory was then the tool which his spirit, nature, mind and intellect drew upon for success in poetry and playmaking. “Imagination is so incredibly rich that you have wealth there, even if nowhere else in your life.”

What was he taught? There are no records from the Stratford Grammar School for that period, just as Ben Jonson’s stay at Westminster School was unrecorded, dependent only on his word that he did. And he did not go on to University, either. If Shakspere did become Shakespeare then his early grounding in many subjects must have occurred at that Grammar School.

At another grammar school of the period, the quality of that possible grounding is undeniable, something even to be envied today. At 11 he would have met the trivium: grammar, logic and simple rhetoric; and gems of wisdom and proverbs. When 13 he might have been forced to leave, caused by his yeoman/ farmer/ merchant father’s debt-ridden ignominy and social embarrassment.

But by then, he would have studied Lily’s Latin grammar, and some Greek; and Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Virgil’s Aeneid, Lucian’s Dialogues.

His days might have included Cicero, Caesar, Demosthenes, Xenophon, Livy, Isocrates, Apollonius, Homer, Sallust, Thucydides; there would have been practical exercises changing prose to verse, verse to prose. Truly, modern specialists say, a feast in education and just the start needed towards further self-driven learning, as university was not a practical option.

However, taking the Authorship Debate to extreme, the further educated “Shakespeare” is supposed by some scholars today to have had a familiarity or an acquaintance with 140 authors – though few were taught in his time even at universities. Few books, many books, the key to Shakspere is the life he led, Nature’s presentations to him, and “anything that could be turned to account”.

The unanswered questions which follow his schooldays are: did the young Shakspere start his training in theatre at 15-16 by joining a visiting troupe? Did he find a mentor-patron before say 18-19?

Stratford-upon-Avon received a dozen visits by such troupes in a decade or so as Shakspere grew from young boy at his Father’s knee to young man… the period when his father went from merchant prosperity, from high office, “The Queen’s Officer” or town High Bailiff/Mayor, to that debt-ridden shame. John Shakspere seems to have become involved in illicit and illegal wool ragging and was fined or lost considerable sums, enough to make him hide from creditors for years. His finances recovered much later – with his son’s help?

Conventional wisdom has it that the young man married then went to either Lancashire, to a rich Catholic House, becoming a tutor/actor, or to London, starting, with no theatrical experience, as a stage prompt.

Consider another path: that to gain his insight into matters legal, he became a young 14-15 years old assistant to either Stratford town clerk Henry Rogers, in his post 1570 to 1586; the youthful Shakspere would have known Master Rogers through his father John Shakspere, when in that influential high office.

OR young Shakspere joined Walter Roche, former schoolmaster turned Stratford solicitor.

However, this was a young man-literary. The scent sniffs out local Company my Lord Worcester’s Players or Servants. In the troupe, just younger than Shakspere, was the formidable prodigy Edward Alleyn and the experienced leader Robert Browne, who later led other troupes on visits to the Continent.

A stage-struck and bright youngster, maybe with some of his own fledgling poetry to show, might well have been taken on as apprentice at 15 or 16, or as a hireling. Under the tutelage of a senior player – why not Shakspere attached to Browne? – the young provincial may well have toured the Worcester, Gloucester, Coventry areas for several years. As one experienced thespian points out, with writing skills and an engaging potential, a young talent like Shakspere would have been welcome. And it would explain opportunity to progress and yet keep in touch with family, visiting Stratford by horseback regularly?

Another potential handicap overcome would have been his accent – coming from a small town of 1,500 inhabitants, despite his father’s eminence, before the financial fall, William’s intelligence would have pin-pointed his Warwickshire accent for ‘treatment’. In this website author’s own experience, his own strong local accent was lost, naturally and painlessly, in three years – by keen ear, a listening to the voice and voices, and determined practice: snobbishness is not the factor, it is seeing a need to gain access to larger circles and dissolve an impediment, that is the natural factor.

Then, in 1585, when Shakspere was an experienced 21, did my Lord Worcester’s Company disband? Were its main players – including Shakspere – taken on by The Queen Elizabeth’s Men or the Company begun by Lord Howard, Her Majesty’s new Lord High Admiral? If so, the man from Stratford was now set on the steps to literary glory. The next step, into twenty years of fruitful partnership, would be to join my Lord Hunsdon’s Men/The Chamberlain’s Men/ The King’s Men… he paid £50, it is said, to become a sharer in My Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

As theatre grew in the 1580’s, poetry was still “Art” and a nobleman or gentleman’s secret concern; theatrical poetry or prose was not art. “I have hunted for players, juglers and such kinde of creaturs” one harassed aristocrat wrote to another, about a celebration being planned.

Shakspere studied and enthused over poesie, poetry. A Sonnet is ‘a short lyrical poem’ or ‘little song’. The Sonnet tradition, at that time, was not fixed on realism or truth and, talented or driven, aristocrats enjoyed the pleasure of composing and invention. We presume the Shakespeare of the Sonnets possibly completed all 154 by the end of the 1590s, but they would have been passed around, in Manuscript form, for years before.

They were not formally published till 1609 and then in a pirated version. It is also reasonable to see the young Shakspere studying the classical disciplines and writing poetry from his mid-teens, the start of his “Lost Years”. What was his achievement, in creation of the 154 Sonnets?

The knowledgeable give these insights: Shakespeare’s “smooth and graceful” compositions abandoned in most cases Petrarch’s rhythmic form and developed a ‘contemporary’ version, three quatrains and a final couplet.

This was in search of ‘the music’ within the words. He shows “consummate linguistic skills” to ensure his approach, intense and economic, achieved compression and immediacy. Both Harvey and Spencer saw Shakespeare as “one of the new age’s flourishing metricians.”

We cannot know if his Sonnets, ranging from joy to melancholy to disillusion, were to illustrate an enjoyable brilliance in wordplay poetic (and in play: remember “Light seeking light, doth light of light beguile” – a dazzling speech, in Love’s Labour’s Lost) OR to recount ‘real’ experiences, love’s sufferings, hate’s blacknesses, lust’s passions, spirit’s generosities…

The skill was to be bold but not to over-do it: Berowne/Biron forswears “taffeta-phrases, silken terms precise, and three-piled hyperboles”. Shakspere’s soul was, equally, troubled or ecstatic and joyful – that his Sonnets apparently show, and his achievement was to be one of the first, one of the few, in the English Renaissance times, to emphasise and explore man’s Self.

Certainly, in spiritual terms, some see the higher knowledge of the divine, worshipped in humility, in so many of the Sonnets.

He Shakspere/Shakespeare – “the English Ovid” – achieved in 1593 “acceptable fame in the times” for his Venus and Adonis (written a year or more before). It was described as “witty, Ovidian and sensuous”. His The Rape of Lucrece a year later was darker, more rhetorical, making use of set pieces in his approach. It was praised, but Venus was reprinted again and again, ten times in ten years, and was very successful.