SHAKESPEARE'S LATER YEARS (cont.)
Shakespeare Retires to Stratford
It seems most probable that soon after the chequered domestic events of this year, as soon as he could conveniently terminate his London engagements, Shakespeare decided on retiring to his native place.
He had gained all he cared for in the way of wealth and fame, and his strongest interests, personal and relative, were now centred in Stratford. But on retiring to settle in his native town he had nothing of the dreamer, the sentimentalist, or the recluse about him. His healthy natural feeling was far too strong, his character too manly and well-balanced, to admit of any of the so-called eccentricities of genius.
He retired as a successful professional man who had gained a competence by his own exertions and wished to enjoy it at leisure in a simple, social, rational way. He knew that the competence he had gained, the lands and wealth he possessed, could only be preserved, like other valuable possessions, by good management and careful husbandry. And, taught by the sad experience of his earlier years, he evidently guided the business details of his property with a firm and skilful hand, was vigilant and scrupulously just in his dealings, respecting the rights of others, and, if need be, enforcing his own. He sued his careless and negligent debtors in the local court of record, had various commercial transactions with the corporation, and took an active interest in the affairs of the borough.
And he went now and then to London, partly on business connected with the town, partly no doubt to look after the administration and ultimate disposal of his own theatrical property, and partly it may be assumed for the pleasure of seeing his old friends and fellow dramatists.
Even at Stratford, however, Shakespeare was not entirely cut off from his old associates in arts and letters, his hospitable board being brightened at intervals by the presence, and animated by the wit, humour, and kindly gossip, of one or more of his chosen friends. Two amongst the most cherished of his companions and fellow poets, Drayton and Ben Jonson, had paid a visit of this kind to Stratford, and been entertained by Shakespeare only a few days before his death, which occurred almost suddenly on the 23rd of April 1616.
After three days' illness the great poet was carried off by a sharp attack of fever, at that time one of the commonest scourges, even of country towns, and often arising then as now, only more frequently then than now, from the neglect of proper sanitary precautions. According to tradition the 23rd of April 1616 was Shakespeare's birthday, so that he died on the completion of the 52nd year of his age.
Three days later he was laid in the chancel of Stratford church, on the north wall of which his monument containing his bust and epitaph was soon afterwards placed, most probably by the poet's son-in-law, Dr John Hall.
Shakespeare's widow, the Anne Hathaway of his youth, died in 1623, having survived the poet seven years, exactly the same length of time that his mother Mary Arden had outlived her husband.
Elizabeth Hall, the poet's grandchild, was married twice, first to Mr Thos. Nash of Stratford, and in 1649, when she had been two years a. widow, to Mr afterwards Sir John Barnard of Abington in Northamptonshire. Lady Barnard had no family by either husband, and the three children of the poet's second daughter Judith (who had married Richard Quiney of Stratford, two months before her father's death) all died comparatively young. At Lady Barnard's death in 1670 the family of the poet thus become extinct.
By his will made a few weeks before his death Shakespeare left his landed property, the whole of his real estate indeed, to his eldest daughter Mrs Susanna Hall, under strict entail to her heirs. He left also a substantial legacy to his second daughter and only remaining child Mrs Judith Quiney, and a remembrance to several of his friends, including his old associates at the Blackfriars theatre, Burbage, Heminge, and Condell, -- the two latter of whom edited the first collection of his dramas published in 1623. The will also included a bequest to the poor of Stratford.
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