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|Is Shakespeare Dead?||Mark Twain|
|Page 2 of 3||
He lived five or six years--till 1616--in the joy of these elevated pursuits. Then he made a will, and signed each of its three pages with his name.
A thoroughgoing business man's will. It named in minute detail every item of property he owned in the world--houses, lands, sword, silver-gilt bowl, and so on--all the way down to his "second-best bed" and its furniture.
It carefully and calculatingly distributed his riches among the members of his family, overlooking no individual of it. Not even his wife: the wife he had been enabled to marry in a hurry by urgent grace of a special dispensation before he was nineteen; the wife whom he had left husbandless so many years; the wife who had had to borrow forty-one shillings in her need, and which the lender was never able to collect of the prosperous husband, but died at last with the money still lacking. No, even this wife was remembered in Shakespeare's will.
He left her that "second-best bed."
And NOT ANOTHER THING; not even a penny to bless her lucky widowhood with.
It was eminently and conspicuously a business man's will, not a poet's.
It mentioned NOT A SINGLE BOOK.
Books were much more precious than swords and silver-gilt bowls and second-best beds in those days, and when a departing person owned one he gave it a high place in his will.
The will mentioned NOT A PLAY, NOT A POEM, NOT AN UNFINISHED LITERARY WORK, NOT A SCRAP OF MANUSCRIPT OF ANY KIND.
Many poets have died poor, but this is the only one in history that has died THIS poor; the others all left literary remains behind. Also a book. Maybe two.
If Shakespeare had owned a dog--but we need not go into that: we know he would have mentioned it in his will. If a good dog, Susanna would have got it; if an inferior one his wife would have got a dower interest in it. I wish he had had a dog, just so we could see how painstakingly he would have divided that dog among the family, in his careful business way.
He signed the will in three places.
In earlier years he signed two other official documents.
These five signatures still exist.
There are NO OTHER SPECIMENS OF HIS PENMANSHIP IN EXISTENCE. Not a line.
Was he prejudiced against the art? His granddaughter, whom he loved, was eight years old when he died, yet she had had no teaching, he left no provision for her education although he was rich, and in her mature womanhood she couldn't write and couldn't tell her husband's manuscript from anybody else's--she thought it was Shakespeare's.
When Shakespeare died in Stratford IT WAS NOT AN EVENT. It made no more stir in England than the death of any other forgotten theatre-actor would have made. Nobody came down from London; there were no lamenting poems, no eulogies, no national tears--there was merely silence, and nothing more. A striking contrast with what happened when Ben Jonson, and Francis Bacon, and Spenser, and Raleigh and the other distinguished literary folk of Shakespeare's time passed from life! No praiseful voice was lifted for the lost Bard of Avon; even Ben Jonson waited seven years before he lifted his.
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