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Shakespeare in Dursley
From 1582 when he reached the age 18, the story of William Shakespeare, one of Britain's most celebrated playwrights, enters a confused period. The details of his life during the eight years up until 1590 remains sketchy, but local legend has it that he spent these years of his life in the town of Dursley, in Gloucestershire.

According to WT Share, in "Shakespeare’s self" (1920), "Shakespeare, as a young man spent some time in a remote corner of Gloucestershire". He quotes Maddon, who said Shakespeare "was beyond doubt a sportsman, with rare skill in the mysteries of woodcraft".

In Richard II act II scene 3 there is reference to "the wolds of Gloucestershire",and when Bolingbrook asks how far it is to Berkeley as "these wild hills and rough uneven ways draw out for miles", the reply given is "there stands the castle beyond that tuft of trees"

Dr Maddon in "the diary of master William Silence" (1887) got very excited about this, and aside from devoting a whole section to Shakespeare’s Dursley links climbed Stinchcombe hill, and claimed Shakespeare was describing the view from the top, a piece of local knowledge he would only have if he had lived there.

He asked a groom to point out the castle to him, and the reply was "you can see the tower of the castle. It lays along a clump of trees", very similar to the answer received by Bolingbrook.

In Titus Andronicus, apparently Shakespeare has Marcus say "it would rouse the proudest panther", apparently panther is a southern Cotswold word for a poet.

The most plausible claim comes from Henry IV act 5 scene 1, Davy says "I beseech you, sir, to countenance William Visor of Wincott against Clement Perkes on the hill"

To which shallow replies "there may be complaints, Davy, against that visor: that visor is an arrant knave, to my knowledge"

Apparently, Woodmancote was known as Woncot or Womcot or Wincott, and Stinchcombe hill as "the hill" locally many years ago and the house on Stincombe hill belonged to a Purchas or Perkis family. The Vizard or Visor family lived in Woodmancote and one of them was bailiff of Dursley 1612.

A Shakespeare family also lived in the right era, around Woodmancote; a James Shakespeare was buried in Bisley in 1570, and Thomas Shakespeare married Joan Turner in Dursley in 1577 or 1578.

In the woods between Woodmancote and Stinchcombe hill there is a path which was known as "Shakespeare’s walk" up until relatively recently.

In addition to this, a branch of the Hathaway family, Shakespeare’s wife's family, lived in Gloucestershire. In "the antiquary" Philmore claims
that Shakespeare’s "marriage in 1582 with Anne Hathaway, who was so much his senior may have offended his Stratford friends, and compelled him to take refuge with his, and his wife's kindred in Gloucestershire".

Interestingly, according to Chamber's "William Shakespeare" (1930) "the documents concerning the marriage involve a puzzle. It took place towards the end of 1582, not in the parish church of Stratford, nor in any of the numerous likely churches whose registers have been searched". It was in 1582 that Shakespeare’s 8 year hiatus began.

According to Madden "when Shakespeare writes of (the river) Severn, he affords local knowledge absent from references to Thames or Wye"

"Gentle Severn's sedgy bank" (1, hen vi, i, 3, 98)
"Swift Severn's flood" (ib.103)
"Sandy bottomed severn" (ib. iii. 1. 66)

Madden has 3 sections devoted to Shakespeare’s Dursley connections (p6, 82-86, 103-115)

A legend of Shakespeare being whipped for poaching deer from the Lucy family of Charlecote originates with a Reverend Davis of Sapperton…

and rumour has it that he was a school teacher during his hiatus, and that's how he became educated, as he lacked a university education…
 
July 2004

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