If today's columnists had been chronicling the doings of Shakespeare, we might know more of his love life.

G. Williams

IN Shakespeare's day, there were no newspapers; if there had been, copies might now well be worth their weight in diamonds. For, if gossip about the living is scandal, gossip about the mighty dead is history.

Of the second- and third-hand scandal gathered years later from his acquaintances, nothing of an abnormal nature is found associated with the personality of Shakespeare; on the contrary, the following story was told to illustrate, not his morality (which was probably neither better nor worse than that of many men who had been away from home for years), but his wit.

Shakespeare, so it was said, had heard his star actor, Richard Burbage, make an appointment with a woman, at her room, after the play. "When I knock you will ask 'Who is there?'; and I will say: 'King Richard!' " (the part he was playing) . Shakespeare, having finished his minor part before the end of the play, slipped out and anticipated Burbage, by giving the signal and using his famous persuasiveness. When Burbage spoke his password, "King Richard," the voice of Shakespeare was heard from within: "William the Conqueror came before King Richard; so begone."

One bit more: William Davenant (1605-1665) became poet laureate of England in 1638, and later was knighted as Sir William. He was the son of an innkeeper at Oxford with whom Shakespeare had often lodged on his journeys between London and Stratford; and, when he was born, Shakespeare stood godfather at his christening.

For reasons on which psychologists may speculate, Davenant had an idea that Shakespeare might have been his natural father, and said as much. A bit of contemporary dialogue is imagined by Sir Walter Scott in his novel, "Wood-stock" :

"Out upon him!" (said the Puritan colonel.) "Would he purchase descent from poet or prince at the cost of his mother's good name? His nose should be slit!" "That would be difficult" (said the disguised King Charles II). Scott's note: "Davenant actually lacked this feature." It was, in those days of unskillful treatment, a frequent misfortune of the syphilitic.

However, whether or not he was a son of Shakespeare in the flesh, and though he held some note at the time as a writer of plays and poems, as well as a soldier and politician, it is hard to find in the writings of William Davenant a line that would have made William Shakespeare proud to claim paternity.

Enough of this diving into 17th Century tattling; it is indicated, at least, what Shakespeare's contemporary reputation was, in the capacity of a "lady's man"-whatever verses he wrote to please nobles or actors.

A century ago, one of the greatest of Shakespeare's critics, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, thus covered the subject:

"I believe it possible that a man may, under certain states of the moral feeling, entertain something deserving the name of love towards a male object-an affection beyond friendship and wholly aloof from appetite. In Elizabeth's and James's time it seems to have been almost fashionable to cherish such a feeling; and perhaps we may account in some measure for it by considering how very inferior the women of that age, taken generally, were in education and accomplishment of mind to the men. Of course there were brilliant exceptions enough; but the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher will show us what sort of women it was generally pleasing to represent. Certainly the language of the two friends in the Arcadia is such as we could not now use except to women ; and in Cervantes* the same tone is sometimes adopted.

* Cervantes, the author of "Don Quixote.' passed away on the same date, but not on the same day, as Shakespeare. The Spaniard died by "New Style," and the Englishman by "Old Style," 10 days later.

"I mention this with reference to Shakespeare's Sonnets, which have been supposed by some to be addressed to William Herbert, earl of Pembroke, whom Clarendon calls 'the most universally beloved of any man of that age,' though his licentiousness was equal to his virtues. I do not think that Shakespeare, merely because he was an actor, would have thought it necessary to veil his emotions toward Pembroke under a disguise ; though he might probably have done so, if the real object had perchance been a Laura or a Leonora. It seems to me that the Sonnets could have come only from a man deeply in love, and in love with a woman; and there is one, which from its incongruity, I take to be a purposed blind." The same author has said elsewhere: 'Shakespeare's poetry is colorless; that is, it does not reflect the personality of Shakespeare.''

When the Englishman of Shakespeare's day said: "King Harry loved a man," he was not making scandalous reflections on the private life of Henry the Eighth; he meant that the king admired feats of strength and bravery. When his friend Ben Jonson wrote of Shakespeare: "I loved the man and do honor his memory on this side idolatry as much as any," he was expressing manly sentiments. When Shakespeare wrote to Southampton, "The love I dedicate to your lordship is without end," he professed what we would call esteem ; and the works of Shakespeare still leave us without any key to the mystery behind that dignified face -if there was any mystery at all.