William Shakespeare was born close to April 23, 1564, in Stratford-on-the-Avon, in England, 100 miles northwest of London. Roger Williams was born either as early as December of 1603, or as late as April 5, 1604, in Smithfield, a section of London.
Shakespeare’s father, John, was a glover in Stratford-on-the-Avon, in that he stitched gloves out of animal skins. Williams’s father, James, bought, sold, and traded textiles.
Shakespeare became a famous playwright in London at the Globe Theater, but Williams sailed to Massachusetts in 1631, and later founded Providence, Rhode Island.
Shakespeare died close to his 52nd birthday, on April 23, 1616, in Stratford-on-the Avon. Roger Williams died in early March of 1683, near his 79th birthday, in Providence.
Shakespeare was forty years old when Williams was born, and Williams was twelve when Shakespeare died. Thus, their lives overlapped by twelve years, although Williams enjoyed seventeen more years of life than did Shakespeare.
Shakespeare knew nothing of the lad Roger Williams, but Roger might have heard talk about Shakespeare. By the time of his passing, Shakespeare was famous across most of England, and was considered one of the country’s premiere playwrights.
In 1623, when Roger was near his thirtieth birthday, John Heminges and Henry Condell published Shakespeare’s First Folio, a collection of thirty-six of his plays. It sold well. The publisher’s printing run was an estimated 750 copies. People knew his name.
The distance from Roger Williams’s home in Smithfield to the Globe is a little over a mile. Smithfield lies in the northwest corner of London, north of the Thames River, and the Globe is along the south banks of the Thames.
On occasion, the two men’s works approximated each other.
Shakespeare included fairies in his play A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth, and Mustardseed. Williams included two winged beings named Truth and Peace, who converse in his most famous work, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution.
Three of Williams’s comments: “I humbly desire to say, if I perish, I perish. It is but a shadow vanished, a bubble broke, a dream finished. Eternity will pay for all.”
“We remember we are but strangers in an inn, but passengers in a ship, and though we dream of long summer days, yet our very life and being is but a swift short passage from the bank of time to the other side, or [to a] bank of a doleful eternity.”
“This life is a brief minute, eternity follows.”
Three of Shakespeare’s passages: In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Puck says, “If we shadows have offended, think but this, and all is mended, that you have but slumbered here while these visions did appear.”
In The Tempest, Prospero says, “Our revels now are ended. These our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits, and are melted into air, into thin air. . . . We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”
Also, in The Tempest, Prospero says, “Now I want spirits to enforce, art to enchant, and my ending is despair, unless I be relieved by prayer. . . . As you from crimes would pardoned be, let your indulgence set me free.”
Most likely Roger Williams never attended one of Shakespeare’s plays. When young he studied for the ministry, and when older he lived in Providence.
Although Roger sailed back to London twice when an adult, he most likely did not attend a play at the Globe Theater, entertainment that clergymen frowned upon.
Yet what an opportunity! What if he had sat on a bench in the Globe theater in the mid-seventeenth century and watched King Lear, Macbeth, Hamlet, and Romeo and Juliet performed? For Parson Roger Williams, it would have appeared magical, amazing!