Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

to the same end, our better knowledge of him and his writings; and one class of them there is, for which we shall perhaps be censur'd as being too profuse in them, namely the almost innumerable examples, drawn from these ancient writers, of words and modes of expression which many have thought peculiar to Shakspeare, and have been too apt to impute to him as a blemish: but the quotations of this class do effectually purge him from such a charge, which is one reason of their profusion; though another main inducement to it has been, a desire of shewing the true force and meaning of the aforesaid · unusual words and expressions; which can no way be better ascertain'd, than by a proper variety of well-chosen examples. Now, to bring this matter home to the subject for which it has been alledg'd, and upon whose ac-> count this affair is now laid before the publick somewhat before it's time, who is so short-sighted as not to perceive, upon first reflection, that, without manifest injustice, the notes upon this author could not precede the publication of the work we have been describing; whose choicest materials would unavoidably and certainly have found a place in those notes, and so been twice retail'd upon the world; a practice which the editor has often condemn'd in others, and could therefore not resolve to be guilty of in himself? By postponing these notes a while, things will be as they ought: they will then be confin'd to that which is their proper subject, explanation alone, intermix'd with some little criticism; and instead of long quotations, which would otherwise have appear'd in them, the School of Shakspeare will be referr'd to occasionally; and one of the many indexes with which this same School will be provided, will afford an ampler and truer Glossary than can be made out of any other matter. In the mean while, and till such time as the whole can be got ready, and their way clear'd for them by publication of the book above-mention'd, the reader will please to take in good part some few of these notes with which he will be presented by and by: they were written at least four years ago, with intention of placing them at the head of the several notes that are design'd for each play; but are now detach'd from their fellows, and made parcel of the Introduction, in compliance with some friends' opinion; who having given them a perusal, will needs have it, that 'tis expedient the world should be made acquainted forthwith

[ocr errors]

-in what sort of reading the poor poet himself, and his editor after him, have been unfortunately immers'd.

I

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

This discoure is run out, we know not how, into greater heap of leaves than was any ways thought of, and has perhaps fatigu'd the reader equally with the penner of it: yet can we not dismiss him, nor lay down our pen, 'till one article more has been enquir'd into, which seems no less proper for the discussion of this place, than one which we have inserted before, beginning at p. 126; as we there ventur'd to stand up in the behalf of some of the quarto's and maintain their authenticity, so mean we to have the hardiness here to defend some certain plays in this collection from the attacks of a number of writers who have thought fit to call in question their genuineness : the plays contested are-The Three Parts of Henry VI.; Love's Labour's Lost; The Taming of the Shrew; and Titus Andronicus; and the sum of what is brought against them, so far at least as is hitherto come to knowledge, may be all ultimately resolv'd into the sole opinion of their unworthiness, exclusive of some weak surmises which do not deserve a notice: it is therefore fair and allowable, by all laws of duelling, to oppose opinion to opinion; which if we can strengthen with reasons, and something like proofs, which are totally wanting on the other side, the last opinion may chance to carry the day.

[ocr errors]

To begin then with the first of them, the Henry VI. in three parts. We are quite in the dark as to when the first part was written; but should be apt to conjecture, that it was some considerable time after the other two; and, perhaps, when those two were re-touch'd, and made a little fitter than they are in their first draught to rank with the author's other plays which he has fetch'd from our English history: and those two parts, even with all their retouchings, being still much inferior to the other plays of that class, he may reasonably be suppos'd to have underwrit himself on purpose in the first, that it might the better match with those it belong'd to: now that these two plays (the first draughts of them, at least,) are among his early performances, we know certainly from their date; which is further confirm'd by the two concluding lines of his Henry V. spoken by the Chorus; and (possibly) it were not going too far, to imagine that they are his second attempt in history, and near in time to his ori

[blocks in formation]

ginal King John, which is also in two parts: and, if this be so, we may safely pronounce them his, and even highly worthy of him; it being certain, that there was no English play upon the stage, at that time, which can come at all in competition with them; and this probably it was, which procur'd them the good reception that is mention'd too in the Chorus. The plays we are now speaking of have been inconceiveably mangl'd either in the copy or the press, or perhaps both: yet this may be discover'd in them, that the alterations made afterwards by the author are nothing near so considerable as those in some other plays; the incidents, the characters, every principal outline in short being the same in both draughts; so that what we shall have occasion to say of the second, may, in some degree, and without much violence, be apply'd also to the first: and this we presume to say of it;-that, low as it must be set in comparison with his other plays, it has beauties in it, and grandeurs, of which no other author was capable but Shakspeare only: that extreamly, affecting scene of the death of young Rutland, that of his father which comes next it, and of Clifford the murtherer of them both; Beaufort's dreadful exit, the exit of King Henry, and a scene of wonderous simplicity and wonderous tenderness united, in which that Henry is made a speaker, while his last decisive battle is fighting, are as so many stamps upon these plays; by which his property is mark'd, and himself declar'd the owner of them, beyond controversy as we think and though we have selected these passages only, and recommended them to observation, it had been easy to name abundance of others which bear his mark as strongly and one circumstance there is that runs through all the three plays, by which he is as surely to be known as by any other that can be thought of; and that is, the preservation of character: all the personages in them are distinctly and truly delineated, and the character given them sustain'd uniformly throughout; the enormous Richard's particularly, which in the third of these plays is seen rising towards it's zenith: and who sees not the future monster, and acknowledges at the same time the pen that drew it, in these two lines only spoken over a king who lies stab'd before him,—

"What, will the aspiring blood of Lancaster

"Sink in the ground? I thought, it would have mounted."

let him never pretend discernment hereafter in any case of this nature.

It is hard to persuade one's self, that the objecters to the play which comes next are indeed serious in their opinion; for if he is not visible in Love's Labour's Lost, we know not in which of his comedies he can be said to be so: the ease and sprightliness of the dialogue in very many parts of it; it's quick turns of wit, and the humour it abounds in; and (chiefly) in those truly comick characters, the pedant and his companion, the page, the constable, Costard, and Armado, seem more than sufficient to prove Shakspeare the author of it: and for the blemishes of this play, we must seek the true cause in it's antiquity; which we may venture to carry higher than 1598, the date of it's first impression: rime, when this play appear'd, was thought a beauty of the drama, and heard with singular pleasure by an audience who but a few years before, had been accumstom'd to all rime; and the measure we call dogrel, and are so much offended with, had no such effect upon the ears of that time: but whether blemishes or no, however this matter be which we have brought to exculpate him, neither of these articles can with any face of justice be alledg'd against Love's Labour's Lost, seeing they are both to be met with in several other plays, the genuineness of which has not been question'd by any one. And one thing more shall be observ'd in the behalf of this play;-that the author himself was so little displeas'd at least with some parts of it, that he has brought them a second time upon the stage; for who may not perceive that his famous Benedick and Beatrice are but little more than the counter-parts of Biron and Rosaline? All which circumstances consider'd, and that especially of the writer's childhood (as it may be term'd) when this comedy was produc'd, we may confidently pronounce it his true offspring, and replace it amongst it's brethren.

That the Taming of the Shrew should ever have been put into this class of plays, and adjudg'd a spurious one, may justly be reckon'd wonderful, when we consider it's merit, and the reception it has generally met with in the world: it's success at first, and the esteem it was then held in, indue'd Fletcher to enter the lists with it in another play, in which Petruchio is humbl'd and Catharine triumphant; and we have it in his works, under the title of "The Woman's Prize, or, the Tamer tam'd:" but,

by an unhappy mistake of buffoonery for humour and ob scenity for wit, which was not uncommon with that author, his production came lamely off, and was soon consign'd to the oblivion in which it is now bury'd; whereas this of his antagonist flourishes still, and has maintain'd its place upon the stage (in some shape or other) from its very first appearance down to the present hour: and this success it has merited, by true wit and true humour; a fable of very artful construction, much business, and highly interesting; and by natural and well-sustain'd characters, which no pen but Shakspeare's was capable of drawing: what defects it has, are chiefly in the diction; the same (indeed) with those of the play that was lastmention'd, and to be accounted for the same way: for we are strongly inclin'd to believe it a neighbour in time to Love's Labour's Lost, though we want the proofs of it which we have luckily for that *.

But the plays which we have already spoke of are but slightly attack'd, and by few writers, in comparison of this which we are now come to of "Titus Andronicus;" commentators, editors, every one (in short) who has had to do with Shakspeare, unite all in condemning it, as a very bundle of horrors, totally unfit for the stage, and unlike the poet's manner, and even the style of his other pieces; all which allegations are extreamly true, and we readily admit of them, but can not admit the conclusion

that, therefore, it is not his; and shall now proceed to give the reasons of our dissent, but (first) the play's age must be enquir'd into. In the Induction to Jonson's Bartholomew Fair, which was written in the year 1614, the audience is thus accosted:-" Hee that will sweare, Jeronimo, or Andronicus are the best playes, yet, shall passe unexcepted at, heere, as a man whose judgement shewes

The authenticity of this play stands further confirm'd by the testimony of Sir Aston Cockayn; a writer who came near to Shakspeare's time, and does expressly ascribe it to him in an epigram address'd to Mr. Clement Fisher of Wincot; but it is (perhaps) superfluous, and of but little weight neither, as it will be said that Sir Aston proceeds only upon the evidence of it's being in print in his name: we do therefore lay no great stress upon it, nor shall insert the epigram; it will be found in The School of Shakspeare, which is the proper place for things of that sort, med to

« PreviousContinue »