Page images
PDF
EPUB

it is constant, and hath stood still, these five and twentie, or thirty yeeres. Though it be an ignorance, it is a vertu ous and stay'd ignorance; and next to truth, a confirm'd errour does well; such a one the author knowes where to finde him." We have here the great Ben himself, joining this play with Jeronimo, or, the Spanish Tragedy, and bearing express testimony to the credit they were both in with the publick at the time they were written; but this is by the by; to, ascertain that time, was the chief reason for inserting the quotation, and there we see it fix'd to twenty-five or thirty years prior to this Induction: now it is not necessary, to suppose that Jonson speaks in this place with exact precision; but allowing that he does, the first of these periods carries us back to 1589, a date not very repugnant to what is afterwards advanc'd: Lang baine, in his Account of the English Dramatick Poets, under the article-SHAKSPEARE, does expressly tell us, --that "Andronicus was first printed in 1594, quarto, and acted by the Earls of Derby, Pembroke, and Essex, their servants;" and though the edition is not now to be met with, and he who mentions it be no exact writer, nor greatly to be rely'd on in many of his articles, yet in this which we have quoted he is so very particular that one can hardly withhold assent to it; especially, as this account of it's printing coincides well enough with Jonson's æra of writing this play; to which therefore we subscribe, and go on upon that ground. The books of that time afford strange examples of the barbarism of the publick taste both upon the stage and elsewhere: a conceited one of John Lilly's set the whole nation a madding; and, for a while, every pretender to politeness "parl'd Euphuism," as it was phras'd, and no writings would go down with them but such as were pen'd in that fantastical manner : the setter-up of this fashion try'd it also in comedy; but seems to have miscarry'd in that, and for this plain reason: the people who govern theatres are, the middle and lower orders of the world; and these expected laughter in comedies, which this stuff of Lilly's was incapable of exciting: but some other writers, who rose exactly at that time, succeeded better in certain tragical performances, though as outrageous to the full in their way, and as remote from nature, as these comick ones of Lilly; for falling in with that innate love of blood which has been often objected to British audiences, and choosing fables of horror which

they made horrider still by their manner of handling them,
they produc'd a set of monsters that are not to be paral-
lel'd in all the annals of play-writing; yet they were re-
ceiv'd with applause, and were the favourites of the pub-
lick for almost ten years together ending at 1595: many
plays of this stamp, it is probable, have perish'd; but
those that are come down to us, are as follows;-
"The
Wars of Cyrus; Tamburlaine the Great, in two parts;
The Spanish Tragedy, likewise in two parts; Soliman and
Perseda; and Selimus, a tragedy *;" which whoever has
means of coming at, and can have patience to examine,
will see evident tokens of a fashion then prevailing, which
occasion'd all these plays to be cast in the same mold.
Now, Shakspeare, whatever motives he might have in
some other parts of it, at this period of his life wrote cer-
tainly for profit; and seeing it was to be had in this way,
(and this way only, perhaps,) he fell in with the current,
and gave his sorry auditors a piece to their tooth in this
contested play of Titus Andronicus; which as it came out
at the same time with the plays above-mention'd, is most

No evidence has occur'd to prove exactly the time these plays were written, except that passage of Jonson's which relates to Jeronimo; but the editions we have read them in, are as follows: Tamburlaine in 1593; Selimus, and The Wars of Cyrus, in 1594; and Soliman and Perseda, in 1599; the other without a date, but as early as the earliest: they are also without a name of author; nor has any book been met with to instruct us in that particular, except only for Jeronimo; which we are told by Heywood, in his Apology for Actors, was written by Thomas Kyd; author, or translator rather, (for it is taken from the French of Robert Garnier,) of another play, intitl'd-Cornelia, printed likewise in 1594. Which of these extravagant plays had the honour to lead the way, we can't tell, but Jeronimo seems to have the best pretensions to it; as Selimus has above all his other brethren, to bearing away the palm for blood and murther; this curious piece has these lines for a conclusion:

[ocr errors]

All

"If this first part Gentles, do like you well, "The second part, shall greater murthers tell." But whether the audience had enough of it, or how it has hap pen'd we can't tell, but no such second part is to be found. these plays were the constant butt of the poets who came immediately after them, and of Shakspeare amongst the rest; and by their ridicule the town at last was made sensible of their ill judg ment, and the theatre was purg'd of these monsters.

1

66

exactly like them in almost every particular; their very numbers, consisting all of ten syllables with hardly any redundant, are copy'd by this Proteus, who could put on any shape that either serv'd his interest or suited his inclination: and this, we hope, is a fair and unforc'd way of accounting for " Andronicus;" and may convince the most prejudic'd that Shakspeare might be the writer of it; as he might also of Locrine which is ascrib'd to him, a ninth tragedy, in form and time agreeing perfectly with the others. But to conclude this article,However he may be censur'd as rash or ill-judging, the editor ventures to declare that he himself wanted not the conviction of the foregoing argument to be satisfy'd who the play belongs to; for though a work of imitation, and conforming itself to models truly execrable throughout, yet the genius of its author breaks forth in some places, and, to the editor's eye, Shakspeare stands confess'd: the third act in particular may be read with admiration even by the most delicate; who, if they are not without feelings, may chance to find themselves touch'd by it with such passions as tragedy should excite, that is-terror, and pity. The reader will please to observe that all these contested plays are in the folio, which is dedicated to the poet's patrons and friends, the earls of Pembroke and Montgomery, by editors who are seemingly honest men, and profess themselves dependant upon those noblemen; to whom therefore they would hardly have had the confidence to present forgeries, and pieces supposititious; in which too they were liable to be detected by those identical noble persons themselves, as well as by a very great part of their other readers and auditors: which argument, though of no little strength in itself, we omitted to bring before, as having better (as we thought) and more forcible to offer; but it had behov'd those gentlemen who have question'd the plays to have got rid of it in the first instance, as it lies full in their way in the very entrance upon this dispute.

We shall close this part of the Introduction with some observations, that were reserv'd for this place, upon that paragraph of the player editors' preface which is quoted at p. 123; and then taking this further liberty with the reader, to call back his attention to some particulars that concern the present edition, dismiss him to be entertain❜d (as we hope) by a sort of appendix, consisting of those notes that have been mention'd, in which the true

P

[ocr errors][merged small]

and undoubted originals of almost all the poet's fables are clearly pointed out. But first of the preface. Besides the authenticity of all the several pieces that make up this collection, and their care in publishing them, both solemnly affirm'd in the paragraph refer'd to, we there find these honest editors acknowledging in terms equally solemn the author's right in his copies, and lamenting that he had not exercis'd that right by a publication of them during his life-time; and from the manner in which they express themselves, we are strongly inclin'd to think-that he had really form'd such a design, but towards his last days, and too late to put it in execution: a collection of Jonson's was at that instant in the press, and upon the point of coming forth; which might probably inspire such a thought into him and his companions, and produce conferences between them-about a similar publication from him, and the pieces that should compose it, which the poet might make a list of. It is true, this is only a supposition; but a supposition arising naturally, as we think, from the incident that has been mention'd, and the expressions of his fellow players and editors: and, if suffer'd to pass for truth, here is a good and sound reason for the exclusion of all those other plays that have been attributed to him upon some grounds or other; he himself has proscrib'd them; and we cannot forbear hoping, that they will in no future time rise up against him, and be thrust into his works: a disavowal of weak and idle pieces, the productions of green years, wantonness, or inattention, is a right that all authors are vested with; and should be exerted by all, if their reputation is dear to them; had Jonson us'd it, his character had stood higher than it does. But, after all, they who have pay'd attention to this truth are not always secure; the indiscreet zeal of an admirer, or avarice of a publisher, has frequently added things that dishonour them; and where realities have been wanting, forgeries supply the place; thus has Homer his Hymns, and the poor Mantuan his Ciris and his Culex. Noble and great authors demand all our veneration: where their wills can be discover'd, they ought sacredly to be comply'd with; and that editor ill discharges his duty, who presumes to load them with things they have renounc'd: it happens but too often, that we have other ways to shew our regard to them; their own great want of care in their copies, and the still greater

want of it that is commonly in their impressions, will find sufficient exercise for any one's friendship, who may wish to see their works set forth in that perfection which was intended by the author. And this friendship we have endeavour'd to shew to Shakspeare in the present edition: the plan of it has been lay'd before the reader; upon whom it rests to judge finally of its goodness, as well as how it is executed: but as several matters have interven'd that may have driven it from his memory; and we are desirous above all things to leave a strong impression upon him of one merit which it may certainly pretend to, that is-it's fidelity; we shall take leave to remind him, at parting, that Throughout all this work, what is added without the authority of some ancient edition, is printed in a black letter: what alter'd, and what thrown out, constantly taken notice of; some few times in a note, where the matter was long, or of a complex nature *; but, more generally, at the bottom of the page; where what is put out of the text, how minute and insignificant soever, is always to be met with: what alter'd, as constantly set down, and in the proper words of that edition upon which the alteration is form'd: and, even in authoriz'd readings, whoever is desirous of knowing further, what edition is follow'd preferably to the others, may be gratify'd too in that, by consulting the Various Readings; which are now finish'd; and will be publish'd, together with the Notes, in some other volumes, with all the speed that is convenient.

[ocr errors]

The particulars that could not well be pointed out below, according to the general method, or otherwise than by a note, are of three sorts ;-omissions, any thing large; transpositions; and such differences of punctuation as produce great changes in the sense of a passage: instances of the first occur in Love's Labour's Lost, p. 54, and in Troilus and Cressida, p. 109 and 117; of the second, in The Comedy of Errors, p. 62, and in Richard III. p. 92, and 102; and The Tempest, p. 69, and King Lear, p. 53, afford instances of the last; as may be seen by looking into any modern edition, where all those passages stand nearly as in the old ones. bus and aut

All these references are to Mr. Capell's own edition of our author.

« PreviousContinue »