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at full length in The Witch, while only the two firit words of them are printed in Macbeth, , favour
In this play, the motives which incline the witches to mischief, their manners, the contents of their cauldron, &c. seem to have more than accidental resemblance to the same particulars in Macbeth. The hags of Middleton, like the weird fifters of Shakspeare, destroy cattle because they have been refused provisions at farm-houses. The owl and the cat (Gray Malkin) give them notice when it is time to proceed on their several expeditions. Thus Shakspeare's Witch: Harper cries;
'tis time, 'tis time. Thus too the Hecate of Middleton :
Hec.] Heard you the owle yet? - Stad.] Briefely in the copps.
Hec.] 'Tis high time for us then. The Hecate of Shakspeare, addressing her sisters, observes, that Macbeth is but a wayward son, who loves for his own ends, not for them. The Hecate of Middleton has the fame obfervation, when the youth who has been consulting her, retires :
" I know he loves me not, nor there's no hope on't." Instead of the grease that's sweaten from the murderer's gibbet, and the finger of birih-strangled babe, the witches of Middleton employ "the grifle of a man that hangs after sunset, " (i. e. of a murderer, for all other criminals were anciently cut down before evening,) and the " fat of an unbaptized child." They likewise boast of the power to raise tempefts that shall blow down trees, overthrow buildings, and occasion shipwreck; and, more particularly, that they can 16 make miles of woods walk. Here too the Grecian Hecate is degraded into a presiding witch, and exercised in fuperftitions peculiar to our own country. So much for the scenes of enchantment; but even other parts of Middleton's play coincide more than once with that of Shakspeare. Lady Macbeth says, in A& II:
the surfeited grooms “ Do mock their charge with Snøres. I have drugg’d their
pollets." So too Francisca, in the piece of Midilleton :
they're now all at rest, “ And Gaspar there and all:- Lif! - fast alleepe; " He cries it hither.--I must disease
you strait, fir : For the maide-fervants, and the girles o'th' house,
the supposition that Middleton's piece preceded that of Shakspeare; the latter, it should seem, think
". I Spic'd them lately with a drowsie polet,
They will not hear in hafte.' And Francisca, like lady Macbeth, is watching late at night to encourage the perpetration of a murder.
The expression which Shakspeare has put into the mouth of Macbeth, when he is fufficiently recollected to perceive that the dagger and the blood on it, were the creation of his own fancy, ". There's no such thing," is likewife appropriated to Francisca, when she undeceives her brother, whose imagination had been equally abused.
From the instances already produced, perhaps the reader would allow, that if Middleton's piece preceded Shakspeare's, the originality of the magick introduced by the latter, might be fairly questioned; for our author (who as actor, and manager, had access to unpublished dramatick performances) has fo often condescended to receive hints from his contemporaries, that our fufpicion of his having been a copyist in ihe present instance, might not be without foundation. Nay, perhaps, a time may arrive, in which it will become evident from books and manuscripts yet undiscovered and unexamined, that Shakspeare never attempted a play on any argument, till the effect of the same story, or at least the ruling incidents in it, had been already tried on the stage, and familiarized to his audience. Let it be remembered, in support of this conjecture, that dramatick pieces on the following subjects, -- viz. King John, King Richard II. and 111. King Henry IV. and V. King Henry VIII. King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra, Measure for Measure, the Merchant of Venice, the Taming of a Shrew, and the Comedy of Errors, - had appeared , before those of Shakspeare, and that he has taken somewhat from all of them that we have hitherto seen. I must observe at the same time, that Middleton, in his other dramas, is found to have borrowed little from the sentiments, and nothing from the fables of his predecessors. He is known to have written in concert with Jonson, Fletcher, Maslinger, and Rowley; but appears to have been unacquainted, or at leaft unconnected, with Shakspeare.
It is true that the date of THE WITCH cannot be ascertained. The author, however, in his dedication (to the trulie-worthie
ing it unnecessary to set down verses which were probably well known, and perhaps then in the
and generously-affected Thomas Holmes Elguire) obferves, that he recovered this ignorant-ill-fated labour of his ( from the playhouse, I suppose, ) not without much difficultie. Witches (continues he) are, ipfo fa&o, by the law condemn’d, and that onely, I thinck, hath made her lie so long in an imprison'd obscuritie. It is probable, therefore from these words, as well as from the title-page, that the play was written long * before the dedication, which seems to have been added foon after the year 1603, when the act of King James against witches passed into a law. If it be objected, that The Witch appears from this title-page to have been acted only by his majesty's servants, let it be remembered that these were the very players who had been before in the service of the Queen ; but Middleton, dedicating his work in the time of James, speaks of them only as dependants on the reigning prince.
Here too it may be remarked, that the first dramatick piece in which Middleton is known to have had a hand, viz. The Old Law), was acted in 1599; so that The Witch might have been composed, if not performed at an earlier period + than the accession of James to the crown); for the belief of witchcraft was fufficiently popular in the preceding reigns. The piece in question might likewise have been neglected through the caprice of players, or retarded till it could be known that James would permit such representations; (for on his arrival here, both authors and actors who should have ventured to bring the midnight mirth and jollity of witches on the stage, would probably have been indicted as favourers
* That dramatick pieces were fonietimes written long before they were printed, may be proved from the cxample of Marlowe's Rick few of Malta, which was entered on the books of the Stationers' company in the year 1594, but was not published till 1633, as we learn from the preface to it written by Heywood. It appears likewise from the same registers, that several plays were written, that were never published at all. STEEVENS.
+ The spelling in the MS. is sometimes more antiquated than any to be met with in the printed copies of Shakspeare, as the following instances may prove :
Byn for been – follempnely for folemnly dampnation for damnation --- quight for quite --- grizzel for grille-dor for doc ---- Ollyff for olive, &c. STEEVENS.
possession of the managers of the Globe theatre. The high reputation of Shakspeare's performances of magick and enchantment;) or, it might have shrunk into obscurity after the appearance of Macbeth ; or perhaps was forbidden by the command of the king. The witches of Shakspeare (exclusive of the flattering circumstance to which their prophecy alludes) are folemn in their operations, and therefore behaved in conformity to his majesty's own opinions. On the contrary, the hags of Middleton are ludicrous in their conduct, and lessen, by ridiculous combinations of images, the folemnity of that magick in which our scepter'd persecutor of old women most reverently and potently believed.
The conclusion to Middleton's dedication has likewise a degree of fingularity that deserves notice,-- For your fake alone, she hath thus conjur'd herself abroad; and bears no other charmes about her, but what may tend to your recreation; nor no other spell, but to possess you with a beleif, that as she, so he, that first taught her to enchant, will alwaies be," &c. " He that taught her to enchant, would have fufficiently expressed the obvious meaning of the writer, without aid from the word first, which seems to imply a covert censure on some person who had engaged his Hecate in a Secondary course of witchcraft.
The reader must have inferred from the specimen of incantation already given, that this MS. play (which was purchased by Major Pearson out of the collection of Benjamin Griffin, the player, and is in all probability the presentation copy) had indubitably passed through the hands of Sir William D'Avenant; for almost all the additions which he pretends to have made to the scenes of witchcraft in Macbeth (together with the names of the fupplemental agents) are adopted from Middleton. It' was not the interest therefore of Sir William, that this picce should ever appear in print: but time that makes more important discoveries, has likewise brought his petty plagiarism to light.
* Sir William D'Avenant might likewise have formed his play of Albovine King of Lombardy on some of the tragick scenes in this unpublished piece by Middleton. Yet the chief circumstances on which they are both founded, occur in the fourth volume of the Histoires Tragiques, &c. par François de Belle-forefi, 1580, p. 297, and at the beginning of llachiavel's Florentine History. STEEVENS.
(to mention a circumstance which in the course of these observations will be more than once insisted upon) likewise strengthens this conjecture; for it is very improbable, that Middleton, or any other poet of that time, should have ventured into those regions of fiction, in which our author had already expatiated;
" — Shakspeare's magick could not copy'd be,
Other pieces of equal antiquity may, perhaps , be hereafter discovered; for the names of several ancient plays are preserved, which are not known to have been ever printed. Thus we hear of Valentine ånd Orson, plaied by her Majesties players, The tragedy of Ninus and Semiramis, Titirus, and Galathea, +Godfrey of Bulloigne,—The Cradle of Securitie, - Hit the Naile o'the Head, - Sir Thomas More,-(Harl. MS. 7368) The Isle of Dogs, by Thomas Nashe, - The comedy of Fidele and Fortunatus,—The famous tragedy of The Destruction of Jerusalem, by Dr. Legge,—The Freeman's Honour, by William Smith, Mahomet and Irene , the Faire Greek, — The play of the Cards, — Cardenio, — The Knaves,
The Knot of Fools, – Raymond Duke of Lyons,—The Nobleman, by Cyril Tourneur,-(the last five, acted in the year 1613,] The honoured Loves, The Parliament of Love, and Nonfuch, a comedy; all by William Rowley; — The Pilgrimage to
I should remark, that Sir W. D. has corrupted several words as well as proper names in the fongs, &c. but it were needless to particularize his mistakes, as this entire tragicomedy will hereafter be published for the satisfaction of the curious and intelligent readers of Shakspeare. STEEVENS.