« PreviousContinue »
the sentence had no allusion to Shakspere's occupation. The context of the passage renders the matter even clearer. Nashe begins,—“I will turn back to my first text of studies of delight, and talk a little in friendship with a few of our trivial translators.” Nashe aspired to the reputation of a scholar ; and he directs his satire against those who attempted the labours of scholarship without the requisite qualifications. The trivial translators could scarcely latinize their neck-verse—they could scarcely repeat the verse of Scripture which was the ancient form of praying the benefit of clergy. Seneca, however, might be read in English. We have then to ask was “Hamlet” a translation or an adaptation from Seneca ? Did Shakspere ever attempt to found a play upon the model of Seneca ; to be a trivial translator of him ; even to transfuse his sentences into a dramatic composition ? If this imputation does not hold good against Shakspere, the mention of “Hamlet” has no connection with the shifting companion who is thus talked to as a trivial translator. Nashe does not impute these qualities to “Hamlet,” but to those who busy themselves with the endeavours of art in adapting sentences from Seneca which should rival whole “Hamlets” in tragical speeches. And then he immediately says, “ But, O grief! Tempus edax rerum ;—what is it that will last always ? The sea exhaled by drops will in continuance be clay ; and Seneca, let blood line by line, and page by page, at length must needs die to our stage.” This is in some sort a digression ; but it has reference to the exact period of which we are writing.
The young Shakspere and the young Marlowe were of the same age. What right have we to infer that the one could produce a “Tamburlaine" at the age of twentyfour, and the other not produce an imperfect outline of his own “Hamlet” at the same age, or even a year earlier ? Malone connects the supposed date of Shakspere's commencement as a dramatic writer with the notice of him by some of his contemporaries. He passes over Nashe's “whole Hamlets ;" he maintains that Spenser's description, in 1591, of the “gentle spirit,” who
“Doth rather choose to sit in idle cell
Than so himself to mockery to sell." applied not to Shakspere, but to Lyly, who was at that instant most active in “mockery ;” but he fixes Shakspere with having begun to write in 1592, because Greene in that year sneers at him as “the only Shake-scene in a country.” Does a young writer suddenly jump into the distinction of a sneer of envy from one much older in reputation, as Greene was ? In an age when there were no newspapers and no reviews, it must be extremely difficult to trace the course of any man, however eminent, by the notices of the writers of his times. An author's fame, then, was not borne through every quarter of the land in the very hour in which it was won. More than all, the reputation of a dramatic writer could scarcely be known, except to a resident in London, until his works were committed to the press. The first play of Shakspere's (according to our belief) which was printed was The First Part of the Contention ("Henry VI.," Part II.), and that did not appear till 1594. Now, Malone says, “ In Webbe's 'Discourse of English Poetry,' published in 1586, we meet with the names of most of the celebrated poets of that time ; particularly those of George Whetstone and Anthony Munday, who were dramatic writers ; but we find no trace of our author, or of any of his works.” But Malone does not tell us that in Webbe's “Discourse of Poetry," we find the following passage :-“I am humbly to desire pardon of the learned company of gentlemen scholars, and students of the universities and inns of court, if I omit their several commendations in this place, which I know a great number of them have worthily deserved, in many rare devices and singular inventions of poetry : for neither hath it been my good hap to have seen all which I have heard of, neither is my abiding in such place where I can with facility get knowledge of their works.”
“ Three years afterwards,” continues Malone, “Puttenham printed his "Art of English Poesy ;' and in that work also we look in vain for the name of Shakspeare.” The book speaks of the one-and-thirty years' space of Elizabeth's reign ; and thus puts the date of the writing a year earlier than the printing. But we here look in vain for some other illustrious names besides that of Shakspere. Malone has not told us that the name of Edmund Spenser is not found in Puttenham ; nor, what is still more uncandid, that not one of Shakspere's early dramatic contemporaries is mentioned-neither Marlowe, nor Greene, nor Peele, nor Kyd, nor Lyly. The author evidently derives his knowledge of “poets and poesy" from a much earlier period than that in which he publishes. He does not mention Spenser by name, but he does “that other gentleman who wrote the late 'Shepherd's Calendar.'” The “Shepherd's Calendar" of Spenser was published in the year 1579.
Malone goes on to argue that the omission of Shakspere's name, or any notice of his works, in Sir John Harrington's "Apology of Poetry,” printed in 1591, in which “ he takes occasion to speak of the theatre, and mentions some of the celebrated dramas of that time,” is a proof that none of Shakspere's dramatic compositions had then appeared. The reader will be in a better position to judge of the value of this argument by a reference to the passage of Sir John Harrington :-“ For tragedies, to omit other famous tragedies, that, that was played at St. John's in Cambridge, of Richard III., would move, I think, Phalaris the tyrant, and terrify all tyrannousminded men.” [This was a Latin play, by Dr. Legge, acted some years before 1588.] “Then for comedies. How full of harmless mirth is our Cambridge ‘Pedantius' and the Oxford ‘Bellum Grammaticale !'” [Latin plays again.] "Or, to speak of a London comedy, how much good matter, yea, and matter of state, is there in that comedy called "The Play of the Cards,' in which it is showed how four parasitical knaves robbed the four principal vocations of the realm ; videl. the vocation of soldiers, scholars, merchants, and husbandmen! Of which comedy, I cannot forget the saying of a notable wise counsellor that is now dead, who, when some (to sing Placebo) advised that it should be forbidden, because it was somewhat too plain, and indeed as the old saying is (sooth boord is no boord), yet he would have it allowed, adding it was fit that they which do that they should not, should hear that they would not.” Nothing, it will be seen, can be more exaggerated than Malone's statement, “ He takes occasion to speak of the theatre, and mentions some of the celebrated dramas of that time." Does he mention « Tamburlaine,” or “Faustus,” or * The Massacre of Paris,” or “ The Jew of Malta ?” As he does not, it may be assumed with equal justice that none of these plays of Marlowe had appeared in 1591 ; and yet we know that he died in 1593. So of Lyly's “Galathea,” “Alexander and Campaspe," "Endymion,” &c. So of Greene's “ Orlando and Furioso,” “Friar Bacon,” “James IV.” So of the “Spanish Tragedy” of Kyd. The truth is, that Harrington in his notice of celebrated dramas was even more antiquated than Puttenham ; and his evidence, therefore, in this matter, is utterly worthless.
But Malone has given his crowning proof that Shakspere had not written before 1591, in the following words :-“Sir Philip Sydney, in his “Defence of Poesie,' speaks at some length of the low state of dramatic literature at the time he composed this treatise, but has not the slightest allusion to Shakspeare, whose plays, had they then appeared, would doubtless have rescued the English stage from the contempt which is thrown upon it by the accomplished writer ; and to which it was justly exposed by the wretched compositions of those who preceded our poet. "The Defence of Poesie' was not published till 1595, but must have been written some years before.” There is one slight objection to this argument: Sir Philip Sydney was killed at the battle of Zutphen, in the year 1586 ; and it would really have been somewhat surprising if the illustrious author of the “ Defence of Poesy” could have included
Shakspere in his account “ of the low state of dramatic literature at the time he composed this treatise,” which was in effect a reply to “ The School of Abuse" of Gosson, and to other controversialists of the puritanical faction, who were loudest about 1580. At that time Shakspere was sixteen years of age.
The earliest example of the application of blank-verse to the drama is exhibited in “Ferrex and Porrex," (usually called “Gorboduc,'') written by Sackville and Norton, and acted in the Inner Temple, and before the queen, in 1561. A surreptitious copy of this play was published in 1565 ; and a genuine edition appeared in 1571. Gascoyne's “ Jocasta," played at Gray's Inn in 1566, was also in blankverse. Whetstone's “Promos and Cassandra," printed in 1578, but not previously acted, was partially in blank-verse. Hughes's “Misfortunes of Arthur,” in blankverse, was acted before the queen in 1587 at Greenwich. The plays publicly acted subsequent to these performances, and up to 1587,- when Nashe, in a passage we have quoted, talks of the “swelling bombast of bragging blank-verse," —are held by Mr. Collier either to have been written in prose or in rhyming verse. Mr. Collier therefore maintains that the establishment of blank-verse upon the public stage was a great and original effort; and he gives the praise of effecting this revolution to Christopher Marlowe. “Tamburlaine," which he holds to be Marlowe's work, was, he affirms, the first example of a play in blank-verse so acted. Mr. Collier says, “To adduce "Tamburlaine as our earliest popular dramatic composition in blankverse is to present it in an entirely new light, most important in considering the question of its merits and its defects.” Again : “Marlowe did not set the end of scholarism in an English blank-verse ;'* but he thought that the substitution of blank-verse for rhyme would be a most valuable improvement in our drama." Now, we honestly confess, admitting that “Marlowe was our first poet who used blank-verse in compositions performed in public theatres,” (and the question is not one which we are called upon here to examine,) we cannot appreciate the amount of the merit which Mr. Collier thus claims for Marlowe. “Ferrex and Porrex” had been acted, more than once, before numerous spectators; and it was in existence, in the printed form in which it was accessible to all men, sixteen years before Marlowe is supposed to have effected this improvement. It was not an obscure or a contemptiblo performance. Sydney describes it as “full of stately speeches and well-sounding phrases, climbing to the height of Seneca his style.” At any rate, here was dramatic blank-verse; monotonous indeed, not informed with any bold or creative spirit of poetry, coldly correct, and tediously didactic ; but still blank-verse, constructed upon a principle that was imitated by all the early dramatists, till some master arose who broke up its uniformity, and refined the “ drumming decasyllabon”t with variety of measure and of pause. Where was the remarkable merit of introducing the blank-verse of Sackville to the public stage? If “Ferrex and Porrex” had not been printed, - if “Promos and Cassandra” had not been printed, if, being known to a few, their memory had perished the man who first introduced blank-verse into a popular play might have been held in some sense to have been an inventor. But the public stage had not received the dramatic blank-verse with which every scholar must have been familiar, from one very obvious circumstance, — the rudeness of its exhibitions did not require the aid of the poet, or at least required only the aid which he could afford with extreme facility. The stage had its extemporal actors, its ready constructors of dull and pointless prose, and its manufacturers of doggrel which exhibited nothing of poetry but its fetters. Greene himself, who is not to be confounded with the tribe of low writers for the theatre in its earliest transitionstate, says, in 1588, that he still maintains his “old course to palter up something in prose.” He is as indignant as his friend Nashe against “ verses jet on the stage * Greene, in 1588.
† Nashe, 1587.
in tragical buskins, every word filling the mouth like the faburden of Bow-bell.” This, Mr. Collier says, is pointed at Marlowe. Greene is no doubt sarcastic upon some one who had made mouthing verses, whilst he continued to write prose. Marlowe, very probably, had first made a species of verse popular which Greene had not practised, and which, he says, he was twitted with being unable to produce.
It was commendable in any man to adopt an essentially higher style than that with which the stage had been familiar ; but it certainly required no great effort in a poet to transfer the style which had been popular in the Inner Temple and Gray's Inn to Blackfriars and the Curtain. The cases appear to us parallel with many cases of publication in another form. The style which was first made popular by Beppo, for example, was previously presented to the English taste in Whistlecraft ; but because Whistlecraft was known to a few, whilst Beppo was read by thousands, shall we say that Byron first thought the introduction of the style of Berni would be a most valuable improvement in our poetry? With the highest respect for Mr. Collier's opinions, it appears to us that the reputation of Marlowe must rest, not upon his popular revival of dramatic blank-verse, if he did so revive it, but upon the extent to which he improved the model which was ready to his hand. And here we cannot help thinking that the invective both of Nashe and Greene is not directed so much against the popular introduction of blank-verse, as against a particular species of blank-verse whose very defects had perhaps contributed to its popularity. Nashe bestows his satire upon "vain-glorious tragedians, who contend not so seriously to excel in action as to embowel the clouds in a speech of comparison ;'-artmasters, who “think to outbrave better pens with a swelling bombast," &c.; — “ being not extemporal in the invention of any other means to vent their manhood." Greene, on the other hand, is one “whose extemporal vein in any humour will excel our greatest art-masters' deliberate thoughts." Greene himself, although he derides those who set the end of scholarism in an English blank-verse," points especially at verse where he finds “every word filling the mouth liko the faburden of Bowbell;" and, he adds, “ daring God out of heaven with that atheist Tamburlaine.” Mr. Collier has proved, very conclusively, that Marlowe was the author of “Tam| burlaine ;" and there can be no doubt that much of the invective of Nasho and Greene may justly apply to this performance. Its very defects Mr. Collier ascribes to the circumstances under which it was written :-“We may assert that, when writing "Tamburlaine,' Marlowe contemplated a most important change and improvement in English dramatic poetry. Until it appeared, plays upon the public stage were written, sometimes in prose, but most commonly in rhyme; and the object of Marlowe was to substitute blank-verse. His genius was daring and original: he felt that prose was heavy and unattractive, and rhyme unnatural and wearisome; and he determined to make a bold effort, to the success of which we know not how much to attribute of the after-excellence of even Shakespeare himself, .... Marlowe had a purpose to accomplish; he had undertaken to wean the multitude from the jigging veins of rhyming mother-wits,' which, according to Gosson, were so attractive ; and in order to accomplish this object it was necessary to give something in exchange for what he took away. Hence the swelling bombast' of the style in which much of the two Parts of Tamburlaine the Great' is written.” Be this as it may, we greatly doubt whether, if Shakspere had followed in the steps of “ Tamburlaine,” his “after-excellence” would have been so rapidly matured. It was when he rejected this model, if he ever followed it, that he moved onward with freedom to his own surpassing glory.
The plays that can be unhesitatingly assigned to Marlowe are,—the two Parts of "Tamburlaine,” the “ Massacre of Paris,” “Faustus,” “The Jew of Malta,” and “ Edward II.” There can be no doubt, whatever be the defects of these performances, that they are the work of a very remarkable man,-one that stood apart from the mass of his contemporaries to impress the peculiarities of his genius upon everything he touched. It is impossible to open “Tamburlaine,” at any page, without feeling that we have lighted upon a work of power. We encounter perpetual instances of the most extravagant taste; the inflated style invades, without intermission, the debateable ground between the sublime and the ridiculous ; the characters are destitute of interest, with the exception of the gorgeous savage who perpetually fills the scene; we look in vain for the slightest approach to simplicity. But still we are not wearied with the feeble platitudes that belong to the herd of imitators. The wild magnificence, the unbridled passion, the fierceness of love or hatred, the revelling in blood and cruelty without fear or remorse, the pride in being accounted a scourge of God—these attributes of the character of Tamburlaine were precisely suited to the power which Marlowe possessed for their development. In the furnace of his imagination not only the images and figurative allusions, but the whole material of his poetry, the action, the characterization, and the style, became all of the same white heat. Everything in “Tamburlaine” burns. The characters walk about like the damned in “ Vathek," with hearts of real fire in their bosoms. They speak in language such as no human beings actually employ, - not because they are Orientals, but because they are not men and women. They look to us as things apart from this earth, — not because they are clothed in “barbaric pearl and gold,” but because their feelings are not our feelings, and their thoughts not our thoughts. The queen of the hero is dying in his presence : though he tied kings to his chariot-wheels, and scourged them with whips, he is represented as accessible to the softer emotions ; and the lover thus pours forth his lament :
“Proud fury, and intolerable fit,
That dares torment the body of my love,
[The Music sounds. ZENOCRATE dics.