Page images
PDF
EPUB

Altered, and Eastward Ho! in the composition of which he had been engaged with others; and when the player-editors of the folio of 1623 were collecting their materials, they perhaps omitted Pericles because some living author might have an interest in it; and the fact that the publishers of the folio could not purchase the right of the bookseller, who had then the property in Pericles, may have been the real cause of its non-insertion."

As to the time of the writing, we have seen the title-page of 1609 describing Pericles as “ the late and much admired play." It is also spoken of as “ a new play," in a poetical tract entitled Run Red-cap, printed in 1609. But the most decisive item of evidence in this behalf is a novel by George Wilkins published in 1608, with a title-page reading as follows: “The Painful Adventures of Pericles, Prince of Tyre; being the true History of the Play of Pericles, as it was lately presented by the worthy and ancient Poet, John Gower.” As the novel was thus avowedly founded on the play, the latter could hardly have been written later than 1607; and the great popularity of the drama was probably what induced Wilkins to set forth the matter in another form. The novel, as may be seen from several extracts here given in the notes, is of considerable value in helping to clear up some points in the text of the play. And the greater completeness of some of the speeches, as there given, is further argument that the text of the play has reached us in a mangled and imperfect state.

The story on which Pericles was founded is very ancient, and is met with in various forms. It occurs in that old store-house of popular fiction the Gesta Romanorum, and its antiquity is shown by the existence of an Anglo-Saxon version. Latin manuscripts of it are said to be extant, dating as far back as the tenth century. The story was accessible to Shakespeare in at least two forms. One of these was a prose translation from the Gesta Romanorum by Laurence Twine, first printed in 1576, and again in 1607, with the following title: “The Pattern of Painful Adventures: Containing the most excellent, pleasant, and variable History of the strange accidents that befell unto Prince Apollonius, the Lady Lucina his wife, and Tharsia his daughter." The other of these forms was the version of old John Gower, who

rendered it into English verse, and made it a part of his Confessio Amantis, with the title “ Appollinus, the Prince of Tyre.” Gower, it scarce need be said, lived at the same time with Chaucer, and well deserves to be remembered and studied as one of the masters of English poetry in that age. His Confessio Amantis was first printed by Caxton in 1483. In Shakespeare's day it was very popular; but in later times the author has been well-nigh lost sight of in the outshining brightness of his great contemporary. In the story of Prince Appollinus, Gower avowedly took his incidents from a metrical version in the Pantheon, or Universal Chronicle, of Godfrey of Viterbo, which was made in the latter part of the twelfth century. The fact of the story being so well-known and so popular in Gower's poem was of course the reason why he was made to serve as Chorus in the play.

Touching the authorship of Pericles, there is room for a good deal of discussion. On the one hand, that Shakespeare did not write all, or even half, of the play, is abundantly certain ; the style and manner of the most of it being utterly unlike his at any period. On the other hand, that portions of it were written by him, is not doubted. Even if there were no external evidence to the point, his mighty hand is too manifest in some parts to admit of any question on this score. And it is equally evident that wherever his hand is visible, the workmanship is clearly that of the master, not of the apprentice; the characteristics being the same as those of his other plays known to have been written between 1605 and 1610. But whether the whole were written by him and another person or other persons working together; or whether his part were written by way of altering and completing what had been done by others; or whether his part were written first, and then taken in hand by others, and interwoven with their own vastly inferior workmanship; — these are questions about which there have been, and will most likely continue to be, various opinions.

Of these three alternatives, Mr. F. G. Fleay takes the latter decidedly; and his judgment proceeds upon so close, so minute, and so exhaustive a study of the subject, that it may well challenge, if not carry, our full assent. I can but condense his presentation of the matter, retaining, as nearly as practicable his own language.

With regard to the authorship of this play, we may take for granted that the first two Acts are not Shakespeare's; this having been so long admitted by all critics of note, that it is not worth the while to repeat the evidence in detail. In order, however, to extinguish any lingering doubt, he gives the metrical evidence. The play consists of verse scenes, prose scenes, and the Gower chorus. Taking only the verse scenes, we find so marked a difference between the first two Acts and the last three, as to render it astonishing that they should ever have been supposed the work of one author. Total number of lines in the first two Acts, 835; of rhyme lines, 195; of double endings, 72: total number of lines in the last three Acts, 827; of rhyme lines, 14; of double endings, 106. The differences in the other items are of themselves conclusive; but the difference in the number of rhymes is such that the most careless critic ought long since to have noticed it. With regard to this main question, then, there can be no doubt: the last three Acts alone can be Shakespeare's; the other part is by some one of a different school. But we have minor questions of some interest to settle. The first of these is, Who wrote the scenes in the brothel, the second, fifth, and sixth of Act iv.? Not Shakespeare, decidedly; for these are totally unlike Shakespeare's in feeling on such matters. He would not have indulged in the morbid anatomy of such loathsome characters: he would have covered the ulcerous sores with a film of humour, if it were a necessary part of his moral surgery to treat them at all: above all, he would not have married Marina to a man whose acquaintance she had first made in a public brothel, to which his motives of resort were not recommendatory, however involuntary her sojourn there may have been. A still stronger argument is the absence of any allusion in the after-scenes to these three.

But, if these scenes are not Shakespeare's, the clumsy Gower chorus is not his either; and this brings us to the only theory that explains all the difficulties of the play. The usual theory has been that Shakespeare finished a play begun by some one else; that is, that he deliberately chose a story of incest, which, having no tragic horror in it, would have been rejected by Ford or Massinger; and grafted on to this a filthy story, which, being void of humour, would even have been rejected by Fletcher. This arises from a fallacy caused by the inveterate habit of beginning criticism from the first pages of a book, instead of from the easiest and most central standpoint. The theory which I propose as certain, is this : Shakespeare wrote the story of Marina, in the last three Acts, minus the prose scenes and the Gower. This gives a perfect artistic and organic whole; and, in my opinion, ought to be printed as such in every edition of Shakespeare. But this story was not enough for filling the necessary five Acts from which Shakespeare never deviated; he therefore left it unfinished. The unfinished play was put into the hands of another of the “poets” attached to the same theatre, and the greater part of the present play was the result; this poet having used the whole story as given in Gower and elsewhere.

The late Sidney Walker, writing in 1843, has the following: “ This play was the work of three hands. I am not able at present to assign each particular scene to its author; but the truth of my position may be tested by comparing the scenes at the Court of Simonides with the storm-scene, or that wherein Pericles recognizes his daughter, (both of which latter are incontestably Shakespeare's ;) and, again, both the above with the dialogues in the brothel, – vigorous certainly, but not Shakespearian, either in the subject, or in the kind of power they display."

And Mr. Fleay in 1874 gave the same as his opinion, though he was not then aware of Walker's position; his main argument to the point being as follows: The Gower parts in the fourth and fifth Acts are in lines of five measures, and not of four, as those in the earlier Acts are. Observe, also, that the brothelscenes, though far from reaching to Shakespeare's excellence, are certainly superior to any thing in the first two Acts, so far as mere literature is concerned, and it will be almost certain that three authors were concerned in this play. The first author wrote the first two Acts, and arranged the whole so as to incorporate the Shakespeare part. The second wrote the five-measure Gower parts and the brothel-scenes in Acts iv. and v. in order to lengthen out the play to the legitimate five Acts; and it was probably in order to make up for the want of poetic invention that the long dumb-show performances were introduced into the Gower parts."

The fact of George Wilkins being the avowed author of the novel founded on the play might naturally point him out as having had a hand in the latter; and I believe all are now agreed that such was the case. On this point, Mr. Fleay gives the following as the result of his examination:

“ The general manager and supervisor of the whole work was, as Delius says, George Wilkins : he made the play as far as he wrote it, from Twine's novel : he calls it a poor infant of my brain’; he plumes himself on the arrangement of the Gower choruses as his own invention. In this, Delius is undoubtedly right. In confirmation of this theory, I give an analysis of the metre of the only play of G. Wilkins which we possess - The Miseries of Inforced Marriage, — which will be found to coincide very closely with that of Acts i. ii. of Pericles, and which is more like it than that of any other play among the hundreds I have tabulated. There are in this play 526 rhyming lines, 155 double endings, 15 Alexandrines, 102 short lines, 14 rhyming lines of less than five measures, and a good deal of prose, which, seeing that the play is about three times the length of the first two Acts of Periiles, gives a marvellously close agreement in percentage.

“ The second author was, I think, unquestionably William Rowley. A comparison of the prose with that of A Match at Midnight, and of the verse with that of the plays he wrote in conjunction with Fletcher and Massinger, assures me absolutely of the truth of this conjecture. Indeed, the quantity of verse in the Pericles by Rowley is too small to build a tabulation on. One peculiarity of his work, however, gives us a strong confirmation; it is always detached, and splits off from his coadjutor's with a clean cleavage. In Fletcher's Maid of the Mill, the work of the two men might be published as two separate plays: so it is here. Rowley's scenes are useful for no dramatic purpose, and might be cut out as cleanly as his characters have been from the list of the actors' names."

Writing at a somewhat later time, Mr. Fleay adds the follow

« PreviousContinue »