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interest ; his Edward the Second, and his Faustus ; though the latter must be allowed to deviate from the true tract of tragedy, in presenting us rather with what is horrible than terrible in its incidents and catastrophe.
We must not be surprised, therefore, that the dramatic fabrics of these rude artists should have met with the warmest admiration, when we recollect, that, in the infancy of an art, novelty is of itself abundantly productive of attraction, and that taste, neither formed by good models, nor rendered fastidious by choice, can have little power to check the march of misguided enthusiasm.
It is necessary, however, to record an event in dramatic history, which, coming into operation just previous to the entrance of our poet into the theatric arena as an author, no doubt contributed powerfully not only to chasten his muse, but, through him, universally the national taste. In 1589 commissioners were appointed by the Queen for the purpose of reviewing and revising the productions of all writers for the stage, with full powers to reject and strike out all which they might deem unmannerly, licentious, and irreverent; a censureship which, it is evident, if properly and temperately executed, could not fail of conferring almost incalculable benefit on a department of literature at that time not much advanced in its career, and but too apt to transgress the limits of a just decorum.
This regulation ushers in, indeed, by many degrees the most important period in the annals of our theatre, when Shakspeare, starting into dramatic life, came boldly forward on the eye, leaving at an immeasurable distance behind him, and in groupes more or less darkly shaded, his immediate predecessors, and his earliest contemporaries in the art.
them. In the course of near thirty years which elapse.'
1570. From t!'
srity, or of pause could minister
be first heir of That so dark a pictur".
vny of a like kind, or light, which appear
Fje period of his earliest effort was naturally to be
correct in referring the composivery poets who ra
he interval elapsing between the execution, for
in of his first play cannot, with any then presenti
ci anterior or subsequent to the year their beaut
Axire this date, may be presumed from are they
.: w place, the prosecution of his amatory
ww' his profession as an actor, might be irradia :
infival of two years; and, in the second inte previous to 1592, neither Webbe in ima :22 1589 , nor Harrington in February,
1591 *, has noticed or even alluded to any theatrical production of our author.
That it took place, either in 1590, or very soon after that year, must be inferred both from tradition, and from written testimony. Aubery tells us, from the former source, that “ he began early to make essays in dramatique poetry, which at that time was very lowe, and his plays took well t;" and from the nature and extent of the allusions in the following passage from Robert Greene's Groatsworth of Witte bought with a Million of Repentance, there can be no doubt that, not only one play, but that several had been written and prepared for the stage by our poet, anterior to September, 1592. It appears
that this tract of Greene's was completed a very short time previous to his death, which happened on the third of the month of the year just mentioned, and that Henry Chettle, “ upon
whose perill” † it had been entered in the Stationers' register on September the 20th, 1592, became editor and publisher of it before the ensuing December. S
Greene had been the intimate associate of Marlowe, Lodge, and Peele, and he concludes his Groatsworth of Witte with an address to these bards, the object of which is, to dissuade them from
further reliance stage
for support, and to warn them against the ingratitude and selfishness of players : “ trust them not;" he exclaims, “ for there is an upstart crowe BEAUTIFIED WITH OUR FEATHERS, that with his tygres heart wrapt in a player's hide, supposes hee is as well able to bombaste out a blank verse as the best of you ; and being an absolute JOHANNES PAC-TOTUM, is in his own conceit the only SHAKE-SCENE in a countrey." ||
To Mr. Tyrwhit we are indebted for the first application of this
* In his Apology for Poetry,
# Vide Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ii. p. 286; and Chalmers's Supplemental Apology, p. 272. note. & Reed’s Shakspeare, vol. ii. p. 237.
# Ibid. vol. xiv. p. 217. VOL. II.
PERIOD OF SHAKSPEARE'S COMMENCEMENT AS DRAM
ARRANGEMENT OF HIS GENUINE PLAYS OBSERVATIONS I
-DISSERTATION ON THE FAIRY MYTHOLOGY, AND (
thor, We have, in a former portion of this we
jes, and concluding that, on Shakspeare's arriv
u moral in·1586 or 1587, his immediate employr
eulogium by we now proceed to consider the mur'
11 IT APPROVES HIS of his first attempts in dramatic poe the production of his Venus and :
i les combined with the when he informs us that the poer
imately infer, first, that his invention ; and though we e
1792 ; secondly, that he had emanating from a similar souro
success, for Aubrey tells us, in dramatic literature, yet, if
grace in writing approved tion of his Venus and Ado:
i tragedy and comedy, Greene years 1587 and 1590 t, the
bombast out a blank verse, and probability, be placed either
"race in writing ;" fourthly, that 1590. That it occurred r : stuge some of the separate or joint recollecting, that, in the
Lodge, and Peele; the words of poem and the acquirer.
crowe beautified with OUR sufficient to occupy ar
wrapt in a player's hide, supposes," &c. place, that no conter
irtively acquired fame by appropriat1586 I, nor Putteni:
ring to a particular play, through the
prvot of the assertion, the words tygres
s being a parody of a line in the Third * Part II. chapte? | In his Discour:
• Part II, chap. 1.
Part of King Henry the Sixth : or what we, for reasons which will be speedily assigned, have thought proper to call the Second Part,—
fifthly, that he had already excited, as the usual consequence of success, no small degree of jealousy and envy; hence Greene has querelously bestowed
upon him the appellation of upstart, and has taxed him with a monopolising spirit, an accusation which leads us to believe, sixthly, that he had written or prepared for the stage SEVERAL PLAYS anterior to September, 1592; this last inference, which we conceive to be fairly deduced from the description of our poet as AN ABSOLUTE JOHANNES FAC-TOTUM with regard to the stage, will immediately bring forward again the question as to the precise era of our author's earliest drama.
Now to warrant the charge implied by the expression, an absolute fac-totum, we must necessarily allow a sufficient lapse of time before September, 1592, in order to admit, not only of Shakspeare's altering a play for the stage, but of his composing either altogether, or in part, both tragedy and comedy on a basis of his own choice, so that he might, as he actually did, appear to Greene, in the capacities of corrector, improver, and original writer of plays, to be a perfect fac-totum.
And, if we further reflect, that the composition of the Groatsworth of Witte most probably, from indisposition, occupied its author one month, as he complains of weakness scarce suffering him to write towards the conclusion of his tract, and that we cannot reas
easonably conclude less than two years to have been employed by Shakspeare in the execution of the functions assigned him by Greene; the period for the production of his first drama, will necessarily be thrown back to the August of the year 1590 ; an era to which no objection, from contradictory testimony, can with any show of probability apply; for,
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. xiv. p. 43. Act i. sc. 4.