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"The Tragedie of Julius Caesar" was first printed in the folio of 1623, where it occupies twenty-two pages; viz. from p. 109 to p. 130 inclusive, in the division of "Tragedies." The Acts, but not the Scenes, are distinguished; and it appeared in the same manner in the three later folios.
No early quarto edition of "Julius Caesar" is known, and there is reason to believe that it never appeared in that form. The manuscript originally used for the folio of 1623 must have been extremely perfect, and free from corruptions, for there is, perhaps, no drama in the volume more accurately printed.
Malone and others have arrived at the conclusion that "Julius Caesar" could not have been written before 1607. We think there is good ground for believing that it was acted before 1603.
We found this opinion upon some circumstances connected with the publication of Drayton's "Barons' Wars," and the resemblance between a stanza there found, and a passage in "Julius Caesar," both of which it will be necessary to quote. In Act v. sc. 5, Antony gives the following character of Brutus :—
"His life was gentle ; and the elementt
In Drayton's "Barons' Wars," book iii. edit. 8vo., 1603, we meet with the subsequent stanza. The author is speaking of Mortimer:—
"Such one he was, of him we boldly say,
That 't seem'd, when heaven his model first began,
In him it shew'd perfection in a man."
Italic type is hardly necessary to establish that one poet must have availed himself, not only of the thought, but of the very words of the other. The question is, was Shakespeare indebted to Drayton, or Drayton to Shakespeare? We shall not enter into general probabilities, founded upon the original and exhaustless stores of the mind of our great dramatist, but advert to a few dates, which, we think, warrant the conclusion that Drayton, having heard "Julius Caesar" at the theatre, or seen it in manuscript before 1603, applied to his own purpose, perhaps unconsciously, what, in fact, belonged to another poet.
Drayton's "Barons' Wars" first appeared in 1596, quarto, under the title of " Mortimeriados." Malone had a copy without date, and he and Steevens imagined that the poem had originally been printed in 1598. In the quarto of 1596, and in the undated edition, it is not divided into books, and is in seven-line stanzas: and what is there said of Mortimer bears no likeness whatever to Shakespeare's expressions in "Julius Caesar." Drayton afterwards changed the title from "Mortimeriados" to "The Barons' Wars," and re-modelled the whole historical poem, altering the stanza from the English ballad form to the Italian ottava rima. This course he took before 1603, when it came out in octavo, with the stanza first quoted, which contains so marked a similarity to the lines from "Julius Caesar." We apprehend that he did so because he had heard or seen Shakespeare's tragedy before 1603; and we think that strong presumptive proof that he was the borrower, and not Shakespeare, is derived from the fact, that in the subsequent impressions of " The Barons' Wars," in 1605, 1608, 1610, and 1613, the stanza remained precisely as in the edition of 1603; but that in 1619, after Shakespeare's death and before "Julius Caesar" was printed, Drayton made even a nearer approach to the words of his original, thus :—
"He was a man, then boldly dare to say.
In whose rich soul the virtues well did suit;
In whom so mix'd the elementt did lay,
As all did govern, so did all obey:
As that it seem'd, when Nature him began,
She meant to show all that might be in man."
We have been thus particular, because the point is obviously of importance, as regards the date when "Julius Caesar" was brought upon the stage. Malone seems to have thought that "The Barons' Wars" continued under its original name and in its first shape until the edition of 1608, and concluded that the resemblance to Shakespeare was first to be traced in that impression. He had not consulted the copies of 1603, or 1605 (which were not in his possession), for if he had looked at them he must have seen that Drayton had copied "Julius Caesar" as early as 1603, and, consequently, unless Shakespeare imitated Drayton, that that tragedy must then have been in existence. That Drayton had not remodelled his "Mortimeriados" as late as 1602, we gather from the circumstance, that he reprinted his poems in that year without "The Barons' Wars" in any form or under any title.
Another slight circumstance might be adduced to show that "Julius Caesar" was even an older tragedy than " Hamlet." In the latter (Act iii. sc. 2) it is said that Julius Caesar was "killed in the Capitol:" in Shakespeare's drama such is the representation, although contrary to the truth of history. This seems to have been the popular notion, and we find it confirmed in Sir Edward Dyer's "Prayse of Nothing," 1585, quarto, a tract unknown to every bibliographer, where these words occur: "Thy stately Capitol (proud Rome) had not beheld the bloody fall of pacified Caesar, if nothing had accompanied him." Robert Greene, a graduate of both Universities, makes the same statement, and Shakespeare may have followed some older play, where the assassination scene was laid in the Capitol: Chaucer had so spoken of it in his "Monk's Tale." It is not, however, likely that Dr. Eedes, who wrote a Latin academical play on the story, acted at Oxford in 1582, should have committed the error.
Shakespeare appears to have derived nearly all his materials from Plutarch, as translated by Sir Thomas North, and first published in 15791. At the same time, it is not unlikely that there was a preceding play, and our reason for thinking so is assigned in a note in Act iii. sc. i. It is a new fact, ascertained from an entry in Henslowe's Diary dated 22d May, 1602, that Anthony Munday, Michael Drayton, John Webster, Thomas Middleton, and other poets, were engaged upon a tragedy entitled "Caesar's Fall." The probability is, that these dramatists united their exertions, in order without delay to bring out a tragedy on the same subject as that of Shakespeare, which, perhaps, was then performing at the Globe Theatre with success. Malone states, that there is no proof that any contemporary writer "had presumed to new-model a story that had already employed the pen of Shakespeare." He forgot that Ben Jonson was engaged upon a "Richard Crookback" in 1602; and he omitted, when examining Henslowe's Diary, to observe, that in the same year four distinguished dramatists, and " other poets," were employed upon " Caesar's Fall."
From Vertue's manuscripts we learn that a play, called " Caesar's Tragedy," was acted at Court in 1613, which might be the production of Lord Stirling, Shakespeare's drama, that written by Munday, Drayton, Webster, Middleton, and others, or a play printed in 1607, under the title of "The Tragedy of Caesar and Pompey, or Caesar's Revenge." Mr. Peter Cunningham, in his "Revels' Accounts," (Introd. p. xxv.) has shown that a dramatic piece, with the title of "The Tragedy of Caesar," was exhibited at Court on Jan. 31, 1626-7.
1 Lord Stirling published a tragedy under the title of " Julius Ceesar," in 1604: the resemblances are by no means numerous or obvious, and probably not more than may be accounted for by the fact, that two writers were treating the same subject. The popularity of Shakespeare's tragedy about 1603 may have led to the printing of that by Lord Stirling in 1604, and on this account the date is of consequence. Malone appears to have known of no edition of Lord Stirling's " Julius Caesar " until 1607.