Page images


In publishing this edition of "The Misfortunes of Arthur", the editor desires to confess his large debt of gratitude to Prof. Schick, of the University of Munich, and co-editor of the "Litterarhistorische Forschungen", for always lending that sort of help and encouragement without which all human effort is faint and faltering. Not only has his example ever been a spur to lagging energy, but his utterances an inspiration to hard work.

The authorities of the University Library, as well as those of the Royal Library, of Munich, have invariably been ready to proffer their valuable books for the purpose of this work. More particularly, however, is the author indebted to the managers of the library of the British Museum, and, most particularly, to Dr. Richard Garnett, who was Keeper of the Books at the time when the original quarto-text of "The Misfortunes of Arthur" was transcribed, by their generous permission, for the present edition.

Not only as grateful, but as very fortunate, does the editor wish to express himself to the Duke of Devonshire for graciously lending, for collation, his rare and precious copy, which, next to the text in the British Museum, is the only quarto known to be in existence.

[merged small][ocr errors]

I. Importance of the Play.

The first question that is likely to occur to the reader of this edition of "The Misfortunes of Arthur" we may assume to be relative to the importance of the play. "Why", he may ask, "was the 'old stuff unearthed from the antiquated rubbish of a by-gone age"? He may even supplement and vary his question with the classical exclamation: "This is the silliest stuff that e'er I heard!"1) Yet if he has had the patience to plod through the whimsical spelling of the text; to follow the ghost of Gorlois as he "gluttes on revenge" from the opening of the drama to its close; to turn an attentive and forbearing ear to the windy speeches of the "Nuntius", and the sing-song recitations of the "Chorus", he may, perhaps, not throw the book aside, but keeping it, add: 2) "The best in this kind are but shadows; and the worst are no worse, if imagination amend them."

The fact may be that few will care to concern themselves with our curious play except those who are attracted by the curious and the old, i. e. antiquaries; and those who, for the sake of a clear and correct understanding of the history of the English Drama in particular

1) Mids. V. 212.

2) Mids. V. 213.

Grumbine, The Misfortunes of Arthur.


and of English literature in general, spare themselves no pains with dusty book-shelves and forgotten prints, tedious and dry though they be. This second class of readers comprise an honored and useful school. They are our literary historians, who spend their lives in answering just such questions as that of our imaginary reader. They classify and arrange, deduce and generalize: they show the genesis, growth and full flower of a species. If they be naturalists, they may bear the names of Darwin or Agassiz; if they be engaged in the field of comparative literature, they may call themselves Wilhelm Scherer or Stopford Brooke. They build up a system of philosophy in respect to literary phenomena. They help the world to a clearer view and a better appreciation of the sublimities of a Shakspere. They light up the whole field of literature, showing the bearings of its various elements to each other and to a great and epoch-making author. The literary critic, in other words, has come to be a thinker, who, instead of spinning fine phrases in the exposition of his personal likes and dislikes, searches for cause and effect, finding many causes in "silly stuff" and a world of effects in a Hamlet's soliloquy.

The importance of our play, then, lies in the importance of the effects to which it constitutes a cause. It is a link in a chain. The link may have some importance per se; on the other hand, it may derive most of its importance from the chain, or from the very last, or the biggest, link of the chain. In our case we need not hesitate to call our biggest link (or the last one, if we choose to end with the climax) William Shakspere. Our minor satellite, to vary the metaphor, our "Misfortunes of Arthur", shines with much reflected light, just as well-nigh the entire mass of pre-Shaksperean dramas derives interest from the final phenomenon to which they lead and point the way.

[ocr errors]

What has the "Misfortunes of Arthur" contributed to Shakspere? This is a question which, if isolated, it is impossible to answer; in fact, it would seem absurd. What has the class of dramas to which "The Misfortunes of Arthur" belongs, contributed to Shakspere? That is a question which can not only be rationally entertained, but admits of some systematic reply.

To answer it we are obliged to ask still more pointedly: What are the class of dramas of which the present text forms a member?

The Shaksperean type of tragedy is known to have two main sources: 1. The old national drama; 2. the Senecan tragedy. Of these two branches the second is the one which concerns us here.

For the causes which led to the growth of a Senecan tragedy in England we must look to the revival of learning, which found its first impetus in Italy, whence it spread to France and, finally, to the British Isles. the Italian lyric poetry was transplanted, then the Italian First novel. Finally, the men of learning and of the court, wondering much at the popularity of "transcipts from Seneca" (to quote Mr. Symonds) "on the boards of Rome, Florence and Ferrara", invoked the classic Muse again, but this time the sententious goddess of Seneca, the pedantic philosopher-tragedian of Nero's Rome.

The first offspring of this marriage of the classic Muse was the tragedy known by the double title of Gorboduc" or "Ferrex and Porrex" (1560). It is highly important as being the first tragedy in the English tongue, and, further, as being the first drama to use the now lassic form of blank-verse. We have named the new species of English composition of which this is the head, "Copies of Seneca", inasmuch as such a close dependance n their pattern as to warrant the term "copy" has been xhaustively proved, as to sentiment, by a long and


« PreviousContinue »