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GEORGE-A-GREENE.

A Pleasant conceyted Comedie of George-a-Greene, the Pinner of Wakefield,' bears upon the title-page that it was acted by the servants of the Earl of Sussex. The earliest edition known is that of 1599. In Henslow's Diary we have an entry of George-aGreene' being played by the Earl of Sussex his men on the 28th of December, 1593. This play was formerly ascribed amongst others by Winstanley) to John Heywood, the friend of Sir Thomas More. Such an opinion argues the most complete ignorance of the state of our language, and of dramatic poetry especially, at the time when John Heywood wrote. No English critic, we believe, ever thought of assigning the play to Shakspere; but the Germans, finding it reprinted in Dodsley's collection as the work of an unknown author, seize upon it as another production of the great English dramatist, rescued by them from the wallet of Time. Tieck translates it. He remarks—“It is traditionally said that the Pinner of Wakefield' is a play of Shakspere's. I must acknowledge for myself that any tradition would have more weight than the narrow-minded criticisms of the English editors, which, proceeding wholly on false premises, naturally take little notice of such productions. If it is by Shakspere, it must be an early work." We know not where the tradition is to be found, and indeed the play is now pretty confidently assigned to Robert Greene. It is included in Mr. Dyce's edition of his works, for a reason thus given :

“ It has been thought right to include in the present collection George-aGreene, the Pinner of Wakefield,' 1599, in consequence of the following MS. notes having been found on the title-page of a copy of that piece, which was formerly in the library of Mr. Rhodes :· Written by

a minister who acted the piners pt in it himself. Teste, W. Shakespeare.

• Ed. Juby* saith it was made by Ro. Greene.' These two memoranda are by different persons, and in handwriting of about the time when the play was printed. The probability of Greene's having been “a minister we have noticed before."

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* An actor who wrote a play in conjunction with Rowley.

This evidence is not absolutely decisive as to the authorship of the play, but, conjoined with the internal evidence, we have no doubt that Mr. Dyce exercised a sound discretion in printing it in his collection of Greene's dramatic works.

Tieck, having translated the play in his . Alt Englisches Theater, oder Supplemente zum Shakspere,' as one of “those dramas which Shakspere produced in his youth, and which Englishmen, through a misjudging criticism and a tenderness for his fame (as they thought), have refused to recognise,” is of course decided in his opinion as to the merits of this performance. He says, “ It seems to me a model of a popular comedy (Volks-comödie-people's comedy); the cheerful joyousness, that never overflows, but keeps within the bounds of moderation, and does us good; the merry clown; the agreeable character of the principal person, whose official zeal and heroic courage are so nicely softened down with a few milder features ; and the genius which plays through the whole; -everything is such that Shakspere himself would have no cause to be ashamed of this, though we cannot show any other piece of his worked out in a similar style.” The criticism of Horn is more temperate. George-a-Greene, the hero of the play, “ equals, in his invincibility, waggery, and love of jesting, our Siegfried in the • Niebelungen.'” He acknowledges, however, that there is not a trace of humour in the performance, and that there is a great want of dramatic art in the construction. To say nothing of the feebleness of the blank verse, we believe that the entire absence of wit or humour in the comic parts, and the inartificial management of the incidents, decide at once that the play could not belong to Shakspere at any period of his life. There is a rude activity in the working out of the plot, but no real creative power. That any high poetical power was not in the writer does not require, we think, a very laboured proof. One example of this deficiency of the higher quality may suffice. There is an incident in the play founded on the fine old ballad of • The Jolly Pinder of Wakefield,' which undoubtedly was in existence before 1593, and, compared with that ballad, the tameness of the dramatic version of it appears to us very striking. We will give a passage from each :

BALLAD OF THE JOLLY PINDER.

GEORGE-A-GREENE.

* In Wakefield there lives a jolly pindér,

In Wakefield all on a green,

In Wakefield all on a green:
There is neither knight nor squire, said the

pinder,

Geo. Back again, you foolish travellers, For you are wrong, and may not wend this

way. Rob. That were great shame. Now, by

my soul, proud sir,

We be three tall yeomen, and thou art but

one.

Nor baron that is so bold,

Nor baron that is so bold,
Dare make a trespass to the town of Wake-

field,
But his pledge goes to the pinfold, &c.
All this beheard three witty young men,

"T was Robin Hood, Scarlet, and John ; With that they espied the jolly pinder,

As he sat under a thorn.

Come, we will forward in despite of him.
Geo. Leap the ditch, or I will make you

skip.
What, cannot the highway serve your turn,
But must you make a path over the corn?
Rob. Why, art thou mad ? dar'st thou en-

counter three ?
We are no babes, man; look upon our limbs.

Geo. Sirrah,
The biggest limbs have not the stoutest hearts.
Were ye as good as Robin Hood, and his

three

merry men, I'll drive you back the same way that ye

Now turn again, turn again, said the pin

dér,
For a wrong way you have gone ;
For you have forsaken the king's highway,

And made a path over the corn.
O that were a shame, said jolly Robin,

We being three, and thou but one;
The pinder leapt back then thirty good foot,

"T was thirty good foot and one.

came.

He leaned his back fast unto a thorn,

And his foot against a stone,
And there he fought a long summer's day,

A summer's day so long,
Till that their swords on their broad buck-

lers
Were broke fast into their hands.
Hold thy hand, hold thy hand, said bold

Robin Hood,
And my merry men, every one;
For this is one of the best pindérs

That ever I tried with sword.

Be ye men, ye scorn to encounter me all at

once ;
But be ye cowards, set upon me all three,
And try the pinner what he dares perform.

Scar. Were thou as high in deeds
As thou art haughty in words,
Thou well mightst be a champion for a king i
But empty vessels have the loudest sounds,
And cowards prattle more than men of worth.

Geo. Sirrah, darest thou try me?
Scar. Ay, sirrah, that I dare.

(They fight, and GEORGE-A-GREENE

beats him. Much. How now ? what, art thou down? Come, sir, I am next.

[They fight, and GEORGE-A-GREENE

beats him. Rob. Come, sirrah, now to me: spare me

not, For I'll not spare thee. Geo. Make no doubt, I will be as liberal to

thee.

(They fight ; Robin Hood stays. Rob. Stay, George, for here I do protest, Thou art the stoutest champion that ever I Laid hands upon.

Geo. Soft you, sir ; by your leave, you lie,
You never yet laid hands on me.

Rob. George, wilt thou forsake Wakefield,
And go with me?
Two liveries will I give thee every year,
And forty crowns shall be thy fee."

And wilt thou forsake thy pinder's craft,

And live in the green-wood with me? • At Michaelmas next my cov'nant comes

out, When every man gathers his fee.'”

The principal action of George-a-Greene' is founded upon an old romance which describes an insurrection of nobles in the time of Richard I., which was resisted and finally put down by the Pinder of Wakefield ; that is, the keeper of the pin folds. The best scene in the play is where Sir Nicholas Mannering comes before the justices of Wakefield to demand provisions for the rebels. George-a-Greene undertakes to speak for his townsmen; and, on being asked “ Who art thou ?” thus replies :

“ Why, I am George-a-Greene,
True liegeman to my king,
Who scorns that men of such esteem as these
Should brook the braves of any traitorous squire.
You of the bench, and you, my fellow-friends,
Neighbours, we subjects all unto the king ;
We are English born, and therefore Edward's friends,
Vow'd unto him even in our mother's womb,
Our minds to God, our hearts unto our king;
Our wealth, our homage, and our carcases
Be all king Edward's. Then, sirrah, we have
Nothing left for traitors but our swords,
Whetted to bathe them in your bloods, and die

Against you, before we send you any victuals." The Richard of the romance has become, it is thus seen, the Edward of the play. The writer has puzzled Mr. Grose, the antiquarian, with this change, the good man wisely arguing that Robin Hood and Edward IV., whom he supposes to be king of the piece, did not live at the same time. He concludes, therefore, that the drama has slight foundation in history. We quite agree with him. In the scene before the justices George-a-Greene makes Mannering eat his commission, seals and all. This is an incident of the old romance, which was transferred, as our readers will recollect, to the play of • Sir John Oldcastle;' and was a practical joke which Robert Greene himself played off upon an apparitor. After this feat the Pinder of Wakefield goes forward with his club chivalry. As the crowning work of some stratagems, he kills one of the rebel lords, and takes the other two prisoners; he fights, as we have seen, with Robin Hood, Scarlet, and John; and he soundly beats the shoemakers of Bradford, in the presence of King Edward and the King of Scots, who are come in disguise to see the rustic hero. George-a-Greene of course arrives at riches and honour; and as during the play we have occasional glimpses of his being in love, the king rewards him also with his mistress :

Edw, George-a-Greene, give me thy hand;
There is none in England that shall do thee wrong.
Even from my court I came to see thyself;
And now I see that fame speaks nought but truth.

Geo. I humbly thank your royal majesty.
That which I did against the earl of Kendal,
It was but a subject's duty to his sovereign,
And therefore litile merits such good words.

Edw. But ere I go, I 'll grace thee with good deeds.
Say what king Edward may perform,
And thou shalt have it, being in England's bounds.

Geo. I have a lovely leman,

As bright of blee as is the silver moon,
And old Grime, her father, will not let her match
With me, because I am a pinner,
Although I love her, and she me, dearly.

Edw. Where is she?

Geo. At home at my poor house,
And vows never to marry unless her father
Give consent, which is my great grief, my lord.

Edw. If this be all, I will despatch it straight;
I'll send for Grime, and force him give his grant !

He will not deny king Edward such a suit." We have no doubt that this little play was amusing enough to an uncritical audience; but to seek for the hand of Shakspere amongst these coarse and feeble scenes is as fruitless as to look for Claudes and Correggios amongst the alehouse signs.

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