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spere's participation in this play; and that evidence in itself would certainly not warrant us in reprinting it, for the first time, in a collection of Shakspere's works. Nor have we to offer any contemporary notice of · The Two Noble Kinsmen' which refers to this question of the co-authorship. The very prologue and epilogue
of the play itself are silent upon this point. They are, except in à passage or two, unimportant in themselves, have no poetical merit, and present some of those loose allusions which, as we approach those days when principles of morality came into violent conflict, rendered the stage so justly obnoxious to the Puritans. The prologue, speaking of the play, says
“ It has a noble breeder, and a pure,
A learned, and a poet never went
And it then adds
* If we let fall the nobleness of this,
And the first sound this child hear be a hiss,
The expression such a writer" is almost evidence against the double authorship. It implies, too, that, if Fletcher were the author, the play was presented before his death; for if the players had produced the drama after his death, they would have probably spoken of him (he being its sole author) in the terms of eulogy with which they accompanied the performance of • The Loyal Subject:'—
“ We need not, noble gentlemen, to invite
Attention, pre-instruct you who did write
The inferences, therefore, to be deduced from the prologue to
· The Two Noble Kinsmen' (supposing Fletcher to be concerned in this drama),—that it was acted during his life-time, and that he either claimed the sole authorship, or suppressed all mention of the joint-authorship,—are to be weighed against the assertion of the titlepage, that it was “written by the two memorable worthies of their time.” We are thrown upon the examination of the internal evidence, then, without any material bias from the publication of the play, or its stage representation. But if the evidence of the titlepage is not valid for the assignment of any portion of the play to Shakspere, neither is it valid as a proof of the co-operation of Fletcher in the work. The first editors of the collected edition of Beaumont and Fletcher do not print • The Two Noble Kinsmen,' as well as seventeen other plays, because it had been printed bea fore in a separate shape. The publishers of the second edition, of 1679, do print it, that the collection may be “ perfect and complete," and contain “ all, both tragedies and comedies, that were ever writ by our authors ;” and in this way they reprint · The Coronation,' first published in 1640, with the name of Fletcher, although, in 1652, Shirley distinctly claimed it in a list of his works. If we reject, then, upon the external evidence, Shakspere's claim to a portion of the authorship of · The Two Noble Kinsmen,' we must reject Fletcher's claim, as supported by the same evidence; and for a satisfactory solution of both questions we must rely upon the internal evidence.
Before the first builders-up of that wondrous edifice, the English drama, lay the whole world of classical and romantic fable, “where to choose.” One of the earliest, and consequently least skilful, of those workmen, Richard Edwards, went to the ancient stores for his · Damon and Pythias,' and to Chaucer for his · Palamon and Arcyte.' We learn from Wood's MSS. that when Elizabeth visited Oxford, in 1566, “ at night the Queen heard the first part of an English play, named · Palamon, or Palamon Arcyte,' made by Mr. Richard Edwards, a gentleman of her chapel, acted with very great applause in Christ Church Hall.” An accident happened at the beginning of the play by the falling of a stage, through which three persons were killed-a scholar of St. Mary's Hall, and two who were probably more missed—a college brewer and a cook. The mirth, however, went on, and “afterwards the actors performed their parts so well, that the Queen laughed heartily thereat, and gave the author of the play great thanks for his pains.”
* Nichols's · Progresses of Queen Elizabeth,' vol. i. pp. 210, 211.
is clear that the fable of Chaucer must have been treated in a different manner by Edwards than we find it treated in The Two Noble Kinsmen.' We have another record of a play on a similar subject. In Henslowe's Diary' we have an entry, under the date of September 1594, of Palamon and Arsett' being acted four times. It is impossible to imagine that • The Two Noble Kinsmen’ is the same play. Here then was a subject adapted to a writer who worked in the spirit in which Shakspere almost uniformly worked. It was familiar to the people in their popular poetry; it was familiar to the stage. To arrive at a right judgment regarding the authorship of · The Two Noble Kinsmen,' we must examine the play line by line in its relation to · The Knight's Tale' of Chaucer. The examination cannot be ill bestowed if it bring any of our readers into more direct acquaintance with the great master of English verse, whose poem of · Palamon and Arcite,' although it was acknowledged by its author to be “ knowen lite” in his own days, when abridged into his · Knight's Tale' furnished to Dryden in his
" translation (he himself calls his poem a translation) a subject for “ the most animated and most harmonious piece of versification in the English language;" * and in a revived taste for our old poetry will itself always be admired for its force, its simplicity, its majesty, and its just proportion.
• The Knight's Tale' of Chaucer opens with the return to Athens of the “ duke that highté Theseus” after he had
" conquer'd all the regne of Feminie,
And eke her youngé sister Emelie." • The Two Noble Kinsmen' opens with Theseus at Athens, in the company of Hippolyta and her sister, proceeding to the celebration of his marriage with the “ dreaded Amazonian.” Their bridal procession is interrupted by the
“ three queens whose sovereigns fell before
The wrath of cruel Creon." In Chaucer the suppliants are a more numerous company. As Theseus was approaching Athens
6 He was 'ware, he cast lis eye aside,
Where that there kneeled in the highé way.
Each after other, clad in clothés black;
Briefly they tell their tale of woe, and as rapidly does the chival rous duke resolve to avenge their wrongs :
u And right anon, withouten more abode,
His banner he display'd, and forth he rode
To Thebes ward, and all his host beside." The Queen and her sister remained at Athens. Out of this rapid narration, which occupies little more than a hundred lines in Chaucer, has the first scene of · The Two Noble Kinsmen been constructed. Assuredly, the reader who opens that scene for the first time will feel that he has lighted upon a work of no ordinary power. The mere interruption of the bridal procession by the widowed queens—the contrast of their black garments and their stained veils with the white robes and wheaten chaplets and hymeneal songs with which the play opens—is a noble dramatic conception; but the poet, whoever he be, possesses that command of appropriate language which realizes all that the imagination can paint of a dramatic situation and movement; there is nothing shadowy or indistinct, no vague explanations, no trivial epithets. When the First Queen says
“Oh, pity, duke!
Of our dead kings, that we may chapel them!” we know that the thoughts which belong to her condition are embodied in words of no common significancy. When the Second Queen, addressing Hippolyta, “ the soldieress," says,- –
“ Speak't in a woman's key, like such a woman
As any of us three; weep ere you fail ;
we feel that the poet not only wields his harmonious language with the decision of a practised artist, but exhibits the nicer touches which attest his knowledge of natural feelings, and employs images which, however strange and unfamiliar, are so true that we wonder they never occurred to us before, but at the same time so original that they appear to defy copying or imitation. The whole scene is full of the same remarkable word-painting. There is another quality which it exhibits, which is also peculiar to the highest order of minds—the ability to set us thinking—to excite that just and appropriate reflection which might arise of itself out of the exhibition of deep passions and painful struggles and resolute selfdenials, but which the true poet breathes into us without an effort, so as to give the key to our thoughts, but utterly avoiding those sententious moralizings which are sometimes deemed to be the province of tragedy. When the Queens commend the surrender which Theseus makes of his affections to a sense of duty, the poet gives us the philosophy of such heroism in a dozen words spoken by Theseus :
" As we are men,
Thus should we do; being sensually subdued,
The first appearance, in Chaucer, of Palamon and Arcite is when they lie wounded on the battle-field of Thebes. In · The Two Noble Kinsmen’ the necessary conduct of the story, as a drama, requires that the principal personages should be exhibited to us before they become absorbed in the main action. It is on such occasions as these that a dramatist of the highest order makes his characters reveal themselves, naturally and without an effort; and yet so distinctly that their individual identity is impressed upon the mind, so as to combine with the subsequent movement of the plot. The second scene of · The Two Noble Kinsmen’ appears to us somewhat deficient in this power. It is written with great energy; but the two friends are energetic alike : we do not precisely see which is the more excitable, the more daring, the more resolved, the more generous. We could change the names of the speakers without any material injury to the propriety of what they speak. Take, as an opposite example, Hermia and Helena, in A Midsummer Night's Dream,' where the differences of character scarcely required to be so nicely defined. And yet in description the author of · The Two Noble Kinsmen’ makes Palamon and Arcite essentially different
“ Arcite is gently visag'd : yet his eye
Is like an engine bent, or a sharp weapon