Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

WORKS ASCRIBED TO HIM,

44.

have for the most part displayed very little of a true critical spirit. Pope, as is well known, was strongly disposed to reject whole scenes as interpolations by the players; but his opinion was not much listened to. However, Steevens acceded to the opinion of Pope, as to the apparition of the ghosts and of Jupiter, in Cymbeline, while Posthumus is sleeping in the dungeon. But Posthumus finds on waking a tablet on his breast, with a prophecy on which the dénouement of the piece depends. Is it to be imagined that Shakspeare would require of his spectators the belief in a wonder without a visible cause? Can Posthumus have got this tablet with the prophecy by dreaming? But these gentlemen do not descend to this objection. The verses which the apparitions deliver do not appear to them good enough to be Shakspeare's. I imagine I can discover why the poet has not given them more of the splendour of diction. It is the aged parents and brothers of Posthumus, who, from concern for his fate, return from the world below: ought they not consequently to speak the language of a more siniple olden time, and their voices, too, ought they not also to seem a feeble sound of wailing, when contrasted with the thundering oracular language of Jupiter? For this reason Shakspeare chose a syllabic mea. sure which was very common before his time, but which was then going out of fashion, though it still continued to be frequently used, especially in translations of the classical poets. In some such manner might the shades express themselves in the then existing translations of Homer and Virgil. The speech of Jupiter is, on the other hand, majestic, and in form and style bears a complete resemblance to Shakspeare's sonnets. Nothing but incapacity to appreciate the views of the poet, and the perspective observed by him, could lead them to stumble at this passage.

Pope would willingly have declared the Winter's Tale spurious, one of the noblest creations of the equally bold and lovely fancy of Shakspeare. Why? I suppose on account of the ship coming to Bohemia, and of the chasm of sixteen years between the third and fourth acts, which Time as a prologue entreats us to overleap.

The Three Parts of Henry the Sixth are now at length admitted to be Shakspeare's. Theobald, Warburton, and lastly Farmer, affirmed that they were not Shakspeare's. In this case, we might well ask them to point out the other works

442

SHAKSPEARE: TITUS ANDRONICUS.

of the unknown author, who was capable of inventing, among many others, the noble death-scenes of Talbot, Suffolk, Beaufort, and York. The assertion is so ridiculous, that in this case Richard the Third might also not be Shakspeare's, as it is linked in the most immediate manner to the three other pieces, both by the subject, and the spirit and style of handling.

All the editors, with the exception of Capell, are unanimous in rejecting Titus Andronicus as unworthy of Shakspeare, though they always allow it to be printed with the other pieces, as the scape-goat, as it were, of their abusive criticism. The correct method in such an investigation is first to examine into the external grounds, evidences, &c., and to weigh their value; and then to adduce the internal reasons derived from the quality of the work. The critics of Shakspeare follow a course directly the reverse of this; they set out with a preconceived opinion against a piece, and seek, in justification of this opinion, to render the historical ground suspicious, and to set them aside. Now Titus Andronicus is to be found in the first folio edition of Shakspeare's works, which it is known was published by Heminge and Condell, for many years his frinds and fellow-managers of the same theatre. Is it possible to persuade ourselves that they would not have known if a piece in their repertory did or did not really belong to Shakspeare? And are we to lay to the charge of these honourable men an intentional fraud in this single case, when we know that they did not show themselves so very desirous of scraping everything together which went by the name of Shakspeare, but, as it appears, merely gave those plays of which they had manuscripts in hand? Yet the following circumstance is still stronger. George Meres, a contemporary and admirer of Shakspeare, in an enumeration of his works, mentions Titus Andronicus, in the year 1598. Meres was personally acquainted with the poet, and so very intimately, that the latter read over to him his sonnets before they were printed. I cannot conceive that all the critical scepticism in the world would ever be able to get over such a testimony.

This tragedy, it is true, is framed according to a false idea of the tragic, which by an accumulation of cruelties and enormities, degenerates into the horrible, and yet leaves no deep impression behind: the story of Tereus and Philomela is heightened and overcharged under other names, and mixed up

SHAKSPEARE: HIS FIRST POEM,

443

with the repast of Atreus and Thyestes, and many other incidents. In detail there is no want of beautiful lines, bold images, nay, even features which betray the peculiar conception of Shakspeare. Among these we may reckon the joy of the treacherous Moor at the blackness and ugliness of his adulterous offspring; and in the compassion of Titus Andronicus, grown childish through grief, for a fly which had been struck dead, while his rage afterwards, when he imagines he discovers in it his black enemy, we recognize the future poet of Lear. Are the critics afraid that Shakspeare's fame would be injured, were it established that in his early youth he ushered into the world a feeble and immature work? Was Rome the less the conqueror of the world, because Remus conld leap over its first walls? Let any one place himself in Shakspeare's situation at the commencement of his career. He found only a few indifferent models, and yet these met with the most favourable reception, because in the novelty of an art, men are never difficult to please, before their taste has been made fastidious by choice and abundance. Must not this situation have had its influence on him before he learned to make higher demands on himself

, and by digging deeper in his own mind, discovered the rich veins of noble metal that ran there? It is even highly probable that he must have made several failures before he succeeded in getting into the right path. Genius is in a certain sense infallible, and has nothing to learn ; but art is to be learned, and must be acquired by practice and experience. In Shakspeare's acknowledged works we find hardly any traces of his apprenticeship, and yet apprenticeship he certainly had. This every artist must have, and especially in a period where he has not before him the examples of a school already formed. I consider it as extremely probable that Shakspeare began to write for the theatre at a much earlier period than the one which is generally stated, namely, after the year 1590. It appears that, as early as the year 1584, when only twenty years of

age, he had left his paternal home and repaired to London. Can we imagine that such an active head would remain idle for six whole years without making any attempt to emerge by his talents from an uncongenial situation ? That in the dedication of the poem of Venus and Adonis he calls it " the first heir of his invention," proves nothing against the

a

[ocr errors]

444

SHAKSPEARE: LOCHRINE-PERICLES, ETC.

supposition. It was the first which he printed; he might have composed it at an earlier period; perhaps, also, in this term, “heirs of his invention,” he did not indulge theatrical labours, especially as they then conferred but little to his literary dignity. The earlier Shakspeare began to compose for the theatre, the less are we enabled to consider the immaturity and imperfection of a work a proof of its spuriousness in opposition to historical evidence, if only we can discern in it prominent features of his mind. Several of the works rejected as spurious, may still have been produced in the period betwixt Titus Andronicus, and the earliest of the acknowledged pieces.

At last, in two supplementary volumes, Steevens published seven pieces ascribed to Sbakspeare. It is to be remarked, that they all appeared in print in Shakspeare's life-time, with his name prefixed at full length. They are the following:

1. Lochrine. The proofs of the genuineness of this piece are not altogether nuambiguous; the grounds for doubt, on the other hand, are entitled to attention. However, this question is immediately connected with that respecting Titus Andronicus, and must with it be resolved in the affirmative or negative.

2. Pericles. Prince of Tyre. This piece was acknowledged by Dryden to be a work, but a youthful work of Shakspeare's. It is most undoubtedly his, and it has been admitted into several late editions of his works. The supposed imperfections originate in the circumstance, that Shakspeare here handled a childish and extravagant romance of the old poet Gower, and was unwilling to drag the subject out of its proper sphere. Hence he even introduces Gower himself, and makes him deliver a prologue in his own antiquated language and versification. This power of assuming so foreign a manner is at least nu proof of helplessness.

3. The London Prodigal. If we are not mistaken, Lessing pronounced this piece to be Shakspeare's, and wished to bring it on the German stage.

4. The Puritan; or The Widow of Watling Street. One of my literary friends, intimately acquainted with Shakspeare, was of opinion that the poet must have wished for once to write a play in the style of Ben Jonson, and that in this way we must account for the difference between the pre

SUAKSPEARE: CROMWELL-SIR JOIN OLDCASTLE, ETC. 445

sent piece and his usual manner. To follow out this idea, however, would lead to a long and very nice critical investigation.

5. Thomas Lord Cromwell.
6. Sir John Oldcastle.— First part.
7. A Yorkshire Tragedy.

The three last pieces are not only unquestionably Shakspeare's, but in my opinion they deserve to be classed among his best and maturest works. Steevens at last admits, in some degree, that they, as well as the rest, except Lochrine, are Shakspeare's, but he speaks of all of them with great contempt, as worthless productions. His condemnatory sentence is not, however, in the slightest degree convincing, nor is it supported by much critical acumen. I should like to see how such a critic would, of his own natural suggestion, have decided on Shakspeare's acknowledged master-pieces, and how much he would have thought of praising in them, had not the public opinion already imposed on him the duty of admiration. Thomas Lord Cromwell and Sir John Oldcastle are biographical dramas, and in this species they are models: the first, by its subject, attaches itself to Henry the Eighth, and the second to Henry the Fifth. The second part of Sir John Oldcastle is wanting ; I know not whether a copy of the old edition has been discovered in England, or whether it is lost. The Yorkshire Tragedy is a tragedy in one act, a dramatised tale of murder: the tragical effect is overpowering and it is extremely important to see how poetically Shakspeare could handle such a subject.

Still farther, there have been ascribed to him, 1st. The Merry Devil of Edmonton, a comedy in one act, printed in Dodsley's Collection of 01:1 Plays. This has, certainly, some appearance in its favour. It contains a merry landlord, who bears great similarity to the one in The Merry Wives of Windsor. However, at all events, though a clever, it is but a hasty sketch. 2nd. The Arraignment of Paris. 3rd. The Birth of Merlin. 4th. Edward the Third. 5th. The Fair Em. (Emma). 6th. Mucedorus. 7th. Arden of Feversham. I have never seen any of these, and cannot therefore say anything respecting them. From the passages cited, I am led to conjecture that the subject of Mucedorus is the popular story of Valentine and Orson : a beautiful subject which Lope de Vega has also taken for a play. Arden of Feversham is said to be a tragedy

a

a

« VorigeDoorgaan »