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interest ; his Edward the Second, and his Faustus ; though the latter must be allowed to deviate from the true tract of tragedy, in presenting us rather with what is horrible than terrible in its incidents and catastrophe.
We must not be surprised, therefore, that the dramatic fabrics of these rude artists should have met with the warmest admiration, when we recollect, that, in the infancy of an art, novelty is of itself abundantly productive of attraction, and that taste, neither formed by good models, nor rendered fastidious by choice, can have little power to check the march of misguided enthusiasm.
It is necessary, however, to record an event in dramatic history, which, coming into operation just previous to the entrance of our poet into the theatric arena as an author, no doubt contributed powerfully not only to chasten his muse, but, through him, universally the national taste. In 1589 commissioners were appointed by the Queen for the purpose of reviewing and revising the productions of all writers for the stage, with full powers to reject and strike out all which they might deem unmannerly, licentious, and irreverent; a censureship which, it is evident, if properly and temperately executed, could not fail of conferring almost incalculable benefit on a department of literature at that time not much advanced in its career, and but too apt to transgress the limits of a just decorum.
This regulation ushers in, indeed, by many degrees the most important period in the annals of our theatre, when Shakspeare, starting into dramatic life, came boldly forward on the eye, leaving at an immeasurable distance behind him, and in groupes more or less darkly shaded, his immediate predecessors, and his earliest contemporaries in the art.
PERIOD OF SHARIPEARE'S COMMENCEMENT AS A DRAMATIC POET – CHRONOLOGICAL
ARZAVGEMENT OF HIS GEXCISE PLAYS – OBSERVATIONS ON PERICLES; ON THE COMEDY OF ERRORS; OS LOVES LABOVE'S LOCT; OS HENRY THE SIXTH, PART THE FIRST ; 6 HENRY THE SIXTH, PART THE SECOND, ASD ON A MIDSUMMER-VIGHT'S DRE.436 -A2 KILT10S 0% THE PAIRY MYTHOLOGY, AND ON THE MODIFICATIONS WHICH IT 3.1:73.D TRX THE GESICE OF SHAKSPEARE.
We ha:«, in a former portion of this work*, assigned our reasons for (2016!1111:2 that, on Shakspeare's arrival in London, about the
year 1544; 90 1587, his immediate employment was that of an actor; and We now piwn to consider the much agitated question as to the era of his first attempts in dramatic poetry. That this was subsequent to the production of his Venus and Adonis, we possess his own authority, when he informs us that the poem just mentioned was the first heir of his intention ; and though we enjoy no testimony of a like kind, or emanating from a similar source, as to the period of his earliest effort in dramatic literature, yet, if we be correct in referring the composition of his Venus and Adonis to the interval elapsing between the years 1587 and 1590 t, the epoch of his first play cannot, with any probability, be placed either much anterior or subsequent to the year 1590. That it occurred not before this date, may be presumed from recollecting, that, in the first place, the prosecution of his amatory poem and the acquirement of his profession as an actor, might be sufficient to occupy an interval of two years; and, in the second place, that no contemporary previous to 1592, neither Webbe in 1586 f, nor Puttenham in 1589 $, nor Harrington in February,
* Part II. chapter 1.
+ Part II. chapter 2.
1591 *, has noticed or even alluded to any theatrical production of our author.
That it took place, either in 1590, or very soon after that year, must be inferred both from tradition, and from written testimony. Aubery tells us, from the former source, that “ he began early to make essays in dramatique poetry, which at that time was very lowe, and his plays took well t;" and from the nature and extent of the allusions in the following passage from Robert Greene's Groatsworth of Witte bought with a Million of Repentance, there can be no doubt that, not only one play, but that several had been written and prepared for the stage by our poet, anterior to September, 1592. It appears
that this tract of Greene's was completed a very short time previous to his death, which happened on the third of the month of the year just mentioned, and that Henry Chettle, “ upon
whose perill” † it had been entered in the Stationers' register on September the 20th, 1592, became editor and publisher of it before the ensuing December. S
Greene had been the intimate associate of Marlowe, Lodge, and Peele, and he concludes his Groatsworth of Witte with an address to these bards, the object of which is, to dissuade them from
further reliance stage
for support, and to warn them against the ingratitude and selfishness of players : “ trust them not;" he exclaims, “ for there is an upstart crowe BEAUTIFIED WITH OUR FEATHERS, that with his tygres heart wrapt in a player's hide, supposes hee is as well able to bombaste out a blank verse as the best of you ; and being an absolute JOHANNES PAC-TOTUM, is in his own conceit the only SHAKE-SCENE in a countrey." ||
To Mr. Tyrwhit we are indebted for the first application of this
* In his Apology for Poetry,
# Vide Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ii. p. 286; and Chalmers's Supplemental Apology, p. 272. note. & Reed’s Shakspeare, vol. ii. p. 237.
# Ibid. vol. xiv. p. 217. VOL. II.
to Shahspeare, who, as might naturally be expected, ia Bu...xcis' bout al Greene's unmerited sarcasm, clearly pointing to on the designation of the only Shake-scene in a country, and not a pleased with Chettle's oflicious publication of it, expressed his ser: ments so openly as to draw forth from the repentant editor, about tira months after his edition of the Groatsworth of Witte, an apolog. which was further weight to the inferences which we wish to deduce from the language of Greene, In this interesting little pamph'a which, under the title of Kimd Tarix Dreame, we have had occasion lo quote more at large in un culier part of the volume *, the author. utier slipbitly noticing Marlowe, one of the offended parties, and speaking, bigbly of the demeanoll, professional ability, and moral inintegrity of Shuhspeare, closes the sentence and the eulogium by mentioning " mis variam A# O WAITING, THAT APPROVES HIS
from the pages in Green and Chelle, combined with the wwwdilimiy as lution of Aubrey, we may legitimately infer, first, that hex huid written for the abunge kuporw the com 1.592 ; secondly, that he had wsillen stuwwith this procent with considerable success, for Aubrey tells us, obvest hea pluga tuh will, um (heldle that his grace in writing approved ho wil, Dudly, but he hand vadbou both trwgwdly and comedy, Greene 1 Jom tud for Wii sillable to trombust out a blank verse, and
Letalo aponishing on his " functions grace in writing ;" fourthly, that in hud olla vuit and brought on the stage some of the separate or joint pwwtions of Murtown, Greene's Lodge, and Picle'; the words of 1,14me, where he terms Shakspeare a "crozer beautified with our Jouther's, that with his lygres heart wrapt in a player's hide, supposes,” &c. implying, not only that he had tirtively acquired time by appropriating their productions, but referring to a particular play, through the mendimin of quotation, as a proof of the assertion, the words tygres heart wrapt in a player'o hide being a parody of a line in the Third
* Part II, chap. 1.
Part of King Henry the Sixth : or what we, for reasons which will be speedily assigned, have thought proper to call the Second Part,—
“ O, tiger's heart, wrapp'd in a woman's hide;"
fifthly, that he had already excited, as the usual consequence of success, no small degree of jealousy and envy; hence Greene has querelously bestowed
upon him the appellation of upstart, and has taxed him with a monopolising spirit, an accusation which leads us to believe, sixthly, that he had written or prepared for the stage SEVERAL PLAYS anterior to September, 1592; this last inference, which we conceive to be fairly deduced from the description of our poet as AN ABSOLUTE JOHANNES FAC-TOTUM with regard to the stage, will immediately bring forward again the question as to the precise era of our author's earliest drama.
Now to warrant the charge implied by the expression, an absolute fac-totum, we must necessarily allow a sufficient lapse of time before September, 1592, in order to admit, not only of Shakspeare's altering a play for the stage, but of his composing either altogether, or in part, both tragedy and comedy on a basis of his own choice, so that he might, as he actually did, appear to Greene, in the capacities of corrector, improver, and original writer of plays, to be a perfect fac-totum.
And, if we further reflect, that the composition of the Groatsworth of Witte most probably, from indisposition, occupied its author one month, as he complains of weakness scarce suffering him to write towards the conclusion of his tract, and that we cannot reas
easonably conclude less than two years to have been employed by Shakspeare in the execution of the functions assigned him by Greene; the period for the production of his first drama, will necessarily be thrown back to the August of the year 1590 ; an era to which no objection, from contradictory testimony, can with any show of probability apply; for,
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. xiv. p. 43. Act i. sc. 4.