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To whom, may it now be asked, if not to Shakspeare, can this play with any probability be given ? Has not the above slight analysis of its two principal characters, with the quotations necessarily adduced, fully convinced us, that in style, sentiment, and imagery, and in the outline and conception of its chief female personage, the hand of our great master is undeniably displayed ?
We presume, therefore, both the external and internal evidence for much the greater part of this play being the composition of Shakspeare may be pronounced complete and unanswerable; and it now only remains to enquire, if there be sufficient ground for considering Perioles, as we have ventured to do in this arrangement, as the first dramatic production of our author's pen.
It is very extraordinary that the positive testimony of Dryden as to the priority of Pericles, especially if we weigh well the import of the context, should ever have admitted of a moment's doubt or controversy. Nothing can, we think, be more plainly declaratory than the lines in question, which shall be given at length :
“ Where thou perhaps under the HUMMING tide:”
Milton. “ The belching whale, And HUMMING water must o'erwhelm thy corpse.”
Pericles. It is remarkable, that when Milton, in his second edition, altered the word to whelming, he still clung to his former prototype.
The notice may appear whimsical or trifling, but I cannot help observing here, that a few lines of the initiatory address of Gower irresistibly remind me of some of the cadences of The Lay of the Last Minstrel; for instance, this contemporary of Chaucer, alluding to the antiquity of his song, says,
“ It hath been sung at festivals,
On ember-eves, and holy ales;
66 Your Ben and Fletcher in their first young flight,
Did no Volpone, no Arbaces write:
if it mean any thing, must imply, not only from the bare assertion of one line, but from all the accessory matter, that Pericles was the first young flight of Shakspeare, that it was the first offspring of his dramatic muse, his first play. That this was the meaning of Dryden, and not merely that Pericles was produced before Othello, will be further evident from recollecting the occasion of the Prologue whence these lines are taken. It was written to introduce the first play of Dr. Charles D'Avenant, then only nineteen years
of age, and the bard expressly calls it “ the blossom of his green years,” the “rude essay of a youthful poet, who may grow up to write,” expressions which can assimilate it with Pericles only on the supposition that the latter was, like Circe, a firstling of dramatic genius.
That Dryden, who wrote this prologue in 1675, possessed, from his approximation to the age of Shakspeare, many advantages for ascertaining the truth, none will deny. When the former had attained the age of twenty, the latter had been dead but thirty-five years, and the subsequent connection of the modern bard with the stage, and his intimacy with Sir William D'Avenant, who had produced his first play in 1629, and had been well acquainted with Heminge and the surviving companions of Shakspeare, would furnish him with suffi
Prologue to the Tragedy of Circe, by Charles D'Avenant. 1675.
cient data for his assertion, independent of any reliance on the similar declarations of Shepherd and Tatham.
Taking the statement of Dryden, therefore, as a disclosure of the fact, it follows, of course, from what has been previously said on the epoch of Shakspeare's commencement as a dramatic writer, that Pericles must be referred to the autumn of the year 1590, an assignment which the consideration of a few particulars will tend to corroborate.
In the first place, it may be remarked, that the numerous dumb shows of this play, are of themselves a striking presumptive proof of its antiquity, indicating that Shakspeare, who subsequently laughed at these clumsy expedients, thought it necessary, at the opening of his career, to fall in with the fashion of the times, with a fashion which had reigned from the earliest establishment of our stage, which was still in vogue in 1590, but soon after this period became an object of ridicule, and began to decline.
Mr. Malone has remarked, that from the manner in which Pericles is mentioned in a metrical pamphlet, entitled Pimlyco or Runne Redcap, 1609, there is reason to conclude that it is coëval with the old play of Jane Shore * ; and this latter being noticed by Beaumont and Fletcher in conjunction with The Bold Beauchamps , a production which D'Avenant classes, in point of age, with Tamburlaine and Faustus t, pieces which appeared in or before 1590, he infers, per
“ Amazde I stood to see a crowd
Of civil throats stretch'd out so lowd:
Came to see Shore or Pericles." + “ I was ne'er at one of these before; but I should have seen Jane Shore, and my husband hath promised me any time this twelvemonth to carry me to The Bold Beauchamps.” - The Knight of the Burning Pestle. I
6. There is an old tradition,
A Playhouse to be Let.
haps not injudiciously, that Pericles has a claim to similar antiquity, and should be ascribed to the year 1590. *
But a still stronger conclusion in favour of the date which, we think, should be assigned to Pericles, may be drawn from a suggestion of Mr. Steevens, which has not perhaps been sufficiently considered. This gentleman contends, that Shakspeare's Prince of Tyre was originally named Pyroclés, after the hero of Sidney's Arcadia, the character, as he justly observes, not bearing the smallest affinity to that of the Athenian statesman. “ It is remarkable,” says he, “ that many of our ancient writers were ambitious to exhibit Sidney's worthies on the stage: and when his subordinate agents were advanced to such honour, how happened it that Pyrocles, their leader, should be overlooked ? Musidorus (his companion), Argalus and Parthenia, Phalantus and Eudora, Andromana, &c. furnished titles for different tragedies ; and perhaps Pyrocles, in the present instance, was defrauded of a like distinction. The names invented or employed by Sidney, had once such popularity, that they were sometimes borrowed by poets who did not profess to follow the direct current of his fables, or attend to the strict preservation of his characters. I must add, that the Appolyn of the Story-book and Gower could have been rejected only to make room for a more favourite name; yet, however conciliating the name of Pyrocles might have been, that of Pericles could challenge no advantage with regard to general predilection. — All circumstances therefore considered, it is not improbable that our author designed his chief character to be called Pyrocles, not Pericles, however ignorance or accident might have shuffled the latter (a name of almost similar sound) into the place of the former.” †
The probability of this happy conjecture will amount almost to certainty, if we diligently compare Pericles with the Pyrocles of the Arcadia ; the same romantic, versatile, and sensitive disposition is
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ii. p. 249.
ascribed to both characters, and several of the incidents pertaining to the latter are found mingled with the adventures of the former personage, while, throughout the play, the obligations of its author to various other parts of the romance may be frequently and distinctly traced, not only in the assumption of an image or a sentiment, but in the adoption of the very words of his once popular predecessor, proving incontestably the poet's familiarity with and study of the Arcadia to have been very considerable. *
Now this work of Sidney, commenced in 1580, was corrected and published by his sister the Countess of Pembroke, in 1590, and the admiration which it immediately excited would naturally induce a young actor, then meditating his first essay in dramatic poetry, instantly to avail himself of its popularity, and, by appropriating the appellation of its principal hero, fix the attention of the public. That Shakspeare long preserved his attachment to the Arcadia, is evident from his King Lear, where the episode of Gloster and his sons is plainly copied from the first edition of this romance. †
The date assigned to Pericles, on this foundation, being admitted, it follows of course, that Shakspeare could not have had time to improve upon the sketch of a predecessor; and yet from the texture of some parts of the composition, we are compelled to infer, that in this first effort in dramatic poetry, he must have condescended to accept the assistance of a friend, whose inferiority to himself is distinctly visible through the greater part of the first two acts, a position the probability of which seems to have induced Mr. Steevens to yield his assent to Dryden's assertion. “ In one light, indeed, I am ready,” remarks this acute commentator, “ to allow Pericles was our poet's first attempt. Before he was satisfied with his own strength, and
* Many instances of this kind have been pointed out by Mr. Steevens, in his notes on the play; namely, at pages 208. 213. 221. 227, 228. 258. 302.; and the list might be much enlarged by a careful collation of the two productions.
+ Where the chapter is entitled “ The pitifull state and story of the Paphlagonian unkinde king and his kinde sonne, first related by the sonne, then by the blind father.”