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trusted himself to the publick, he might have tried his hand with a partner, and entered the theatre in disguise. Before he ventured to face an audience on the stage, it was natural that he should peep at them through the curtain."*
The objections which have been made to this priority of Pericles in point of time, may be reduced to three, of which the first is drawn from the non-enumeration of the play by Meres, when giving a list of our poet's dramas, in 1598. † But if it were the object of Shakspeare and his coadjutor to lie concealed from the public eye, of which there can be little doubt, since the former, as hath been remarked, having never owned his share in it, or supposing it to be forgotten, was afterwards willing to profit by the most valuable lines and ideas it contained }, the omission of Meres is easily accounted for; yet granting that our author had been well known as the chief writer of Pericles, the validity of the objection is not thereby established, for we find in this catalogue neither the play of King Henry the Sixth, in any of its parts, nor the tragedy of Hamlet, pieces undoubtedly written and performed before the
1598. A second objection is founded on the title-page of the first edition of Pericles, published in 1609, where this drama is termed “the late and much admired play.” Ş It is obvious that from a word so indefinite in its signification as late, whether taken adverbially or adjectively, nothing decisive can result. To a play written eighteen years before, the lexicographic definitions of the term in question, namely, in times past, not long ago, not far from the present, may, without doubt, justly apply; but we must also add, that it is uncertain whether the word is meant to refer to the period of the composition of the play, or to the date of its last representation ; lately performed being most probably the sense in which the editor intended to be understood.
Lastly, Mr. Douce is of opinion that three of the devices of the knights in act the second, scene the second, of Pericles, are copied from a translation of the Heroicall Devises of Paradin and Symeon, printed in 1591, which, if correct, would necessarily bring forward the date of the play either to this or the subsequent year; but from this difficulty we are relieved even by Mr. Douce himself, who owns that two out of the three are to be found in Whitney's Emblems, published in 1586, a confession which leads us to infer that the third may have an equally early origin.
From the extensive survey which has now been taken of the merits and supposed era of this early drama, the reader, it is probable, will gather sufficient data for concluding that by far the greater part of it issued from the pen of Shakspeare, that it was his first dramatic production, that it appeared towards the close of the year 1590, and that it deserves to be removed from the Appendix to the editions of Shakspeare, where it has hitherto appeared, and incorporated in the body of his works.
2. Comedy Of Errors, 1591. That this play should be ascribed to the year 1591, and not to 1593, or 1596, has, we think, been fully established by Mr. Chalmers t, to whom, therefore, the reader is referred, with this additional observation, that, from an account published in the British Bibliographer, of an interlude, named Jacke Jugeler, which was entered in the Stationers' books in 1562-3, it appears that the Menæchmi of Plautus, on which this comedy is founded,
was, in part at least, known at a very early period upon the English stage f,” a further proof that versions or imitations of it hsul been in existence long prior to Warner's translation in 1595.
As the Comedy of Errors is one of the few plays of Shakspeare mentioned by Meres in 1598, and as we shall have occasion to refer more than once to the catalogue of this critic, it will be necessary, Docture we proceed farther in our arrangement, to give a transcript of
• Vide Douce's Illustrations of Shakspeare, vol. ii. pp. 127, 128. t Bupplemental Apology, pp. 274. et
# Vol. i. pp. 398—400.
this short but interesting article. It is taken from his “ Palladis Tamia. Wit's Treasury.
Wit's Treasury. Being the second part of Wit's Common Wealth,”. 1598, and from that part of it entitled “ A comparative discourse of our English Poets, with the Greeke, Latine, and Italian Poets.”
“ As Plautus and Seneca are accounted the best for comedy and tragedy among the Latines, so Shakspeare, among yo English, is the most excellent in both kinds for the stage ; for comedy, witness his Gětlemē of Verona, his Errors, his Love Labor's Lost, his Love Labour's Wonne, his Midsummer's-Night Dreame, and his Merchant of Venice : for tragedy, his Richard the 2. Richard the 3. Henry the 4. King John, Titus Andronicus, and his Romeo and Juliet." *
Some of the commentators, and more particularly Ritson and Steevens, have positively pronounced this play to have been originally the composition of a writer anterior to Shakspeare, and that it merely received some embellishments from our poet's pen: careful revision of the foregoing scenes,” says the latter gentleman, “ I do not hesitate to pronounce them the composition of two very unequal writers. Shakspeare had undoubtedly a share in them ; but that the entire play was no work of his, is an opinion which (as Benedick says) • fire cannot melt out of me; I will die in it at the stake. Thus, as we are informed by Aulus Gellius, lib. iii. сар. .
3. some plays were absolutely ascribed to Plautus which in truth had only been (retractatæ et expolite) retouched and polished by him.” +
We have frequently occasion to admire the wit, the classical elegance, and the ingenuity of Mr. Steevens, but we have often also to regret the force of his prejudices, and the unqualified dogmatism of his critical opinions. That the business of the Comedy of Errors is better calculated for farce than for legitimate comedy, cannot be
« On a
* For this paragraph, the reader is referred to p. 282. of the original edition, or to p. 46. of the ninth volume of the Censura Literaria.
+ Reed's Shakspeare, vol. xx. p. 461. note.
denied'; and it must also be confessed that the droggrel verses attributed to the two Dromios, contribute little to the humour or value of the piece; but let us, at the same time, recollect, that the admission of the latter was in conformity to the custom of the age in which this play was produced *, and that the former, though perplexed and somewhat improbable t, possesses no small share of entertainment.
This drama of Shakspeare is, in fact, much more varied, rich, and interesting in its incidents, than the Menachmi of Plautus ; and while in rigid adherence to the unities of action, time, and place, our poet rivals the Roman play, he has contrived to insinuate the necessary previous information for the spectator, in a manner infinitely more pleaning and artful than that adopted by the Latin bard, for whilst Plautus has chosen to convey it through the medium of a prologue, Shakspeare has rendered it at once natural and pathetic, by placing it in the mouth of Ægeon, the father of the twin brothers.
In a play of which the plot is so intricate, occupied in a great measure by mere personal mistakes, and their whimsical results, no elaborate developement of character can be expected; yet is the portrait of Ægeon touched with a discriminative hand, and the pressure of age and misfortune is so painted, as to throw a solemn, dignified, and impressive tone of colouring over this part of the fable, contrasting well with the lighter scenes which immediately follow, a mode of relief which is again resorted to at the close of the drama, where the re-union of Ægeon and Æmilia, and the recognition of their children, produce an interest in the denouëment, of a nature umie aflecting than the tone of the preceding scenes had taught us in expect.
As to the comic action which constitutes the chief bulk of this pican, if it be true that to excite laughter, awaken attention, and fix
• For specimens of the doggrel verse which preceded and accompanied the era of the Comedy of Errors, see Reed's Shakspeare, vol. xx. pp. 462, 463.
| The addition of the twin servants to their twin masters, doubles the improbability, wlik it adds to the fund of entertainment.
curiosity, be essential to its dramatic excellence, the Comedy of Errors cannot be pronounced an unsuccessful effort; both reader and spectator are hurried on to the close, through a series of thick-coming incidents, and under the pleasurable influence of novelty, expectation, and surprise ; and the dialogue, so far from betraying the inequalities complained of by Ritson and Steevens, is uniformly vivacious, pointed, and even effervescing. Shakspeare is visible, in fact, throughout the entire play, as well in the broad exuberance of its mirth, as in the cast of its more chastised parts, a combination of which may be found in the punishment and character of Pinch the pedagogue and conjurer, who is sketched in the strongest and most marked style of our author.
If we consider, therefore, the construction of the fable, the narrowness of its basis, and that its powers of entertainment are almost exclusively confined to a continued deception of the external senses, we must confess that Shakspeare has not only improved on the Plautian model, but, making allowance for a somewhat too coarse vein of humour, has given to his production all the interest and variety that the nature and the limits of his subject would permit.
3. Love's LABOUR's Lost: 1591. In the first edition of Mr. Malone's Chronological Essay on Shakspeare's Plays, which was published in January, 1778, the year 1591 is the date assigned to this drama, an epoch, which, in the re-impression of 1793, was changed in the catalogue for the subsequent era of 1594, though the reasons given for this alteration appeared so inconclusive to the chronologist himself, that he ventures in the text merely to say, — " I think it probable, that our author's first draft of this play was written in or before 1594*,” a mode of expression which leaves as much authority to the former as the latter date. In short, the only motive brought forward for the present locality of this piece in Mr. Malone's list, where it appears posterior to A Midsummer-Night's Dream, the