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induces us to regret, that it should not have been submitted to the press, especially when the character of Legge for dramatic talent is considered; for Meres informs us in 1598, that “Doctor Leg of Cambridge” was esteemed among the “ best for tragedie,” adding, that “as M. Anneus Lucanus writ two excellent tragedies, one called Medea, the other de Incendio Troiæ cum Priami calamitate: so Doctor Leg hath penned two famous tragedies, the one of Richard the 3, the other of the destruction of Jerusalem.” The death of Dr. Legge took place in July, 1607.

To this catalogue of dramatic writers who preceded Shakspeare, it will be necessary to annex the names, at least, of those anonymous plays which, as far as any record of their performance has reached us, were the property of the stage anterior to the year 1594, under the almost certain presumption, that they must have been written before Shakspeare hadacquired any celebrity as a theatrical poet.

These, with the exception of the plays ascribed to Shakspeare, a few Interludes and Moralities, the tragi-comedy of "Appius and Virginia," printed in 1576, and the tragedy of “Selimus, Emperor of the Turks,” must, and perhaps without danger of any very important omission, be limited to the following enumeration of dramas performed at the Rose theatre during the years 1591, 1592, and 1593; from which, however, we have withdrawn all those pieces that may be found previously noticed under the names of their respective authors :1. Moly Mulocco, or the Batlle of Al- 115. Julian of Brentford,

1592 cazar, *+.

1591 16. The Comedy of Cosmo, 2. Spanish Comedy of Don Horatio, 17. God Speed the Plough,

1593 3. Sir Jobn Mandeville,

18. Huon of Bourdeaux, 4. Henry of Cornwall,

19. George a Green, 5. Chloris and Orgasto, #

20. Buckingham, 6. Pope Joan,

21. Richard the Confessor, 7. Machiavel,

22. William the Conqueror, 8. Ricardo, S

23. Friar Francis, 9. Four Plays in One,

24. The Pinner of Wakefield, tt 10. Zenobia,

25. Abraham and Lot, il. Constantine,

26. The Fair Maid of Italy, 12. Brandymer,

27. King Lud, 13. Titus Vespasian,

28. The Ranger's Comedy, #1 14. The Tanner of Denmark,

In order accurately to ascertain how far Shakspeare might be indebted to his predecessors, it would be highly desirable to possess a printed collection of all the dramas which are yet within the reach of the press, from the days of Sackville to the year 1591. Such a work, so far from diminishing the claim to originality with which this great poet is now invested, would, we are convinced, place it in a still more indisputable point of view; and merely prove, that, without any servility of imitation, or even the smallest dereliction of his native talent and creative genius, he had absorbed within his own refulgent sphere, the few feeble lights which, previous to his appearance, had shed a kind of twilight over the dramatic world.

The models, indeed, if such they may be called, which were presented to his Censura Literaria, vol. ix. 98.

+ This play was printed in 1894, and has fallen under the ridicule of Shakspeare, in a parody on the words, Feed and be fat, &c.

The miserable orthography of this catalogue has frequently disguised the real titles 'so much as to render them almost unintelligible, and I suspect Orgasto in this place to be very remote from the genuine word.

Called in one part of the list,“ Bendo and Ricardo,” and in another, "Byndo and Ricardo.” ?

** This, being the prior part of the title of the Pinner of Wakefield, mentioned below, is probably onc and the same with that production.

At The Pinner of Wakefield, which is in Dodsley's Collection, and in Scott's Ancient British Drama, was printed in 1599.

# Mr. Malone observes of the play in this catalogue, called “ Richard the Confessor," that it “ should seem to have been written by the Tinker, in Taming of the Shrew, who talks of Richard Conqueror."

1592

view, are, as far as we are acquainted with them, so grossly defective in structure, style, and sentiment, that, if we set aside two or three examples, little or nothing could be learned from them. In the course of near thirty years which elapsed between Sackville and Shakspeare, the best and purest period was perhaps that which immediately succeeded the exhibition of Gorboduc, but which was speedily terminated by the appearance of Preston's Cambyses in, or probably rather before the year 1570. From this era we behold a succession of playwrights who, for better than twenty years, deluged the stage as tragic poets with a torrent of bombastic and sanguinary fiction, alike disgraceful to the feelings of humanity and common sense; or, as comic writers, overwhelmed us with a mass of quaintness, buffoonery, and affectation. The worthy disciples of the author of Cambyses, Whetstone, Peele, Lilly, Kydd, and Marlowe, seem to have racked their brains to produce what was unnatural and atrocious, and having, like their leader, received a classical education, misemployed it to clothe their conceptions in a scholastic, unisorm, and monotonous garb, as far, at least, as a versification modulated with the most undeviating regularity, and destitute of all variety of cadence or of pause, could minister to such an effect.

That so dark a picture should occasionally be relieved by gleams of light, which appear the more brilliant from the surrounding contrast, was naturally to be expected; and we have accordingly seen that the very poets who may justly be censured for their general mode of execution, for the wildness and extravagancy of their plots, now and then present us with lines, passages, and even scenes, remarkable for their beauty, strength, or poetical diction ; but these, so unconnected are they, and apart from the customary tone and keeping of the pieces in which they are scattered, appear rather as the fortuitous irradiation of a meteor, whose momentary splendour serves but to render the returning gloom more heavy and oppressive, than the effect of that sober, steady, and improving light which might cheer us with the prospect of approaching day.

Of the twenty poets who have just passed in review before us, Marlowe certainly exhibits the greatest portion of genius, though debased with a large admixture of the gross and glaring faults of his contemporaries. Two of his productions may yet be read with 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, is 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 groups more or less darkly shaded, his immediate predecessors, and his earliest contemporaries in the art.

CHAPTER IX.

Period of Shakspeare's Commencement as a Dramatic Poet-Chronological Arrangement of his ge

nuine Plays-Observations on Pericles ; on the Comedy of Errors; on Love's Labour's Lost: on Henry the Sixth, Part the First; on Henry the Sixth, Part the Second; and on A Midsummer Night's Dream-Dissertation on the Fairy Mythology, and on the Modifications which it received from the Genius of Shakspeare.

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We have, in a former portion of this work ( Part II. ch. 1), assigned our reasons for concluding that, on Shakspeare's arrival in London, about the year 1586 or 1587, his immediate employment was that of an actor; and we now proceed 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 invention;" 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 (Part II. ch. 2), 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 in his Discourse on English Poetry, nor Puttenham in 1589, in his Art of English Poesy, nor Harrington in February, 1591, in his Apology for Poetry, 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. Aubrey 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;" 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 Geeene'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.

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 any further reliance on the 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 fac-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 passage to Shakspeare, who, as might naturally be expected, feeling himself hurt at Greene's unmerited sarcasm, clearly pointing to him by the designation of the only Shake-scene in a country, and not well pleased with Chettle's oflicious publication of it, expressed his sentiments so openly as to draw forth from the repentant editor, about three months after his edition of the Groatsworth of Witte, an apology, which adds further weight to the inferences which we wish to deduce from the language of Greene. In this interesting little pamphlet which, under the title of “ Kind Harts Dreame, we have had occasion to quote more at large in an earlier part of the volume (Part II. ch. 1), the author, after slightly noticing Marlowe, one of the offended parties, and speaking highly of the demeanour, professional ability, and moral integrity of Shakspeare, closes the sentence and the eulogium by mentioning “ his facetious grace of writing, that approves his art.

From these passages in Greene and Chettle, combined with the traditionary relation of Aubrey, we may legitimately infer, first, that he had written for the stage before the year 1592; secondly, that he had written during this period with considerable success, for Aubrey tells us, that “his plays took well," and Chettle that his

grace in writing approved his art,” thirdly, that he had written both tragedy and comedy, Greene reporting, that he was well able to bombast out a blank verse," and Chettle speaking of his “facetious grace in writing ;" fourthly, that he had altered and brought on the stage some of the separate or joint productions of Marlowe, Greene, Lodge, and Peele; the words of Greene, where he terms Shakspeare a “crowe beautified with our feathers, that with his tygres heart wrapt in a player's hide, supposes,” etc. implying, not only that he had furtively acquired fame by appropriating their productions, but referring to a particular play, through the medium of quotation, as a proof of the assertion, the words "tygres heart wrapt in a player's hide" being a parody of a line in the Third Part of King Henry the Sixth : or what we, for reasons which will be speedily assigned, have thought proper to call the Second Part,

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« 0, tiger's heart, wrapp'd in a woman's hide ;"

Act i. sc. 4.

fifthly, that he had already excited, as the usual consequence of success, no small degree of jealousy and envy; bence Greene has querulously 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 factotum.

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 reasonably 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 necessary 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, though Harrington, whose

Apologie for Poetrie" was entered on the Stationers' books in February, 1591, has not noticed Shakspeare, yet, if we consider that this treatise was, in all likelikood, completed previous to the close of 1590, we shall not wonder that a play, performed but three or four months before the critic finished his labours, unap

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