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"A PLEASANT conceyted Comedie of George-a-Greene, the Pinner of Wakefield,' bears upon the title-page that it was acted by the servants of the Earl of Sussex. The earliest edition known is that of 1599. In Henslow's Diary we have an entry of George-aGreene' being played by the Earl of Sussex his men on the 28th of December, 1593. This play was formerly ascribed amongst others by Winstanley) to John Heywood, the friend of Sir Thomas More. Such an opinion argues the most complete ignorance of the state of our language, and of dramatic poetry especially, at the time when John Heywood wrote. No English critic, we believe, ever thought of assigning the play to Shakspere; but the Germans, finding it reprinted in Dodsley's collection as the work of an unknown author, seize upon it as another production of the great English dramatist, rescued by them from the wallet of Time. Tieck translates it. He remarks—“It is traditionally said that the • Pinner of Wakefield' is a play of Shakspere's. I must acknowledge for myself that any tradition would have more weight than the narrow-minded criticisms of the English editors, which, proceeding wholly on false premises, naturally take little notice of such productions. If it is by Shakspere, it must be an early work." We know not where the tradition is to be found, and indeed the play is now pretty confidently assigned to Robert Greene. It is included in Mr. Dyce's edition of his works, for a reason thus given :
“ It has been thought right to include in the present collection George-aGreene, the Pinner of Wakefield,' 1599, in consequence of the following MS. notes having been found on the title-page of a copy of that piece, which was formerly in the library of Mr. Rhodes :· Written by
a minister who acted the piners pt in it himself. Teste, W. Shakespeare.
• Ed. Juby* saith it was made by Ro. Greene.' These two memoranda are by different persons, and in handwriting of about the time when the play was printed. The probability of Greene's having been “a minister we have noticed before."
* An actor who wrote a play in conjunction with Rowley.
This evidence is not absolutely decisive as to the authorship of the play, but, conjoined with the internal evidence, we have no doubt that Mr. Dyce exercised a sound discretion in printing it in his collection of Greene's dramatic works.
Tieck, having translated the play in his . Alt Englisches Theater, oder Supplemente zum Shakspere,' as one of “those dramas which Shakspere produced in his youth, and which Englishmen, through a misjudging criticism and a tenderness for his fame (as they thought), have refused to recognise,” is of course decided in his opinion as to the merits of this performance. He says, “ It seems to me a model of a popular comedy (Volks-comödie-people's comedy); the cheerful joyousness, that never overflows, but keeps within the bounds of moderation, and does us good; the merry clown; the agreeable character of the principal person, whose official zeal and heroic courage are so nicely softened down with a few milder features ; and the genius which plays through the whole; -everything is such that Shakspere himself would have no cause to be ashamed of this, though we cannot show any other piece of his worked out in a similar style.” The criticism of Horn is more temperate. George-a-Greene, the hero of the play, “ equals, in his invincibility, waggery, and love of jesting, our Siegfried in the • Niebelungen.'” He acknowledges, however, that there is not a trace of humour in the performance, and that there is a great want of dramatic art in the construction. To say nothing of the feebleness of the blank verse, we believe that the entire absence of wit or humour in the comic parts, and the inartificial management of the incidents, decide at once that the play could not belong to Shakspere at any period of his life. There is a rude activity in the working out of the plot, but no real creative power. That any high poetical power was not in the writer does not require, we think, a very laboured proof. One example of this deficiency of the higher quality may suffice. There is an incident in the play founded on the fine old ballad of • The Jolly Pinder of Wakefield,' which undoubtedly was in existence before 1593, and, compared with that ballad, the tameness of the dramatic version of it appears to us very striking. We will give a passage from each :
BALLAD OF THE JOLLY PINDER.
* In Wakefield there lives a jolly pindér,
In Wakefield all on a green,
In Wakefield all on a green:
“ Geo. Back again, you foolish travellers, For you are wrong, and may not wend this We be three tall yeomen, and thou art but
way. Rob. That were great shame. Now, by
my soul, proud sir,
Nor baron that is so bold,
Nor baron that is so bold,
"T was Robin Hood, Scarlet, and John ; With that they espied the jolly pinder,
As he sat under a thorn.
Come, we will forward in despite of him.
counter three ?
merry men, I'll drive you back the same way that ye
Now turn again, turn again, said the pin
And made a path over the corn.
We being three, and thou but one;
"T was thirty good foot and one.
He leaned his back fast unto a thorn,
And his foot against a stone,
A summer's day so long,
That ever I tried with sword.
Be ye men, ye scorn to encounter me all at
Scar. Were thou as high in deeds
Geo. Sirrah, darest thou try me?
(They fight, and GEORGE-A-GREENE
beats him. Much. How now ? what, art thou down? Come, sir, I am next.
[They fight, and GEORGE-A-GREENE
beats him. Rob. Come, sirrah, now to me: spare me
not, For I'll not spare thee. Geo. Make no doubt, I will be as liberal to
(They fight ; Robin Hood stays. Rob. Stay, George, for here I do protest, Thou art the stoutest champion that ever I Laid hands upon.
Geo. Soft you, sir ; by your leave, you lie,
Rob. George, wilt thou forsake Wakefield,
And wilt thou forsake thy pinder's craft,
And live in the green-wood with me? • At Michaelmas next my cov'nant comes
out, When every man gathers his fee.'”
The principal action of George-a-Greene' is founded upon an old romance which describes an insurrection of nobles in the time of Richard I., which was resisted and finally put down by the Pinder of Wakefield ; that is, the keeper of the pin folds. The best scene in the play is where Sir Nicholas Mannering comes before the justices of Wakefield to demand provisions for the rebels. George-a-Greene undertakes to speak for his townsmen; and, on being asked “ Who art thou ?” thus replies :
“ Why, I am George-a-Greene,
Against you, before we send you any victuals." The Richard of the romance has become, it is thus seen, the Edward of the play. The writer has puzzled Mr. Grose, the antiquarian, with this change, the good man wisely arguing that Robin Hood and Edward IV., whom he supposes to be king of the piece, did not live at the same time. He concludes, therefore, that the drama has slight foundation in history. We quite agree with him. In the scene before the justices George-a-Greene makes Mannering eat his commission, seals and all. This is an incident of the old romance, which was transferred, as our readers will recollect, to the play of • Sir John Oldcastle;' and was a practical joke which Robert Greene himself played off upon an apparitor. After this feat the Pinder of Wakefield goes forward with his club chivalry. As the crowning work of some stratagems, he kills one of the rebel lords, and takes the other two prisoners; he fights, as we have seen, with Robin Hood, Scarlet, and John; and he soundly beats the shoemakers of Bradford, in the presence of King Edward and the King of Scots, who are come in disguise to see the rustic hero. George-a-Greene of course arrives at riches and honour; and as during the play we have occasional glimpses of his being in love, the king rewards him also with his mistress :
“ Edw, George-a-Greene, give me thy hand;
Geo. I humbly thank your royal majesty.
Edw. But ere I go, I 'll grace thee with good deeds.
Geo. I have a lovely leman,
As bright of blee as is the silver moon,
Edw. Where is she?
Geo. At home at my poor house,
Edw. If this be all, I will despatch it straight;
He will not deny king Edward such a suit." We have no doubt that this little play was amusing enough to an uncritical audience; but to seek for the hand of Shakspere amongst these coarse and feeble scenes is as fruitless as to look for Claudes and Correggios amongst the alehouse signs.