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ginal King John, which is also in two parts: and, if this be so, we may safely pronounce them his, and even highly worthy of him; it being certain, that there was no English play upon the stage, at that time, which can come at all in competition with them; and this probably it was, which procur’d them the good reception ihat is mention'd too in the Chorus. The plays we are now speaking of have been inconceiveably mangI'd either in the copy or the press, or perhaps both: yet this may be discover'd in them,--that the alterations made afterwards by the author are nothing near so considerable as those in some other plays; the incidents, the characters, every principal outline in short being the same in both draughts; so that what we shall have occasion to say of the second, may, in some degree, and without much violence, be apply'd also to the first: and this we presume to say of it ;-that, low as it must be set in comparison with his other plays, it has beauties in it, and grandeurs, of which no other author was capable but Shakspeare only: that extreamlyaffecting scene of the death of young Rutland, that of his father which comes next it, and of Clifford the murtherer of them both; Beaufort's dreadful exit, the exit of King Henry, and a scene of wonderous simplicity and wonderous tenderness united, in which that Henry is made a speaker, while his last decisive battle is fighting,-are as so many stamps upon these plays; by which his property is mark'd, and himself declar'd the owner of them, beyond controversy as we think : and though we have selected these passages only, and recommended them to observation, it had been easy to name abundance of others which bear his mark as strongly: and one circumstance there is that runs through all the three plays, by which he is as surely to be known as by any other that can be thought of; and that is,--the preservation of character: all the personages in them are distinctly and truly delineated, and the character given them sustain’d uniformly throughout; the enormous Richard's particularly, which in the third of these plays is seen rising towards it's zenith : and who sees not the future monster, and acknowledges at the same time the
that drew it, in these two lines only spoken over a king who lies stab'd before him,
“ What, will the aspiring blood of Lancaster
let him never pretend discernment hereafter in any case of this nature.
It is hard to persuade one's self, that the objecters to the play which comes next are indeed serious in their opinion; for if he is not visible in Love's Labour's Lost, w know not in which of his comedies he can be said to be so : the ease and sprightliness of the dialogue in very many parts of it; it's quick turns of wit, and the humour it abounds in; and (chiefly) in those truly comick characters, the pedant and his companion, the page, the constable, Costard, and Armado,-seem more than sufficient to prove Shakspeare the author of it: and for the blemishes of this play, we must seek the true cause in it's antiquity; which we may venture to carry higher than 1598, the date of it's first impression : rime, when this play appear'd, was thought a beauty of the drama, and heard with singular pleasure by an audience who but a few years before, had been accumstom’d to all rime; and the measure we call dogrel, and are so much offended with, had no such effect upon
the ears of that time: but whether blemishes or no, however this matter be which we have brought to exculpate him, neither of these articles can with any face of justice be alledg'd against Love's Labour's Lost, seeing they are both to be met with in several other plays, the genuineness of which has not been question’d by any one. And one thing more shall be observ'd in the behalf of this play ;—that the author himself was so little displeas’d at least with some parts of it, that he has brought them a second time upon the stage ; for who may not perceive that his famous Benedick and Beatrice are but little more than the counter-parts of Biron and Rosaline ? All which circumstances consider'd, and that especially of the writer's childhood (as it may be term'd) when this comedy was produc'd, we may confidently pronounce it his true Offspring, and replace it amongst it's brethren.
That the Taming of the Shrew should ever have been put into this class of plays, and adjudg’d a spurious one, may justly be reckon'd wonderful, when we consider it's merit, and the reception it has generally met with in the world : it's success at first, and the esteem it was then held in, induc'd Fletcher to enter the lists with it in another play, in which Petruchio is humbld and Catharine triumphant; and we have it in his works, under the title of “ The Woman's Prize, or, the Tamer tam'd:” but,
by an unhappy mistake of buffoonery for humour and obscenity for wit, which was not uncommon with that author, his production came lamely off, and was soon consign’d to the oblivion in which it is now bury'd; whereas this of his antagonist flourishes still, and has maintain'd its place upon the stage in some shape or other) from its very first appearance down to the present hour: and this success it has merited, by true wit and true humour; a fable of very artful construction, much business, and highly interesting; and by natural and well-sustain'd characters, which no pen but Shakspeare's was capable of drawing: what defects it has, are chiefly in the diction; the same (indeed) with those of the play that was lastmention’d, and to be accounted for the same way: for we are strongly inclin’d to believe it a neighbour in time to Love's Labour's Lost, though we want the proofs of it which we have luckily for that *.
But the plays which we have already spoke of are but slightly attack’d, and by few writers, in comparison of this which we are now come to of “ Titus Andronicus;” commentators, editors, every one (in short) who has had to do with Shakspeare, unite all in condemning it,-as a very bundle of horrors, totally unfit for the stage, and unlike the poet's manner, and even the style of his other pieces; all which allegations are extreamly true, and we readily admit of them, but can not admit the conclusion - that, therefore, it is not his; and shall now proceed to give the reasons of our dissent, but (first) the play's age must be enquir’d into. In the Induction to Jonson's Bartholomew Fair, which was written in the year 1614, the audience is thus accosted:-“ Hee that will sweare, Jeronimo, or Andronicus are the best playes, yet, shall passe unexcepted at, heere, as a man whose judgement shewes
* The authenticity of this play stands further confirm’d by the testimony of Sir Aston Cockayn; a writer who came near to Shakspeare's time, and does expressly ascribe it to him in an epigram address'd to Mr. Clement Fisher of Wincot; but it is (perhaps) superfluous, and of but little weight neither, as it will he said—that Sir Aston proceeds only upon the evidence of it's being in print in his name : we do therefore lay no great stress upon it, por shall insert the epigram ; it will be found in The School of Shakspeare, which is the proper place for things of that sort.
it is constant, and hath stood still, these five and twentie, or thirty yeeres. Though it be an ignorance, it is a vertuous and stay'd ignorance; and next to truth, a confirm'd errour does well; such a one the author knowes where to finde him.” We have here the great Ben himself, joining this play with Jeronimo, or, the Spanish Tragedy, and bearing express testimony to the credit they were both in with the publick at the time they were written; but this is by the by; to ascertain that time, was the chief reason for inserting the quotation, and there we see it fix'd to twenty-five or thirty years prior to this Induction: now it is not necessary, to suppose that Jonson speaks in this place with exact precision; but allowing that he does, the first of these periods carries us back to 1589, a date not very repugnant to what is afterwards advanc'd: Lang baine, in his Account of the English Dramatick Poets, under the article-SHAKSPEARE, does expressly tell us, -that “ Andronicus was first printed in 1594, quarto, and acted by the Earls of Derby, Pembroke, and Essex, their servants ;” and though the edition is not now to be met with, and he who mentions it be no exact writer, nor greatly to be rely'd on in many of his articles, yet in this which we have quoted he is so very particular that one can hardly withhold assent to it; especially, as this account of it's printing coincides well enough with Jonson's æra of writing this play; to which therefore we subscribe, and go on upon that ground. The books of that time afford strange examples of the barbarism of the publick taste both upon
and elsewhere: à conceited one of John Lilly's set the whole nation a madding; and, for a while, every pretender to politeness “parld Euphuism, as it was phras'd, and no writings would go down with them but such as were pen'd in that fantastical manner: the setter-up of this fashion try'd it also in comedy; but seems to have miscarry'd in that, and for this plain reason: the people who govern theatres are, the middle and lower orders of the world; and these expected laughter in comedies, which this stuff of Lilly's was incapable of exciting: but some other writers, who rose exactly at that time, succeeded better in certain tragical performances, though as outrageous to the full in their way, and as remote from nature, as these comick ones of Lilly; for falling in with that innate love of blood which has been often objected to British audiences, and choosing fables of horror which
they made horrider still by their manner of handling them, they produc’d. a set of monsters that are not to be paralleld in all the annals of play-writing; yet they were receiv'd with applause, and were the favourites of the publick for almost ten years together ending at 1595 : many plays of this stamp, it is probable, have perish'd ; but those that are come down to us, are as follows;_" The Wars of Cyrus; Tamburlaine the Great, in two parts; The Spanish Tragedy, likewise in two parts; Soliman and Perseda; and Selimus, a tragedy *;" which whoever has means of coming at, and can have patience to examine, will see evident tokens of a fashion then prevailing, which occasion'd all these plays to be cast in the same mold. Now, Shakspeare, whatever motives he might have in some other parts of it, at this period of his life wrote certainly for profit; and seeing it was to be had in this way, (and this way only, perhaps,) he fell in with the current, and gave his sorry auditors a piece to their tooth in this contested play of Titus Andronicus; which as it came out at the same time with the plays above-mention'd, is most
No evidence has occur'd to prove exactly the time these plays were written, except that passage of Jonson's which relates to Jeronimo; but the editions we have read them in, are as follows: Tamburlaine in 1593 ; Selimus, and The Wars of Cyrus, in 1594; and Soliman and Perseda, in 1599; the other without a date, but as early as the earliest : they are also without a name of author; nor has any book been met with to instruct us in that particular, except only for Jeronimo ; which we are told by Heywood, in his Apology for Actors, was written by Thomas Kyd ; author, or translator rather, (for it is taken from the French of Robert Garnier,) of another play, intitld-Cornelia, printed likewise in 1594. Which of these extravagant plays had the honour to lead the way, we can't tell, but Jeronimo seems to have the best pretensions to it; as Selimus has above all his other brethren, to bearing away the palm for blood and murther : this curious piece has these lines for a conclusion :
“ If this first part Gentles, do like you well,
“ The second part, shall greater murthers tell.” But whether the audience had enough of it, or how it has happen'd we can't tell, but no such second part is to be found. All these plays were the constant butt of the poets who came immediately after them, and of Shakspeare amongst the rest ; and by their ridicule the town at last was made sensible of their ill judgment, and the theatre was purg'd of these monsters.