« PreviousContinue »
them [the novels of Boccace] have long since been published before, as stolen from the original author, and yet not beautified with his sweet style and elocution of phrase, neither savouring of his singular moral applications."
Cijmbeline, I imagine, was written in the year 1605. The king from whom the play takes its title began his reign, according to Holinshed, in the 1 9th year of the reign of Augustus Caesar; and the play commences in or about the twenty-fourth year of Cymbeline's reign, which was the forty-second year of the reign of Augustus, and the 16th of the Christian aera: notwithstanding which, Shakspeare has peopled Rome with modern Italians; Phi/aria, Iachimo, &c, Cymbeline is said to have reigned thirtyfive years, leaving at his death two sons, Guiderius and Arviragus. Malone.
This play has many just sentiments, some natural dialogues, and some pleasing scenes, but they are obtained at the expence of much incongruity. To remark the folly of the fiction, the absurdity of die conduct, the confusion of the names, and manners of different times, and the impossibility of the events in any system of life, were to waste criticism upon unresisting imbecility, upon faults too evident for detection, and too gross for aggravation.
THE FABLE AND COMPOSITION
It is observable, that this play is printed in the quarto of l6lj> with exactness equal to that of the other books of those times. The first edition was probably corrected by the author, so that here is very little room for conjecture or emendation; and accordingly none of the editors have much molested this piece with officious criticism. Johnson*
There is an authority for ascribing this play to Shakspeare, Vhich I think a decisive one, though not made use of, as I re* member, by any of his commentators. It is given to him, among other plays, which are undoubtedly hisj in a little book, called Palladif Tamia, or the second Part of Wit's Commonwealth, written by Francis Meeres, Maister of arts, and printed at London in 1598. The other tragedies, enumerated as his in that book, are King John) Richard the second, Henry the fourth, Richard the thirdt and Romro and Juliet. The comedies are, the Midsummer Night's Dream, the Gentlemen of Verona, the Errors, the Lore's Labour lost, the tore'* Labour u-on, and the Merchant of Venice. I have given this listj as it serves so far to ascertain the date of these plays; and also, as it contains a notice of a comedy of Shakspeare, the Lore's Labour icon, not included in any collection of his works j nor, as far as I know, attributed to him by any other authority. If there should be a play in being, with that title, though without Shakspeare's name, I should be glad to see it; and I think the
VOL. VII. b
editor would be sure of the public thanks, even if it should prove no better than the Love's Labour lost. Tykwhitt.
The work of criticism on the plays of this author, is, I believe, generally found to extend or contract itself, in proportion to the value of the piece under consideration; and we shall always do little where we desire but little should be done. I know not, that this piece stands in need of much emendation; though it might be treated as condemned criminals are in some countries,—any experiments might be justifiably made on it.
The author, whoever he was, borrowed .the story, the names,
the characters, &c. from an old ballad, the age of which cannot
be exactly ascertained. The reader who is curious about such a
wretched piece, will find the original in Dr. Percy's collection.
On what principle the editors of the first complete edition of our poet's plays admitted this into their volume, cannot now be ascertained. The most probable reason that can be assigned, is, that he wrote a few lines in it, or gave some assistance to the author, in revising it, or in some other way aided him in bringing it forward on the stage. The tradition mentioned by Ravenscroft in the time of King James II. warrants us in making one or other of these suppositions. "I have been told," (says he in his preface to an alteration of this play published in 1687,) "by some anciently conversant with the stage, that it was not originally his, but brought by a private author to be acted, and he only gave some master touches to one or two of the principal parts or characters."
"A booke entitled A noble Roman Historic of Titus Andronicus" was entered at Stationers-Hall, Feb. 6, 1593-4. This was undoubtedly the play, as it was printed in that year (according to Langbaine, who alone appears to have seen the first edition,) and acted by the servants of the Earls of Pembroke, Derby, and SusMx. It is observable that in the entry no author's name is mentioned, and that the play was originally performed by the same company of comedians who exhibited the old drama, entitled The Contention of the Houses ofYorke and Lancaster, The old Taming of a Shrew, and Marlowe's King Edward II. by whom not one of Shakspeare's plays is said to have been performed.
From Ben Jonson's Induction to Bartholomew Fair, Ifjl4, w< learn that Andronicus had been exhibited twenty-five or thirty years before; that is, according to the lowest computation, in 1589; or taking a middle period, which is perhaps more just, in 1587.
To enter into a long disquisition to prove this piece not to have been written by Shakspeare, would be an idle waste of time. To those who are not conversant with his writings, if particular passages were examined, more words would be necessary than the subject is worth; those who are well acquainted with his works, cannot entertain a doubt on the question.—I will however mention one mode by which it may be easily ascertained. Let the reader only peruse a few lines of Appius and Virginia, Tancred and Gunrnnd, The Battle of Alcazar, Jertmimo, Selimus Emperor of the Twts, The Wounds of Civil Wars, The Wars of Cyrus, Locrine, Arden of Fecersham, King Edward I. The Spanish Tragedy, Solyman and Pcrseda, King Leir, the old King John, or any other of the pieces that were exhibited before the time of Shakspeare, and he will at once perceive that Titus Andronicus was coined in the same mint.
The testimony of Meres, mentioned in a preceding note, alone remains to be considered. His enumerating this among Shakspeare's plays may be accounted for in the same way in which we may account for its being printed by his fellow-comedians in the first folio edition of his works. Meres was in 1598, when his book appeared, intimately connected with Drayton, and probably acquainted with some of the dramatic poets of the time, from some or other of whom he might have heard that Shak«peare interested himself about this tragedy, or had written a few lines for the author. The internal evidence furnished by the piece itself, and proving it not to have been the production of Shakspeare, greatly outweighs any single testimony on the other »dc. Meres might have been mis-informed, or inconsiderately have given credit to the rumour of the day. For six of the plays which he has mentioned, (exclusive of the evidence which the representation of the pieces themselves might have furnished,) he had perhaps no better authority than the whisper of the theatre; for they were not then printed. He could not have been deceived by a title-page, as Dr. Johnson supposes; for Shakspeare's name is not in the title-page of the edition printed in quarto in 1611, and therefore we may conclude, was not in the title-page of that in 1594, of which the other was undoubtedly a re-impression. Had this mean performance been the work of Shakspeare, can it be supposed that the booksellers would not have endeavoured to procure a sale for it by stamping his name upon it?
Jn short, the high antiquity of the piece, its entry on the Sta* tioners' books, and being afterwards printed without the name of our author, its being performed by the servants of Lord Pembroke, &c. the stately march of the versification, the whole colour of the composition, its resemblance to several of our most ancient dramas, the dissimilitude of the style from our author's undoubted compositions, and the tradition mentioned by Ravenscroft, when some of his contemporaries had not been long dead, (for Lowin and Taylor, two of his fellow-comedians, were alive a few year? before the Restoration, and Sir William D'Avenant, who had himself written for the stage in 1629, did not die till April 1668;) all tbese circumstances combined, prove with irresistible force that the play of Titus Andronicus has been erroneously ascribed to Shakspeare. M Alone.
This is one of those plays which I have always thought, with the better judges, ought not to be acknowledged in the list of Shakspeare's genuine pieces. And, perliaps, I may give a proof to strengthen this opinion, that may put the matter out of question. Ben Jonson, in the induction to his Bartholomew-Fair, which made its first appearance in the year 1614, couples Jeronymo and Andronicus together in reputation, and speaks of them aa plays then of twenty-five or thirty years standing. Consequently Andronicus must have been on the stage before Shakspeare left Warwickshire, to come and reside in London : and I never heard it so much as intimated, that he had turned his genius to stagewriting before he associated with the players, and became one of their body. However, that he afterwards introduced it a-new on the stage, with the addition of his own masterly touches, is incontestible, and thence, I presume, grew his title to it. The diction in general, where he has not taken the pains to raise it, is even be* neath that of the Three Parts of Henry VI. The story we are to