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Among the dramatic productions which have been ascribed to Shakespeare, we may mention Arden of Feversham and the Yorkshire Tragedy, but in our days the general opinion is, that the style of neither is that of Shakespeare, though Tieck has translated the first-mentioned as one of his genuine pieces. In the first edition of The two noble Kinsmen (1634), we find on the title-page, that it was 'written by the memorable Worthies of their Time, Mr. John Fletcher, and Mr. William Shakespeare, Gent;' but we cannot accept Shakespeare as Fletcher's collaborator on the unsupported authority of the bookseller. Even so recently as 1795 a pretended Shakespearian tragedy, called Vortigern and Rowena, was forged by William Henry Ireland, and brought upon the stage by the celebrated John Kemble, who performed the part of Vortigern. The piece completely failed on representation.
We now proceed to notice the dramas which are commonly printed as the authentic productions of Shakespeare, and at the same time we shall mention, from what source or sources they are believed to be derived; for Shakespeare, though he improved, did not invent his plots, but sought a groundwork in such existing materials as he found most suitable and convenient. With the modesty that so often accompanies true genius, he never appears to have suspected that his works were destined to outlive him long; and he always selected such subjects as were most likely to interest and amuse his contemporaries. Had he been able to foresee how many succeeding generations were to cull instruction and delight from his pages, it is not improbable that his ambition might have been roused to exhibit a greater fertility of invention in the intrigues of his pieces.
The play called Titus Andronicus, and the first part of Henry VI. were probably only revised by Shakespeare, between 1588 and 1591. For this reason they have been called Pre-Shakespearian plays.
Love's Labour's lost is one of Shakespeare's earliest productions. The source is unknown, but the pedant '(Holofernes) and the braggart (Armado) are favourite characters in the old Italian comedies. It is thought by some that Shakespeare, contrary to his custom, invented this plot himself.
The Comedy of Errors is evidently borrowed from the Menæchmi of Plautus. To heighten the comic effect, Shakespeare has added to the two Antipholi the two twin
brothers, Dromio of Syracuse and Dromio of Ephesus.
The taming of the Shrew is taken from an older comedy with a similar name, which is itself taken from the Suppositi of Ariosto; but the original idea can be traced to Terence. This piece Garrick injudiciously reduced to three acts by leaving out the poetical episode of Lucentio and Bianca. Troilus and Cressida is chiefly drawn from Chaucer and Chapman's Homer.
As you like it, founded on Lodge's pastoral romance Rosalynde, has always been a favourite with the public. The pleasant life of the exiled Court in the forest of Ardennes, the melancholy Jaques, the mingled folly and wisdom of Touchstone, and the graceful Rosalind, at once charm, amuse, and instruct us.
The Twelfth Night, taken from a novel by Bandello, overflows with the richest humour. The vain Malvolio, the cunning Maria, the poltroon Sir Andrew, the drunken Sir Toby, are inimitable; and as an admirable contrast to these we have the pure and gentle Viola, Olivia with her forced austerity, and the sighing Duke.
All's well that ends well, from Boccaccio, through Painter's Palace of Pleasure. is re-written from an older play of Shakespeare's called Love's Labour's won. a counterpart to Love's Labour's lost. Coleridge was the first to point out, in this play, two distinct styles of Shakespeare.
The two Gentlemen of Verona, one of Shakespeare's earliest comedies, is taken in part at least from an English translation of the Spaniard Montemayor's pastoral romance Diana. In this piece the principal characters are contrasted: Valentine is frank and upright, Proteus false and sly; Launce dull and clownish, Speed quick and witty; Julia modest and retiring, Silvia forward and pretentious.
The merry Wives of Windsor was written after Henry IV., and, it is said, at the express desire of Queen Elizabeth, who wished to see the fat Knight in love. The plot, however, is partly borrowed from an Italian story introduced into Tarlton's News out of Purgatorie.
Measure for Measure is taken from Whetstone's Promos and Cassandra, a dramatized translation of a tale by Giraldi Cinthio. Its object is to contrast specious hypocrisy with real virtue.
The Winter's Tale is founded on Greene's romance of Pandosto, or Dorastus and Faunia. In the old legend from which Greene borrowed the story, Bohemia is made a maritime country, so that neither
Greene nor Shakespeare is fairly chargeable with this geographical blunder. Timon of Athens seems taken from Plutarch, Lucian, and Painter's Palace of Pleasure. The cynic philosopher Apemantus is supposed to have Diogenes as a prototype.
The story of the Merchant of Venice is to be found in Il Pecorone, a collection of tales by the old Italian writer Fiorentino, but there is an English ballad on the same subject, that was perhaps extant in Shakespeare's time. The incident of the caskets is taken from the fifth book of Gower's Confessio Amantis.
The Tempest is one of Shakespeare's latest plays, and was probably suggested by the shipwreck of Sir George Somers on the Bermuda islands in 1609. The plot and the supernatural machinery seem to be derived from popular legends. There is an old German play by Jacob Ayrer, which much resembles the Tempest, and it is likely that he and Shakespeare made use of the same original materials. Ayrer's piece was perhaps anterior to the Tempest, but there is no evidence that it was known to Shakespeare.
The Midsummer Night's Dream, one of his most perfect plays, is taken in part from Chaucer's Knight's Tale, and partly from fairy legends current among the English peasantry.
Romeo and Juliet, which contains more of the lyric element than any other of Shakespeare's dramas, was the original conception of the Italian writer, Bandello, but Shakespeare most probably took the story from Arthur Brooke's poem on the same subject, published in 1562.
Of Pericles, it is generally acknowledged, that only some parts belong to Shakespeare, such as the scene in which Pericles recognises his long lost daughter, and the description of the storm at sea. The plot is borrowed from Gower's Confessio Amantis. Othello is taken from Giraldi Cinthio, and Shakespeare must have read the story in the Italian original, as there was no English translation when he wrote his tragedy.
For his Roman plays Shakespeare employed Sir Thomas North's translation of Plutarch; for his English historical pieces, including Macbeth and King Lear, the Chronicles of Hollinshed, Hall, Fabian, and a few other more or less trustworthy writers. King John and Hamlet are based on older plays, the original source of the latter being the Chronicle of Saxo-Grammaticus. Cymbeline is partly from Hollinshed, partly from Boccaccio.
Though Shakespeare, as we see, borrowed his subjects from the most various sources, the skill with which he wove the rude materials at his disposal into new and elegant fabrics was marvellous. To adduce but one example, the superiority of Othello to the insignificant novel from which Shakespeare took the idea, is immense. 'In the story of Cinthio,' says Guizot, we miss the poetical genius which gave birth to the actors--which originated the individuals, stamping on each of them a figure and a character-which made us spectators of their actions and listeners of their words-which exposed their thoughts and entered into their feelings:-in short, that life-infusing power, which bids events arise and progress to completion; that revivifying breath, which as it touches the past recalls it into being, and fills it with a present, an imperishable life. This was the power which Shakespeare alone possessed, and by which, out of a forgotten novel, he has made Othello.'
Of the two principal poems of Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis was published in 1593, and dedicated to Lord Southampton. It is full of sweetness and passionate tenderness, and was probably written before he left Stratford. The Rape of Lucrece is a poem of inferior merit, but was also well received by the public. Of his Sonnets, 154 in number, it is not easy to give a positive opinion, farther than that they contain many sweet lines. They are chiefly addressed to a male friend, though some of them are evidently intended for a woman, and their bearing is in general very difficult to understand. If they really refer to the great poet's life in London, as has been supposed, we could wish he had never written them.
In all the vast range of characters which Shakespeare presents to us in his dramas, it is remarkable how completely he keeps himself in the background; and this is the principal reason why no two of his personages, even when placed in similar circumstances, or governed by the same ruling passion, are alike. Macbeth and Richard III. are both ambitious, Othello and Posthumus both jealous, Henry VI. and Richard II. are both unhappy monarchs, Falstaff and Pistol are both poltroons, and yet how widely do they differ in all respects! in his delineation of female character, in particular, Shakespeare far surpasses all his contemporaries. Whether he draws the gentle Desdemona, the sorrowing Constance, the raving Ophelia, the witty Beatrice, or the ambitious Lady Macbeth, their femininity is never sacrificed to mere theatrical
effect, as is too often the case in the plays | satirical drama, under the name of Horace of Ben Jonson, and Beaumont and Fletcher. He has been blamed for so often resorting to far-fetched conceits, and for his love of quips and puns, but this was the taste of the day, and a dramatic author must, above all, endeavour to please his audience. Many of these puns, indeed, are in our times not generally understood. To give a single example: we must recollect that the word reason was in Shakespeare's time pronounced, as the Irish peasantry still pronounce it, like raisin, if we wish to understand Falstaff's reply, when Prince Henry and Poins demand a reason for what he had just stated:
Fal. What, upon compulsion? Zounds, an I were at the strappado, or all the racks in the world, I would not tell you on compulsion. Give you a reason on compulsion! If reasons were as plentiful as blackberries, I would give no man a reason upon compulsion, I.'
Ever since the time of the English poet and critic Rowe, who flourished in the reign of Queen Anne, great efforts have been made by the admirers of Shakespeare, first in England and afterwards in Germany, to fix the true text of the great poet; but though much has been done, the work is still far from being completed.
We close our remarks on Shakespeare with the finely expressed and eloquent judgment of Johnson:
Each change of many coloured life he drew, Exhausted worlds, and then imagined new: Existence saw him spurn her bounded reign, And panting time toiled after him in vain : His powerful strokes presiding truth impressed,
And unresisted passion stormed the breast.
Ben Jonson (1574-1637) was the friendly rival of Shakespeare, for whom he always felt the highest esteem and veneration. In book learning, and particularly in his acquaintance with the ancient classics, he surpassed Shakespeare as much as he was his inferior in gracefulness of diction, mellifluous versification, and above all in knowledge of human nature. His poetry is vigorous, but rugged and inharmonious; with the exception, at least, of his Masques, on which he expended much labour and care. Ben Jonson was a member of the Mermaid Club, founded by Sir Walter Raleigh, which met in the Falcon Tavern, Southwark, and of which Shakespeare, Beaumont, Fletcher, and most of the wits of the day, were members. His jealous temper, however, made him many enemies, and he was caricatured by Thomas Dekker, in a
Junior. A quarrel with a fellow-actor led to a duel, in which Jonson killed his opponent, and narrowly escaped hanging in consequence. In 1596 his great comedy, Every Man in his Humour, was produced at the Globe theatre with great success, Shakespeare himself performing the part of Knowell. Though this comedy is in all respects thoroughly English, Jonson had in his first sketch of it, following the taste of the day, placed the scene in Italy, and given his characters Italian names, just as Voltaire in later times wrote pieces in which actors with Turkish names and dressed like Turks spoke and acted like ordinary Frenchmen. In this, as in all his other pieces, Jonson makes each of his characters merely the exponent of some particular foible or humour, to the exhibition of which he subordinates the entire action and dialogue. He wants that universality, that deep insight into complicated character, and the secret workings of the heart for which Shakespeare is so remarkable. One of his most successful portraits is the braggart Captain Bobadil, the inventor of the following ingenious plan for saving the country the expense of an army:
'I would select nineteen more to myself, throughout the land; gentlemen they should be of good spirit, strong and able constitution; I would choose them by an instinct, a character that I have: and I would teach these nineteen the special rules, as your punto, your reverso, your stoccata, your imbroccato, your passado, your montanto, till they could all play very nearly, or altogether as well as myself. This done, say the enemy were forty thousand strong, we twenty would come into the field the tenth of March, or thereabouts; and we would challenge twenty of the enemy; they could not in their honour refuse us; well, we would kill them; challenge twenty more, kill them; twenty more, kill them; twenty more, kill them too; and thus would we kill every man his twenty a day, that's twenty score; twenty score, that's two hundred; two hundred a day, five days a thousand; forty thousand; forty times five, five times forty, two hundred days kills them all by computation. And this will I venture my poor gentlemanlike carcass to perform, provided there be no treason practised upon us, by fair and discreet manhood; that is, civilly by the sword.'
Captain Bobadil, notwithstanding all his skill and valour, is cudgelled by Downright, and afterwards boasts, how he bore it 'most patiently'
Every Man out of his Humour was not so popular as its companion play. The principal character, Macilente, envying the worldly prosperity of knaves and fools, sets himself to the task of unmasking or reforming them. He exposes the artifices of a worthless woman to her victim, hinders a vain nondescript from profiting by a heavy insurance he had effected by way of wager, disgusts a fop with his own folly, and leaves only the miser Sordido in the hands of Providence. In the Silent Woman, the hero of the piece in the eccentric Morose, who, hating all noise, cannot make up his mind to marry, till some waggish friends talk him into a marriage with the silent woman; but the ceremony is hardly over when he discovers she can use her tongue to some purpose. In his distress he prays either for a divorce or that he may be allowed to die in peace; but after some time he learns, to his great joy, that the whole thing was a joke, and that the pretended silent woman is a boy. This is the most amusing of all his pieces, though somewhat farcical. Volpone or the Fox is a powerfully written, but disagreeable comedy. The wealthy but greedy hero feigns sickness, in order to obtain valuable presents from a host of legacy-hunters, by whom he is soon besieged. Poetical justice, however, is done on him at the end of the piece, by the loss of his entire property. The Alchemist is likewise a repulsive comedy, all the personages in it being scoundrels or their dupes. His remaining comedies were never popular, and are now almost altogether forgotten. We have two tragedies by Jonson: the Conspiracy of Catiline, and the Fall of Sejanus; in both of which he adheres so closely to the Latin historians that his pieces might almost be called free translations. In many of his plays the very learning of Jonson was a bar to his success, the public generally showing a preference for productions more easily understood, although perhaps of less intrinsic merit.
In the year 1605 Jonson was associated with two others in writing Eastward Hoe! a piece which contained some bitter sarcasms against the Scots; and as the king himself was a Scotchman by birth, the authors were arrested, and threatened with the loss of their ears and noses. They escaped with a short imprisonment, and at an entertainment given them by their friends, on the occasion of their liberation, Jonson's mother produced two papers of poison, one of them destined for her son, in case the threat of mutilation had been seriously
meant, the other for herself. But Jonson's disgrace was of short duration, for we soon find him writing Masques for the Court, a species of composition in which he excelled, and of which King James was passionately fond. The words of the National Anthem (God save the King) are usually attributed to Jonson, who wrote them, it is said, in commemoration of the King's escape from the dangers of the Gunpowder Plot. By far his best poem is his latest production, the Sad Shepherd, though it is here and there somewhat pedantic. His great namesake, Samuel Johnson, sums up his merits and his defects in the following lines:Next Jonson came, instructed from the school, To please by method, and invent by rule: His studious patience and laborious art With regular approach essay'd the heart; Cold approbation gave the lingering bays,
And they who durst not censure scarce could
Unique in the whole history of English literature is that warm and lasting friendship that for so many years united Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher
-those twin stars that run Their glorious course round Shakespeare's golden sun.
Endowed with similar mental gifts, so completely is their individuality lost in their joint dramatic productions, that even Coleridge, who had such a keen appreciation of style, declared himself unable to distinguish the presence of Fletcher during the lifetime of Beaumont, or the absence of Beaumont during the survival of Fletcher. No less than 52 pieces have been published under their names, and in one respect their works form an epoch in English literature: we mean, that in them we find the earliest distinct traces of the influence of the great Spanish dramatic poets on English writers. Cervantes, the dramatist and ingenious author of Don Quixote, died on the same day as Shakespeare (23rd April, 1616), but Lope de Vega lived till 1635, and he found a worthy successor in Calderon; so that while the drama was celebrating its highest triumphs in England, it attained in Spain, in spite of the jealous watchfulness of the Inquisition, a degree of perfection previously unknown. Several of the dramas of Beaumont and Fletcher were undoubtedly borrowed from the Spanish, as, for example, the Maid in the Mill, which is taken from a comedy by Don Gonzalo de Cespedes y Meneces, translated into English by Leonard Digges, and published
in 1622 under the name of the Unfortunate | are the prominent figures, is an imitation Spaniard. The piece, however, contains a of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, second plot, borrowed from the Italian of with a little borrowing from Lucan's PharBandello. Love's Pilgrimage is a pretty salia. close dramatization of a tale by Cervantes, Las dos Donzellas. The Knight of the burning Pestle, which is represented as having been composed to glorify the corporation of grocers, is so evidently an imitation of Don Quixote, that we wonder how it could have been doubted a single moment. The statement of some critics, that it appeared two years before Don Quixote, is incorrect. The Knight of the burning Pestle was performed in 1613, the first part of Don Quixote was published so early as 1605; and the continuation followed in 1615, after an interval of ten years. In some other dramas of Beaumont and Fletcher, such as Rule a Wife and have a Wife, the characters are all Spanish, and the scene is laid in Spain, without its being quite clear whether the plot is original or borrowed. It would have been strange, indeed, if the great Spanish poets of the age of Cervantes had not exercised a marked influence on the contemporary writers of England; though it is true that Beaumont and Fletcher sought the materials of their dramas everywhere, in the wide range of their reading and their observation.
It is generally conceded, that these dramatists shine more in comedy than in tragedy, and yet Rollo, the Maid's Tragedy, Bonduca, and the Two noble Kinsmen, are well written pieces. In the first, the characters of Rollo and his brother Otto form an admirable contrast, and the incidents are striking; in the Maid's Tragedy all our sympathies are awakened by the sorrows and the desertion of the gentle Aspasia, as our indignation is aroused by the crimes and shamelessness of Evadne; in Bonduca we have the finely drawn character of Caratach; and in the Noble Kinsmen, as has been already mentioned, many of the scenes have been regarded as the work of Shakespeare. These tragedies, however, are all surpassed by Valentinian, a piece in which the most obdurate heart must be moved by the fate of the sensual Valentinian's victim, Lucina, who like Lucretia prefers death to infamy. The plot of Philaster has much resemblance to that of the Maid's Tragedy, Arethusa being abandoned by her lover in a fit of groundless jealousy; but the delicious episode of Euphrasia, who, disguised as a page, hopelessly loves Philaster, though borrowed from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, made the piece once very popular. The False One, in which Cleopatra and Cæsar
The humorous characters drawn by Beaumont and Fletcher might be made the subject of a goodly volume, and we can only mention Perez, the Copper Captain (Rule a Wife and have a Wife), the humorous Lieutenant (comedy of same name), orator Higgen (Beggars Bush), Clara (the girl educated as a boy in Love's Cure), and the braggart Bessus (King and no King), the counterpart of Jonson's Bobadil. The plays of these dramatists have been often blamed for their licentiousness, but we must recollect, that they lived in an outspoken age, and their pieces compare most favourably with those of Wycherley, Etherege, Congreve and Farquhar, in the reign of Charles II., when the most indecent language was really spoken on the stage by women, whereas, in Beaumont and Fletcher's time, female characters were still represented by boys. Besides, we could mention many of their pieces, in which it would be difficult to find anything very objectionable.
The unfortunate dramatist, Philip Massinger (1584—1640) was the finest tragic writer, after Shakespeare's death, in the reign of James I. Of his numerous pieces some have been lost, and many forgotten, but Sir Giles Overreach, in A new Way to pay old Debts, has been always a favourite character with the great English actors, and it was one of the triumphs of Edmund Kean. Sir Giles is a detestable usurer and oppressor, but he has one redeeming quality, his love to his daughter, whom he is desirous of raising to the highest attainable social position. In the Duke of Milan the plot is apparently borrowed from Othello, for Duke Ludovico Sforza, at the instigation of his mother and sister, murders his wife, Marcelia, in a fit of unfounded jealousy. By a curious coincidence, this same personage is known in history by the name of il Moro, or the Moor, on account, we are told, of his dark complexion. The Virgin Martyr is founded on the persecutions of the early Christians, and the heroine Dorothea, with the angel who attends her as a sort of page, is a beautiful creation. As the title of the drama implies, she finally seals her faith with her blood, and her lover Antoninus, whom she has converted from heathenism, chooses to die with her. The Fatal Dowry, with the misery of the fallen heroine, Beaumelle, is a fine tragedy, with a simple and natural plot. In the City Madam the author severely satirizes the