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TROILUS AND CRESSIDA:
THE GROUNDS OF CRITICISM IN TRAGEDY.
I HE poet Æschylus was held in the same veneration by the Athenians of 'afterages as Shakspeare is by us ; and Longinus has judged in favour of him, that he had a noble boldness of expression, and that his imaginations were lofty and heroick: but on the other side Quintilian affirms, that he was daring to extravagance. It is certain that he affected pompous words, and that his sense too often was obscured by figures : notwithstanding these imperfections, the value of his writings after his decease was such, that his countrymen ordained an equal reward to those poets who could alter his plays to be acted on the theatre, with those whose productions were wholly new, and of their own. The case is not the same in England; though the difficulties of altering are greater, and our reverence for Shakspeare much more just, than that of the Grecians for Æschylus. In the age of that poet the Greek tongue was
arrived to its full perfection; they had then amongst them an exact standard of writing, and of speaking: the English language is not capable of such a certainty ; and we are at present so far from it, that we are wanting in the very foundation of it, a perfect grammar. Yet it must be allowed to the present age, that the tongue in general is so much refined since Shakspeare's time, that many of his words, and more of his phrases, are scarce intelligible: and of those which we understand, some are ungrammatical, others coarse ; and his whole style is so pestered with figurative expressions, that it is ás affected as it is obscure. It is true, that in his latter plays' he had worn off'
8 It appears from the Dedication which precedes this Preface, that at this time a scheme was in agitation to form a Society for refining the English Language, and fixing its standard, under the patronage of Robert, earl of Sunderland, then Secretary of State. Lord Roscommon was the principal promoter of this scheme. See p. 9.
9 It is clear, as I have already observed, not only that our author did not know, with any kind of accuracy, which were Shakspeare's earliest or latter productions ; but that he was not even possessed of any such information as might be made the basis of probable conjecture. KING LEÅR, CYMBELINE, Macbeth, Julius CÆSAR, ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA, TIMON OF ATHENS, CORIOLANUS, The WINTER's Tale, and The Tempest, we have very good grounds for supposing Shakspeare's latest productions ; and these pieces are certainly not less “ pestered with figurative expressions,” than several others which might be enumerated. I formerly thought that OTHELLO was
somewhat of the rust; but the tragedy which I have undertaken to correct, was, in all probability, one of his first endeavours on the stage.
The original story was written by one Lollius, a Lombard, in Latin verse, and translated by Chaucer into English ;' intended, I suppose, a satire on the inconstancy of women. I find nothing of it among the ancients, not so much as the name Cressida once mentioned. Shakspeare
one of our great dramatick poet's latest compositions; but I now know, from indisputable evidence, that was not the case. So that here also our author appears to have been but little acquainted with the chronology of Shakspeare's dramas ; for (without entering into the question—how much or how little of PERICLES was his,) THE PRINCE OF TYRE was so far from being elder than The Moon, as he has asserted in the Prologue to Circe, (1677) that it was some years younger than that excellent tragedy. As to the play of TROILUS AND CRESSIDA, which Dryden supposed to be “one of his first endeavours on the stage,” there are good grounds for ascribing it to the year 1602; and we know that he had produced near twenty dramas before that time.
Mr. TYRWHITT was of opinion, that Chaucer's TROILUS and CRESEIDE was for the most part a translation of the FilosTRATO of Boccace, (a very rare poem, printed in 4to. 1498,) but with many variations, and such large additions, that it contains above 2700 lines more than its original. “ This (he adds) is evident, not only from the fable and characters, which are the same in both poems, but also from a number of passages in the English, which are literally translated from the Italian.” See Tyrwhitt's Chaucer, vol. iii. p. 311; and vol. iv. p. 85, n. 62.
(as I hinted in the apprenticeship of his writing, modelled it into that play which is now called by the name of TroilUS AND CRESSIDA ;? but so lamely is it left to us, that it is not divided into acts: which fault I ascribe to the actors who printed it after Shakspeare's death, and that too, so carelessly, that a more uncorrect copy I never saw. For the play itself, the author seems to have begun it with some fire; the characters of Pandarus and Thersites are promising enough ; but, as if he grew weary of his task, after an entrance or two, he lets them fall : and the latter part of the tragedy is nothing but a confusion of
? Shakspeare appears to have derived the principal materials for this play from the Troye Boke of Lydgate, printed in 1513. Dekker, however, had before produced a play on this subject, at first entitled TROILUS AND CRESSIDA, and afterwards, THE TRAGEDIE OF AGAMEMNON, which was acted in June 1599. (See THE HISTORY OF THE STAGE, Shakspeare's PLAYS AND POEMs, vol. i. part ii. p. 329). Whether Shakspeare was at all indebted to this piece, cannot now be ascertained, Dekker's play being lost.
3 It was originally published in quarto in 1609, seven years before Shakspeare's death; and not by the actors, but by two booksellers, without their consent. Dryden, however, probably knew of no other edition but that of the folio, 1623, which was printed by Shakspeare's fellowcomedians, Heminges and Condell, after his death.
I take this opportunity of correcting an errour into which I and others have fallen, in supposing that there were two editions of this play in quarto, one with the date already drums and trumpets, excursions and alarms. The chief persons who give name to the tragedy, are left alive : Cressida is false, and is not punished. Yet after all, because the play was Shakspeare's, and that there appeared in some places of it the admirable genius of the author, I undertook to remove that heap of rubbish under which many excellent thoughts lay wholly buried. Accordingly, I new-modelled the plot ; threw out many unnecessary persons; improved those characters which were begun and left unfinished, -as Hector, Troilus, Pandarus, and Thersites; and added that of Andromache. After this I made, with no small trouble, an order and connexion of all the scenes, removing them from the places where they were
mentioned, and the other without any date.—Mr. Pope, in his Table of Editions of Shakspeare's Plays, having mentioned one of TROILUS AND CRESSIDA in 1609, subjoined a notice of a second copy——" as acted by the King's Majesties servants at the Globe;" not thinking it necessary to repeat the year. But in fact both these copies are one and the same edition. The truth is, that in that edition where no mention is made of the theatre in which the play was represented, we find a preface, in which, to give an additional value to the piece, the booksellers assert that it never had been acted. That being found a notorious falshood, they afterwards suppressed the preface, and printed a new title-page, in which it is stated to have been acted at the Globe Theatre by his Majesties Servants. The date of this, as of the other title-page, is 1609. I carefully examined both these copies, and found no variation whatsoever between them, except that already mentioned.