« AnteriorContinuar »
" their ignorance, who chose that circumstance to “ commend their friend by, wherein he most fault“ ed : and to justify mine own candour, for I loved “ the man, and do honour his memory, on this side " idolatry, as much as any. He was, indeed, ho“ nest, and of an open and free nature, had an “ excellent fancy, brave notions, and gentle expref“ fions; wherein he flowed with that facility, that “ fumetimes it was necessary he should be fiopped : “ Suffiaminandus erat, as Augustus said of Haterius. “ His wit was in his own power ; would the rule of
it had been so too. Many times he fell into “ those things which could not escape laughter ; as “ when he said in the person of Cæfar, one speak“ ing to him,
· Cæsar, thou doft me wrong.' “ He replied:
• Cæsar did never wrong, but with just canse.'
and such like, which were ridiculous. But he
The Merry Wives of Windsor, indeed, and Romeo and Jiliet, and perhaps Love's Labour's Lost, our author appears to bave altered and amplified ; and to King Richard II. what is called the parliament-scene, seems to have been added ; (though this last is by no means certain ;) but neither will there augmentations and new-modellings difprove what has been asserted by Shakspeare's fellow-comedians concerning the facility of his writing, and the exquisite felicity of his first expressions.
The hasty sketch of The Merry Wives of Windsor, which he is said to have composed in a fortnight, he might have written without a blot; and three or four years afterwards, when he chofe to dilate his plan, he might have composed the additional scenes without a blot likewise. In a word, supposing even that Nature had not endowed him with that rich vein which he unquestionably pollessed, he who in little more than twenty years produces thirty-four or thirty-five pieces for the stage, has certainly not much time for expunging. MALONE.
“ redeemed his vices with his virtues ; there was 66 ever more in him to be praised than to be pars doned.”
As for the passage which he mentions out of Shakspeare, there is somewhat like it in Julius Cæfar, but without the absurdity ; nor did I ever meet with it in any edition that I have seen as quoted by Mr. Jonson.3
Besides his plays in this edition, there are two or three ascribed to him by Mr. Langbaine,+ which
n or did I ever meet with it in any edition that I have feen, as quoted by Mr. Jonson.] See Mr. Tyrwhitt's note on Julius Cæfar, Aě III. sc. i. Vol. XVI. MALONE.
* Besides his plays in this edition, there are two or three afcribed to him by Mr. Langbaine,] The Birth of Merlin, 1662, written by W. Rowley ; the old play of King John, in two parts, 1591, on which Shakspeare formed his King John; and The Arraignment of Paris, 1584, written by George Peele.
The editor of the folio 1664, subjoined to the 36 dramas pub. lished in 1623, seven plays, four of which had appeared in Shake speare's life-time with his name in the title-page, viz. Pericles, Prince of Tyre, 1609, Sir John Oldcasile, 1600, The London Prodiyal, 1605, and The YorkMire Tragedy, 1608; the three others which they inserted, Locrine, 1595, Lord Cromwell, 1602, and The Puritan, 1607, having been printed with the initials W. S. in the title-page, the editor chose to interpret those letters to mean William Shakspeare, and ascribed them also to our poet. I published an edition of these seven pieces fome years ago, freed in some measure from the gross errors with which they had been exhibited in ancient copies, that the publick might see what they contained ; and do not hesitate to declare my firma persuasion that of Locrine, Lord Cromwell, Sir John Oldcastle, The London Prodigal, and The Puritan, Shakspeare did not write a single line.
How little the booksellers of former times scrupled to affix the names of celebrated writers to the productions of others, even in the life-time of such celebrated authors, may be collected from Heywood's translations from Ovid, which in 1612, while Shakspeare was yet living, were ascribed to him. Sec Vol. X. p. 321, n. 1.* With the dead they would certainly
* Mr. Malone's edition of our author's works, 1700.
I have never seen, and know nothing of. He writ likewise Venus and Adonis, and Tarquin and Entcrece, in stanzas, which have been printed in a late collection of poems.5 'As to the character given of him by Ben Jonson, there is a good deal true in it: but I believe it may be as well expressed by what Horace says of the first Romans, who wrote tragedy upon the Greek models, (or indeed translated them,) in his epistle to Augustus ::. .:'. .
" naturâ fublimis & acer :
“ Sed turpem putat in chartis metuitque lituram."
• As I have not proposed to myself to enter into a large and complete criticism upon Shakspeare's works, so I will only take the liberty, with all due submission to the judgment of others, to observe some of those things I have been pleased with in looking him over.
His plays are properly to be diftinguished only into comedies and tragedies. Those which are called histories, and even some of his comedies, are really tragedies, with a run or mixture of come
make still more free. “ This book (says Anthony Wood, Speaking of a work to which the name of Sir Philip Sydney was prefixed) coming out fo late, it is to be inquired whether Sir Philip Sydney's name is not set to it for sale-sake, being a usual thing in thefe days to set a great name to a book or books, by sharking booksellers, or soivelling writers, to get bread.” Atheň. Oron. Vol. I. p. 208. MALONE. S i n a late collection of poems.] In the fourth volume of State Poenis, printed in 1707. Mr. Rowe did not go beyond
Late Collection of Poems, and does not seem to have known that Shakspeare also wrote 154 Sonnets, and a poem entitled A Lover's Complaint. MALONE.
dy, amongst them. That way of tragi-comedy was the common mistake of that age, and is indeed bes
are really tragedies, with a run or mixture of coinedy amongst them.] Heywood, our author's contemporary, has stated the best defence that can be made for his intermixing lighter with the more serious scenes of his dramas :
.« It may likewise be objected, why amongst fad and grave histories I have here and there inserted fabulous jefts and tales favouring of lightness. I answer, I have therein imitated our historical, and comical poets, that write to the stage, who, left the auditory should be dulled with serious courses, which are merely weighty and material, in every act present some Zany, with his mimick action to breed in the less capable 'mirth and laughter ; for they that write to all, must firive to please all. And as such fashion themselves to a multitude diversely addicted, so I to an universality of readers diverfely disposed.” Pref. to History of Women, 1624. Malone.
The criticks who renounce tragi-comedy as barbarous, I fear, speak more from notions which they have formed in their closets, tha'n åný well-built theory deduced from experience of what pleases or displeases, which ought to be the foundation of all rules.
Even füppofing there is no affectation in this refinement, and that those criticks have really tried and purified their minds till there is no dross remaining, still this can never be the case of a popular audience, to which a dramatick representation is referred.
Dryden in one of his prefaces condemns his own conduct in The Spanish Friar; but, says he, I did not write it to please myself, it was given to the publick. Here is an involuntary confeffion that tragi-comedy is more pleasing to the audience; I would ask then, upon what ground it is condemned ?
This ideal excellence of uniformity rests upon a Suppofition that we are either more refined, or a higher order of beings than we really are: there is no provision made for what may be called the animal part of our minds.
Though we shonld acknowledge this passion for variety and contrarieties to be the vice of our nature, it is still a propensity which we all feel, and which he who undertakes to divert us must find provision for.
We are obliged, it is true, in our pursuit after science, or excellence in any art, to keep our minds steadily fixed for a long continuánce; it is a task we impose on ourselves : but I do not wish to talk myself in my amusements.
If the great object of the theatre is amusement, a dramatick come so agreeable to the English taste, that though the severer criticks among us cannot bear it, yet the generality of our audiences seem to be better pleased with it than with an exact tragedy. The Merry Wives of Windsor, The Comedy of Errors, and The Taming of a Shrew, are all pure comedy; the rest, however they are called, have something of both kinds. It is not very easy to determine which way of writing he was inoft excellent in. There is certainly a great deal of entertainment in his comical humours; and though they did not then ftrike at all ranks of people, as the fatire of the present age has taken the liberty to do, yet there is a pleasing and a well-diftinguished variety in those characters which he thought fit to meddle with. Falstaff is allowed by every body to be a masterpiece; the character is always well sustained, though drawn out into the length of three plays; and even the account of his death given by his old landlady Mrs. Quickly, in the first Act of Henry the Fifth, though it be extremely natural, is yet as diverting as any part of his life. If there be any fault in the draught he has made of this lewd old fellow, it is, that though he has made him a thief, lying, cowardly, vain-glorious, and in short every way vicious, yet he has given him so much wit as to make him almost too agreeable; and I do not know whether
work must possess every means to produce that effect ; if it gives instruction by the by, so much its merit is the greater ; but that is not its principal object. The ground on which it stands, and which gives it a claim to the protection and encouragement of civilised society, is not because it enforces moral precepts, or gives instruction of any kind; but from the general advantage that it produces, by habituating the mind to find its amusement in intellectual pleasures ; wcaning it from sensuality, and by degrees filing off, Imoothing, and polishing, its rugged corners.
Sir J. REYNOLDS.