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The most lamentable Romaine Tragedie of Titus Andronicus. As it hath sundry times beene playde by the Right Honourable the Earle of Pembroke, the Earle of Darbie, the Earle of Sussex, and the Lorde Chamberlaine theyr Seruants. At London, Printed by I. R. for Edward White and are to bee solde at his shoppe, at the little North doore of Paules, at the signe of the Gun. 1600. 4to. 40 leaves.
The most lamentable Tragedie of Titus Andronicus. As it hath sundry times beene plaide hy the Kings Maiesties Seruants. London, Printed for Eedward White, and are to be solde at his shoppe, nere the little North dore of Pauls, at the signe of the Gun. 1611. 4to. 40 leaves.
In the folio of 1623, “ The Lamentable Tragedy of Titus Andronicus” occupies twenty-two pages, in the division of “ Tragedies," viz. from p. 31 to p. 52 inclusive. The three later folios, of course, insert it in the same part of the volume.
We feel no hesitation in assigning “Titus Andronicus” to Shakespeare. Whether he may lay claim to it as the author of the entire tragedy, or only in a qualified sense, as having made additions to, and improvements in it, is a different question, the solution of which may be in some degree aided by our notes upon alterations in the corr. fo. 1632.
We find it given to him by his contemporary, Francis Meres, in his Palladis Tamia, 1598, where he mentions “ Titus Andronicus” in immediate connexion with “ Richard II.,” “ Richard III.," “ Henry IV.,” “King John,” and “Romeo and Juliet.” It was also inserted in the folio of 1623 by Shakespeare's fellow-actors, Heminge and Condell, and they placed it between “ Coriolanus' and “Romeo and Juliet.” Had it not been by our great dramatist, Meres, who was well acquainted with the literature of his time, would not have attributed it to him; and the player-editors, who bad been Shakespeare's “ fellows and friends,” and were men of character and experience, would not have included it in their volume. These two facts are, in our view, sufficient". • It was, undoubtedly, one of his earliest, if not his very earliest dramatic production. · We are not to suppose that at the time he first joined a theatrical company in London, when he might not be more than twenty-two or twenty-three years old, his style was as formed and as matured as it afterwards became : all are aware that there is a most marked distinction between his mode of composition early and late in life; as exhibited, for instance, in “Love's Labour's Lost," and in “ The Winter's Tale ;” and we apprehend that “ Titus Andronicus” belongs to a period even anterior to the former. Supposing “ Titus Andronicus” to have been written about 1588, we are to recollect that our dramatic poets were then only beginning to throw off the shackles of rhyme, and their versification partook of the weight and monotony which were the usual accompaniments of couplets. “Titus Andronicus” is to be read under this impression, and many passages will then be found in it which, we think, are remarkable indications of skill and power in an unpractised dramatist : as a poetical production it has not hitherto had justice done to it, on account, partly, of the revolting nature of the plot. Compared with the versification of Greene, Peele, or Lodge, the lines in “Titus Andronicus" will be found to run with ease and variety, and they are scarcely inferior to some of the productions of Marlowe. Neither is internal evidence wholly wanting, for words and phrases employed by Shakespeare in his other works may be pointed out; and in Act iii. sc. 1, we meet with a remarkable expression, which is also contained in 66 Venus and Adonis."
1 We consider Ravenscroft's testimony, in his alteration of " Titus Andronicus" (acted about 1678, and print d nine years afterwards), of very little vaiue : in suppressed Prologue be asserted it to be the unquestionable work of Shakespeare, while in his preface to the printed copy in 1687, he mentions it as a stage-tradition, that Shakespeare only gave "some master-touches to one or two of the principal characters."
With reference to the general complexion of the drama, and the character of the plot, it must also be borne in mind that it was produced at a time, when scenes of horror were especially welcome to public audiences, and when pieces were actually recommended to their admiration, in consequence of the blood and slaughter with which they abounded. Shakespeare, perhaps, took up the subject on this account, and he worked it out in such a way as, prior to the introduction and formation of a purer taste, would best gratify those for whose ainusement it was intended.
The oldest known edition of “Titus Andronicus " bears date in 1600: two copies of it are extant, the one in the collection of the Earl of Ellesmere, now before us, and the other in the Signet Library at Edinburgh. This second copy was not discovered until recently, and we feel convinced that a more ancient impression will some time or other again be brought to light. That it once existed, we have the testimony of Langbaine, in his “Account of English Dramatic Poets,” 8vo. 1691, where he tells us that the play was "first printed 4to. Lond. 1594.” Consistently with this assertion we find the following entry in the Registers of the Stationers' Company:
“6 Feb. 1593 John Danter] A booke entitled a noble Roman Historye
of Tytus Andronicus.” The Stationers' books contain several subsequent memoranda respecting “Titus Andronicus," bearing date 19th April, 1602, 14th Dec. 1624, and 8th Nov. 1630; but none which seems to have relation to the editions of 1600 and 1611. No 4to. impressions of a subsequent date are known, and the tragedy next appeared in the folio of 1623. The folio was printed from the 4to. of 1611, but with the addition of a short scene in the third Act, which otherwise, according to the divisions there adopted, would have consisted of only one scene.
The wording of the title-page of the edition of 1600 is remarkable, although it has hitherto been passed over without due notice: it professes that the drama had been played, not only by “the Lord Chamberlain's servants," of whom Shakespeare was one, but by the theatrical servants of the Earl of Pembroke, the Earl of Derby, and the Earl of Sussex. The performance of Shake