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by such a work as William Cooke's Elements of Dramatic Criticism (1775). But traces of the school of Rymer are still to be found, and nowhere more strongly than in the anonymous Cursory Remarks on Tragedy (1774). In this little volume of essays the dramatic rules are defended against the criticism of Johnson by a lame repetition of the arguments which Johnson had overthrown. Even Pope is said to have let his partiality get the better of his usual justice and candour when he claimed that Shakespeare was not to be judged by what were called the rules of Aristotle. There are laws, this belated critic urges, which bind each individual as a citizen of the world ; and once again we read that the rules of the classical drama are in accordance with human reason. This book is the last direct descendant of Rymer's Short View. The ancestral trait appears in the question whether Shakespeare was in general even a good tragic writer. But it is a degenerate descendant. If it has learned good manners, it is unoriginal and dull ; and it is so negligible that it has apparently not been thought worth while to settle the question of its authorship.
The discussion on Shakespeare's attitude to the dramatic rules was closely connected with the long controversy on the extent of his learning. The question naturally sug
1 This book is ascribed in Charles Knight's untrustworthy Studies of Shakspere, Book XI., to William Richardson (1743-1814), Professor of Humanity in the University of Glasgow. Unfortunately the British Museum Catalogue lends some support to this injustice by giving it either to him or to Edward Taylor of Noan, Tipperary. The error is emphasised in the Dictionary of National Biography. Though Richardson upholds some of the more rigid classical doctrines, his work is of a much higher order. The book is attributed to Richardson in Watt's Bibliotheca Britannica, 1824, but it had been assigned to Taylor in Isaac Reed's List of Detached Pieces of Criticism on Shakespeare,' 1803. From the evidence of the Gentleman's Magazine for 1797 (Vol. 67, Part II., p. 1076) it would appear that the author was Edward Taylor (1741-1797) of Steeple-Aston, Oxfordshire.
ei Shake one anwan mo
gested itself how far his dramatic method was due to his ignorance of the classics. Did he know the rules and ignore them, or did he write with no knowledge of the Greek and Roman models ? Whichever view the critics adopted, one and all felt they were arguing for the honour of Shakespeare. If some would prove for his greater glory that parallel passages were due to direct borrowing, others held it was more to his credit to have known 1 nothing of the classics and to have equalled or surpassed them by the mere force of unassisted genius.
The controversy proper begins with Rowe's Account of Shakespeare. On this subject, as on others, Rowe expresses the tradition of the seventeenth century. His view is the same as Dryden's, and Dryden had accepted Jonson's statement that Shakespeare had “small Latin and less Greek.” Rowe believes that his acquaintance with Latin authors was such as he might have gained at school : he could remember tags of Horace or Mantuan, but was unable to read Plautus in the original. The plea that comparative ignorance of the classics may not have been a disadvantage, as it perhaps prevented the sacrifice of fancy to correctness, prompted a reply by Gildon in his Essay on the Stage, where the argument is based partly on the belief that Shakespeare had read Ovid and Plautus and had thereby neither spoiled his fancy nor confined his genius. The question was probably at this time a common topic of discussion. Dennis's abler remarks were suggested, as he tells us, by conversation in which he found himself opposed to the prevalent opinion. He is more pronounced in his views than Rowe had been. His main argument is that as Shakespeare is deficient in the poetical art' he could not but have been ignorant of the classics, for, had he known them, he could not have failed to profit by them.» Dennis is stirred even to treat the question as one affecting the national honour. “He who allows,” he says, “that Shakespeare had learning and a familiar acquaintance with the Ancients, ought to be looked upon as a detractor from
his extraordinary merit and from the glory of Great Britain."
The prominence of the controversy forced Pope to refer to it in his Preface, but he had apparently little interest in it. Every statement he makes is carefully guarded : there are translations from Ovid, he says, among the poems which pass for Shakespeare's; he will not pretend to say in what language Shakespeare read the Greek authors; Shakespeare appears to have been conversant in Plautus. He is glad of the opportunity to reply to Dennis's criticism of Coriolanus and Julius Caesar, but though he praises the truthful representation of the Roman spirit and manners, he discreetly refuses to say how Shakespeare came to know of them. As he had not thought out the matter for himself, he feared to tread where the lesser men rushed in. But though he records the evidence brought forward by those who believed in Shakespeare's knowledge of the Ancients, he does not fail to convey the impression that he belongs to the other party. And, indeed, in another passage of the Preface he says with definiteness, inconsistent with his other statements, that Shakespeare was without assistance or advice from the learned, as without the advantage of education or acquaintance among them, without that knowledge of the best models, the Ancients, to inspire him with an emulation of them.
During the fifty years between Pope's Preface and Johnson's, the controversy continued intermittently without either party gaining ground. In the Preface to the supplementary volume to Pope's edition—which is a reprint of Gildon's supplementary volume to Rowe's— Sewell declared he found evident marks through all Shakespeare's writings of knowledge of the Latin tongue. Theobald, who was bound to go astray when he ventured beyond the collation of texts, was ready to believe that similarity of idea in Shakespeare and the classics was due to direct borrowing. He had, however, the friendly advice of Warburton to make him beware of the secret
had md by wa but mor less deciliti
satisfaction of pointing out a classical original. In its earlier form his very unequal Preface had contained the acute observation that the texture of Shakespeare's phrases indicated better than his vocabulary the extent of his knowledge of Latin. The style was submitted as “the truest criterion to determine this long agitated question,” and the conclusion was implied that Shakespeare could not have been familiar with the classics. But this interesting passage was omitted in the second edition, perhaps because it was inconsistent with a less decided utterance elsewhere in the Preface, but more probably because it had been supplied by Warburton. In his earlier days, before he had met Warburton, he had been emphatic. In the Preface to his version of Richard II. he had tried to do Shakespeare “ some justice upon the points of his learning and acquaintance with the Ancients.” He had said that Timon of Athens and Troilus and Cressida left it without dispute or exception that Shakespeare was no inconsiderable master of the Greek story; he dared be positive that the latter play was founded directly upon Homer ; he held that Shakespeare must have known Aeschylus, Lucian, and Plutarch in the Greek; and he claimed that he could, “with the greatest ease imaginable,” produce above five hundred passages from the three Roman plays to prove Shakespeare's intimacy with the Latin classics. When he came under the influence of Warburton he lost his assurance. He was then “very cautious of declaring too positively” on either side of the question ; but he was loath to give up his belief that Shakespeare knew the classics at first hand. Warburton himself did not figure creditably in the controversy. He might ridicule the discoveries of other critics, but his vanity often allured him to displays of learning as absurd as theirs. No indecision troubled Upton or Zachary Grey. They saw in Shakespeare a man of profound reading, one who might well have worn out his eyes in poring over classic tomes. They clutched at anything to show his deliberate imitation of the Ancients. There could be
no better instance of the ingenious folly of this type of criticism than the passage in the Notes on Shakespeare, where Grey argues from Gloucester's words in Richard 1II., "Go you before and I will follow you,” that Shakespeare knew, and was indebted to, Terence's Andria. About the same time Peter Whalley, the editor of Ben Jonson, brought out his Enquiry into the Learning of Shakespeare (1748), the first formal treatise devoted directly to the subject of controversy. Therein it is claimed that Shakespeare knew Latin well enough to have acquired in it a taste and elegance of judgment, and was more indebted to the Ancients than was commonly imagined. On the whole, however, Whalley's attitude was more reasonable than that of Upton or Grey, for he admitted that his list of parallel passages might not settle the point at issue.
After such a display of misapplied learning it is refreshing to meet with the common sense of one who was a greater scholar than any of these pedants. Johnson has less difficulty in giving his opinion on the extent of Shakespeare's learning than in discovering the reasons of the controversy. The evidence of Shakespeare's contemporary, he says, ought to decide the question unless some testimony of equal force can be opposed, and such testimony he refuses to find in the collections of the Uptons and Greys. It is especially remarkable that Johnson, who is not considered to have been strong in research, should be the first to state that Shakespeare used North's translation of Plutarch. He is the first also to point out that there was an English translation of the play on which the Comedy of Errors was founded, and the first to show that it was not necessary to go back to the Tale of Gamelyn for the story of As you like it. There is no evidence how he came by this knowledge. The casual and allusive manner in which he advances his information would seem to show that it was not of his own getting. He may have been indebted for it to the scholar who two
The only extant Elizabethan translation of the Menaechmi, however, is of later date than the Comedy of Errors. See note on p. 9.