« AnteriorContinuar »
learning this way than Shakespear. We have Translations from Ovid published in his name, among those Poems which pass for his, and for fime of which we have undoubted authority, (being published by himself and dedicated to his noble Patron the Earl of Southampton :) He appears alto to have been converfant in Plautus, from whom he has taken the plot of one of his plays: he follows the Greek Authors, and particularly Doris Phrygius, in another, (although I will not pretend to say in what language he read them.) The modern li al an writers of Novels he was manifestly acquainted with ; and we may conclude him to be no less conversant with the Ancients of his own country, fiom the use he has made of Chaucer in Troilus and Creslida, and in the Two Noble Kinsmen, if that play be his, as there goes a Tradition it was, (and indeed it has little resemblance of Fletcher, and more of our Author than some of those which have been received as genuine.)
I am inclined to think, this opinion proceeded originally from the zeal of the Partizans of our Author and Ben johnson; as they endeavoured to exalt the one at the expence of the other. It is ever the na. ture of Parties to be in extremes ; and nothing is so
probable, as that becaule Bin Johnson had much the more learning, it was füid on the one hand that Shakespear had none at al; and because Shakespear had much the mcít wit and fancy, it was retorted on the other, that Jina wanted both. Because Shakespear borrowed noting, it was faid that Ben Johnson borrowed every thing Because Ben Jobrifon did not write extempore, he was reproached with bring a year about every piece; and becaule Shakespear wrote with ease and rapidity, they cry'd, he never once made a blot. Nay the spirit of opposition ran fo high, that whatever those of the one side objected to the other, was taken at the rebound, and turned into Praises; as injudi
ciously as their antagonists before had made them Objections.
Poets are always afraid of Envy; but sure they have as much reason to be afraid of Admiration. They are the Scylla and Charybdis of Authors; those who escape one, often fall by the other.
Peffimum genus irimicorum Laudantes, says Tacitus: and Virgil desires to wear a charm against those who praise a Poet without rule or reason.
Si ulira placitum laudárit, baccare frontem Cingilo, ne Vali noceat But however this con’ention might be carried on by the Partizans on either side, I cannct help thinling these two great Poets were good friends, and live.i on amicable terms and in offices of society with each other. It is an acknowledged fact, that Ben Johnson was in. troduced upon the Stage, and his firit works encouraged, by Shakespear. And after his death, that Author writes To the memory of his be oved Mr. William Shakespear, which shows as if the friend hip häd continued through lie. I cannot for my own part find any thing Invidious or Sparing in those verses, but wonder Mr. Dryden was of that opinion. He exalıs him not only above all his cotemporaries, but above Cbaucer and Spenser, whom he will not allow to be great enough to be rank'd with him; and challenges the names of Sophocles, Euripides, and Æschylus, nay all Greece and Rome at once, to equal him; and (which is very particular) exprelly vindicates him from the imputation of wanting Ari, not enduring that all his excellencies should be attribuied to Nature
Ic is remarkable too, that the praise he gives him in his Difcoveries seems to proceed from a personal kindrejs; he tells us, that he lov'd the man, as well as hojoured his memory, celebrates the honesty, opennels, and frankness of his temper; and only diftinguishes, as he reasonably ought, between the real merit of the Aue 3
thor, and the Gilly and derogatory applauses of the Players. Ben Johnson might indeed be fparing in bis Commendations (tho' certainly he is not fo in this instance) partly from his own nature, and partly from judgment. For men of jud ment think they do ..ny man more service in praising him justly, than lavishly. I say, I would fain believe they were friends, tho' the violence and ill-breeding of their followers and flatterers were enough to give rise to the contrary report. I would hope that it may be with Parlies b. th in Wit and State, as with those moniters described by the Poets; and that their heads at least may have fomeching human, chu' their Bodies and Tails are wild bealls and serpents.
As i believe that what I have mentione i gave rise to the opinion of Shakej; ear's want of learning; fo what has continued it down to us may have been the many blunders and illiccracies of the first Publishers of his works. Io thefe Edicions their ignorance shines in almost every page; nothing is more common than Actus tortia. Exit omnes. En'er three Witches folus. Their French is as bid as their Latin, both in construction and spelling ; Thiir very Wejh is fille. Nothing is more likely than that thole palpable blunders of liettor's quoting Arijtotle, with others of that gross kind, 17:ung from the same root; it not being at all cedible that thicle could be the errors of
any man who had the least cincture of a school, or the Itali conversation with luch as had. Ben jonkin (whom they will not think partial tv hm) allows him at least to have had jone latin; wisich is utterly inconlistent with mistakes lke chele. Nay the constant blunders ia proper names of persons and places, are fuch as must have proceeded from a man, who had not fo much as raci any littory, in any language: so could not be Shakespear's.
I shall now lay before the reader fonie of those almost innumerable Errors, which have arisen from one
source, the ignorance of the Players, both as his actors, and as his Editors. When the nature and kinds of these are enumerated and considered, I dare to say that not Shakespear only, but Aristotle or Cicero, had their works undergone the same fate, might have appear'd to want sense as well as learning.
It is not certain that any one of his plays was published by himself. During the time of his employment in the Theatre, several of his pieces were printed separately in Quarto. What makes me think that most of these were not publish'd by him, is the exces. sive carelessness of the press : every page is so scandalously false speled, and almost all the learned or unusual words fo intolerably mangled, that 'tis plain there either was no Corrector to the press at all, or one totally illiterate. If any were supervised by himself, I should fancy the two parts of Henry the 4th, and MidsummerNight's Dream might have been so : because I find no other printed with any exactness; and (contrary to the rest) there is very little variation in all the subse. quent editions of them. There are extant cwo Prefaces to the first quarto edition of Troilus and Cressda in 1609, and to that of Othello; by which it appears, that the first was published without his knowledge or consent, and even before it was acted, so late as seven or eight years before he died : and that the latter was not printed 'rill after his death. The whole number of genuine plays which we have been able to find printed in his life-time, amounts but to eleven. And of some of these, we meet with two or more editions by different printers, each of which has whole heaps of trash different from the other: which I should fancy was occasioned by their being taken from different copies, belonging to different Play-houses.
The folio edition in which all the plays we now receive as his, were first collected) was published by two Players, Heminges and Condell, in 1623, seven years after his decease. They declare, that all the other
cditions were stolen and surreptitious, and affirm theirs to be purged from the errors of the former. This is - t: ue as to the literal errors, and no other; for in all respects elle it is far worse than the Quarto's.
First, because the additions of trilling and bombaft pafiages are in this edition far more numerous. For whatever had been added, since those Quarto's, by the actors, or had flolen from their mouths into the wriiten parts, were from thence conveyed into the printed text, and all fand charged upon the Author. He hinself complained of this usage in Hamlet, where he wishes that those who play ibi Clowns wou'd speak no more than is set duwn for them. (Act 3. Scene 4.) But as a proof that he could not escape it, in the old editions of Romeo and Juliсt there is no hint of a great number of the mean co: ceits and ribaldries now to be found there. In others, the low scenes of Mobs, lebeians and Clowns, are vasily shorter than at present: and I have seen one in particular (which feems to have belonged to the Play-houle, by having the parts divided with lines, and the Actors names in the margin) where several of those very passages were added in a written hand, which are since to be found in the folio.
In the next place, a number of beautiful passages which are extant in the firii single editions, are omitted in this: as it seems without any other reason, than their willingness to shorten some scenes: These men (as it was laid of Procrujte: ) either lopping, or Stretching an Author, to make him just fit for their Stipe.
This edition is said to be printed from the Original Copies; I believe they meant those which had lain ever since the Author's days in the Play house, and had from time to time been cut, or added to, arbitrarily. It appears ihat this edition, as well as the Quarto's, W.As prin:ed (at least partly) froin no better copies than the Prompter's Book, or Piecemeal Parts written