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Sir John Oldcastie, a play.
Jan. 29, 1629.
Nov. 8, 1630.
Sir John Oldcastle.
Blount to Edward Allot, June 26, 1632. Edward Allott was one of the publishers of the second Folio, 1632.
It is worth remark, that on these books of the Stationers Company, Titus Andronicus, Venus and Adonis, two parts
of King Henry VI. Locrine, IVidow of Watling Street, King Richard II. King Richard III. king Herry IV. &c. are the first performances attributed to Shakespeare. Thus might the progress of his dramatic art be ascertained, were we absosutely sure that his productions were set down in chronological arrangement on these records of ancient publication. It may be added, that although the private interests of playhouses had power to suspend the printing of his theatrical pieces, they could not have retarded the appearance of his poems; and we may therefore justly date the commencement of his authorship from the time when the first of them came out, viz. his Venus and Adonis, when he was in the twenty-ninth year of his age. In the dedication of this poem to the Earl of Southampton, Shakespeare calls it
The first heir of his invention.”
Of all his undisputed plays, the only one omitted on the books of the Stationers' Company, is King John. The same attention to secure a lasting property in the works of Ben Jonson and Beaumont and Fletcher, does not appear to have been exerted; as of the former I have met with no more than seven or eight entries, and of the latter a still lefs confiderable
number. Beaumont died in 1615, Fletcher in 1625, and Jonson in 1637. My researches, however, were not continued below the year 1632, the date of the second folio edition of Shakespeare.
Let it likewise be added to the praises of our author, that if he did not begin to write till 1593, nor ceased till within three years of his death, which happened in 1616, in the course of twenty years he had produced no less than thirtyfive plays, admitting that eight others (among which is to be reckoned Titus Andronicus *) were fpurious. I feize this opportunity, however, to express my doubts concerning all but the last mentioned piece, and Locrine. Locrine has only the letters W. S. prefixed to it, and exhibits internal proofs that it was not only the composition of a scholar but of a pedant. See a note to the List of Plays ascribed 10 Shaker speare by tbe Editors of the two later folios, or the Compilers of Ancient Catalogues, where the fame aftertion is more fully fupported. See also another note at the beginning of Troia lus and Crefida. Neither has it ever yet been fufficiently proved that it was once customary to set the names of celebrated living authors at full length in the title pages to the works of others, or to enter them under these faise colours in the books at Stationers' Hall. Such frauds indeed have been attempted at a later period, but with little fuccess. The most inconfiderable of all the pieces rejected by the editors of Shakespeare, is the Yorkshire Tragedy; and yet in 1608 it was both registered and published with his name.
At this time too, he was probably in London, prefiding at the Globe theatre, in consequence of the licence granted by K. James I. to him and his fellow-comedians in 1603. The Yorkshire Tragedy is only one out of four short dramas which were exhibited for the entertainment of a fingle evening, as the title page informs us; and perhaps would have been forgotten with the other three, but that it was known to have been the work of our celebrated author. Such miscellaneous representations were not uncommon, and the reader will find a specimen of them in the tenth volume of Mr. Seyward's edition of Beaumont and Fletcher. Shakespeare, who has exprefled such a solicitude that his clowns should speak no more than wus fet dorun for them, would naturally have taken fome opportunity to thew his impatience at being rendered answerable, in a ftill more * See the notes at the end of this play. [R4]
decisive manner, for entire compositions which were not his own. It is possible likewise, that the copies of the plays omitted in the first folio, had been already disposed of to proprietors, out of whose hands they could not be redeemed; or if Heminge and Condell were discerning friends to the reputation of their affociate, conscious as they might have been that such pieces were his, they would have omit, ted them by design, as inferior to his other productions. From this inferiority, and from a cast of style occasionally different, nothing relative to their authenticity can with ex. actness be inferred; for as Dr. Johnson very justly observes on a similar occafion, “There is little resemblance between the first works of Raphael and the last.” But could it even be proved that these rejected pieces were not among the earliest esinfions of Shakespeare, such proof would by no means affect their authenticity, as both Dryden and Rowe, after having written their best plays, are known to have produced others, which reflect a very inconsiderable degree of honour on their memory.
It has hitherto been usual to represent the ancient quartos of our author as by far more incorrect than those of his contemporaries; but I fear that this representation has been continued by many of us, with a design to magnify our own services rather than to exhibit a true state of the question. The reason why we have discovered a greater proportion of errors in the former than in the latter, is because we have sought after them with a greater degree of diligence; for let it be remembered, that it was no more the practice of other writers than of Shakespeare, to correct the press for themselves. Ben Jonson only (who, being versed in the learned languages, had been taught the value of accuracy) appears to have superintended the publication of his own dramatic pieces; but were those of Lilly, Chapman, Marlow, or the Heywoods, to be revised with equal industry, an editor would meet with as frequent opportunities for the exertion of his critical abilities, as in these quartos which have been so repeatedly censured by those who never took the pains to collate them, or justify the many valuable readings they contain; for when the character of them which we have handed down, was originally given, among typographical blunders, &c. were enumerated all terms and expressions which were not strictly grammatical, or not casily understood. As yet we had employed in our attempts at explanation only such materials as casual reading had fup
plied; but how much more is requisite for the complete explanation of an early writer, the last edition of the Canterbury Tales of Chaucer may prove a fufficient witness; a work which in respect of accuracy and learning is without a rival, at least in any commentary on an Englith poet. ? he reader will forgive me if I desert my subject for a moment, while I express an ardent with that the same editor may find leisure and inclination to afford us the means of reading the other works of the father of our poetry, with advantages which we cannot derive from the efforts of those who have less deeply and successfully penetrated into the recesses of ancient Italian, French, and English literature. --An author has received the highest mark of distinction, when he has engaged the services of such a commentator.
The reader may perhaps be desirous to know by whom these quartos of Shakespeare are supposed to have been fent into the world. To such a curiosity no very adequate gratification can be afforded; but yet it may be observed, that as these elder copies possess many advantages over those in the subsequent folio, we should decide perversely were we to pronounce them spurious. They were in all probability issued out by some performer, who deriving no benefit from the theatre except his falary, was uninterested in that retention of copies, which was the chief concern of our ancient managers. We may suppose too that there was nothing criminal in his proceeding; as some of the persons whose names appear before thele publications, are known to have filled the highest offices in the company of Station
with reputation, bequeathing legacies of considerable value to it at their decease. Neither do I discover why the firit manuscripts delivered by so careless a writer to the actors, should prove less correct than those which he happened to leave behind him, unprepared for the press, in the poss fession of the same fraternity. On the contrary, after his plays had past for twenty years thrçugh the hands of a succefsion of ignorant transcribers, they were more likely to become maimed and corrupted, than when they were printed from papers lefs remote from the originals. It is truc that Heminge and Condell have called these copies furreptitious, but this was probably said with a view to enhance the value of their own impression, as well as to revenge themselves as far as possible on those who had in part anticipated the publication of works from which they expected considerable gleanings of advantage, after their first karseft on the stage
was over.--.I mean to except from this general character of the quartos, the author's rough draughts of the Merry Wives of Windsor and Romeo and Juliet; together with the play of King Henry V. and the two parts of King Henry VI; for these latter carry all the marks of having been imperfectly taken down by the ear, without any alliance from the originals belonging to the playhouses in which they were firit represented.
A preceding table of those ancient copies of the plays of Shakespeare which his commentators have really met with and consulted, if compared with the earlieft of these entries on the books already mentioned, may tempt the reader to suppose that some quartos have not yet been found, from which future assistance may be derived. But I fear that no such resources remain; as it seems to have been the practice of the numerous theatres in the time of Shakespeare, to cause some bookseller to make immediate entries of their new pieces, as a security against the encroachments of their rivals, who always considered themselves as justified in the exhibition of such dramas as had been enfranchised by the press. Imperfect copies, but for these precautions, might have been more frequently obtained from the repetition of hungry actors invited for that purpose to a tavern; or something like a play might have been collected by attentive auditors, who made it their business to attend succeeding representations with a like design * By these means, without any intent of hasty publication, one company of players was studious to prevent the trespasses of another t.
Nor did their policy conclude here; for I have not unfrequently met with registers of both tragedies and comedies, of which the titles were at some other time to be declared. Thus, July 26, 1576, John Hunter enters “A new and pleasant comedie or plaie, after the manner of common condycrons;" and one Fielder, in Sept. 1581, prefers his right to four others, “ Whereof he will bring the titles.” “ The famous Tragedy of the Rich Jewe of Malta," by Christopher Marlow, is ascertained to be the property of Nich. Ling and Tho. Millington, in May 1594, though it was
* See the notes of Mr. Collins and Mr. Malone at the end of the third part of K. Henry VI.
+ From the year 1570 to the year 1629, when the playhouse in White Friars was finished, it appears that no less than seventeen theatres had been built,