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any copy is in existence, is that of 1600, which is known as the First Quarto (Q 1), and has the following title: "The most lamentable Romaine Tragedy of Titus Andronicus, as it hath been playde by the Right Honourable the Earle of Pembroke, the Earle of Darbie, the Earle of Sussex, and the Lorde Chamberlaine theyr Servants, At London, printed by J. R. for Edward White, 1600." On this edition was founded the Second Quarto (Q 2) of 1611, printed also for Edward White, with the statement "as has sundry times been playde by the King's Maiestie's Servants." In the First Folio (F 1), 1623, it appears under the same title, and is printed between Coriolanus and Romeo and Juliet. The variations between this version and F 1 and F 2 are very few, with one very important exception, namely, the addition of the whole of the second scene of Act III., in which Marcus kills a fly, and Titus, in real or affected madness, makes his extraordinary commentary thereupon.
Now, what may we reasonably infer from these facts?
First, that the play had been already some time in existence in 1600, and had been extremely popular, having been acted by all the various companies named, and later on, according to the 1611 edition, by "His Maiestie's Servants." Secondly, that the printers and publishers, by printing the play along with Shakespeare's acknowledged plays, intended at any rate to produce the impression that the play was the work of Shakespeare.
But, having limited the date, on the one side, by showing that it was already published and repeatedly performed in 1600, let us look for earlier allusions to the piece in order to ascertain how long it had then been in existence.
Now, according to Gerard Langbaine in his Account of
the English Dramatic Poets, 1691, Titus Andronicus was first printed in 1594 in Quarto, and acted by the servants of the "Earls of Darbie, Pembroke, and Essex." The change from Essex in this edition to Sussex in that of 1600 marks the disgrace and fall of the former ambitious noble, whose quarrel with Elizabeth began in 1598 and ended with his execution in 1601. So we now know that the play was already popular and well known in 1594, and must have been written some little time before that. But there is a still earlier entry in the Stationers' Registers, on 6th February 1593: “John Danter" (the publisher). “A booke entitled A noble Roman Historye of Titus Andronicus," with the addition, "Entord also with him, by warrant from Mr. Woodcock, the ballad thereof," which is probably the same as that given in the Percy Reliques. This last, or rather earliest, edition seems closely connected with an entry in Henslowe's Diary of a play, "titus and ondronicus," as having been acted for the first time by "the Earle of Essex, his men," on 23rd January 1593. A still earlier entry in this Diary mentions a play, "Titus and Vespasia," as being new in 1591.
It might now be thought that we now pretty well determined the date of the first performance, if not the composition of the play. But there is a curious passage in Ben Jonson's Introduction to Bartholomew Fair, first produced in 1614, which runs thus: "He that will swear that Jeronimo or Andronicus are the best plays yet shall pass unexcepted at here, as a man whose judgment shows it is constant and has stood still these twenty-five or thirty years." If we take either of these numbers literally it would throw back the date of the earliest performances of
these two plays, namely, The Spanish Tragedy, now almost universally attributed to Thomas Kyd, and Andronicus, to 1589 and 1584 respectively. But I do not think that the statement should be taken too literally. Many people are extremely vague in their notions of the lapse of time, and loose in their statements regarding it. Ben Jonson, with characteristic unamiability, is sneering at those old plays, and would not scruple somewhat to exaggerate their antiquity; so I think we may safely take the shorter rather than the longer term as being nearest the mark.1 The first mention of Kyd's Tragedy being acted is in 1591 by "Lord Strange's men"; and the first dated edition of the Spanish Tragedy is the Quarto of 1594 (London, Edward White), as preserved in the University of Göttingen. Of course this does not fix the date of composition; but as in those days there was a continuous demand for new plays, it is not likely that authors like Kyd and Shakespeare let their MSS. lie long in their desks. We may, I think, therefore conclude that Andronicus at any rate was written between 1589 and 1593, that is, when Shakespeare was about twenty-five years old and upwards; and this would still make this play, as we might expect from its crudity, one of Shakespeare's earliest efforts in tragedy, in the "Tragedy of Blood," as Mr. J. A. Symonds calls the earlier school of Elizabethan tragedy in which Shakespeare was nurtured, and out of which he triumphantly emerged in his later works, not so much in point of theme and incident—for all tragedies are Tragedies of Blood-but in that elevation of treatment which lifts the horrible from the sensational to the sublime.
1A very probable solution of this apparent difficulty is that Jonson is really referring to older versions of the drama and not to Shakespeare's.
Mr. Charles Crawford, in an ingenious and learned article (Jahrbuch der Deutschen Shakespeare-Gesellschaft, 1900, p. 109), makes a valiant attempt to fix definitely the exact time of the writing of Titus Andronicus, as being between 26th June 1593 and January 1594, on account of alleged imitations on Shakespeare's part of Peele's Honour of the Garter, published at the former date. I must honestly confess, with profound admiration of Mr. Crawford's erudition, that I think his point, in Scottish legal phrase, "non-proven." The parallelisms quoted are not to my mind, though curious, close enough to establish a case of imitation on Shakespeare's part. His most important parallelisms really amount to little more than phrases, which might have come from some common source, or might be independently invented. A word like "re-salute " is not so unique in kind or difficult of coinage to prove imitation on one side or other. The parallel passages about the House of Fame have an obviously common source in Chaucer's poem of that name, and the common use of the name Enceladus is utterly insufficient to prove anything whatever. The word "palliament," a long white cloak, is, no doubt, found only in this play in Peele's Honour of the Garter, lines 91-2. The best point Mr. Crawford makes is the close likeness between
Out of Oblivion's reach or Envy's shot,
and the lines of Aaron
(Garter, lines 409, 410.)
Safe out of Fortune's shot, and sits aloft
Advanced above pale Envy's threat'ning reach.
(Titus Andronicus, II. i. 2, 3.)
The resemblance here is remarkably close; at the same
time there are two other possibilities besides that of copying on Shakespeare's side. First, both poets may have got the idea from some common source, and secondly, the same image may have occurred to each independently; for surely the idea of any person being out of reach and shot is not so recondite but that it might occur to two accomplished poets without one imitating the other. Mr. Crawford may be right on this point, but I do not think his argument absolutely conclusive; and I am not inclined to accept it, unless it is absolutely conclusive, because it would make Titus Andronicus a later work than Midsummer Night's Dream, which I think, in view of the greater ease and confidence of Shakespeare's manner in the Dream, extremely unlikely, as I point out in comparing the two pieces later on. But, of course, Mr. Sidney Lee may be right in attributing the writing of the Dream to the winter of 1595.
An important matter, and one somewhat difficult to decide is, whether we are to regard the plays given as Titus and Andronicus and Titus and Vespasian as being (1) one and the same play, or (2) two distinct plays; and then again, whether in either they are early dramatic versions of the story by unknown authors, which Shakespeare made use of in his Titus Andronicus, or crude and early attempts by Shakespeare himself. Now, it is impossible to give the arguments in full on so complicated a matter, so I must content myself with stating the conclusions I have come to after reading everything of importance I can find to read on this subject. But before doing so, I would just indicate the lines of argument which have been used in coming to the following conclusions.
We have not got any copy of either of these old plays;