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A Micjummer Night's Dream, nor that of The Winter's Tali, denotes the season of the action; the events which are the subject of the latter, occurring at the time of sheep-fhearing, and the dream, from which the former receives its name, happening on the night preceding May-day. These titles, therefore, were probably suggested by the season at which the plays were exhibited, to which they belong; A MT:djummer Nighi's Dream having, we may
presume, been first represented in June, and I he ll'inter's Tale in December.
Perhaps, then, it may not be thought a very improbable conjecture, that this comedy was written in the fummer of 1612, and produced on the stage in the latter end of that year; and that the author availed himself of a circumstance then freih in the minds of his audience, by affixing a title to it, which was more likely to excite curiosity than any other that he could have chosen, while at the same time it was fufficiently justificd by the subject of the drama.
Mr. Steevens, in his observations on this piay, has quoted from the tragedy of Darius by the earl of Sterline, first printed in 1603, fome lines y so strongly resembling a cele
x Perhaps it was formerly an established custom to have plays represented at court in the Christmas holydays, and particularly on Izveifth Night. Two of Lilly's comedies (Alexander and Campape, 1591- and lizdas, 1592) are said in their title pages, to have been played befoore the cucines maicfie or Twelfe-dag at night, and several of Ben Jonson's masques were prelented at Whitehall, on the same festival. Our author's Love's Labour Luf was exhibited before queen Elizabeth in the Christmas holydays; and his King Lear was ačied before king James on St. Stephen's night; (the night after Christmas-day.)
" Let greatness of her glafy scepters vaunt,
Notícepters, no but reeds, foon bruis’d, soon broken,
All fades, and foarcely leaves behind a toko.
With furniture fuperfluoully fair,
Darius, A& III, Ed. 1603.
brated-pallage in the Tempel, that one author must, I apprehend, have been indebted to the other. Shakspeare, I imagine, borrowed from lord Sterline 2.
Mr. Holt conjectured", that the masque in the fifth act of this comedy was intended by the poet as a compliment to the earl of Effex, on his being united in wedlock, in 1611, to lady Frances Howard, to whom he had been contracted some years before b. However this might have been, the date which that commentator has assigned to this play (1614) is certainly too late; for it appears from the MK. of Mr. Vertue, that the Tempest was acted by John Heminge and the rest of the King's Company, before prince Charles, the lady Elizabeth, and the prince Palatine elector, in the beginning of the year 1613,
The names of Trinculo and Antonio, two of the characters in this comedy, are likewise found in that of Albunazar; which was first printed in 1614, but is supposed by Dryden to have appeared some years before.
43. TWELFTH Night, 1614. It has been generally believed, that Shakspeare retired from the theatre, and ceased to write, about three years
NOT E S.
6. These our actors,
Leave not a rack behind." Tempesi, A& IV, Sc. i. Whether we suppose Shakspeare to have iinitated lord Sterline, or lord Sterline to have borrowed from him, the fourth line above quoted from the tragedy of Darius, renders it highly probable that Shakspeare wrote, (as Sir Thomas Hanmer conjectured,)
" Leave not a track behind.”
a Observations on the Tempesi, p. 67. Mr. Holt imagined, that lord Eflex was united to lady Frances Howard in 1610 ; but he was mistaken: their union did not take place till the next year.
• Jan. 5, 1006—7. The earl continued abroad four years from that time; fo that he did not cohabit with his wife till 1611. [Y 41
before he died. The latter fupposition must now be confidered as extremely doubtful; for Mr. Tyrwhitt, with great probability, conjectures, that Twilfih Night was written in 1614: grounding his opinion on an allusion", which it seems to contain, to those parliamentary undertakers, of whom frequent mention is made in the Journals of the House of Commons for that yeard; who were stigmatized with this invidious name, on account of their having uidertaken to manage the elections of knights and burgesies in such a manner as to secure a majority in parliament for the court. If this allufion was intended, Twelfth Night, vas probably our author's last production; and, we may presunie, was written after he had retired to Stratford. It is obfervable that Mr. Ashley, a member of the House of Commons, in one of the debates on this subject, says, “ that the rumour concerning these undertakers had spread into the country."
When Shakspeare quitted London and his profession, for the tranquillity of a rural retirement, it is improbable that such an excursive genius should have been immediately reconciled to a fate of mental inactivity. It is more Tiatural to conceive, that he should have occasionally bent his thoughts towards the theatre, which his mufe had supported, and the interest of his aifociates whom he had left behind him to struggle with the capricious vicissitudes of publick tafts, and whom, his last Will thews us, he had not forgotien. To the neceffity, therefore, of literary amusement to every cultivated mind, or to the dictates of friendship, or to both these incentives, we are perhaps indebted for the comedy of Twelfth Night; which bears evident marks of having been composed at leisure, as moft of the characters that it contains, are finished to a higher degree of dramatick perfection, than is discoverable in fome of our author's earlier comick performances e.
In the third act of this comedy, Decker's Westward Hee seems to be alluded to. Westward Hie was printed in 1607,
NOTES c" Nay, if you be an undertaker I am for you.” See Twelfth Night, Ac IV. Sc. iiiand the note there. à Comm. Journ. Vol. I. p. 456, 457, 470.
¢ Tle comedies particularly alluded to, are, Love's Labour Lolt, The Tivo Gentlemen of Verona, A Midsummer Night's Dreamt, and The Comedy of Errors,
and from the prologue to Eastward floe appears to have been
Maria, in Twelfth Night, speaking of Malvolio, says,
he does smile his face into more lines than the new map with the augmentation of the indies.” I have not been able to learn the date of the map here alluded to; but, as it is spoken of as a rtient publicatioit, it may, when difcovered, serre to ascertain the date of this play more exactly.
The comedy of What you TV’ill, (the second title of the play now before us) which was entered at Stationers' hall, Aug. 9, 1607, was probably Marlton's play, as it was printed in that year; and it appears to have been the general practice of the booksellers at that tine, recently before public tation, to enter these plays of which they had procured copies.
Twelfth Night was not registered on the Stationers' books, nor printed, till 1623.
It has been thought, that Ben Jonson intended to ridicule the conduct of this play, in his Every Man out of bis Humour, at the end of A 111. Sc. vi. where he makes Mitis say,-" That the argument of his comedy might have been of some other nature, as of a duke to be in love with a countess, and that countess to be in love with the duke's fon, and the fun in love with the lady's waiting maid: some fuch cross wooing, with a clown to their serving man, better than be thus near and familiarly allied to the time'.
I doubt, however, whether Jonson had here I welfth Night in contemplation. If an allution to this comedy were intended, it would ascertain it to have been written before 1599, when Every Man out of his Humoar was first acted. But Meres does not mention Twelfth Nighi in 1598, nor is there any reason to believe that it then existed. I know not whether this paffage is found in the quarto copy of Every Man cut of bis Humour, published in 1600 %, Perhaps it first appeared in the folio edition of Jonson's
See the first note on Twelfth Night, Ac I. Sc. i.
works, printed in 1616; in which case, though it should be admitted to have been a sneer at Shakspeare, it would not affect the date now attributed to Twelfth Night. It is certain that Jonson made alterations in some of his pieces, when he collected and reprinted them. Every Man in his Humour, in particular, underwent an entire reform; all the persons of the drama, to whom English names were given on its republication, having in the former edition appeared as natives of Italy, in which country the scene originally was laid.
If the dates here aligned to our author's plays should not, in every instance, bring with them conviction of their propriety, Ict it be remembered, that this is a subject on which conviction cannot at this day be obtained: and that the observations now submitted to the publick, do not pretend to any higher title than that of “ An AtTEMPT to ascertain the chronology of the dramas of Shaks speare."
Should the errors and deficiencies of this essay invite others to deeper and more successful researches, the end proposed by it will be attained : and he who offers the prefent arrangement of Shahspeare's dramas, will be happy to transfer the slender portion of credit that may result from the novelty of his undertaking, to some future claimant, who may be supplied with ampler materials, and endued with a superior degree of antiquarian fagacity:
To fome, he is not unapprized, this enquiry will ap. pear a tedious and barren speculation. But there are many, it is hoped, who think nothing that relates to the brightest ornament of the English nation, wholly uninteresting; who will be gratified by observing, how the genius of our great poet gradually expanded itself, till, like his own Ariel
, it flamed umazement in every quarter, blazing forth with a lustre, that has not hitherto been equalled, and perhaps will never be furpafled.