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but we have German and Dutch versions of the drama, which to all appearance, although of later date than Shakespeare's play, are not founded upon it, but on some earlier and cruder version or versions.
The latest and most thorough examination of the Dutch and German versions of the story and the best comparison of them with Shakespeare's play are by Mr. Harold M. W. Fuller in the "Publications of the Modern Languages Association of America," vol. xvi. No. 1, to which is added a valuable note, by Professor G. P. Baker of Harvard, on the same subject.
Both Mr. Fuller and Professor Baker come to two interesting and important conclusions, namely, (1) that the Dutch and German versions are founded on two different English versions, brought over by different English companies; (2) that neither of these can have been Shakespeare's play as we have it. This latter point they have, I think, amply and absolutely established, and I am prepared to accept this conclusion. It is highly important, because it practically enables us to know what alterations Shakespeare made in the story as it existed in dramatic form before his time; and these, as we shall see later, were neither few nor unimportant, but on the other hand both weighty and characteristic. The other conclusion, that the German and Dutch versions were founded on different versions of the piece, and that these were the two plays which we know as Titus and Andronicus and Titus and Vespasian respectively, is hardly so clearly made out, and is of less importance.
One of the reasons that we find it so difficult to get at the original source of this gruesome story, is that it seems
to be a conglomerate of at least two revolting themes, which were nevertheless extremely popular in Europe and England long before Shakespeare's time. The one theme may be called "The Wicked Moor" theme, in which we have Murder and Rape committed by a Moor out of revenge and pure malice; and the other, which we may call the "White Lady and Moor" theme, in which the main idea is the lustful intrigue between a white lady, generally a queen, and a black slave. In the story as developed by Shakespeare, and to a less extent in the earlier version, we have this combined with what we may call the political elements in the story, i.e. the relations of Titus to the Emperor. This complication is just what Shakespeare loved, and invented when it was not already present in the original story. In most of his tragedies and comedies Shakespeare combined two stories, often from quite different sources, and perhaps nothing is more characteristic of his genius than this power of effective and ingenious combination of two hitherto distinct themes. It gave him also opportunities for that subtle discrimination of similar characters in which he seems, so to speak, to have revelled. King Lear is one of the best examples of this, when he has Lear and Gloucester, Cordelia and Edgar, Edmund and Regan and Goneril in pairs or groups, in which strong resemblances are mingled with subtle differences. The plot of Titus was in the earlier versions nearly sufficiently complex for Shakespeare's taste, but he creates the part of Alarbus, partly to give some justification to Tamora's hatred of the Andronici, and partly to balance Lavinia as an innocent victim on the other side.
But the story, as it came to Shakespeare in these older
plays, or in the ballad, was already, as above remarked, probably a combination of at least two themes which had originally been separate.
As E. Roeppe (Eng. Studien, vol. xvi. 365, etc.) shows, there were numerous early versions of the "cruel Moor" theme, as, for instance, (1) a Latin version by Pontano; (2) a translation or adaptation of this by Bandello; (3) a French version by Belleforest; (4) an English ballad (Roxburgh Ballads, vol. ii. p. 339, etc.); and (5) a Spanish version. In the same way, the "Lady and the Blackamoor" theme, as shown by Professor Koeppel1 and others, existed in many versions, in several languages. There is therefore no lack of "sources" for the story as we have it in Shakespeare; but whether Shakespeare took his plot straight from an earlier dramatic version, or read the component themes in Bandello or Belleforest, or in English ballad form, it is probably now impossible to ascertain, and does not really matter very much.
But in anything we have hitherto said, no direct and conclusive evidence of Shakespeare's authorship has been brought forward, though the printing of this play between two of Shakespeare's universally acknowledged plays and in the same volume with others makes the inference that it was his very probable. But now we come to a piece of direct evidence which appears to me actually irrefragable, and whose brushing aside by those who wish to disprove Shakespeare's authorship seems to me without the slightest justification. Francis Meres, a contemporary and acquaintance, if not intimate friend of, Shakespeare's, writes in 1598, apropos of the excellence of Shakespeare's tragedies in Englische Studien, xvi. p. 365, etc.
English, as compared with those of Seneca in Latin, "witness for tragedy, his Richard II., Richard III., Henry IV., King John, Titus Andronicus, and his Romeo and Juliet." Only a man with the keenest interest in matters literary and dramatic would have taken up such a theme at all; and we know that Meres was so interested. He wrote not only within a few years of the first performances of these plays, but while they were still highly popular and frequently acted, and was during Shakespeare's own lifetime in intimate contact, if not with Shakespeare himself (though Shakespeare read his MS. Sonnets to him), at least, with many of Shakespeare's actor and author contemporaries, both friends and enemies, or rivals, like Ben Jonson. The folly of discarding this direct evidence, as all who maintain that Shakespeare had little or no part in the authorship of this play must do, is perhaps best illustrated by taking a modern parallel. Suppose that the popular dramas of to-day fell into the same neglect half a century or a century hence, as the Elizabethan plays did about that period after they were written, and that, when interest revived again in them, the question arose as to who was the author of Quality Street; and, again, supposing an article by some contemporary author of repute was found in which Quality Street was mentioned along with others of Mr. Barrie's plays as being by him, would any sane twentieth or twenty-first century critic brush that evidence aside as Meres' evidence has been brushed aside by Malone and others? No amount of discrepancies in style between "Walker London," "The Little Minister," and "Quality Street" would be entitled to weigh for a moment against this piece of direct contemporary evidence. And yet Meres'
evidence is contemptuously swept aside, not only by such one-sided and prejudiced persons as Malone, Fleay, etc., but by cautious and, in other cases, sound and careful critics like Mr. Sidney Lee and Hallam. Now, I say that the true Shakespearian, who believes that Shakespeare was the author of the great masterpieces attributed to him, is deliberately delivering himself over gagged and bound into the hands of the anti-Shakespearians the moment he begins to treat such a strong and clear piece of contemporary evidence with contempt. For it is on contempt for contemporary evidence and opinion that the whole antiShakespearian case is founded. For that Shakespeare was commonly regarded as the author of those masterpieces by all his contemporaries and all their successors for generations is absolutely indubitable. But the moment you allow that this consensus of opinion and all direct contemporary testimony is to be disregarded, you open the floodgates for the entrance of all sorts of possible or impossible theories as to the authorship of Shakespeare's or anybody else's works. For, if the friends, enemies and other contemporaries do not know what a man has written, you may depend upon it, nobody ever will know, and any man's opinion will be as good as another, or as the Irishman said, "much better." How easy will it be in the course of another century or so to prove that Scott could not have written the Waverley Novels, and that they were written by Coleridge, by Adam Smith, by George III., or by a certain private author"!
I have never seen it remarked, though the fact seems obvious enough, that the scepticism with regard to Shakespeare's authorship of the works at one time universally