« AnteriorContinuar »
this play the fable of which must therefore pass for entirely his own production, 'till the contrary can be made appear by any future discovery. One of the poet's editors, after observing that-the persons of the drama are all Italians; and the unities all regularly observ'd in it, a custom likewise of the Italians; concludes his note with the mention of two of their plays,Il Negromante di L. Ariosto, and Il Negromante Palliato di Gio. Angelo Petrucci; one or other of which, he seems to think, may have given rise to the Tempest: but he is mistaken in both of them; and the last must needs be out of the question, being later than Shakspeare's time,
An old ballad, whose date and time of writing can not be ascertain'd, is the ground work of Titus Andronicus: the names of the persons acting, and almost every incident of the play are there in miniature-it is, indeed, so like,-that one might be tempted to suspect, that the ballad was form'd upon the play, and not that upon the ballad; were it not sufficiently known, that almost all the compositions of that sort are prior to even the infancy of Shakspeare,
Troilus and Cressida.
The loves of Troilus and Cressida are celebrated by Chaucer whose poem might, perhaps, induce Shakspeare to work them up into a play. The other matters of that play (historical, or fabulous, call them which you will,) he had out of an ancient book, written and printed first by Caxton, call'd
-The Destruction of Troy, in three parts: in the third part of it, are many strange particulars, occurring no where else, which Shakspeare has admitted into his play.
Another of Belleforest's novels is thus intitl'd:"Comme une fille Romaine se vestant en page servist long temps un sien amy sans estre cogneue, & depuis l'eut a mary avec autres divers discours." Histoires Tragiques; Tom. 4, Hist. 7. This novel, which is itself taken from one of Bandello's Tom. 2, Nov. 36,) is, to all appearance, the foundation of the serious part of Twelfth-Night: and must be so accounted; 'till some English novel appears, built (perhaps) upon that French one, but approaching nearer to Shakspeare's comedy.
Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Julia's love-adventures being in some respects the same with those of Viola in Twelfth-Night, the same novel might give rise to them both; and Valentine's falling amongst out-laws, and becoming their captain, is an incident that has some resemblance to one in the Arcadia, (Book I, chap. 6.) where Pyrocles heads the Helots: all the other circumstances which constitute the fable of this play, are, probably of the poet's own invention.
To the story-book, or Pleasant History (as it is call'd) of Dorastus and Fawnia, written by Robert
Greene, M. A. we are indebted for Shakspeare's Winter's Tale. Greene join'd with Dr. Lodge in writing a play, call'd A Looking-Glass for London and England, printed in 1598, in quarto, and black letter; and many of his other works, which are very numerous, were publish'd about that time, and this amongst the rest: it went through many impressions, all of the same form and letter as the play; and that so low down as the year 1664, of which year I have a copy. Upon this occasion, I shall venture to pronounce an opinion, that has been reserv'd for this place, (though other plays too were concern'd in it, as Hamlet and Cymbeline) which if it be found true, as I believe it will, may be of use to settle many disputed points in literary chronology. My opinion is this:—that almost all books, of the gothick or black character, printed any thing late in the seventeenth century, are in truth only re-impressions; they having pass'd the press before in the preceding century, or (at least) very soon after. For the character began then to be disus'd in the printing of new books: but the types remaining, the owners of them found a convenience in using them for books that had been before printed in them; and to this convenience of theirs are owing all or most of those impressions posterior to 1600. It is left to the reader's sagacity, to apply this remark to the book in the present article; and to those he finds mention'd before, in the articles-Hamlet and Cymbeline.
Such are the materials, out of which this great poet has rais'd a structure, which no time shall efface, nor any envy be strong enough to lessen the admiration that is so justly due to it; which if it was great before, cannot fail to receive encrease with the judicious, when the account that has been
now given them is reflected upon duly: other originals have, indeed, been pretended; and much extraordinary criticism has, at different times, and by different people, been spun out of those conceits; but, except some few articles in which the writer professes openly his ignorance of the sources they are drawn from, and some others in which he delivers himself doubtfully, what is said in the preceding leaves concerning these fables may with all certainty be rely'd upon.
How much is it to be wish'd, that something equally certain, and indeed worthy to be intitl'da Life of Shakspeare, could accompany this relation, and complete the tale of those pieces which the publick is apt to expect before new editions? But that nothing of this sort is at present in being, may be said without breach of candour, as we think, or suspicion of over much niceness: an imperfect and loose account of his father, and family; his own marriage, and the issue of it; some traditional stories, many of them trifling in themselves, supported by small authority, and seemingly illgrounded; together with his life's final period as gather'd from his monument, is the full and whole amount of historical matter that is in any of these writings; in which the critick and essayist swallow up the biographer, who yet ought to take the lead in them. The truth is, the occurrences of this most interesting life (we mean, the private ones) are irrecoverably lost to us; the friendly office of registring them was overlook'd by those who alone had it in their power, and our enquiries about them now must prove vain and thrown away. But there is another sort of them that is not quite so hopeless; which besides affording us the prospect of some good issue to our endeavours, do also invite
us to them by the promise of a much better reward for them the knowledge of his private life had done little more than gratify our curiosity, but his publick one as a writer would have consequences more important; a discovery there would throw a new light upon many of his pieces; and, where rashness only is shew'd in the opinions that are now current about them, a judgment might then be form'd, which perhaps would do credit to the giver of it. When he commenc'd a writer for the stage, and in which play; what the order of the rest of them, and (if that be discoverable) what the occasion; and, lastly, for which of the numerous theatres that were then subsisting they were severally written at first,-are the particulars that should chiefly engage the attention of a writer of Shakspeare's Life, and be the principal subjects of his enquiry to assist him in which, the first impressions of these plays will do something, and their title-pages at large, which, upon that account, we mean to give in another work that will accompany The School of Shakspeare; and something the School itself will afford, that may contribute to the same service: but the corner-stone of all, must be the works of the poet himself, from which much may be extracted by a heedful peruser of them; and, for the sake of such a peruser, and by way of putting him into the train when the plays are before him, we shall instance in one of them; -the time in which Henry V. was written, is determin'd almost precisely by a passage in the chorus to the fifth act, and the concluding chorus of it contains matter relative to Henry VI.: other plays might be mention'd, as Henry VIII. and Macbeth; but this one may be sufficient to answer our intention in producing it, which was-to spirit some