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ORIGIN OF SHAKSPEARE'S FABLES.
All's Well that Ends Well.
The fable of this play is taken from a novel, of which Boccace is the original author; in whose Decameron it may be seen at p. 97. of the Giunti edition, reprinted at London. But it is more than probable, that Shakspeare read it in a book, call'd The Palace of Pleasure: which is a collection of novels translated from other authors, made by one William Painter, and by him first publish'd in the years 1565 and 67, in two tomes, quarto; the novel now spoken of, is the thirty-eighth of tome the first. This novel is a meagre translation, not (perhaps) immediately from Boccace, but from a French translator of him: as the original is in every body's hands, it may there be seen -that nothing is taken from it by Shakspeare, but some leading incidents of the serious part of his play.
Antony and Cleopatra.
This play, together with Coriolanus, Julius Cæsar, and some part of Timon of Athens, are form'd upon Plutarch's Lives, in the articles-Coriolanus, Brutus, Julius Cæsar, and Antony: of which lives there is a French translation, of great fame, made by Amiot, Bishop of Auxerre and great almoner of France; which, some few years after it's first appearance, was put into an English dress by our countryman Sir Thomas North, and publish'd in the year 1579, in folio. As the language of this translation is pretty good, for the time; and the sentiments, which are Plutarch's, breathe the genuine spirit of the several historical personages; Shakspeare has, with much judgment, introduc'd no small number of speeches into these plays, in the very words of that translator, turning them into verse: which he has so well wrought up, and incorporated with his plays, that, what he has introduc❜d, cannot be discover'd by any reader, 'till it is pointed out for him.
As You Like It.
A novel, or (rather) pastoral romance, intitl'd-Euphues's Golden Legacy, written in a very fantastical style by Dr. Thomas Lodge, and by him first publish'd in the year
1590, in quarto, is the foundation of As You Like It; besides the fable, which is pretty exactly follow'd, the outlines of certain principal characters may be observ'd in the novel and some expressions of the novelist (few, indeed, and of no great moment,) seem to have taken possession of Shakspeare's memory, and from thence crept into his play.
Comedy of Errors.
Of this play, the Menæchmi of Plautus is most certainly the original: yet the poet went not to the Latin for it; but took up with an English Menæchmi, put out by one W. W. in 1595, quarto. This translation,-in which the writer professes to have us'd some liberties, which he has distinguished by a particular mark,-is in prose, and a very good one for the time: it furnish'd Shakspeare with nothing but his principal incident; as you may in part see by the translator's argument, which is in verse, and runs thus:
"Two twinborne sonnes, a Sicill marchant had,
"The grandsire namde the latter like his brother:
"Where th' other dwelt inricht, and him so like,
It is probable, that the last of these verses suggested the title of Shakspeare's play.
Boccace's story of Bernardo da Ambrogivolo, (Day 2, Nov. 9,) is generally suppos'd to have furnish'd Shakspeare with the fable of Cymbeline: but the embracers of this opinion seem not to have been aware, that many of that author's novels (translated, or imitated,) are to be found in English books, prior to, or contemporary with, Shakspeare: and of this novel in particular, there is an imitation extant in a story-book of that time, intitl❜dWestward for Smelts: it is the second tale in the book: the scene, and the actors of it are different from Boccace,
as Shakspeare's are from both; but the main of the story is the same in all. We may venture to pronounce it a book of those times, and that early enough to have been us'd by Shakspeare, as I am persuaded it was; though the copy that I have of it, is no older than 1620; it is a quarto pamphlet of only five sheets and a half, printed in a black letter: some reasons for my opinion are given in another place; (v. Winter's Tale) though perhaps they are not necessary, as it may one day better be made appear a true one, by the discovery of some more ancient edition.
About the middle of the sixteenth century, Francis de Belleforest, a French gentleman, entertained his countrymen with a collection of novels, which he intitles-Histoires Tragiques; they are in part originals, part translations, and chiefly from Bandello: he began to publish them in the year 1564; and continu'd his publication successively in several tomes, how many I know not; the dedication to his fifth tome is dated six years after. In that tome, the troisieme Histoire has this title; " Avec quelle ruse Amleth, qui depuis fut roy de Dannemarch, vengea la mort de son pere Horvuendille, occis par Fengon son frere, & autre occurrence de son histoire." Painter, who has been mention'd before, compil'd his Palace of Pleasure almost entirely from Belleforest, taking here and there a novel as pleas'd him, but he did not translate the whole other novels, it is probable, were translated by different people, and publish'a singly; this, at least, that we are speaking of, was so, and is intitl'd-The Historie of Hamblet; it is in quarto, and black letter: there can be no doubt made, by persons who are acquainted with these things, that the translation is not much younger than the French original; though the only edition of it, that is yet come to my knowledge, is no earlier than 1608 that Shakspeare took his play from it, there can likewise be very little doubt.
1 Henry IV.
In the eleven plays that follow-Macbeth, King John, Richard II. Henry IV. two parts, Henry V. Henry VI. three parts, Richard III. and Henry VIII.-the historians of that time, Hall, Holinshed, Stow, and others, (and, in particular, Holinshed,) are pretty closely follow'd; and
that not only for their matter, but even sometimes in their expressions: the harangue of the Archbishop of Canterbury in Henry V. that of Queen Catharine in Henry VIII. at her trial, and the king's reply to it, are taken from those chroniclers, and put into verse: other lesser matters are borrow'd from them; and so largely scatter'd up and down in these plays, that whoever would rightly judge of the poet, must acquaint himself with those authors, and his character will not suffer in the enquiry.
Richard III. was preceded by other plays written upon the same subject; concerning which, see the conclusion of a note in this Introduction, at p. 125. And as to Henry V.-it may not be improper to observe in this place, that there is extant another old play, call'd the famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, printed in 1617, quarto; perhaps by some tricking bookseller, who meant to impose it upon the world for Shakspeare's, who dy'd the year before. This play, which opens with that prince's wildness and robberies before he came to the crown, and so comprehends something of the story of both parts of Henry IV. as well as of Henry V.-is a very medley of nonsense and ribaldry; and, it is my firm belief, was prior to Shakspeare's Henries; and the identical "displeasing play" mention'd in the epilogue to 2 Henry IV.; for that such a play should be written after his, or receiv'd upon any stage, has no face of probability. There is a character in it, call'd-Sir John Oldcastle; who holds there the place of Sir John Falstaff, but his very antipodes in every other particular, for it is all dulness; and it is to this character that Shakspeare alludes, in those much-disputed passages; one in his Henry IV. p. 194, and the other in the epilogue to his second part; where the words "for Oldcastle dy'd a martyr" hint at this miserable performance, and it's fate, which was-damnation.
Lear's distressful story has been often told in poems, ballads, and chronicles: but to none of these are we indebted for Shakspeare's Lear; but to a silly old play which first made its appearance in 1605, the title of which is as follows: The | True Chronicle Hi- story of King LEIR, and his three daughters, Gonorill, Ragan, and Cordella. As it hath bene divers and sundry times lately acted. | LONDON, I Printed by Simon Stafford for John
Wright, and are to bee sold at his shop at Christes Church dore, next Newgate- | Market. 1605. (4o I. 4.)— As it is a great curiosity, and very scarce, the title is here inserted at large: and for the same reason, and also to shew the use that Shakspeare made of it, some extracts will now be added.
The author of this Leir has kept him close to the chronicles; for he ends his play with the reinstating King Leir in his throne, by the aid of Cordella and her husband. But take the entire fable in his own words. Towards the end of the play, at signature H 3, you find Leir in France: upon I whose coast he and his friend Perillus are landed in so necessitous a condition, that, having nothing to pay their passage, the mariners take their cloaks, leaving them their jerkins in exchange: thus attir'd, they go up further into the country; and there, when they are at the point to perish by famine, insomuch that Perillus offers Leir his arm to feed upon, they light upon Gallia and his queen, whom the author has brought down thitherward, in progress, disguis'd. Their discourse is overheard by Cordella, who immediately knows them; but, at her husband's persuasion, forbears to discover herself a while, relieves them with food, and then asks their story; which Leir gives her in these words:
"Leir. Then know this first, I am a Brittayne borne, "And had three daughters by one loving wife:
"And though I say it, of beauty they were sped;
"Especially the youngest of the three,
"For her perfections hardly matcht could be:
"On these I doted with a jelous love,
"And thought to try which of them lov'd me best,