« PreviousContinue »
THE FABLE AND COMPOSITION
From some words spoken by Polonius in Hamlet, I think it probable that there was an English play on this subject, before Shakspeare commenced a writer for the stage.
Stephen Gosson, in his School of Abuse, 1579, mentions a play entitled The History of Cæsar and Pompey.
William Alexander, afterwards earl of Sterline, wrote a tragedy on the story and with the title of Julius Cæsar. It may be presumed that Shakspeare's play was posterior to his; for lord Sterline, when he composed his Julius Cæsar, was a very young author, and would hardly have ventured into that circle, within which the most eminent dramatick writer of England had already walked. The death of Cæsar, which is not exhibited but related to the audience, forms the catastrophe of his piece. In the two plays many parallel passages are found, which might, perhaps, have proceeded only from the two authors drawing from the same source. However, there are some reasons for thinking the coincidence more than accidental.
A passage in The Tempest seems to have been copied from one in Darius, another play of lord Sterline's, printed at Edinburgh in 1603. His Julius Cæsar appeared in 1607, at a time when he was little acquainted with English writers; for both these pieces abound with Scotticisms, which in the subsequent folio VOL. VI.
edition, 1637, be corrected. But neither The Tempest nor the Julius Cæsar of our author was printed till 1623.
It should also be remembered, that our author has several plays, founded on subjects which had been previously treated by others. Of this kind are King John, King Richard II. the two parts of King Henry IV, King Henry V. King Richard III. King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra, Measure for Measure, The Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice, and, I believe, Hamlet, Timon of Athens, and The Second and Third Part of King Henry VI.: whereas no proof has hitherto been produced, that any contemporary writer ever presumed to new-model a story that had already employed the pen of Shakspeare. On all these grounds it appears more probable, that Shakspeare was indebted to lord Sterline, than that lord Sterline borrowed from Shakspeare. If this reasoning be just, this play could not have appeared before the year 1607. I believe it was produced in that year. MALONE.
The real length of time in Julius Cæsar is as follows: About the middle of February, A.U.C. 709, a frantic festival, sacred to Pan, and called Lupercalia, was held in honour of Cæsar, when the regal crown was offered to him by Antony. On the 15th of March, in the same year, he was slain. Nov. 27, A.U.C. 710, the triumvirs met at a small island, formed by the river Rhenus, near Bononia, and there adjusted their cruel proscription.—A.U.C. 711, Brutus and Cassius were defeated near Philippi. UPTON.
Of this tragedy many particular passages deserve regard, and the contention and reconcilement of Brutus and Cassius is universally celebrated; but I have never been strongly agitated in perusing it, and think it somewhat cold and unaffecting, compared with some other of Shakspeare's plays ; his adherence to the real story, and to Roman manners, seems to have impeded the natural vigour of his genius.
THE FABLE AND COMPOSITION
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA.
appears from the books of the Stationers' company that the tragedy of Cleopatra was entered Oct. 19, 1593, by Symon Waterson. It is probable that this was a tragedy of Daniels' and not our author's. There is also an entry May 2, 1608, by Edward Blount, of a Booke called Anthony and Cleopatra.
This play keeps curiosity always busy, and the passions always interested. The continual hurry of the action, the variety of incidents, and the quick succession of one personage to another, call the mind forward without intermission from the first act to the last. But the power of delighting is derived principally from the frequent changes of the scene; for except the feminine arts, some of which are too low, which distinguish Cleopatra, no character is very strongly discriminated. Upton, who did not easily miss what he desired to find, has discovered that the language of Antony is, with great skill and learning, made pompous and superb, according to his real practice. But I think his diction not distinguishable from that of others : the most tumid speech in the play is that which Cæsar makes to Octavia.
The events, of which the principal are described according to history, are produced without any art of connexion, or care of disposition.
Johnson. Antony and Cleopatra was written, I imagine, in the year 1608.
MALONE. VOL. VI.
THE FABLE AND COMPOSITION
Mr. Pope supposed the story of this play to have been borrowed from a novel of Boccace; but he was mistaken, as an imitation of it is found in an old story-book entitled, Westward for Smelts. This imitation differs in as many particulars from the Italian novelist, as from Shakspeare, though they concur in the more considerable parts of the fable. It was published in a quarto pamphlet, 1603. This is the only copy of it which I have hitherto seen.
STEEVENS. There is an entry of this play in the Stationers' books, Jan. 1619. It is there stated to have been written by Kitt of Kingston.
The only part of the fable which can be pronounced with certainty to be drawn from the tale in Westward for Smelts, is, Imogen's wandering about after Pisanio has left her in the forest; her being almost famished; and being taken, at a subsequent period, into the service of the Roman General as a page. The general scheme of Cymbeline is, in my opinion, formed on Boccace's novel (Day 2, Nov. 9.) and Shakspeare has taken a circumstance from it, that is not mentioned in the other tale. It appears from the preface to the old translation of the Decamerone, printed in 1620, that many of the novels had before received an English dress, and had been printed separately : “I know, most worthy lord, (says the printer in his Epistle Dedicatory,) that many of VOL. VII.