Page images
PDF
EPUB

which historians have to complain, the materials available for the knowledge and understanding of this special periodas we have seen in the preceding sections-are unusually full in their details and uncommonly authentic in their character. We can scarcely wonder that the singular deed which closed the era of pre-Christian life should have excited much interest among men, or that the lofty scene should ‘be acted o'er'

'In states unborn, and accents yet unknown.' The earliest trace of the modern dramatic treatment of this subject is a Cæsar's Tragedy,* published at Paris in izmo, 1578, of which a copy is, we believe, in the library of J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps. In September 1587 there was entered in the Stationers' Register for John Charlewood an Abstracte of the Historie of Cæsar and Pompey. Stephen Gosson, in his Players Confuted in Five Acts, published in April 1582, thus notices an early play on this subject : 'So was the Historie of Cæsar and Pompey and the playe of the Fabii at the Theater both amplified there, where the drummers might walk on the pen ruffle; when the historie swelied too hye for the number of the persons who should playe it, the poet with Proteus (Procrustes ?) cut the same, fit to his own measure; when it afforded no pompe at all, he brought it to the racke

make it serve.' This passage may refer either to the publication which Charlewood entered, or to some other drama of a kindred nature. It is possible, though not likely, that it referred to a Latin academical play, performed at Oxford in 1582, whose author was Richard Eedes, D.D., which, though not extant, is known to have been popular, as its author is placed by Francis Meres among our best for tragedie.'

Shortly after this time the subject had become so popular that in 1605, Julius Cæsar was acted by marinnets,' and this droll or puppet show of it continued in vogue for several years. An English drama entitled The Tragedy of Cæsar and Pompey, or Cæsar's Revenge, was published anonymously in 1607, but another-andas men learned in typography have concluded, an earlier-edition of this play is extant, and it is even thought probable that it had been placed on the stage so early as 1594. In the same year, 1607, William Alexander (after

* The composition of Jacques Grevin, physician and dramatic writer, born at Cleremont-en-Beauvois 1549, and died at Turin in 1570, author of several licentious comedies and a few tragedies of more than average animation. Among these was this historic drama on "Julius Cæsar,' performed in the college of Beauvois, in Paris, in 1560, with fair acceptance, etc.

to

[ocr errors]

wards Earl of Sterline) published his Monarchicke Tragedies, the fourth of which is devoted to Julius Cæsar. His tragedy is a rhymed poem thrown into the form of a play, and is obviously meant for perusal rather than performance. In this dramatic poem the resemblances to that of Shakespeare's play are not by any means 'numerous or obvious,' and these, as Mr J. P. Collier has observed, 'may be accounted for by the fact that [the] two writers were treating the same subject,' though it is probable that the idea of completing his Monarchicke Tragedies with Julius Cæsar may have been suggested by the popularity of the play to which our attention is directed.* Another Latin play, composed by Thomas May, was extant in 1812, and the MŚ. of it was in the possession of Stephen Jones, editor of the Biographia Dramatica. Of another Latin tragedy, published in 1616, the year of Shakespeare's death, there is a copy in J. O. Halliwell-Phillipp's library, entitled, Caius Julius Cæsar, Tragoedia, ex Plutarcho, Appiano, Alex. Suetonio, etc. Publice exhibita in Academia Argentor. Theatro.'

So far as is at present known, Shakespeare's Julius Cæsar was first printed in the earliest folio, 1623, where it occupies a place between Timon of Athens and Macbeth,

Through the kindness of David Laing, LL.D., of the library of the Writers to the Signet, Edinburgh-a gentleman who has aided, by his extensive knowledge of books and ready goodwill in giving the use of them, three generations of Shakespearian scholars—the editor has had the opportunity of perusing and carefully collating the three following editions of 'The Tragedie of Julius Cæsar, by William Alexander, Gentleman of the Prince's Privie Chamber: (1) ‘London, printed by Valentine Simmes for Ed. Blount, 1607' (the first edition); (2) 'London, printed by Willian Stansby, 1616' (the third edition); and (3) that issued in the collected poems, under the title of 'Recreations with the Muses, by William, Earle of Sterline. London, printed by Tho. Harper, 1637.' Though each edition differs, often materially from the other, yet there does not appear in them any palpable changes made under Shakespearian influences; while, on the other hand, the likenesses that may be traced in tone or sentiment seem clearly due to the use of a common original. Our impression is that Alexander, having already issued in 1604 his Monarchicke Tragedies, had the supplementary dramatic poem suggested to him by the Julius Cæsar of Shakespeare, and that the issue in 1616 was an assertion of independent and original production-his being, like the plays of Lord Brooke subsequently, rather politico-philosophic poems than theatrical dramas. Sterline was more likely to know of a play publicly acted in England than Shakespeare of one in MS. in Scotland.

[ocr errors]

after a break in the pagination from 1or of the third part, occupied by the tragedies, to 108 inclusive--extending from pages 109 to 130, both included. The copy from which it has been printed was probably one revised and curtailed for stage representation, as we may infer, with the Rev. F. G. Fleay, from the number of short lines occurring in this drama, and from its being shorter than the average of the companion tragedies, as well as from other considerations mentioned in the notes. Though here first printed, however, it is pretty certain that it was popular on the stage a considerable time before Shakespeare's death in 1616. Leonard Digges declares:

‘Till I hear a scene more nobly take,
Than when thy half-sword-parleying Romans spake.
Be sure, our Shakespeare, thou canst never die,

But crowned with laurel, live eternally.' In the prologue to the tragedy of The False One, in which Cæsar and Cleopatra take the chief rôles, apologetic reference is made for takin up two subjects on which Shakespeare had previously shed the brilliancy of his genius:

'Sure to tell
Of Cæsar's amorous heats, and how he fell
l' the Capitol, can never be the same
To the judicious.
We treat not of what boldness she [Cleopatra] did die,
Nor of her fatal love for Antony.'

.

The False One appears in the works of Beaumont and Fletcher, but it is generally accepted that the authorship belongs to Fletcher, and Massinger as his assistant, and that the date of its production is about 1608. There is a quarrel-scene in The Maid's Tragedy, between Evadne and Amintor (II, i), evidently imitated from that between Brutus and Cassius; and the probable date of that playis 1608-9. Again in the induction to Ben Jonson's Staple of News, 1605, we have another distinct allusion to Shakespeare's drama in the saying, 'Cry you mercy, you never did wrong but with just cause, which refers to a passage attributed by Jonson in his Discoveries directly to Shakespeare. Malone has remarked that ‘from some words spoken by Polonius in Hamlet, I think it probable that there was an English play upon the subject before Shakespeare commenced [as] a writer for the stage. As the first Hamlet, however, was printed in 1603, it is perhaps as probable that the reference was made to a play of Shakespeare's own, then probably familiar to the greater part of the audience. And this likelihood receives enhancement from the following circumstances: (1) that Ben Jonson's Sejanus; his Fall, produced at the Globe in 1603, seems to have been suggested by the Tragedie of Julius Cæsar, and perhaps suffered by an unjust comparison with it, though Shakespeare took part, if not in the authorship, at least in the performance; (2) that a passage in Michael Drayton's Barons' Wars, issued 1603—to which there is no parallel in the poem in its earliest form, Mortimeriados, issued in 1594-bears a close resemblance in idea to a noticeable statement occurring in Julius Cæsar (V, v):

His life was gentle, and the elements
So mixed in him, that Nature might stand up,

And say to all the world, This was a man.
Drayton said in the revised issue of 1603 :
'Such one he was, of him we boldly say,

In whose rich soul all sovereign powers did suit;
In whom, in peace, the elements all lay,

So mixed as none could sovereignty impute,
As all did govern, yet all did obey :
His lively temper was so absolute

That it seemed when Heaven his model first began,

In him it showed perfection in a man.' In 1619 Drayton improved this passage by bringing it nearer to his model, thus:

' He was a man, then boldly dare to say,
In whose rich soul the virtues well did suit;
In whom so mixed the elements did lay,
That none to one could sovereignty impute;
As all did govern so did all obey:
He of a temper was so absolute,

As that it seemed, when Nature him began,

She meant to show all that might be in man.' Similarly, Ben Jonson in his Cynihia's Revels (II, ii) makes Mercury call Crites, 'a creature of a most perfect and divine temper; one in whom the humours and elements are peaceably met, without emulation of precedency,

in all so composed and ordered, as it is clear Nature went about some full work; sh lid more than make a man when she made him.' The date of Cynthia's Revels is 1600. We find

D

6

also, as J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps has pointed out, the following unmistakable reference to Shakespeare's Julius Cæsar in John Weever's Mirror of Martyrs, composed in honour of Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham, and opposed to the impression given of that early friend of true religion by Shakespeare in Sir John Falstaff-an erroneous view which Shakespeare acknowledges in the epilogue to 2 Henry IV, where he says, “Oldcastle died a martyr, and this is not the man.' Weever's lines, published in 1601, run thus:

'The many-headed multitude* were drawne
By Brutus' speech that “Cæsar was ambitious,”+
When eloquent Mark Antony had shewne

His virtues, who, but Brutus, then, was vicious ?' It may be proper here, also, to notice that in the Bodleian copy of Acolastus his Afterwitte (1600), a poem by Samuel Nicholson, M.A., Edmund Malone, editor of Shakespeare, has marked on the margin opposite the following passage, this reference, 'Hamlet and Julius Cæsar, scene between Brutus and the Ghost :'

Art thou a god, a man, or else a ghost ?
Comest thou from heaven where blisse and solace dwell ?
Or from the ayrie could-ingendring coast ?
Or from the darksome, dungeon-hole of hell ?
Or from the secret chambers of the deepe?
Or from the graves where breathless bodies sleepe?'

-Rev. Å. B. Grosart's reprint, 50 copies, lines 673-678. The references in this passage are nearer the phraseology of Hamlet than of Julius Cæsar, and are, perhaps, as the Rev. A. B. Grosart, in his reprint of Acolastus, Memorial-Introduction, p. xxi, observes, 'too slight and common, contemporaneously, to be accepted' as being distinctly Shakespearian in their origin.

By this induction of cumulative evidence we have been led back to 1600 or so, as the probable date of the play before

Its success probably excited the rivalry and emulation of his contemporaries. In 1602 the renowned poets, Munday, Drayton, Webster, and Middleton, wrote a play entitled Cæsar's Fall. A Cæsar and Pompey appeared in 1607, and several plays were produced on the same topic in the early part of the seventeenth century. George Chapman, in 1631, for instance, wrote his 'Cæsar and Pompey: à Roman Tra

us.

* Coriolanus, II, iii, 38.

+ Julius Cæsar, III, ü.

« PreviousContinue »