« PreviousContinue »
composition of some friend whose interest the "gentle Shakspeare" was industrious to promote. He therefore improved his dialogue in many places; and knowing by experience that the strength of a dramatick piece should be augmented towards its catastrophe, was most liberal of his aid in the last Act. We cannot be surprised to find that what he has supplied is of a different colour from the rest:
"Scinditur in partes, geminoque cacumine surgit,
for, like Beaumont, he was not writing in conjunction with a Fletcher.
Mr. Malone has asked how it happens that no memorial of an earlier drama on the subject of Pericles remains. I shall only answer by another question-Why is it the fate of still-born infants to be soon forgotten? In the rummage of some mass of ancient pamphlets and papers, the first of these two productions may hereafter make its appearance. The chance that preserved The Witch of Middleton, may at some distant period establish my general opinion concerning the authenticity of Pericles, which is already strengthened by those of Rowe and Dr. Farmer, and countenanced in some degree by the omission of Heminge and Condell. I was once disposed to entertain very different sentiments concerning the authority of title-pages; but on my mended judgment (if I offend not to say it is mended) I have found sufficient reason to change my creed, and confess the folly of advancing much on a question which I had not more than cursorily considered. To this I must subjoin, that perhaps our author produced The Winter's Tale at the distance of several years from the time at which he corrected Pericles; and, for reasons hinted at in a preceding page, or through a forgetfulness common to all writers, repeated a few of the identical phrases and ideas which he had already used in that and other dramas. I have formerly observed in a note on King Lear, (See Vol. XVII. p. 603, n. 8,) that Shakspeare has appropriated the same sentiment, in nearly the same words, to Justice Shallow, King Lear, and Othello; and may now add, that I find another allusion as nearly expressed in five different places:
"I'd strip myself to death, as for a bed
Measure for Measure.
"I will encounter darkness like a bride,
-I will be
"A bridegroom in my death, and run unto't
"I will die bravely like a bridegroom." King Lear. in terms like bride and
groom Devesting them for bed." Othello.
The degree of credit due to the title-page of this tragedy is but very inconsiderable. It is not mentioned by Meres in 1598; but that Shakspeare was known to have had some hand in it, was sufficient reason why the whole should be fathered on him. The name of the original writer could have promoted a bookseller's purpose in but an inferior degree. In the year 1611, one of the same fraternity attempted to obtrude on the publick the old King John (in Dr. Farmer's opinion written by Rowley) as the work of our celebrated author.
But we are told with confidence, that
"Shakspeare's own muse his Pericles first bore, "The Prince of Tyre was elder than the Moor." To the testimony of Dryden respect is always due, when he speaks of things within the compass of his own knowledge. But on the present occasion he could only take report, or a title-page, for his guide; and seems to have preferred smoothness of versification to preciseness of expression. His meaning is completely given in the second line of his couplet. In both, he designs to say no more than that Shakspeare himself did not rise to excellence in his first plays; but that Pericles, one of the weakest imputed to him, was written before Othello, which is generally regarded as the most vigorous of his productions; that of these two pieces, Pericles was the first. Dryden in all probability met with it in the folio edition, 1664, and enquired no further concerning its authenticity. The birth of his friend Sir William D'Avenant happened in 1605, at least ten years below the date of this contested drama *.
Shakspeare died in 1616; and it is hardly probable that his godson, (a lad about ten years old) instead of searching his pockets for apples, should have enquired of him concerning the dates of his theatrical performances. It is not much more likely that afterwards, in an age devoid of literary curiosity, Sir William should have been solicitous about this circumstance, or met with any person who was capable of ascertaining it.
If it be urged against this opinion, that most of the players contemporary with Shakspeare, were yet alive, and from that quarter Sir William's information might have been derived, I answer,-from those who were at the head of their fraternity while our author flourished, he could not have received it. Had they known that Pericles was the entire composition of our great poet, they would certainly have printed it among his other works in the folio 1623. -Is it likely that any of our ancient histrionick troop were better acquainted with the incunabula of Shakspeare's Muse, than the very people whose intimate connection with him is marked by his last will, in which he calls them -"his fellows John Hemynge, and Henry Condell ?”
The abuse of J. Tatham would have deserved no reply, had it not been raised into consequence by its place in Mr. Malone's Preliminary Observations. I think it therefore but justice to observe, that this obscure wretch who calls our author a "plebeian driller," (droller I suppose he meant to say,) has thereby bestowed on him a portion of involuntary applause. Because Horace has pronounced that he who pleases the great is not entitled to the lowest of encomiums, are we therefore to infer that the man who has given delight to the vulgar, has no claim also to his dividend of praise?-interdum vulgus rectum putat. It is the peculiar merit of Shakspeare's scenes, that they are generally felt and understood. The tumid conceits of modern tragedy communicate no sensations to the highest or the meanest rank. Sentimental comedy is not much more fortunate in its efforts. But can the period be pointed out in which King Lear and The Merry Wives of Windsor did not equally entertain those who fill the boxes and the gallery, primores populi, populumque tributim?
Before I close this enquiry, which has swelled into an unexpected bulk, let me ask, whose opinion confers most honour on Shakspeare, my opponent's or mine? Mr. Malone is desirous that his favourite poet should be regarded as the sole author of a drama which, collectively taken, is unworthy of him. I only wish the reader to adopt a more moderate creed, that the purpurei panni are Shakspeare's, and the rest the productions of some inglorious and forgotten play-wright.
If consistently with my real belief I could have supported instead of controverting the sentiments of this gentleman, whom I have the honour to call my friend, I should have been as happy in doing so as I now am in confessing my literary obligations to him, and acknowledging how often in the course of the preceding volume he has supplied my deficiencies, and rectified my
On the whole, were the intrinsick merits of Pericles yet less than they are, it would be entitled to respect among the curious in dramatick literature. As the engravings of Mark Antonio are valuable not only on account of their beauty, but because they are supposed to have been executed under the eye of Raffaelle, so Pericles will continue to owe some part of its reputation to the touches it is said to have received from the hand of Shakspeare.
To the popularity of the Prince of Tyre (which is sufficiently evident from the testimonies referred to by Mr. Malone) we may impute the unprecedented corruptions in its text. What was acted frequently, must have been frequently transcribed for the use of prompters and players; and through the medium of such faithless copies it should seem that most of our early theatrical
pieces were transmitted to the publick. There are certainly more gross mistakes in this than in any other tragedy attributed to Shakspeare. Indeed so much of it, as hitherto printed, was absolutely unintelligible, that the reader had no power to judge of the rank it ought to hold among our ancient dramatick performances. STEEVENS.
Mr. Steevens's intimate acquaintance with the writings of Shakspeare renders him so well qualified to decide upon this question, that it is not without some distrust of my own judgment that I express my dissent from his decision; but as all the positions that he has endeavoured to establish in his ingenious disquisition on the merits and authenticity of Pericles do not appear to me to have equal weight, I shall shortly state the reasons why I cannot subscribe to his opinion with regard to this long-contested piece.
The imperfect imitation of the language and numbers of Gower, which is found in the choruses of this play, is not in my apprehension a proof that they were not written by Shakspeare. To summon a person from the grave, and to introduce him by way of Chorus to the drama, appears to have been no uncommon practice with our author's contemporaries. Marlowe, before the time of Shakspeare, had in this way introduced Machiavel in his Jew of Malta; and his countryman Guicciardine is brought upon the stage in an ancient tragedy called The Devil's Charter. In the same manner Rainulph, the monk of Chester, appears in The Mayor of Quinborough, written by Thomas Middleton. Yet it never has been objected to the authors of the two former pieces, as a breach of decorum, that the Italians whom they have brought into the scene do not speak the language of their own country; or to the writer of the latter, that the monk whom he has introduced does not use the English dialect of the age in which he lived.-But it may be said, "nothing of this kind is attempted by these poets; the author of Pericles, on the other hand, has endeavoured to copy the versification of Gower, and has failed in the attempt: had this piece been the composition of Shakspeare, he would have succeeded."
I shall very readily acknowledge, that Shakspeare, if he had thought fit, could have exhibited a tolerably accurate imitation of the language of Gower; for there can be little doubt, that what has been effected by much inferior writers, he with no great difficulty could have accomplished. But that, because these chorusses do not exhibit such an imitation, they were therefore not his performance, does not appear to me a necessary conclusion; for he might not think such an imitation proper for a popular audience. Gower, like the persons above mentioned,
would probably have been suffered to speak the same language as the other characters in this piece, had he not written a poem containing the very story on which the play is formed. Like Guicciardine and the monk of Chester, he is called up to super intend a relation found in one of his own performances. Hence, Shakspeare seems to have thought it proper (not, to copy his versification, for that does not appear to have been at all in his thoughts, but) to throw a certain air of antiquity over the monologues which he has attributed to the venerable bard. Had he imitated the diction of the Confessio Amantis with accuracy, he well knew that it would have been as unintelligible to the greater part of his audience as the Italian of Guicciardine or the Latin of Rainulph; for, I suppose, there can be no doubt, that the language of Gower (which is almost as far removed from that of Hooker and Fairfax, as it is from the prose of Addison or the poetry of Pope,) was understood by none but scholars,* even in the time of Queen Elizabeth. Having determined to introduce the contemporary of Chaucer in the scene, it was not his business to exhibit so perfect an imitation of his diction as perhaps with assiduity and study he might have accomplished, but such an antiquated style as might be understood by the people before whom his play was to be represented.†
As the language of these chorusses is, in my opinion, insufficient to prove that they were not the production of Shakspeare, so also is the inequality of metre which may be observed in different parts of them; for the same inequality is found in the lyrical parts of Macbeth and A Midsummer Night's Dream.‡ It may likewise be remarked, that as in Pericles, so in many of our author's early performances, alternate rhymes frequently occur; a practice which I have not observed in any other dramatick performances of that age, intended for publick representation.
Perhaps not by all of them. The treasures of Greece and Rome had not long been discovered, and to the study of ancient languages almost every Englishman that aspired to literary reputation applied his talents and his time, while his native tongue was neglected. Even the learned Ascham was but little acquainted with the language of the age immediately preceding his own. If scholars were defective in this respect, the people, we may be sure, were much more so.
+ If I am warranted in supposing that the language of the Confessio Amantis would have been unintelligible to the audience, this surely was a sufficient reason for departing from it.
See p. 156, n. 6.
§ The plays of Lord Sterline are entirely in alternate rhymes; but these seem not to have been intended for the stage, nor were they, I believe, ever performed in any theatre.