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shows and private entertainments; but we are now adverting to the pieces represented at such places as the Theatre, the Curtain, Blackfriars, and in inn-yards adapted temporarily to dramatic amusements, to which the public was indiscriminately admitted. The earliest work, in which the employment of blank-verse for the purpose of the common stage is noticed, is an epistle by Thomas Nash introducing to the world his friend Robert Greene's “ Menaphon,” in 15874: there, in reference to “ vain-glorious tragedians,” he says, that they are “ mounted on the stage of arrogance," and that they “ think to out-brave better pens with the swelling bombast of bragging blank-verse." He afterwards talks of the “ drumming decasyllibon” they employed, and ridicules them for “reposing eternity in the mouth of a player." This question is farther illustrated by a production by Greene, published in the next year, “ Perimedes, the Blacksmith,” from which it is evident that Nash had an individual allusion in what he had said in 1587. Greene fixes on the author of the tragedy of " Tamburlaine," whom he accuses of “setting the end of scholarism in an English blank-verse," and who, it should seem, had somewhere accused Greene of not being able to write it.
We learn from various authorities, that Christopher Marlowe was the author of " Tamburlaine the Great," a
1 Greene began writing in 1583, his “ Mamillia" having been then printed : his "Mirror of Modesty" and " Monardo," bear the date of 1534. His " Menaphon" (afterwards called “Greene's Arcadia") first appeared in 1587, and it was reprinted in 1589. We have never seen the earliest edition of it, but it is mentioned by various bibliographers; and those who have thrown doubt upon the point, (stated in the History of English Dramatic Poetry and the Stage, vol. iii., p. 150), for the sake of founding an argument upon it, have not adverted to the conclusive fact, that "Menaphon is mentioned as already in print in the introductory matter to another of Greene's pamphlets, dated in 1587-we mean “Euphues his Censure to Philautus."
If Marlowe were born, as has been supposed, about 1562, (Oldys places the event earlier,) he was twenty-four when he wrote Tamburlaine,” as we believe, in 1586, and only thirty-one when he was killed by a person of the name of Archer, in an affray arising out of an amorous intrigue, in 1593. In a manuscript note of the time, in a copy of his version of “Hero and Leander," edit. 1629, in our possession, it is said, among other things, that " Marlowe's father was a shoemaker at Canterbury," and that he had an acquaintance at Dover whom he infected with the extreme liberality of his opinions on matters of religion. At the back of the title-page of the same volume is inserted the following epitaph, subscribed with Marlowe's name, and no doubt of his composition, although never before noticed :
"In obitum honoratissimi viri
Reginalis Capitalis Baronis.
dramatic work of the highest celebrity and popularity,
“From jigging veins of rhyming mother-wits,
We 'll lead you to the stately tent of war," &c. Accordingly, nearly the whole drama, consisting of a first and second part, is in blank-verse. Hence we see the value of Dryden's loose assertion, in the dedication to Lord Urrery of his “ Rival Ladies,” in 1664, that “Shakespeare was the first who, to shun the pains of continual rhyming, invented that kind of writing which we call blank-verse.". The distinction belongs to Marlowe, the greatest of Shakespeare's predecessors, and a poet who, if he had lived, might, perhaps, have been a formidable rival of his genius. We have too much reverence for the exhaustless originality of our great dramatist, to think that he cannot afford this, or any other tribute to a poet, who, as far as the public stage is concerned, deserves to be regarded as the inventor of a new style of composition.
That the attempt was viewed with jealousy, there can be no doubt, after what we have quoted from Nash and Greene. It is most likely that Greene, who was older than Nash, had previously written various dramas in rhyme; and the bold experiment of Marlowe having been instantly successful, Greene was obliged to abandon his old course, and his extant plays are all in blank-verse. Nash, who had attacked Marlowe in 1587, before 1593 (when Marlowe was killed) had joined him in the production of a blank-verse tragedy on the story of Dido, which was printed in 1594.
It has been objected to " Tamburlaine," that it is written in a turgid and ambitious style, such indeed as Nash and Greene ridicule; but we are to recollect that Marlowe was
Insons, luctifica sparsis cervice capillis,
Famæque marmorei superet monumenta sepulchri.".
at this time endeavouring to wean audiences from the "jigging veins of rhyming mother-wits,” and that, in order to satisfy the ear for the loss of the jingle, he was obliged to give what Nash calls “the swelling bombast of bragging blank-verse.” This consideration will of itself account for breaches of a more correct taste to be found in • Tamburlaine." In the Prologue, besides what we have already quoted, Marlowe tells the audience to expect “high astounding terms,” and he did not disappoint expectation. Perhaps the better to reconcile the ordinary frequenters of public theatres to the change, he inserted various scenes of low comedy, which the printer of the edition in 1590 thought fit to exclude, as “ digressing, and far unmeet for the matter.” Marlowe likewise sprinkled couplets here and there, although it is to be remembered, that having aecomplished his object of substituting blank-verse by the first part of “ Tamburlaine,” he did not, even in the second part, think it necessary by any means so frequently to introduce occasional rhymes. In those plays which there is ground for believing to be the first works of Shakespeare, couplets, and even stanzas, are more frequent than in any of the surviving productions of Marlowe. This circumstance is, perhaps, in part to be accounted for by the fact (as far as we may so call it) that our great poet retained in some of his performances portions of old rhyming dramas, which he altered and adapted to the stage; but in early plays, which are to be looked upon as entirely his own, Shakespeare appears to have deemed rhyme more necessary to satisfy the ear of his auditory than Marlowe held it when he wrote his “Tamburlaine the Great."
As the first employment of blank-verse upon the public stage by Marlowe is a matter of much importance, in relation to the history of our more ancient drama, and to the subsequent adoption of that form of composition by Shakespeare, we ought not to dismiss it without affording a single specimen from “ Tamburlaine the Great." The following is a portion of a speech by the hero to Zenocrate, when first he meets and sues to her:
“ Disdains Zenocrate to live with me,
Or you, my lords, to be my followers ?
public stage, and perhaps of the historical and romantic drama in all its leading features and characteristics. His “Edward the Second” affords sufficient proof of both these points: the versification displays, though not perhaps in the same abundance, nearly all the excellences of Shakespeare; and in point of construction, as well as in interest, it bears a strong resemblance to the “Richard the Second” of our great dramatist. It is impossible to read the one without being reminded of the other, and we can have no difficulty . in assigning “Edward the Second" to an anterior period."
The same remark as to date may be made upon the plays which came from the pen of Robert Greene, who died in September, 1592, when Shakespeare was rising into notice, and exciting the jealousy of dramatists who had previously furnished the public stages. This jealousy broke out on the part of Greene in, if not before, 1592, (in which year his “Groatsworth of Wit," a posthumous work, was published by his contemporary, Henry Chettle”,) when he complained that Shakespeare had “beautified himself” with the feathers of others : he alluded, as we apprehend, to the manner in which Shakespeare had availed himself of the two parts of the “ Contention between the Houses, York and Lancaster," in the authorship of which there is much reason to suppose Greene had been concerned. Such evidence as remains upon this point has been adduced in our “ Introduction” to “The Third Part of Henry VI.;" and a perusal of the two parts of the “Contention,” in their original state, will serve to show the condition of our dramatic literature at that great epoch of our stage-history, when Shakespeare began to acquire celebrity "The True
1 In the History of English Dramatic Poetry and the Stage, vol. iii., p. 139, it is incautiously stated, that "the character of Shakespeare's Richard II. seems modelled in no slight degree upon that of Edward II.” We willingly adopt the qualification of Mr. Hallam upon this point, where he says, ("Introduction to the Literature of Europe," vol. ii., p. 171, edit. 1843,) “I am reluctant to admit that Shakespeare modelled his characters by those of others, and it is natural to ask whether there were not an extraordinary likeness in the dispositions, as well as in the fortunes of the two kings?”
? In our biographical account of Shakespeare, under the date of 1592, we have necessarily entered more at large into this question.
3 Mr. Hallam ("Introduction to the Literature of Europe," vol. ii., p. 171) supposes that the words of Greene, referring to Shakespeare, t. There is an upstart crow beautified with our feathers," are addressed to Marlowe, who may have had a principal share in the production of the two parts of the “Contention." This conjecture is certainly more than plausible; but we may easily imagine Greene to have alluded to himself also, and that he had been Marlowe's partner in the composition of the two dramas, which Shakespeare remodelled, perhaps, not very long before the death of Greene.
• They have been accurately reprinted by the Shakespeare Society, under the care of Mr. Halliwell, from the earliest impressions in 1594 and 1595.