« ZurückWeiter »
therefore assigned the arduous character of the Prince, while the author took the brief, but important part of the Ghost, which required person, deportment, judgment, and voice, with a delivery distinct, solemn, and impressive. All the elements of a great actor were needed for the due performance of “the buried majesty of Denmark.”
It may be observed, in passing, that at the period of our drama, such as it existed in the hands of Shakespeare's immediate predecessors, authors were most commonly actors also. Such was the case with Greene, Marlowe', beth, Brutus, Coriolanus, Shylock, Lear, Pericles, and Othello, in Shakespeare's Plays: in those of other dramatists he was Jeronimo, in Kyd's Spanish Tragedy;"' Antonio, in Marston's " Antonio and Mellida ;" Frankford, in T. Heywood's" Woman killed with Kindness ;" Philaster, in Beaumont and Fletcher's, play of that name; Amintor, in their “Maid's Tragedy."-See "The Alleyn Papers,' printed by the Shakespeare Society, p. xxx. On a subsequent page we have inserted the whole passage relating to his characters from the Epitaph on Burbage.
1 Mr. Thomas Campbell, in his Life of Shakespeare, prefixed to the edition, in one volume, 1838, was, we believe, the first to remark upon the almost absolute necessity of having a good, if not a great actor, for the part of the Ghost in "Hamlet."
? It seems from an obscure ballad upon Marlowe's death, (handed down to us in MS., and quoted in "New Particulars regarding the Works of Shakespeare," 8vo. 1836,) that he had broken his leg while acting at the Curtain Theatre, which was considered a judgment upon him for his irreligious and lawless life.
"Both day and night would he blaspheme,
And day and night would sweare ;
Not ending in despaire.
And wrote full many a playe;
Now begging by the way.
Upon the Curtaine stage,
When in his early age.
That did God's lawes reject;
And men of ill aspect," &c. The ballad consists of twenty-four similar stanzas: of Marlowe's death the author thus writes :
" His lust was lawlesse as his life,
And brought about his death,
Striving to stop the breath
With his owne dagger slaine,
Lodge, Peele, probably Nash, Munday, Wilson, and others : the same practice prevailed with some of their successors, Ben Jonson, Heywood, Webster, Field, &c.; but at a somewhat later date dramatists do not usually appear to have trodden the stage. We have no hint that Dekker, Chapman, or Marston, though contemporary with Ben Jonson, were actors; and Massinger, Beaumont, Fletcher, Middleton, Daborne, and Shirley, who may be said to have followed them, as far as we now know, never had anything to do with the performance of their own dramas, or of those of other poets. In their day the two departments of author and Actor seem to have been generally distinct, while the contrary was certainly the case some years anterior to the demise of Elizabeth.
It is impossible to determine, almost impossible to guess, what Shakespeare had or had not written in 1589. That he had chiefly employed his pen in the revival, alteration, and improvement of existing dramas we are strongly disposed to believe, but that he had not ventured upon original composition it would be much too bold to assert. “The Comedy of Errors ” we take to be one of the pieces, which, having been first written by an inferior dramatist', was heightened and amended by Shakespeare, perhaps about the date of wbich we are now speaking, and “ Love's Labour's Lost,” or “ The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” may have been original compositions brought upon the stage prior to 1690. We also consider it more than probable that “ Titus Andronicus” belongs even to an earlier period; but we feel Batisfied, that although Shakespeare had by this time given clear indications of powers superior to those of any of his rivals, he could not have written any of his greater works until some years afterwards? With regard to productions Which pretty exactly accords with the tradition of the mode in which he came to his end, in a scuffle with a person of the name of Archer : the register of his death at St. Nicholas, Deptford, ascertains the name :-"1st June, 1593. Christopher Marlowe slain by Francis Archer.” He was just dead when Peele wrote his “Honour of the Garter," in 1593, and there spoke of him as "unhappy in his end," and as having been "the Muses' darling for his verse."
I See pp. xx. and xxxi., where it is shown that there was an old drama, acted at Court in 1573 and 1582, called “The History of Error” in one case, and “The History of Ferrar" in the other. See also the Introduction to " The Comedy of Errors.”
Upon this point we cannot agree with Mr. F. G. Tomlins, who has written a very sensible and clever work called " A brief view of the English Drama," 12mo, 1840, where he argues that Shakespeare probably began with original composition, and not with the adaptation and alteration of works he found in possession of the stage when he joined the Lord Chamberlain's players. We know that the earliest charge against him by a fellow dramatist was, that he had availed himself of the productions of others, and we have every reason to believe that some of the plays upon which he was first employed were
unconnected with the stage, there are several pieces among his scattered poems, and some of his sonnets', that indisputably belong to an earlier part of his life. A young man, so gifted, would not, and could not, wait until he was five or six and twenty before he made considerable and most succesful attempts at poetical composition; and we feel morally certain that “ Venus and Adonis” was in being anterior to Shakespeare's quitting Stratford”. It bears ali the marks of youthful vigour, of strong passion, of luxuriant imagination, together with a force and originality of expression which betoken the first efforts of a great mind, not always well regulated in its taste: it seems to have been written in the open air of a fine country like Warwickshire, with all the freshness of the recent impression of natural objects; and we will go so far as to say, that we do not think even Shakespeare himself could have produced it, in the form it bears, after he had reached the age of forty. It was quite new in its class, being founded upon no model, either ancient or modern: nothing like it had been attempted before, and nothing comparable to it was produced afterwards". Thus in 1593 he might call it, in the dedication to not by any means entirely his own: we allade among others to the three parts of " Henry VI.” It seems to us much more likely that Shakespeare in the first instance confined himself to alterations and improvemes.cs of the plays of predecessors, than that he at once found himself capable of inventing and constructing a great original drama. However, it is but fair to quote the words of Mr. Tomlins. “We ar thus driven to the conclusion that his writing must have procure I him this distinction. What had he written is the next question that presents itself. Probably original plays, for the adaptation of the plays of others could scarcely be entrusted to the inexperienced hands of a young genius, who had not manifested his knowledge
of stage matters by any productions of his own. This kind of work would be jealously watched by the managers, and must ever have required great skill and experience. Shakespeare, mighty as he was, was human, and it is scarcely possible that a genius. so, ripe, so rich, so overflowing as his, should not have its enthusiasm kindled into an original production, and not by the mechanical botching of the inferior productions of others," p. 31.
Upon this passage we have only to remark that according to our view, it would have required much more " skill and experience" to *write a new play, than merely to make additions to the speeches or scenes of an old one.
1 " His sugard sonnets” were handed about" among his private friends” many years before they were printed : Francis
Meres mentions them in the words we have quoted, in 1593.
2 Malone was of opinion that **Venus and Adonis” was not written until after Shakespeare came to London, because in one stanza it contains an allusion to the stage,
"And all this dumb play had his acts made plain
With tears, which, chorus-like, her eyes did drain." Surely, suc a passage might have been written by a person who had pever seen a play in London, or even seen a play at all. The stageknowledge it displays is merely that of a schoolboy.
3 The work that comes nearest to it, in some respects, is Marlowe's
Lord Southampton, “the first heir of his invention" in a double sense, not merely because it was the first printed, but because it was the first written of his productions.
The information we now possess enables us at once to reject the story, against the truth of which Malone elaborately argued, that Shakespeare's earliest employment at a theatre was holding the horses of noblemen and gentlemen who visited it, and that he had under him a number of lads who were known as “Shakespeare's boys.” Shiels in his “ Lives of the Poets,” (published in 1753 in the name of Cibber) was the first to give currency to this idle inver tion: it was repeated by Dr. Johnson, and has often been reiterated since; and we should hardly have thought it worth notice now, if it had not found a place in many inodern accounts of our great dramatist'. The company to which “Hero and Leander ;” but it was not printed until 1598, and although its author was killed in 1593, he may have seen Shakespeare's “Venus and Adonis” in manuscript : it is quite as probable, as that Shakespeare had seen " Hero and Leander" before it was printed. Marston's "Pygmalion's Image," published five years after “Venus and Adonis," is a gross exaggeration of its style; and Barkstead's “Myrrha the Mother of Adonis" is a poor and coarse imitation : the same poet's “Hiren, or the Fair Greek,” is of a similar character. Shirley's "Narcissus," which must have been written many years afterwards, is a production of the same class as Marston's "Pygmalion," but in better taste. The poem called "Salmasis and Hermaphroditus," first printed in 1602, and assigned to Francis Beaumont in 1640, when it was republished by Blaicklock the bookseller, we do not believe to have been the authorship of Beaumont, and it is rather an imitation of "Hero and Leander" than of " Venus and Adonis." At the date when it originally came out (1602) Beaumont was only sixteen, and the first edition has no name nor initials to the address “To Calliope," to which Blaicklock in 1640, for his own book-selling purposes, thought fit to add the letters F. B. In the same way, and with the same object, he changed the initials to a commendatory poem from A. F to I. F., in order to make it appear as if John Fletcher had applauded his friend's early verses. These are facts that hitherto have escaped observation, perhaps, on account of the extreme rarity of copies of the original impression of " Salmasis and Hermaphroditus,” preventing a comparison of it with Blaicklock's fraudulent reprint, which also contains various pieces to which, it is known, Beaumont had no pretensions. To afford the better means of comparison, and as we know of only one copy of the edition of 1602, we subjoin the title-page prefixed to it: Salmasis and Hermaphroditus. Salmacida spolia sine sanguine et sudore. Imprinted at London for John Hodgets, &c. 1602.
4to. 1 It is almost to be wondered that the getters up of this piece of information did not support it by reference to Shakespeare's obvious knowledge of horses and horsemanship, displayed in so many parts of his works. The description of the horse in “Venus and Adonis" will at once occur to every body; and how much it was admired at the time is evident from the fact that it was plagiarised so soon after it was published. (See the Introduction.) For his judgment of skill in riding, among other passages, see his account of Lamord's horsemanship in “Hamlet.” The propagators nd supporters of the horse-holding anecdote ought to have added, that Shakespeare probably derived his minute and accurate acquaintance with the
he attached himself had not unfrequently performed in Stratford, and at that date the Queen's Players and the Lord Chamberlain's servants seem sometimes to have been confounded in the provinces, although the difference was well understood in London; some of the chief members of it had come from his own part of the country, and even from the very town in which he was born; and he was not in a station of life, nor so destitute of means and friends, as to have been reduced to such an extremity.
Besides having written " Venus and Adonis" before he came to London, Shakespeare may also have composed its counterpart, “Lucrece," which, as our readers are aware, first appeared in print in 1594. It is in a different stanza, and in some respects in a different style; and after he joined the Blackfriars company, the author may possibly have added parts, (such, for instance, as the long and minute description of the siege of Troy in the tapestry) which indieate a closer acquaintance with the modes and habits of society; but even here no knowledge is displayed that might not have been acquired in Warwickshire." As he had exhibited the wantomess of lawless passion in “Venus and Adonis,” he followed it by the exaltation of matron-like chastity in “Lucrece;" and there is, we think, nothing in the latter poem which a young man of one or two and twenty, so endowed, might not have written. Neither is it at all impossible that he had done something in connexion with the stage while he was yet resident in his native town, and before he had made up his mind to quit it. If his "inelination for poetry and acting," to repeat Aubrey's words, were 50 strong, it may have led him to have both written and acted. He may have contributed temporary prologues or epilogues, and without supposing him yet to have possessed any extraordinary art as a dramatist-only to be acquired by practice,-he may have inserted speeches and occasional passages in older plays: he may even have assisted some of the companies in getting up, and performing the dramas they represented in or near Stratford'. We own that this subject from his early observation of the skill of the English nobility and gentry, after they had remounted at the play-house door :
“But chiefly skill to ride seems a science
Proper to gentle blood."-Spenser's F. Q. b. ii. c. 4. i We have already stated that although in 1586 only one unnamed company performed in Stratford, in the very next year (that in which we have supposed Shakespeare to have become a regu. lar actor) five companies were entertained in the borough: one of these consisted of the players of the Earl of Leicester, to whom the Blackfriars theatre belonged; and it is very possible that Shakespeare at that date exhibited before his fellow-townsmen in his new professional capacity. Before this time his performances at Stratford may have been merely of an amateur description. It is, at all events,