« ZurückWeiter »
conjecture appears to us at least plausible, and the Lord Chamberlain's servants (known as the Earl of Leicester's players until 1587) may have experienced his utility in both departments, and may have held out strong inducements to so promising a novice to continue his assistance by accompanying them to London.
What we have here said seems a natural and easy way of accounting for Shakespeare's station as a sharer at the Blackfriars theatre in 1589, about three years after we suppose him to have finally adopted the profession of an actor, and to have come to London for the purpose of pursuing it.
The earliest allusion to Shakespeare in Spenser's “ Tears of the Muses," 1591. Proofs of its applicability- What Shakespeare had probably by this date written-Edmund Spenser of Kingsbury, Warwickshire. No other dramatist of the time merited the character given by Spenser. Greene, Kyd, Lodge, Peele, Marlowe, an
1, Lodge, Peele, Marlowe, and Lyly, and their several claims: that of Lyly supported by Malone. Temporary cessation of dramatic performances in London. Prevalence of the Plague in 1592. Probability or improbability that Shakespeare went to Italy,
WE come now to the earliest known allusion to Shakespeare as a dramatist; and although his surname is not given, we apprehend that there can be no hesitation in applying what is said to him: it is contained in Spenser's "Tears of the Muses," a poem printed in 1591? The application of the passage to Shakespeare has been much contested, but the difficulty in our mind is, how the lines are to be explained by reference to any other dramatist of the time, even supposing, as we have supposed and believe, that our great poet was at this period only rising into notice as a writer for the stage. We will first quote the lines, literatim as they stand in the edition of 1591, and afterwards say something of the claims of others to the distinction they confer. a striking circumstance, that in 1586 only one company performed, and that in 1587 such extraordinary encouragement was given to theatricals in Stratford.
1 Malone (Shakspeare by Boswell, vol. ii. p. 16S) says that Spenser's “Tears of the Muses” was published in 1590, but the volume in which it first appeared bears date in 1591. It was printed with some other pieces under the title of "Complaints. Containing sun. drie small Poems of the Worlds Vanitie. Whereof the next Page maketh mention. By Ed. Sp. London. Imprinted for William Ponsonbie, &c. 1591." It will be evident from what follows in our text, that a year is of considerable importance to the question.
" And he the man, whom Nature selfe had made
To mock her selfe, and Truth to imitate,
Our pleasant Willy, ah ! is dead of late :
Is also deaded, and in dolour drent.
And scornfull Follie with contenipt is crept,
Without regard or due Decorum kept :
And doth the Learned's taske upon him take.
Large streames of hönnie and sweete Nectar flowe,
Which dare their follies forth so rashlie throwe,
The most striking of these lines, with reference to our present inquiry, is,
“Our pleasant Willy, ah ! is dead of late ;" and hence, if it stood alone, we might infer that Willy, whoever he might be, was actually dead; but the latter part of the third stanza we have quoted shows us in what sense the word “dead” is to be understood: Willy was "dead" as far as regarded the admirable dramatic talents he had already displayed, which had enabled him, even before 1591, to outstrip all living rivalry, and to afford the most certain indications of the still greater things Spenser saw he would accomplish: he was “ dead,” because he
" Doth rather choose to sit in idle Cell,
Than so himselfe to mockerie to sell." It is to be borne in mind that these stanzas, and six others, are put into the mouth of Thalia, whose lamentation on the degeneracy of the stage, especially in comedy, follows those of Calliope and Melpomene.' Rowe, under the impression that the whole passage referred to Shakespeare, introduced it into his “Life,” in his first edition of 1709, but silently withdrew it in his second edition of 1714: his reason, perhaps, was that he did not see how, before 1591, Shakespeare could have shown that he merited the character given of him and his productions,
" And he the man, whom Nature selfe had made
To mock her selfe, and Truth to imitate." Spenser knew what the object of his eulogy was capable of doing, as well, perhaps, as what he had done ; and we
have established that more than a year before the publication of these lines, Shakespeare had risen to be a distinguished member of the Lord Chamberlain's company, and å sharer in the undertaking at the Blackfriars. Although we feel assured that he had not composed any of his greatest works before 1591, he may have done much, besides what has come down to us, amply to warrant Spenser in applauding him beyond all his theatrical contemporaries. His earliest printed plays, “ Romeo and Juliet,” “Richard II.,” and “Richard III.,” bear date in 1597 ; but it is indisputable that he had at that time written considerably more, and part of what he had so written is contained in the folio of 1623, never having made its appearance in any earlier form. When Ben Jonson published the large volume of his “ Works” in 1616', he excluded several comedies in which he had been aided by other poets”, and re-wrote part of “Sejanus,” because, as is supposed, Shakespeare, (who performed in it, and whom Jonson terms a “happy genius,") had assisted him in the composition of the tragedy as it was originally acted. The player-editors of the folio of Shakespeare's “Comedies, I'ragedies, and Histories,” in 1623, may have thought it right to pursue the same course, excepting in the case of the three parts of " Henry VI. :" the poet
, or poets, who had contributed to these histories (perhaps Marlowe and Greene) had been then dead thirty years; but with respect to other pieces, persons still living, whether authors or booksellers, might have joint claims upon them, and hence their exclusion'. We only put this as a possible circumstance; but we are persuaded that
Perhaps it was printed off before his "Bartholemew Fair" was acted in 1614 ; or perhaps, the comedy being a new one, Ben Jonson did not think' he had a right to publish it to the detriment of the company (the servants of the Princess Elizabeth) by whom it had been purchased, and produced.
? Such as "'The Widow," written soon after 1613, in which he was assisted by Fetcher and Middleton ; "The Case is Altered," printed in 1609, in which his coadjutors are not known; and “Eastward Ho!" published in 1607, in which he was joined by Chapman and Marston : this last play exposed the authors to great danger of pun. ishment.
3 We are not to be understood as according in the ascription to Shakespeare of various plays imputed to him in the folio of 1664, and elsewhere. We believe that he was concerned in “ 'The Yorkshire Tragedy," and that he may have contributed some parts of " Arden of Feversham;" but in spite of the ingenious letter, published at Edinburgh in 1833, we do not think that he aided Fletcher in writing "The Two Noble Kinsmen," and there is not a single passage in "The Birth of Merlin” which is worthy of his most careless moments. Of "The first part of Sir John Oldcastle" we have elsewhere spoken; and several other supposititious dramas in the folio of 1664, which certainly would have done little credit to Shakespeare, have also been ascertained to be the work of other dramatists
Shakespeare, early in his theatrical life, must have written much, in the way of revivals, alterations, or joint productions with other poets, which has been forever lost. We here, as before, conclude that none of his greatest original dramatic productions had come from his pen ; but if in 1591 he had only brought out " The Two Gentlemen of Verona" and “Love's Labour 's Lost,” they are so infinitely superior to the best works of his predecessors, that the justice of the tribute paid by Spenser to his genius would at once be admitted. At all events, if before 1591 he had not accomplished, by any means, all that he was capable of, he had given the clearest indications of high genius, abundantly sufficient to justify the anticipation of Spenser, that he was
"whom Nature's selfe had made To mock her selfe, and Truth to imitate :" a passage which in itself admirably comprises, and compresses nearly all the excellences of which dramatic poetry is susceptible—the mockery of nature, and the imitation of truth.
Another point not hitherto noticed, because not hitherto known, is, that there is some little ground for thinking, that Spenser, if not a Warwickshire man, was at one time resident in Warwickshire, and later in life he may have become acquainted with Shakespeare. His birth had been conjeeturally placed in 1553, and on the authority of some lines in his "Prothalamion " it has been supposed that he was born in London : East Smithfield, near the Tower, has also been fixed upon as the part of the town where he first drew breath ; but the parish registers in that neighbourhood have been searched in vain for a record of the event. An Edmund Spenser unquestionably dwelt at Kingsbury, in Warwickshire, in 1569, which was the year when the author of " The Faerie Queene” wen to Cambridge, and was admitted a sizer at Pembroke College. The fact that Edmund Spenser (a rather unusual combination of names)
i This date has always appeared to us too late, recollecting that Spenser wrote some blank-verse sonnets, prefixed to Vandernoodt's "Theatre for Worldlings," printed in 1569. If he were born in 1553, in 1569 he was only in his sixteenth year, and the sonnets to which we refer do not read like the productions of a very young man.
2 Chalmers was a very dilligent inquirer into such matters, and he could discover no entry of the kind. See his "Supplemental Apology," p. 22. Subsequent investigations, instituted with reference to this question, have led to the same result. Oldys is responsible for the statement.
3 And belonging to no other family at that time, as far as our rosearches have extended. It has been too hastily concluded that the Spenser whom Turberville addressed from Russia, in some epistles
was an inhabitant of Kingsbury in 1569 is established by the muster-book of Warwickshire, preserved in the statepaper office, to which we have before had occasion to refer, but it does not give the ages of the parties. This Edmund Spenser may possibly have been the father of the poet, (whose Christian name is no where recorded) and if it were the one or the other, it seems to afford a link of connexion, however slight, between Spenser and Shakespeare, of which we have had no previous knowledge. Spenser was at least eleven years older than Shakespeare, but their early residence in the same part of the kingdom may have given rise to an intimacy afterwards': Spenser must have appreciated and admired the genius of Shakespeare, and the author of “ The Tears of the Muses,” at the age of thirtyseven, may have paid a merited tribute to his young friend of twenty-six.
The Edmund Spenser of Kingsbury may have been entirely a different person, of a distinct family, and perhaps we are disposed to lay too much stress upon a mere coincidence of names; but we may be forgiven for clinging to the conjecture that he may have been the author of " The Faerie Queene," and that the greatest romantic poet of this country was upon terms of friendship and cordiality with the greatest dramatist of the world. This circumstance, with which we were unacquainted when we wrote the Introduction to “ A Midsummer-Night's Dream," may appear to give new point, and a more certain application, to the well-remembered lines of that drama (Act v. sc. i.) in which Shakespeare has been supposed to refer to the death of Spenser?, and which may have been a subsequent insertion, printed at the end of his "Tragical Tales," 1537, was not the poet. Taking Wood's representation, that these letters were written as early as 1569, it is still very possible that the author of " The Faerie Queene” was the person to whom they were sent: he was a very young man, it is true, but perhaps not quite so young as has been imagined.
1 Nobody has been able even to speculate where Spenser was at school ;-possibly at Kingsbury. Drayton was also a Warwickshire
2 Differences of opinion, founded upon discordances of contemporaneous, or nearly contemporaneous, representations, have prevailed respecting the extreme poverty of Spenser at the time of his death. There is no doubt that he had a pension of 501, a year (at least 2501. of our present money) from the royal bounty, which probably he received to the last. At the same time we think there is much plausibility in the story that Lord Burghley stood in the way of some special pecuniary gift from Elizabeth. The Rev. H. J. Todd disbelieves it, and in his “Life of Spenser” calls it" a calumny," on the foundation of the pension, without considering, perhaps, that the epigram, attributed to Spenser, may have been occasioned by the obstruction by the Lord Treasurer of some additional proof of the Queen's admiration for the author of "The Faerie Queene." Fuller