Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

to whom they all have been beholding; is it not like that you, to whom they have all been beholding, shall (were ye in that case that I am now) be both of them at once forsaken? Yes, trust them not; for there is an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his l'iger's heart wrapp'd in a player's hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast our blank-verse, as the best of you: and, being an absolute Johannes Fac-totum, is, in his own conceit, the only Shake-scene in a country. O! that I might entreat your rare wits to be employed in more profitable courses, and let these apes imitate your past excellence, and never more acquaint them with your admired inventions."

The chief and obvious purpose of this address is to induce Marlowe, Lodge, and Peele to cease to write for the stage ; and, in the course of his exhortation, Greene bitterly inveighs against “ an upstart crow,” who had availed himself of the dramatic labours of others, who imagined himself able to write as good blank-verse as any of his contemporaries, who was a Johannes Fac-totum, and who, in his own opinion, was “ the only SHAKE-SCENE in a country.” All this is clearly levelled at Shakespeare, under the purposely-perverted name of Shake-scene, and the words,

Tiger's heart wrapp'd in a player's hide,” are a parody upon a line in a historical play, (most likely by Greene) "O, tiger's heart wrapp'd in a woman's hide," from which Shakespeare had taken his “ Henry VI.” part iii.'

From hence it is evident that Shakespeare, near the end of 1592, had established such a reputation, and was so important a rival of the dramatists, who, until he came forward, had kept undisputed possession of the stage, as to excite the envy and enmity of Greene, even during his last and fatal illness. It also, we think, establishes another point not hitherto adverted to, viz. that our great poet possessed such variety of talent, that, for the purposes of the company of which he was member, he could do anything that he might be called upon to perform : he was the Johannes Factotum of the association : he was an actor, and he was a writer of original plays, an adapter and improver of those already in existence, (some of them by Greene, Marlowe, Lodge, or Peele) and no doubt he contributed prologues or epilogues, and inserted scenes, speeches or passages on any temporary emergency. Having his ready assistance, the Lord Chamberlain's servants required few other contributions from rival dramatists? : Shakespeare was the Johan

1 See this point more fully illustrated in the Introduction to “Henry VI.” part iii.

? At this date Peele had relinquished his connection with the com

[graphic]

in the quality he professes : besides, divers of worship have reported his uprightness of dealing, which argues his honesty, and his facetious grace in writing, that approves his art. For the first, (Marlowe] whose learning I reverence, and at the perusing of Greene's book struck out what then in conscience I thought he in some displeasure writ, or had it been true, yet to publish it was intolerable, him I would wish to use me no worse than I deserve."

The accusation of Greene against Marlowe had reference to the freedom of his religious opinions, of which it is not necessary here to say more: the attack upon Shakespeare we have already inserted and observed upon. In Chettle's apology to the latter, one of the most noticeable points is the tribute he pays to our great dramatist's abilities as an actor, “his demeanour no less civil, than he excellent in the quality he professes:" the word “ quality” was applied, at that date, peculiarly and technically to acting, and the "quality" Shakespeare “ professed” was that of an actor. “ His facetious grace in writing!” is separately adverted to, and admitted, while“ his uprightness of dealing ” is attested, not only by Chettle's own experience, but by the evidence of “ divers of worship.” Thus the amends made to Shakespeare for the envious assault of Greene shows most decisively the high opinion entertained of him, towards the close of 1592, as an actor, an author, and a man?.

[ocr errors]

1 There were not separate impressions of "Kind-heart's Dream" in 1592, but the only three copies known vary in some minute particulars : thus, with reference to these words, one impression at Oxford reads, " his fatious grace in writing," and the other, correctly, as we have given it. “Kind-heart's Dream" has been re-printed, by the Percy Society, from the third copy in the King's Library at the British Museum.

2 More than ten years afterwards, Chettle paid another tribute to Shakespeare, under the name of Melicert, in his “England's Mourning Garment:" the author is reproaching the leading poets of the day, Daniel, Warner, Chapman, Jonson, Drayton, Sackville, Dekker, &c., for not writing in honour of Queen Elizabeth, who was just dead : he thus addresses Shakespeare :

" Nor doth the silver-tongued Melicert

Drop from his honied Muse one sable tear,
To mourn her death that graced his desert,

And to his lays open'd her royal ear.
Shepherd, remember our Elizabeth,

And sing her Rape, done by that Tarquin death."
This passage is important, with reference to the Royal encourage-
ment given to Shakespeare, in consequence of the approbation of his
plays at Court: Elizabeth had “ graced his desert," and "open'd her
royal ear” to “his lays." Chettle did not long survive the publica-
tion of " England's Mourning Garment" in 1603 : he was dead in
1607, as he is spoken of in Dekker's "Knight's Conjuring," of that
year, (there is an impression also without date, and possibly a few
months earlier) as a very corpulent ghost in the Elysian Fields. He

We have already inserted Spenser's warm, but not less judicious and well-merited, eulogium of Shakespeare in 1591, when in his “ Tears of the Muses” he addresses him as Willy, and designates him

-"that same gentle spirit, from whose pen Large streames of honnie and sweete nectar fiowe." If we were to trust printed dates, it would seem that in the same year the author of “ The Faerie Queene” gave another proof of his admiration of our great dramatist: we allude to a passage in “ Colin Clout's come home again,” which was published with a dedication dated 27th Deccmber, 1591 ; but Malone proved, beyond all cavil, that für 1591 we ought to read 1594, the printer having made an extraordinary blunder. In that poem (after the author bas spoken of many living and dead poets, some by their names, as Alabaster and Daniel, and others by fictitious and fanciful appellations') he inserts these lines :

" And there, though last not least, is Ætion ;

A gentler shepherd may no where be found,
Whose Muse, full of high thought’s invention,

Doth, like himself, heroically sound.” Malone takes unnecessary pains to establish that this passage applies to Shakespeare, although he pertinaciously denied that “our pleasant Willy” of “ The Tears of the Muses " was intended for him. We have no doubt on either point; and it is singular, that it should never have struck Malone that the same epithet is given in both cases to the had been originally a printer, then became a bookseller, and, finally, a pamphleteer and dramatist. He was, in various degrees, concerned in about forty plays.

1 Malone, with a good deal of research and patience, goes over all the pseudo-names in “Colin Clout's come home again," applying each to poets of the time; but how uncertain and unsatisfactory any attempt of the kind must necessarily be may be illustrated in a single instance. Malone refers the following lines to Arthur Golding:

“And there is old Palemon, free from spite,

Whose careful pipe may make the hearers rue;
Yet he himself may rued be more right,

Who sung so long, until quite hoarse he grew.” The passage, in truth, applies to Thomas Churchyard, as he himself informs us in his " Pleasant Discourse of Court and Wars," 1596 : he complains of neglect, and tells us that the Court is

"The platform where all poets thrive,

Save one whose voice is hoarse, they say ;
The stage, where time away we drive,

As children in a pageant play.” In the same way we might show that Malone was mistaken as to other poets he supposes alluded to by Spenser; but it would lead us too far out of our way. No body has disputed, that by Ætion, tho author of " Colin Clout" meant Shakespeare.

person addressed, and that epithet one which, at a subsequent date, almost constantly accompanied the name of Shakespeare. In “ The Tears of the Muses” he is called a gentle spirit," and in “ Colin Clout's come home again” we are told that,

“A gentler shepherd may no where be found.” In the same feeling Ben Jonson calls him “my gentle Shakespeare,” in the noble copy of verses prefixed to the folio of 1623, so that ere long the term became peculiarly applied to our great and amiable dramatist'. This coincidence of expression is another circumstance to establish that Spenser certainly had Shakespeare in his mind when he wrote his * Tears of the Muses" in 1591, and his “ Colin Clout's come home again ” in 1594. In the latter instance the whole description is nearly as appropriate as in the earlier, with the addition of a line, which has a clear and obvious reference to the patronymic of our poet: his Muse, says Spenser,

“ Doth, like himself, heroically sound." These words alone may be taken to show, that between 1591 and 1594 Shakespeare had somewhat changed the character of his compositions : Spenser having applauded him, in his “ Tears of the Muses,” for unrivalled talents in comedy, (a department of the drama to which Shakespeare had, perhaps, at that date especially, though not exclusively, devoted himself) in his “ Colin Clout” spoke of the “high thought's invention,” which then filled Shakespeare's muse, and made her sound as “ heroically" as his name. Of his genius, in a loftier strain of poetry than belonged to comedy, our great dramatist, by the year 1594, must have given some remarkable and undeniable proofs. In 1591 he had perhaps written his “ Love's Labour's Lost” and “ Two Gentlemen of Verona ;" but in 1594 he had, no doubt, pro duced one or more of his great historical plays, his “ Richard II.” and “Richard III.,” both of which, as before remarked, together with “ Roineo and Juliet,” came from the press in 1597, though the last in a very mangled, imperfect, and unauthentic state. One circumstance may be mentioned, as leading to the belief that “Richard III.” was brought out in 1594, viz. that in that year an impression of “The True Tragedy of Richard the Third,” (an older play than that of Shakespeare) was published, that it might be bought under the notion that it was the new drama by the most popular poet of the day, then in a course of representation. It is most probable that “ Richard II.” had been

1 In a passage we have already extracted from Ben Jonson's "Discoveries," he mentions Shakespeare's “gentle expressions ;' but he is there perhaps rather referring to his style of composition.

« ZurückWeiter »