Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

Troilus and Cressida.

The loves of Troilus and Creffida are celebrated by Chaucer; whose poem might, perhaps, induce Shakspeare to work them up into a play. The other matters of that play (historical, or fabulous, call them which you will,) he had out of an ancient book, written and printed first by Caxton, callid - The Destruction of Troy, in three parts: in the third part of it, are many strange particulars, occurring no where else, which Shakspeare has admitted into his play.

[merged small][ocr errors]

Another of Belleforest's novels is thus intitl'd. " Comme une fille Romaine se vestant en page fervist long temps un sien amy fans estre cogneue, & depuis l'eut a mary avec autres divers discours." Histoires Tragiques ; Tom. 4, Hift. 7. This novel, which is itself taken from one of Bandello's (v. Tom. 2, Nov. 36,) is, to all appearance, the foundation of the serious part of Twelfth Night: and must be so accounted; 'till some English novel appears, built (perhaps) upon that French one, but approaching nearer to Shakspeare's comody.

Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Julia's love adventures being in some respects the same with those of Viola in Twelfth Night, the fame novel might give rise to them both; and Valentine's falling amongst out-laws, and becoming their captain, is an incident that has some resemblance to one in the Arcadia, (Book I, chap. 6,) where Pyrocles heads the Helots : all the other circumstances which constitute the fable of this play, are, probably, of the poet's own invention.

Winter's Tale,

To the story-book, or Pleasant Hisory (as it is call’d) of Dorastus and Fawnia, written by Robert Greene, M. A. we are indebted for Shakspeare's Winter's Tale. Greene join'd with Dr. Lodge in writing a play, call'd A Looking-Glass for London and England, printed in 1598, in quarto, and black letter; and many of his other works, which are very numerous, were publish'd about that time, and this amongst the reft: it went through many impressions, all of the same form and letter as the play; and that fo low down as the year 1664, of which

year I have a copy. . Upon this occasion, I shall venture to pronounce an opinion, that has been reserv'd for this place, (though other plays too were concern'd in it, as Hamlet and Cymbeline) which if it be found true, as I believe it will, may be of use to settle many disputed points in literary chronology. My opinion is this:

My opinion is this: -- that almost all books, of the gothick or black character, printed any thing late in the seventeenth century, are in truth only re-impressions; they having pass’d the press before in the preceding century, or (at least ) very soon after. For the character began then to be disus'd in the printing of new books: but the types remaining, the owners of them found'a convenience in using them for books that had been before printed in them; and to this convenience of theirs are owing all or most of those impressions posterior to 1600. It is left to the reader's sagacity, to apply this remark to the book in the prefent article; and to those he finds mention'd before, in the articles –Hamlet and Cymbeline.

Such are the materials, out of which this great poet has rais'd a structure, which no time shall efface, nor any envy be strong enough to lessen the admiration that is so justly due to it; which if it was great before, cannot fail to receive 'encrease with the judicious, when the account that has been now given them is reflected upon duly: other originals have, indeed, been pretended ; and much extraordinary criticism has, at different times, and by different people, been spun out of those conceits; but, except fome few articles, in which the writer professes openly bis ignorance of the fources they are drawn from, and some others in which he delivers himself doubtfully, what is said in the preceding leaves concerning these fables may with all certainty be rely'd upon.

How much is it to be wish'd, that something equally certain, and indeed worthy to be in titl'da Life of Shakspeare, could accompany this relation, and complete the tale of those pieces which the publick is apt to expect before new editions ? But that nothing of this sort is at present in being, may be said without breach of candour, as we think, , or suspicion of over-much niceness: an imperfect and loose account of his father, and family; his own marriage, and the issue of it; fome traditional stories, - many of them trifling in themselves, supported by small authority, and seemingly illgrounded; together with his life's final period as

[ocr errors]

gather'd from his monument, is the full and whole amount of historical matter that is in any of these writings; in which the critick and essayist swallow up the biographer, who yet ought to take the lead in them. The truth is, the occurrences of this most interesting life (we mean, the private ones) are irrecoverably lost to ús; the friendly office of, registring them was overlook'd by those who alone had it in their power, and our enquiries about them now must prove vain and thrown away. But there is another fort of them that is not quite so hopeless; which besides affording us the prospect of some good issue to our endeavours, do also invite us to them by the promise of a much better reward for them: the knowledge of his private life had done little more than gratify our curiosity, but his publick one as a writer would have confequences more important; a discovery there would throw a new light upon many of his pieces; and, where rashness only is shew'd in the opinions that are now current about them, a judgment might then be form’d, which perhaps would do credit to the giver of it. When he commenc'd a writer for the stage, and in which play; what the order of the rest of them, and (if that be discoverable) what the occasion; and, lastly, for which of the numerous theatres that were then subsisting they were severally written at first, —-are the particulars that should chiefly engage the attention of a writer of Shakspeare's Life, and be the principal subjects of his inquiry; to affist him in which, the first impressions of these plays will do something, and their title-pages at large, which, upon that account, we mean to give in another work that will

accompany The School of Shakspeare; and something the School itself will afford, that may contribute to the same service: but the corner-stone of all, must be- the works of the poet himself, from which much may be extracted by a heedful peruser of them; and, for the sake of such a peruser, and by way of putting him into the train when the plays are before him, we shall instance in one of them;

- the time in which Henry V. was written, is determin'd almost precisely by a passage in the chorus to the fifth act, and the concluding chorus of it contains matter relative to Henry VI. other plays might be mention'd, as Henry VIII. and Macbeth ; but this one may be sufficient to answer our intention in producing it, which was — to fpirit some one up to this talk in some future time, by shewing the possibility of it; which he may be further convinc'd of, if he reflects what great things have been done, by criticks amongst ourselves upon subjects of this fort, and of a more remov'd antiquity than he is concern'd in. A Life thus constructed, interspers’d with such anecdotes of common notoriety as the writer's judgment shall tell him—are worth regard; together with some memorials of this poet that are happily come down to us; such as, an instrument in the Heralds' Office, confirming arms to his father; a Patent preserv'd in Rymer, granted by James the First; his last Will and Testament, extant now at Doctors Commons; his Stratford monument, and a monument of his daughter which is said to be there also; such a Life would rise quickly into a volume; especially, with the addition of one proper and even necessary episode--a brief history of our drama, from its origin down to the

« ForrigeFortsæt »