Page images


UNLESS Shakespeare owed suggestions to a play called Troilus and Cressida upon which Dekker and Chettle were engaged in 1599, but which has not come down to us, the plot of our drama may be taken as derived in the main from Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, Caxton's Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, and Lydgate's Historye, Sege, and dystruccyon of Troye. To these may be added Chapman's translation of the Iliad (of which books i, ii. and vii.-xi. were published in 1598) as furnishing hints of character ; especially in the case of Thersites, whose portrait, physical and moral, is only more elaborately worked out by the dramatist. Of Shakespeare's obligations to Caxton and Lydgate there can be no doubt. On the question whether in the Cressida myth he was primarily and chiefly indebted to Chaucer, something will be said further on.

Troilus and Cressida was first published in 1609. It then appeared as a quarto, of which there were two impressions differing only in the title-page and in the fact that one of them is prefaced by an address to the reader. This address opens with the words “Eternal reader, you have heere a new play neuer stald with the stage, neuer clapperclawd with the palmes of the vulgar, and yet passing full of the palme comicall”; and hence it was inferred that the impression in question was the earlier of the two quartos. As, however, the title-pages were evidently printed from the same form, and as the running title, The History of Troilus and Cressida, corresponds in each, the Cambridge Editors believe that the copies of the impression without the address were first issued for the theatre and afterwards those with it for general readers. “In this case," they remark, "the expression ‘neuer stald with the stage, neuer clapperclawd with the palmes of the vulgar,' must refer to the first appearance of the play in type, unless we suppose that the publisher was more careful to say what would recommend his book than to state what was literally true."

No further publication of the play is known until it appeared in the folio of 1623. There it stands between the Histories and the Tragedies, and its position has given rise to much dispute. It was supposed by Steevens to have been unknown to the editors Heminge and Coudell till after the volume was almost printed off; and Farmer added, “ It was at first either unknown or forgotten. It does not, however, appear in the list of the plays, and is thrust in between the Histories and the Tragedies, without any enumeration of the pages; except, I think, on one leaf only.” To these hypotheses Knight replies, "If these critics had carried their inquiries one step farther, they would have found that Troilus and Cressida was neither unknown nor forgotten by the editors of the first folio. It is more probable that they were only doubtful how to classify it. In the first quarto edition it is called a famous History in the title-page ; but in the preface it is repeatedly mentioned as a Comedy. In the folio edition it bears the title of The TRAGEDIE of Troilus and Cressida. In that edition the Tragedies begin with Coriolanus; and the paging goes on regularly from 1 to 76, that last page bringing us within a hundred lines of the close of Romeo and Juliet. We then skip pages 77 and 78, Romeo and Juliet concluding with 79. Now the leaf of Troilus and Cressida on which Farmer observed an enumeration of pages

includes the second and third pages of the play, and those are marked 79, 80. If the last page of Romeo and Juliet had been marked 77, as it ought to have been, and the first page of Troilus 78, we should have seen at once that this Tragedy was intended by the editors to follow Romeo and Juliet. But they found, or they were informed, that this extraordinary drama was neither a Comedy, nor a History, nor a Tragedy; and they therefore placed it between the Histories and the Tragedies, leaving it to the reader to make his own classification.”

With regard to the discrepancies between the quarto and the folio, the Cambridge Editors write: "Some of the most important have been mentioned specially in the notes at the end of the play, and all others are recorded in the footnotes. We find in the Folio several passages essential to the sense of the context which do not exist in the Quarto, and which therefore must have been omitted by the negligence of a copyist or printer. On the other hand, we find some passages in the Quarto, not absolutely essential to the sense, though a decided improvement to it and quite in the author's manner, which either do not appear in the Folio at all, or appear in a mutilated form. Sometimes the lines which are wrongly divided in the Quarto are divided properly in the Folio, and vice versâ : in this point, however, the former is generally more correct than the latter. The two texts differ in many single words: sometimes the difference is clearly owing to a clerical or typographical error, but in other cases it appears to result from deliberate correction, first by the author himself, and secondly by some less skilful hand. .. On the whole we are of opinion that the Quarto was printed from a transcript of the author's original MS.; that this MS. was afterwards revised and slightly altered by the author himself, and that before the first Folio was printed from it, it had been tampered with by another hand. Perhaps the corrections are due to the writer who did not shrink from prefixing to Shakespeare's play a prologue of his own.”

The question of the date of composition is a difficult one, and various theories have endeavoured to solve it. Of these the most elaborate is that put forward by Fleay in 1876. Three plots, that critic held, are "interwoven, each of which is distinct in manner of treatment, and was composed at a different time from the other two. There is, first, the story of Troylus and Cressida which was earliest written, on the basis of Chaucer's poem; next comes the story of the challenge of Hector, their combat, and the slaying of Hector by Achilles, on the basis of Caxton's Three Destructions of Troy: and finally, the story of Ulysses' stratagem to induce Achilles to return to the battlefield by setting up Ajax as his rival, which was written after the publication of Chapman's Homer, from whom Thersites, a chief character in this part, was taken.”

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »