« PreviousContinue »
poraries; and yet it must have been a popular play, for it was reprinted forty years after its publication. Without doubt there may have been some writer, of whose name and works we know nothing, to whom this play may have been assigned; but if it be improbable that Shakspere had written it, it is equally improbable that any
of the known dramatists who had attained a celebrity in 1592 should have written it. It has none of the characteristics of any one of them—their extravagance of language; their forced passion; their overloading of classical allusions; their monotonous versification. Its power mainly lies in its simplicity. The unhappy woman is the chief character in the drama; and it appears to us that the author especially exhibits in “ Mistress Arden ” that knowledge of the hidden springs of human guilt and weakness which is not to be found in the generalities of any of the early contemporaries of Shakspere. Still we must be understood as not attempting to pronounce any decided opinion upon the question of authorship. We neither hold with the German critics, whose belief approaches credulity in this and other cases, nor with the English, who appear to consider, in most things, that scepticism and sound judgment are identical.
· The Raigne of King Edward the third : As it hath bin sundrie times plaied about the Citie of London,' was first published in 1596. It was entered on the registers of the Stationers' Company, December 1, 1595. The play was reprinted in 1599, and, judging from other entries in the Stationers' registers, also in 1609, 1617, and 1625. From that time the work was known only to the collectors of single plays, till, in 1760, Capell reprinted it in a volume entitled · Prolusions, or Select Pieces of Ancient Poetry,' as “ A
play thought to be writ by Shakespeare.” The editor of that volume thus speaks of the play in his preface :-“ But what shall be said of the poem that constitutes the second part ? or how shall the curiosity be satisfied which it is probable may have been raised by the great name inserted in the title-page? That it was indeed written by Shakespeare, it cannot be said with candour that there is any external evidence at all : something of proof arises from resemblance between the style of his earlier performances and the work in question; and a more conclusive one yet from consideration of the time it appeared in, in which there was no known writer equal to such a play : the fable of too is taken from the same books which that author is known to have followed in some other plays, to wit, Holinshed's · Chronicle,' and a book of novels called "The Palace of Pleasure.' But, after all, it must be confessed that its being his work is conjecture only, and matter of opinion; and the reader must form one of his own, guided by what is now before him, and by what he shall meet with in perusal of the piece itself.” Capell was not a person to offer any critical reasons for his own belief; but the opinions of several able critics in our own time would show that he was not to be laughed at, as Steevens was inclined to laugh at him, for rescuing this play from the hands of the mere antiquarians.* The anonymous critic whom we have often quoted says, “ Capell was the first who directed attention to this play, as perhaps Shakspeare's; and it is in every respect one of the best dramas of its time. It is very unequal, and its plot is unskilfully divided into two parts; but through most scenes there reign a pointed strength of thought and expression, a clear richness of imagery, and an apt though rough delineation of character, which entitle it to rank higher than any historical play of the sixteenth century, excepting Shakspeare's admitted works of this class, and Marlowe's · Edward II.'”+ The opinion of Ulrici is very full and decided upon the authorship of · Edward III.,' and we may as well present it at once to the reader in its general bearings.
“ The play of · Edward III, and the Black Prince,' &c., is entered not less than four times in the registers of the Stationers' Company: first, on December 1, 1595; and lastly, on February 23, 1625. It was first printed in 1596, and reprinted in 1599, both
Steevens, in a note upon the entry in the Stationers' registers, says—“ This is ascribed to Shakspeare by the compilers of ancient catalogues.” This was one of the modes in which Steevens thought it clever to insult Capell by a contemptuous neglect.
† • Edinburgh Review,' vol. lxxi., p. 471.
editions being without the name of the author. Of any later edition I have no knowledge. Both these early editions, being anonymous, can, however, prove nothing. But even if the later editions were equally without the announcement of the author, this certainly rather striking fact may be satisfactorily explained by the nature of the piece itself. In the first two acts we find many bitter attacks upon the Scots, inspired by English patriotism : these were thoroughly in place during Elizabeth's lifetime, who, it is well known, loved her successor not much better than she did his mother, and ever stood in a guarded attitude against Scotland. To James I., on the contrary, these passages must have given offence. But Shakspere was indebted to James for many kindnesses; and he has praised and celebrated him in several of his plays. Thus, in order to avoid wounding his sense of gratitude, he may either have expressly denied the paternity of Edward III.,' or have refused to recognise it, and abandoned to its fate a piece that perhaps did not satisfy him upon other grounds. And in this way it may be also explained how a poem, which bears Shakspere's stamp so evidently, should have been overlooked or intentionally omitted by his friends Heminge and Condell, the editors of the first folio. That the piece probably belongs to Shakspere's earlier labours (without doubt two years at least before the date of its first being printed), is evident from the language and versification, from the many rhymed passages, but more particularly from the composition, which, if we consider the piece as one whole, is incontestably faulty. For the first two acts clearly stand alone much too independently; internally only partially united, and not at all externally, with the following three acts. In the first part the point of the action turns upon
the love of the king for the beautiful Countess of Salisbury, whom he has released from the besieging Scottish army. The whole of this connexion is no farther mentioned in the following part; it comes to a total conclusion at the end of the second act, where the king, conquered, and at the same time strengthened, by the virtuous greatness of the countess, renounces his passion, and becomes again the master of himself. The countess then disappears wholly from the scene, which is changed to the victorious campaign of Edward III. and his heroic son the Black Prince. The play thus falls into two different Parts. But the fault which this involves wholly vanishes immediately that we take the two halves for two different pieces, united into a whole, in the same manner as the two Parts of · Henry IV. Everything then rounds itself into a complete and
beautiful historical composition, which is throughout worthy of the great poet."
Of the value of this opinion of the very able German critic before us we shall endeavour to lead our readers to form their own judgment. If they come to the conclusion that the play is not Shakspere's, they will at least acquire a familiarity with some striking scenes and passages which are little known to English readers. The early editions are very rare; and Capell's volume is by no means a common book.
The view which Ulrici has taken that · The Reign of Edward III.' must be considered as a play in two Parts is perfectly just. But it must also be borne in mind that Shakspere has himself furnished us no example of such a complete division of the action in any one historical play which he has left us. The two parts of • Henry IV.' comprised two distinct plays, each complete in itself, each performed on a separate day, but each connected with the other by a chorus which fills up the gap of time. So the three Parts of Henry VI.,' and Richard III.' are perfectly separate, although essentially connected. The plan pursued in the · Edward III.' is, to say the least, exceedingly inartificial. If the writer of this play had possessed more dramatic skill, he might have made the severance of the action less abrupt. As it is, the link is snapped short. In the first two acts we have the Edward of romance,-a puling lover, a heartless seducer, a despot, and then a penitent. In the last three acts we have the Edward of history,—the ambitious hero, the stern conqueror, the affectionate husband, the confiding father.
The one por: tion of the drama pretty closely follows the apocryphal and inconsistent story in "The Palace of Pleasure,' how “ A King of England loved a daughter of one of his noblemen, which was Countess of Salisbury.” And here the author has certainly produced some powerful scenes, and considerably improved upon the fable which he in great part followed. In the latter portion of the play he has Froissart before him; and, dealing with those incidents which were calculated to call forth the highest poetical efforts, such as the battle of Poitiers and the siege of Calais, the dramatist is strikingly inferior to the fine old chronicler. When Shakspere dealt with heroic subjects, as in his · Henry V.,' he kept pretty closely to the original narratives ; but he breathed a life into the commonest occurrences, which leaves us to wonder how the exact could be so intimately blended with the poetical, and how that