« PreviousContinue »
uentions. I know the best husband of you all will neuer proue an Usurer, and the kindest of them all will neuer prooue a kinde nurse; yet whilst you may, seeke you better Maisters; for it is pittie men of such rare wits, should be subiect to the pleasures of such rude groomes.
"In this I might insert two more, that both haue writ against these buckram Gentlemen: but let their owne works serue to witnesse against their owne wickednesse, if they perseuer to mainteine any more such peasants. For other new commers, I leaue (145) them to the mercie of these painted monsters, who (I doubt not) will driue the best minded to despise them: for the rest it skils not though they make a ieast at them.
"But now returne I againe to you three, knowing my miserie is to you no news: and let me heartily intreate you to bee warned by my harmes . . . (20 lines). Trust not then (I beseech yee) (146) to such weake staies: for they are as changeable in minde, as in many attires. Well, my hand is tired and I am forst to leaue where I would begin; for a whole booke cannot containe these wrongs, which I am forst to knit vp in some few lines of words. Desirous that you should liue, though himselfe be dying, Robert Greene."
II. WHAT THIS ATTACK ON SHAKESPEARE MEANS: WITH CONTEMPORARY REFERENCES TO IT: AND VIEWS OF SOME CRITICS.
The three quondam acquaintances that spend their wits in making plays, are Marlowe, Nashe and Peele. Marlowe is obvious. Nashe is called Juvenal by Meres and others of the time; Dyce (followed by Fleay) believed the biting satirist was Lodge, because of his having written with Greene A Looking Glasse for London, and because of his satires A Fig for Momus. But Lodge was abroad at this time and his satires have not any bite, like Nashe's. The weight of evidence is in favour of Nashe, I think, but the question is not vital here. The play may be one of the many unknown, or unidentified. There is more reason to place Lodge as one of the two buckram gentlemen.
The third acquaintance is Peele, "Sweet S. George" gives evidence enough of that identification. This tirade of Greene's against the players should be read in connection with words of
his (on pages 136, 137) immediately preceding the above extract. He describes himself there as "liuing in extreame pouerty, and hauing nothing to pay but chalke, which now his Host accepted not for currant, the miserable man lay languishing, hauing but one groat left." The unhappy man had been depending on monies from the sale of his plays-from the actors and their companies-and he can get no more. His bitterness is levelled against his paymasters and their profession, and in advising his friends Marlowe, Nashe (or Lodge) and Peele to be no longer heholding to them, incidentally he levels his animosity against Shakespeare (Shake-scene), a successful actor, who had the audacity to write blank verse himself, and who beautified himself with the feathers of all three of them. He can do anything this upstart crow, or Johannes factotum, whether it is to act plays or to write them. So far the inferences are easy. But whether the words "beautified with your feathers" mean acting in our plays, or mean that in his writings he (Shakespeare) made use of theirs (or of their titbits) is more conjectural. Probably Greene means the latter implied in the former-that is to say he means both. After these words, he clinches his reference to Shakespeare by quoting in a parody a line from The True Tragedy (also in 3 Henry VI. I. iv. 137): "O tiger's heart wrapp'd in a woman's hide." A speech undoubtedly by Shakespeare in both those places, and quoted (or parodied) as his by Greene.
Greene is evidently incensed with the whole crew of them, but especially angry and jealous against Shakespeare. He has a much more ill-omened crow than Æsop's to pluck with our gentle Willie." We get at least a limit of date for The True Tragedy (it is fresh in Greene's memory in 1592): and we might fairly infer that the play in which it occurs is an especially sore subject, whether from its success or because it contains his feathers. Or we might go a step further in the latter inference and let the part include the whole, and not unfairly conceive that Greene was enraged at the success of the whole trilogy (now finished so far as Part I., Contention, and True Tragedy are concerned, for certain-and probably so far as Parts I. II. and III.). But these can only be inferences. Yet there hangs on to Greene's tract a little more contemporary matter that must be now looked into.
In "a lytel plaunflet" by R. B. Gent., 1594, in the Bodleian Library, there is the following passage, the ninth "sonnet" in the tract:
Greene is the pleasing of an eie:
Greene pleasde the eies of all that lookt vpon him.
Greene gaue the ground to all that wrote vpon him,
Purloyned his plumes, can they deny the same.
This is confirmation of the inference that Shakespeare was accused by Greene of having plagiarised from him, purloined Greene's plumes and beautified himself with his feathers. Others are included in the charge here, just as Greene added the other three to those purloined from. At this date, 1592, it must be remembered, Shakespeare had produced (besides Henry VI.) Love's Labour's Lost, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and The Comedy of Errors-these plays may therefore also contain some of the plumes. No doubt they do, but trifling affairs. Greene meant something serious. However, “R. B. Gent." reads to me like an importunate partisan, echoing Greene's words, of no weight in himself. And is there not something grotesque in Greene's daring to accuse another writer of plagiarism, if he does so? Greene, who in his tales insets many pages word for word from another writer, without a trace of acknowledgment except the self-convicting one in change of style that other writer being Thomas Bowes' translation of Peter de la Primaudaye's French Academy ?-to say nothing of yet other writers. I hardly think he can have made the charge seriously (such proceedings being deemed quite usual at the time), but that his invective against Shakespeare arose from jealousy and a depleted purse. No doubt if he considered the latter arose from an unfair use of his own work in the dramatic market, plagiarism became a different sort of sin altogether. In that feeling, which is hard to read into the wording, he may have written. At best, excepting with regard to the history of these plays, the passage is a poor exhibition of personal grudging and ill-will.
Upon publishing Greene's Groatsworth of Wit, Chettle wrote an introduction "To the Gentlemen Readers" to his Kind Harts Dreame (Dec. 1592) containing the following
passage (New Shakespeare Society, 1874, p. 37). He is a prosy writer, and to be curtailed: "It hath beene a custome, gentlemen. . . to begin an Exordium to the Readers. . . . To obserue custome, . . . Ile shew reason for my present writing, and after proceed to sue for pardon. About three moneths since died M. Robert Greene, leauing many papers in sundry Booke sellers hands, among others his Groatsworth of wit, in which a letter written to diuers play-makers, is offensively by one or two of them taken; and because on the dead they cannot be auenged, they wilfully gorge in their conceits a liuing Author: and after tossing it to and fro, no remedy; but it must light on me. How I haue all the time of my conuersing in printing hindred the bitter inueying against schollers, it hath been very well knowne; and how in that I dealt, I can sufficiently prooue. With neither of them that take offence was I acquainted, and with one of them, I care not if I neuer be: The other, whome at that time I did not so much spare, as since I wish I had, for that as I haue moderated the heate of liuing writers, and might haue usde my owne discretion (especially in such a case) the Author being dead, that I did not I am as sory as if the originall fault had beene my fault, because my selfe haue seene his demeanor no lesse ciuill, than he exelent in the qualitie he professes: Besides, diuers of worship haue reported his uprightness of dealing, which argues his honesty, and his facetious grace in writing, that approues his Art. For the first, whose learning I reuerence, and at the perusing of Greene's Booke, stroke out what then in conscience I thought he in some displeasure writ: or had it been true, yet to publish it was intollerable: him I would wish to use me no worse than I deserue. I had onely in the copy this share: it was il written, as sometimes Greene's hand was none of the best: licened it must be, ere it could bee printed, which could neuer be if it might not be read. To be briefe, I writ it ouer; and as neare as I could, followed the copy; onely in that letter I put something out, but in the whole booke not a worde in; for I protest it was all Greene's, not mine nor Maistre Nashe's, as some uniustly haue affirmed. Neither was he the writer of an epistle to the second part of Gerileon, though by the Workemans error T. N., were set to the end; that I confesse to be mine and repent it not. Thus gentle
men, hauing noted the priuate causes that made me nominate my selfe in print; being as well to purge Master Nashe of that he did not, as to iustifie that I did, and with all to confirme what M. Greene did: I beseech ye accept the publike cause under the Title of Kind-hearts Dreame. . . Henrie
In this valuable testimony to Shakespeare's merits, Chettle defends him against dishonest dealing, which can only refer to Greene's suggestion that he had made an unjustifiable use of his (Greene's) material. That is to say, he defends him as being incapable of such conduct. Both Marlowe and Shakespeare had evidently complained to Chettle, or of Chettle for publishing the Groatsworth, and both had sufficient cause. But Chettle deals with Shakespeare's complaint, as though he was one of the play writers to whom Greene's letter was written, and this is not the case. Shakespeare does not come in that way at all, but quite collaterally, and expressly as an actor who also wrote. I suppose this is Chettle's inaccuracy with no further meaning. Chettle did not hear that Peele complained nor had he any reason to. Chettle's anxiety to purge Nashe of having been the writer of the Groatsworth, is taken as an argument by Malone and others, against his being the Juvenal in the piece-since he could not have been thought to have been the writer, if part of it had been addressed professedly to himself. This is too laboured. Those who thought it by Nashe may have identified or noticed that passage about him, but only the prominent features, the attacks on Marlowe and the actors, including Shakespeare. Moreover those who thought so had unimportant opinions, since the Groatsworth is not in the least like Nashe's work.
III. THE VIEWS OF SOME CRITICS.
Very much more has been read into Greene's letter than it seems to me to be capable of sustaining, by some writers. But the generally accepted effect is important enough, and that is that he (Greene) accused Shakespeare of plagiarising from himself, from Marlowe, from Peele, and from Nashe (or Lodge). Some are not nearly content with this. Furnivall says (Introd. to Contention facsimile) the passage "is of course a sneer at Shakespeare, and a claim by Greene that he-if not also all