Page images






GREAT majority of the English Shakespearian editors, commentators, and critics, including
some of the very highest names in literature, have concurred in rejecting this bloody and

repulsive tragedy as wholly unworthy of Shakespeare, and therefore erroneously ascribed to him. Yet the external evidence of his authorship of the piece is exceedingly strong-indeed stronger than that for one half of his unquestioned works. It was repeatedly printed during the author's life; the first time (as appears from the Stationers' Register and Langbaine's authority,—no copy being now known to be in existence) in 1593 or 1594, by J. Danter, who was also, in 1597, the publisher of ROMEO AND Juliet, in its original form. It was again reprinted in a quarto pamphlet in 1600 and in 1611. It was finally published in the first folio in 1623, and placed without question amongst the tragedies, between Coriolanus and ROMEO AND JULIET. The editors of this first collection of Shakespeare's “Comedies, and Histories, and Trågedies, published according to the true originall copies," announced to their readers, in their preface, " the care and paine" they had taken so to publish “ his writings, that where before you were abused with diverse stolen and surreptitious copies maimed and deformed by the frauds and stealthe of injurious impostors; even these are now offered to view cured and perfect of their

limbs; and all the rest, absolute in their numbers as he conceived them.” It is then difficult to believe that editors who thus professed to reject even imperfect copies of genuine plays, should have admitted without doubt a whole play in which their author had no hand. Nor can we suppose them likely to be mistaken in such a matter, when we recollect that these editors were Heminge and Condell, long the managers of a theatrical company which had represented this very play, and to whom its author could not well have been unknown; who were, moreover, for years Shakespeare's associates in theatrical concerns, and his personal friends, and who, in connection with the great original actor of Othello and RICHARD, Hamlet and Lear, are remembered by the Poet in his will, by a bequest “ to my fellows John Hemynge, Richard Burbage, and Henry Cundell, to buy them rings."

These editors had besides given no slight proof of their care and fidelity on this point, by rejecting at least fourteen other plays ascribed by rumor, or by the unauthorized use of his name, to Shakespeare, and a part of which were afterwards added to their collection by the less scrupulous publishers of the folios of 1664 and of 1685.

Titus ANDRONICUs is moreover unhesitatingly ascribed to Shakespeare by his contemporary Francis Meres, in the “Comparative discourse of our English Poets, with the Greek, Latine, and Italian Poets," contained in his

Palladis Tamia,” 1598. The list of Shakespeare's works there given by Meres, has always been regarded as the best authority for the chronology of all the great Poet's works mentioned in it, and it contains the title of no other piece that ever has been questioned as of doubtful authenticity. Meres is said by Schlegel to have been personally acquainted with the Poet, and“ so very intimately, that the latter read to him his sonnets before they were printed." I do not know on what authority he states this fact so strongly; yet it is remarkable that, in 1598, eleven years before Shakespeare's sonnets were printed, Meres had said " the sweete wittie soul of Ovid lives in mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare ; witness his Venus And Adonis, his Lucrece, his sugаred sonnets among his private friends.” It is besides certain, on other authority, that Meres, at the date of his publication, was intimately connected with Drayton, and he was very familiar with the literature and literary affairs of his day.

Now all this chain of positive evidence applies, not merely to an obscure play unknown in its day, but to a piece which, with all its faults, suited the taste of the times, was several times reprinted, and was often acted, and that by different theatrical companies, one of which was that with which Shakespeare was himself connected. It would be without example, that the author of such a piece should have been content for years to have seen his work ascribed to another.

Indeed, we find no trace of any doubt on the subject, until 1687, nearly a century after the first edition, when Ravenscroft, who altered Titus ANDRONICUS to make it apply to a temporary political purpose, asserted that he had “ been told by some anciently conversant with the stage, that it was not originally his, but brought by a private author to be acted, and he only gave some master-touches to one or two of the principal characters.” But Ravenscroft's tradition comes in a most suspicious shape, as he had some years before spoken of the piece as unquestionably and entirely Shakespeare's.*

* "Ravenscroft's contemporary, Langbaine, makes his authority appear of very little value. Langbaine notices an early edition of * Titus Andronicus,' now lost, printed in 1594; he adds—"'Twas about the time of the Popish Plot revived and altered by Mr. Ravenscroft.' Ravenscroft was a living author when Langbaine published his . Account of the English Dramatic Poets,' in 1691; and the writer of that account says, with a freedom that is seldom now adopted except in anonymous criticism— Though he would be thought to imitate the silk-worm, that spins its web from its own bowels; yet I shall make him appear like the leech, that lives upon the blood ot' men. This is introductory to an account of those plays which Ravenscroft claimed as his own. But

, under the head of Shakespeare, Langbaine says that Ravenscroft boasts. in his preface to Titus, “That he thinks it a greater theft to rob the dead of their praise than

a play once erroneously attributed to Shakespeare, and was as little known among literary men as any of the plase of the secondary dramatists of the same age, who have since been made familiar, at least by name and in quotatud, py the brilliant comments of Lamb and Hazlitt, and the large use made of them by the commentators.

Towards the end of the century, Pericles appeared in the editions of Malone, and in those of Johnson and Stereas. after the associations of these two critics. This was mainly in consequence of the opinion maintained by Malone who had the courage to assert and support by argument, that “Pericles was the entire work of Shakespeare, and one of his earliest compositions." Stevens, on the other hand, resolutely maintained :

“ The drama before us contains no discrimination of manners, (except in the comic dialognes,) very few tracas of original thought, and is evidently destitute of that intelligence and useful knowledge that pervade eren tre meanest of Shakespeare's undisputed performances. To speak more plainly, it is neither enriched by the gens that sparkle through the rubbish of Love's LABOC R's Lost, nor the good sense which so often fertilizes the barrea fable of the Two GENTLEMEN OF VERONA. Pericles, in short, is little more than a string of adventures so nume 'rous, so inartificially crowded together, and so far removed from probability, that, in my private judgment. I mx acquit even the irregular and lawless Shakespeare of having constructed the fabric of the drama, though he has certainly bestowed some decoration on its parts. Yet even this decoration, like embroidery on a blanket, only serves by contrast to expose the meanness of the original materials. That the plays of Shakespeare hare their inequalities likewise, is sufficiently understood ; but they are still the inequalities of Shakespeare. He may occasisally be absurd, but is seldom foolish; he may be censured, but can rarely be despised.

** I do not recollect a single plot of Shakespeare's formation, (or even adoption from preceding plays or notels.) in which the majority of the characters are not so well connected, and so necessary in respect of each other, tba: they proceed in combination to the end of the story; unless the story (as in the cases of Antigonus and Miercuboj requires the interposition of death. In PERICLEs this continuity is wanting:

diajectas moles, avulsaque saxis

Saxa vides ;

and even with the aid of Gower the scenes are rather loosely tacked together, than closely interwoven. Te se no more of Antiochus after his first appearance. His anonymous danghter utters but one unintelligible couple and then vanishes. Simonides likewise is lost as soon as the marriage of Thaisa is over; and the punishmeui of Cleon and his wife, which poetic justice demanded, makes no part of the action, but is related in a kind of epilogue by Gower. This is at least a practice which in no instance has received the sanction of Shakespeare. From such deficiency of mutual interest, and liaison among the personages of the drama, I am further strengthened in my be lief that our great Poet had no share in constructing it. Dr. Johnson long ago observed that his real power is not seen in the splendour of particular passages, but in the progress of his fable, and the tenour of his dialogne; and when it becomes necessary for me to quote a decision founded on comprehensive views, I can appeal to none in which I should more implicitly confide. Gower relates the story of Pericles in a manner not quite so desultory; and yet such a tale as that of Prince Appolyn, in its most perfeci state, would hardly have attracted the notice of any playwright, except one who was quite a novice in the rules of his art.”

In this view Malone finally acquiesced, in substance, though, with great truth and good taste, still insisting that

* The wildness and irregularity of the fable, the artless conduct of the piece, and the inequalities of the poetry, may be all accounted for, by supposing it either his first or one of his earliest essays in dramatic composition."

Stevens's decision long remained unquestioned, both as to the point of Shakespeare's share of authorship, and the poetic merits of the drama itself; and it has recently received more authority for having been substantially reaffirmed by Mr. Hallam :-“From the poverty and bad management of the fable, the want of effective and disti guishable character, and the general feebleness of the tragedy as a whole, I should not believe the structure tu bare been Shakespeare's. But (he adds) many passages are far more in his manner than in that of any contemporary writer with whom I am acquainted, and the extrinsic testimony, though not conclusive, being of some value, 1 should not dissent from the judgment of Stevens and Malone, that it was in ‘no inconsiderable degree repaired and improved by his hand.'” (Literature of Europe.) He elsewhere insists, that “the play is full of evident marks of an inferior hand.” Other modern critics, of nearly as high name, have gone still further in censure: W. Gifford, for example, rejects and brands the play as “the worthless Pericles.”

This sweeping, unqualified censure was amusingly counterbalanced by as unqualified an expression of admiration, by William Godwin—a writer whose political ethics and metaphysics, full of the boldest opinions, expressed in the most startling and paradoxical form, had prepared the public to expect similar extravagances on all other subjects, and had thus taken away much of the weight of his literary judgments. Yet these judgments are in fact entitled to all the weight due to a writer of genius,-manifesting on all such subjects an extensive acquaintance with English literature, in its whole range, guided by a pure taste, and a quick and deep sensibility to every form of beauty. In his “ Life of Chaucer," incidentally speaking of Pericles, he designates it as “a beautiful drama," " which in sweetness of manner, delicacy of description, truth of feeling, and natural ease of language, would do honour to the greatest author that ever existed." Since that period, many others have been more disposed to dwell upon the beauties of Pericles—the existence of which few now deny—than upon its many defects, in which none but a blind idolater of the great bard can close his eyes. Accordingly its merits have been vindicated by the modern continental critics, and by several of the later English ones; as by Franz Horn, Ulrici, Knight, Dr. Drake, and especially by Mr. Proctor, (Barry Cornwall,) in a long and admirable note, in his memoir of Ben Jonson, prefixed to Moxon's edition of Jonson's works, (1838.) (See extracts in notes to this edition.) Barry Cornwall roundly charges the preceding critics (from Pope to Gifford) with having condemned Pericles unread; while he proves that “ the merit and style of the work sufficiently denote the author"—that author of whom he eloquently says, that he “ was and is, bevond all competition, the greatest Poet that the world has erer seen. He is the


the higher products of dramatic poetry, it has little to recommend it. But in itself, and for its times, it was very far from giving the indication of an unpoetical or undramatic mind. One proof of this is that it was long a popular favorite on the stage. It is full of defects, but these are precisely such as a youthful aspirant, in an age of authorship, would be most likely to exhibit—such as the subjection to the taste of the day, good or bad, and the absence of that dramatic truth and reality which some experience of human passion, and observation of life and manners, can alone give the power to produce.

This tragedy of coarse horror was in the fashion and taste of the times, and accordingly stands in the same relation to the other popular drainas of the age, that the juvenile attempts of Swift and Byron do to the poetry of their day which had excited their ambition. But it differs from their early writings in this, that while they fall very much below their models, this tragedy is at least equal to the once admired tragedies of Peele and Kyd, and if inferior in degree of power, yet not of an inferior class to the scenes of Marlowe and Green, the models of dramatic art and genius of their times. Theatrical audiences had not yet been taught to be thrilled "with grateful terror" without the presence of physical suffering; and the author of ANDRONICUS made them, in Macbeth's phrase, “sup full with horrors." He gave them stage effect and interest such as they liked, stately declamation, with some passages of truer feeling, and others of pleasing imagery. It is not in human nature that a boy author should be able to develope and pourtray the emotions and passions of Lear or of Iago. It was much that he could raise them dimly before “his mind's eye,” and give some imperfect outline and foreshadowing of them in Aaron and Andronicus. He who could do all this in youth and inexperience, might, when he had found his own strength, do much more. The boy author of Titus Andronicus might well have written LEAR twenty years after. The little resemblance of diction and versification of this play to after works, may also be ascribed to the same

We do not need the experience or the authority of Dryden to prove that the mastery of “the numbers of his mother tongue,” is one of those gifts which “nature never gives the young."

The young poet, born in an age and country having a cultivated poetic literature, good or bad, must, until he has formed his own ear by practice, and thus too by practice made his language take the impress and colour of his own mind, echo and repeat the tune of his instructors. This may be observed in Shakespeare's earlier comedies ; and to my ear many lines and passages of ANDRONICUS,—such as the speech of Tamora in act ii, scene 2, " The birds chant melodies in every bush,” etc., etc., and in this same scene the lines in the mouth of the same personage, “ A barren detested vale, you see it is,” recall the rhythm and taste of much of the poetry of the Two GENTLEMEN OF VERONA. The matchless freedom of dramatic dialogue and emotion, and of lyrical movement—the grand organ swell of contemplative harmony, were all to be afterwards acquired by repeated trial and continued practice. The versification and melody of Titus ANDRONICUs are nearer to those of Shakespeare's two or three earlier comedies, than those are to the solemn harmony of Prospero's majestic morality.

Nor can I find in this play any proof of the scholar-like familiarity with Greek and Roman literature, that Stevens asserts it to contain, and therefore to be as much above Shakespeare's reach in learning as beneath him in genius. This lauded scholarship does not go beyond such slight schoolboy familiarity with the more popular Latin poets read in schools, and with its mythology, and some hackneyed scraps of quotation such as the Poet has often shown elsewhere. The neglect of all accuracy of history, and of its costumes, the confusion of ancient Rome with modern and Christian habits, are more analogous to Shakespeare's own irregular acquirements than to the manner of a regularly trained scholar. Mr. Hallam has said of the disputed Roman tragedies, that “it is manifest that in these, Roman character and still more Roman manners are not exhibited with the precision of the scholar”. a criticism from which few scholars will dissent as to the manner, though few will agree with it as to “ Roman character.” But if this be true in any extent of the historical dramas composed in the fullness of the Poet's knowledge and talent, we shall find the same sort of defects in Titus ANDRONICus, and carried to a greater excess. The story is put together without any historical basis, or any congruity with any period of Roman history. The Tribune of the people is represented as an efficient popular magistrate, while there is an elective yet despotic emperor. The personages are Pagans, appealing to “ Apollo, Pallas, Juno, or Mercury," while at the beginning of the play we find a wedding according to the Catholic ritual, with “priest and holy water," and tapers “burning bright;" and at the end an allusion to a Christian funeral, with “burial and mournful weeds and mournful bell :" to say nothing of Aaron's sneer at “Popish ceremonies," or of the “ ruined monastery" in the plain near Rome. (See note, act v, scene 1.)

For all these reasons, I am so far from rejecting this play as spurious, that I regard it as a valuable and curious evidence of the history of its author's intellectual progress. A few years ago this opinion, advanced in the face of such an array of critical decisions, would have appeared paradoxical. The only editor or commentator of the last century who dared to maintain it, was Capell, an acute critic well versed in old English literature, but so unfortunate in a singularly confused style and dark peculiarity of expression, that his opinions carried with them no weight of authority, until recently, when later editors, who have profited by his labours, have joined in acknowl. edging his merits. But in later times, Schlegel, Horn, Ulricci, and all the authors and translators of the Teutonic school of criticism, have agreed to recognize this as an early work of Shakespeare's; and some of them, in their adoration of the author, have given it higher praise than it deserves. An excellent critical article on Shake spearian literature in the Edinburgh Review for 1840, transiently expresses the same opinion as to its authenticity, but without going into any detail of argument. Finally, the last and best English editions of SHAKESPEARE,-those of Mr. Knight, and that of Mr. Collier—which agree on so few points admitting of any reasonable difference of opinion, concur in considering Titus ANDRONICUs as one of the earliest, if not the very earliest dramatic production of Shakespeare. Mr. Collier, while" he has no hesitation in assigning it to Shakespeare,” only doubts whether he " was the author of the entire tragedy, or was only so in a qualified sense, as having made additions to and

in its full splendour and magnitude, and takes for granted what all experience teaches, that the first trials of his strength had the awkwardness and feebleness of boyish youth. This hypothesis corresponds with the legendary and inartificial structure of the main story, and the feebleness of characterization-points which would be least d all susceptible of improvement, without an entire recasting of the drama. It agrees too with the large stage-direction and ample allowance of dumb show, such as he afterwards introduced into his mimic play in HAMLET, ands remain in CYMBELINE, as remnants of the old groundwork of that drama, and which were strongly characteristic of the fashion of the stage in Shakespeare's youth. The additions and improvements are very perceptible, and stand out boldly from the weakly executed framework of the drama, which remains untouched-differing from similar enlargements and corrections of others of his own dramas, (as RoMEO AND JULIET, etc.,) by the Poet himseli, in the greater contrast here afforded by the effusions of his matured mind, with the timid outline of his unpratised hand; and differing again from CYMBELINE (as Coleridge remarks) by the entire rifacimento of the latter, when Shakespeare's celebrity as a poet, no less than his influence as manager, enabled him to bring forward the lordly labours of his youth.” Pericles having, from its first appearance, by means of its story, its dumb-show, and by its comparative merit relatively to its rivals for popular favour, succeeded, and kept possession of the stage, the author would not feel himself called upon to re-write a play which answered its main end, and the subject of which presented no peculiar attractions to him, while the reëxamination of his own boyish, half-formed thoughts would naturally expand and elevate them into nobler forms, and re-clothe them in that glowing language be bad since created for himself.

This theory commends itself as every way probable to my judgment, as it has done to that of others, whore opinions are entitled to great deference.

Nevertheless, the other solution of the difficulty—that proposed by Mr. Hallam-may still be the true one; that the original “ Pericles” was by some inferior hand, perhaps by a personal friend of Shakespeare's, and that be, without remodelling the plot, undertook to correct and improve it, beginning with slight additions, and his mind. warming as he proceeded, breaking out towards the close of the drama with its accustomed vigour and abundance.

This opinion has been the more generally received one among the English critics, and it has the advantage of solving one difficulty which the other theory leaves unexplained-why Pericles was omitted by the editors of the first folio.

Mr. Collier has well summed up the argument on this side of the question, and as his statement contains som other facts of interest in relation to this piece, it is here inserted.

“ An opinion has long prevailed, and we have no doubt it is well founded, that two hands are to be traced in the composition of Pericles. The larger part of the first three Acts were in all probability the work of an inferior dramatist: to these Shakespeare added comparatively little; but he found it necessary, as the story advanced and as the interest increased, to insert more of his own composition. His hand begins to be distinctly seen in the third Act, and afterwards we feel persuaded that we could extract nearly every line that was not dictated by his great intellect. We apprehend that Shakespeare found a drama on the story in the possession of one of the companies performing in London, and that, in accordance with the ordinary practice of the time, he made additions to and improvements in it, and procured it to be represented at the Globe theatre.* Who might be the author of the the original piece, it would be vain to conjecture. Although we have no decisive proof that Shakespeare ever worked in immediate concert with any of his contemporaries, it was the custom with nearly all the dramatists of his day, and it is not impossible that such was the case with PERICLES.

“* The circumstance that it was a joint production, may account for the non-appearance of Pericles in the follo of 1623. Ben Jonson, when printing the volume of his Works, in 1616, excluded for this reason • The Case is Altered,' and · Eastward Ho!' in the composition of which he had been engaged with others; and when the player-editors of the folio of 1623 were collecting their materials, they perhaps omitted PERICLES because some living author might have an interest in it. Of course we advance this point as a mere speculation; and the fact that the publishers of the folio of 1623 could not purchase the right of the bookseller, who had then the property in · Pericles,' may have been the real cause of its non-insertion.

" The Registers of the Stationers' Company show that on the 20th May, 1608, Edward Blount (one of the proprietors of the folio of 1623) entered • The booke of Pericles, Prynce of Tyre,' with one of the undoubted works of Shakespeare, ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA. Nevertheless, Pericles was not published by Blount, but by Gossun in the following year; and we may infer, either that Blount sold his interest to Gosson, or that Gosson anticipated Blount in procuring a manuscript of the play. Gosson may have subsequently parted with Pericles to Thomas Pavier, and hence the re-impression by the latter in 1619.

“Having thus spoken of the internal evidence of authorship, we will now advert briefly to the external evidence, that it was the work of our great dramatist. In the first place it was printed in 1609, wiih his name at full length, and rendered unusually obvious, on the title-page. The answer, of course, may be that this was a fraud, and that it had been previously committed in the cases of the first part of • Sir Jolın Oldcastle,' 1600, and of · The Yorkshire Tragedy,' 1608. It is undoubtedly true, that Shakespeare's name is upon those title-pages; but we know, with regard to “Sir John Oldcastle,' that the original title-page, stating it to have been . Written by William Shakespeare' was cancelled, no doubt at the instance of the author to whom it was falsely imputed; and as to . The Yorkshire Tragedy,' many persons have entertained the belief, in which we join, that Shakespeare had a share in its composition. We are not to forget that, in the year preceding, Nathaniel Butter had made very prominent use of Shakespeare's name, for the sale of three impressions of King LEAR; and that in the very year when Pericles came out, Thorpe had printed a collection of scattered poems, recommending them to notice in very large capitals, by stating emphatically that they were Shakespeare's Sonnets.'

* "A list of theatrical apparel, formerly belonging to Alleyn the player, mentions spangled hose in Pericles,' from which it appears that he had probably acted in a play called “Pericles.' See - Memoirs of Edward Alleyn.' This might be the play which Shakespeare altered and improved."

† “ It seems that PERICLES was reprinted under the same circumstances in 1611. I have never been able to meet with a copy of this edition, and doubted its existence, until Mr. Halliwell pointed it out to me, in n sale catalogue in 18 14; it purported to have been * printed for S. S.' This fact would show, that Shakespeare did not then contradict the reiterated assertion, tliat he was the author of the play."

« PreviousContinue »