the sentence had no allusion to Shakspere's occupation. The context of the passage
renders the matter even clearer. Nashe begins, " I will turn back to my first text
of studies of delight, and talk a little in friendship with a few of our trivial trans-
lators." Nashe aspired to the reputation of a scholar ; and he directs his satire
against those who attempted the labours of scholarship without the requisite quali-
fications. The trivial translators could scarcely latinize their neck- verse they could
scarcely repeat the verse of Scripture which was the ancient form of praying the
benefit of clergy. Seneca, however, might be read in English. We have then to
ask was " Hamlet " a translation or an adaptation from Seneca ? Did Shakspere
ever attempt to found a play upon the model of Seneca ; to be a trivial translator of
him ; even to transfuse his sentences into a dramatic composition ? If this impu-
tation does not hold good against Shakspere, the mention of "Hamlet" has no
connection with the shifting companion who is thus talked to as a trivial translator.
Nashe does not impute these qualities to " Hamlet," but to those who busy them-
selves with the endeavours of art in adapting sentences from Seneca which should
rival whole "Hamlets" in tragical speeches. And then he immediately says, "But,
O grief ! Tempus edax rerum ; what is it that will last always ? The sea exhaled
by drops will in continuance be clay ; and Seneca, let blood line by line, and page
by page, at length must needs die to our stage." This is in some sort a digression ;
but it has reference to the exact period of which we are writing.
The young Shakspere angl the young Marlowe were of the same age. What right
have we to infer that the one could produce a " Tamburlaine " at the age of twenty-
four, and the other not produce an imperfect outline of his own " Hamlet" at the
same age, or even a year earlier 1 Malone connects the supposed date of Shakspere's
commencement as a dramatic writer with the notice of him by some of his contem-
poraries. He passes over Nashe's "whole Hamlets;" he maintains that Spenser's
description, in 1591, of the "gentle spirit," who
" Doth rather choose to sit in idle cell
Than so himself to mockery to sell. "
applied not to Shakspere, but to Lyly, who was at that instant most active in
"mockery;" but he fixes Shakspere with having begun to write in 1592, because
Greene in that year sneers at him as " the only Shake-scene in a country." Docs a
young writer suddenly jump into the distinction of a sneer of envy from one much
older in reputation, as Greene was ? In an age when there were no newspapers and
no reviews, it must be extremely difficult to trace the course of any man, however
eminent, by the notices of the writers of his times. An author's fame, then, was
not borne through every quarter of the land in the very hour in which it was won.
More than all, the reputation of a dramatic writer 'could scarcely be known, except
to a resident in London, until his works were committed to the press. The first
play of Shakspere's (according to our belief) which was printed was The First Part
of the Contention (" Henry VI.," Part II.), and that did not appear till 1594. Now,
Malone says, " In Webbe's ' Discourse of English Poetry,' published in 1586, we meet
with the names of most of the celebrated poets of that time ; particularly those of
George Whetstone and Anthony Munday, who were dramatic writers ; but we find
no trace of our author, or of any of his works." But Malone does not tell us that
in Webbe's " Discourse of Poetry," we find the following passage : " I am humbly
to desire pardon of the learned company of gentlemen scholars, and students of the
universities and inns of court, if I omit their several commendations in this place,
which I know a great number of them have worthily deserved, in many rare devices
and singular inventions of poetry : for neither hath it been my good hap to have
seen all which I have heard of, neither is my abiding in such place where I can with
facility get knowledge of their works."
CHAP. III.] THE ONLY SHAKE-SCENE. 191
" Three years afterwards," continues Malone, " Puttenham printed his ' Art of
English Poesy ; ' and in that work also we look in vain for the name of Shakspeare."
The book speaks of the one-and-thirty years' space of Elizabeth's reign ; and thus
puts the date of the writing a year earlier than the printing. But we here look in
vain for some other illustrious names besides that of Shakspere. Malone has not
told us that the name of Edmund Spenser is not found in Puttenham ; nor, what is
still more uucandid, that not one of Shakspere's early dramatic contemporaries is
mentioned neither Marlowe, nor Greene, nor Peele, nor Kyd, nor Lyly. The author
evidently derives his knowledge of "poets and poesy" from a much earlier period
than that in which he publishes. He does not mention Spenser by name, but he
does " that other gentleman who wrote the late ' Shepherd's Calendar.' " The
"Shepherd's Calendar" of Spenser was published in the year 1579.
Malone goes on to argue that the omission of Shakspere's name, or any notice of
his works, in Sir John Harrington's "Apology of Poetry," printed in 1591, in which
" he takes occasion to speak of the theatre, and mentions some of the celebrated
dramas of that time," is a proof that^noue of Shakspere's dramatic compositions had
then appeared. The reader will be in a better position to judge of the value of this
argument by a reference to the passage of Sir John Harrington : " For tragedies,
to omit other famous tragedies, that, that was played at St. John's in Cambridge,
of Richard III., would move, I think, Phalaris the tyrant, and terrify all tyrannous-
ininded men." [This was a Latin play, by Dr. Legge, acted some years before 1588.]
" Then for comedies. How full of harmless mirth is our Cambridge ' Pedantius ' and
the Oxford ' Bcllum Grammatical ! ' ' [Latin plays again.] " Or, to speak of
a London comedy, how much good matter, yea, and matter of state, is there in that
comedy called The Play of the Cards,' in which it is showed how four parasitical
knaves robbed the four principal vocations of the realm ; videl. the vocation of
soldiers, scholars, merchants, and husbandmen ! Of which comedy, I cannot forget
the saying of a notable wise counsellor that is now dead, who, when some (to sing
Placebo) advised that it should be forbidden, because it was somewhat too plain, and
indeed as the old saying is (sooth boord is no boord), yet he would have it allowed,
adding it was fit that they which do that they should not, should hear that they
would not." Nothing, it will be seen, can be more exaggerated than Malone's state-
ment, " He takes occasion to speak of the theatre, and mentions some of the cele-
brated dramas of that time." Does he mention " Tamburlaine," or " Faustus," or
"The Massacre of Paris," or "The Jew of Malta?" As he does not, it may be
assumed with equal justice that none of these plays of Marlowe had appeared in
1591 ; and yet we know that he died in 1593. So of Lyly's " Galathea," "Alexander
and Campaspe," " Endymion," &c. So of Greene's " Orlando and Furioso," " Friar
Bacon," "James IV." So of the "Spanish Tragedy" of Kyd. The truth is, that
Harrington in his notice of celebrated dramas was even more antiquated than Put-
tenham ; and his evidence, therefore, in this matter, is utterly worthless.
But Malone has given his crowning proof that Shakspere had not written before
1591, in the following words : "Sir Philip Sydney, in his 'Defence of Poesie,' speaks
at some length of the low state of dramatic literature at the time he composed this
treatise, but has not the slightest allusion to Shakspeare, whose plays, had they then
appeared, would doubtless have rescued the English stage from the contempt which
is thrown upon it by the accomplished writer ; and to which it was justly exposed
by the wretched compositions of those who preceded our poet. ' The Defence of
Poesie' was not published till 1595, but must have been written some years before."
There is one slight objection to this argument : Sir Philip Sydney was killed at the
battle of Zutphen, in the year 1586 ; and it would really have been somewhat
surprising if the illustrious author of the " Defence of Poesy" could have included
192 WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : A BIOGRAPHY. [BOOK III.
Shakspere in his account "of the low state of dramatic literature at the time he
composed this treatise," which was in effect a reply to "The School of Abuse" of
Gosson, and to other controversialists of the puritanical faction, who were loudest
about 1580. At that time Shakspere was sixteen years of age.
The earliest example of the application of blank-verse to the drama is exhibited
in "Ferrex and Porrex," (usually called "Gorboduc,") written by Sackville and
Norton, and acted in the Inner Temple, and before the queen, in 1561. A surrep-
titious copy of this play was published in 1565 ; and a genuine edition appeared in
1571. Gascoyne's " Jocasta," played at Gray's Inn in 1566, was also in blank-
verse. Whetstone's "Promos and Cassandra," printed in 1578, but not previously
acted, was partially in blank-verse. Hughes's " Misfortunes of Arthur," in blank-
verse, was acted before the queen in 1587 at Greenwich. The plays pvblidy acted
subsequent to these performances, and up to 1587, when Nashe, in a passage we
have quoted, talks of the "swelling bombast of bragging blank-verse," are held
by Mr. Collier either to have been written in prose or in rhyming verse. Mr. Collier
therefore maintains that the establishment of blank- verse upon the public stage was
a great and original effort ; and he gives the praise of effecting this revolution to
Christopher Marlowe. " Tamburlaine," which he holds to be Marlowe's work, was,
he affirms, the first example of a play in blank-verse so acted. Mr. Collier says,
"To adduce 'Tamburlaine' as our earliest popular dramatic composition in blank-
verse is to present it in an entirely new light, most important in considering the
question of its merits and its defects." Again : " Marlowe did not ' set the end of
scholarism in an English blank- verse ; ' * but he thought that the substitution of
blank- verse for rhyme would be a most valuable improvement in our drama." Now,
we honestly confess, admitting that " Marlowe was our first poet who used blank-verse
in compositions performed in public theatres," (and the question is not one which
we are called upon here to examine,) we cannot appreciate the amount of the merit
which Mr. Collier thus claims for Marlowe. "Ferrex and Porrex" had been acted,
more than once, before numerous spectators ; and it was in existence, in the printed
form in which it was accessible to all men, sixteen years before Marlowe is supposed
to have effected this improvement. It was not an obscure or a contemptible per-
formance. Sydney describes it as "full of stately speeches and well-sounding
phrases, climbing to the height of Seneca his style." At any rate, here was dramatic
blank-verse ; monotonous indeed, not informed with any bold or creative spirit of
poetry, coldly correct, and tediously didactic ; but still blank-verse, constructed
upon a principle that was imitated by all the early dramatists, till some master arose
who broke up its uniformity, and refined the " drumming decasyllabon"f with
variety of measure and of pause. Where was the remarkable merit of introducing
the blank-verse of Sackville to the public stage ? If "Ferrex and Porrex" had not
been printed, if " Promos and Cassandra" had not been printed, if, being known
to a few, their memory had perished the man who first introduced blank- verse
into a popular play might have been held in some sense to have been an inventor.
But the public stage had not received the dramatic blank- verse with which every
scholar must have been familiar, from one very obvious circumstance, the rudeness
of its exhibitions did not require the aid of the poet, or at least required only the
aid which he could afford with extreme facility. The stage had its extemporal actors,
its ready constructors of dull and pointless prose, and its manufacturers of doggrel
which exhibited nothing of poetry but its fetters. Greene himself, who is not to
be confounded with the tribe of low writers for the theatre in its earliest transition-
state, says, in 1588, that he still maintains his "old course ,to palter up something
in prose." He is as indignant as his friend Nashe against " verses jet on the stage
* Greene, in 1588. f Nashe, 1587.
CHAP. III.] THE ONLY SHAKE-SCENE. 193
in tragical buskins, every word filling the mouth like the faburden of Bow-bell."
This, Mr. Collier says, is pointed at Marlowe. Greene is no doubt sarcastic upon
some one who had made mouthing verses, whilst he continued to write prose.
Marlowe, very probably, had first made a species of verse popular which Greene had
not practised, and which, he says, he was twitted with being unable to produce.
It was commendable in any man to adopt an essentially higher style than that
with which the stage had been familiar ; but it certainly required no great effort in
a poet to transfer the style which had been popular in the Inner Temple and Gray's
Inn to Blackfriars and the Curtain. The cases appear to us parallel with many cases
of publication in another form. The style which was first made popular by Beppo,
for . example, was previously presented to the English taste in Whistlecraft ; but
because Whistlecraft was known to a few, whilst Beppo was read by thousands, shall
we say. that Byron first thought the introduction of the style of Berni would be a
most valuable improvement in our poetry ? With the highest respect for Mr.
Collier's opinions, it appears to us that the reputation of Marlowe must rest, not
upon his popular revival of dramatic blank-verse, if he did so revive it, but upon
the extent to which he improved the model which was ready to his hand. And here
we cannot help thinking that the invective both of Nashe and Greene is not directed
so much against the popular introduction of blank-verse, as against a particular
species of blank-verse whose very defects had perhaps contributed to its popularity.
Nashe bestows his satire upon "vain-glorious tragedians, who contend not so seriously
to excel in action as to embowel the clouds in a speech of comparison ;" art-
masters, who " think to outbrave better pens with a swelling bombast," &c. ;
" being not extemporal in the invention of any other means to vent their manhood."
Greene, on the other hand, is one " whose extemporal vein in any humour will excel
our greatest art-masters' deliberate thoughts." Greene himself, although he derides
those " who set the end of scholarism in an English blank-verse," points especially
at verse where he finds " every word filling the mouth like the faburden of Bow-
bell;" and, he adds, "daring God out of heaven with that atheist Tamburlaine."
Mr. Collier has proved, very conclusively, that Marlowe was the author of " Tam-
burlaine ;" and there can be no doubt that much of the invective of Nashe and
Greene may justly apply to this performance. Its very defects Mr. Collier ascribes
to the circumstances under which it was written: "We may assert that, when
writing ' Tamburlaine,' Marlowe contemplated a most important change and im-
provement in English dramatic poetry. Until it appeared, plays upon the public
stage were written, sometimes in prose, but most commonly in rhyme ; and the
object of Marlowe was to substitute blank- verse. His genius was daring and original:
he felt that prose was heavy and unattractive, and rhyme unnatural and wearisome ;
and he determined to make a bold effort, to the success of which we know not how
much to attribute of the after-excellence of even Shakespeare himself.
Marlowe had a purpose to accomplish ; he had undertaken to wean the multitude
from the 'jigging veins of rhyming mother- wits,' which, according to Gosson, were
so attractive ; and in order to accomplish this object it was necessary to give some-
thing in exchange for what he took away. Hence the 'swelling bombast' of the
style in which much of the two Parts of 'Tamburlaine the Great' is written." Be
this as it may, we greatly doubt whether, if Shakspere had followed in the steps of
" Tamburlaine," his "after-excellence" would have been so rapidly matured. It was
when he rejected this model, if he ever followed it, that he moved onward with free-
dom to his own surpassing glory.
The plays that can be unhesitatingly assigned to Marlowe are, the two Parts of
"Tamburlaine," the "Massacre of Paris," "Faustus," "The Jew of Malta," and
" Edward II." There can be no doubt, whatever be the defects of these perform-
194 WILLIAM SHAKSPERE : A BIOGRAPHY. [BOOK III.
ances, that they are the work of a very remarkable man, one that stood apart from
the mass of his contemporaries to impress the peculiarities of his genius upon every-
thing he touched. It is impossible to open " Tamburlaine," at any page, without
feeling that we have lighted upon a work of power. We encounter perpetual instances
of the most extravagant taste ; the inflated style invades, without intermission, the
debateable ground between the sublime and the ridiculous ; the characters are
destitute of interest, with the exception of the gorgeous savage who perpetually fills
the scene ; we look in vain for the slightest approach to simplicity. But still we
are not wearied with the feeble platitudes that belong to the herd of imitators.
The wild magnificence, the unbridled passion, the fierceness of love or hatred, the
revelling in blood and cruelty without fear or remorse, the pride in being accounted
a scourge of God these attributes of the character of Tamburlaine were pre-
cisely suited to the power which Marlowe possessed for their development. In the
furnace of his imagination not only the images and figurative allusions, but the whole
material of his poetry, the action, the characterization, and the style, became
all of the same white heat. Everything in " Tamburlaine" burns. The characters
walk about like the damned in " Vathek," with hearts of real fire in their bosoms.
They speak in language such as no human beings actually employ, not because
they are Orientals, but because they are not men and women. They look to us as
things apart from this earth, not because they are clothed in " barbaric pearl and
gold," but because their feelings are not our feelings, and their thoughts not our
thoughts. The queen of the hero is dying in his presence : though he tied kings to
his. chariot- wheels, and scourged them with whips, he is represented as accessible
to the softer emotions ; and the lover thus pours forth his lament :
" Proud fury, and intolerable fit,
That dares torment the body of my love,
And scourge the scourge of the immortal God :
Now are those spheres, where Cupid us'd to sit,
Wounding the world with wonder and with love,
Sadly supplied with pale and ghastly death.
Whose darts do pierce the centre of my soul.
Her sacred beauty hath enchanted heaven ;
And had she liv'd before the siege of Troy,
Helen, (whose beauty summon'd Greece to arms,
And drew a thousand ships to Tenedos,)
Had not been nam'd in Homer's Iliads ;
Her name had been in ev'ry line he wrote.
Or had those wanton poets, for whose birth
Old Rome was proud, but gaz'd awhile on her,
Nor Lesbia nor Corinna had been nam'd ;
Zenocrate had been the argument
Of ev'ry epigram or elegy.
\The Music sounds. ZENOCRATE dies.
What ! is she dead 1 Techelles, draw thy sword
And wound the enrth, that it may cleave in twain,
And we descend into th' infernal vaults,
To hale the fatal sisters by the hair,
And throw them in the triple moat of hell,
For taking hence my fair Zenocrate.
Casane and Theridamas, to arms !
Raise cavalieros higher than the clouds,
And with the cannon break the frame of heav'n ;
Batter the shining palace of the sun,
And shiver all the starry firmament,
For am'rous Jove hath snatch'd my love from hence,
Meaning to make her stately queen of heaven.
What God soever hold thee in his arms,
CHAP. III.] THE ONLY SHAKE-SCENE. 195
Giving thee nectar and ambrosia,
Behold me hero, divine Zenocrate,
Raving, impatient, desperate, and mad,
Breaking my steeled lance, with which I burst
The rusty beams of Janus' temple-doors,
Letting out death and tyrannizing war,
To march with me under this bloody flag !
And if thou piticst Tamburlaine the Great,
Come down from heav'n and live with me again."
" The Massacre of Paris," which Mr. Collier thinks " was produced soon after
1588," is essentially without dramatic interest. It was a subject in which Marlowe
would naturally revel ; for in the progress of the action blood could be made to flow
as freely as water. Charles Lamb wittily says, " Blood is made as light of in some
of these old dramas as money in a modern sentimental comedy ; and as this is given
away till it reminds us that it is nothing but counters, so that is spilt till it affects
us no more than its representative, the paint of the property-man in the theatre."
Unquestionably this was a characteristic of the transition state of the drama ; and
"Titus Andronicus" is a memorable example of it. But Marlowe, especially, revels
in these exhibitions ; and in the " Jew of Malta" the passion is carried to the verge
of the ludicrous. The effect intended to be produced is, of course, utterly defeated
by these wholesale displays of brutality. As we pity the " one solitary captive," so
we weep over the one victim of another's passions ; but the revenge of Barabas, the
poisoning not only of his own daughter but of the entire nunnery in which she had
take 11 refuge, the massacres, the treacheries, the burning caldron that he had intended
for a whole garrison, and into which he is himself plunged, tragedy such as this
is simply revolting. The characters of Barabas and of his servant, and the motives
by which they are stimulated, are the mere coinage of extravagance ; and the effect
is as essentially undramatic as the personification is unreal.
" Faustus" is of a higher cast than the " Jew of Malta," although it was probably
written before it. Mr. Collier conceives that "Faustus" was intended to follow up
"Tamburlaine ;" while he assigns the "Jew" to 1589 or 1590. Its great merit
lies in the conception of the principal character. It is undramatic in the general
progress of the action ; full of dark subtleties, that rather reveal the condition of
Marlowe's own mind than lead to the popular appreciation of the character which
he painted ; and the comedy with which it is blended is perfectly out of keeping,
neither harmonising with the principal action, nor relieving it by contrast. But still
there is wonderful power. It is, however, essentially the power of Marlowe, to
whom it was not given, as to the " myriad-minded man," to go out of himself to
realise the truth of every form of human thought and passion, and even to make
the supernatural a reality. It was for Marlowe to put his own habits of mind into
his dramatic creations ; to grapple with terrors that would be 'revolting to a well-
disciplined understanding ; " to wander in fields where curiosity is forbidden to go ;
to approach the dark gulf near enough to look in ; to be busied in speculations
which are the rottenest part of the core of the fruit that fell from the tree of know-
ledge."* It is in this spirit, Lamb holds, that he dealt with the characters of
r.arabas and Faustus. May we not add that when he worked upon a new model,
when he produced his " Edward II.," in all probability his latest play, he could
not even then avoid exposing " a mind which at least delighted to dabble with inter-
dicted subjects 1 " The character of Gavestoii is certainly not drawn as Shakspere
would have drawn it : if there had been a necessity for so treating the subject, he
would have abandoned it altogether.
* Lamb's " Specimens," vol. i., page 44.
196 WILLIAM SHAKSrERE : A BIOGRAPHY. [BOOK III.
Within a year or two of his death the genius of Marlowe was thus revelling in the
exercise of its own peculiar qualities ; displaying alike its strength and its weakness,
its refinement and its grossness. In his latest period he produced the " Edward II."
Mr. Collier mentions this as " if not the last, certainly one of the most perfect, of
Marlowe's productions Here the author's versification is. exhibited in its
greatest excellence." It was entered at Stationers' Hall in July 1593, the unhappy
poet having been killed in the previous month. We presume, therefore, that those