i. d'israeli.

amenities of literature, consisting of sketches and characters of english ... online

. (page 16 of 37)
Online Libraryi. d'israeliamenities of literature, consisting of sketches and characters of english ... → online text (page 16 of 37)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

of his own ; but this rash act was in the early days of
the commentatorship ; Stevens must soon have di»-
covered the inconvenience of printing unreadable
dramas, to exhibit the Concealed industry of the mighty
bard. The spells of Shakespeare did not hang on the
artificial edifice of his fable ; he looked abroad for man-

Vol. II.-~ 17

Digitized byLjOOQlC


kind, and within his own breast for all the impulses of
the beings of his imagination. All he required was
a scene ; then the whole '* sphere of humanity," as
Johnson expressed it, lie wide before him. There was
a Jew before the " Merchant of Venice ;" a shrew had
been tamed before Katherine by Petruchio^ a King
Lear and his three daughters, before the only one the
world knows; and a tragical Hamlet had philoso-
phized like Seneca, as the satirical Nash told, before
our Shakespeare's : but this list is needless, for it would
include every drama he has left us. Even the beings
of his creation lie before him in their embryon state.
His creative faculty never required more than a sug-
gestion. The prototype of the wonderful Caliban has
not hitherto been discovered, but the fairies of the
popular mythology become the creatures of his own
imagination. Middleton first opened the incantations
of " the witches." The Hecate of Middleton is a mis-
chief-brooding hag, gross and tangible, and her " spirits,
black, white, and gray," with her " devil-toad, devil-
ram, devil-cat, and devil-dam," disturb their spells by
the familiar drollery of their names, andl their vulgar
instincts. Out of this ordinary domestic witchcraft
the mightier poet raised " the weird sist»s,"

<< That look not like the inhabitants o' the earth,
And yet are onH,''

nameless, bodyless, vanishing shadows !

*'And what seemed corporal
Melted as breath into the wind."

The dramatic personages which seem to me peculiar
to Shakespeare, and in which he evidently revelled,
serving his purposes on every opposite occasions, are
his clowns and doniestic fools. Yet his most famous
comic personage, the fat knight, was the rich graft on

Digitized byLjOOQlC


the miserable scion of Sir John Oldcastle, in an old
play; the slight hint "of a mere pampered glutton"
was idealized into that inimitable variety of human
nature combined in one man — at once so despicable
and so delightful.

The life of our poet remains almost a blank, and his
very name a subject of contention.* Of that singular

* Posterity is even in some danger of losing the real name of our great
dramatic poet. In the days of Shakespearei and long after, proper
names were written down as the ear caught the sound, or they were
capriciously varied by the owner. It is not therefore strange that we
have instances of eminent persons writing the names of intimate friends
and of public characters in a manner not always to be recognised. Of
this we are now furnished with the most abundant evideuce, which was
not sufficiently adverted to in the early times of our commentators.

The autographs we possess of our national bard are unquestionably
written Shaksfeae, according to the pronunciation of his native town ;
there the name was variously written — even in the same public doc-
ument — but always regulated by the dialectical orthoepy. The mar-
riage-license of the poet, recovered in the Gent. Mag. for Sept., 1836,
offers a striking evidence of the viciousness of the pronunciation and the
utter carelessness with which names were written , for there we find it

That the poet himself considered that the genuine name was Shake-
87EABE, accordant with his arm» (a spear, the point upward), seems
certain, notwithstanding his compliance with the custom of his country;
for his '^ Rape of Lucrece,^' printed by himself in 1594, in the first edi-
tion bears the name of Wizxiam Shakespeare, as also does the " Venus
and Adonis,^' that first heir of his invention ; these first editions of his
juvenile poems were doubtlessly anxiously scrutinized by the youthful
bard. In the literary metropolis the name was so pronounced. Ban-
croft has this allusion in his Epigrams — <'To Shakespeare : —

" Thou hast so used thy pen, or shook thy speare,
That poets startle.*' —

The well-known allusion of Robert Greene, to a shake-scene, confirms
the pronunciation. I now supply one more evidence — that of Thomas
Heywood, the intimate of Shakespeare and his brother dramatists ; he,
like some others, has printed the name with a hyphen, which I trans-
scribe from the volume open before me : —

" Mellifluous Shake-speare,**

Hierarchie of Angela, 200.

The question resolves itself into this — Is the name of our great bard
to descend to posterity with the barbaric curt shock of Shakspere, the

Digitized byVjOOQlC


genius wlio is now deemed the national bard, we can
only positively ascertain that the place of his birth was
that of his death ; a circumstance which for a poet is
some evidence of his domestic prosperity ; but the glori-
ous interval of existence, how and all he performed on the
stage of human life, no one observed as differing from
his fellows of the company, and he of all men the least }
and of his productions, wherein we are to find every
excellence to which any poet has reached, our skepti-
cism is often at work to detect what is Shakespearian
among that which cannot be.

Of the idle traditions of the youth of Shakespeare,
Malone, after " foraging for anecdotes'* during half a
century, has painfull}'- satisfied us, that all which so
many continue to repeat was apocryphal. Having with
his own eyes ascertained that Sir Thomas Lucy had no
park, he closed with his famous corollary, that " there-
fore he could have no deer to be stolen." But other
parks and other deer were liable to the mischance of
furnishing venison for a young deer-fancier, to treat his
friends ; and Sir Thomas Lucy, probably, was Justice
Shallow on this occasion to the poetic stripling. The
other circumstances of the poet's early life, too well
known to repeat, may stand on the same ground. Per-
sonal faets may come down to us confused, inaccurate,
and mistaken, but they do not therefore necessarily rest
on no foundation. The invention oY such irrelevant
circumstances seems to be without a motive ; and
though the propagators of gossip are strange blunder-
ers, they rarely aspire to be original inventors. We
are not concerned with such tales, for there is nothing
in them which is peculiar to the idiosyncrasy of the
great poet.

The first noticeable incident in the life of Shake-
twang of a proYiDcial corruption ; or, following the writers of the Eliza-
bethan age, shall we maintain the restoration of the euphony and the
troth of the name of Shakespeabe ?

Digitized byLjOOQlC


speare was his marriage in 1582, in his eighteenth year ;
the nuptials of the poet seem an afiair of domestic
convenience, rather than a poetical incident in ^' the
romance of life."

In 1586, heing only twenty-two years of age, Shake-
speare quitted home for the metropolis.

At this critical moment of his life, which Malone
sought for in despair, we should have remained in dark-
ness, had not the fortunate and intrepid industry of
the most devoted enthusiast of the Shakespearian school
lifted his steady torch.* Shakespeare arrived at the
theatre not to hold the horses of gentlemen, as was so
long reported, without, for he- had a more friendly
interest within, doors. There he joined a neighhor ia
his shire, Richard Burhage, who suhsequently hecame
the renowned actor of the future Shakespeare's crea-
tions ; and likewise Thomas Green, his townsman, and
no inferior actor and poet. It is hardly a conjecture to
presume that their friendly invitations had tempted our
youthful adventurer to join their company. In three
years Shakespeare obtained shares in the theatre, which
multiplied every year, till he became the joint-proprietor
with Burbage. The friendship of the actor and the
dramatist was a golden bond, when each had conferred
on the other their mutual popularity. The plays of
Shakespeare were higher favorites with the public
during the lifetime of this Garrick of the poet's own
days ; and the renowned actor was so charmed by his
own success, that he perpetuated among his daughters
the delightful name of Juliet, which reminded him,
with pride, of his own exquisite Romeo.

Shakespeare proved a closer and more refined observ-
er of the art of acting than nature had enabled him to
show himself as an actor, by practising his own pro-
fessional precepts. Two actors, who long survived

* Mr. J. Payne Collier, in his " New Facts residing the Life of Shake*


Digitized byLjOOQlC


the poet, recorded that he had critically instructed
the one to enact Hamlet, and the other Henry the

How an indifferent actor as Shakespeare was, he-
trayed those latent dramatic faculties hy which he was
one day to be the delight of that stage which he could
not tread, remains a secret which the poet has not told.
But whether it was by accident or in some happy hour,
we know not, that Shakespeare, in conning the manu-
script of some wretched drama, felt the glorious im-
pulse which prompted the pen to strike out whole pas-
sages, and to interpolate whole scenes ; that moment
was the obscure birth of his future genius. How he
was employed at this unknown era of his life, the peev-
ish jealousy of a brother of the craft has curiously in-
formed us.

When Shakespeare was a name yet scarcely known,
•ave to that mimetic world, tenanted by play-wrights, it
appears that he was there sustaining an active and se-
cret avocation. The great bard had been serving a si-
lent apprenticeship to the dramatic muse, by trying his
hand on the old stock-pieces which lay in the theatrical
treasury, and further venturing his repolishing touches
on the new. Marlowe, Lodge, and Peele, had submitted
to his soft pencillings,^ or his sharp pruning-hook- The
actors were often themselves a sort of poets, and would
compete with those who were only poets 5 and in pri-
cing the hasty wares, would often have them fashioned
to their liking. Alluding to the treatment the drama-
tists were enduring from their masters, Robert Greene
indignantly addressed his peers. This curious passage,
first discovered by Tyrwhit, has been often quoted, and
indispensably must be once more ; for it tells ns how
Shakespeare, in 1592, had been fully employed within
six yefl^ of his arrival at the metropolis. Greene de-

* Roscias Anglicanus,

Digitized byLjOOQlC


sires his friends would no longer submit to the actors.
" Do not trust those burrs, who have sought to cleaye
to us all ; those puppets that speak from our mouths,
those antics garnished in our colors. Is it not strange
that I to whom they have all been beholding, is it not
like that you to whom they all too have been behold*
ing, shall, were ye in that case I am now, be both of
them at once forsaken 1* Yes, trust them not ! There
is an upstart crow beautified with our feathers, that
with his tyger^s heart wrapt in a player^s hide^
supposes he is as well able to bombast j" out a blank
verse as the best of you, and being an absolute Johan'
nes Factotum, is, in his own conceit the only Shake*
scENB in a country."

*' The absolute Johannes Factotum," '^ the only
shake-scene," and *'the crow beautified with their
feathers," are one person ; but " the tygcr*s heart wrapt
in a player's hide," particularly points out that person.
It is, in fact, a parody of a line composed by this batch
of poets in one of their dramas, " the contention of the
two houses of York and Lancaster ;" and which, with
many others, Shakespeare had wholly appropriated. In
the third part of King Henry the Sixth, in Act I.,
Scene IV., it stands as Peele or Greene had originally
composed it.

** O, tyger's heart wrapt in a woman's hide I"

This attack on our untiger-like Shakespeare, turns
poor Greene into an enraged wasp, peevish and morti-
fied at the Shakespearian hand, which had often larded
his leanness, or scarified his tumidities. Greene charges

* Greene was then lyin^ on his last pallet of rhyme and misery, dic-
tating this sad legacy of ^' a groat's worth of wit bought with a million
of repentance.'^

t Bombast is not here used in the present application of the term —
in a depreciating sense, but is taken from the original figure of the cot«
ton used in stuffing out or quilting the fashionable dresses.

Digitized byLjOOQlC


Shakespeare with alteriDg the plays of himself, Mar-
lowe, Lodge, and Peele, and then claiming all the merit
of the work. ! *

Our great bard was not insensible to the fancy of his
querulous libeller, since it was on Greene's "Dorastus
and Fawnia" Shakespeare founded his "Winter's
Tale," as he took his " As You Like It" from Lodge's
" Rosalynd," whose very name he preserved. Thus
borrowing from the writings of his unfortunate and
reckless brothers of Parnassus, he has made immortal
works which have long expired.

The active employment of Shakespeare among the
old plays was so well known at the time, that when his
name became familiar to the public, the printers were
often eager to obtain the original neglected plays in
their meager condition, to avail themselves of the
popularity of the Shakespearian rifacimentos. Fraud
and deception were evidently practised on the uncritical
readers. One of these cunning publishers issued the
old play of " The Contention of the Two Houses," &c.,
as newly corrected and enlarged by William Shake-
speare ;" which was true as it was acted on the stage,
but false in the copy of the elder dramatist which was
republished. In this manner several plays not only
l)ear the consecrating name of Shakespeare, but seven
which arc now discarded from his works appeared in the
edition of Rowe ; in some of these the hand of Shake-
speare appears to have been discerned ; and it has been
suggested by Mr. Collier, an experienced critic in the
history of the drama, that it is possible that all the
plays of Shakespeare have not yet been given to the
world. ♦

In the second and third parts of King Henry the

Sixth, for the first was placed in his volume merely to

complete the historical series, Shakespeare made ample

* Collier's " New Facts," 13. Dyce's edition of " Greene's Dramatic

Digitized byLjOOQlC

use of seTeral dramas ; and Malone, whose microscopie
criticism obtained for him the sarcastic cognomen of
Mintdius Felix, by an actual scrutiny, which we may
well believe cost him the most anxious pains, computed
the lines of these dramas^ and has passed his word, that
of six thousand and forty-three lines, one thousand seven
hundred and seventy-one were written by some author
who preceded Shakespeare ; two thousand three hun-
dred and seventy-three were formed by him on the
foundation laid by his predecessors, and one thousand
eight hundred and forty-nine lines were entirely our
poet's own composition. Malone has even contrived to
distinguish them in the text ; those which Shakespeare
adopted are printed in the usual manner ; the speeches
which he altered or expanded, are marked by inverted
commas ; and to all the lines entirely composed by
himself, asterisks are prefixed. A critical reader may
derive a curious gratification by attending to this novel
text of our national poet i the only dramatist to whom
this singularity has ever occurred, and on whose
writings this anomalous operation could have been

Shakespeare was more conversant with these pre-
ceding dramatists, most of whose writings have perished,
than we can ever discover ; but it is fortunate for us
that his creative faculties brooded over such a world of
chaotic genius. He scrupled not to appropriate those
happier effusions which were not only worthy of his
own genius, but are not distinguishable from it. Some-
times he only retouched, sometimes he nobly ampli-
fied, expanding a slight hint into some glorious pas-
sage, and elevating a creeping dialogue into an impas-
sioned scene. His judgment was always the joint-
workman of his fancy.

Who by the interior evidence could have conjectured
that the following Shakespearian eflfusion, musical with
his own music, was, in truth, a mere transcription from

Digitized byLjOOQlC


an old play of " Richard Duke of York,'* whose author
remaiug unknown. I mark by italics the rejections of
Shakespeare. In the slight emendations, we may ob-
serve that our poet consulted his ear ; but in the first
verse he has chosen a more expressive term.

*' Doves will peck in rescue [safeguard] of their brood.

Unreasonable creatures feed their young ;
And though man's face be fearful to their eyes,
Yet, in protection of their tender ones.
Who hath not seen them even with those same wings
Which t?iey have sometimes used in fearful flight,
[Which sometime they have used with fearful flight.]
Make war with him that climbed unto their nest.
Offering their own lives in their young's defence V*

The speech of Queen Margaret in the third part of
Henry the Sixth, Act V., Scene IV., in the old play,
consisted of a single metaphor included in twelve lines.
The single metaphor was not rejected, but it is ampli-
fied and nobly sustained through forty lines in the
queen's animated address to her lords : —

" The mast but now blown overboard.
The cable broke, the holding anchor lost, &c.*'

The two celebrated scenes in which the dead body of
the murdered Duk^ of Gloster is placed before us, with
such precision of horror, minutely appalling, and of the
raving despair of Cardinal Beaufort so awfully de*
picted by his death, " making no sign," are splendors
whose igniting sparks fiew out of the asbes of old plays,
one of " King John," and the other of " The Conten-
tions of tbe Two Houses," and of the chronicles. But
still these sublime descriptions and these fearful images
are the inspirations of Shakespeare ; their truth of
nature, and the completeness of the purpose of tbe
poet, the bare originals could not impart.

These ascertained evidences may suffice — it would
be tedious to proceed with their abundance —<^of the
studiousness and propriety of Shakespeare in his adop<

Digitized byLjOOQlC


lions and adaptations of our earlier drama. Dr. Farmer
was the first to discover that these plays were not writ-
ten originally hy Shakespeare ; but that able researcher
was not then aware of what only the progress of dis-
covery could demonstrate, that hardly a single drama
of our national bard can be deemed to have been of his
own original invention.

While thus occupied in altering and writing old
plays for his own theatre, in 1593 first appeared to the
world the name of William Shakespeare in the dedica-
tion to the Earl of Southampton of his '^ Venus and
Adonis." The poet has called this poem, of a few
pages, "the first heir of my invention." For him who
had already written much, the expression is singular,
and it looks like a tacit acknowledgment that the poet
considered that the five or six plays which he had
already set forth had really no claim to " his invention."
And the dedication betrays the tremulousness of a
virgin effort. " Should this first heir prove deformed,"
declared our poet in his own Shakespearian diction, " I
shall be sorry it had so noble a godfather, and never
after ear so barren a land, for fear it yield me still so
bad a harvest." The poet, doubtless, was induced to
proceed, for the following year, 1594, produced his
" Lucrece." He described his first poem as *' unpol-
ished lines '" and he still calls this second his " untu-
tored lines." As the former, so likewise is the present
dedicated to the same earl. The fervor of the style
indicates the influence of the patron, and the singleness
of the devotion of the poet, who tells his noble patron
" What I have done is yours, and what I have to do is
yours." The humble actor's intercourse with his noble
friend is a remarkable incident, for the poet was not
yet famous when he prefixed his name to these poems.
This earl, then in his youth, we learn was attached to
theatrical amusements ; and it has been ingeniously
conjectured that the princely donation of a thousand

Digitized byLjOOQlC


pounds, which the peer presented to the poet, a tradi-
tion which Davenant had handed down, may have
occurred, if it ever happened, in the interval between
the publication of these two poems.

The Ovidian deliciousness of " Venus and Adonis,"
and the more solemn narrative of '< Tarquin and Lu«
crece," early obtained celebrity among the youthful
and impassioned generation. Shakespeare was long
renowned as the amatory poet of the nation by many
who had not learned to distinguish the bard among his
dramatic brethren. Numerous editions of these poems
confirm their popularity, and the public voice resounded
from the lyres of many poets.

No poet more successfully opened his career than
Shakespeare by these two popular poems; but it is
remarkable that he made no further essay with a view
to permanent fame, which, as it would seem to us, he
never imagined he was to derive from his dramas.
. Meres, a critic of the day, has informed us that, in
1598, some sonnets by Shakespeare were in circulation
among his friends. These were effusions of the hour ;
and, possibly, some may have been descriptive of his
own condition. In 1599, a poetical collection called
" The Passionate Pilgrim,'* appeared under the name
of Shakespeare ; and ten years afterward another,
entitled, "Shakespeare's Sonnets," was given to the
world 5 but as poetical miscellanies were formed in
those days by publishers who were not nice in the
means they used to procure manuscripts, it is quite
uncertain what are genuine and what may be the com-
position of other ^vriters in these collections.

In "The Passionate Pilgrim," some critics find
difficulty in tracing the hand of the poet 5 and we
accidcntly discover by the complaint of Heywood, a
congenial dramatist, that there were two of his poems
in one edition of this collection ; and we know that
there were also other poems by Marlow and Barnefeld

Digitized byLjOOQlC


and others. Heywood tells us, that Shakespeare was
greatly offended at this licentioas use of his name ;*
but he must have been impertnrbably careless on such
matters, otherwise he would not have suffered three
editions of this spurious miscellany.

The fate of " The Sonnets " is remarkable. Stevens
boldly ejected them from the poet's works, declaring
that the strongest act of parliament that could be
framed could not compel their perusal. Shall we
ascribe to this caustic wit a singular deficiency in his
judicial decisions, or look to some other cause for the
ejection of these sonnets which have become of late the
subject of so much curious inquiry 1 An ingenious
attempt has been recently made to form what is called
an autobiography of the poet by stringing together the
sonnets in six distinct poems ; this would be sufficient
evidence that they had never passed under the eye of
the author, and that he could have had no concern in
a publication which has thus mutilated his living mem-
bers. This bookseller's collection remains, for more
than one cause, an ambiguous volume.

Shakespeare now stances alone the national bard ;
but hoary Time, which has decreed who are his infe-
riors, once saw them his equals ; and when he mingled
with his fellows, possibly the world looked up to a
Coryphsus whose name was not Shakespeare. Two
inquiries interest us: Was the pre-eminence of our
national bard acknowledged by his contemporaries 1 —
and. What cause occasioned the utter neglect of his
own reputation 1

Among his contemporaries, Shakespeare could not
possess the pre-eminence of the present age, for who
were then to be his judges! His rivals or his
audience % Our gentle Shakespeare, as Jonson called

* Heywood's "Apology for Actors.''— Tha Epistle to his bookseller
at the en(L
Vol. 11.-18

Digitized byLjOOQlC


him, perhaps at no time appreciated his own genius at
its peculiar excellence, and therefore was not likely to
discover his solitary pre-eminence among a formidable
crowd of rivals, nor were they likely to acknowledge iir
their friend ''Will" the prevailing charm which has
now subdued the world. They have even occasionally
darted a shaft of ridicule or a sharp parody at our

Online Libraryi. d'israeliamenities of literature, consisting of sketches and characters of english ... → online text (page 16 of 37)