Thomas E. (Thomas Ebenezer) Webb.

The mystery of William Shakespeare, a summary of evidence online

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of speech, he protests that ' of all vulgar errors
the most wanton, the most wilful, and the most
resolutely tenacious of life, is that belief bequeathed
from the days of Pope, in which it was pardonable,
to the days of Mr. Carlyle, in which it is not ex-
cusable, to the effect that Shakespeare threw off
Hamlet as an eagle may moult a feather or a fool
may break a jest ; that he dropped his work as
a bird may drop an ^g^ or a sophist a fallacy ; that
he wrote for gain, not glory, or that having written
Hamlet he thought it nothing very wonderful to
have written' (p. 162). To expose this vulgar
error, as he calls it, Mr. Swinburne proceeds to
compare the Folio with the Quartos in their respec-
tive renderings of Ha^nlet and Romeo, of Henry the
Fifth and The Merry Wives of Windsor. ' Of these
four plays,' he says, ' the two tragedies at least
were thoroughly recast, and rewritten from end to
end : the pirated editions giving us a transcript, more
or less perfect or imperfect, accurate or corrupt, of
the; text as it first came from the poet's hand ; a text to
bo afterwards indefinitely modified and incalculably



Of Shakespeare atid tJie 7 wo Players 87

improved ' (p. 103). As to Ha7tilet, he tells us that
' scene by scene, line for line, stroke upon stroke,
and touch after touch, he went over all the old
laboured ground again ; and not to ensure success
in his own da}^ and fill his pockets with contem-
porary pence, but merely and wholly with a pur-
pose to make it worthy of himself and his future
students' (p. 163). Romeo and Juliet^ Mr. Swin-
burne remarks, was actually ' rewritten ' (p. 104).
''King Henry the Fifth,^ he says, ' is hardly less
than transformed ' in the Folio — ' not that it has
been recast after the fashion of Hainlet^ or even re-
written after the fashion oi Romeo and Juliet \ but the
corruptions and imperfections of the pirated text
are here more flagrant than in any other instance ;
while the general revision of style by which it is at
once purified and fortified extends to every nook
and corner of the restored and renovated building '
(p. 104). It is the same with The Mer7y Wives of
Windsor. ' In the original version of this comedy,'
we are told, ' there was not a note of poetry from end
to end ' (p. 118); but ' when we turn from the raw
rough sketch to the enriched and ennobled version
of the present play' (p. 121}, we find that the author
' strikes out some forty and odd lines of rather
coarse and commonplace doggrel,' and 'makes
room for the bright light interlude of fairy-land
child's play which might not unfittingly have found
place even within the moon-charmed circle oiA Mid-
summer NigliC s Dream'' (p. 123). Nor were these



88 Of Shakespeare and tJie Two Players

the only plays which, according- to Mr. Swinburne,
were thus elaborately revised. He shows the con-
summate skill with which the three plays that form
the substance of Henry the Sixth were moulded into
shape. He tells us how carefully the reviser cor-
rected a false note, how delicately he added a finer
touch, how admirably he perfected a meaning that
was half expressed, how he gave full utterance to
a tone of music that was half uttered, and how he
invigorated sense and metre by the substitution of
the right word for the wrong (p. 59). Mr. Swinburne
goes still farther. ' Not one single alteration in the
whole play,' he says when speaking of the revision
of Hamlet, ' can possibh^ have been made with a
view to stage effect, or to present popularity and
profit' (p. 164). Nay, he affirms that ' every change
in the text of Hamlet has impaired its fitness for
the stage and increased its value for the closet in
exact and perfect proportion' {ibid.). Elsewhere Mr.
Swinburne recurs to the subject. ' There is not one
of his contemporaries,' he says, * whom we can
reasonably imagine capable of the patience and
self-respect which induced Shakespeare to re-write
the triumphantly popular parts of Romeo,of Falstaff',
and of Hamlet, with an eye to the literary perfection
and performance of work, which, in its first outlines,
had won the crowning suffrage of immediate and
spectacular applause.' Indeed, of such patience and
self-respect, of such anxiety for literary perfection
we can only recollect one other instance. Bacon,



0/ Shaktsptarc and tlic 7 wo Players 89

in speaking of his own practice, says ' I ever alter
as I add' ; and his chaplain, Rawley, testifies that
he himself had seen in Bacon's papers some dozen
copies of his philosophical masterpiece, revised
year by year, and every year polished and corrected
till at last it was fashioned to the form in which it
was committed to the press.*

Mr. Swinburne does not stand alone in recog -
nising the value and extent of the Folio revision.
Mr. Marshall, writing in the Henry Irving Shake-
speare, expresses the opinion that the Second and
Third Parts of Hairy the Sixth as they appear in
the Folio when compared with the older plays as
they appear in the Quartos must have been ' the
result of a careful revision and partial rewriting
by one who was at once a poet and a practical
dramatist ' (ii. 6). Judge Madden confesses that in
the case of The Merry Wives, ' the Quarto differs
from the Folio as a rough draft from a completed
work, not as an imperfect copy from an original
document' (p. 113). The writers in the Irving
Shakespeare recognise the fact that the Folio gives
us a later and revised form oi Lear (vi. 321).
The Cambridge Editors, in comparing the Quartos
of Richard the Third with the Folio edition of the

*' Ipse repeii in archivis dominationis suae, autographa plus
minus duodecim Organi Novi de anno in annum elaborati, et ad
incudem revocati, et singulis annis ulteriore lima subinde politi
et castigati, donee in illud tandem corpus adolcverat, quo in
lucem editum fuit.



QO Of Sliakcspeare and the Tivo Players

play, admit that the author's orig-inal manuscript
was at some time ' revised by himself, with correc-
tions and additions, interlinear, marginal, and on
inserted leaves.' Mr. Phillipps, in the preface to
the Reduced Facsimile, admits that ' alterations,'
' omissions,' and ' additions ' are to be detected in
Richard the Third and The Merchant of Venice and
Troilus and Cressida and Much Ado. In the case of
Henry the Fifth Mr. Knight gives a specimen of the
extent and minuteness of this Folio revision, and
the method adopted by the reviser cannot be more
felicitously expressed than in the words of Mr.
Knight: — ' In this elaboration the old materials are
very carefully used up ; but they are so thoroughly
refitted and dovetailed with what is new that the
operation can only be compared to the work of a
skilful architect, who, having an ancient mansion
to enlarge and beautify, with a strict regard to its
original character, preserves every feature of the
structure under other combinations, with such
marvellous skill, that no unity of principle is vio-
lated, and the whole has the effect of a restoration
in which the new and old are undistinguishable.'

When this great revision was effected we cannot
tell. In all probability it had been effected long
before 1623. Love's Labour'' s Lost was 'corrected
and augmented' as early as 1598. A revised
edition of the Rape was published in 1616. The
Contention and The True Tragedy were published as
' newly corrected and enlarged ' by Shakespeare in



Of Shakespeare and the Two Players g i

1 619. If we are to judge from the dates of the
latest Quartos, the revision of The Taming of the
Shreiv must have been effected after i^oy ', that of
Henry the FftJi after 1608 ; that of Romeo and Juliet
after 1609; that of Hamlet after 161 1 ; and so on.
But the date of the revision is of little importance ;
the all-important fact is that, previously to the
publication of the Folio, the plays had been
laboriously and elaborately revised.

The fact of this revision enables us to dispose
of a variety of Shakespearian questions. In the
first place, it demonstrates that the editors of the
Folio may be implicitly believed when they declare
that in the Folio we possess the plays of Shake-
speare ' cur'd and perfect of their limbs' and
'absolute in their numbers as he conceived them';
and in the next place it enables us to determine the
true character of the Originals from which the Folio
was printed. These Originals could not have been
the 'autograph manuscripts' which the Author origi-
nally delivered to the two Players in their ' mana-
gerial capacity,' as Mr. Phillipps fancies (i. 269); for
the two Players were not the managers, and the
plays had been elaborately revised. Neither could
they have been ' the acting versions ' of the plays,
as Mr. Lee maintains (p. 252); for the players,
according to Mr. Lee, were interested in preventing
the publication (p. 45), and, moreover, the plays
had been revised, not for the stage, but for the
study. Neither could they have been the ' revised



9 2 Of Shakespeare and the Tivo Players

autographs' of the Author; for notwithstanding
the obliterations, the additions, and the modifica-
tions which are incident to a revision, the papers
which the Players received had scarce a blot. The
true Originals, therefore, from which the Folio was
printed must have been fair copies of the revised
manuscripts, intended for the press, and entrusted
to the two Players as the medium of communication
with the printers. And nothing can more con-
clusively show how utterly ignorant the two Players
were of the real Shakespeare than the fact that they
actually mistook the handwriting of the copyists
for the handwriting of their friend and fellow, and
relied upon the absence of erasures as a proof of the
' easinesse ' with which he wrote.

The copies which were intrusted to Hemming
and Condel] must have been of considerable value.
Jaggard, as Mr. Lee tells us, ' had long known the
commercial value of Shakespeare's work' (p. 250).
Mr. Lee, it is true, tells us that in the time of
Shakespeare there was no such thing as copyright
(p. 45), and that 'the law recognised no natural
risfht in an author to the creations of his brain '
(p. 76). But Mrs. Stopes seems to have bestowed
considerable attention on the subject, and the lady
is better informed than Mr. Lee. In her work,
entitled The Bacon- Shakespeare Question Answered
(p. 257), slie gives a transcript of a decree of the
Star Chamber, which recites, that the members of
the Stationers' Company ' have great part of their



Of SJiakcspcaj-c and the Tivo Players 93

estates in copies,' and that ' by ancient usage of the
Company ' the entr}- of a book in the Register of
the Company had always been taken as evidence
that the member making such entry was ' the Pro-
prietor of such book or copy, and ought to have
the sole printing thereof ; and the decree proceeds
to protect this ' privilege and interest ' by summar}'
proceedings, which were much the same as those
provided by the Copyright Act of 1862.* True,
the copyright thus recognised by law was the copy-
right of the Stationer, but we have a remarkable
illustration of the manner in which the Author, by
means of the copyright of the Stationer, could
assert his natural right to the creations of his
brain. When the collected edition of the Plays of
Beaumont and Fletcher was published in 1647, the
Stationer in his address to the Reader says : —
' 'Twere vain to mention the chargeableness of this
work ; for those who owned the manuscripts too
well knew their value to make a cheap estimate of
any of these pieces.' The owner of a manuscript,
therefore, could make his bargain with the publisher
of the day. Field, for instance, could not have
become the proprietor of Vemis a?id Adonis unless
he had received the manuscript from Shakespeare.
Humfrey could not have become the owner of the
copyright of the Essays unless he had received the
manuscript from Bacon. And Blount and Jaggard

'■'■ On Copyright in the time of Shakespeare see note C.



94 0/ Shakespeare and tJie Tivo Players

could never have entered a collection of plays
infinitely more valuable than those of Beaumont
and Fletcher as their copy, unless they had come
to an understanding- with the ' grand possessors '
of the manuscripts which had been so laboriously
revised and so carefully preserved.

Important as these conclusions must be deemed,
they sink into insignificance when compared with
the conclusion which the revision suggests on
the greatest of all literary questions. The re-
vision of the Shakespearian Plays so conclusively
established by recent criticism necessitates a re-
consideration of the views which we have been
accustomed to entertain respecting Shakespeare.
In the light of this revision we cannot possibly
accept the Shakespeare of Hemming and Condell
— the Shakespeare who wrote with such ' easinesse '
that there was ' scarce a blot upon his papers ' — the
Shakespeare ' that in his writing (whatsoever he
penned) never blotted out a line.' Neither can
we accept the Shakespeare of Mr. Phillipps — the
Shakespeare who had no literary design (i, 102),
who was unconscious of any literary mission (i. 105),
who wrote without effort (i. 106), who had no
thought of posthumous fame (i. 148), and who gave
the world no revised edition of his works (i. 102).
Neither can we accept the Shakespeare of Mr. Lee
— the Shakespeare who ' traded in agricultural pro-
duce' (p. 162), and who only regarded his works as
securing a provision for himself and daughters



0/ Shakcsptair and flic Two Players 95

(p. 225). And as we must reject the popular belief,
so we must reject the modification of the popular
belief, which is maintained by Mr. Swinburne. For
consider how the matter stands. If it was Shak-
spere who recast Hamlet, who rewrote Romeo
and Juliet, who renovated and transformed
Henry the Fi/tli, who enriched and ennobled
The Merry Wives of Windsor, who tempered and
enriched TJie Taming of the Shreiv, and who with
consummate skill touched up the three Plays
which form the Trilogy of Henry the Sixth ; if it was
the Player who, to increase their value for the
study, deliberately impaired their fitness for the
stage ; if, in fine, it was the Player who was resolved
to make them worthy of himself and of his future
students ; if all this be admitted, the inevitable
question rises. Why did the Player fail to publish
what he had so laboriously prepared for publication ?
He was in the full possession of his powers. In his
retirement he had ample leisure. He had no reason
for concealment or disguise. If he was indifferent
to fame, admittedly he was not indifferent to money.
Among his contemporaries he had the reputation
of being a somewhat grasping man. We know
that when he was already a man of substance he
sued one of his neighbours for a matter of two
shillings, or, as Professor Dowden would express it,
he bore down with unfaltering insistance on the
positive fact that of all places in the universe the
proper place for those two shillings was the pocket



96 Of SJiakcspcaiT and tJic Two Players

of William Shakspere (p. t^t^). Surely it must appear
strange that with such an unfaltering- insistance on
his rights he should have left the copyright of his
works to be assigned to Blount and Jaggard by a
pair of players, and should not have bethought him
that of all places in the universe the proper place
for the price of an author's copyright was the pocket
of the author.

It has been suggested that Shakspere disposed
of his copyrights on his retirement from the stage
in 161 1 ; but there is no record of any such disposi-
tion, and the Register of the Stationers, under the
date of the 8th of November 1623, expressly states
that the masterpieces then registered by Blount and
Jaggard ' were not formerly entered to other men *
{H-P.\. 307). If, then, we are still to regard the
retired pla3^er as the author and reviser of these
masterpieces, we must suppose that the revised
manuscripts from which they were printed were in
his possession when he died. How, then, are we to
account for the fact that he gave no directions for
their publication in his will ? Mr. Lee remarks ' the
precision ' with which his will ' accounts for and
assigns every known item of his property ' (p. 221}.
How, then, are we to explain the fact that his
literary property was unaccounted for and un-
assiofned ? As a business man familiar with thea-
trical affairs he must have known the commercial
value of Shakespeare's work as well as Jaggard ; and
even if he merely looked upon his literary labours



Of Shakespeare and the Tivo Players 97

as securing- a provision for his daug-hters, he would
not have left his copyrights to be sold by Hemming
and Condell to the syndicate of which Jaggard was
the head. Mere forgetfulness is out of the question
as an explanation of this silence of the will. We
cannot suppose that the testator who remembered
his doublet and his hose, his sword and his gilded
bowl, his second best bed and its furniture, forgot
that he was the author of The Tempest and The
Winter s Tale, of Tivelfth Night and As You Like It,
of Othello and Macbeth, and the other masterpieces
which were registered by Jaggard after his death,
to say nothing of the masterpieces which were
published in his lifetime, and which he had re-
written or revised.

Even this does not exhaust the difficulties of the
case. The will of the retired player named his
daughter Susanna and her husband Dr. Hall as his
executors and residuary legatees ; and if we can
suppose that by some strange inadvertence the tes-
tator overlooked his literary property it would have
passed by his residuary bequest. Dr. Hall was a
man of business, and proved the will of his father-
in-law on the 26th of June 1616, two months after
his decease, but he never dreamt of claiming the
Shakespearian plays as a portion of his residuary
estate. Mr. Phillipps suggests that Hall was a
puritan, and that this would explain his ' indifference
for the fate of any dramatic manuscripts that might
have come into his hands ' (i. 250). But even

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Online LibraryThomas E. (Thomas Ebenezer) WebbThe mystery of William Shakespeare, a summary of evidence → online text (page 6 of 24)