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NOTE ON THE DATE OF NASH'S EPISTLE PREFIXED TO
As he never
THOMAS NASH took his degree of Bachelor of Arts at Cambridge in 1585. In a tract published in 1595, Cambridge is said to have been unkind to Nash in weaning him before his time. took a higher degree than that of Bachelor of Arts, he is supposed to have left the university in some disgrace. He is held to have travelled before he acquired a distinction amongst the satirical and controversial writers of London. In the address to Menaphon' he says to the gentlemen-students"Read favourably to encourage me in the firstlings of my folly." It has been usual to assign the date of this epistle to 1589. The first recorded edition of Greene's 'Menaphon' bears the date of that year. Nash in the epistle promises a satirical work called 'Anatomy of Absurdities,' and in 1589 such a work appears. Mr. Dyce, however, fixes the date of the first edition of 'Menaphon' as 1587; but he cites the title from the earliest edition he has met with, that of 1589. It would be satisfactory to know upon what authority an earlier date than that of 1589 is given to Nash's edition. If Nash wrote the epistle in 1589, his high praise of Peele as the Atlas of poetry, and the omission of all mention of Marlowe, looks like partiality, if not prejudice. If it first appeared in 1587, there is less suspicion for an unworthy motive for the omission of Marlowe. The same reasoning applies to Shakspere. But we apprehend that the date of 1587 is a mistake. The reference made in the epistle of Nash to a play of Hamlet" whole Hamlets-I should say handfuls-of tragical speeches" (see p. 259)-has been held by persons whose opinions are entitled to more weight than our own to be an allusion to the Hamlet of Shakspere—an earlier Hamlet than any we possess. But this does not fall in with the theory that Shakspere first began to write for the stage about six or seven years after he became connected with the theatre. It is, therefore, convenienence adopt Mr. Dyce's date of 1587 without inquiry; and to say "there cannot be a moment's doubt" that the Hamlet alluded to by Nash "was written and acted many years before Shakspeare's tragedy." See Mr. Collier's Introduction to 'The History of Hamlet,' 1841; in which he says, without qualification, "Malone erred as to the date of Greene's 'Menaphon.'" Malone gives the date as 1589. But in his Introduction to Nash's 'Pierce Pennilesse,' 1842, Mr. Collier speaks more doubtingly :-"We take the date of Greene's 'Menaphon,' 1587, from the edition of that author's Dramatic Works by the Rev. A. Dyce. He does not seem to have met with any copy of it of so early a date as 1587, and quotes the title-page of the impression of 1589." As regards the possible allusion to Shakspere's first Hamlet, we look upon the difference of two years as a matter of little importance; for a Hamlet whose characteristic was "whole handfuls of tragical speeches" might have 'been as readily produced by the Shakspere of twenty-three as by the Shakspere of twenty-five. (See our Notice on the Authenticity of Titus Andronicus, p. 58, and the Introductory Notice to Hamlet.)
NOTE ON MARLOWE.
IT has long been the fashion to consider Marlowe as the precursor of Shakspere; to regard Marlowe as one of the founders of the regular drama, and Shakspere only as an improver. The internal evidence for this belief has been entered into with some fulness in our Essay on the Three Parts of Henry VI., &c. We may here say a few words as to the external evidence. Marlowe was killed in a wretched brawl on the 1st of June, 1593. Of his age nothing is exactly known; but he took his degree of Bachelor of Arts, in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, in 1583; and that of Master of Arts in 1587. The age of Elizabeth had its boy bachelors, as well as that of her father. Youths went earlier to the university than in our time, and received their first degree earlier. We may conclude, therefore, that Marlowe was not older than Shakspere. Phillips, in his "Theatrum Poetarum,' thus speaks of him :-" Christopher Marlowe, a kind of a second Shakspeare (whose contemporary he was), not only because like him he rose from an actor to be a maker of plays, though inferior both in fame and merit," &c. We have no distinct record of Marlowe as an actor. We know that he was early a maker of plays. There appears to be little doubt that he was the author of 'Tamburlaine;' and 'Tamburlaine' is mentioned by Greene in 1588. But Hamlet is mentioned by Nash in 1587 (if 1587 be the date of Greene's 'Menaphon'), and the evidence is quite as good that this was the Hamlet of Shakspere, as that the other was the 'Tamburlaine' of Marlowe. The young Shakspere and the young Marlowe, it is agreed, were nearly of the same age. What right have we to infer that the one could produce a ‘Tamburlaine' at the age of twenty-four or twenty-five, and the other not produce an imperfect outline of his own Hamlet at the same age? Malone connects the supposed date of Shakspere's commencement as a dramatic writer with the notice of him by some of his contemporaries. He passes over Nash's "whole Hamlets;" he maintains that Spenser's description, in 1591, of the "gentle spirit," who
"Doth rather choose to sit in idle cell
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." Does 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 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."
"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 oneand-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 uncandid, 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.'" TheShepherd'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 none 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-minded 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 'Bellum Grammaticale'!" [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 statement, "He takes occasion to speak of the theatre, and mentions some of the celebrated 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 Marlowe's compositions 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 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 Puttenham; 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 Sidney, 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 Sidney 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 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.
Ar the close of the year 1587, and the opening, according to our new style, of 1588, "the Queen's Majesty being at Greenwich, there were showed, presented, and enacted before her Highness, betwixt Christmas and Shrovetide, seven plays, besides feats of activity and other shows, by the children of Paul's, her Majesty's own servants, and the gentlemen of Gray's Inn, on whom was employed divers remnants of cloth of gold and other stuff out of the store." Such is the record of the accounts of the revels at Court. Of the seven plays performed by the children of Paul's and the Queen's servants there is no memorial; but we learn from the title of a book of uncommon rarity of what
nature were the "Certaine Devises and Shewes presented Her Majestie by the Gentlemen of Graye's Inne, at Her Highnesse Court in Greenwich, the twentyeighth day of Februarie, in the thirtieth yeare of Her Majestie's most happy raigne."* The "Misfortunes of Arthur, Uther Pendragon's son," was the theme of these devices and shows. It was "reduced into tragical notes by Thomas Hughes, one of the society of Gray's Inn. It was "set down as it passed from under his hands, and as it was presented, excepting certain words and lines, where some of the actors either helped their memories by brief omission, or fitted their acting by alteration." Thomas Hughes also tells us that he has put "a note at the end of such speeches as were penned by others, in lieu of these hereafter following." It is pleasant to imagine the gentlemen of Gray's Inn sitting over their sack during the Christmas of 1587, listening to Thomas Hughes reciting his doleful tragedy; cutting out a speech here, adding something wondrously telling there; the most glib of tongue modestly declining to accept the part of Arthur the king, and expressing his content with Mordred the usurper; a beardless student cheerfully agreeing to wear the robes of Guenevra the queen; and a grey-headed elder undertaking the Ghost of the Duke of Cornwall. A perfect play it is, if every accessory of a play can render it perfect; for every act has an argument, and every argument a dumb-show, and every dumb-show a chorus. Here is indeed an ample field for ambitious members of the honourable society to contribute their devices; and satisfactory it is that the names of some of his fellow-labourers in this elaborate work have been preserved to us by the honour-giving Thomas Hughes. "The dumb-shows and additional speeches were partly devised by William Fulbeck, Francis Flower, Christopher Yelverton, Francis Bacon, John Lancaster, and others, who with Master Penroodock and Lancaster directed these proceedings at Court." Precious is this record. The salt that preserves it is the one name of Francis Bacon. Bacon, in 1588, was Reader of Gray's Inn. To the devices and shows of Hughes's tragedy-accompaniments that might lessen the tediousness of its harangues, and scatter a little beauty and repose amongst its scenes of crime and murder-Bacon would bring something of that high poetical spirit which gleams out at every page of his philosophy. Nicholas Trotte, gentleman, penned the Introduction, "which was pronounced in manner following, namely, three Muses came upon the stage apparelled accordingly, bringing five gentlemen-students attired in their usual garments, whom one of the Muses presented to her Majesty as captives." But the dresses, the music, the dancing to song, were probably directed by the tasteful mind who subsequently wrote, "These things are but toys; but yet, since princes will have such things, it is better that they should be graced with elegancy than daubed with cost."† Under the roof then of the old palace at Greenwich-the palace which Humphrey of Gloucester is said to have built, and where Elizabeth was born-are assembled the gentlemen of Gray's Inn and the Queen's players. The two master-spirits of their time-amongst the very greatest of all time-are there.
A copy is in the Garrick Collection, in the British Museum.
+ Of Masques and Triumphs: Essay 37.