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By and by
* His poems are printed with the title of “Pithy, Pleasaunt, and Profitable Workes of Maister Skelton Poet Laureate.". “But,” says Mr. Cibber, after several other writers, “how or by what interest he was made Laureat, or whether it was by a title he assumed to himself, cannot be determined.” This is an error pretty generally received, and it may be worth our while to remove it.
A facetious author says somewhere, that a poet laureat, in the modern idea, is a gentleman, who hath an annual stipend for reminding us of the New Year, and the Birth-day: but formerly a Poet Laureat was a real university graduate.
“Skelton wore the laurell wreath,
“ And past in schoels ye knoe.” says Churchyarde in a poem prefixed to his works. And Master Caxton in his Preface to The Boke of Eneydos, 1490, hath a pas. sage, which well deserves to be quoted without abridgement: “I praye mayster John Skelton, late created poete laureate in the universite of Oxenforde, to oversee and correcte thys sayd booke, and taddresse and expowne whereas shall be founde faulte, to theym that shall requyre it; for hym I knowe for suffycyent to expowne and Englyshe every dyificulte that is therein; for he hath late translated the epystles of Tulle, and the book of Dyodorus Syculus, and diverse other workes out of Latyn into Englyshe, not in rude and old language, but in polyshed and ornate termes, craftely, as he that hath redde Vyrgyle, Ouyde, Tullye, and all the other noble poets and oratours, to me unknowen: and also he hath redde the ix muses, and understands their mu. sicalle scyences, and to whom of them eche scyence is appro. pred: I suppose he hath dronken of Elycons well!"
I find, from Mr. Baker's MSS. that our laureat was admitted ad eundem at Cambridge: “An. Dom. 1493, & Hen. 7, nono. Con. ceditur Johí Skelton Poete in partibus transmarinis atque Oxon. Laureâ ornato, ut apud nos eâdem decoraretur.” And afterward, “ An. 1504-5 Conceditur Johs Skelton, Poetæ Laureat, quod pos. sit stare eodem gradu hic, quo stetit Oxoniis, & quod possit uti habitu sibi concesso à Principe.”
See likewise Dr. Knight's Life of Colet, p. 122. And Recherches sur les Poetes couronnez, par M. l'Abbé du Resnel, in the MI moires de Litterature, Vol. X, Paris, 4to. 1736.
“Of the feendes blacke
“He is such a grym syre!” Edit. 1568. Mr. Upton and some other criticks have thought it very schelar-like in Hamlet to swear the Centinels on a sword: but this is for ever met with. For instance, in the Passus Primus of Pierce Plowman:
“ Dauid in his daies dubbed knightes,
“ And did hem swere on her sword to serue truth euer." And in Hieronymo, the common butt of our author and the wits of the time, says Lorenzo to Pedringano,
“Swear on this cross, that what thou sayst is true
“Shall be the worker of thy tragedy!” We have therefore no occasion to go with Mr. Garrick as far as the French of Brantôme to illustrate this ceremony;* a gentle. man, who will be always allowed the first commentator on Shak. speare, when he does not carry us beyond himself.
Mr. Upton, however, in the next place, produces a passage from Henry VI, whence he argues it to be very plain, that our author had not only read Cicero's Offices, but even more critically than many of the editors:
- This villain here,
“ Than Bargulus, the strong Illyrian pirate." So the wight, he observes with great exultation, is named by Cicero in the editions of Shakspeare's time, “Bargulus Illyrius latro;" though the modern editors have chosen to call him Bar. dylis:-"and thus I found it in two MSS.”- --And thus he might have found it in two translations, before Shakspeare was born. Robert Whytinton, 1533, calls him, “Bargulus a pirate upon the see of Illiry;" and Nicholas Grimald, about twenty years afterward, Bargulus the Illyrian robber.”+
* Mr. Johnson's edit. Vol. VIII, p. 171.
t I have met with a writer who tells us, that a translation of the Offices was printed by Caxton, in the year 1481: but such a book never existed. It is a mistake for Tullius af old Age, print
But it had been easy to have checked Mr. Upton's exultation, by observing, that Bargulus does not appear in the quarto. Which also is the case with some fragments of Latin verses, in the different parts of this doubtful performance.
It is scarcely worth mentioning, that two or three more Latin passages, which are met with in our author, are immediately transcribed from the story or chronicle before him. Thus, in Henry V, whose right to the kingdom of France is copiously de. monstrated by the Archbishop:
There is no bar
“ Between the floods of Sala and of Elve," &c. Archbishop Cichelie, says Holinshed, " did much inueie against the surmised and false fained law Salike, which the Frenchmen alledge euer against the kings of England in barre of their just title to the crowne of France. The very words of that supposed law are these, In terram Salicam mulieres nè succedant, that is to saie, Into the Salike land let not women succeed; which the French glossers expound to be the realm of France, and that this law was made by King Pharamond: whereas yet their owne authors affirme, that the land Salike is in Germanie, betweene the rivers of Elbe and Sala, &c. p. 545.
It hath lately been repeated from Mr. Guthrie's Essay on English Tragedy, that the portrait of Macbeth's wife is copied from Buchanan, “whose spirit, as well as words, is translated into the play of Shakspeare: and it had signified nothing to have pored only on Holinshed for facts.”- -“ Animus etiam, per se ferox, prope quotidianis conviciis uxoris (quæ omnium consiliorum ei erat conscia) stimulabatur.”—This is the whole, that Buchanan says of the lady; and truly I see no more spirit in the Scotch, than in the English chronicler. “The wordes of the three weird sisters also greatly encouraged him, [to the murder of Duncan] but specially his wife lay sore upon him to attempt the thing, as she that was very ambitious, brenning in unquenchable desire to beare the name of a queene.” Edit. 1577, p. 244.
This part of Holinshed is an abridgment of Johne Bellen. den's translation of the noble clerk, Hector Boece, imprinted at Edinburgh, in fol. 1541. I will give the passage as it is found
ed with The Boke of Frendshipe, by John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester. I believe the former was translated by William Wyrces. tre, alias Botoner.
there: “His wyfe impacient of lang tary (as all wemen ar) spe. cially quhare they ar desirus of ony purpos, gaif hym gret arta. tion to pursew
the thrid weird, that sche micht be ane quene, calland hym oft tymis febyl cowart and nocht desyrus of honour. is, sen he durst not assailze the thing with manheid and curage, quhilk is offerit to hym be beniuolence of fortoun. Howbeit sindry otheris hes assailzeit sic thinges afore with maist terribyl jeopardyis, quhen they had not sic sickernes to succeid in the end of thair lauboris as he had." P. 173.
But we can demonstrate, that Shakspeare had not the story from Buchanan. According to him, the weïrd-sisters salute Macbeth, “ Una Angusiæ Thamum, altera Moraviæ, tertia regem." -Thane of Angus, and of Murray, &c. but according to Holinshed, immediately from Belienden, as it stands in Shakspeare: “The first of them spake and sayde, All hayle Makbeth, thane of Glammis,—the second of them said, Hayle Makbeth, thane of Cawder; but the third sayde, All hayle Makbeth, that hereafter shall be king of Scotland." P. 243. “1. Witch. All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, thane of
Glamis ! " 2. Witch. All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, thane of
Cawdor! “ 3. Witch. All hail, Macbeth! that shalt be king here.
after!" Here too our poet found the equivocal predictions, on which his hero so fatally depended. “He had learned of certain wysards, how that he ought to take heede of Macduffe ;
-and surely hereupon had he put Macduffe to death, but a certaine witch whom he had in great trust, had tolde, that he should neuer be slain with man born of any woman, nor vanquished till the wood of Bernane came to the castell of Dụnsinane." P. 244. And the scene between Malcolm and Macduff in the fourth Act is almost literally taken from the Chronicle.
Macbeth was certainly one of Shakspeare's latest productions, and it might possibly have been suggested to him by a little performance on the same subject at Oxford, before King James, 1605. I will transcribe my notice of it from Wake's Rex Plato nicus: “Fabulæ ansam dedit antiqua de Regiâ prosapiâ historiola apud Scoto-Britannos celebrata, quæ narrat tres olim Si. byllas occurrisse duobus Scotiæ proceribus, Macbetho & Banchoni, & illum prædixisse Regem futurum, sed Regem nullum geniturum; hunc Regem non futurum, sed Reges geniturum multos. Vaticinii veritatem rerum eventus comprobavit. Banchonis enim è stirpe potentissimus Jacobus oriundus." P. 29.
A stronger argument hath been brought from the plot of Hamlet. Dr. Grey and Mr. Whalley assure us, that for this, Shakspeare must have read Saxo Grammaticus in Latin, for no translation hath been made into any modern language. But the truth is, he did not take it from Saxo at all; a novel called The Hystorie of Hamblet, was his original: a fragment of which, in black letter, I have been favoured with by a very curious and intelligent gentleman, to whom the lovers of Shakspeare will some time or other owe great obligations.
It hath indeed been said, that “IF such an history exists, it is almost impossible that any poet unacquainted with the Latin language (supposing his perceptive faculties to have been ever so acute) could have caught the characteristical madness of Hamlet, described by Saxo Grammaticus,* so happily as it is delineated by Shakspeare.
Very luckily, our fragment gives us a part of Hamlet's speech to his mother, which sufficiently replies to this observation :“It was not without cause, and juste occasion, that my gestures, countenances and words seeme to proceed from a madman, and that I desire to haue all men esteeme mee wholy depriued of sence and reasonable understanding, bycause I am well assured, that he that hath made no conscience to kill his owne brother, (accustomed to murthers, and allured with desire of gouernement without controll in his treasons,) will not spare to saue himselfe with the like crueltie, in the blood, and flesh of the loyns of his brother, by him massacred: and therefore it is better for me to fayne madnesse then to use my right sences as nature hath bestowed them upon me. The bright shining clearnes thereof I am forced to hide vnder this shadow of dissimulation, as the sun doth hir beams vnder some great cloud, when the wether in summer time ouercasteth: the face of a mad man, serueth to couer my gallant countenance, and the gestures of a fool are fit for me, to the end that guiding my self wisely therein I may preserue my life for the Danes and the memory of my late deceased father, for that the desire of reuenging his death is so ingrauen in my heart, that if I dye not shortly, I hope to take such and so great vengeance, that these countryes shall for euer speake thereof. Neuertheless I must stay the time, meanes, and occasion, lest by making ouer great hast, I be now the cause of mine own sodaine ruine and ouerthrow, and by that meanes, end, before I beginne to effect my hearts desire: hee that hath to doe with a wicked, disloyall, cruell, and discourteous man, must vse craft, and politike inuentions, such as fine witte can best imagine, not to discouer his interprise: for seeing that by force I cannot affect my desire, reason alloweth me by dissimu. lation, subtiltie, and secret practises to proceed therein.”
But to put the matter out of all question, my communicative friend, above-mentioned, Mr. Capell, (for why should I not give myself the credit of his name?) hath been fortunate enough to procure from the collection of the Duke of Newcastle, a com. plete copy of the Hystorie of Hamblet, which proves to be a trans
*“ Falsitatis enim (Hamlethus) alienus haberi cupidus, ita astutiam veriloquio permiscebat, ut nec dictis veracitas deesset, nec acuminis modus verorum judicio proderetur.” This is quoted, as it had been before, in Mr. Guthrie's Essay on Tra.' gedy, with a small variation from the Original. See edit. fol. 1644,