Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

ability of such a reference in itself, Lyly, as we have seen, was concerned in that very prostitution of the stage which Spenser deplores. On the other hand, Mr. Halliwell, following Mr. Todd, inclines to think that the poem was written in 1580, and that the lines in question were meant for Sir Philip Sidney, who was sonetimes called Willy. But, at that time, so far as is known, there had been no occasion given for such complaints. And before Thalia had a y good cause thus to lament, Sir Philip was really dead; whereas the lines clearly suppose that “our pleasant Willy” was not really dead. But, indeed, Shakespeare was the only dramatist of that time, to whom such language as “the man whom Nature's self had made, to mock herself, and Truth to imitate” could with any show of fitness be applied. On the other hand, there was no man of that age more likely than Spenser to describe the Poet in terms than which none fitter have ever been used about him. And he appears to have had the “same gentle spirit” in his eye, when he wrote the lines in “ Colin Clout's Come Home again,” 1594, the last referring, of course, to Shakespeare's name:

“ And there, though last not least, is Ætion ;

A gentler shepherd may nowhere be found,
Whose Muse, full of high thought's invention,

Doth, like himself, heroically sound.” But, whatever doubts may attach to Spenser's meaning, there can be none as to that which we shall next produce. One of the most popular and most profligate dramatists of the time, was Robert Greene. On the 3d of September, 1592, having been reduced to beggary, and forsaken by his companions, he died miserably at the house of a poor shoemaker near Dowgate. Not long after, his “Groatsworth of Wit bought with a Million of Repentance” was given to the public by Henry Chettle. Near the close of this tract Greene makes an address “ to those Gentlemen his quondam acquaintance, that spend their wits in making plays," exhorting th: m to desist from such pursuits. The first of

these 'gentlemen ” was Marlowe, distinguished alike for poetry, profligacy, and profanity; the other two were Lodge and Pecle. We subjoin so much of the address as is needful for a full understanding of the point in hand:

“If woeful experience may move you, gentlemen, to be ware, or unheard-of wretchedness intreat you to take heed, I doubt not but you will look back with sorrow on your time past, and endeavour with repentance to spend that which is to come. Wonder not, (for with thee will I first begin,) thou famous gracer of tragedians, that Greene, who hath said with thee like the fool in his heart, There is no God, should now give glory unto His greatness; for penetrating is His power, His hand lies heavy upon me, He hath spoken unto me with a voice of thunder, and I have felt He is a God that can punish enemies. Why should thy excellent wit, His gift, be so blinded that thou shouldest give no glory to the Giver? Is it pestilent Machiavellian policy that thou hast studied? O, peevish folly! What are his rules but mere confused mockeries, able to extirpate in small time the generation of mankind?... Look unto me, by him persuaded to that liberty, and thou shalt find it an infernal bondage. I know, the least of my demerits merit this miserable death ; but wilful striving against known truth exceedeth all the terrors of my soul. Defer not, with me, till this last point of extremity; for little knowest thou how in the end thou shalt be visited.3

3 That Greene's exhortation had no effect on Marlowe, is but too certain. Greene had not been a year in the grave, when Mar. lowe perished by a violent death in the very prime of manbood, This catastrophe occurred at Deptford, where in the burial-register of the parish-church of St. Nicholas may still be read the entry, « Christopher Marlowe, slaine by Francis drcher, the 1 of June, 1593.” — In Beard's Theatre of God's Judgments, 1597, we have the following account : “ Not inferior to any of the foriner in atheisme and impietie, and equal to al in maner of punishment, was one of our own nation, of fresh and late memorie, called Marlow, by profession a scholler, brought up from his youth in the Univer sitie of Cambridge, but by practise a play-maker and a poet of

“ With thee I join young Juvenal, that biting satirist, that lately with me together writ a comedy. Sweet boy, might I advise thee, be advised, and get not many enemies by bitter words : inveigh against vain men, for thou canst do it, no man better, no man so well; thou hast a liberty to reprove all and name none; for, one being spoken to, all are offended, - none being blamed, no man is injured. 4 ...

“And thou, no less deserving than the other two, in some tnings rarer, in nothing inferior, driven, as myself, to extreme shifts, a little have I to say to thee; and, were it not an 120latrous oath, I would swear by sweet St. George, thou art unworthy of better hap, sith thou dependest on so mean a stay. Base-minded men, all three of you, if by my misery yos be not warned: for unto none of you, like me, sought those burrs to cleave; those puppets, I mean, that speak frum our mouths, those antics garnish'd in our colours. Is it 1.0t strange that I, to whom they all have been beholding, is it not like that you, to whom they all have been beholding, shall, were ye in that case that I am now, be both of them at once forsaken? Yes, trust them not; for there is an u start crow beautified with our feathers, that, with his tiger's heart wrapp'd in a player's hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank-verse as the best of you; and, being an absolute Johannes Fac-totum, is in his own

scurrilitie, who by giving too large a swing to his owne wit, and suffering his lust to have the full reins, sell (not without just desert) to that outrage and extremitie, that hee denied God and his sonne Christ, and not onely in word blasphemed the Trinitie, but also (as it is credibly reported) wrote books against it, affirming our Saviour to be but a deceiver, and Moses to be but a conjurer and seducer of the people, and the holy Bible to bee but vaine and idle stories, and all religion but a device of policie. But see what a hooke the Lord put in the nostrils of this barking dogge." DYCE.

4 Lodge's talent as a satirist may be seen in his Fig for Momus, 1595. The “comedy” which he composed in conjunction with Greene, is A Looking Glasse for London and England. Dyce.

conceit the only Shake-scene in a country. O, that I might intreat your rare wits to be employed in more profitable courses, and let these apes imitate your past excellence, and never more acquaint them with your admired inventions! I know the best husband of you all will never prove an usurer, and the kindest of them all will never prove a kind nurse: yet, whilst you may, seek better masters; for it is pity such rare wits should be subject to the pleasure of such rude groums.

“In this I might insert two more that both have writ against these buckram gentlemen; but let their own work serve to witness against their own wickedness, if they persevere to maintain any more such peasants. For other newcomers, I leave them to the mercy of these painted monsters, who, I doubt not, will drive the best-minded to despise them: for the rest, it skills not, though they make a jest at them.”

Here we have pretty conclusive evidence as to the position Shakespeare held in 1592. Though sneered at as a player, it is plain that he was already throwing the other playmakers of the time into the shade, and making their labours cheap. Blank-verse was Marlowe's special forte; he was the first to introduce it on the public stage; and his dramas show great skill in the use of it: but here was an "upstart” from the country, a “peasant,” that was able to rival him in his own line. Moreover, he was a Do-all, a “ Johannes Fac-totum,” that could turn his hand to any thing; and his ceadiness to undertake what none others could do so well, naturally drew upon him the charge of conceit from those who envied his rising, and whose lustre was growing dim in his light. As for the insinuation of being “ beautified with our feathers," the probable grounds of it are discussed sufficiently in our Introductions to The Taming of the Shrew and the First and Second Parts of King Henry VI., to which the reader is referred. We have little doubt that these three plays, as also the Third Part of King Henry VI., and the original sketch of Romeo and Juliet, were written before the death of Greene. Our reasons for this are also stated in the Introductions to those plays.

It appears that both Shakespeare and Marlowe were of fended, as they had cause to be, at the liberties Greene had taken with them; for, not long after, Chettle published a tract entitled Kind-Heart's Dream, in which he made a handsome apology to Shakespeare, as follows:

“ About three months since died Mr. Robert Greene, leaving many papers in sundry booksellers' hands : among others, his Groatsworth of Wit, in which a letter, written to divers play-makers, is offensively by one or two of them taken; and, because on the dead they cannot be avenged, they wilfully forge in their conceits a living author; and, after tossing it to and fro, no remedy but it must light on me. How I have, all the time of my conversing in printing, hindered the bitter inveighing against scholars, it hath been very well known; and how in that I dealt, I can sufficiently prove. With neither of them that take offence was I acquainted ; and with one of them I care not if I never be: the other, whom at that time I did not so much spare, as since I wish I had, — for that, as I have moderated the heat of living writers, and might have used my own discretion, (especially in such a case,) the author being dead, – that I did not, I am as sorry as if the original fault had been my fault: because myself have seen his demeanour no less civil, than he excellent in the quality he professes ; besides, divers of worship have reported his uprightness of dealing, which argues his honesty, and his facetious grace in writing, that approves his art. For the first, whose learning I reverence, and, at the perusing of Greene's book, struck out what then in conscience I thought he in some displeasure writ, or, had it been true, yet to publish it was intolerable, him I would wish to use me no worse than I deserve. I had only in the copy this share: It was ill written, as sometime Greene's hand was none of the best : licenced it must be, ere it could

« ZurückWeiter »