Abbildungen der Seite

an university man and a Master of Arts, and had doubtless won his position mainly as a writer. He seems to have withdrawn from the company in 1590, as, after that date, he is found no more among them, but is met with in other connections. It is nowise unlikely that by this time another hand may have lessened the value of his services, or that he may have taken some disgust at the unlearned rivalry which threatened his pre-eminence.

There can, we think, be no reasonable doubt, that before the end of 1590 Shakespeare was well started in his dramatic career, and that the effect of his cunning labours was beginning to be felt by his senior fellows in that line: that such was the case soon afterwards, is certain, as we shall presently see. It has been but too common to regard him and speak of him as a miracle of spontaneous genius, who did his best things without knowing how or why; that his strength did not grow with the ripening of judgment, and with “years that bring the philosophic mind ;” and that, consequently, he was nowise indebted to time and experience for the wonderful reach and power which his writings display. This is an “old fond paradox,” which seems to have originated with those who could not conceive how, save by a miracle of genius, any man could become learned without scholastic advantages ; forgetting, apparently, that several things, if not more, may be learned in the school of nature, provided one have an eye to read her “open secrets” without " the spectacles of books."

This notion has vitiated a great deal of Shakespearian criticism. Rowe evidently had something of it. "Perhaps," says he, "we are not to look for his beginnings, like those of other authors, among his least perfect writings : art had so little, and nature so large a share in what he did, that, for aught I know, the performances of his youth, as they were the most vigorous, and had the most fire and strength of imagination in them, were the best.” We think most decidedly otherwise ; and have grounds for doing so which Rowe had not, in what has since been done towards ascer taining the chronology of the Poet's plays. At all events, several of them, by external and internal marks, were evidently the work of his “prentice hand ;” and his course can, we think, be traced with tolerable clearness and certainty, as he grew from the apprentice into the master. The r:lays which we reckon to this his first period are Titus Andronicus, the first draught of Pericles, The Comedy of Errors, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Love's Labour's Lost in its original form. Our reasons for so doing are given at length in our several Introductions to those plays, and therefore need not be dwelt upon here.

Thus much, however, may be stated here: In these plays, as might be expected from one who was modest and wished to learn, we have much of imitation as distinguished from character, though of imitation surpassing its models. And it seems to us that no fair view can be had of his mind, no justice done to his art, but by carefully discriminating in his work what grew from imitation, and what from character. For he evidently wrote very much like others of his time, before he learned to write like himself; that is, it was some time before he found, by practice and experience, his own strength; and, meanwhile, he naturally relied more or less on the strength of custom and example. Nor was it till he had surpassed others in their way, that he hit upon that more excellent way in which none could walk but he. And this was more the case in tragedy than comedy, forasmuch as tragedy is a more artificial thing than comedy, and the elements of it lie more out of the walks of common life and observation. For a further consideration of this subject, if he care to take it, the reader may be referred to our Introductions to The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Titus Andronicus, and the Venus and Adonis.

The discovery of the players' certificate to the Privy Council in 1589 goes far to remove any improbability as to Shake speare's being the “ pleasant Willy” of Spenser's Tears of the Muses ; this having been formerly doubted on the ground that the Poet could not have earned such a notice so early as 1591, in which year The Tears of the Muses was first printed. In that poem, Spenser introduces Thalia, the Comic Muse, lamenting the condition of the stage:

6 Where be the sweet delights of learning's treasure,

That wont with comic sock to beautify
The painted theatres, and fill with pleasure
The listeners' eyes, and ears with melody;
In which I late was wont to reigo as Queen,

And mask in mirth with Graces well beseen ?” Then, after bemoaning the reign of “ugly Barbarism and brutish Ignorance, ycrept of late out of dread darkness," she continues thus:

“ All places they with folly have possess'd,
And with vain toys the vulgar entertain ;
But me have banished, with all the rest
That whilom wont to wait upon my train,
Fine Counterfeisance and upburtful Sport,
Delight and Laughter, deck'd in seemly sort.

« And he, the man whom Nature's self had made,

To mock herself, and Truth to imitate,
With kindly counter under miinic shade,
Our pleusunt Willy, ahı! is dead of late ;
With whom all joy and jolly merriment
Is also deaded, and in dolour drent.

u Instead thereof, scoffing scurrility,

And scornful Folly, with Contempt, is crept,
Rolling in rhymes of shameless ribaudry,
Without regard or due decorum kept;
Each idle wit at will presumes to make,
And dotb the Learned's task upon him take.

But that same gentle spirit, from whose pen

Lurge streams of honey and sweet nectar flow,
Scorning the boldness of such base-born men,
Which dare their follies forth so rashly throw,
Doth rather choose to sit in idle cell,

Than so himself to mockery to sell.”
The probability is, that this poem was written in 1590, or,
At the earliest, in 1589. At that period, the Martin Mar.

prelate controversy was raging fiercely, and the town was all agog with it. Walton, in his Life of Hooker, thus speaks of it “There was not only one Martin Marprelate, but other venomous books daily printed and dispersed; books that were so absurd and scurrilous, that the graver divines disdained them an answer. And yet these were grown into high esteem with the common people, till Tom Nash appeared against them all; who was a man of a sharp wit, and the master of a scoffing, satirical, merry pen." In 1589, the dispute was brought upon several of the London stages, with all the fierce ribaldries and buffooneries that such “scoffing, satirical, merry pens” could dress it in, to the great delight of the rude rabble, and to the disgust of men of taste and sobriety. We have already seen that two companies were that year interdicted from playing; and it was the theatrical use or abuse of this dispute, that drew upon them that measure. The acting choir-boys of St. Paul's also fell under a similar order that year, and for the same cause. Finally, this prostitution of the stage to the ends of polemical rancour and strife is what the Blackfriars company allude to, when, in their remonstrance, — for such it really is, — they allege that they “ have never brought into their plays matters of state and religion.

With Tom Nash was associated, in this controversy, John Lyly the Euphuist. One or both of them wrote the tract called Pap with a Hatchet, a very remarkable specimen of what was produced on the occasion. Lyly, writing, apparently, soon after the above-mentioned interdict, and referring to Martin Marprelate, says, — “Would those comedies might be allowed to be play'd, that are penned, and then I am sure he would be deciphered, and so perhaps discouraged.And Gabriel Harvey, in a pamphlet dated November 5, 1589, has the following: “I am threatened with a bauble, and Martin menaced with a comedy; a fit motion for a jester and a play- • er to try what may be done by employment of his faculty. Baubles and comedies are par.ous fellows to decipher and dis.

courage men (that is the point) with their witty flouts and learned jerks, enough to lash any man out of countenance. Nay, if you shake the painted scabbard at me, I have done ; and all you that tender the preservation of your good names were best please Pap-Hatchet, and fee Euphues betimes, for fear lest he be mored, or some one of his apes hired, 10 make a play of you, and then is your credit quite undone for ever and ever. Such is the public reputation of their plays. He must needs be discouraged, whom they decipher, Better anger an hundred other, than two such that have the stage at commandment, and can furnish out Vices and Devils at their pleasure.”

Spenser was an intimate friend of Harvey; and there cannot be a doubt, that these invasions of the stage by coarse vulgar lampoon and slang are alluded to in the “scoffing Scurrility and scornful Folly," and the “ugly Barbarism and brutish Ignorance," of which he makes Thalia complain ; and when she speaks of these as having “crept of late out of dread darkness," there needs no stronger argument for referring the poem to the date in question. It « an scarce be needful to remark, that the meaning of “is dead of late," in the stanzas quoted, is explained by what comes afterwards, -“Doth rather choose to sit in idle cell.” But men, a few excepted, will always run away from poetry to hear personal or party slang. This abuse of the stage was popular ; the public were infatuated with it; and the legitimate endeavours of art could for a while stand no chance in competition with it. It is not uulikely that the Blackfriars company, in spite of their remonstrance, suffered some interruption vi their course, on account of the sins of others. At all events, nothing was more natural than that Shakespeare, instead of either running with the stream of popular infatuation or trying to stem it, should choose rather to retire, and let the madness take its pourse, waiting for a more auspicious day.

Malone was very tenacious, that the lines we have quoted from Spenser referred to Lyly. Besides the gross improb

« ZurückWeiter »