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THIS play has many just sentiments, some natural dialogues, and some pleasing scenes; but they are obtained at the expense of much incongruity. To remark the folly of the fiction, the absurdity of the conduct, the confusion of the names and manners of different times, and the impossibility of the events in any system of life, were to waste criticism upon unresisting imbecility, upon faults too evident for detection, and too gross for
* On this critique of Johnson, Mr. Singer remarks:—“It is hardly necessary to point out the extreme injustice of the unfounded severity of Johnson’s animadversions upon this exquisite drama. The antidote will be found in the reader’s appeal to his own feelings after reiterated perusal. It is with satisfaction I refer to the more just and discliminative opinion of a foreign critic, to whom every lover of Shakspeare is deeply indebted, cited in the Preliminary Remarks.”
SUNG BY GUIDERIUS AND ARVIRAGUs over FIDELE, supposed TO BE DEAD.
BY MR. WILLIAM COLLINS.
To fair Fidele's grassy tomb,
And rifle all the breathing spring.
To wea with shrieks this quiet grove;
No withered witch shall here be seen,
The female fays shall haunt the green,
The redbreast oft at evening hours
With hoary moss, and gathered flowers,
When howling winds, and beating rain,
Or midst the chase on every plain,
Each lonely scene shall thee restore;
Beloved till life could charm no more,
ON what principle the editors of the first complete edition of Shakspeare's works admitted this play into their volume, cannot now be ascertained. The most probable reason that can be assigned is, that he wrote a few lines in it, or gave some assistance to the author in revising it, or in some way or other aided in bringing it forward on the stage. The tradition mentioned by Ravenscroft, in the time of king James II., warrants us in making one or other of these suppositions. “I have been told, (says he, in his preface to an alteration of this play, published in 1687,) by some anciently conversant with the stage, that it was not originally his, but brought by a private author to be acted, and he only gave some master touches to one or two of the principal parts.” “A booke, entitled A Noble Roman Historie of Titus Andronicus,” was entered at Stationers' Hall, by John Danter, Feb. 6, 1593–4. This was undoubtedly the play, as it was printed in that year, (according to Langbaine, who alone appears to have seen the first edition,) and acted by the servants of the earls of Pembroke, Derby, and Sussex. It is observable that in the entry no author's name is mentioned, and that the play was originally performed by the same company of comedians who exhibited the old drama, entitled The Contention of the Houses of Yorke and Lancaster, The old Taming of a Shrew, and Marlowe's King Edward II.; by whom not one of Shakspeare's plays is said to have been performed. g" From Ben Jonson's Induction to Bartholomew Fair, 1614, we learn that Andronicus had been exhibited twenty-five or thirty years before; that is, according to the lowest computation, in 1589; or, taking a middle period, which is perhaps more just, in 1587. “To enter into a long disquisition to prove this piece not to have been written by Shakspeare, would be an idle waste of time. To those who are not conversant with his writings, if particular passages were examined, more words would be necessary than the subject is worth; those who are well acquainted with his works cannot entertain a doubt on the question. I will, however, mention one mode by which it may be easily ascertained. Let the reader only peruse a few lines of Appius and Virginia, Tancred and Gismund, The Battle of Alcazar, Jeronimo, Selimus Emperor of the Turks, The Wounds of Civil War, The Wars of Cyrus, Locrine, Arden of Feversham, King Edward I., The Spanish Tragedy, Solyman and Perseda, King Leir, the old King John, or any other of the pieces that were exhibited before the time of Shakspeare, and he will at once perceive that Titus Andronicus was coined in the same mint. “The testimony of Meres [who attributes it to Shakspeare, in his Palladis Tamia, or the Second Part of Wits Common Wealth, 1598]
WOL. VI. 43
remains to be considered. His enumerating this among Shakspeare's plays, may be accounted for in the same way in which we may account for its being printed by his fellow comedians in the first folio edition of his works. Meres was, in 1598, when his book first appeared, intimately connected with Drayton, and probably acquainted with some of the dramatic poets of the time; from some or other of whom, he might have heard that Shakspeare interested himself about this tragedy, or had written a few lines for the author. The internal evidence furnished by the piece itself, and proving it not to have been the production of Shakspeare, greatly outweighs any single testimony on the other side. Meres might have been misinformed, or inconsiderately have given credit to the rumor of the day. In short, the high antiquity of the piece, its entry on the Stationers’ books, and being afterwards printed, without the name of Shakspeare; its being performed by the servants of lord Pembroke, &c.; the stately march of the versification, the whole color of the composition, its resemblance to several of our most ancient dramas, the dissimilitude of the style from our author's undoubted plays, and the tradition mentioned by Ravenscroft, when some of his contemporaries had not long been dead (for Lowin and Taylor, two of his fellow comedians, were alive a few years before the Restoration, and Sir Wm. Davenant did not die till April, 1668);-all these circumstances combined, prove, with irresistible force, that the play of Titus Andronicus has been erroneously ascribed to Shakspeare.”—MALONE. “Mr. Malone, in the preceding note, has expressed his opinion that Shakspeare may have written a few lines in this play, or given some assistance to the author in revising it. Upon no other ground than this, has it any claim to a place among our Poet's dramas. Those passages in which he supposed the hand of Shakspeare may be traced, he marked with inverted commas. This system of seizing upon every line possessed of merit, as belonging of right to our great Dramatist, is scarcely doing justice to his contemporaries, and resembles one of the arguments which Theobald has used in his preface to The Double Falsehood:—‘My partiality for Shakspeare makes me wish that every thing which is good or pleasing in our tongue had been owing to his pen.” Many of the writers of that day were men of high poetical talent: and many individual speeches are found in plays, which, as plays, are of no value, which would not have been in any way unworthy of Shakspeare himself; of whom Dr. Johnson has observed, that ‘ his real power is not shown in the splendor of particular passages, but by the progress of the fable and the tenor of his dialogue; and that he that tries to recommend him by select quotations, will succeed like the pedant in Hierocles, who, when he offered his house to sale, carried a brick in his pocket as a specimen.” Dr. Farmer has ascribed Titus Andronicus to Kyd, and placed it on a level with Locrine;’ but it appears to be much more in the style of Marlowe. His fondness for accumulating horrors upon other occasions, will account for the sanguinary character of this play; and it would not, I think, be difficult to show, by extracts from his other performances, that there is not a line in it which he was not fully capable of writing.”—Boswell. “The author, whoever he was, might have borrowed the story, &c. from an old ballad which is entered in the books of the Stationers’ Company immediately after the play to John Danter, Feb. 6, 1593; and again entered to Tho. Pavyer, April 19, 1602. The reader will find it in Dr. Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, vol. i. Painter, in his Palace of Pleasure, tom. ii., speaks of the story of Titus as well known, and particularly mentions the cruelty of Tamora; and there is an allusion to it in A Knack to Know a Knave, 1594. “I have given the reader a specimen (in the notes) of the changes made in this play by Ravenscroft; and may add, that, when the empress stabs her child, he has supplied the Moor with the following lines:–
* She has outdone me, ev’n in mine own art;
“It rarely happens that a dramatic piece is altered with the same spirit that it was written; but Titus Andronicus has undoubtedly fallen into the hands of one whose feelings and imagination were congenial with those of the author.
“It was evidently the work of one who was acquainted with Greek and Roman literature. It is likewise deficient in such internal marks as distinguish the tragedies of Shakspeare from those of other writers—I mean that it presents no struggles to introduce the vein of humor so constantly interwoven with the business of his serious dramas. It can neither boast of his striking excellences, nor of his acknowledged defects; for it offers not a single interesting situation, a natural character, or a string of quibbles, from first to last. That Shakspeare should have written without commanding our attention, moving our passions, or sporting with words, appears to me as improbable as that he should have studiously avoided dissyllable and trisyllable terminations in this play and in no other.
“Let it be likewise remembered that this piece was not published with the name of Shakspeare till after his death. The quartos [of 1600) and 1611 are anonymous.
“Could the use of particular terms, employed in no other of his pieces, be admitted as an argument that he was not its author, more than one of these might be found; among which is palliament for robe, a Latinism, which I have not met with elsewhere in any English writer, whether ancient or modern; though it must have originated from the mint of a scholar. I may add, that Titus Andronicus will be found, on examination, to contain a greater number of classical allusions, &c., than are scattered over all the rest of the performances on which the seal of Shakspeare is indubitably fixed. Not to write any more about and about this suspected thing, let me observe, that the glitter of a few passages in it has, perhaps, misled the judgment of those who ought to have known that both sentiment and description are more easily produced than the interesting fabric of a tragedy. Without these advantages many plays have succeeded; and many have failed, in which they have been dealt about with lavish profusion. It does not follow that he who can carve a frieze with minuteness, elegance, and ease, has a conception equal to the extent, propriety, and grandeur of a temple.
“Whatever were the motives of Heming and Condell for admitting this tragedy among those of Shakspeare, all it has gained by their favor is, to be delivered down to posterity with repeated remarks of contempt— a Thersites babbling among heroes, and introduced only to be derided.” —STEEvens.