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do little more than extract those passages from our author, which have struck us either as novel or important in themselves, or as furnishing some interesting information to our readers, and affording the fairest specimen of the style and matter of the volumes before us. We think it necessary to
say thus much with reference to the task we have undertaken, and to state that it is not our design to enter into an elaborate disquisition of the merits or defects of Mr. Scottowe, compared with other writers upon this interminable subject. To perform such a labor would demand more of our pages than we can devote to an individual work, and would, indeed, impose on us the necessity of writing another
An important service is rendered by the present author to the readers of Shakspeare; his production will enable them to refer to the works from which the dramatist drew his plots, or from which he derived assistance; and they who have not leisure, or inclination, to consult the originals, will find an analysis in these volumes, which, in our judgment, is at once correct and comprehensive.
In treating of the English historical plays, Mr. Skottowe has considered them chronologically. The principle adopted in the arrangement of the other dramas is that of the order of their composition. He begins with King John, which was written or made its appearance in 1596.
"In the composition of his English historical plays, Shakspeare usually referred to the Chronicles of Holinshed for the facts necessary for his purpose. On the present occasion, however, he rested satisfied with the authority of an anonymous play, in two parts, printed in 1591. Its title is, "The troublesome Raigne of John King of England, with the Discoverie of King Richard Cordelion's base Sonne (vulgarly named the Bastard Fauconbridge): also, the Death of King John at Swinstead Abbey." "With almost implicit fidelity, Shakspeare copied the old play in its story and scenic arrangement of circumstances."***"The most celebrated, and, indeed, the best scene in Shakspeare's play, is that in which the tyrant insinuates to Hubert his wishes for the death of Arthur: its whole merit is Shakspeare's, the bare hint for such an interview in the original play being comprised in the following lines:
"Hubert de Burgh, take Arthur here to thee,
Of Richard the Second, which was published in 1593, our author says,
"The action of the present play commences in 1398, when Richard had attained his thirty-second year, and closes with his death in 1400. Holinshed furnished the facts which the poet dramatised; and, with the exception of a few minor points, which require notice, Shakspeare adhered with considerable exactness to his authority. He is inaccurate, for instance, in his statement of the circumstances under which the first interview between Richard and Bolingbroke took place: he entirely passes over the meeting of Richard and Northumberland at Conway Castle, where the king was entrapped into the power of the wily earl. From that moment Richard was a king only in name. He did not meet Bolingbroke at Flint with the freedom which Shakspeare represents, for he was forcibly carried thither: that castle was surrounded with the soldiers of his enemy; and though the duke of Lancaster thrice bowed his knee in reverence to his " sovereign lord and king," Richard was then actually a prisoner, and conveyed to London, without being "permitted once to change his apparel, but rode still through all the towns simply clothed in one suit of raiment.”* The poet is further incorrect in representing Bolingbroke ignorant of Richard's sojourn in Flint, he being still advertised, from hour to hour, by posts, how the earl of Northumberland sped.'"+
The First Part of Henry IVth, published in 1597; and the Second Part of Henry IVth, and Henry Vth, published in 1599, owe their origin, it appears, to the same sources-the Chronicles of Holinshed, and an anonymous Play, exhibited long before Shakespeare became a writer for the stage, entitled "The famous victories of Henry the Vth, containing the honourable Battell of Agincourt."
Henry VIth-the first part published in 1589, the second and third parts in 1591. For the discussion of the doubts which have been thrown upon the authenticity of these Plays, as the productions of Shakspeare, we must refer to the author, but we extract the following :
"Few words need be said respecting the first part of Henry the Sixth. As a general proposition it is beyond controversy true, that neither the sentiments, allusions, diction, nor versification, bear any resemblance to Shakspeare's undisputed plays. A few lines are, indeed, fixed on as such as Shakspeare might have written. Perhaps they were written by him; for what improbability is there in the supposition, that a performance which formed a suitable, if not necessary, introduction to two plays on which he bestowed some labour, was not totally neglected by him, though he undertook no formal revision of its scenes ?"
On Richard the Third, published 1593, we can find room only for the following extract:
"The occurrences in the brief reign of Richard, were recorded under the linx-eyed scrutiny of the jealous Tudors, a dynasty whose claim to the throne was that of conquest, or the unfounded pretence of having delivered a suffering nation from the yoke of an oppressor. The name of Richard has therefore reached posterity under a weight of obloquy which the impartial pens of modern writers will never, perhaps, be entirely able to remove. Shakspeare imbibed all the Lancastrian prejudices, and he had moreover others which we cannot trace to that source: that the modern detestation of Richard is, in a great measure, to be attributed to the popularity of Shakspeare's drama cannot be doubted, and it will be the business of the following pages to trace how far the poet followed the authority of historians; and how much of his portrait of the crook-backed tyrant is attributable only to himself.
Shakspeare's historical authorities were the History of Richard the Third, by Sir Thomas More, and its continuation in Holinshed's Chronicle. Unlike the usual contents of the Chronicles, Sir Thomas More's History is not a mere record of facts, but its pages are enriched by much eloquence of style, and, what was infinitely more important to the dramatist, an animated and discriminative picture of the hero of the narrative."
Henry the VIIIth. appeared in 1603. Unlike the other historical plays, it had no predecessor on the stage. "The page of history alone furnished materials for its composition, and so exact is the poet's conformity to his authorities, that there are few passages throughout the play which cannot be traced to Fox's Acts and Monuments of Christian Martyrs, or to Cavendishe's Life of Wolsey, as Shakspeare found it in the Chronicles of Holinshed."
"The plot of the Two Gentlemen of Verona* is taken from the story of Felismina in the second book of the Diana, a Spanish pastoral romance, by George of Montemayor, translated into English by one Thomas Wilson.'
"The story in the romance is feeble, and Shakspeare's additional circumstances at the court of the duke give it no interest. His new characters are sketches rather than personifications of passion. Valentine is the contrast of Proteus. He has honour, courage, fidelity both in love and friendship; but there is so little vividness and force in his character, that he leaves no mark on our minds. Speed is a sketch of those servants who stand so prominent in modern comedy, with their wit on their master's amatory follies, and their reflections on their own love of eating and drinking and sleeping. His compeer, Launce, differs as much from Speed, and the crowd of similar charac
Published in 1591. We give the dates, that comparison may be made with previous publications.
ters that flourish in the old dramas, as if he were of a different race of beings. The romance affords no hint whatever for the character, or, as it would be more properly stated, the characters of Launce and his dog. The master of this "cruel hearted cur" narrates his actions, interprets his thoughts, and explains his qualities, as of infinite importance, with ludicrous gravity; while his attachment to Crab, his description of the parting with his family, and his "catalogue of his mistress's conditions," give an extensive variety to the display of Launce's peculiarities.
The female characters are germs of much of that feminine excellence which Shakspeare loved, and which he so skilfully elaborated in many of his subsequent and more highly finished dramas. Both Silvia and Julia are amiable and affectionate, while the maiden coyness and deep passion of the latter are pleasingly contrasted by the wit and spirit of the former. In the novel, Felismina pleads with earnestness in behalf of the perjured Felix to his new mistress: Julia, on the contrary, artfully excites the compassion of Silvia in favour of Proteus' deserted love; a conduct far more in accordance with nature. Yet, in Twelfth Night, Shakspeare follows the course he here rejects; Viola pleads to her rival, Olivia, in favour of the duke, with an eloquent warmth even exceeding that of Felismina."
The plot of the Comedy of Errors, (published in 1592,)
"Undoubtedly originated in the Menæchmi of Plautus, but it is not known through what channel Shakspeare became acquainted with his Latin authority. A translation of Plautus' play was printed in 1595, but if, as is generally said, the Comedy of Errors was written three years previously, its author could not have derived any assistance from the translation of W. W. As, however, the chronology of the Comedy of Errors may be considered disputable, it is necessary to add, that between Shakspeare's play and the pleasant and fine conceited comedy called Menechmus,' there is an entire discordance in the names of the dramatis personæ, and a total absence of those coincidences of expression which proclaim Shakspeare a copier on other
The Historie of Error' is the name of a piece enacted on Newyear's night 1576-7, before Queen Elizabeth at Hampton-Court; but the play is no longer in existence. It is neither apparent, therefore, by what means Shakspeare obtained his knowledge of the plot of the Menæchmi, nor are any materials left to guide us in the enquiry, how far the deviations which his play exhibits from Plautus are to be attributed to himself, how far to the authority he followed. Since this subject is involved in so much obscurity, little can be effected towards the illustration of the play before us; but it may afford gratification to a reasonable curiosity to contrast the translation of Plautus by W. W. (whom Wood calls William Warner) with the Comedy of Errors."
Love's Labour's Lost, (which appeared in 1594,) is one of the very few plays
"Of its author that are not ascertained to have been founded on some previously existing work. Its incidents, however, are so simple, and in such entire conformity with the chivalric and romantic
feeling of the sixteenth century, that they would readily present themselves to any mind imbued with the fashionable literature of the age.
"The play is rich and spirited in dialogue, and full of the poetry of fancy. Many of its observations have passed into sentences, though the drama itself has fallen into neglect. Biron is still referred to as the character of a genuine wit."
Of a Midsummer Night's Dream, (the date of which is 1594,) it is said,
"After perusing any half-dozen dramas of the early part of Elizabeth's reign, we can readily concur with Steevens, in thinking that the doggerel nonsense of Bottom and his worthies, is only an extract from 'the boke of Perymus and Thesbye,' printed in 1562. The conjecture, however, is equally plausible, that Shakspeare emulated the style in which the story of these unhappy lovers is narrated in the fourth book of Golding's version of Ovid's Metamorphoses.
"Manifold are the opinions that have been advanced respecting the origin of the fairy mythology of our ancestors. The superstitions of the East and of the North, and of Greece and of Rome, have been resorted to in search of a clue which would lead to a consistent history of its rise and growth.
"It appears safe to assume, that the oriental genii in general, and the Dews and Peries of Persia in particular, are the remote prototypes of modern fairies. The doctrine of the existence of this peculiar race of spirits was imported into the north of Europe by the Scythians, and it forms a leading feature in the mythology of the Celts. Hence was derived the popular fairy-system of our own country, which our ancestors modified by the mythology of the classics."
The Taming of the Shrew-(published in 1596.)
"The idea of conveying a person in his sleep to scenes entirely new to him, which is the plot of the Induction to this play, is of oriental origin. The adventures of Abou Hassan, whose credulity was practised on by the Caliph Harouin Alraschid, are familiar to every reader of the Arabian-Nights; and scarcely less known, since the appearance of Mr. Marsden's trauslation of Marco Polo, is the deception of Alo-eddin, who, under the influence of sleeping potions, frequently had young men of his court removed into secluded palaces and gardens inhabited by beautiful and accomplished damsels. In this scene of delight they were permitted to revel for several days, till, again influenced by a soporific, they were reconveyed to their own habitations. Alo-eddin then persuaded them that they had been for a time translated, by his power, to the realms of Paradise.
"In the European world the story has assumed a less romantic form, nay, it has even made its appearance under the grave authority of the historian, and is related as true by Heuterus, of Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy; and by Sir Richard Barckley, of the Emperor Charles the Fifth.
"From Heuterus the story was translated into French, and may be scen in Goulart's Histoires Admirables, and it also found its way into a collection of stanzas in prose, 'sett forth by Maister Richard Edwards,