« PreviousContinue »
but we find no trace of our author, or of any of his works. Three years afterwards, puttenham printed his Art of English Poefy; and in that work also we look' in vain for the name of Shakspeare. Sir John Harrington in his Apologie for Poetry, prefixed to the Translation of Ariosto, (which was entered in the Stationers' books Feb. 26, 1590-1,
Onion. Shall I request your name? " Ant. My name is Antonio Balladino.
- Oni. Balladino! You are not pageant-poet to the city of Milan, fir, are you? • Ant. I supply the place, sir, when a worse cannot be fir.-Did
you see the last pageant I set forth ? " Afterwards Antonio, fpeaking of the plays he had written, fays.
6. Let me have good ground, – no matter for the pen ; the plot shall carry it.
" Oni. Indeed that's right; you are in print', already for
THE BEST PLOTTER.
" Ant. Ay; I might as well have been put in for a dumb-fhow too.'
It is evident, that his poet is here intended to be ridiculed by Ben Jonfon : but he might, notwithstanding, have been deservedly eminent. That malignity which endeavoured to tear a wreath from the brow of Shakspeare, would certainly not spare inferior writers.
3 Thé thirty-first chapter of the first book of Puttenham's Art of English Poesy is thus entitled : ” Who in
have been the most commended writers in our English Poelie, and the author's cenfure given upon them.”
After having enumerated several authors who were then celebrated for various kinds of compofition, he gives this succinct account of those who had written for the stage: of the latter fort I thinke thus ; that for tragedie, the Lord Buckhurst and Maister Edward Ferrys , for such doings as I have sene of theirs, do deserve the hyest price ; the Earl of Oxford and Maifter Edwardes of her Majestic's Chappell, for comedio and enterlude." Vol. II.
in which year it was published,) takes occasion to speak of the theatre, and mentions some of the celebrated drạmas of that time; but says not a word of Shakspeare, or of his plays. If any of his dramatick compositions had then appeared, is it imaginable, that Harrington should have mentioned the Cambridge Pedantius, and The Play of the Cards, which last, he tells us was a London (i. e. an English] comedy, and have passed by, unnoticed, the new prodigy of the dramatick world?
In Spenser's Tears of the Muses, first printed in 1591, the following lines are found in Thalia's complaint on account of the decay of dramatick poetry :
66 And he the man, whom páture's self had made
These lines were inserted by Mr. Rowe in his first edition of The Life of Shakspeare, and he then suppoled that they related to our poet, and
alluded to his having withdrawn himself for some time from the publick, and discontinued writing from “ a disgust he had taken to the then. ill taste of the town and the mean .condition of the flage."
But as Mr. Rowe suppressed this passage in his second edition, it may be presumed that he found reason to change his opinion. Dryden, however, he informs us, always thought that these verses related to Shakspeare: and indeed I do not recollect any dramatick poet of that time, to whom the character which they delincate is applicable, except our author. It is remarkable that the very fame epithet, which Spenser has employed,
“ But that same genile fpirit,” &c. is likewise used by the players in their preface, where they speak of Shakspeare: who as he was a happie imitator of nature, was a most genile expreffer of it.” On the other hand fome little difficulty arises from the line -“And doth the learneds' talk upon him take;" for our poet certainly had no title to that epithet. Spenser, however, might have used it in an appropriated sense, learned in all the business of the stage; and in this sense the cpithet is more applicable to Shakspeare than to any poet that ever wrote.
It should however, be remembered, that the name Willy , for some reason or other which it is now in vain to seek, appears to have been applied by the poets of Shakspeare's age to perfons who were not christened William. Thus, (as Dr. Farmer observes to me,) in “ An Eglogue made long since on the death of Sir Philip Sydney,” which is preserved in Davison's Poetical Rhapsody, 1602, we find that celebrated writer
lamented in almost every stanza by the name of Willy :
" Willy is dead,
6 That wont to lead " Our flocks and us, in mirth and shepheard's glee, "&c.
***Of none but Willie's pipe they made account," &c.
Spenser's Willy, however, could not have been Sir Philip Sydney, for he was dead some years before the Tears of the Muses was published.
If these lines were intended to allude to our author, then he inust have written' some comedies in or before the year 1591; and the date which I have assigned to A Midsum nier Night's Dream is
I cannot expect to influence the decifion of my reader on a subject on which I have not been able to form a decided opinion myself; and therefore shall content myself with merely stating the difficulties on each side. Supposing Shakspeare to have written any piece in the year 1590 , Sir John Harrington's filence concerning him in the following year appears inexplicable. "But whatever poet may have been in Spenser's contemplation, it is certain that Shakspeare had commenced a writer for the stage, and had even excited the jealousy of his contemporaries, before September 1592. This is now decisively proved by 'a passage extracted by Mr. Tyrwhitt from Robert Greene's Groatsworth of Witte bought with a Million of Repentance, in which there is an evident allusion to our author's name, as well as to a line in the Second Part of King Henry VI.
This trac was published at the dying request
of Robert Greene, a very voluminous writer of that time. The conclusion of it, as Mr. Tyrwhitt has observed, is "an address to his brother poets to dissuade them from writing for the stage, on account of the ill treatment which they were used to receive from the players. It begins thus : " To those gentlemen his quondam acquaintance that Spend their wits in making playes, R. G. wisheth a better exercise, and wisdome to prevent his extremities.' His first address is undoubtedly to Christopher Marlowe, the most popular and admired dramatick poet of that age, previous to the appearance of Shakspeare. “Wonder not,” (lays Greene,) “ for with thee will I first begin, thou famous gracer of tragedians, that Greene, (who hath said with thee, like the foole in his heart, there is no God , ) should now give glory unto his greatness ; for penetrating is his power, his hand is heavy upon me; &c. Why Thould thy excellent wit, his gift, be so blinded, that thou should give no glory to the giver ? — The brother (f. breather of this diabolical atheism is dead, and in his life had never the felicitie he aimed at: but as he beganne in craft, lived in feare, and ended in despair. And wilt thou, my friend, bė his disciple ? — Looke unto me,
Looke unto me, by him persuaded to that libertie , and thou shalt find it an infernal bondage.”
Greene's next address appears to be made to Thomas Lodge.
" With thee I joyne young Juvenall, that byting satirist, that lastly with mee together writ a comedie. Sweet boy, might I advite thee, be advised, and get not many enemies by bitter words : inveigh against vaine men,