« PreviousContinue »
I have no doubt that an equivoque was here intended, and that, beside the obvious sense, an allusion was intended to King Henry IV. the heir of France, 6 concerning whose fucceffion to the throne there was a civil war in that country, from August 1589, when his father was assassinated, for several years. Henry, after struggling long against the power and force of the League, cxtricated himself from all his difficulties by embracing the Roman Catholick religion at St. Denis, on Sunday the 25th of July, 1593, and was crowned king of France in Feb. 1594; I therefore imagine this play was written before that period. In 1591 Lord Essex was sent with 4000 troops to the French king's assistance, and his brother Walter was killed before Rouen in Normandy. From that time till Henry was peaceably settled on the throne, many bodies of troops were sent by Queen Elizabeth to his aid: so that his situation must then have been a matter of notoriety, and a subject of conversation in England.
This play was neither entered on the Stationers' books, nor printed, till 1623, but is mentioned by Meres in 1598, and exhibits internal proofs of having been one of Shakspeare's earliest productions. I formerly supposed that it could not have been written till 1596; because the translation of the Menachmi of Plautus, from which the plot appears to have been taken, was not published till 1595. But on a more attentive examination of
6 The words heir and hair were, I make no doubt, pronounced alike in Shakspeare's time, and hence they are frequently confounded in the old copies of his plays.
that translation, I find that Shakspeare might have feen it before publication ; for from the printer's advertisement to the reader, it appears that for some time before it had been handed about in MS, among the translator's friends. The piece was entered at Stationers' Hall, June 10, 1594, and as the author had translated all the comedies of Plautus, it may be presumed that the whole work had been the employment of some years: and this might have been one of the earliest translated. Shakspeare must also have read some other account of the same story not yet discovered; for how otherwise could he have got the names of Erraticus and Surreptus, which do not occur in the translation of Plautus? There the brothers are called Menächmus Sofcles, and Menachmus the traveller.
The alternaterhymes that are found in this play, as well as in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Love's Labour's Loft, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Romeo and Juliet, are a further proof that these pieces were among our author's earliest productions. We are told by himself that Venus and Adonis was the first heir of his invention." The Rape of Lucrece probably followed soon afterwards. When he turned his thoughts to the stage, the measure which he had used in those poems, naturally presented itself to him in his first dramatick essays: I mean in those plays which were written originally by himself.
In those which were grounded, like the Henries, on the preceding productions of other men, he naturally followed the example before him, and consequently in those pieces no alternate rhymes are found.
The doggrel measure, which, if I recollect right, is employed in none of our author's plays except The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew, and Love's Labour's Loft, also adds support to the dates alligned to these plays: for these long doggrel verses, as I have observed in a note at the end of the picce now under our confideration, are written in that kind of metre which was usually attributed by the dramatick poets before his time to some of their inferior characters. He was imperceptibly infected with the prevailing mode in these his early compositions; but foon learned to " deviate boldly from the common track," left by preceding writers.
A play with the same title as that before us, was exhibited at Gray's inn in December 1594; but I know not whether it was Shakspeare's play, or a translation from Plautus. After such sports, (says the writer of Gesta Grayorum, 1688,) a Comedy of Errors, like to Plautus his Menechmus, was played by the players : fo that night was begun and continued to the end in nothing but confusion
Whereupon it was ever afterwards called the Night of Errors." "The Registers of Gray's-inn-have been examined for the purpose of ascertaining whether the play above-mentioned was our author's; but they afford no information on the subject.
From its having been represented, by the players, not by the gentlemen of the inn, I think it probable that it was Shakspeare's piece.
The name of Dowfabel, which is mentioned in this play, occurs likewise in an Eclogue entitled
The Shepherd's Garland, by Michael Drayton, printed in 4to. in 1593.
6. THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, 1594.
This play and The Winter's Tale are the only pieces which I have found reason, since the first edition of this Essay appeared, to attribute to an era widely different from that in which I had originally placed them.' I had futposed the piece now under confideration to have been written in
1606. On a more attentive perusal of it, and more experience in our author's style and manner, I.am persuaded that it was one of his very early productions, and near in point of time to The Comedy of Errors, Love's Labour's LR, and The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
In the old comedies, antecedent to the time of our author's writing for the flage, (if indeed they deserve that name,) a kind of doggrel measure is often found, which, as I have already observed, Shakspeare acopted in some of those pieces which were undoubtedly among his early compositions; I mean his Errors, and Love's Labour's Loft. This kind of metre being found also in the play before us, adds support to the supposition that it was one of his early productions. The last four lines of
A minute change has been made in the arrangement of five other plays; A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Comedy of Errors, Love's Labour's Loft, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Cymbeline; but the variation is not more than a period of two or three years.
this comedy furnish an example of the measure I allude to:
“ 'Twas I won the wager, though you hit the white,
"s ?Tis a wonder, by your leave, she will be tam'd so." Another proof of The Taming of the Shrew being an early production arises from the frequent play of words which we find in it, and which Shakspeare has condemned in a subsequent comedy.
Some of the incidents in this comedy are taken from the Supposes of Gascoigne, an author of considerable popularity, when Shakspeare first began to write for the stage.
The old piece entitled The Taming of a Shrew, on which our author's play is founded, was entered on the Stationers' books by Peter Short, May 2 1594, and probably soon afterwards printed. As it bore nearly the same title with Shakspeare's play, (which was not printed till 1623,) the hope of getting a sale for it under the shelter of a celebrated name, was probably the inducement to issue it out at that time; and its entry at Stationers' hall, and publication in 1594, (for from the passage quoted below it must have been published ,8) gives weight
8 From a passage in a tract written by Sir John Harrington, entitled The Metamorphosis of Ajax, 1596, this old play appears to have been printed before that time, probably in the year 1594, when it was entered at Stationers' halli though no edition of fo early a date has hitherto been discovered. “ Read” (says Sir John) - the booke of Taming a Shrew, which hath made a number of us so perfect, that now every one can rule a farew in our country, five he that hath' her."