Imagens das páginas
[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]


BECAUSE William Shakspcre, who lived in this world only fifty-two years, wrote so much within that bricf period, and, furthermorc, bccausc hc wrote with such transcendent genius and ability, it has pleased thcorctical and visionary observers to declare that he never wrote at all. Shakspcrc vicwed alonc, they maintain, is a miracle, and therefore an iinpossibility; but Shaksperc and Francis Bacon, rolled into onc, constitute a bcing who is cntircly natural and authentic. The works of Shaksperc and the works. of Bacon present, indeed, almost every possible point of dissimilarity, and no point of resemblance. The man behind Shaksperc's plays and poems and the man behind Bacon's essays and philosophy are absolutely distinct from one another, and as far apart as thc polcs. The dircct and positive testimony of Shakspere's friend and professional associate, Ben Jonson-a close observer, a"stern critic, a truth-teller, a moralist, not over-amiable in his commentary upon human naturc, and neither prone to error nor liable to credulity-tells the world, not only that Shaksperc wrote, but in what manncr he wrote. The assumption, implicd in the Bacon theory, that a poct capable of writing "Hamlet," "Macbeth," " Lear," and Othello," cither would or could, for any reason whatsocver, wish to es. cape the imputation of their authorship, is obviously absurd. The idea that Shakspere, hired by Bacon to father those plays, could for a period of years go in and out among the actors and the authors of his time, and so imposc upon their sagacity and clude thcir jealous scrutiny as to keep the sccrct of this gigantic fraud, is simply ludicrous. The notion that the man who wrote Shaksperc's poems-and these, undeniably, werc the work of William Shakspere-was the kind of inan to lend himself to any schcme of imposture is repudiated by cvery intimation of character that those poems contain; and the same may rightfully be said of the man who wrote Shakspere's plays. The fact that the plays, which these theorists would. deny to Shakspere's pen, are entirely, absolutely, and incontestibly kindred: with the pocms, which thcy cannot deny to it, stands forth as clear as the daylight. The associatc fact that the plays contain prcciscly such er. rors as would naturally be made by the untutored Shakspcre, but could not possibly be made by the thoroughly taught and cruditc Bacon, is like. wise distinctly visible. Yet, all the samc-bccausc Shaksperc, like Burns,

sprung from a family in humble station, and was but poorly schooled-this propostcrous doctrine persistently rcars its foolish head, and insults with idle chattcr thc Shakspcrean scholarship of the world. Only a few weeks ago a prominent representative dramatist of the day had the astound. ing folly to announce an hypothesis-apparently intended to be taken in carnest—that Shaksperc's tragedy of “Hamlet” was written by Jonson, Webster, Dekker, and Alleyne, in conjunction with Shakspere, and under his supervision ; a doctrinc which, to any student acquainted with those writers and their tinics, is pitiablc in its silliness. For if there be in lit. eraturc any work which, from the first line to the last, and in every word and syllablc of it, bears the authentic pressure of onc creative and predominant mind-the broad-headed arrow of imperial dominion—that work is “ Hamlet." Shaksperc's stylc, once known, can never be mis. taken. No man of his time, with the single exception of John Fletcher, could writc in anything like his peculiar strain of simplicity and power. In some of the historical plays there are traces of collaboration-as all rcaders know; but in his greater plays the only hand tbat is visible is the hand of Shaksperc.

This is especially truc of " A Midsummer Night's Dream," and prob. ably no better mental cxercise than the analysis of the style and spirit and component clements of this picce could be devised for those persons -if any sucli thcrc bc-wlio incline to entertain cither the Bacon thcory or the collaboration theory of the authorship of Shaksperc. Bacon, if his avowed writings may be taken as the denotement of his mind, could no morc have written this play than he could have nown on wings of tissuepaper over the spire of old St. Paul's ; nor does it exhibit the slightest deviation from one invariable poctic mind and temperament. Shak. spere's fancy takes a free range here, and revels in beauty and joy. The Drcım was first published in 1600; thc carliest allusion made to it is that of Francis Meres, in his “Palladis Tamia," in 1598; and probably it was written as carly as 1594, whicn Shaksperc was thirty years old. A significant reference to the subject of it occurs in the second sccnc of the sccond act of the “ Comedy of Errors" (1589-91), which has been thought to indicate that the poct had already considered and, perhaps, conceived it : he was working with wise and incessant industry at that time, and the amazing fertility of his creative genius was beginning to reveal itself. The . Dream is absolutcly of his own invention. The names of the characters, together with a few incidents, he derived from Plutarch, Ovid, and Chauccr-authors with whom he shows himself to have been acquainted. Thc story of Pyranus and Thisbe occurs in Ovid, and a translation of that Latin poct, made by Arthur Golding, was current in Shakspcre's day. It is thought that the “Knight's Tale" and " Tysbc of Babylonc," by Chaucer, may have been the means of suggesting this play to Shakspere, but his story and his characters are his own. And although, as

Dr. Johnson obscrves, fairies were in his time fashionable, and Spen. ser's pocm (“The Faerie Queene ") had made them great, Shakspcre was the first to interblend them with the proceedings of mortals in a drama. The text of this piece is considered to be cxceptionally free from crror or any sort of defect. Two editions of the Dream, quarto, appeared in 1600one published by Thomas Fisher, bookseller; the other by James Roberts, printer. The Fisher publication had been cntered at Stationers' Hall, October 8th, that year, and probably it was sanctioned by the author. The two cditions do not materially differ, and the modern Shakspcrcan editors have made a judicious use of both in their choice of the text. The play was not again printed until 1623, when it appeared in the first Folio.

The title-pages of the Fisher and thc Roberts Quartos are given here: with, in fac-similc. It is not known which was first, or which was au. thorized. Each of these Quartos consists of 32 leaves. Neither of them distinguishes the acts or sconcs. In the first folio (1623) the Dream occupies 18 pages, from p. 145 to p. 162 inclusive, in the section devoted to comcdics-thc Acts, but not the Scenes, being distinguislıcd. Thc cditors of that Folio, Heminge and Condell, followed the scxt of the Roberts Quarto. The memory of one of the actors who appeared in the Dream in its earliest days is curiously preserved in a stage-direction, printed in the First Folio, in Act v. Sc. i. : Tawyer with a trumpet." The piece; of course, appears in the later folios,-1632, 1664, and 1685. " A Midsunte mer Night's Dream" was popular in Shaksperc's own timc. Mention of it, as implicdly a play in general knowledge and acceptance, was made by Taylor, the Water Poct, in :622.

A picce called "The Fairy Queen," being Shakspere's comedy, with music by Purcell, was published in London in 1692. It had been acted there at the Haymarket the presentation being made with rich dresses, finc

sccncry, and elaboratc mechanism. There is another old picce, called “The Merry-Conccited Humours of Bottoin the Weaver.” This was made out of an episode in the Dreain, and it included in the collection of farces attributed to Robert Cox, a comcdian of the time of Charles the First, published in 1672. A comic masquc, by Richard Leveridge, simi. larly derived, entitled “ Pyramus and Thisbc," was performed at Lincoln's Inn Ficlds Thcatre, and was published in 1716. Two other musical farces, with this same title and origin, are recorded-one by Mr. Lampe, acted at Covent Garden, and published in 1745; thc other by W. C. Oulton, acted at Birmingham, and published in 1798. Garrick made an acting-copy of "A Midsuinmer Night's Dream"-adding to the text as well as curtailing it, and introducing songs—and this was played at Drury Lane, where it failcd, and was published in 1763. Colman reduced Garrick's piccc lo two acts, and called it “ A Fairy Tale," and in this form it was tried at Drury Lanc, and published in 1764 and 1777. Colman, however, wrote:


[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »