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THE double perplexity of the man of the immortal jest, who said to the partner of his bosom, "I hear so much about the age of pericles: my dear, what are pericles?" may well be shared by the editor of this play. We do not know exactly what it is, or when it was produced; and there appears to be no reason to suppose that our knowledge as to its origin will ever be increased. The romance of Apollonius Tyrhis, upon which Pericles is founded, appears to be of remote antiquity. It is less a story than a series of stories rudely interwoven; and in its narrative, as well as its dramatic form, is no less devoid of unity of interest than of unity of time and place. Its long preservation and frequent repetition must be attributed to the popular fondness for the horrible and the marvellous. It exists in Latin manuscripts of very great age: some critics have concluded that it was written as early as the sixth century; and one is inclined to regard even its Latin form as a translation from the Greek. It was rendered into Saxon, (of course, when that was a living language,) and the subsequent versions are very numerous.* We have interest only in two of them. The first is that given by Gower in the eighth Book of his Confessio Amantis; the second, a translation made from the Latin by Laurence Twine, and published at London in 1576, with the title The Patteme of painfull Adventures. It was from these versions of the ancient story that the incidents of the following play were taken.
The events and their succession are the same in tale, poem, and play. And so with the characters; several names, even, are common to the three works. Whether Gower's poem or
* See Douce's Illustrations of Shakespeare, &c, Vol. II. p. 135-144.
Twine's translation was most used, it is perhaps impossible to determine; but that the playwright was familiar with the former is clear from his introduction of the old poet as presenter, or chorus; and that he should have been unacquainted with a publication upon the same subject so recent as the latter is in the highest degree improbable. Considering, however, that the wife of Apollonius, called fAicina in the tale, is nameless in the poem, and that her daughter's name, Thaisa, is transferred to her in the play, and also the occurrence of the name Lychorida, in both the poem and the play, but not in the tale, we may infer that it was upon the poem that the play was chiefly based. The introduction of Gower, too, as the connecting link between the Acts of the play indicates both a more immediate dependence upon the poem, and a consciousness that it was well known to the reading public of the day.
But by whom and when the play was written is not to be so easily discovered. The external evidence upon which it may be attributed to Shakespeare is not strong. In fact it resolves itself merely into the presence of his name upon the title page of two editions published during his life, and the absence of any knowrn denial of the authorship by him or on his part. It was mentioned as his, in a passing way, by two verse writers of the seventeenth century; but in the earlier instance, not until thirty years after his death; * and in both the only authority for the assertion may be safely assumed to have been the presence of his name upon the title page of all the editions — six in number — then known. This would have been deemed quite sufficient at that period, and at that distance of time from Shakespeare's day. In a similar case, would it not even now be so regarded?
The next supposed witness in favor of Shakespeare's authorship is Dry den, who, in the Prologue which he wrote to Charles D'Avenant's Circe, acted in 1675, has these lines : —
"Your Ben and Fletcher in their first young flight
* In Times Displayed in Six Sestiads, by S. Shepherd, 1646, and in verses by J. Tatham, prefixed to R. Brome's Jovial Crew, 1652.
Shakespeare's own Muse his Pericles first "bore;
This passage has been almost universally regarded as a declara • tion by Dryden that, in his belief, Pericles was Shakespeare's ear* liest work. But if evidence of this kind is to be taken, we have it of the very best directly to the contrary of Dryden's statemerit. For the dramatist himself says, in the dedication of Venus and Adonis, that that poem was "the first heir of his invention ;" and therefore it is certainly not true that "Shakespeare's own muse his Pericles first bore." But the truth about this passage seems to be, that Dryden meant to give no evidence about Pericles, even upon information and belief. He was merely illustrating the truth that genius itself, however great, passes through the unformed period of youth; and accepting the evidence of the last edition of Shakespeare's works, 1664, which included Pericles, he selected that, as at once the poorest play, and the most antique in plan and style, to contrast it writh Othello, which, if not the best, is one of the best of its author's productions, and certainly the one which has the least mark of antiquity in its construction and its language.
Dryden's statement being set aside, there is really no other external evidence of Shakespeare's authorship of this play than the presence of his name on the old title pages; and that is of no weight. The same exists as to his having written Sir John Oldcastle, The London Prodigal and A Yorkshire Tragedie — plays in which no competent critic has been able to trace even his prentice hand. We are therefore thrown entirely upon internal evidence to rebut the serious presumption against Shakespeare's authorship of this play, which is warranted by its absence from the first folio, and (if it were an early production) its absence also from Meres' enumeration, from which Titus Andronicus was not omitted. Upon an examination of the play itself, the decision seems unavoidable, that Shakespeare neither constructed it nor cast the characters. Compared in these respects with his earliest dramatic works — The Ttoo Gentlemen of Verona, Love's Labour*s Lost, The Comedy of Errors, and those parts of Henry the Sixth which are taken from The First Part of tfie Contention, &c,,and The True Tragedy, &c—this play must be set aside as exhibiting not even the germs of the dramatic skill and knowledge of human nature which appear in them. In poetic merit the greater part of it is equally inferior to and unlike his work. Close criticism in support of these points would be quite superfluous. The man who reads all of Shakespeare's plays, or attains a moderate familiarity with most of them, and then reads Pericles without reaching these conclusions unaided, may rest assured that as far as the discrimination of style is concerned he is beyond the reach of critical assistance. At the same time there are passages in Pericles — in all parts of it — which are not only, as Hallam says, more in Shakespeare's manner than in that of any contemporary writer, but which, (so absolutely unlike is Shakespeare's style to that of any other poet,) it is safe to say, could have come from no other pen than his. These passages vary in length from three or four lines to speeches, dialogues, and whole Scenes. The shortest (with one exception —Pericles' soliloquy, which opens Scene 2 of Act I., which is unmistakably Shakespeare's) are in the first two Acts, through which they are sparsely scattered; in the third Act they increase in importance and in frequency; and in the fourth and fifth the master manifests himself continuously, or with rare intervals. And wherever we trace Shakespeare in this play we also find yet other invalidation of the supposed opinion of Dryden as to its authorship; for it is not Shakespeare's youthful, but his wellmatured and most clearly pronounced manner in which these passages are written. The supposition that they were added by him in the height of his reputation to a performance of his early years of authorship is hardly worth consideration, for the reason just assigned, that the composition which they embellish is in every respect inferior and dissimilar to his work at any period of his life. Considering all the evidence, it therefore seems impossible to avoid the conclusion that Pericles is a play which, planned, and mostly or wholly written, by another dramatist, Shakespeare enriched throughout for the benefit of the theatre which owned it, and in which he was a shareholder.* Such a use of his talents would have been a mere compliance with the theatrical custom of his day. Naturally, as he went on with his work, he would become more interested in it; and being, as Ben Jonson says, "sufnimandus," once stimulated to pro* duction, it was about as easy for him to write the comic scenes
in the third Act, and those of serious cast in the fourth and fifth, as not to do it.*
When Pericles was originally written we do not know; but it was quite surely some time before Shakespeare became a playwright. It may have been, and very probably was, a stock piece in the possession of the Globe Theatre in some form for many years before he touched it. But it appears to have been brought out with his additions in 1607 or 1608. For in the lat
* Certain resemblances in this drama to well-known passages in undisputed works of Shakespeare support the opinion that he had a hand in giving it its present form; the likeness, for instance, of the following passage from the first ehorus of Act III. to Oberon's last speeches in Midsummer Night's Dream.
"Gow. Now sleep yslacked hath the rout;
So the likeness of the following passage in the same Act to one in the first
"Enter two Sailors.
1 Sail. What courage, sir? God save you.
Per. Courage enough: I do not fear the flaw;
1 Sail. Slack the bolins there; thou wilt not, wilt thou? Blow and split thyself.
2 Sail. But sea-room, an the brine and cloudy billow kiss the moon, I care not.
1 Sail. Sir, your queen must overboard; the sea works high, the wind is loud, and will not lie till the ship be cleared of the dead. Per. That's your superstition."
Again, that of the following lines, in Act V. Sc. 1, to a well-known speech of Viola's in Twelfth Night: —
"Per. Tell thy story;
If thine consider'd prove the thousandth part