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STATE OF THE TEXT-PROBABLE PERIOD WHEN WRIT-
| HE tragedy of JULIUs Cæsar, like all of Shakespeare's later dramas, is found only in one original printed form, that in the folio of 1623, where, with its two Plutarchian companions, it appeared as one of the copies “not formerly entered to other men,” according to the entry in the Stationers' Register, answering to our modern copyright entry. In many others of the plays, the chasms or misprints of the folio are often such as to make us grateful for the assistance afforded by the - collation of an earlier, though perhaps on the whole inferior edition; but fortunately in Julius CAEsAR there is no cause to regret the want of another early edtion. It is printed in the first folio more accurately and carefully than almost any other play in the volume, and evidently from a correct and very legible manuscript; so that, with the exception of a few verbal or literal errors of the press, which suggest their own correction, there is little room for editorial ingenuity or controversy. The ample use which the author has made of North's “Plutarch,” as the raw material for his dialogue and speeches, also enables us to use that old version as a commentary on the Poet's sense, and thus to clear up some of the doubts that have been suggested by critics. Still some very needless alterations were made by the editors of the last century, and adopted in most of the popular editions of the Poet. These have been all abandoned by the two last English editors, whose careful comparison with the old text has also led to the correction of other errors of mere carelessness, which have crept into the generality of modern editions. Mr. Knight is entitled to the merit of having first removed these corruptions of the text, which he thus justly claims:—“Without assuming any merit beyond that of having done our duty, we believe that the text of Shakespeare had not been compared with the originals, carefully and systematically, for half a century, until the publication of our edition. If it had been, how could this line be invariably left out in the third scene of the third act:—
I am not Cinna the conspirator; or why should we without exception find— O pardon me, thou piece of bleeding earth,
instead of ‘thou bleeding piece of earth?’”
He might have added to these, the editorial transference to the mouth of Cassius of the last quite characteristic speech of Casca, (or Caska, as printed in the folio,) in act iii. scene 1.
In all these respects, as in some smaller matters, the present edition will be found to vary from the ordinary text of Stevens and Malone, and to agree with the older copies.
In the Introductory Remarks prepared to this edition of CoRioLANUs, I have stated the main reason for believing that Julius Cæsar and Antony AND CLEoPATRA, with that play, all belong to the same period of Shakespeare's dramatic invention, and were written within the eight or nine years between his forty-fifth year and his death, and after the production of LEAR and Macbeth. This is now the prevailing opinion of the best critics, founded mainly, in their minds, as it is in my own, upon what T. Campbell designates as “the more matured tone of philosophy” predominant in these classic tragedies, as compared with the author's earlier and romantic dramas. which he attributes, and as I think justly, “not to the influence of classical or unclassical subjects, but to the ripened growth of the Poet's mind”—a maturity showing itself, as might be expected, in advancing age, not in richer fancy or deeper passion, but in the predominance of the reflective intellect over both. This strong internal evidence corresponds precisely with all the external proof that can be collected on the subject; as, first, with the fact that theso plays were never entered and claimed by any printer for publication, until they were about to appear in the folio collection, seven years after the author's death. This was the case with all of his dramas written when his reputation had been so widely and firmly fixed, after HAMLET and LEAR, that his productions were deemed too valuable for the theatrical companies, which held the copies, to be made accessible through the press. Secondly, there is an absence of all evidence of any earlier date, such as we find in respect to many other dramas. Thirdly, the great improbability of their having been produced during the period of his life known to have been most crowded with other affairs, and at the same time fertile beyond example in works sufficient to have filled the whole lives of other men of genius, coupled with the equal improbability of an author, in the fullness of his fame and talent, having written, during the latter years of his life, only enough to show that his powers had suffered no decay—that the author of the TEMPEst, for some years preceding or some following its production, with every motive of reputation and profit to stimulate him to composition, had written but little else.
These strong reasons are corroborated by various slighter points of evidence, not of much force in themselves. yet together adding to the cumulative weight of probability. Nevertheless, all these, as well as all the weight of critical authority, are unceremoniously rejected, without comment, by Mr. Collier, for the summary decision, that while “Malone and others have arrived at the conclusion that Julius CesAR could not have been written before 1607, we think there is good ground for believing that it was acted before 1603.” The ground of this opinion is thus stated by him:—
“We found this opinion upon some circumstances connected with the publication of Drayton's ‘Barons' Wars.' and the resemblance between a stanza there found, and a passage in Julius Cæs AR. In act v. scene 5. Antony gives the following character of Brutus:—
His life was gentle; and the elements So mir'd in him, that Nature might stand up And say to all the world, This was a man. “In Drayton's ‘Barons' Wars, (book iii., edit. 8vo., 1603,) we meet with the subsequent stanza. The author is speaking of Mortimer:— Such one he was, of him we boldly say, In whose rich soul all sovereign powers did suit, In whom in peace th' elements all lay So mir'd, as none could sovereignty impute; As all did govern, yet all did obey: His lively temper was so absolute, That’t seem’d, when heaven his model first began, In him it show'd perfection in a man. “Italic type is hardly necessary to establish that one poet must have availed himself, not only of the thonght, but of the very words of the other. The question is, was Shakespeare indebted to Drayton, or Drayton to Shakespeare? We shall not enter into general probabilities, founded upon the original and exhaustless stores of the mind of our great dramatist, but advert to a few dates, which, we think, warrant the conclusion that Drayton, having heard Julius C+s AR at the theatre, or seen it in manuscript before 1603, applied to his own purpose, per haps unconsciously, what, in fact, belonged to another poet. “Drayton's ‘Barons' Wars' first appeared in 1596, quarto, under the title of “Mortimeriados.' Malone had a copy without date, and he and Stevens imagined that the poem had originally been printed in 1598. In the quarto of 1596, and in the undated edition, it is not divided into books, and is in seven-line stanzas; and what is there said of Mortimer bears no likeness whatever to Shakespeare's expressions in Julius CesAR. Drayton afterwards changed the title from ‘Mortimeriados' to the ‘Barons' Wars,' and remodelled the whole historical poem, altering the stanza from the English ballad form to the Italian ottava rima. This course he took before 1603, when it came out in octavo, with the stanza first quoted, which contains so marked a similarity to the lines from Julius C+s AR. We apprehend that he did so because he had heard or seen Shakespeare's tragedy before 1603; and we think that strong presumptive proof that he was the borrower, and not Shakespeare, is derived from the fact, that in the subsequent impressions of the ‘Barons' Wars,' in 1605, 1608, 1610, and 1613, the stanza remained precisely as in the edition of 1603; but that in 1619, after Shakespeare's death and before Julius CEs AR was printed, Drayton made even a nearer approach to the words of his original, thus:– He was a man, then boldly dare to say. In whose rich soul the virtues well did suit; In whom so mir'd the elements did lay, That none to one could sovereignty impute; As all did govern, so did all obey: He of a temper was so absolute, As that it seem’d, when Nature him began, She meant to show all that might be in man.”
Now, on the face of this statement, even allowing that the resemblance pointed out to be one not admitting of the easy explanation of an origin common to both, or of an accidental coincidence, it no more proves Drayton to be the copyist than Shakespeare. The improved edition of the “Barons' Wars” had been printed in 1603, and if it had then been read by the great dramatist, he might have afterwards unconsciously used this or any other thought, and so improved the expression of it that Drayton, in his subsequent version of this poem, was induced to improve his original thought in somewhat the same words. This is as probable a solution as Mr. Collier's, and more so, as it agrees better with the other evidence—if indeed there be any need of a conjectural hypothesis on the subject, which I do not think that there is. But the truth is that, however uncommon the idea and expression may now appear to the modern reader, both were, in the age of Shakespeare and Drayton, familiar to all readers of poetry, and part of the common property of all writers, poetical, philosophical, or theological. It was the popular theory of the philosophy of the age, that both the whole material world, and the microcosm, the little world of man's mind and frame, were compounded alike of the four original elements, earth, water, air, and fire; and that on the due proportion and combination of these depended all order and excellence; as peculiarity or defect arose from the undue predominance of any one of them. Shakespeare himself abounds in such allusions. Thus, in HENRY V., the Dauphin praises his horse as being “pure air and fire, and the dull elements of earth and water never appear in him.” Cleopatra says, “I am fire and air; my other elements I give to baser life.” Even Sir Toby Belch asks, “Does not our life consist of the four elements?” Shakespeare's forty-fourth and forty-fifth Sonnets turn entirely upon this notion. Nares (Glossary) cites or refers to passages containing the same allusion, from Browne, Ben Jonson, Massinger, Beaumont and Fletcher—the last of whom call a madman “the four elements ill-brewed.” In Higgins's King Forrex, in the “Mirror for Magistrates,” a book which both Shakespeare and Drayton had read, the doctrine is set forth quite formally. Thus it is quite evident that there cannot well be a slighter foundation for any chronological argument, than that drawn from such a supposed imitation of one writer from another, when the opinions, images, and expressions are part of the common-place property of the writers of the age, and familiar alike to the pulpit, the schools and books of learning, the sonnet, and the stage. Thus the composition of this drama, like that of CoRioLANus, may, with all reasonable probability, be assigned to some of the seven or eight years subsequent to 1607—that period of the author's life, and of the history of English liberty, when the principles of popular rights were first distinctly and continuously brought into collision with the doctrine of divine regal power and prerogative. Not indeed that the English people had not long before, even under the Plantagenets, often been driven by wrong to assert their natural or chartered rights, and thus to preserve a larger share of personal liberty than was to be found elsewhere. But it was in the early years of James I. that these great questions of political right, between the sovereign and the people, were first formally carried into the elections, and made the subject of elaborate discussion, as well as of popular appeal, through the press, and the action of the House of Commons. When the public mind had been roused to such inquiries, it was natural that the dramatic poet—as the experience of every age of revolution and strong political excitement has shown—should partake, in some way, of the spirit animating and pervading all about and around him. A number of the greater poets, of that and the next age, were, like Massinger, the admirers of power and prerogative. Milton, on the other hand, imbibed from antiquity the spirit of ancient republicanism. Shakespeare appears to have looked at and studied the phenomena of political strife, with the eye at once of an artist, as to their external appearance, and of a philosopher, as to their principles and moral causes; but with little of the spirit of a partisan. In Coriolanus he has painted the earliest recorded struggle of the Roman plebeians against a hard and jealous aristocracy unequalled in the annals of the world for talent, wisdom, and valour. All their brilliant and noble qualities, as well as all that justly rendered them odious to the people, he has embodied in the single magnificent personification of his hero. He has painted the Roman people as at once injured and insulted, yet grateful for public services, and ready to heap their gratitude upon the hero who had served them, until repulsed by scorn and injury. His hero is depicted as gigantic in all his proportions, alike for good and for evil; and to him he has rendered strict poetic justice; for his exile, his stern sorrow and his death, are all the immediate results of an unfeeling arrogance, not to be atoned for even by his noble spirit and his ardent devotion to his country's honour. If then, as between this magnificent representation of the most imposing form of military aristocracy, and the suffering and insulted multitude, the interest is absorbed by the single central and brilliant personage, the fault is not in the Poet's faithful delineation, but in human nature itself, which so readily “bows its vassal head” before courage, mind, and energy, and overlooks the injuries of the lowly and ignorant many, when they are inflicted by the hand of valour or genius. But if this dramatic effect be any evidence that the author himself had (as Hazlitt says) “a bias to the arbitrary side of the question,” what inference in this respect are we to draw from Julius CAE's AR 2 What are we to think of a dramatic author who, in a time when the public mind was excited by such questions as that agitated by Dr. Cowell, in 1607, affirming or denying the despotic rights of the crown, (see Hallam's Cont. Hist., chap. vi.,) could hold to a popular audience such language and argument as he puts in the mouth of Brutus, when he reasons on Caesar's probable abuse of greatness, when he is crowned 2 Or what are we to think of his exciting such an audience by the cry of “Peace, Freedom, Liberty" in what he justly styles “the lofty scene” of Caesar's death? Again. it is equally incompatible with the theory of any such private political bias in the author, that in an age when, in the eyes of the advocates of royal power, Brutus was but an ingrate and an assassin, the Poet should have represented him as the most perfect model of the mild, contemplative, and philosophical, yet heroic republican;–that he should have gleaned, with minute diligence, from Plutarch, and put into bolder relief in his drama, every minute incident, or trait of kindness, wisdom, or heroism, which could add to the beauty or dignity of the character of that “noblest Roman of them all.” Nor is it less worthy of notice in this respect, that while he concentrated the interest of the drama upon the champion of freedom, he has effected it in part by throwing “the mightiest Julius” into the shade. Caesar, above all the great men of history, had most of that union of the graces and accomplishments of the scholar and the gentleman, with the talents of active life which Shakespeare loved to describe—that union of “the courtier's, soldier's, scholar's eye, tongue, sword,” so eloquently praised in HAMLET, so minutely described in HENRY V., (acti. scene 1.) Yet all this is designedly generalized, not as Boswell and others absurdly say, “from ignorance of classical learning,"—for the Poet had all the learning on this point he wanted before him, in his English “Plutarch;” and he knew well enough that Caesar was “the noblest man that ever lived in the tide of times”—but obviously not to lessen or divide the interest, which is left to rest solely upon the exhibition of the highest and purest republican virtue, great alike in its domestic loveliness, in the moderation of its triumph, and the dignity of its fall. - The plain and inevitable inference from all this must be, that the Poet did not wish to exhibit himself, in his political dramas, as the direct expounder or champion of any form of opinion; but he shows himself in these, as in his tragedies of private and domestic passion, as “a noble and liberal casuist:" painting human nature just as it appears, whether in the conflict of parties, or the passions and sufferings of individuals, with all its weakness and
2 Cit. Truly, sir, in respect of a fine workman, I am but, as you would say, a cobbler.
Mar. But what trade art thou!
2 Cit. A trade, sir, that I hope I may use with a safe conscience; which is, indeed, sir, a mender of bad soles.
Flav. What trade, thou knave 1 thou naughty knave, what trade 1
2 Cit. Nay, I beseech you, sir, be not out with me: yet if you be out, sir, I can mend you.
Mar. What meanest thou by that Mend me, thou saucy fellow !
2 Cit. Why, sir, cobble you.