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intitl'd-Il Pecorone: the author of which calls himself, Ser Giovanni Fiorentino; and writ his book, as he tells you in some humorous verses at the beginning of it, in 1378, three years after the death of Boccace; it is divided into giornata's, and the story we are speaking of is in the first novel of the giornata quarta; edit. 1565, octavo, in Vinegia. This novel Shakspeare certainly read; either in the original, or (which I rather think) in some translation that is not now to be met with, and form'd his play upon it. It was translated It was translated anew, and made publick in 1755, in a small octavo pamphlet, printed for M. Cooper: and, at the end of it, a novel of Boccace; (the first of day the tenth) which, as the translator rightly judges, might possibly produce the scene of the caskets, substituted by the poet in place of one in the other novel, that was not proper for the stage.
Merry Wives of Windsor.
"Queen Elizabeth," says a writer of Shakspeare's life," was so well pleas'd with that admirable character of Falstaff, in the two parts of Henry the Fourth, that she commanded him to continue it for one play more, and to shew him in love. This is said to be the occasion of his writing The Merry Wives of Windsor." As there is no proof brought for the truth of this story, we may conclude-that it is either some playhouse tradition, or had its rise from Sir William D'Avenant, whose authority the writer quotes for another singular anecdote, relating to lord Southampton. Be this as it may; Shakspeare, in the conduct of Falstaff's love-adventures, made use of some incidents in a book that has been mention'd before, call'd-Il Pecorone; they are in
the second novel of that book. It is highly probable, that this novel likewise is in an old English dress somewhere or other; and from thence transplanted into a foolish book, call'd-The fortunate, the deceiv'd, and the unfortunate Lovers; printed in 1685, octavo, for William Whittwood; where the reader may see it, at p. 1. Let me add too, that there is a like story in the-" Piacevoli Notti, di Straparola, libro primo; at Notte quarta, Favola quarta; edit. 1567, octavo, in Vinegia.
The history of our old poets is so little known, and the first editions of their works become so very scarce, that it is hard pronouncing any thing certain about them: but, if that pretty fantastical poem of Drayton's, call'd-Nymphidia, or The Court of Fairy, be early enough in time, (as, I believe, it is; for I have seen an edition of that author's pastorals, printed in 1593, quarto,) it is not improbable, that Shakspeare took from thence the hint of his fairies: a line of that poem, "Thorough bush, thorough briar," occurs also in his play. The rest of the play is, doubtless, invention: the names only of Theseus, Hippolita, and Theseus' former loves, Antiopa and others, being historical; and taken from the translated Plutarch, in the article-Theseus.
Much Ado about Nothing.
"Timbree de Cardone deviet amoureux à Messine de Fenicie Leonati, & des divers & estrages accidens qui advindrēt avāt qu'il l' espousast."-is the title of another novel in the Histoires Tragiques
of Belleforest; Tom. 3. Hist. 18: it is taken from one of Bandello's, which you may see in his first tome, at p. 150, of the London edition in quarto, a copy from that of Lucca in 1554. This French novel comes the nearest to the fable of Much Ado about Nothing, of any thing that has yet been discovered, and is (perhaps) the foundation of it. There is a story something like it in the fifth book of Orlando Furioso: (v. Sir John Harrington's translation of it, edit. 1591, folio) and another in Spencer's Fairy Queen.
Cinthio, the best of the Italian writers next to Boccace, has a novel thus intitl'd:-" Un Capitano Moro piglia per mogliera una cittadina venetiana, un suo Alfieri l'accusa de adulterio al [read, il, with a colon after-adulterio] Marito, cerca, che l'Alfieri uccida colui, ch'egli credea l'Adultero, il Capitano uccide la Moglie, è accusato dallo Alfieri, non confessa il Moro, ma essendovi chiari inditii, è bandito, Et lo scelerato Alfieri, credendo nuocere ad altri, procaccia à sè la morte miseramente. Hecatommithi, Dec. 3, Nov. 7; edit. 1565, two tomes, octavo. If there was no translation of this novel, French or English; nor any thing built upon it, either in prose or verse, near enough in time for Shakspeare to take his Othello from them; we must, I think, conclude that he had it from the Italian; for the story (at least, in all it's main circumstances) is apparently the same.
Romeo and Juliet.
This very affecting story is likewise a true one; it made a great noise at the time it happen'd, and
was soon taken up by poets and novel-writers. Bandello has one; it is the ninth of tome the second: and there is another, and much better, left us by some anonymous writer; of which I have an edition, printed in 1553 at Venice, one year before Bandello, which yet was not the first. Some small time after, Pierre Boisteau, a French writer, put out one upon the same subject, taken from these Italians, but much alter'd and enlarg❜d: this novel, together with five others of Boisteau's penning, Belleforest took; and they now stand at the beginning of his Histoires Tragiques, edition beforemention'd. But it had some prior edition; which falling into the hands of a countryman of ours, he convérted it into a poem; altering, and adding many things to it of his own, and publish'd it in 1562, without a name, in a small octavo volume, printed by Richard Tottill; and this poem, which is call'd-The Tragical Historie of Romeus and Juliet, is the origin of Shakspeare's play: who not only follows it even minutely in the conduct of his fable, and that in those places where it differs from the other writers; but has also borrow'd from it some few thoughts, and expressions. At the end of a small poetical miscellany, publish'd by one George Turberville in 1570, there is a poem-" On the death of Maister Arthur Brooke drownde in passing to New-haven;" in which it appears, that this gentleman, (who, it is likely, was a military man,) was the writer of Romeus and Juliet. In the second tome of The Palace of Pleasure, (Nov. 25.) there is a prose translation of Boisteau's novel; but Shakspeare made no use of it.
Taming of the Shrew.
Nothing has yet been produc'd that is likely to have given the poet occasion for writing this play, neither has it (in truth) the air of a novel, so that we may reasonably suppose it a work of invention; that part of it, I mean, which gives it it's title. For one of it's underwalks, or plots,-to wit, the story of Lucentio, in almost all it's branches, (his love-affair, and the artificial conduct of it; the pleasant incident of the Pedant; and the characters of Vincentio, Tranio, Gremio, and Biondello,) is form'd upon a comedy of George Gascoigne's, call'd-Supposes, a translation from Ariosto's I Suppositi: which comedy was acted by the gentlemen of Grey's Inn in 1566; and may be seen in the translator's works, of which there are several old editions: and the odd induction of this play is taken from Goulart's Histoires admirables de notre Temps; who relates it as a real fact, practis'd upon a mean artisan at Brussels by Philip the good, duke of Burgundy. Goulart was translated into English, by one Edw. Grimeston: the edition I have of it, was printed in 1607, quarto, by George Eld; where this story may be found, at p. 587: but, for any thing that there appears to the contrary, the book might have been printed before.
The Tempest has rather more of the novel in it than the play that was last spoken of: but no one has yet pretended to have met with such a novel; nor any thing else, that can be suppos'd to have furnish'd Shakspeare with materials for writing