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For they let out more light than they took in;
* The earth of the isle of Lemnos was supposed by the ancients to be medicinal.
That wraps that crystal in a wooden round."
sHAKSPEARE's MINOR POEMs.
In the long list of the minor names of the Elizabethan poetry appears the bright name of William Shakspeare. Shakspeare published his “Venus and Adonis’ in 1593, and his ‘Tarquin and Lucrece’ in 1594; his “Passionate Pilgrim’ did not appear till 1599; the “Sonnets’ not till 1609. It is probable, however, that the first-mentioned of these pieces, which, in his dedication of it to the Earl of Southampton, he calls the first heir of his invention, was written some years before its publication; and, although the ‘Tarquin and Lucrece” may have been published immediately after it was composed, it, too, may be accounted an early production. We have no positive evidence that any wholly original drama, such as would be considered a work of invention, had yet been produced by Shakspeare; and, notwithstanding the force of some of the reasons which have been lately urged f for carrying back some of his original plays to a date preceding the year 1593, we are still inclined to think it probable that all the other poetry we have of Shakspeare's was composed at least before he had fairly given himself up to dramatic poetry, or had done anything in that line to which he
* We have ventured to introduce this word instead of “Tomb,” which is the reading in the edition before us (Poems, &c., 8vo. Lond. 1669), and which cannot possibly be right.
f Both by Mr. Knight and by Mr. Collier.
could properly set his name, or by which he could hope that he would live and be remembered among the poets of his country. But, although this minor poetry of Shakspeare sounds throughout like the utterance of that spirit of highest invention and sweetest song before it had found its proper theme, much is here also, immature as it may be, that is still all Shakspearian—the vivid conception, the inexhaustible fertility and richness of thought and imagery, the glowing passion, the gentleness withal that is ever of the poetry as it was of the man, the enamoured sense of beauty, the living words, the ear-delighting and heart-enthralling music; nay, even the dramatic instinct itself, and the idea at least, if not always the realization, of that sentiment of all subordinating and consummating art of which his dramas are the most wonderful exemplification in literature.” We now proceed to resume the history of that dramatic poetry which is the chief glory of the Elizabethan age of our literature with a notice of these productions, which are its chief glory.
sHAKspEARE's DRAMATIC WORKS.
William Shakspeare, born in 1564, is enumerated as one of the proprietors of the Blackfriars Theatre in 1589; is sneered at by Robert Greene in 1592, in terms which seem to imply that he had already acquired a considerable reputation as a dramatist and a writer in blank verse, though the satirist insinuates that he was enabled
* But see the considerations stated '. Mr. Knight in his editions of the Poems of Shakspeare for holding that the Tarquin and Lucrece is a composition of seven, or eight years' later date than the Venus and Adonis.
to make the show he did chiefly by the plunder of his predecessors;” and in 1598 is spoken of by a critic of the day as indisputably the greatest of English dramatists, both for tragedy and comedy, and as having already produced his Two Gentlemen of Verona, Comedy of Errors, Love's Labours Lost, Love's Labours Won (generally supposed to be All's Well that Ends Well, although it has lately been contended that it must be the Tempestf), Midsummer Night's Dream, Merchant of Venice, Richard II., Richard III., Henry IV., King John, Titus Andronicus, and Romeo and Juliet.f There is no ground, however, for feeling assured, and, indeed, it is rather improbable, that we have here a complete catalogue of the plays written by Shakspeare up to this date; nor is the authority of so evidently loose a statement, embodying, it is to be supposed, the mere report of the town, sufficient even to establish absolutely the authenticity of every one of the plays enumerated. It is very possible, for example, that Meres may be mistaken in assigning Titus Andronicus to Shakspeare; and, on the other hand, he may be the author of Pericles, and may have already written that play and some others, although * “There is an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that, with his tiger's heart wrapt in a player's hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you; and, being an absolute Johannes Factotum, is, in his own conceit, the only Shake-scene in a country.”—Greene's Groatsworth of Wit, 1592. + By the Rev. Joseph Hunter, in the ‘Second Part of New Illustrations of the Life, Studies, and Writings of Shakespeare,’ 8vo. Lond. 1844; and previously in a “Disquisition on the Tempest,’ separately published. f Palladis Tamia; Wit's Treasury. Being the Second
Part of Wit's Commonwealth. By Francis Meres, 1598. p. 282.
Meres does not mention them. The only other direct or positive information we possess on this subject is, that a ‘History’ called Titus Andronicus, presumed to be the play afterwards published as Shakspeare's, was entered for publication at Stationers' Hall in 1593; that the . Second Part of Henry VI. (if it is by Shakspeare) in its original form of ‘The First Part of the Contention betwixt the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster,’ was published in 1594; the Third Part of Henry VI. (if by Shakspeare), in its original form of ‘The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York,” in 1595; his Richard II., Richard III., and Romeo and Juliet, in 1597; Love's Labours Lost and the First Part of Henry IV. in 1598 (the latter, however, having been entered at Stationers' Hall the preceding year); a “corrected and augmented” edition of Romeo and Juliet in 1599; Titus Andronicus (supposing it to be Shakspeare's), the Second Part of Henry IV., Henry V., in its original form, the Midsummer Night's Dream, Much Ado about Nothing, and the Merchant of Venice, in 1600 (the last having been entered at Stationers' Hall in 1598); the Merry Wives of Windsor, in its original form, in 1602 (but entered at Stationers' Hall the year before*); Hamlet in 1603 (entered likewise the year before); a second edition of Hamlet, “enlarged to almost as much again as it was, according to the true and perfect copy,” in 1604; Lear in 1608, and Troilus and Cressida, and Pericles, in 1609 (each being entered the preceding year); Othello not till 1622, six years after the author's death; and all
* This first sketch of the Merry Wives of Windsor has been reprinted for the Shakespeare Society, under the care J. G. Halliwell, Esq., 1842.
VOL. III. I