« AnteriorContinuar »
We shall give for the satisfaction of the reader what the celebrated German critick, Schlegel, says on this subject, and then add a very few remarks of our
“ All the editors, with the exception of Capell, are unanimous in rejecting Titus Andronicus as unworthy of Shakspeare, though they always allow it to be printed with the other pieces, as the scape-goat, as it were, of their abusive criticism. The correct method in such an investigation is first to examine into the external grounds, evidences, &c. and to weigh their worth; and then to adduce the internal reasons derived from the quality of the work. The criticks of Shakspeare follow a course directly the reverse of this; they set out with a preconceived opinion against a piece, and seek, in justification of this opinion, to render the historical grounds suspicious, and to set them aside. Titus Andronicus is to be found in the first folio edition of Shakspeare's works, which it was known was conducted by Heminge and Condell, for many years his friends and fellow-managers of the same theatre. Is it possible to persuade ourselves that they would not have known if a piece in their repertory did or did not actually belong to Shakspeare ? And are we to lay to the charge of these honourable men a designed fraud in this single case, when we know that they did pot shew themselves so very desirous of scraping every thing together which went by the name of Shakspeare, but, as it appears, merely gave those plays of which they had manuscripts in hand ? Yet the following circumstance is still stronger: George Meres, a contemporary and admirer of Shakspeare, mentions Titus Andronicus in an enumeration of his works, in the year 1598. Meres was personally acquainted with the poet, and so very intimately, that the latter read over to him his Sonnets before they were printed. I cannot conceive that all the critical skepticism in the world would be sufficient to get over such a testimony.
« This tragedy, it is true, is framed according to a false idea of the tragick, which by an accumulation of cruelties and enormities degenerates into the horrible, and yet leaves no deep impression behind : the story of Tereus and Philomela is heightened and overcharged and under other names, and mixed up
he repast of Atreus and Thyestes, and many other incidents. In detail there is no want of beautiful lines, bold images, nay, even features which be.. tray the peculiar conception of Shakspeare. Among these we may reckon the joy of the treacherous Moor at the blackness and ugliness of his child begot in adultery; and in the compassion of Titus Andronicus, grown childish through grief, for a fly which had been struck dead, and his rage afterwards when he imagines he discovers in it his black enemy, we recognize the future poet of Lear. Are the criticks afraid that Shakspeare's fame would be injured, were it established that in his early youth he ushered into the world a feeble and immature work? Was Rome the less the conqueror of the world because Remus could leap over its first walls ? Let any one place himself in Shakspeare's situation at the commencement of his career. He found only a few indifferent models, and yet these met with the most favourable reception, because men are never difficult to please in the novelly of an art, before their taste has become fastidious from choice and abundance. Must not, this situation have had its influence on him before he learned to make higher demands on himself, and by digging deeper in his own mind, discovered the richest veins of a noble metal ? It is even highly probable that he must have made several failures before getting into the right path. Genius is in a certain sense infallible, and has nothing to learn; but art is to be learned, and must be acquired by practice and experience. In Shakspeare's acknowledged works we find hardly any traces of bis apprenticeship, and yet an apprenticeship he certainly had. This every artist must have, and especially in a period where he has not before him the example of a school already formed. I consider it as extremely probable, that Shakspeare
began to write for the theatre at a much earlier pe. riod than the one which is generally stated, namely, not till after the year 1590. It appears that, as early as the year 1584, when only twenty years of age, he had left his paternal home and repaired to London. Can we imagine that such an active head would remain idle for six whole years without making any atteinpt to emerge by his talents from an uncongenial situation ?' That in the dedication of the poem of Venus and Adonis he calls it, “the first heir of his invention," proves nothing against the supposition. It was the first which he printed; he might have composed it at an earlier period; perhaps, also, he did not include theatrical labours, as they then possessed but little literary dignity. The earlier Shakspeare began to compose for the theatre, the less are we enabled to consider the immaturity and imperfection of a work as a proof of its spuriousness in opposition to historical evidence, if we only find in it prominent features of his mind. Several of the works rejected as spurious, may still have been produced in the period betwixt Titus Andronicus, and the earliest of the acknowledged pieces.
• At last, Steevens published seven pieces ascribed to Shakspeare in two supplementary volumes. It is to be remarked, that they all appeared in print in Shakspeare's life-time, with his name prefixed at full length. They are the following:
"1. Locrine, The proofs of the genuineness of this piece are not altogether unambiguous; the grounds for doubt, on the other hand, are entitled to attention. However, this question is immediately connected with that respecting T'itus Andronicus,
and must be at the same time resolved in the affirmative or negative.
“2. Pericles, Prince of Tyre. This piece was acknowledged by Dryden, but as a youthful work. of Shakspeare. It is most undoubtedly his, and it has been admitted into several of the late editions. The supposed imperfections originate in the circumstance, that Shakspeare here handled a childish and extravagant romance of the old poet Gower, and was unwilling to drag the subject out of its proper sphere. Hence he even introduces Gower himself, and makes him deliver a prologue entirely in his antiquated language and versification. This power of assuming so foreign a manner is at least no proof of helplessness.
The London Prodigal. If we are not mistaken, Lessing pronounced this piece to be Shakspeare's, and wished to bring it on the German stage.
The Puritan ; or, the Widow of Watling Street. One of my literary friends, intimately acquainted with Shakspeare, was of opinion that the poet must have wished to write a play for once in the style of Ben Jonson, and that in this way we must account for the difference between the present piece and his usual manner. To follow out this idea however would lead to a very nice critical investigation.
“5. Thomas, Lord Cromwell.
“ The three last pieces are not only unquestionably Shakspeare's, but in my opinion they deserve to