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are no less at his command! that he is not | pected, and consequently most unnatural, events
more a master of the great than of the ridiculous in human nature; of our noblest tendernesses, than of our vainest foibles; of our strongest emotions, than of our idlest sensations!
and incidents; the most exaggerated thoughts; the most verbose and bombast expression; the most pompous rhymes, and thundering versification. In comedy, nothing was so sure to please, as mean buffoonery, vile ribaldry, and unmannerly jests of fools and clowns. Yet even in these our author's wits are buoyed up, and borne above his subject: his genius in those low parts is like some prince of a romance in the disguise of a shepherd or peasant; a certain greatness and spirit now and then break out, which manifest his higher extraction and
Nor does he only excel in the passions: in the coolness of reflection and reasoning he is full as admirable. His sentiments are not only in general the most pertinent and judicious upon every subject; but by a talent very peculiar, something between penetration and felicity, he hits upon that particular point on which the bent of each argument turns, or the force of each motive depends. This is perfectly amaz-qualities. ing, from a man of no education or experience in those great and public scenes of life which are usually the subject of his thoughts: so that he seems to have known the world by intuition, to have looked through human nature at one glance, and to be the only author that gives ground for a very new opinion, that the philosopher, and even the man of the world, may be born, as well as the poet.
It must be owned, that with all these great excellencies, he has almost as great defects; and that as he has certainly written better, so he has perhaps written worse, than any other. But I think I can in some measure account for these defects, from several causes and accidents; without which it is hard to imagine that so large and so enlightened a mind could ever have been susceptible of them. That all these contingencies should unite to his disadvantage seems to me almost as singularly unlucky, as that so many various (nay contrary) talents should meet in one man, was happy and extraordinary.
It may be added, that not only the common audience had no notion of the rules of writing, buf few even of the better sort piqued themselves upon any great degree of knowledge or nicely that way: till Ben Jonson getting possession of the stage, brought critical learning into vogue; and that this was not done without difficulty, may appear from those frequent lessons (and indeed almost declamations) which he was forced to prefix to his first plays, and put into the mouth of his actors, the grex, chorus, &c. to remove the prejudices, and inform the judgment of his hearers. Till then, our authors had no thoughts of writing on the model of the ancients: their tragedies were only histories in dialogue; and their comedies followed the thread of any novel as they found it, no less implicitly than if it had been true history.
To judge therefore of Shakspeare by Aristotle's rules, is like trying a man by the laws of one country who acted under those of another. He writ to the people; and writ at first without patronage from the better sort, and therefore without aims of pleasing them: without assistance or advice from the learned, as without the advantage of education or acquaintance among them; without that knowledge of the best of models, the ancients, to inspire him with an emulation of them; in a word, without any views of reputation, and of what poets are pleased to call immortality: some or all of which have encouraged the vanity, or animated the ambition of other writers.
It must be allowed that stage-poetry, of all other, is more particularly levelled to please the populace, and its success more immediately depending upon the common suffrage. One cannot therefore wonder, if Shakspeare, having at his first appearance no other aim in his writings, than to procure a subsistence, directed his endeavours solely to hit the taste and humour that then prevailed. The audience was generally composed of the meaner sort of people; and therefore the images of life were to be drawn from those of their own rank accordingly we find, that not our author's only, but almost all the old comedies have their scene among trades-prince, and when the encouragement of the men and mechanics: and even their historical plays strictly follow the common old stories or vulgar traditions of that kind of people. In tragedy, nothing was so sure to surprize and cause admiration, as the most strange, unex
Yet it must be observed, that when his performances had merited the protection of his
court had succeeded to that of the town; the works of his riper years are manifestly raised above those of his former. The dates of his plays sufficiently evidence that his productions improved, in proportion to the respect he had
for his auditors. And I make no doubt this observation will be found true in every instance, were but editions extant from which we might learn the exact time when every piece was composed, and whether writ for the town, or the
Another cause (and no less strong than the former) may be deduced from our poet's being a player, and forming himself first upon the judgments of that body of men whereof he was a member. They have ever had a standard to themselves, upon other principles than those of Aristotle. As they live by the majority, they know no rule but that of pleasing the present humour, and complying with the wit in fashion; a consideration which brings all their judgment to a short point. Players are just such judges of what is right as tailors are of what is graceful. And in this view it will be but fair to allow, that most of our author's faults are less to be ascribed to his wrong judgment as a poet, than to his right judgment as a player. By these men it would be thought a praise to Shakspeare, that he scarce ever blotted a line. This they industriously propagated, as appears from what we are told by Ben Jonson in his Discoveries, and from the preface of Heminge and Condell to the first folio edition. But in reality (however it has prevailed) there never was a more groundless report, or to the contrary of which there are more undeniable evidences. As, the comedy of The Merry Wives of Windsor, which he entirely new writ; The History of Henry the Sixth, which was first published under the title of The Contention of York and Lancaster; and that of Henry the Fifth extremely improved; that of Hamlet enlarged to almost as much again as at first, and many others. I believe the common opinion of his want of learning proceeded from no better ground. This too might be thought a praise by some, and to this his errors have as injudiciously been ascribed by others. For 'tis certain, were it true, it would concern but a small part of them; the most are such as are not properly defects, but superfotations; and arise not from want of learning or reading, but from want of thinking or judging or rather (to be more just to our author) from As to a compliance to those wants in others. a wrong choice of the subject, a wrong conduct of the incidents, false thought, forced expressions, etc. if these are not to be ascribed to the
foresaid accidental reasons, they must be charged upon the poet himself, and there is no help for it. But I think the two disadvantages, which I have mentioned (to be obliged to please the lowest of the people, and to keep the worst of company), if the consideration be extended as far as it reasonably may, will appear sufficient to mislead and depress the greatest genius upon earth. Nay, the more modesty with which such a one is endured, the more he is in danger of submitting and conforming to others, against his own better judgment.
But as to his want of learning, it may be necessary to say something more there is certainly a vast difference between learning and languages. How far he was ignorant of the latter, I cannot determine; but it is plain he had much reading at least, if they will not call it learning. Nor is it any great matter, if a man has knowledge, whether he has it from Nothing is one language or from another. more evident than that he had a taste of natural philosophy, mechanics, ancient and modern history, poetical learning, and mythology: we find him very knowing in the customs, rites, and manners of antiquity. In Coriolanus and Julius Cæsar, not only the spirit, but manners of the Roman are exactly drawn; and still a nicer distinction is shown between the manners of Romans in the time of the former, and of the latter. His reading in the ancient historians is no less conspicuous, in many references to particular passages and the speeches copied from Plutarch in Coriolanus* may, I think, as well be made an instance of his learning, as those copied from Cicero in Catiline, of Ben Jonson's.
The manners of other nations in general, the Egyptians, Venetians, French, etc. are drawn with equal propriety. Whatever object of nature, or branch of science, he either speaks of or describes, it is always with competent, if not extensive knowledge: his descriptions are still exact; all his metaphors appropriated, and remarkably drawn from the true nature and inherent qualities of each subject. When he treats of ethic or politic, we may constantly observe a wonderful justness of distinction, as well as extent of comprehension. No one is more a master of the poetical story, or has more frequent allusions to the various parts of it: Mr. Waller (who has been cele
These, as the reader will find in the notes on that play, Shakspeare drew from Sir Thomas North's translation, 1579. MALONE.
brated for this last particular) has not shown more learning this way than Shakspeare. We have translations from Ovid published in his name,* among those poems which pass for his, and for some of which we have undoubted authority (being published by himself, and dedicated to his noble patron the earl of South- | ampton), he appears also to have been conversant in Plautus, from whom he has taken the plot of one of his plays: he follows the Greek authors, and particularly Dares Phrygius, in another (although I will not pretend to say in what language he read them). The modern Italian writers of novels he was manifestly acquainted with; and we may conclude him to be no less conversant with the ancients of his own country, from the use he has made of Chaucer in Troilus and Cressida, and in The Two Noble Kinsmen, if that play be his, as there goes a tradition it was (and indeed it has little resemblance of Fletcher, and more of our author than some of those which have been received as genuine).
I am inclined to think this opinion proceeded originally from the zeal of the partizans of our author and Ben Jonson; as they endeavoured to exalt the one at the expense of the other. It is ever the nature of parties to be in extremes; and nothing is so probable, as that because Ben Jonson had much the more learning, it was said on the one hand that Shakspeare had none at all; and because Shakspeare had much the most wit and fancy, it was retorted on the other, that Jonson wanted both. Because Shakspeare borrowed nothing, it was said that Ben Jonson borrowed every thing. Because Jonson did not write extempore, he was reproached with being a year about every piece; and because Shakspeare wrote with ease and rapidity, they cried, he never once made a blot. Nay, the spirit of opposition ran so high, that whatever those of the one side objected to the other, was taken at the rebound, and turned into praises; as injudiciously, as their antagonist before had made them objections.
Poets are always afraid of envy; but sure they have as much reason to be afraid of admiration. They are the Scylla and Charybdis of authors; those who escape one, often fall by the other. Pessimum genus inimicorum laudantes, says Tacitus ; and Virgil desires to wear a charm against those who praise, a poet without rule or reason:
__si ultra placitum lâudarit, baccare frontem
They were written by Thomas Heywood.
But however this contention might be carried on by the partizans on either side, I cannot help thinking these two great poets were good friends, and lived on amicable terms, and in offices of society with each other. It is an acknowledged fact, that Ben Jonson was introduced upon the stage, and his first works encouraged, by Shakspeare. And after his death, that author writes, To the memory of his beloved William Shakspeare, which shows as if the friendship had continued through life. I cannot for my own part find any thing invidious, or sparing in those verses, but wonder Mr. Dryden was of that opinion. He exalts him not only above all his contemporaries, but above Chaucer and Spenser, whom he will not allow to be great enough to be ranked with him; and challenges the names of Sophocles, Euripides, and Eschylus, nay, all Greece and Rome at once to equal him and (which is very particular) expressly vindicates him from the imputation of wanting art, not enduring that all his excellencies should be attributed to nature. It is remarkable too, that the praise he gives him in his Discoveries seems to proceed from a personal kindness; he tells us, that he loved the man, as well as honoured his memory; celebrates the honesty, openness, and frankness of his temper; and only distinguishes, as he reasonably ought, between the real merit of the author, and the silly and derogatory applauses of the players. Ben Jonson might indeed be sparing in his commendations (though certainly he is not so in this instance) partly from his own nature, and partly from judgment. For men of judgment think they do any man more service in praising him justly, than lavishly. I say, I would fain believe they were friends, though the violence and ill-breeding of their followers and flatterers were enough to give rise to the contrary report. I would hope that it may be with parties, both in wit and state, as with those monsters described by the poets; and that their heads at least may have something human, though their bodies and tails are wild beasts and serpents.
As I believe that what I have mentioned gave rise to the opinion of Shakspeare's want of learning; so what has continued it down to us may have been the many blunders and illiteracies of the first publishers of his works. In these editions their ignorance shines in almost every page; nothing is more common than Actus tertia. Exit omnes. Enter three Witches solus.* * Enter three Witches solus.] This blunder
Their French is as bad as their Latin, both in construction and spelling: their very Welsh is false. Nothing is more likely than that those palpable blunders of Hector's quoting Aristotle, with others of that gross kind, sprung from the same root it not being at all credible that these could be the errors of any man who had the least tincture of a school, or the least conversation with such as had. Ben Jonson (whom they will not think partial to him) allows him at least to have had some Latin; which is utterly inconsistent with mistakes like these. Nay, the constant blunders in proper names of persons and places, are such as must have proceeded from a man, who had not so much as read any history in any language; so could not be Shakspeare's.
I shall now lay before the reader some of those almost innumerable errors, which have risen from one source, the ignorance of the players, both as his actors and as his editors. When the nature and kinds of these are enumerated and considered, I dare to say that not Shakspeare only, but Aristotle or Cicero, bad their works undergone the same fate, might have appeared to want sense as well as learning.
It is not certain that any one of his plays was published by himself. During the time of his employment in the theatre, several of his pieces were printed separately in quarto. What makes me think that most of these were not published by him, is the excessive carelessness of the press: every page is so scandalously false spelled, and almost all the learned and unusual words so intolerably mangled, that it is plain there either was no corrector to the press at all, or ene totally illiterate. If any were supervised by himself, I should fancy The Two Parts of Henry the Fourth, and Midsummer-Night's Dream might have been so because I find no other printed with any exactness; and (contrary to the rest) there is very little variation in all the subsequent editions of them. There are extant two prefaces to the first quarto edition of Troilus and Cressida in 1609, and to that of Othello; by which it appears, that the first was published without his knowledge or consent, and even before it was acted, so late as seven or eight years before he died and that the latter was not printed till after his death.
The whole number of genuine plays, which we have been able to find printed in his life-time, amounts but to eleven. And of some of these, we meet with two or more editions by different printers, each of which has whole heaps of trash different from the other which I should fancy was occasioned by their being taken from different copies belonging to different playhouses.
The folio edition (in which all the plays we now receive as his were first collected) was published by two players, Heminge and Condell, in 1623, seven years after his decease. They declare, that all the other editions were stolen and surreptitious, and affirm theirs to be purged from the errors of the former. This is true as to the literal errors, and no other; for in all respects else it is far worse than the quartos.
First, because the additions of trifling and bombast passages are in this edition far more numerous. For whatever had been added, since those quartos, by the actors, or had stolen from their mouths into the written parts, were from thence conveyed into the printed text, and all stand charged upon the author. He himself complained of this usage in Hamlet, where he wishes that those who play the clowns would speak no more than is set down for them. (Act III. sc. ii). But as a proof that he could not escape it, in the old editions of Romeo and Juliet there is no hint of a great number of the mean conceits and ribaldries now to be found there. In others, the low scenes of mobs, plebeians, and clowns, are vastly shorter than at present and I have seen one in particular (which seems to have belonged to the playhouse, by having the parts divided with lines, and the actors' names in the margin), where several of those very passages were added in a written hand, which are since to be found in the folio.
In the next place a number of beautiful passages, which are extant in the first single editions, are omitted in this; as it seems, without any other reason, than their willingness to shorten some scenes: these men (as it was said of Procrustes) either lopping, or stretching an author, to make him just fit for their stage.
This edition is said to be printed from the original copies; I believe they meant those which had lain ever since the author's days in the playhouse, and had from time to time been cut, or added to, arbitrarily. It appears that this edition, as well as the quartos, was printed
(at least partly) from no better copies than the
governing player, to have the mouthing of
Prose from verse they did not know, and they accordingly printed one for the other
Sometimes the scenes are transposed and shuffled backward and forward; a thing which could no otherwise happen, but by their being taken from separate and piece-meal written parts. Many verses are omitted entirely, and others transposed; from whence invincible obscurities have arisen, past the guess of any commentator to clear up, but just where the accidental glimpse of an old edition enlightens us.
Having been forced to say so much of the players, I think I ought in justice to remark, that the judgment, as well as condition of that class of people was then far inferior to what it is in our days. As then the best play-houses were inns and taverns (the Globe, the Hope, the Red Bull, the Fortune, &c.) so the top of the profession were then mere players, not gentlemen of the stage: they were led into the buttery by the steward; not placed at the lord's table, or lady's toilette: and consequently were entirely deprived of those advantages they now enjoy in the familiar conversation of our nobility, and an intimacy (not to say dearness) with people of the first condition.
From what has been said, there can be no question but had Shakspeare published his works himself (especially in his latter time, and after his retreat from the stage) we should not only be certain which are genuine, but should find in those that are, the errors lessened by some thousands. If I may judge from all the distinguishing marks of his style, and his manner of thinking and writing, I make no doubt to declare that those wretched plays, Pericles, Locrine, Sir John Oldcastle, York
Some characters were confounded and mixed, or two put into one, for want of a competent number of actors. Thus in the quarto edition of Midsummer Night's Dream (Act V.) Shakspeare introduces a kind of master of the revels called Philostrate; all whose part is given to another character (that of Egeus) in the subsequent editions: so also in Hamlet and Kingshire Tragedy, Lord Cromwell, The Purilan, Lear. This too makes it probable that the prompter's books were what they called the original copies.
From liberties of this kind, many speeches also were put into the mouths of wrong persons, where the author now seems chargeable with making them speak out of character; or sometimes perhaps for no better reason, than that a
Much Ado about Nothing, Act II: "Enter Prince Leonato, Claudio, and Jack Wilson," instead of Balthasar. And in Act IV. Cowley and Kemp constantly through a whole scene.
† Such as
London Prodigal, and a thing called The Double Falshood,* cannot be admitted as his. And I should conjecture of some of the others (particularly Love's Labour's Lost, The Winter's Tale, Comedy of Errors, and Titus Andronicus), that only some characters, single scenes, or
Mr. Pope probably recollected the following lines in The Taming of the Shrew, spoken by a lord, who is giving directions to his servant concerning some players:
« Go, sirrah, take them to the buttery,
"My queen is murder'd! Ring the little bell." "His nose grew as sharp as a pen, and a table of green fields;" which last words are not in the quarto. POPE.
There is no such line in any play of Shakspeare, as that quoted above by Mr. Pope. MALONE. Nor are these two lines quoted by Pope in any edition of his preface which has fallen in our C.
is no reason to suppose that our author, Heminge,
The Double Falshood, or The Distressed Lovers, a play acted at Drury Lane, 8vo. 1727. This piece was produced by Mr. Theobald as a performance of Shakspeare's. But it is not mentioned in any of the old editions of Mr. Pope's Preface. It is not in Warburton's edition, and when it erept in, I have not been able to discover. C.