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"I will die bravely like a bridegroom." King Lear, in terms like bride and groom
Devesting them for bed." Othello.
The degree of credit due to the title-page of this tragedy is but very inconfiderable. It is not mentioned by Meres in 1598; but that Shakspeare was known to have had fome hand in it, was fufficient reafon why the whole fhould be fathered on him. The name of the original writer could have promoted a bookfeller's purpose in but an inferior degree. In the year 1611, one of the fame fraternity attempted to obtrude on the publick the old King John (in Dr. Farmer's opinion written by Rowley) as the work of our celebrated author.
But we are told with confidence, that
Shakspeare's own mufe his Pericles first bore,
"The Prince of Tyre was elder than the Moor." To the teftimony of Dryden refpect is always due, when he fpeaks of things within the compafs of his own knowledge. But on the present occafion he could only take report, or a title page, for his guide; and feems to have preferred fmoothness of verfification to precifeness of expreffion. His meaning is completely given in the fecond line of his couplet. In both, he defigns to fay no more than that Shakspeare himself did not rife to excellence in his first plays; but that Pericles, one of the weakest imputed to him, was written before Othello, which is generally regarded as the most vigorous of his productions; that of thefe two pieces, Pericles was the firft. Dryden in all probability met with it in the folio edition, 1664, and enquired no further concerning its authenticity. The birth of his friend Sir William D'Avenant happened in 1605, at least ten years below the date of this contefted drama.*
* Shakspeare died in 1616; and it is hardly probable that his godfon, (a lad about ten years old) inftead of searching his pockets for apples, fhould have enquired of him concerning the dates of his theatrical performances. It is not much more likely that afterwards, in an age devoid of literary curiofity, Sir William should have been folicitous about this circumftance, or met with any perfon who was capable of afcertaining it.
If it be urged against this opinion, that most of the players contemporary with Shakspeare, were yet alive, and from that quarter Sir William's information might have been derived, I anfwer,-from thofe who were at the head of their fraternity while our author flourished, he could not have received it. Had they known that Pericles was the entire compofition of our great poet, they would certainly have printed it among his other works in the folio 1623. Is it likely that any of our ancient hiftrionick troop were better acquainted with the incunabula of Shakspeare's Mufe, than the very people whofe intimate connection with him is marked by his laft will, in which he calls them -"his fellows John Hemynge, and Henry Condell ?"
The abufe of J. Tatham would have deserved no reply, had it not been raised into confequence by its place in Mr. Malone's Preliminary Obfervations. I think it therefore but juftice to obferve, that this obfcure wretch who calls our author a " plebeian driller," (droller I fuppofe he meant to fay,) has thereby beftowed on him a portion of involuntary applaufe. Because Horace has pronounced that he who pleases the great is not entitled to the loweft of encomiums, are we therefore to infer that the man who has given delight to the vulgar, has no claim alfo to his dividend of praife?-interdum vulgus rectum putat. It is the peculiar merit of Shakspeare's fcenes, that they are generally felt and understood. The tumid conceits of modern tragedy communicate no fenfations to the highest or the meanest rank. Sentimental comedy is not much more fortunate in its efforts. But can the period be pointed out in which King Lear and The Merry Wives of Windfor did not equally entertain those who fill the boxes and the gallery, primores populi, populumque tri butim?
Before I close this enquiry, which has fwelled into an unexpected bulk, let me atk, whofe opinion confers moft honour on Shakspeare, my opponent's or mine? Mr. Malone is defirous that his favourite poet fhould be regarded as the fole author of a drama which, collectively taken, is unworthy of him. I only with the reader to adopt a more moderate creed, that the purpurei panni are Shakspeare's, and the reft the productions of fome inglorious and forgotten play-wright.
If confiftently with my real belief I could have fupported inftead of controverting the fentiments of this gentleman, whom I have the honour to call my friend, I fhould have been as happy in doing fo as I now am in confeffing my literary obligations to him, and acknowledging how often in the courfe of the preceding volume he has fupplied my deficiencies, and rectified my
On the whole, were the intrinfick merits of Pericles yet lefs than they are, it would be entitled to respect among the curious in dramatick literature. As the engravings of Mark Antonio are valuable not only on account of their beauty, but because they are supposed to have been executed under the eye of Raffaelle, fo Pericles will continue to owe fome part of its reputation to the touches it is faid to have received from the hand of Shakspeare. To the popularity of the Prince of Tyre (which is fufficiently evident from the teftimonies referred to by Mr. Malone) we may impute the unprecedented corruptions in its text. What was acted frequently, must have been frequently transcribed for the ufe of prompters and players; and through the medium of such faithlefs copies it should seem that most of our early theatrical
pieces were transmitted to the publick. There are certainly more grofs mistakes in this than in any other tragedy attributed to Shakspeare. Indeed so much of it, as hitherto printed, was abfolutely unintelligible, that the reader had no power to judge of the rank it ought to hold among our ancient dramatick performances. STEEVENS.
Mr. Steevens's intimate acquaintance with the writings of Shakspeare renders him fo well qualified to decide upon this question, that it is not without fome diftruft of my own judgment that I express my diffent from his decifion; but as all the pofitions that he has endeavoured to establish in his ingenious difquifition on the merits and authenticity of Pericles do not appear to me to have equal weight, I fhall fhortly ftate the reasons why I cannot fubfcribe to his opinion with regard to this longcontefted piece.
The imperfect imitation of the language and numbers of Gower, which is found in the choruses of this play, is not in my apprehenfion a proof that they were not written by Shakfpeare. To fummon a perfon from the grave, and to introduce him by way of Chorus to the drama, appears to have been no uncommon practice with our author's contemporaries. Marlowe, before the time of Shakspeare, had in this way introduced Machiavel in his Jew of Malta; and his countryman Guicciardine is brought upon the stage in an ancient tragedy called The Devil's Charter. In the fame manner Rainulph, the monk of Chester, appears in The Mayor of Quinborough, written by Thomas Middleton. Yet it never has been objected to the authors of the two former pieces, as a breach of decorum, that the Italians whom they have brought into the scene do not speak the language of their own country; or to the writer of the latter, that the monk whom he has introduced does not use the English dialect of the age in which he lived.-But it may be faid, "nothing of this kind is attempted by these poets; the author of Pericles, on the other hand, has endeavoured to copy the versification of Gower, and has failed in the attempt: had this piece been the compofition of Shakspeare, he would have fucceeded."
I fhall very readily acknowledge, that Shakspeare, if he had thought fit, could have exhibited a tolerably accurate imitation of the language of Gower; for there can be little doubt, that what has been effected by much inferior writers, he with no great difficulty could have accomplished. But that, because thefe chorufes do not exhibit such an imitation, they were therefore not his performance, does not appear to me a neceffary conclufion; for he might not think fuch an imitation proper for a popular audience. Gower, like the perfons above mentioned,
would probably have been fuffered to speak the fame language as the other characters in this piece, had he not written a poem containing the very story on which the play is formed. Like Guicciardine and the monk of Chester, he is called up to fuperintend a relation found in one of his own performances. Hence, Shakspeare seems to have thought it proper (not, to copy his verfification, for that does not appear to have been at all in his thoughts, but) to throw a certain air of antiquity over the monologues which he has attributed to the venerable bard. Had he imitated the diction of the Confeffio Amantis with accuracy, he well knew that it would have been as unintelligible to the greater part of his audience as the Italian of Guicciardine or the Latin of Rainulph; for, I fuppofe, there can be no doubt, that the language of Gower (which is almost as far removed from that of Hooker and Fairfax, as it is from the profe of Addison or the poetry of Pope,) was understood by none but scholars,* even in the time of Queen Elizabeth. Having determined to introduce the contemporary of Chaucer in the fcene, it was not his business to exhibit fo perfect an imitation of his diction as perhaps with affiduity and study he might have accomplished, but fuch an antiquated style as might be understood by the people before whom his play was to be represented.†
As the language of these chorufes is, in my opinion, infufficient to prove that they were not the production of Shakspeare, fo alfo is the inequality of metre which may be observed in different parts of them; for the fame inequality is found in the lyrical parts of Macbeth and A Midfummer-Night's Dream.‡ It may likewise be remarked, that as in Pericles, fo in many of our author's early performances, alternate rhymes frequently occur; a practice which I have not observed in any other dramatick performances of that age, intended for publick representation.§
* Perhaps not by all of them. The treasures of Greece and Rome had not long been discovered, and to the ftudy of ancient languages almost every Englifhman that aspired to literary reputation applied his talents and his time, while his native tongue was neglected. Even the learned Afcham was but little acquainted with the language of the age immediately preceding his own. If scholars were defective in this refpect, the people, we may be sure, were much more fo.
+ If I am warranted in fuppofing that the language of the Confessio Amantis would have been unintelligible to the audience, this furely was a sufficient reason for departing from it.
See p. 156, of n. 6.
The plays of Lord Sterline are entirely in alternate rhymes; but these feem not to have been intended for the ftage, nor were they, I believe, ever performed in any theatre.
Before I quit the fubject of the chorufes introduced in this piece, let me add, that, like many other parts of this play, they contain fome marked expreffions, certain ardentia verba, that are alfo found in the undifputed works of our great poet; which any one who will take the trouble to compare them with the chorufes in King Henry V. and The Winter's Tale, will readily perceive. If, in order to account for the fimilitude, it fhall be faid, that though Shakspeare did not compose these declamations of Gower, he might have retouched them, as that is a point which never can be ascertained, so no answer can be given to it.
That the play of Pericles was originally written by another poet, and afterwards improved by Shakspeare, I do not fee fufficient reafon to believe. It may be true, that all which the improver of a dramatick piece originally ill-conftructed can do, is, to polish the language, and to add a few fplendid paffages; but that this play was the work of another, which Shakspeare from his friendship for the author revised and corrected, is the very point in question, and therefore cannot be adduced as a medium to prove that point. It appears to me equally improbable that Pericles was formed on an unfuccefsful drama of a preceding period; and that all the weaker fcenes are taken from thence. We know indeed that it was a frequent practice of our author to avail himself of the labours of others, and to conftruct a new drama upon an old foundation; but the pieces that he has thus imitated are yet extant. We have an original Taming of a Shrew, a King John, a Promos and Caffandra, a King Leir, &c. but where is this old play of Pericles ?* or how comes it to pafs that no memorial of fuch a drama remains? Even if it could be proved that fuch a piece once exifted, it would not warrant us in fuppofing that the lefs vigorous parts of the performance in queftion were taken from thence; for though Shakfpeare borrowed the fables of the ancient dramas just now enumerated, he does not appear to have transcribed a fingle scene from any one of them.
Still, however, it may be urged, if Shakspeare was the original author of this play, and this was one of his earliest productions, he would scarcely in a subsequent period, have introduced in his Winter's Tale fome incidents and expreffions which bear a ftrong resemblance to the latter part of Pericles: on the other hand, he might not fcruple to copy the performance of a preceding poet.
Before we acquiefce in the justice of this reasoning, let us ex
When Ben Jonfon calls Pericles a mouldy tale, he alludes, I apprehend, not to the remote date of the play, but to the antiquity of the story on which it is founded.