« ForrigeFortsett »
which almost every original beauty is either awkwardly disguised, or arbitrarily omitted." ›
In fifty years after his death, Dryden mentions that he was then become "a little obsolete." In the beginning of the last century, Lord Shaftesbury complains of his "rude, unpolished style, and his antiquated phrase and wit." It is certain, that for nearly a hundred years after his death, partly owing to the immediate revolution and rebellion, and partly to the licentious taste encouraged in Charles II.'s time, and perhaps partly to the incorrect state of his works, he was almost entirely neglected. Mr. Malone has justly remarked, "that if he had been read, admired, studied, and imitated, in the same degree as he is now, the enthusiasm of some one or other of his admirers in the last age would have induced him to make some inquiries concerning the history of his theatrical career, and the anecdotes of his private life."
The only life which has been prefixed to all the editions of Shakspeare of the eighteenth century, is that drawn up by Mr. Rowe, and which he modestly calls, "Some Account," &c. In this we have what Rowe could collect when every legitimate source of information was closed, a few traditions that were floating nearly a century after the author's death. Some inaccuracies in his account have been detected in the valuable notes of Mr. Steevens and Mr. Malone, who, in other parts of their respective editions, have scattered a few brief notices which we have incorporated in the present sketch. The whole, however, is unsatisfactory. Shakspeare, in his private character, in his friendships, in his amusements, in his closet, in his family, is nowhere before us, and such was the nature of the writings on which his fame depends, and of that employment in which he was engaged, that being in no important respect connected with the history of his age, it is in vain to look into the latter for any information concerning him.
Mr. Capell is of opinion, that he wrote some prose works, because "it can hardly be supposed that he, who had so considerable a share in the confidence of the Earls of Essex and Southampton, could be a mute spectator only of controversies in which they were so much interested." This editor, however, appears to have taken for granted, a degree of confidence with these two statesmen, which he ought first to have proved. Shakspeare might have enjoyed the confidence of their social hours; but it is mere conjecture that they admitted him into the confidence of their state affairs. Mr. Malone, whose opinions are entitled to a higher degree of credit, thinks that his prose compositions, if they should be discovered, would exhibit the same perspicuity, the same cadence, the same elegance and vigor, which we find in his plays. It is unfortunate, however, for all wishes and all conjectures, that not a line of Shakspeare's manuscript is known to exist, and his prose writings are no where hinted at. We have only printed copies of his plays and poems, and those so depraved by carelessness or ignorance, that all the labour of all is commentators has not yet been able to restore them to a probable purity
• Mr. Steevens's Advertisement to the Reader, first printed in 1773.
Many of the greatest difficulties attending the perusal of them yet remain, and will require, what it is scarcely possible to expect, greater sagacity and more happy conjecture than have hitherto been employed.
Mr. Malone says, that "from the year 1716 to the date of his edition in 1790, that is, in seventy-four years-above 30,000 copies of Shakspeare have been dispersed through England.” Among the honours paid to his genius, we ought not to forget the very magnificent edition undertaken by Messrs. Boydell. Still less ought it to be forgotten how much the reputation of Shakspeare was revived by the unrivalled excellence of Garrick's performance.
When public opinion had begun to assign to Shakspeare the very high rank he was destined to hold, he became the promising object of fraud and imposture. This, we have already observed, he did not wholly escape in his own time, and he had the spirit or policy to despise it.' It was reserved for modern impostors, however, to avail themselves of the obscurity in which his history is involved. In 1751, a book was published, entitled, “A Compendious or briefe examination of certayne ordinary Complaints of diuers of our Countrymen in those our days: which, although they are in some Parte unjust and frivolous, yet are they all by way of dialogue thoroughly debated and discussed by William Shakspeare, Gentleman." This had been origi nally published in 1581; but Dr. Farmer has clearly proved that W. S., gent., the only authority for attributing it to Shakspeare in the reprinted edition, meant William Stafford, gent. Theobald, the same accurate critic informs us, was desirous of palming upon the world a play called "Double Falsehood," for a posthumous one of Shakspeare. In 1770 was reprinted at Feversham, an old play called "The Tragedy of Arden of Feversham and Black Will," with a preface attributing it to Shakspeare without the smallest foundation. But these were trifles compared to the atrocious attempt made in 1795–6, when, besides a vast mass of prose and verse, letters. &c., pretendedly in the handwriting of Shakspeare and his correspondents, an entire play, entitled Vortigern, was not only brought forward for the astonishment of the admirers of Shakspeare, but actually performed on Drury Lane stage. It would be unnecessary to expatiate on the merits of this play, which Mr. Steevens has very happily characterized as "the performance of a madman without a lucid interval," or to enter more at large into the nature of a fraud so recent, and so soon acknowledged by by the authors of it. It produced, however, an interesting controversy between Mr. Malone and Mr. George Chalmers, which, although mixed with some unpleasant asperities, was extended to inquiries into the history and antiquities of the stage, from which future critics and historians may derive considerable information.
7 Mr. Malone has given a list of fourteen plays ascribed to Shakspeare, either by the edi. tors of the two later folios, or by the compilers of ancient catalogues. Of these, Pericles has found advocates for its admission into his works.
ALONZO, King of Naples.
PROSPERO, the Rightful Duke of Milan.
ANTONIO, his Brother, the usurping Duke of Milan.
FERDINAND, Son to the King of Naples.
GONZALO, an honest old Counsellor of Naples.
CALIBAN, a savage and deformed Slave.
TRINCULO, a Jester.
STEPHANO, a drunken Bw.er.
Master of a Ship, Boatswain, and Mariners.
MIRANDA, Daughter to Prospero.
ARIEL, an airy Spirit.
Other Spirits attending on Prospero.
SCENE. The Sea, with a Ship; afterwards an uninhabitated Island.
SCENE I.-On a Ship at Sea.
Boats. Here, master: what cheer?
Mast. Good: speak to the mariners: fall to't yarely, or we run ourselves aground; bestir, bestir.
Boats. Heigh, my hearts; cheerly, cheerly, my hearts; yare, yare: Take in the top-sail; Tend to the master's whistle.-Blow till thou burst thy wind, if room enough! Enter ALONZO, SEBASTIAN, ANTONIO, FERDINAND, Gonzalo, and others.
Alon. Good Boatswain, have care. Where's the master? Play the men.
Boats. I pray now, keep below.
Ant. Where is the master, boatswain?
Boats. Do you not hear him? You mar our labor! keep your cabins: you do assist the storm.
Gon. Nay, good, be patient. Boats. When the sea is. Hence! What care these roarers for the name of king? To cabin; silence: trouble
Gon. Good; yet remember whom thou hast aboard.
Boats. None that I more love than myself. You are a counsellor; if you can command these elements to silence, and work the peace of the present, we will not hand a rope more; use your authority. If you cannot, give thanks you (19)