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composition. This latter duty I have found to be the necessary antecedent to all other inquiry; and many years ago, having gone through all the evidence at my command, I arrived at a specific arrangement, as having the balance of probability in its favour. To this end, it was expedient that I should estimate not only the mere inner evidence, but the Inner Life of the productions examined. I had to settle what Life was;
and to trace it from mere individuation to individuality; rising from the inorganic to the organic in the former, according to its different degrees, and in the latter, threading the folds of the historical and fantastic, taking note of comic peculiarities, and aiming at the heights of Ideal characterisation, whether simple, complex, or spiritual. This, however, was rather the metaphysical than the chronological table, though lying at the root of it, and will be better given at an advanced stage of the discussion. For the present I will content myself with dividing the table of the most probable chronological arrangement of Shakspere's plays into four periods. The first, the Elementary and Impulsive; the second, the Ilistorical and Fantastic; the third, the Comic; and the fourth, the Epic and Imaginative, — the fourth displaying itself in two forms, namely, (1) Simple Construction, and (2) Complex Structure; the last including (a) the conventional, (b) the universal, ideal and purely poetic, and finally (c) the abstract and intellectual in conception and treatment.
ent. Here follows
I. ELEMENTARY AND IMPULSIVE Period.
formed Christmas 1597; alludes to Bank's Horse Hamlet (first sketch) printed 1603; a previous
Hamlet, perhaps by Kyd, mentioned by Greene
quake in 1580, dated eleven years before in
Part III. (printed)
Part II. (printed)
III. Comic PERIOD. 1599-1601.
1. Simple Construction.
Period of earliest mention, mean date,
Probable period of composi
1604 1605 1606 1607
2. Complex Structure.
(a) Conventional. Lear (acted).
1607 Troilus and Cressida (printed)
1609 Cymbeline (acted)
1610 Winter's Tale (acted).
(c) Abstract and Intellectual. Tempest (acted).
1611 Timon of Athens (printed 1623). Henry VIII. (ditto)
Globe Theatre destroyed, 29th June 1613.
1608 1608 1609 1609
1610 1611 1612
In this chronological arrangement of Shakspere's compositions some help, but not much, is obtained from a work of a learned contemporary, called Meres, whose name occurs several times in the above table. It was in the year 1598 that Meres gave a list of twelve of Shakspere's plays, as being then in existence. They are as follow: The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Comedy of Errors, Love's Labour's lost, All's well that ends well, King John, The Merchant of Venice, The Midsummer-Night's Dream, Henry IV., Richard II., Richard III., Titus Andronicus, and Romeo and Juliet. These data, nevertheless, are of great relative importance, as enabling us approximately to adjust the periods of composition in regard
to the plays mentioned. But in order for it to lead to satisfactory results, this task must be conducted in connection with an investigation of the internal evidence, by a careful examination of the dramas themselves.
"Francis Meres" was " Maister of Artes of both Universities;" so the author calls himself in the titlepage of the book, which is named Palladis Tamia, Wit's Treasury; being the Second Part of Wit's Commonwealth. The imprint to the work is, “ London: printed by P. Short, for Cuthbert Burbie, 1598.” Meres was a clergyman, and called by Heywood an “approved good scholar.” He was also a schoolmaster, and compiled schoolbooks. To this production is appended a brief essay, called “ A comparative Discourse of our English Poets with the Greek, Latin, and Italian Poets,” in which Shakspere's name is mentioned nine times. No play at the date of the book had yet been published with Shakspere's name; nevertheless Meres speaks of his dramas as well known. The following are some of the passages relating to Shakspere:
“ The English tongue is mightily enriched and gorgeouslie invested in rare ornaments and resplendent abiliments by Sir Philip Sidney, Spenser, Daniel, Drayton, Warner, Shakespeare, Marlow, and Chapman."
" As the soul of Euphorbus was thought to live in Pythagoras, so the sweete, wittie soul of Ovid lives in mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare. Witness his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, his sugred
his private friends.” Shakespeare,
among the English, is the most excellent in both kinds for the stage. For comedy, witness Gentlemen of Verona, * his Errors, his Love's Labour's lost, his Love's Labour's wonne [or, All's well that ends well?], his Midsummer-Night's Dream, and his Merchant of Venice. For tragedy, his Richard the II., Richard the III., Henry the IV., King John, Titus Andronicus, and his Romeo and Juliet."
Meres, it must be recollected, only writes according to report, and not on the authority of a printed title-page. It is needful to remark this, as I dispute the authorship of Titus Andronicus, and do not admit it to be Shakspere's. In the same year, however, in which the Palladis Tamia was issued, its publishers supplied the public with a printed copy of Love's Labour's lost, “ as it was presented before her Highness this last Christmas,” “ newly corrected and aug. mented by William Shakespere.” The author had at length obtained the insertion of his name on a titlepage. The example was followed by other publish
Andrew Wise, for example, lost no time in reissuing Richard II. and Richard III. with the like distinction. In the same year, however, The Iristorie
Henrie the Fourth, with the humourous conceits of Sir John Falstaffe, had been evulgated anonymously by the same publisher, who resided in “Paule's Churchyard, at the sign of the Angell.”
Before concluding this Introduction, it is expedient I should mention that a spiteful writer of Shake
• It is worthy of notice that Meres mentions The Two Gentlemen of Verona in the first place.