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ON THE PLAYS ASCRIBED TO SHAKSPEARE, THE
GENUINENESS OF WHICH IS DOUBTFUL.
THE FIRST PART OF THE CONTENTION, AND THE TRUE
TRAGEDIE OF RICHARD DUKE OF YORK.
In addition to the thirty-six dramas already examined, which are included in the first folio edition of Shakspeare's works (1623), and are admitted into all the subsequent innumerable editions of Shakspeare's works-notwithstanding the doubt entertained by many English critics concerning the genuineness of Titus Andronicus' and the three parts of 'Henry VI.'—there is another series of plays published under Shakspeare's name, the majority of which are decidedly not genuine, and the remaining few at least of doubtful genuineness.
The earlier English critics, after Theobald, rejected them one and all, because, in their opinion, Shakspeare did not begin to write for the stage till 1593; that up to that time he had, at most, provided the works of other authors with additions, or corrected and remodelled them; and because the plays which possess the most claim to be considered genuine, must-if written by Shakspeare—have been written before 1593. In other words it was their opinion that the poet who wrote · Venus and Adonis'the poem which Shakspeare himself calls the first heir of his invention,' and dedicated to the Earl of Southampton in 1593—could not, at a later date have penned • Titus
Andronicus' or the three parts of Henry VI.,' and still less other plays that are wholly unworthy of him. But according to the testimonies already adduced, * Shakspeare, by calling Venus and Adonis' the first heir of his invention, cannot possibly have meant to say that it was the first production of his Muse in that kind of poetry, as well as in the dramatic species. According to the testimonios alluded to above, we are forced to assume that, as early as 1592 Shakspeare had not only made attempts, but had already won applause and fame in all the different forms of dramatic poetry (comedies, tragedies, and histories). The most eminent English critics and literary historians—Dyce, Collier, Halliwell, Knight, etc. —are now agreed on this point. The question, therefore, is no longer whether he wrote for the stage before 1592, but which and how many plays had he supplied to the stage up to that year?
As almost all the plays, the genuineness of which is doubtful, must—if written by Shakspeare—be reckoned among his youthful works, the standpoint maintained by most English critics in discussing the point, is obviously a wrong one, inasmuch as they take Shakspeare's later master-pieces as the standard for their judgment. It is clear that—if we wish to arrive at a result that will provo critically tenable—the plays, upon which the question chiefly turns can and ought to be compared only with such pieces as are well known to be the poet's first and earliest productions. It is a universally recognised fact that the genius of every great master, in whatever domain of art he may have worked, undergoes a process of development, and that his first youthful attempts differ widely from his later masterpieces ; of this we hardly need bring forward any proofs, as every page of the history of art bears witness to the fact. Compare, for example, Goethe's • Mitschuldigen' with his ‘Iphigenia,' or his • Faust;' Schiller's · Raüber' with his . Wallenstein,' or his Tell;' Mozart’s ‘Bastien and Bastienne,' or his • Mithridates,' with his “Figaro' or his · Don Juan ;' Handel's Italian operas with his · Messiah ;' Rafaelle's first paintings in the style of Perugino with his grand Roman
* See vol. i. p. 204 f.
works; if these were placed side by side without regard to their intermediate stages, we should not unfrequently feel ourselves tempted to ascribe them to entirely different authors. It is difficult to see why English critics, generally speaking, are inclined to overlook this often very striking difference in regard to Shakspeare's works, whereas German critics have hitherto brought it forward strongly, perhaps too strongly. It may be because German critics are less given implicitly to believe in authorities, and Malone was therefore no authority to
may also be because the leading German critics possessed a more extensive knowledge in regard to the various branches of art and the history of art. For the judgment of a man like A. W. Schlegel, who had at his command the literature of almost all civilised nations, is very different from that of a man whose knowledge is confined to Shakspeare and to English poetry.
• Titus Andronicus,' as we have already seen, * possesses not only the most irrefutable external proofs of its genuineness, but is now ackrowledged by the first English critics to be genuine, and must have been bronght upon the stage as early as 1589. Accordingly this tragedy of Shakspeare's, which is doubtless his earliest, must be taken into special consideration when deciding the question as to the doubtful tragedies. Of his comedies, those generally considered his earliest, as already observed, are • The Two Gentlemen of Verona,' The Comedy of Errors,' and • Love's Labour's Lost' (perhaps also “The Taming of the Shrew')— hence they must form our standard in judging of the doubtful comedies. If we may not appeal to three parts of Henry VI.,' as they are still rejected by most English critics, then, of the historical plays, ' Richard III.' has the first claim to consideration. But • Richard III.' as already shown, cannot well have been written earlier than about 1593; therefore in deciding about the doubtful histories we are again referred more especially to Titus Andronicus. Yet we shall after all have to draw · Henry VI.' into the discussion, as its critical opponents all admit that Shakspeare had a more or less important share in the play. Moreover, criticism
* See vol. i. 515, ff.
must not adhere merely to the above-named pieces; for it is self-evident that, in the examination of the doubtful tragedies, not only has attention to be paid to the genuine comedies as well as to the histories, but that we must everywhere keep all Shak-peare's works in view whatever may be the particular piece under discussion. may
I begin my critical review with the two historical plays mentioned in our last Book, which, in the opinion of English critics, Shakspeare is supposed to have remodelled in the second and third parts of 'Henry VI.' In the earliest quarto editions their full titles are:
1. The First Part of the Contention betwixt the two famous houses of Yorke and Lancaster, with the death of the good Duke Humphrey, and the banishment and death of the Duke of Suffolke, and the tragicall end of the proud Cardinall of Winchester, with the notable Rebellion of Jacke Cade, and the Duke of Yorke's first claime unto the Crowne. London : Printed by Thomas Creed, for Thomas Millington, etc. 1594.
2. The true Tragedie of Richard, Duke of Yorke, and the death of the good King Henrie the Sixt, with the whole contention betweene the two houses Lancaster and Yorke, as it was sundrie times acted by the Right Honourable the Earle of Pembroke his servants. Printed at London by P. S. for Thomas Millington, etc. 1595.
They are the most important of the doubtful plays, in so far as the result of the inquiry about their origin includes the decision of the question as to Shakspeare's claim to and share in the trilogy of Henry VI.' For the sake of impartiality of judgment, I shall in the first place disregard the connection between them and
Henry VI.,' and shall consider them by themselves as independent works, without regard to the (as we shall see) very probable hypothesis that they are but pirated, greatly corrupted copies of the two last parts of · Henry VI.' taken down during the performance.
Recent English critics are no longer, as already intimated, quite of the same mind as their predecessors, įnasmuch as they differ among one another both as to the value and as to the authorship of the two dramas.
W. G. Clark and W. A. Wright * say: we cannot agree with Malone on the one hand, that they contain nothing of Shakspeare's, nor with Mr. Knight on the other, that they are entirely his work; there are so many internal proofs of his having had a considerable share in their composition, that in accordance with our principle we have reprinted them in a smaller type.' This juste milieu between the contending parties at the same time marks the position which J. 0. Halliwell † occupies in regard to the question, for, more than thirty years ago, he endeavoured to establish the view now entertained by Clark and Wright. J. P. Collier and A. Dyce, on the other hand, follow Malone's opinion, and differ from each other only as to who was the joint-author with Shakspeare of the two plays. Collier $ supposes him to have been Robert Greene; Dyce, on the other hand, conjectures that the greater part, at least, came from Marlowe's pen.
It is evident, therefore, that the opinion of German critics has gained some ground, but the controversy is by no means settled. The carefui consideration to which this matter has repeatedly been subjected is to be accounted for simply by the great importance involved in the decision of the question, not only as regards Shakspeare himself, but also as regards the history of dramatic poetry, and thus of the literature of his age. For if the two old plays are not Shakspeare's, if he cannot be considered to have any claim to them, then in the first place it follows that the last two parts of Henry VI.' likewise, are but to a very small extent his work, in reality the property of some other poet. This unquestionably follows from the fact that not only is the composition—act for act and scene for scene-precisely the same, but also, as Halliwell justly remarks, that more than half of the entire contents of the two old plays are met with in the 2nd and 3rd parts of Henry VI.' wholly unaltered, or with
* The editors of the Cambridge Edition of Shakspeare, vol. v. p. 12. Cambridge and London, 1863 ff.
In his edition of the two plays, The First Sketches of the Second and Third Parts of King Henry VI. London: printed for the Sh. Soc, 1843, Preface, p. xxxv. ff.
I His edition of Shakespeare, i. p. 49.