Page images

A Midsummer Night's Dream, nor that of The Winter's Tale, denotes the season of the action; the events which are the fubject of the latter, occurring at the time of sheep-fhearing, and the dream, from which the former receives its name, happening on the night preceding May-day. Thefe titles, therefore, were probably fuggefted by the feason at which the plays were exhibited, to which they belong; A Midsummer Night's Dream having, we may prefume, been firft reprefented in June, and The Winter's Tale in Decem


Perhaps, then, it may not be thought a very improbable conjecture, that this comedy was written in the fummer of 1612, and produced on the stage in the latter end of that year; and that the author availed himself of a circumftance then frefh in the minds of his audience, by affixing a title to it, which was more likely to excite curiofity than any other that he could have chofen, while at the fame time it was fufficiently juftified by the fubject of the drama.

Mr. Steevens, in his obfervations on this play, has quoted from the tragedy of Darius by the earl of Sterline, firft printed in 1603, fome lines fo ftrongly refembling a celebrated


Perhaps it was formerly an eftablished cuftom to have plays reprefented at court in the Christmas holydays, and particularly on Tavelfth Night. Two of Lilly's comedies (Alexander and Campaspe, 1591-and Mydas, 1592) are faid in their title pages, to have been played befoore the queenes majefiie on Twelfe-day at night; and feveral of Ben Jonfon's mafques were prefented at Whitehall, on the fame feftival. Our author's Love's Labour Loft was exhibited before queen Elizabeth in the Christmas holydays; and his King Lear was acted before king James on St. Stephen's night; (the night after Chriftmas-day.)

y"Let greatnefs of her glaffy fcepters vaunt,

Not fcepters, no but reeds, foon bruis'd, foon broken,
And let this worldly pomp our wits enchant,
All fades, and foarcely leaves behind a token.
Thofe golden palaces, thofe gorgeous halls,
With furniture fuperfluoutly fair,

Those stately courts, thofe fy-encount'ring walls,
Evanish all like vapours in the air."

Darius, A& III. Ed. 1603.

brated paffage in the Tempeft, that one author must, I apprehend, have been indebted to the other. Shakspeare, I imagine, borrowed from lord Sterline 2.

Mr. Holt conjectured, that the mafque in the fifth act of this comedy was intended by the poet as a compliment to the earl of Effex, on his being united in wedlock, in 1611, to lady Frances Howard, to whom he had been contracted fome years before. However this might have been, the date which that commentator has affigned to this play (1614) is certainly too late; for it appears from the Mff. of Mr. Vertue, that the Tempest was acted by John Heminge and the rest of the King's Company, before prince Charles, the lady Elizabeth, and the prince Palatine elector, in the beginning of the year 1613.

The names of Trinculo and Antonio, two of the characters in this comedy, are likewife found in that of Albumazar; which was first printed in 1614, but is fuppofed by Dry-, den to have appeared fome years before.

43. TWELFTH NIGHT, 1614.

It has been generally believed, that Shakspeare retired from the theatre, and ceafed to write, about three years


"Thefe our actors,

As I foretold you, were all fpirits, and Are melted into air, into thin air; And, like the bafeless fabrick of this vifion, The cloud-capt tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces The folemn temples, the great globe itself, Yea, all which it inherit, fhall diffolve, And like this unfubftantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind." Tempeft, A&t IV. Sc. i. Whether we fuppofe Shakspeare to have imitated lord Sterline, or lord Sterline to have borrowed from him, the fourth line above quoted from the tragedy of Darius, renders it highly probable that Shakspeare wrote, (as Sir Thomas Hanmer conjectured,)

"Leave not a track behind."

z See a note on Julius Cæfar, A& I. Sc. i.


a Obfervations on the Tempest, p. 67. Mr. Holt imagined, that lord Effex was united to lady Frances Howard in 1610; but he was mistaken their union did not take place till the next year. Jan. 5, 1606-7. The earl continued abroad four years from that time; fo that he did not cohabit with his wife till 1611.

[blocks in formation]

before he died. The latter fuppofition muft now be confidered as extremely doubtful; for Mr. Tyrwhitt, with great probability, conjectures, that Twelfth Night was written in 1614 grounding his opinion on an allufion, which it feems to contain, to thofe parliamentary undertakers, of whom frequent mention is made in the Journals of the Houfe of Commons for that year; who were ftigmatized with this invidious name, on account of their having undertaken to manage the elections of knights and burgeffes in fuch a manner as to fecure a majority in parliament for the court. If this allufion was intended, Twelfth Night, was probably our author's laft production; and, we may prefume, was written after he had retired to Stratford. It is obfervable that Mr. Ashley, a member of the House of Commons, in one of the debates on this fubject, fays, "that the rumour concerning these undertakers had fpread into the country."

When Shakspeare quitted London and his profeffion, for the tranquillity of a rural retirement, it is improbable that fuch an excurfive genius fhould have been immediately reconciled to a state of mental inactivity. It is more natural to conceive, that he fhould have occafionally bent his thoughts towards the theatre, which his mufe had fupported, and the intereft of his affociates whom he had left behind him to ftruggle with the capricious viciffitudes of publick tafte, and whom, his laft Will fhews us, he had not forgotten. To the neceffity, therefore, of literary amusement to every cultivated mind, or to the dictates of friendfhip, or to both thefe incentives, we are perhaps indebted for the comedy of Twelfth Night; which bears evident marks of having been compofed at leifure, as most of the characters that it contains, are finished to a higher degree of dramatick perfection, than is difcoverable in fome of our author's earlier comick performances.

In the third act of this comedy, Decker's Weftward Hoe feems to be alluded to. Weftward Hoe was printed in 1607,


Nay, if you be an undertaker I am for you." See Twelfth Night, Act IV. Sc. iii. and the note there.

Comm. Journ. Vol. I. p. 456, 457, 470.

The comedies particularly alluded to, are, Love's Labour Loft, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and The Comedy of Errors.

and from the prologue to Eastward Hoc appears to have been acted in 1604, or before.

Maria, in Twelfth Night, fpeaking of Malvolio, fays, "he does fmile his face into more lines than the new map with the augmentation of the indies." I have not been able to learn the date of the map here alluded to; but, as it is fpoken of as a recent publication, it may, when difcovered, ferve to afcertain the date of this play more exactly.

The comedy of What you Will, (the fecond title of the play now before us) which was entered at Stationers' hall, Aug. 9, 1607, was probably Marfton's play, as it was printed in that year; and it appears to have been the general practice of the bookfellers at that time, recently before publication, to enter thofe plays of which they had procured copies.

Twelfth Night was not registered on the Stationers' books, nor printed, till 1623.

It has been thought, that Ben Jonfon intended to ridicule the conduct of this play, in his Every Man out of bis Humour, at the end of Act III. Sc. vi. where he makes Mitis fay," That the argument of his comedy might have been of fome other nature, as of a duke to be in love with a countess, and that countess to be in love with the duke's fon, and the fon in love with the lady's waiting maid : some fuch cross wooing, with a clown to their ferving man, better than be thus near and familiarly allied to the time f.

I doubt, however, whether Jonfon had here Twelfth Night in contemplation. If an allufion to this comedy, were intended, it would afcertain it to have been written before 1599, when Every Man out of his Humour was first acted. But Meres does not mention Twelfth Night in 1598, nor is there any reafon to believe that it then exifted. I know not whether this paffage is found in the quarto copy of Every Man out of his Humour, published in 1600 %. Perhaps it first appeared in the folio edition of Jonfon's


f See the first note on Twelfth Night, Act I. Sc. i.

'g "A comical fatyre of Every Man out of his Humour," was entered on the Stationers' books, by John Helme, in the year 1600; and the piece was, I fuppofe, then publifhed, for feveral paffages of it are found in a mifcellaneous collection of poetry, entitled England's Parnaffus, printed in that year.


works, printed in 1616; in which cafe, though it should be admitted to have been a fneer at Shakspeare, it would not affect the date now attributed to Twelfth Night. It is certain that Jonfon made alterations in fome of his pieces, when he collected and reprinted them. Every Man in his Humour, in particular, underwent an entire reform; all the perfons of the drama, to whom English names were given on its republication, having in the former edition appeared as natives of Italy, in which country the fcene originally was laid.

If the dates here affigned to our author's plays fhould not, in every inftance, bring with them conviction of their propriety, let it be remembered, that this is a fubject on which conviction cannot at this day be obtained: and that the observations now fubmitted to the publick, do not pretend to any higher title than that of" AN ATTEMPT to afcertain the chronology of the dramas of Shakfpearc."

Should the errors and deficiencies of this effay invite others to deeper and more fuccefsful refearches, the end propofed by it will be attained: and he who offers the prefent arrangement of Shakspeare's dramas, will be happy to transfer the flender portion of credit that may refult from the novelty of his undertaking, to fome future claimant, who may be fupplied with ampler materials, and endued with a fuperior degree of antiquarian fagacity.

To fome, he is not unapprized, this enquiry will appear a tedious and barren fpeculation. But there are many, it is hoped, who think nothing that relates to the brightest ornament of the English nation, wholly uninterefting; who will be gratified by obferving, how the genius of our great poet gradually expanded itfelf, till, like his own Ariel, it flamed amazement in every quarter, blazing forth with a luftre, that has not hitherto been equalled, and perhaps will never be furpaffed.


« PreviousContinue »