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From hence it is evident that Shakespeare, near the end of 1592, had established such a reputation, and was so important a rival of the dramatists, who, until he came forward, had kept undisputed possession of the stage, as to excite the envy and enmity of Greene, even during his last and fatal illness. It also, we think, establishes another point, not hitherto adverted to, viz. that our great poet possessed such variety of talent, that, for the purposes of the company of which he was a member, he could do anything that he might be called upon to perform : he was the Johannes Fac-totum of the association : he was an actor, and he was a writer of original plays, an adapter and improver of those already in existence, (some of them by Greene, Marlowe, Lodge, or Peele) and no doubt he contributed prologues or epilogues, and inserted scenes, speeches, or passages on any temporary emergency. Having his ready assistance, the Lord Chamberlain's servants required few other contributions from rival dramatists': Shakespeare was the Johannes Fac-totum who could turn his hand to any thing connected with his profession, and who, in all probability, had thrown men like Greene, Lodge, and Peele, and even Marlowe himself, into the shade. In our view, therefore, the quotation we have made from the “Groatsworth of Wit” proves much more than has been usually collected from it.
It was natural and proper that Shakespeare should take offence at this gross and public attack : that he did so there is no doubt, for we are told it by Chettle himself, the avowed editor of the “Groatsworth of Wit :” he does not indeed mention Shakespeare, but he designates him so intelligibly that there is no room for dispute. Marlowe, also, and not without reason, complained of the manner in which Greene had spoken of him in the same work, but to him Chettle made no apology, while to Shakespeare he offered all the amends in his power.
His apology to Shakespeare is contained in a tract called “Kind-heart's Dream,” which was published without date, but as Greene expired on the 3rd Sept. 1592, and as Chettle tells us in "Kind-heart's Dream," that Greene died "about three months" before, it is certain that “Kind-heart's Dream' came out prior to the end of 1592, as we now calculate the year, and about three months before it expired, according to the reckoning of that period. The whole passage relating to Marlowe and Shakespeare is highly interesting, and we therefore extract it entire.
2 At this date Peele had relinquished his connexion with the company occupying the Blackfriars theatre, to which, as will be remembered, he was attached in 1589. How far the rising genius of Shakespeare, and his increased utility and importance, had contributed to the withdrawal of Peele, and to his junction with the rival association acting under the name of the Lord Admiral, it is impossible to determine. We have previously adverted to this point.
“ About three months since died M. Robert Greene, leaving many papers in sundry booksellers' bands : among others his Groatsworth of Wit, in which a letter, written to divers play-makers, is offensively by one or two of them taken ; and because on the dead they cannot be avenged, they wilfully forge in their conceits a living author, and after tossing it to and fro, no remedy but it must light on me. How I have, all the time of my conversing in printing, hindered the bitter inveighing against scholars, it hath been very well known; and how in that I dealt, I can sufficiently prove. With neither of them, that take offence, was I acquainted; and with one of them [Marlowe) I care not if I never be: the other [Shakespeare], whom at that time I did not so much spare, as since I wish I had, for that as I have moderated the heat of living writers, and might have used my own discretion (especially in such a case, the author being dead) that I did not I am as sorry as if the original fault had been my fault; because myself have seen his demeanour no less civil, than he excellent in the quality he professes : besides, divers of worship have reported his uprightness of dealing, which argues his honesty, and his facetious grace in writing, that approves his art. For the first [Marlowe) whose learning I reverence, and at the perusing of Greene's book struck out what then in conscience I thought he in some displeasure writ, or had it been true, yet to publish it was intolerable, him I would wish to use me no worse than I deserve."
The accusation of Greene against Marlowe had reference to the freedom of his religious opinions, of which it is not necessary here to say more: the attack upon Shakespeare we have already inserted, and observed upon. In Chettle's apology to the latter, one of the most noticeable points is the tribute he pays to our great dramatist's abilities as an actor, “his demeanour no less civil, than he excellent in the quality he professes :” the word " quality” was applied, at that date, peculiarly and technically to acting, and the “quality Shakespeare "professed" was that of an actor. “ His facetious grace in writing *” is separately adverted to, and admitted, while “his uprightness of dealing" is attested, not only by Chettle's own experience, but by the evidence of “divers of worship.” Thus the amends made to Shakespeare for the envious assault of Greene shows most decisively the high opinion entertained of him, towards the close of 1592, as an actor, an author, and a man'.
3 See p. 26] for some information upon this point.
4 There were not separate impressions of “Kind-heart's Dream " in 1592, but the only three copies known vary in some minute particulars : thus, with reference to these words, one impression, at Oxford, reads, “his fatious grace in writing,” and the other, correctly, as we have given it. “ Kind-heart's Dream” has been reprinted, by the Percy Society, from the third copy in the King's Library at the British Museum.
We have already inserted Spenser's warm, but not less judicious and well-merited, eulogium of Shakespeare in 1591, when in his “ Tears of the Muses” he addresses him as Willy, and designates him
" that same gentle spirit, from whose pen
Large streames of honnie and sweete nectar flowe." If we were to trust printed dates, it would seem that in the same year the author of “The Faerie Queene”
another proof of his admiration of our great dramatist : we allude to a passage in “Colin Clout's come home again,” which was published with a dedication dated 27th December, 1591 ; but Malone proved, beyond all cavil, that for 1591 we ought to read 1594, the printer having made an extraordinary blunder. In that poem (after the author has spoken of many living and dead poets, some by their names, as Alabaster and Daniel, and others by fictitious and fanciful appellations o) he inserts these lines :
5 More than ten years afterwards, Chettle paid another tribute to Shakespeare, under the name of Melicert, in his “ England's Mourning Garment:" the author is reproaching the leading poets of the day, Daniel, Warner, Chapman, Jonson, Drayton, Sackville, Dekker, &c., for not writing in honour of Queen Elizabeth, who was just dead: he thus addresses Shakespeare :
“ Nor doth the silver-tongued Melicert
Drop from his honied Muse one sable tear,
And to his lays open'd her royal ear.
And sing her Rape, done by that Tarquin death.” This passage is important, with reference to the royal encouragement given to Shakespeare, in consequence of the approbation of his plays at Court: Elizabeth had “ graced his desert,” and “open'd her royal ear” to “his lays.” Chettle did not long survive the publication of “England's Mourning Garment” in 1603: he was dead in 1607, as he is spoken of in Dekker's “ Knight's Conjuring,” of that year, (there is an impression also without date, and possibly a few months earlier) as a very corpulent ghost in the Elysian Fields. He had been, as we have said, originally a printer, then became a bookseller, and, finally, a pamphleteer and dramatist. He was, in various degrees, concerned in about forty plays.
6 Malone, with a good deal of research and patience, goes over all the pseudonomes in “ Colin Clout's come home again," applying each to poets of the time; but how uncertain and unsatisfactory any attempt of the kind must necessarily be may be illustrated in a single instance. Malone refers the following lines to Arthur Golding :
“ And there is old Palemon, free from spite,
Whose careful pipe may make the hearers rue ;
[The The passage, in truth, applies, not to Golding, but to Thomas Churchyard, as be himself informs us in his “ Pleasant Discourse of Court and Wars," 1596: he complains of neglect, and tells us that the Court is
“And there, though last not least, is Ætion ;
A gentler shepherd may no where be found,
Doth, like himself, heroically sound.” Malone took unnecessary pains to establish that this passage applies to Shakespeare, although he pertinaciously denied that “our pleasant Willy” of “The Tears of the Muses " was intended for him. We have no doubt on either point; and it is singular, that it should never have struck Malone that the same epithet is given in both cases to the person addressed, and that epithet one which, at a subsequent date, almost constantly accompanies the name of Shakespeare. In “The Tears of the Muses" he is called a “gentle spirit,' and in “ Colin Clout’s come home again” we are told that,
“ A gentler shepherd may no where be found.” In the same feeling Ben Jonson calls him “my gentle Shakespeare,” in the noble copy of verses prefixed to the folio of 1623, so that ere long the term became peculiarly appropriated to our great and amiable dramatist'. This coincidence of expression is another circumstance to establish that Spenser certainly had Shakespeare in his mind when he wrote his “Tears of the Muses” in 1591, as well as in his “Colin Clout's come home again" in 1594. In the later instance the whole description is nearly as appropriate as in the earlier, with the addition of a line, which has a clear and obvious reference to the patronymic of our poet: his Muse, says Spenser,
“ Doth, like himself, heroically sound.” These words alone may be taken to show, that between 1591 and 1594 Shakespeare had somewhat changed the character of his compositions : Spenser having applauded him, in his “ Tears of the Muses," for unrivalled talents in comedy, (a department of the drama to which Shakespeare had, perhaps, at that date especially, though not exclusively, devoted himself) in his “Colin Clout" spoke of the "high thought's invention,” which then filled Shakespeare's muse, and made her sound as “heroically” as his name. Of his genius, in a loftier strain of poetry than belonged to comedy, our great dramatist, by the year 1594, must have given some remarkable and undeniable proofs : in 1591 he had perhaps written his “Love's Labour's Lost” and “Two Gentlemen of Verona ;" but in 1594 he had, no doubt, produced one or more of his great historical plays, his “Richard II.” and “ Richard III.," both of which, as before remarked, together with “Romeo and Juliet," came from the press in 1597, though the last in a very mangled and imperfect state. One circumstance may
“ The platform where all poets thrive,
Save one whose voice is hoarse, they say;
As children in a pageant play.” In the same way we might show that Malone was mistaken as to other poets he supposes alluded to by Spenser ; but it would lead us too far out of our way. Nobody, we believe, has disputed, that by Ætion, the author of “ Colin Clout" meant Shakespeare.
7 In a passage we have already extracted (p. 62]) from Ben Jonson's “ Discoveries,” he mentions Shakespeare's “gentle expressions ;" but he is there,
perhaps, rather referring to his style of composition.
be mentioned, as leading to the belief that “Richard III.” was brought out in 1594, viz. that in that year an impression of “The True Tragedy of Richard the Third” (an older play than that of Shakespeare) was published, that it might be bought under the notion that it was the new drama by the most popular poet of the day, then in a course of representations. It is most probable that “Richard II.” had been composed before “Richard III.," and to either or both of them the lines,
“Whose Muse, full of high thought's invention,
Doth, like himself, heroically sound," will abundantly apply. The difference in the character of Spenser's tributes to Shakespeare in 1591 and 1594 was occasioned by the obvious difference in the character of his productions.
8 In our Introduction to “ Richard III.” (Vol. iv. p. 223), we have accidentally omitted to notice this circumstance, which certainly gives some support to Malone's opinion that it was written in 1593. Having been composed in 1593, it would be acted in 1594, and in that year “ The True Tragedy of Richard the Third ” bears date, having been published to take advantage of the temporary interest excited by the success of Shakespeare's historical drama, taken from the same period of our annals.