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A Midummer Night's Dreom, 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-shearing, and the dream, from which the former receives its name, happening on the night preceding May-day. — These titles, therefore, were probably suggested by the season at which the plays were exhibited, to which they belong;
A Midsummer Nighi's Dream having, we may presume, been first represented in June, and The Winter's Tale in December.
Perhaps, then, it may not be thought a very improbable conjecture, that this comedy was written in the summer of 1612, and produced on the stage in the latter end of that ycar; and that the author availed himself of a circumitance then fresh in the minds of his audience, by affixing a title to it, which was more likely to excite curiosity than any other that he could have chosen, while at the fune time it was sufficiently justified by the subject of the drama.
Mr. Stecvens, in his observations on this play, has quoted from the tragedy of Darius by the earl of Sterline, first · printed in 1603, some lines y so strongly resembling a cele
NOI E S. * Perhaps it was formerly an citablished cuitoin to have plays represented at court in the Christmas holydays, and particularly on Twelfth Night. Two of Lilly's comedies (Alexander and Camtalpe, 1991-and M; das, 1592) are said in their title pages, to have been played befvore the quccnes majefiie on Twelfe-day at night; and several of Ben Jonson’s masques were presented at Vi hitehall, on the same feitival. Our author's Love's Labour Lofi was exhibited before queen Elizabeth in the Christmas holydays; and his King Lear was acted before king James on Se. Stephen's night; (the night after Christmas-day.) y “Let greatnefs of her glatly scepters vaunt,
Notícepters, no but reeds, soon bruis'd, soon broken,
All fades, and fiarcely leaves behind a token.
With furniture superfluously fair,
Darius, Act III. Ed. 1603.
"__ These brated passage in the Tempefl, 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 masque in the fifth act of this comedy was intended by the poet as a compliment to the earl of Essex, on his being united in wedlock, in 1611, to lady Frances Howard, to whom he had been contracted some years before b. 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 Mfl. 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 eiector, in the beginning of the year 1613.
The names of Trinculo and Antonio, two of the characters in this comedy, are likewise found in that of Albumazar; which was first printed in 1614, but is supposed by Dryden to have appeared some years before.
43. Twelfth Night, 1614. It has been generally believed, that Shakspeare retired from the theatre, and ceased to write, about three years
66 These our actors,
Leave not a rack behind.” Tempejt, AE IV. Sc. i. Whether we suppose 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.” 2 See a note on Julius Cæfar, A& I. Sc. i.
a Observations on the Tempest, p. 67. Mr. Holt imagined, that lord Eflex 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; so that he did not cohabit with his wife till Ibin.
[ Y 42
before he died. The latter supposition 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 allusion', which it seems to contain, to those parliamentary undertakers, of whom frequent mention is made in the Journals of the House of Commons for that year d; who were ftigmatized with this invidious name, on account of their having undertaken to manage the elections of knights and burgesses in such a manner as to secure a majority in parliament for the court. If this allusion was intended, Twelfth Night, was probably our author's last production; and, we may presume, was written after he had retired to Stratford. It is obfervable that Mr. Afhlcy, a member of the House of Commons, in one of the debates on this subject, fays, " that the rumour concerning these undertakers had spread into the country."
When Shakspeare quitted London and his profeflion, for the tranquillity of a rural retirement, it is improbable that such an excursive genius should have been immediately reconciled to a state of mental inactivity. It is more natural to conceive, that he should have occasionally bent his thoughts towards the theatre, which his muse had supported, and the interest of his associates whom he had left behind him to struggle with the capricious viciffitudes of publick taste, and whom, his last Will shews us, he had not forgotten. To the necessity, therefore, of literary amusement to every cultivated mind, or to the dictates of friendship, or to both these incentives, we are perhaps indebted for the comedy of Twelfth Night; which bears evident inarks of having been composed at leifuré, as most of the characters that it contains, are finished to a higher degree of dramatick perfection, than is discoverable in some of our author's earlier comick performances.
In the third act of this comedy, Decker's Westward Hoe seems to be alluded to. Westward Hoe was printed in 1607,
NOT E S. «« Nay, if you be an undertaker I am for you.”. See Twelfth Night, Adt IV. Sc. iii. and the note there.
• Comm. Journ. Vol. 1. p. 456, 457, 470.
. The comedies particularly alluded to, are, Love's Labour Lolt, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and The Comedy af Errors,
and from the prologue to Eastward Hoe appears to have been acted in 1604, or before.
Maria, in Twelfth Night, speaking of Malvolio, says, “ he does smile 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 spoken of as a recent publication, it may, when disa covered, ferve to ascertain the date of this play more exactly.
The comedy of What you IVill, (the second title of the play now before us) which was entered at Stationers' hall, Aug. 9, 1607, was probably Marston's play, as it was printed in that year; and it appears to have been the general practice of the booksellers at that time, recently before public cation, to enter those 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 Jonson intended to ridicule the conduct of this play, in his Every Man out of bis Humour, at the end of Axt III. Sc. vi. where he makes Mia tis say," That the argument of his comedy might have been of some other nature, as of a duke to be in love with a counters, and that countess to be in love with the duke's son, and the son in love with the lady's waiting maid : fome such cross wooing, with a clown to their serving man, better than be thus near and familiarly allied to the time.
I doubt, however, whether Jonson had here Twelfth Night in contemplation. If an allusion to this comedy, were intended, it would ascertain 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 reason to believe that it then existed. I know not whether this passage 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 Jonson's
" A comical satyre 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 suppose, then published, for several passages of it are found in a miscellaneous collection of poetry, entitled England's Parnasus, printed in that year.
16; in which cShakspeare, str." It is
works, printed in 1616; in which case, though it should be admitted to have been a sneer at Shakspeare, it would not affect the date now attributed to Twelfth Night. It is certain that Jonson made alterations in some of his pieces, when he collected and reprinted them. Every Man in his Humour, in particular, underwent an entire reform; all the persons 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 scene originally was laid.
If the dates here afligned to our author's plays should not, in every instance, bring with them conviction of their propriety, let it be remembered, that this is a subject on which conviction cannot at this day be obtained: and that the observations now submitted to the publick, do not pretend to any higher title than that of “AN ATTEMPT to ascertain the chronology of the dramas of Shakspeare.”
Should the errors and deficiencies of this essay invite others to decper and more successful researches, the end proposed by it will be attained ; and he who offers the present arrangement of Shakspeare's dramas, will be happy to transfer the slender portion of credit that may result from the novelty of his undertaking, to fome future claimant, who may be supplied with ampler materials, and endued with a superior degree of antiquarian sagacity.
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 uninteresting; who will be gratified by observing, how the genius of our great poet gradually expanded itself, till, like his own Ariel, it flamed amazement in every quarter, blazing forth with a Lustre, that has not hitherto been equalled, and perhaps will never be surpassed.