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Although we do not believe that Shakespeare ever was in Italy, we admit that we are without evidence to prove a negative; and he may have gone there without having left behind him any distinct record of the fact. At the date to which we are now adverting he might certainly have had a convenient opportunity for doing so, in consequence of the temporary prohibition of dramatic performances in London.
Death of Robert Greene in 1592, and publication of his “Groatsworth of Wit,"
by H. Chettle. Greene's address to Marlowe, Lodge, and Peele, and his envious mention of Shakespeare. Shakespeare's offence at Chettle, and the apology of the latter in his “ Kind-heart's Dream.” The character of Shakespeare there given. Second allusion by Spenser to Shakespeare in “ Colin Clout's come home again,” 1594. The “gentle Shakespeare.” Change in the character of his compositions between 1591 and 1594 : his “ Richard II." and “ Richard III.”
DURING the prevalence of the infectious malady of 1592, although not in consequence of it, died one of the most notorious and distinguished of the literary men of the time,—Robert Greene. He expired on the 3d of September, 1592, and left behind him a work purporting to have been written during his last illness : it was published a few months afterwards by Henry Chettle, a fellow dramatist, under the title of “A Groatsworth of Wit, bought with a Million of Repentance,” bearing the date of 1592, and preceded by an address from Greene “ To those Gentlemen, his quondam acquaintance, who spend their wits in making Plays.” Here we meet with the second notice of Shakespeare, not indeed by name, but with such a near approach to it, that nobody can entertain a moment's doubt that he was intended. It is necessary to quote the whole passage, and to observe, before we do so, that Greene is addressing himself particularly to Marlowe, Lodge, and Peele, and urging them to break
off all connexion with players':-“Base minded men all three of you, if by my misery ye be not warned; for unto none of you, like me, sought those burs to cleave; those puppets, I mean, that speak from our mouths, those anticks garnished in our colours. Is it not strange that I, to whom they all have been beholding; is it not like that you, to whom they have all been beholding, shall (were ye in that case that I am now) be both of them at once forsaken? Yes, trust them not ; for there is an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tiger's heart wrapp'd in a player's hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank-verse, as the best of you: and, being an absolute Johannes Fac-totum, is, in his own conceit, the only Shake-scene in a country. O! that I might entreat your rare wits to be employed in more profitable courses, and let these apes imitate your past excellence, and never more acquaint them with your admired inventions."
The chief and obvious purpose of this address is to induce Marlowe, Lodge, and Peele to cease to write for the stage; and, in the course of his exhortation, Greene bitterly inveighs against “ an upstart crow,” who had availed himself of the dramatic labours of others, who imagined himself able to write as good blank-verse as any of his contemporaries, who was a Johannes Fac-totum, and who, in his own opinion, was “the only SHAKE-SCENE in a country.” All this is clearly levelled at Shakespeare, under the purposelyperverted name of Shake-scene, and the words, “ Tiger's heart wrapp'd in a player's hide,” are a parody upon a
i We have some doubts of the authenticity of the “Groatsworth of Wit," as a work by Greene. Chettle was a needy dramatist, and possibly wrote it in order to avail himself of the high popularity of Greene, then just dead. Falling into some discredit, in consequence of the publication of it, Chettle reasserted that it was by Greene, but he admitted that the manuscript from which it was printed was in his own hand-writing: this circumstance he explained by stating that Greene's copy was so illegible that he was obliged to transcribe it: “it was ill written,” says Chettle, “as Greene's hand was none of the best ;” and therefore he re-wrote it.
line in a historical play, (most likely by Greene) “O, tiger's heart wrapp'd in a woman's hide,” from which Shakespeare had taken his “Henry VI.” part iii.?
From hence it is evident that Shakespeare, near the end of 1592, bad 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 Factotum 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 3 : 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 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 there is no doubt, for we are told so by Chettle himself, the avowed editor of the “Groatsworth of Wit:” he does not indeed mention Shakespeare, but he designates bim 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.
? See this point more fully illustrated in the Introduction to “Henry VI.” part iji. Vol. v. p. 225, &c.
3 At this date Peele had relinquished his connection 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.
His apology to Shakespeare is contained in a tract called “ Kind-heart's Dream,” which was published without date, but as Greene expired on 3d Sept. 1592, and 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.
“ About three months since died M. Robert Greene, leaving many papers in sundry booksellers' hands : 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 qnality 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 5” 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 mano.
We have already inserted Spenser's warm, but not
4 See p. xliv. note 6, for some information upon this point.
5 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 re-printed, by the Percy Society, from the third copy in the King's Library at the British Museum.
6 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."