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initials of Robert Greene, or by extraneous testimony ascertained to be his, were “ Orlando Furioso,” (founded upon the poems of Boiardo and Ariosto) first printed in 1594"; "Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay,” also first printed in 1594, and taken from a popular story-book of the time; “Alphonsus King of Arragon,” 1599, for which we know of no original; and “James the Fourth” of Scotland, 1598, partly borrowed from history, and partly mere invention. Greene also joined with Thomas Lodge in writing a species of moral-miracle-play, (partaking of the nature of both) under the title of “A Looking-Glass for London and England,” 1594, derived from sacred history; and to him has also been imputed “George a Greene, the Pinner of Wakefield,” and “ The Contention between · Liberality and Prodigality,” the one printed in 1599, and the other in 1602. It may be seriously doubted whether he had any hand in the two last, but the productions above-named deserve attention, as works written at an early date for the gratification of popular audiences.
In the passage already referred to from the “Groatsworth of Wit,” 1592, Greene also objects to Shakespeare on the ground that he thought himself “ as well able to bombast out a blank-verse" as the best of his contemporaries. The fact is, that in this respect, as in all others, Greene was much inferior to Marlowe, and still less can his lines bear comparison with those of Shakespeare. He doubtless began to write for the stage in rhyme, and his blank-verse preserves nearly all the defects of that early form : it reads heavily
5 In “The History of English Dramatic Poetry and the Stage,” vol. iii. p. 155, it is observed of “ Orlando Furioso:"_“ How far this play was printed according to the author's copy we have no means of deciding ; but it has evidently come down to us in a very imperfect state.” Means of determining the point beyond dispute have since been discovered in a manuscript of the part of Orlando (as written out for Edward Alleyn by the copyist of the theatre) preserved at Dulwich College. Hence it is clear that much was omitted and corrupted in the two printed editions of 1594 and 1599. See the “ Memoirs of Edward Alleyn,” p. 198.
and monotonously, without variety of pause and inflection, and almost the only difference between it and rhyme is the absence of corresponding sounds at the ends of the lines.
The same defects, and in quite as striking a degree, belong to another of the dramatists who is entitled to be considered a predecessor of Shakespeare, and whose name has been before introduced - Thomas Lodge. Only one play in which he was unassisted has descended to us, and it bears the title of “ The Wounds of Civil War, lively set forth in the True Tragedies of Marius and Sylla.”
It was not printed until 1594, but the author began to write as early as 1580, and we may safely consider his tragedy anterior to the original works of Shakespeare: it was probably written about 1587 or 1588, as a not very successful experiment in blank-verse, in imitation of that style which Marlowe had at once rendered popular.
As regards the dates when his pieces came from the press, John Lyly is entitled to earlier notice than Greene, Lodge, or even Marlowe; and it is possible, as he was ten years older than Shakespeare, that he was a writer before any of them : it does not seem, however, that his dramas were intended for the public stage, but for court-shows or private entertainments. His “Alexander and Campaspe,” the best of his productions, was represented at Court, and it was twice printed, in 1584, and again in 1591: it is, like most of this author's productions, in prose; but his “ Woman in the Moon” (printed in 1597) is in blank-verse, and the “Maid's Metamorphosis,” 1600, (if indeed it be by him) is in rhyme. As none of these dramas, generally composed in a refined, affected, and artificial style, can be said to
They were acted by the children of the el, or by the children of St. Paul's, and a few of them bear evidence on the title-pages that they were presented at a private theatre-none of them that they had been played upon public stages before popular audiences,
have had any material influence upon stage-entertainments before miscellaneous audiences in London, it is unnecessary for our present purpose to say more regarding them.
George Peele was about the same age as Lyly?; but his theatrical productions (with the exception of “The Arraignment of Paris,” printed in 1584, and written for the court) are of a different description, having been intended for exhibition at the ordinary theatres.
His “ Edward the First” he calls a “ famous chronicle," and most of the incidents are derived from history: it is, in fact, one of our earliest plays founded upon English annals. It was printed in 1593 and in 1599, but with so many imperfections, that we cannot accept it as any fair representation of the state in which it came from the author's pen. The most remarkable feature belonging to it is the unworthy manner in which Peele sacrificed the character of the Queen to his desire to gratify the popular antipathy to the Spaniards: the opening of it is spirited, and affords evidence of the author's skill as a writer of blank
His “ Battle of Alcazar” may also be termed a historical drama, in which he allowed himself the most extravagant licence as to time, incidents, and characters. It perhaps preceded his “Edward the First” in point of date, (though not printed until 1594) and the principal event it refers to occurred in 1578. “Sir Clyomon and Clamydes” is merely a romance, in the old form of a rhyming play8; and “David and Bethsabe,” a scriptural drama, and a great improvement upon older pieces of the same description: Peele here confined himself strictly to the incidents in Holy Writ, and it certainly contains the best specimens of his blank-verse composition. His “ Old Wives' Tale,” in the shape in which it has reached us, seems hardly deserving of criticism, and it would have received little notice but for some remote, and perhaps accidental, resemblance between its story and that of Milton's Comus."
7 He is supposed to have been born about the year 1553. He was probably son to Stephen Peele, who was a bookseller and a writer of ballads. Stephen Peele was the publisher of Bishop Bale's miracle-play of “ God's Promises," in 1577, and his name is subscribed, as author, to two ballads printed by the Percy Society in the earliest production from their press. The connexion between Stephen and George Peele has never struck any of the biographers of the latter, Stephen Peele was most likely the author of a pageant on the mayoralty of Sir W. Draper, in 1566-7, of which an account is given by Mr. Fairholt, in his work upon “ Lord Mayors' Pageants,” printed for the Percy Society : he erroneously supposed it to have been the work of George Peele, who could not then have been more than fourteen years old, even if we carry back the date of his birth to 1553. George Peele was dead in 1598.
The “ Jeronimo" of Thomas Kyd is to be looked upon as a species of transition play: the date of its composition, on the testimony of Ben Jonson, may be stated to be prior to 1588', just after Marlowe had produced bis “Tamburlaine,” and when Kyd hesitated to follow his bold step to the full extent of his progress. “Jeronimo" is therefore partly in blank-verse, and partly in rhyme: the same observation will apply, though not in the same degree, to Kyd's “ Spanish Tragedy:" it is in truth a second part of “ Jeronimo,” the story being continued from one play to the other, and managed with considerable dexterity. The interest in the latter is great, and generally well sustained, and some of the characters are drawn with no little art and force. The success of “ Jeronimo,” doubtless, induced Kyd to write the second part of it immediately; and we need not hesitate in concluding that “The Spanish Tragedy” had been acted before 1590.
& It may be doubted whether Peele wrote any part of this production : it was printed anonymously in 1599, and all the evidence of authorship is the existence of a copy with the name of Peele, in an old hand, upon the title-page. If he wrote it at all, it was doubtless a very early composition, and it belongs precisely to the class of romantic plays ridiculed by Stephen Gosson about 1580.
9 See Milton's Minor Poems, by T. Warton, p. 135, edit. 1791. Of this resemblance, Warton, who first pointed it out, remarks, “ That Milton had an eye on this ancient drama, which might have been a favourite in his early youth, perhaps it may be affirmed with at least as much credibility, as that he conceived the Paradise Lost from seeing a mystery at Florence, written by Adreini, a Florentine, in 1617, entitled Adamo.” The fact may have been, that Peele and Milton resorted to the same original, now lost : “ The Old Wives' Tale" reads exactly as if it were founded upon some popular story-book.
1 In the Induction to his “Cynthia's Revels," acted in 1600, where he is speaking of the revival of plays, and among others of “ the old Jeronimo," which, he adds, had "departed a dozen years since.”
Besides Marlowe, Greene, Lodge, Lyly, Peele, and Kyd, there were other dramatists, who may be looked upon as the immediate predecessors of Shakespeare, but few of whose printed works are of an earlier date, as regards composition, than some of those which came from the pen of our great poet. Among these, Thomas Nash was the most distinguished, whose contribution to “ Dido,” in conjunction with Marlowe, has been before noticed: the portions which came from the pen of Marlowe are, we think, easily to be distinguished from those written by Nash, whose genius does not seem to have been of an imaginative or dramatic, but of a satirical and objurgatory character. He produced alone a piece called “Summer's Last Will and Testament,” which was written in the autumn of 1592, but not printed until 1600 : it bears internal evidence that it was exhibited as a private show, and it could never have been meant for public performance?. Henry Chettle, who was also senior to Shakespeare, has left behind him a tragedy called “ Iloffman,” which was not printed until 1630; and he was engaged with Anthony Munday in producing “The Death of Robert Earl of Huntington,” printed in 1601. From Henslowe's Diary we learn that both these pieces were written subsequent to the date when Shakespeare had acquired a high reputation. Munday had been a dra
? It can be shown to have been represented at Croydon, no doubt at Beddington, the residence of the Carews, under whose patronage Nash acknowledges himself to have been living. See the dedication to his “ Terrors of the Night,” 4to, 1594. The date of the death of Nash, who probably took a part in the representation of his “Summer's Last Will and Testament," has been disputed,—whether it was before or after 1601; but the production of a cenotaph upon him, from Fitz-geoffrey's Affaniæ, printed in 1601, must put an end to all doubt. See the Introduction to Nash's " Pierce Pennyless,” 1592, as reprinted for the Shakespeare Society.