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November, 1604, he would have taken with him DRAKE also, and probably all others who prosess to detect sharp practice between the lines of Simon Stafford's title-page; but, as I said when speaking of the entry of Stafford's book in the Stationers' Registers, these arguments, founded on a printer's chance phrase, are to me only 'gracious fooling.' Simon Stafford, in all likelihood, tells the truth when he says his King Leir was • latelie acted.' I dare say it was a popular play; it is quite a good speci. men of the third-rate class of comedies, and its success was sufficiently marked to suggest to Shakespeare a tragedy on the same subject. And as to Stafford's calling it a tragedy, I really think that he was to a certain extent justified in retaining the impression which the whole drist of the play except the last two or three scenes left upon his mind. If the spectacle of a respectable elderly king, reduced to such an extremity of hunger as to induce his faithful attendant to offer him his bare and living arm as an article of diet, be not tragic, it is difficult to say what tragedy is. Moreover, Dryden in his Preface to The Spanish Friar speaks of a • Tragedy eniling happily.' The half-title of Tate's version of this very play reads, • The tragedy of King Lear,' and we all know that the declared purpose of that version was to turn it into a comedy; and when we find even CAMPBELL, the poet, in his Remarks on this play, speaking of this same King Leir as 'a tragedy,' I think we ought not to be too severe on an Elizabethan printer for applying to it the same title. In these days, when Henry VIII, Nero, and Judas Iscariot find vindicators, I really think a faint murmur might be raised for humble Simon Stafford.
As I have said, CHALMERS (Supplemental Apology, p. 413) concurs generally with Malone in the belief that Lear was written early in 1605, but he thinks Malone is mistaken in some of his premises. For instance, he says that the argument, derived from the change of English to · British,' that the play was written after October, 1604, is not absolutely conclusive, for the fact is that there was issued from Greenwich a royal proclamation, on the 13th of May, 1603, declaring that, until a com*plete union, the king held, and esteemed, the two realms, as presently united, and as one kingdom; and the two poets, Daniel, and Drayton, who wrote gratulatory verses on his accession, spoke of the two kingdoms as united, thereby, into one realm, by
the name of Britain; and, of the inhabitants of England and Scotland, as one people, by the denomination of British. Before King James arrived at London,
Daniel offered tс him: “A Panegyrike Congratulatory, delivered to the King's most excellent Majesty at Burleigh-Harrington in Rutlandshire,' which was printed in 1603, for Blount, with a Defence of Rhime:
* Lo here the glory of a greater day
No Scot, no English now, nor no debate.' • This very rare publication of Daniel confutes, by the fact, the Commentator's reasoning, from the proclamation ; for we see how a poet did write before any procla*mation issued upon the point.'
DRAKE (Shakespeare and his Times, ii, 457) thinks it more probable that its production is to be attributed to the close of 1604,' for three reasons: First, if the change from English to British were made out of compliment to the king, the compliment would be all the greater if the change were made between the declaratory proclamation of May, 1603, and the definitive proclamation of October, 1604. Secondly, the
old play of King Leir was entered on the Stationers' books on the 8th of May, 1605, as it was lately acted.' Now, as the publisher hoped to impose on the public this old tragedy for Shakespeare's successful drama, it was evidently intended that the word lately' should be referred by the reader to Shakespeare's play; hence, it follows that Lear had been acted some months before, and was not then actually performing. This inference harmonises with the supposition that Lear was written about the end of 1604, but does not agree with Malone's thcory that it appeared in April, 1605. Thirdly, 'Cymbeline is assigned to 1605, and, in consequence of the removal of The Winter's Tale to 1613,' the year 1604 is left vacant for the admission of Lear.
KNIGHT observes that · Malone and Drake are at issue on a question of merely three months, when the facts, which we really have, give us a range of three years. It is sufficient,' adds Knight, for us to be confirmed in the belief, derived from internal "evidence, that Lear was produced at that period when the genius of Shakespeare • was “at its very point of culmination.” He also points out that the Folio has • English' in IV, vi, 249 (see his note ad loc.), despite the fact that the Quartos changed it to British, not only here, but in Edgar's · Fee, fa, fum.'
Mr Wright thinks it well not to lay too much stress upon the change from * English' of the Folio to British of the Quarto, and to infer therefrom that the line in the Folio was written before the royal proclamation in October, 1604, and corrected before the Quartos were printed in 1608. “It is as likely,' says the Editor of the Clarendon Edition, that Shakespeare, writing not long aster 1604, while the change was still fresh, and before the word • British' had become familiar in men's mouths, may have inadvertently written • English,' and subsequently changed it to · British.”'
The Third item of indirect internal evidence is thus set forth by Mr Aldis WRIGHT: • We are helped forward another step in determining the date by a passage in Gloucester's speech (1, ii, 98, et seq.): • These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend "no good to us.' By those who observed the signs in the air and sky the great • eclipse of the sun, which took place in October, 1605, had been looked forward to 'with apprehension as the precursor of evil, especially as it was preceded by an 'eclipse of the moon within the space of a month. In arguing against such appre"hensions, John Harvey, of King's Lynn, who reasoned with the wisdom of nature,' in his book called A Discoursive Probleme Concerning Prophesies, printed in 1588, * wrote as follows (p. 119) :
• “Moreouer, the like concourse of two Eclipses in one, and the same month, shal “ hereafter more euidently in shew, and more effectually in deed, appeere, Anno “ 1590. the 7. and 21. daies of luly: and Anno 1598. the 11. and 25. daies of Feb. “ruary; and Anno 1601. the 29. day of Nouember, and 14. of December : but espe
cially, and most notably Anno 1605. the second day of October, when the sunne “shall be obscured aboue 11. digits, and darknes appeere euen at midday, the Moone " at the very next full immediately preceding hauing likewise beene Eclipsed. Wher“fore as two Eclipses in the space of one month, are no great strange nouities, so if “either they, or an huge fearefull Eclipse of the Sunne were to iustifie or confirme “this oracle: the author thereof should haue staied his wisedome vntill after the “ foresaid yeere of Christ, 1605. when so rare a spectacle shall be seene, or the yeeres “ 1606. 1607. or 1608. immediately following, when so mightie an Eclipse shall so “perlously rage."
• Reading this in connection with the speech of Gloucester, which has been re'ferred to, and with what Edmund, the sceptic of the time, subsequently (I, ii, 120, • 124, 125) says, 'O, these eclipses portend these divisions,' and, 'I am thinking, “ brother, of a prediction I read this other day, what should follow these eclipses,' it can scarcely be doubted that Shakespeare had in his mind the great eclipse, and that Lear was written while the recollection of it was still fresh, and while the ephemeral literature of the day abounded with pamphlets foreboding the conse*quences that were to follow. If we imagine further that, in Gloucester's words, " machinations, hollowness, treachery, and all ruinous disorders follow us disquietly "to our graves,' there is a reference to the Gunpowder Plot of Nov. 5, 1605, we
have another approximation to the date. But, without insisting too much upon this, it is, I think, highly probable that Shakespeare did not begin to write King Lear 'till towards the end of the year 1605, and that his attention may have been directed 'to the story as a subject for tragedy by the revival of the older play above men* tioned, which was published in the same year.
• Having now reduced the period of composition to the narrow limits between the end of 1605 and Christmas, 1606, any attempt to assign the date more exactly must be purely conjectural and derived from internal evidence. It would be difficult to
fix the precise season to which the storm in the third Act is appropriate. Various indications in the previous Act seem to point to the winter; such as the Fool's •speech (II, iv, 45), 'Winter's not gone yet, if the wild geese fly that way,' though of course this had also another meaning. Again, the signs of the gathering storm are wintry, “the bleak winds do sorely ruffle,' 'tis a wild night'; but Lear's apostrophe is addressed to a violent summer tempest, and so Kent describes it. And in * accordance with this all the colouring of the fourth Act is of the summer. Lear is seen
Crown'd with rank fumiter and furrow-weeds,
"Search every acre in the high-grown field,' points to July, and we must not insist
too much upon strict botanical accuracy, for this would be late for cuckoo-flowers, as • well as for the samphire-gathering in a subsequent scene, which generally takes place in May. Perhaps Shakespeare began the play in the winter of 1605, and finished it in the summer of 1606, while the fields were still covered with the unharvested corn, and the great storm of March was still fresh in his recollection.'
Mr MOBERLY thinks that the play must have been written in 1605-6, ' in the midst of the stirring events connected with the Gunpowder Plot; and the absence of
allusion to them is a striking instance of the way in which Shakespeare's mind, like that of Goethe in after-time, could keep aloof from subjects of absorbing public interest, and live simply among its own creations.
DYCE adopts Malone's view (which, however, he erroneously attributes to STEEVENS), that its date is March or April, 1605.
Dr Delius thinks that it must have been written in 1604 or 1605, in Shakespeare's fortieth or forty-first year.
Mr Fleay (Shakespeare Manual, p. 47) says that it was probably produced early in 1605, as the old play was then reprinted, and entered on the eighth of May as ' lately acted' in order to deceive the public.
I think we must remain content with the term of three years; no date more precise than this will probably ever gain general acceptance. I am afraid we are considering too curiously in attempting to ascertain the precise year or time of the year. To suppose that when Shakespeare alludes to winter there must be actually icicles hanging by the wall, or that when he mentions flowers the meadows must be painted with delight before his very eyes, is to put a narrow limitation to his imagination. His allusions to contemporary events are not always so defined as to be at once manifest to close students or accomplished scholars. As we have seen, one editor discovers in this play a possible allusion to the Gunpowder Plot, while another discerns none. To a certain extent this same vagueness holds true in regard to eclipses and other natural phenomena. I cannot but think we deal unworthily with Shake. speare's genius when we suppose that he needed, or that he himself felt that he needed, to resort to such allusions in order to produce dramatic effects. While we all agree in believing that he throws around his dramas the atmosphere of the times in which the scenes are laid, it can scarcely be but that his auditors, and assuredly Shakespeare himself, would have felt the jar that an allusion to an event of yester. day would have instantly occasioned. At the same time, so truly did Shakespeare write for the hour then present that it is presumptuous to say what he would not do for that hour's success. There are instances, undoubtedly, in his plays where he alludes to recent local events; but I do not think the number as large as is generally supposed.
Since the foregoing was written the article by Mr Fleay appeared, from which extracts were made at the close of the preceding article on The Text. Mr. Fleay is so eminent in all that pertains to metrical tests, and has devoted so much learning to the discovery of the dates of these plays, that it is with reluctance that I acknowledge my inability to follow him to his exact conclusion. As will be seen, he follows the popular tide in reading fraud in Simon Stafford's entry on the Stationers' Registers. The following extract from Mr Fleay's article bears upon the present subject :
• The date had long since been determined by Malone, as between October, 1604, and the 8th of May, 1605, on satisfactory grounds; but Mr Aldis Wright has shifted
it forward to the summer of 1606, in the plausible introduction to his edition of the "play. Now, the whole theory of metrical tests depends on the date of this play. "Shakespeare wrote Pericles (or his share of it), in 1606; and Pericles is as certainly in his fourth manner as Lear is in his third; if the periods overlap my theories are 'worthless; and Lear and Pericles written within a few months would bring them dangerously near. Hence I have examined this question with special minuteness, •and, I am glad to add, have been rewarded by a positive result. The play was ' written before May 8, 1605. For the old play of Leir (written for the Queen's *men, circa 1588, played by the Queen's and Sussex’s men at the Rose, 1593, April "6; entered for E. White, 1594, May 14; entered for S. Stafford, and printed by him • for J. Wright, to whom he assigned it, 1605, May 8) was put on the Stationers' • books as The TragiCAL HISTORY of King Leir and his three daughters, &c., AS "IT WAS LATELY ACTED. Now Mr Aldis Wright himself noticed that no writer * (historical or theatrical) had given a tragic ending to this story till Shakespeare * made his play; 'Cordelia's fate and character are all his own,' says he. Hence the
old • Chronicle History' could not have been described as • Tragical in 1605 had 'not a tragedy on the subject been lately acted,' nor could the tragedy have been any other than Shakespeare's. Hence Malone was right in his date and in his in"ference that Stafford (who had to do with the surreptitious editions of Pericles and · Edward III) wished to pass the old play off as Shakespeare's. Wright, however, had not the impudence to put Stafford's • Tragical History' on his title-page, though • he kept the lately acted,' which was probably, as far as the older play is concerned, * not true. Accordingly, when the real tragedy' was issued in 1608, Butter marks “his edition as the genuine • Dirty Dick,' by putting . Chronicle History' on its fore"head; only in the Folio does the real name of • Tragedy' appear. The date, then, is early in 1605.'
Again the wheel has come full circle'; the same is true of Wright and FLEAY as of Malone and CHALMERS: they differ only by a few months. Wright supposes that Shakespeare began the play, and Fleay that he ended it, in 1605.
For me it is sufficient that we have the play; and all these discussions as to the time when it was written, even if they could give us the very day of the week and the very hour of the day, would still remain among the extrinsic facts which, it seems fated, are to be all that we shall ever learn about Shakespeare. While I am reading such delightful books as Shakspere, His Mind and Art, I yield to the glamour and confess the charm; and, kindled by the enthusiasm of the Director of the New Shakspere Society, and of his fellow-workers, I am persuaded that naught's had, all's spent, when our researches are not devoted to the discovery of the order of the plays; but I turn to the plays themselves, and, lost in their grandeur and their beauties, find that I am indifferent as to when they were written, where they were written, or even by whom they were written. Standards for measuring them we have none; they stand by themselves, written by no mortal hand. Well is it for him, and for us, that the man Shakespeare has faded, and left not a wrack behind. No outward lise could rise to the grandeur of these plays.
Shall we ever outgrow the wisdom of LESSING? In one of his Hamburg criticisms, speaking of the pitiful spectacle made by Voltaire when suffering himself to be shown to the theatre after the performance of one of his plays, Lessing says: • I know not which strikes me as the more pitiful, the childish curiosity of the public,
or the conceited complaisance of the poet. How then do people think a poet looks ? • Not like other men? And how weak must be the impression which the work has * made when, in the same moment, the only curiosity is to hold up the figure of the * master alongside of it! The true masterpiece, it seems to me, fills us so wholly • with itself that we forget the author, and look upon it, not as the production of an individual, but of universal nature. ... I suppose the true reason why we know so • little that is certain about the person and life of Homer is the excellence of his * poems. We stand full of astonishment by the broad, rushing river, without thinking of its source in the mountains. We care not to know, we find our account in for*getting, that Homer, the schoolmaster in Smyrna, the blind beggar, is the very • Homer who so enraptures us in his works. He leads us into the presence of the 'gods and heroes; the company must be very tedious, we must be greatly ennuied " by it, if we are so very curious to know all about the doorkeeper who let us in. • The illusion must be very weak, one must be little natural, but all the more sophis. *ticated, when one is so anxious about the artist.'