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be classed among his best and maturest works.Steerens admits at last, in some degree, that they are Shakspeare's, as well as the others, excepting Locrine, but he speaks of all of them with great contempt, as quite worthless productions. This condemnatory sentence is not however in the slightest degree convincing, nor is it supported by critical acu.
I should like to see how such a critick would, of his own natural suggestion, have decided on Shakspeare's acknowledged masterpieces, and what he would have thought of praising in them, had the publick opinion not imposed on him the duty of admiration. Thomas, Lord Cromwell, and Sir John Oldcastle, are biographical dramas, and models in this species: the first is linked, from its subject, to Henry the Eighth, and the second to Henry the Fifth. The second part of Oldcastle is wanting ; I know not whether a copy of the old edition has been discovered in England, or whether it is lost. The Yorkshire Tragedy is a tragedy in one act, a dramatised tale of murder : the tragical effect is overpowering, and it is extremely important to see how poetically Shakspeare could handle such a subject.
6. There have been still farther ascribed to him :1st. The Merry Devil of Edmonton, a comedy in one act, printed in Dodsley's old plays. This has Certainly some appearances in its favour. It contains a merry landlord, who bears a great similarity to the one in the Merry Wives of Windsor. However, at all events, though an ingenious, it is but a hasty sketch. 2d. The Accusation of Paris. 3d.
The Birth of Merlin. 4th. Edward the Third. 5th.. The Fair Emma. 6th. Mucedorus. 7th. Arden of Feversham. I have never seen any of these, and cannot therefore say any thing respecting them. From the passages cited, I am led to conjecture that the subject of Mucedorus is the popular story of VaJentine and Orson ; a beautiful subject, which Lope de Vega has also taken for a play. Arden of Feversham is said to be a tragedy on the story of a man, from whom the poet was descended by the mother's side. If the quality of the piece is not too directly at variance with this claim, the circumstance would afford an additional probability in its favour. For such motives were not foreign to Shakspeare: he treated Henry the Seventh, who bestowed lands on his forefathers for services performed by them, with a visible partiality.
“ Whoever takes from Shakspeare a play early ascribed to him, and confessedly belonging to his time, is unquestionably bound to answer, with some degree of probability, this question: Who has then written it? Shakspeare's competitors in the dramatick walk are pretty well known, and if those of them who have even acquired a considerable name, a Lilly, a Marlow, a Heywood, are still so very far below him, we can hardly imagine that the author of a work, which rises so high beyond theirs, would have remained unknown.”- Lectures on Dramatick Literature, vol. ii. page 252.
We agree to the truth of this last observation, but not to the justice of its application to some of the plays here mentioned. It is true that Shakspeare's best works are very superiour to those of Marlow, or
Heywood, but it is not true that the best of the doubtful plays above enumerated are superiour or even equal to the best of theirs. The Yorkshire Tragedy, which Schlegel speaks of as an undoubted production of our author's, is much more in the manner of Heywood than of Shakspeare. The effect is indeed overpowering, but the mode of producing it is by no means poetical. The praise which Schlegel gives to Thomas, Lord Cromwell, and to Sir John Oldcastle, is altogether exaggerated. They are very indifferent compositions, which have not the slightest pretensions to rank with Henry V. or Hen
We suspect that the German critick was not very well acquainted with the dramatick contemporaries of Sbakspeare, or aware of their general merits; and that he accordingly mistakes a resemblance in style and manner for an equal degree of excellence. Shakspeare differed from the other writers of his age not in the mode of treating his subjects, but in the grace and power which he displayed in them. The reason assigned by a literary friend of Schlegel's for supposing The Puritan ; or, the Widow of Watling Street, to be Shakspeare's, viz. that it is in the style of Ben Jonson, that is to say, in a style just the reverse of his own, is not very satisfactory to a plain English understanding. Locrine, and The London Prodigal, if they were Shakspeare's at all, must have been among the sins of his youth. Arden of Feversham contains several striking passages, but the passion which they express is rather that of a sanguine temperament than of a lofty imagination; and in this respect they approximate more nearly to the style of other writers of the time than to Shakspeare's. Titus Andronicus is certainly as unlike Shakspeare's usual style as it is possible. It is an accumulation of vulgar physical horrours, in which the power exercised by the poet bears no proportion to the repugnance excited by the subject. The character of Aaron the Moor, is the only thing which shews any originality of conception; and the scene in which he expresses his joy “at the blackness and ugliness of his child begot in adultery,” the only one worthy of Shakspeare. Even this is worthy of him only in the display of power, for it gives no pleasure. Shakspeare managed these things differently. Nor do we think it a sufficient answer to say that this was an embryo or crude production of the author. In its kind it is full grown, and its features decided and overcharged. It is not like a first imperfect essay, but shews a confirmed habit, a systematick preference of violent effect to every thing else. There are occasional detached images of great beauty and delicacy, but these were not beyond the powers of other writers then living. The circumstance which inclines us to reject the external evidence in favour of this play being Shakspeare's is, that the gramma. tical construction is constantly false and mixed up with vulgar abbreviations, a fault that never occurs in any of his genuine plays. A similar defect, and the halting measure of the verse, are the chief objections to Pericles of Tyre, if we except the far-fetched and complicated absurdity of the story. The movement of the thoughts and passions has something in it not unlike Sbakspeare, and several of the descriptions are either the original hints of passages which Sbakspeare has ingrafted on his other plays, or are imitations of them by some cotemporary poet. The most memorable idea in it is in Marina's speech, where she compares the world to "a lasting storm, hurrying her from her friends."