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The language, too, is likewise flowing, humorous and sprightly in the dialogue, but without elevation, poor in thought and imagery, and although tolerably free from long speeches, it is nevertheless flat and dull, and at all events far removed from the poetical dignity, massiveness and fulness, as well as devoid of the historic terseness and energy, which characterize the diction of “ Richard the Second,” “Richard the Third,” and “Henry the Fourth,” &c. Lastly, the comic parts especially--the scene, for instance, between the Summoner Harpool, Sir John of Wrotham, and Dolly, or that between Acton, Boure, Beverley, and Murley, not only have not the slightest bearing on the proper action of the piece, but are for the most part so low, spiritless, and devoid of genuine wit, that not a spark of Shakspeare's facetious grace is to be discovered in them. The whole, in short, bespeaks a poet who took for his model the masterpieces of Shakspeare, and, indeed, laboured without disguise to imitate him, but who was far inferior to him both in talent and imagination.
3. “The Merry Devil of Edmonton" is a comedy which has been ascribed to Shakspeare, on no other grounds than because it was found bound up with two other pieces in a volume, lettered on the back, “Shakspeare, Vol. I.” (originally in the possession of Charles the Second, and subsequently forming a part of Garrick's collection). In the Registry at Stationers' Hall, we find an entry on the Fifth of April, 1608—" Joseph Huntard, Thomas Archer. A book called the 'Lyfe and Deathe of the Merrye Devill of Edmonton, with the pleasant pranks of Smugge the Shmyth, Sir John, and mine Hoste of the George, about their Stealing of Venison. By T. B.?” From the precise designation of the leading comic characters, it appears to be the same piece which Tieck in his Alt-Englische Theater, Bd. II. has given to Shakspeare. But the initials T. B. stand for the name of the author. The piece is in my judgment superior to “Sir John Oldcastle ;” at least it might well pass for a juvenile production of our poet. However, in the “Blacke Booke,” by T. M., printed in 1604, (Steevens, Reed's Shakspeare, ii. 129), it is mentioned conjointly with Th. Heywood's “A Woman Killed with Kindness,” and indeed in such a way as to convey the impression that both plays were at the time quite new, and great favourites with the multitude; which in the case of "A Woman Killed with Kindness” is fully established from other sources (Collier, iï. 77.) This circumstance alone would almost justify the conjecture that the “Merry Devil of Edmonton” is also a work of Heywood's, and that, in the Stationers' Registry, T. B. stands by an error of the pen for T. H., both because the piece possesses the closest affinity with the style of Ileywood, and also because no eminent poet of this period is known with the initials T. B. At any rate, all probability of its being a work of Shakspeare's is utterly destroyed by the date of its first appearance, 1600. For notwithstanding its many excellencies, it is far too bad to be a production of the maturity and best period of Shakspeare's poetical career. The comic scenes are much better than those of “Sir John Oldcastle,” but yet far from Shakspearean; their wit and humour are the wit and humour of the multitude, and quite in the style and spirit of such a popular writer as Heywood, but even on that account wholly wanting in that fine irony and profound latent humour which mark the comedies of Shakspeare. The action unfolds itself with great case and graceful movement, the scenes are well arranged and closely connected, but yet no vestige is discernible of that living ideal organisation which belongs to his dramas. The story of Fabel and his compact with the Devil, stands quite apart from, and is wholly extraneous to, the proper action of the fable, while the intrigue between Millicent and the young Mounchensey is externally only, and very loosely, connected with the poaching adventures of the parson, the smith, and the landlord of the George, who have no intrinsical relation to the plot, and are therefore poetically unnecessary. We must pass a similar judgment on the language and characterization. In both, the writer exhibits great talents, and has written good agreeable “poetry for the people.” But the genius of Shakspeare, which knew how to combine intimately and completely the light and popular with the grave and lofty, could neverat least not in 1600—have written such mere popular poetry as this. In the “
In the “Merry Devil of Edmonton," again, we recog. nise a work of the school of Shakspeare; it was evidently designed to be a fantastic comedy in his style. But the fan
tastic style is exactly the most difficult in the whole variety of comedy; it requires great depth and solemn truth of poetical views, and in this the otherwise talented author of this play was manifestly deficient
To these three pieces, the spuriousness of which is abundantly proved by external evidence also, I shall add two others, the authenticity of which is not only unsupported by external authority, but is likewise strongly negatived by all internal evidences. I allude to the “Fair Em," and the “Mucedorus." These are the two pieces which are bound up in the same volume with the
Merry Devil of Edmonton,” and ascribed, by the bookbinder at least, to Shakspeare. Tieck (Vorzede zur Vorschule, ii. viii.) defends Shakspeare's title to the former, and remarks: “The claim which the binder has made known, from whatever source he may have derived it, is not to be rejected unconditionally, since in any case it descends to us from a period in which the name of Shakspeare was less honoured than that of Fletcher. The owner of the book cannot have intended to cheat any one but himself. Shakspeare may perhaps have come to London sooner than is usually supposed. If we assume that he arrived there as early as 1581-5, and that inclination or necessity had driven him to write anonymously for the stage, this sketch, without any pretensions to dramatic characterization, diction, or invention, may very well have been the production of a youth, who, without previous study or learning, and apparently without a poet's vocation, gave to the theatre this shadow without substance. It is too bad and insipid a thing for either Marlowe or Greene—to whom, however, many have ascribed it; for although the first scene exhibits a certain resemblance to Friar Bacon, still there is nothing of the poetic spirit, lightness, and grace, of this old piece.” Tieck himself can scarcely have regarded his own reasons as strong or convincing; for he himself pronounces it not good enough for Greene, who, however, as we know, did not always produce the best of ware, and is always deficient in character, diction, and invention. And besides, in his judgment, which in this case as in most others is correct, it does not possess the slightest affinity with the style of Shakspeare, but is separated even from the “ Pericles” and the “Titus Andronicus,” by an impassable gulf. All that speaks for Shakspeare's authorship is reduced, in fact, to the lettering of the binder, and how weak this authority is we have already seen in the case of the “ Merry Devil of Edmonton.” The play was very possibly the production of a youth who," without learning or preparation, and without even a poet's vocation," devoted himself either from want or vanity to writing for the stage ; but why this youth must necessarily have been Shakspeare, it is not easy to see. Again, it is not improbable that the owner of the book had Shakspeare's name put upon it because he lived in an age when it stood lower in general estimation than Fletcher's. He perphaps knew little or nothing of him, or perhaps had gained a superficial acquaintance with him through the spectacles of Ben Jonson; so that, moved by a very general resemblance of the three pieces in manner and construction to give them a common author, he ascribed them to the best known name of the period to which they unquestionably belonged. This hypothesis has at least as much probability in its favour as that of Tieck, or any other. If, therefore, the binder's lettering proves nothing, so would it in nowise help the matter, to concede that Shakspeare arrived in London as early as 1584 or 1585, and immediately came forward as a stage-poet. For Shakspeare at twenty years cannot have been without a true poetic spirit; but of this, as Tieck allows, there is not the slightest trace in the “Fair Emma."
Lastly, to the pieces which are decidedly spurious I join the “London Prodigal," although the only old edition in existence is of the date of 1605, and bears Shakspeare's name in full on the title-page. Now at the first glance it is remarkable, that the bookseller's name for whom it was printed is not given; he was perhaps ashamed to father his own fraud. Even Th. Pavier placed no more than his initials on the “Sir John Oldcastle.” We know nothing further of the play, and from the statements of Steevens and Malone it does not appear to be mentioned in Henslowe's Diary, or in the Registry at Stationers' Hall. But did we know nothing of this old edition, I am convinced that no one would ever think of ascribing the work to Shakspeare. First of all, it cannot be one of his youthful productions. The author displays too much knowledge of the stage for a juvenile poet, and too much tact and experience of life; the dialogue, too, bespeaks a
practised writer, for it is extremely easy and natural. But it is impossible to look upon it one moment as a work of Shakspeare's practised pen, for its poetical merits are far below those of the “Pericles” or “ Titus Andronicus.” On the whole, it is not much better than the “Sir John Oldcastle,” with which, however, it possesses so great a resemblance, both externally and internally, that it comes perhaps from the hand of one of the three poets to whom that work is ascribed; at all events it belongs to the eminently popular school of which we may name Heywood, Dekker, Drayton, and Ford, as the heads. In the very spirit of this school, which certainly moulded its labours by the model of Shakspeare, we here meet with a correctly drawn and vivid, but slight and superficial characterization. There is an easy flow in the language and versification, but they are without vigour or beauty, poor in thought, and meagre in the expression of passion and feeling. The scenes too succeed each other with a measured graceful movement; but the action is led by the thread of an external history, and does not flow naturally out of the inmost depths of the mind. All the characters act more from external influences than internal motives. Lucy, for instance, sacrifices herself merely because she is, though by a forced marriage, the wife of her wedded husband, and the latter (the Prodigal) reforms himself because of the self-devotion of his wife. The comic, too, is quite external, and consists merely in the patois of the Devonshire clothier, the abuse of some servants, and, as some perhaps may think, in the naïve simplicity of Bisam and his bride. Of that intrinsic dialectic of irony which lies at the bottom of all Shakspeare's comedy the writer has no conception. But the composition especially is altogether un-Shakspearean. I have been at so much pains to elucidate the distinctive peculiarities of our bard in this particular, that I think I have earned for myself the right to lay greater stress upon this point in a critical estimate of a disputed work, than upon those other characteristics which any writer possessed of ordinary talent might successfully imitate. A poet's composition, however, rests pre-eminently on his poetic view of the system of things, and this no one can appropriate by imitation. Now in the present piece, as well as in “Sir John Oldcastle," we discover, no doubt, Shakspeare's manner of allowing several actions and several groups of charac