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Tragedy, his Richard the Second, Richard the Third, Henry the Fourth, King John, Titus Andronicus and his Romeo and Juliet.” 1
- MERES's Palladis Tamia, 1598.
Here, then, we have evidence that previously to 1598, Shake-speare had composed seventeen, at least, of his dramas. If we add Pericles,''Henry V.,''King Lear,' and the Taming of a Shrew,' the total to that date will be twenty-one, considerably more than one half of all these works. The number in existence in 1594, on the same basis of calculation, could not have been less than fifteen, besides the two long poems of Venus and Adonis' and 'Lucrece.' In view of these facts is it credible that the author did not begin his dramatic career before 1592 ?
In 1592, [he] had attained an eminent position, both as regards celebrity as well as pecuniary means, so that Robert Greene could quite well designate him as an absolute Johannes Factotum in his own conceit, the only Shake-scene in a country.' Shakespeare's career would appear almost miraculous, were it assumed that he attained such eminence in four or five years (preceding 1592].” — ELZE's William Shakespeare, 115.
1 Richard Grant White, accounting for the omission of 'King Henry VI.' , from Meres's list, very properly says:
“Meres did not profess to give a catalogue of Shakespeare's then existing plays. He but cited certain of them which occurred to him as justifying the high praise which he bestowed upon their author.”. Works of Shakespeare, vii. 408.
Subsequently, however, when treating of the early “Hamlet,' also omitted from Meres's list, he takes the opposite view :
“I regard this omission as strong negative evidence that Shakespeare had not at that time written his “Hamlet.'” – Ibid, xi. 8.
The explanation of this inconsistency in Mr. White is obvious. • Henry VI.' was written in 1589-91, and that date furnishes no presumptive evidence against the commonly accepted theory of authorship. But the production of the early “Hamlet' carries us back to 1586, at which time, it seemed to him, the Stratford play-actor could not have been the author. The proof in behalf of 'Hamlet,' however, is far stronger than that for ‘Henry VI.'; in fact, it defies controversy.
“There can be no doubt that Meres by no means reckoned all of the plays which Shakespeare had written at the time, but only mentioned the more important ones by way of example.” – ELZE's William Shakespeare, 299.
Professor Elze thinks we must go back to 1585, and perhaps (as he hints) to 1582, for the beginning of Shakespeare's dramatic career.
Furthermore, how can we explain, consistently with the commonly accepted theory on this subject, the numerous references to Shakspere as a reputed dramatist made by Greene, Nash, and Spenser in 1590, and, on the part of two of them, even before 1590,- references which show that several of these productions, popularly attributed to this author, had already become standard works on the London stage ?
Greene began a pamphlet war against some one whom he did not name, but whom he regarded as a dangerous rival in the dramatic art, as early as 1587. That this rival was the reputed author of the Shake-speare plays we know only too well. The pamphlets in which the evidence appears are entitled as follows: ‘Farewell to Folly,' 1587; 'Perimedes, the Blacksmith,' 1588; the 'Menaphon,' 1589; 'Never too Late,' 1590; and the Groatsworth of Wit,' 1592. One long strain of personal abuse runs through all these publications, culminating in that famous outburst of anger and jealousy in the 'Groatsworth of Wit' for which Chettle, as Greene's editor, has long but erroneously been supposed to have made an apology to Shakspere.
In the 'Farewell to Folly,' written in 1587, but not printed till 1591, Greene refers to an unletter'd clerk whose name is set to verses which he did not write. Some persons, he says, who
" – for their calling and gravity being loth to have any profane pamphlets pass under their hand, get some other Batillus? to set his name to their verses. Thus is the ass made proud by this underhand brokery. And he that cannot write true English without the help of clerks of parish churches will needs make himself the father of interludes." ---GREENE's Farewell to Folly, registered
. June 11, 1587.
i A noted Roman plagiarist in the time of Augustus.
On this Richard Simpson, an able orthodox Shakespearean, comments as follows:
“Greene, we see, here pretends that Shakspere could not have written the play himself. . . . So far from being the first dramatist, he is a dunce." - School of Shakspere, ii. 375, 379.
In Perimedes, the Blacksmith' (1588), Greene writes :
“Let me openly pocket up the ass at Diogenes' hand that wantonly set out such impious instances of intolerable poetry. . . . If there be any in England that set the end of scholarism in an English blank verse, I think either it is the humor of a novice that tickles them with self-love, or too much frequenting the hot-house (to use the German proverb) hath sweat out all the greater part of their wits."
The sneer in this passage at the use of English blank verse was directed at the author who had introduced blank verse on a large scale into English literature. That author was not Marlowe, as the critics say, but Shake-speare. Marlowe's first work, ‘Tamberlaine,' was published in 1587, at which time, it would appear, not less than six of the Shakespeare dramas had already been written in this kind of verse, and two of them at least (the 'Two Gentlemen of Verona' and ‘Hamlet') produced on the stage. In a word, the use of blank verse had ceased to be a novelty when Marlowe began to write. Greene thought its introduction a great blemish to the English drama, and he denounced Shake-speare accordingly.
Strange to say, Richard Grant White caught a glimmering of this truth, but failed to note its important bearings. After quoting the above passage from the Perimedes,' he says :
“I believe, too, that it is to Shakespeare as well as to Marlowe that Greene alludes. . . . It seems to me that Shakespeare is the novice referred to, and Marlowe the debauchee. Both preferred blank verse to couplets."
Works of Shakespeare, vii. 467. Here, even according to White, we find the author of the Shake-speare plays, however mistaken the identity, envied by Greene in 1588 ! And Greene had hitherto stood, in the estimation of the public as in his own, at the head of the profession.
The origin of the Menaphon' (1589) is thus stated by Mr. Simpson:
“The contest, we see, was becoming bitter; and it did not sweeten with time. Greene had fondly imagined that the cry went on him for the best playwright, but his pre-eminence was challenged ; and when he found his rivals becoming more popular than he was, he wrote his · Menaphon.'” - The School of Shak
spere, iï. 353.
The butt of Greene's ridicule in this pamphlet is a tragedian, under the fictitious name of Doron (Gr. dopós=spear), whose speeches are simple clownery.
“Nothing more can be extracted from this," says Mr. Simpson, " than that Greene wished to represent his 'vain-glorious tragedian' as a boor and a clown. So, three years later, he classes 'Shakescene' among the 'peasants.'” - School of Shakspere, ii. 362.
The actor, thus ridiculed in the 'Menaphon,' is more virulently attacked under the name of Mullidor (Gr. Múlwdopós=Shakespear)1 in Never too Late'(1590). There we have the following portraiture of him :
“A fellow that was of honest parents, but very poor, and his personage was as if he had been cast in Æsop's mould; his back like a lute, and his face like Thersites; his eyes broad and tawny; his hair harsh and curled like a horse-mane; his lips were of the largest size in folio. . . . The only good part that he had to grace his visage was his nose, and that was conqueror-like, as beaked as an eagle. . . . Into his great head [Nature] put little wit.”
Greene, however, does not rest the identification of his victim on mere country clownery, or on an appellative thinly veiled in Greek; he declares in the same pamphlet that his rival is “prank'd with the glory of others' feathers." This brings us directly to the “Groatsworth of Wit” (1592), where the same figure of speech is applied unmistakably to Shakspere, as follows:
i No term would have been too opprobrious for Greene's use in this connection. The repetition of the root dor in the nicknames fixes the meaning.
2 Shakspere once called himself William the Conqueror, on an occasion referred to in Manningham's diary.
“There is an upstart crow beautified with our feathers that, with his tiger's heart wrapped 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 Johannesfac-totum, is in his own conceit the only SHAKE-SCENE in a country.”
All disguise is now thrown off. The unnamed dramatist who in 1587 “could not write true English without the help of clerks of parish churches,” who in 1588“ set the end of scholarism in a blank verse," who in 1589 was “prank'd with the glory of others' feathers,” and who in 1590 was nicknamed Mullidor (Shake-speare], finally became, in Greene's last outburst of jealousy and spite just before his death in 1592, the “only Shake-scene in a country.” And to make the identification still more certain, the object of his hate is again charged, as in 1590, with being a beautified with others' feathers." Greene then warns his fellow-playwrights, Marlowe, Lodge (or Nash), and Peele, against this great colossus, whose tread was shaking the stage, and whose undoubted superiority they could not fail to acknowledge. Indeed, he advises them, in the presence of such a rival, to retire at once and forever from the dramatic profession.
Greene's indirect testimony to the pre-eminence of the author of Shake-speare, given previously to 1592, and previously, indeed, to 1587, is of the strongest character.
But Greene was not alone in his enmity. Thomas Nash, on his “commencing author" in London in 1589, made common cause with him against the same extraordinary, countrified, unlettered upstart. Nash even surpassed Greene in the virulence of his attacks. For instance, in his letter prefixed to Greene's Menaphon' and written undoubtedly in collusion with Greene, he complained of an “idiot art-master" as he called somebody prominent in dramatic circles, who had no university degree, whose education had stopped at a