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The translator, W. W. calls the brothers, Menæchmus Sosicles, and Menæchmus the traveller. Whencesoever Shakspeare adopted erraticus and surreptus, (which either he or his editors have mis-spelt,) these distinctions were soon dropped, and throughout the rest of the entries the twins are styled of Syracuse or Ephesus. STEEVENS.
I suspect this and all other plays where much rhyme is used, and especially long hobbling verses, to have been among Shakspeare's more early productions. BLACKSTONE.
I am possibly singular in thinking that Shakspeare was not under the slightest obligation, in forming this comedy, to Warner's translation of the Menæchmi. The additions of Erotus and Sereptus, which do not occur in that translation, and he could never invent, are, alone, a sufficient inducement to believe that he was no way indebted to it. But a further and more convincing proof is, that he has not a name, line, or word, from the old play, nor any one incident but what must, of course, be common to every translation. Sir William Blackstone, I observe, suspects "this and all other plays where much rhyme is used, and especially long hobbling verses, to have been among Shakspeare's more early productions." But I much doubt whether any of these " long hobbling verses have the honour of proceeding from his pen; and, in fact, the superior elegance and harmony of his language is no less distinguishable in his earliest than his latest production. The truth is, if any inference can be drawn from the most striking dissimilarity of style, a tissue as different as silk and worsted, that this comedy, though boasting the embellishments of our author's genius, in additional words, lines, speeches, and scenes, was not originally his, but proceeded from some inferior playwright, who was capable of reading the Menæchmi without the help of a translation, or, at least, did not make use of Warner's. And this I take to have been the case, not only with the three parts of King Henry VI. (though not, perhaps, exactly in the way, or to the extent, maintained by a late editor *,) but with The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Love's Labour's Lost, and King Richard II. in all which pieces Shakspeare's new work is as apparent as the brightest touches of Titian would be on the poorest performance of the veriest canvass-spoiler that ever handled a brush. The originals of these plays were never printed, and may be thought to have been put into his hands by the manager, for the purpose of alteration and improvement, which we find to have been an ordinary practice of the theatre in his time. We are therefore no longer to look upon the above " pleasant and fine conceited comedie," as entitled to a situation among the "six plays on which Shakspeare founded his Measure for Mea
* [Mr. MALONE.]
sure," &c. of which I should hope to see a new and improved edition. RITSON.
In consequence of the publication of the Dissertation on the Three Parts of King Henry the Sixth, in the year 1790, in which I endeavoured to shew that those plays were formed on dramas written by more ancient poets than Shakspeare, (two of which pieces have been transmitted to us, the one printed in 1594, and the other in 1595,) a strange and whimsical fancy seems to have been entertained by various criticks, that this notion is applicable to several other of our author's plays *; a supposition I conceive altogether groundless in every instance, except the Taming of the Shrew, and Titus Andronicus, concerning the latter of which pieces I discovered such notices many years since, that there can be no doubt that that tragedy was originally the production of another hand. The old Taming of a Shrew being extant, we know precisely how far our poet was indebted to it. These two plays, however, though they both come within the exception stated above, stand on very different grounds; for to Andronicus, Shakspeare appears to have only added a few scenes, and to have occasionally improved the language; but in constructing the Taming of the Shrew he merely borrowed the fable and several of the incidents from the elder play, and wrote an entirely new performance on the same subject. I say nothing concerning King Henry the Eighth, because if there be any intermixture of another hand in that historical drama, it arose not from our author's having intermingled his lines with those of an elder writer, but from some one, after he retired from the stage, intermingling his verses with those of Shakspeare.
The new fancy of which I am now speaking, seems to have arisen from a notion that our poet's earlier compositions must have been written with a felicity approaching to that of his riper years; and not finding the same excellence in some of his first performances, our criticks have had recourse to this fanciful idea, that the inferior, and what they consider the exceptionable parts of these pieces, were written by an elder dramatist: but I beg leave here to enter my solemn protest against this perverse use of the arguments advanced in my Essay, which, if rightly considered, do not lead to any such conclusion.
The ancient dramas which were the subject of the rifacimento made by Shakspeare, it should be remembered, were before me; and it was not the inferiority of the parts of those
* The preceding remarks by Mr. Ritson, and the first part of Mr. Steevens's concluding note on The Comedy of Errors, maintaining the same opinion so far as this comedy is concerned, first appeared in that gentleman's fourth edition [1793,] three years after the dissertation was published.
pieces which he adopted, without alteration, to his acknowledged writings, but the difference of manner, language, structure, and versification, which gave rise to that dissertation; and these circumstances, manifesting two different hands, were still further confirmed by the various collateral proofs accumulated in the essay on this subject. But I do not hesitate to assert, that no such difference in the colour, style, and language, can be shewn in any of the pieces to which my theory concerning the three parts of King Henry the Sixth has been applied.
On examining the immediately preceding remark, a careless reader may perhaps be led astray by a pretence to investigation; but in this, as in many other observations of the same writer, we in vain look for instruction, taste, or judgment. Who that has carefully studied our poet's works, and is well acquainted with his style of writing and manner of thinking, can for a moment doubt that the admirable tragedy of King Richard the Second was the entire production of Shakspeare? And as little doubt, in my opinion, ought to be entertained concerning The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Love's Labour's Lost, and The Comedy of Errors; all of which plays, however they may be inferior to his later works, are as Shakspearian, or, in other words, have as strong marks of their lineage, of the mind by which they were formed, as any of his more admired productions. If the authenticity of King Richard the Second is to be questioned because there was a preceding play on the same subject, our poet may be deprived of several other plays, or parts of plays, on the same ground: for on every one of his historical plays, except on King Henry the Eighth, there had been preceding dramas-on King John, on King Henry the Fourth and Fifth, on Henry the Sixth, and on King Richard the Third: and on the same false ground we may deprive him of all such parts as we consider of an inferior texture to the rest-in Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Measure for Measure, Antony and Cleopatra, and Timon of Athens; for on all these subjects were dramas written before those of our poet.
Why, we may ask, should not his first essays, like those of almost all mankind, be somewhat less perfect than his later performances? And if it be reasonable to suppose that in this respect he in some measure resembled other writers, the authenticity of his earlier dramas can never be shaken by their inferiority. A strong confirmation of their authenticity may also be obtained from comparing them with several of his poetical essays produced at the same period; for we find in his early plays not only many of the thoughts employed in these poems, but also frequently quatrains ending with ultimate rhymes, strongly resembling the versification of these juvenile pieces. But so smooth a versifier, we are told, could not at any period have written such long hobbling verses as are appropriated to some of the lower characters in The Comedy of Errors and Love's Labour's Lost. And why?
Is it not highly probable that a young writer, in the inferior parts of his comedies, where the entertainment of the lower classes of his audience was particularly to be attended to, should adopt the same mode and the same loose versification for characters of their description, somewhat resembling that of the clown, which had been successfully and prescriptively appropriated to similar characters by preceding dramatists? Of the precedents which he copied in this instance, some examples may be found in The History of the English Stage, where some account of Tarleton is preserved; and several others are written at the end of the present comedy. Sir William Blackstone's observation, therefore, on this part of our present subject, appears to me extremely apposite and well founded; and the true inference to be drawn from the intermixture of this kind of metre is, not that it denotes another hand, but strongly indicates those plays in which it is found to have been among the writer's early essays in dramatick poetry, in which he in some measure walked in the steps of his predecessors. With respect to his earlier pieces, we do not rest upon conjecture: we know from the list transmitted by Meres* what plays he had produced before the end of the year 1598; and it is reasonable to suppose, that so careful and minute a writer, who appears to have been well acquainted with the poets of the time, did not, without good information, give the first place in that list to The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and The Comedy of Errors. The first productions of so extraordinary a dramatick poet as Shakspeare could not but have made a great impression on a man who appears to have been perfectly well acquainted with all the poetry of the time, and who doubtless was then a frequenter of the Curtain Theatre, where our poet's dramas were at that period exhibited.
But to advert more particularly to the play now before us. It has been said that Shakspeare has not taken a single name, line, or word, from the translated Menæchmi of Plautus; which may be literally true, but is not easily reconcileable to an observation made by Mr. Steevens, in which he seems to think that our authour's description of the cheating mountebanks and pretended conjurers who infested Epidamnum was taken from thence. See p. 166. The truth, however, is, that he had no occasion to consult Warner's Translation of the Menæchmi for this or any other purpose; for it is extremely probable that he was furnished with the fable of the present comedy by a play on a similar subject, from which he might have derived the very description above alluded to; and there also he might have found the designations of surreptus and erraticus, of which some traces are exhibited in the original copy of this play. Of this piece no mention is made in any dramatick
* Wit's Treasury, 8vo. 1598, p. 282.
history that I have seen, nor in any of the fugitive pamphlets of ancient days; but the notice concerning it which I discovered not long after my former edition of these plays was published, furnishes us with decisive evidence on this subject; for the piece in question was acted before Queen Elizabeth in the year 1576-7, when our poet was in his thirteenth year. In the Historical Account of the English Stage may be found a list of the various performances exhibited before her Majesty during the Christmas festivities of the year above mentioned, among which is the following piece :
"The Historie of Error, shewn at Hampton Court on New yeres daie at night [1576-7] enacted by the children of Pawles."
As the dramas acted by the singing boys of St. Paul's Cathedral were generally founded on classical stories, it may be presumed that this ancient piece was in a good measure founded on the comedy of Plautus; and doubtless thus the fable was transmitted to Shakspeare. MALONE.