« PreviousContinue »
'Sir Thomas More,' the third apocryphal play tha has some claim to be regarded as partly by Shakespeare has been reprinted three times in modern days, viz. b Dyce (1844), Hopkinson (1902), Tucker Brooke (1908), an in facsimile by Farmer (1910).* While exceptionally fre from Shakespeare 'tags' or echoes of his work, yet i characterisation and sustained level of thought an diction parts at least of this play do not fall below th standard we expect to find in all that Shakespear wrote. The date of the play is not later than 1596, and ours is a draft copy, revised and corrected by several hands It seems just possible that the corrections and addition by one of these are in Shakespeare's own writing.† A the critics assign the first 170 lines of Act II, Sc. 4, t this hand, though other passages may also be his work The passage alluded to is a scene where Sir Thoma More pacifies a mob of 'prentices and other rioter against the alien Lombards, who like the Germans o the present day had established themselves in a privileged position in London, and to a great extent controlled English finance and industry. The scene opens on the Jack Cade note, Lincoln being the leader:
Linc. Peace, hear me! He that will not see a red herring at a Harry groat, butter at elevenpence a pound, meal a nine shillings a bushel, and beef at four nobles a stone, lis to me!
Betts. It will come to that pass, if strangers be suffered Mark him!
Linc. Our country is a great eating country: argo, they eat more in our country than they do in their own.
Betts. By a halfpenny loaf a day, troy weight.
Then the Lord Mayor, Sir Thomas More, and other Lords come on the scene, and attempts are made by various speakers to get a hearing. Finally More speaks
More. While's they are o'er the bank of their obedience thus will they bear down all things.
Linc. Shrieve More speaks! Shall we hear Shrieve More speak?
*Harleian MSS., 7368.
† Dr W. W. Greg has recently pronounced against this belief, but Sir E. Maunde Thompson has still more recently championed Shakespeare's authorship.
More gradually calms the mob by his eloquence and ends with this fine speech:
'For to the King hath God his office lent
He hath not only lent the King his figure,
His throne and sword, but given him his own name,
Rising 'gainst him, that God himself installs,
But rise 'gainst God? O desperate as you are
As mutinies are incident, by his name
Can still the rout? Who will obey a traitor?
To qualify a rebel? You'll put down strangers,
To slip him like a hound.
Linc. We'll be ruled by you, Master More, if you'll stand ur friend to procure our pardon
In its restrained power, its knowledge of the humours of a mob, its reverence for authority, this passage is entirely Shakespearean. It is most interesting, moreover, to see how by deletions, corrections, and additions in the MS. the first ideas and expressions of the poet were modified currente calamo. Mr Tucker Brooke in his useful edition points out how, after the words 'Make them you feet,' there was in the first draft a pause. Subsequen. the writer added:
'b kneel to be forgiven
I safer wars than ever you can make,
Whose discipline is riot. Why even your wars
Cannot proceed but by obedience. What rebel captain . . . He then deleted the second' wars,' substituting 'hurly
for it, and again for the half-line he wrote tentatively above, 'In, in to your obedience!' Not being able to complete this to his satisfaction, he finally cancelled the whole from the word 'forgiven,' and put instead Tell me but this.'
This whole scene is topical at the present day. It reveals the bitter feeling against the interpenetration of England by aliens in the 16th century. We have seen the same in our time. It serves to illustrate the account lately given by Mr Ian Colvin in his 'Hanseatic League of a most ominous and instructive chapter in our history Though the style of 'Sir Thomas More' is less superficially brilliant and much more severe in cast, than we see in the splendid and masterful rhetoric of Edward III,' or the lyric grace and opulent eloquence of the 'Two Noble Kinsmen,' yet it is nearer the heart of the Shakespearean mystery.
A few words will suffice for the other apocryphal plays. Swinburne's advocacy of Arden of Faversham' has predisposed many to attribute this play to Shakespeare. Its merit might indeed justify the supposition, but a domestic tragedy, such as this is, based on an incident scarcely more than a generation old, stands outside the self-chosen range of Shakespeare's dramatic activity. Moreover, the early date (1592) of the play makes the Shakespeare authorship more than unlikely. Taking the metrical and other tests into consideration-and in spite of American and native scoffers they cannot be ignored-it is impossible to suppose that a play, exhibiting the dramatic manner and versification of 'Arden,' could have been composed contemporaneously with 'Love's Labour's Lost' and 'Romeo and Juliet.' The facts, indeed, on which the play is based are froi Holinshed, to whom Shakespeare often had recourse. Arden, too, is a name which might have caught his attention; and this Arden had property in Warwickshire. It has been generally admitted, however, since Mr Crawford's monograph on the play, that the author was Kyd, who in virtue of this performance must take a high place among contemporary dramatists. But though Shakespeare did not write the play, he must have been influenced by it, more than we should have expected, for we seem to see his style in
'Intreat her fair; sweet words are fittest engines
Now will he shake his care-oppressed head,
The dream of Arden (III, 3, especially line 30) strongly recalls Clarence's dream;t and there are some Shakespearean phrases such as 'killed my heart,' found in The Contention,''Edward IV,' and 'Henry V'; ''tis but early days'; 'taunting letter'; clean out of her books'; 'pricked-ear'd cur'; 'raven for a dove'; while the pun, bite... bitterly, appears in 'As you like it.'‡
The Yorkshire Tragedy,' which is on a theme similar to that of 'Arden,' has been shown by the late Mr Dobell and others to be by Wilkins. Though ascribed to Shakespeare in the Quarto of 1608, it hardly contains ten lines which he could have written: such as are
'That Heaven should say we must not sin, and yet made woman!' (Sc. IV, 65).
'I see how Ruin with a palsy hand
Begins to shake the ancient seat to dust' (Sc. III, 99).
'That mortgage sits like a snaffle on my inheritance, and makes me chaw upon iron' (Sc. II, 50).
'Unkindness strikes a deeper wound than steel' (Sc. x, 13). 'O beggary, beggary, to what base uses dost thou put a man!'
Cf. 'Sonnets,' 29, and 2 Henry VI,' 1, 2, 5. t'Richard III,' 1, 4, 63.
Vol. 287.-No. 470.
(Sc. II, 55).
+ II, 7, 185.
In 'Locrine' (1595), which is almost certainly by Greene, in Mucedorus' (1598), a most successful but wretched play, in 'Sir John Oldcastle' (1600) (now known to be by Munday, Drayton, Wilson, and Hathaway *), which was written as a protest against the original use of Oldcastle's name for Falstaff's, and in 'Lord Cromwell (1602), not a word of Shakespeare is to be found, though the first, second, and fourth were fathered on Shakespeare when published. 'The London Prodigal'† (1605), a Jonsonian play of humours,' has more merit, but, except for some Shakespearean tags, has no pretension to the name on its title-page. It contains not a line of real poetry. The Puritan Widow' (1607), of similar type, has a Shakespearean phrase or two and a reference to the ghost in Macbeth. The absurd and tedious play 'Fair Em' (1590), quoted by Greene twice in his Farewell to Folly,' is too early for Shakespeare, as well as too poor. The last two plays of the Apocrypha to be considered, The Merry Devil of Edmonton' (1604) and the 'Birth of Merlin' (of unknown date), stand on a different footing. The Merry Devil,' an excellent piece of work and full of humour, on the chivalry of love and friendship, must be pronounced not wholly unworthy of the high parentage ascribed to it. The best scene, the first of Act IV, describing a hunt in Enfield Chase, is the most like Shakespeare's work, but there are fine passages elsewhere, e.g.
The silent sable-visaged night
Casts her black curtain over all the world'
'Oh that this soul, that cost so great a price
When men in their own pride strive to know more
Kirkman, the first publisher of the Birth of Merlin in 1662 attributed it, possibly from a lost quarto, to
* Yet in this play Schlegel saw Shakespeare's best and maturest work! † Madame de Chambrun rather rashly pronounces in favour of the genuineness of this apocryphal play.