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The modern editor who has shown the most disposition to tamper with the old text in the matter of the versification is Steevens. The metrical arrangement of the First Folio is undoubtedly wrong in thousands of instances, and it is very evident that the conception which the persons by whom the printing was superintended had of verse was extremely imperfect and confused. They would be just as likely to go wrong as right whenever any intricacy or indistinctness in the manuscript threw them upon their own resources of knowledge and critical sagacity. But Steevens set about the work of correction on false principles. Nothing else would satisfy him than to reduce the prosody of the natural dramatic blank verse of Shakespeare, the characteristic product of the sixteenth century, to the standard of the trim rhyming couplets into which Pope shaped his polished epigrams in the eighteenth. It is a mistake, however, to speak of Steevens as having no ear for
His ear was a practised and correct enough one, only that it had been trained in a narrow school. Malone, on the other hand, had no notion whatever of verse beyond what he could obtain' by counting the syllables on his fingers. Everything else but the mere number of the syllables went with him for nothing. This is demonstrated by all that he has written on the subject. And, curiously enough, Mr. James Boswell, the associate of his labors, appears to have been endowed with nearly an equal share of the same singular insensibility.
VII. SHAKESPEARE'S JULIUS CÆSAR. SHAKESPEARE's Julius Cæsar was first printed, as far as is known, in the First Folio collection of his Plays, published in 1623; it stands there between Timon of Athens and Macbeth, filling, in the division of the volume which begins with Coriolanus and extends to the end, being that occupied with the Tragedies, - which is preceded by those containing the Comedies and the Histories, — the doublecolumned pages from 109 to 130 inclusive.* Here, at the beginning and over each page, it is entitled “ The Tragedie of Julius Cæsar;” but in the Catalogue at the beginning of the volume it is entered as 66 The Life and Death of Julius Cæsar ;” other entries in the list being, among the Histories, “ The Life and Death of King John,”
,” 66 The Life and Death of Richard the Third," "The Life of King Henry the Eighth," and, among the Tragedies, “The Tragedy of Coriolanus," " The Tragedy of Macbeth,” “ The Tragedy of Hamlet,” “ King Lear," 6 Othello, the Moore of Venice.” In the Second Folio (1632), where this series of pages includes Troilus and Cressida, “ The Tragedy of Julius Cæsar,” as it is entered both in the running title and in the Catalogue, extends from page 129 to 150 inclusive. In both editions the Play is divided into Acts, but not into Scenes; although the First Act is headed in both “ Actus Prinus. Scæna Prima." There is no list in either edition of the Dramatis Persone, as there is with several others of the Plays.
Malone, in his “ Attempt to ascertain the Order in which the Plays of Shakespeare were written,"
* There is a break in the pagination from 101 to 108 inclusive.
assigning Hamlet to the year 1600, Othello to 1604, Lear to 1605, Macbeth to 1606, Antony and Cleopatra to 1608, and Coriolanus to 1610, fixes upon the year 1607 as the date of the composition of Julius Cæsar. But nothing can be more inconclusive than the grounds upon which he comes to this conclusion. His reasoning is principally, or, indeed, we may say almost wholly, founded upon the fact of a rhyming play on the same subject by William Alexander, afterwards Earl of Sterline, or Stirling, having been first printed at London in that year (it had been originally printed in Scotland three years before), which he thinks may be presumed to have preceded Shakespeare's. “Shakespeare, we know,” he observes, in his disquisition on the Chronological Order (Variorum edition, II. 445-451), “ formed at least twelve plays on fables that had been unsuccessfully managed by other poets; but no contemporary writer was daring enough to enter the lists with him in his lifetime, or to model into a drama a subject which had already employed his pen; and it is not likely that Lord Sterline, who was then a very young man, and had scarcely unlearned the Scotch idiom, should have been more hardy than any other poet of that age.” Elsewhere (XII. 2) he says, “ In the two Plays many parallel passages are found, which might perhaps have proceeded only from the two authors drawing from the same source. However, there are some reasons for thinking the coincidence more than accidental.” The only additional reason he gives is that “a passage in The Tempest (* The cloudcapped towers, etc.) seems to have been copied from one in Darius, another Play of Lord Sterline's, printed at Edinburgh in 1603." Upon the subject of these alleged imitations by Shakespeare of one of the most uninspired of his contemporaries, see Mr. Knight's article on this William Alexander in the “Biographical Dictionary of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge," Vol. II. pp. 4-7. They may safely be pronounced to be one and all purely imaginary. The passage in Darius (which Play is also in rhyme), it may be noted, was removed by Lord Stirling from his Play when he reprinted it in a revised form in 1637. This would have been a singularly self-denying course for the noble versifier to have taken if the notion that it had been either plagiarized or imitated by the great English dramatist had ever crossed his mind. The resemblance, in fact, is no greater than would be almost sure to occur in the case of any two writers in verse, however widely remote in point of genius, taking up the same thought, which, like the one we have here, is in itself almost one of the commonplaces of poetical or rhetorical declamation, however pre-eminently it has been arrayed by Shakespeare in all the “pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious words."
A Latin Play upon the subject of the death of Cæsar —“Epilogus Cæsaris Interfecti” - the production of a Dr. Richard Eedes, whom Meres, in his Wit's Commonwealth, published in 1598, mentions as one of the best tragic writers of the time, appears to have been brought out at Christ's Church, Oxford, in 1582. And there is also an anonymous English Play of Shakespeare's age, entitled “The Tragedy of Cæsar and Pompey, or Cæsar's Revenge," of which two editions have come down to us, one bearing the date of 1607 (the same year in which Alexander's Julius Cæsar was printed at London), the other without date, but apparently earlier. This Play is often confounded with another of the same title by George Chapman, which, however, was not printed till 1631. The anonymous Play appears to have been first produced in 1594. See Henslowe's Diary, by Collier, p. 44. Malone observes that “in the running title it is called The Tragedy of Julius Cæsar; perhaps the better to impose it on the public for the performance of Shakespeare.” It is not pretended, however, that it and Shakespeare's Play have anything in common.*
Shakespeare's Julius Cæsar is alluded to as one of the most popular of his Plays, by Leonard Digges (a younger brother of Sir Dudley, the popular parliament man in the time of Charles I., and afterwards Master of the Rolls), in a copy of verses prefixed to the First Folio : Nor shall I e'er believe or think thee dead,
till I hear a scene more nobly take Than when thy half-sword parlying Romans spake. In the Prologue, also, to Beaumont and Fletcher's tragedy entitled The False One,f the subject of which is the loves of Cæsar and Cleopatra in Egypt, the authors vindicate themselves from the charge of
* From a comedy called Every Woman in her Humour, printed in 1609, Malone quotes a passage from which he infers that there was an ancient droll or puppet-show on the subject of Julius Cæsar: --“I have seen the City of Nineveh and Julius Cæsar acted by mammets.” “I formerly supposed,” Malone adds, “ that this droll was formed on the play before us; but have lately observed that it is mentioned with other motions (Jonas, Ninevie, and the Destruction of Jerusalem) in Marston's Dutch Courtesan, printed in 1605, and was probably of a much older date." (Chronological Order, 449.) But it is not so clear that the mention of the motion, or puppet-show, in 1605 would make it impossible that it should have been posterior to Shakespeare's Play.
† It has been disputed whether by The False One we are to understand Cæsar or another character in the Play, the villain Septimius. A friend suggests that it may be Cleopatra that is intended to be so designated.