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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,t 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.
having taken up the same ground with Shakespeare in the present Play:
Sure to tell
To the judicious. But in what year The False One was brought out is not known. It certainly was not before 1608 or 1609.
Finally, it has been remarked that the quarrel scene between Brutus and Cassius, in Shakespeare's Play, has evidently formed the model for a similar one between the two friends Melantius and Amintor, in the Third Act of Beaumont and Fletcher's Maid's Tragedy. All that is known, however, of the date of that Play is, that it was probably brought out before 1611, in which year another Play, entitled
The Second Maiden's Tragedy, was licensed. But even this is doubtful ; for there is no resemblance, or connection of any kind, except that of the names, between the two Plays.*
* “ This tragedy,” says Malone “ (as I learn from a MS. of Mr. Oldys), was formerly in the possession of John Warburton, Esq., Somerset Herald, and since in the library of the Marquis of Lansdown." (Chronological Order, 450.) It is one of the three Plays which escaped destruction by Mr. Warburton's cook. It has now been printed “ from the original MS., 1611, in the Lansdown Collection” (British Museum), in the First No. of The Old English Drama, Lon. 1824-25, the eight Nos. of which, making two vols., are commonly regarded as making a supplement to the last, or 12 volume edition of Dodsley. The title of The Second Maiden's Tragedy appears to have been given to the present Play by Sir George Buc, the master of the Revels. The MS., he states, had no name inscribed on it. On the back of the MS. the Play is attributed to William Goughe. Afterwards William has been altered to Thomas. Then this name has been obliterated, and George Chapman substituted. Finally, this too has been scored through, and the authorship assigned to William Shakspear.
On the whole, it may be inferred, from these slight evidences, that the present Play can hardly be assigned to a later date than the year 1607; but there is nothing to prove that it may not be of considerably earlier date.
It is evident that the character and history of Julius Cæsar had taken a strong hold of Shakespeare's imagination. There is perhaps no other historical character who is so repeatedly alluded to throughout his Plays.
“ There was never anything so sudden,” says the disguised Rosalind in As You Like It (v. 2) to Orlando, speaking of the manner in which his brother Oliver and her cousin (or sister, as she calls her) Celia had fallen in love with one another, “ but the fight of two rams, and Cæsar's thrasonical brag of I came, saw, and overcame : for your brother and my sister no sooner met, but they looked; no sooner looked, but they loved; no sooner loved, but they sighed ;” etc.
“O! such a day,” exclaims Lord Bardolph in the Second Part of King Henry the Fourth (i. I) to old Northumberland, in his misannouncement of the issue of the field of Shrewsbury,
So fought, so honoured, and so fairly won,
Since Cæsar's fortunes. And afterwards (in iv. 3) we have Falstaff's magnificent gasconade : “ I have speeded hither with the very extremest inch [?] of possibility : I have foundered ninescore and odd posts; and here, traveltainted as I am, have, in my pure and immaculate valour, taken Sir John Coleville of the Dale, a most furious [famous?] knight, and valorous enemy. But what of that? He saw me, and yielded ; that I may