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JOHNSON AND STEEVENS.
PUBLISHED BY J. MORGAN AND T. S. MANNING.
IT appears from Peck's Collection of divers curious historical Pieces, &c. (appended to his Memoirs, &c. of Oliver Cromwell,) p. 14, that a Latin play on this subject had been written: "Epilogus Cæsaris interfecti, quomodo in scenam prodiit ea res, acta, in Ecclesia Christi, Oxon. Qui Epilogus a Magistro Ricardo Eedes, et scriptus et in. proscenio ibidem dictus fuit, A. D. 1582." Meres, whose Wit's Commonwealth was published in 1598, enumerates Dr. Eedes among the best tragick writers of that time. Steevens.
From some words spoken by Polonius in Hamlet, I think it probable that there was an English play on this subject, before Shakspeare commenced a writer for the stage.
Stephen Gosson, in his School of Abuse, 1579, mentions a play entitled The History of Cæsar and Pompey.
William Alexander, afterwards Earl of Sterline, wrote a tragedy on the story and with the title of Julius Cæsar. It may be presumed that Shakspeare's play was posterior to his; for lord Sterline, when he composed his Julius Cæsar was a very young author, and would hardly have ventured into that circle, within which the most eminent dramatick writer of England had already walked. The death of Cæsar, which is not exhibited but related to the audience, forms the catastrophe of his piece. 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.
A passage in The Tempest, (p. 125) seems to have been copied from one in Darius, another play of lord Sterline's, printed at Edinburgh, in 1603. His Julius Cæsar appeared in 1607, at a time when he was little acquainted with English writers; for both these pieces abound with scotticisms, which, in the subsequent folio edition, 1637, he corrected. But neither The Tempest nor the Julius Cæsar of our author was printed till 1623.
It should also be remembered, that our author has several plays, founded on subjects which had been previously treated by others. Of this kind are King John, King Richard II, the two parts of King Henry IV, King Henry V, King Richard III, King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra, Measure for Measure, The Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice, and, I believe, Hamlet, Timon of Athens, and The Second and Third Part of King Henry VI: whereas no proof has hitherto been produced, that any contemporary writer ever presumed to new model a story that had already employed the pen of Shakspeare. On all these grounds it appears more probable, that Shakspeare was indebted to Lord Sterline, than that Lord Sterline borrowed from Shakspeare. If this reasoning be just, this play could not have appeared before the year 1607. I believe it was produced in that year. Malone.
The real length of time in Julius Cæsar, is as follows: About the middle of February, A. U. C. 709, a frantick festival, sacred to Pan, and called Lupercalia, was held in honour of Cæsar, when the regal crown was offered to him by Antony. On the 15th of March in the same year, he was slain. November 27, A. U. C. 710, the triumvirs met at a small island, formed by the river Rhenus, near Bononia, and there adjusted their cruel proscription.-A. U. C. 711, Brutus and Cassius were defeated near Philippi.