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above; and the reader, who is acquainted with Shakspeare's Lear, will perceive another in the second line of the concluding speech: and here is a third; "Knowest thou these letters?" says Leir to Ragan, (sign. I. 3'.) shewing her hers and her sister's letters commanding his death; upon which, she snatches at the letters, and tears them: (v. Lear, Act V,) another, and that a most signal one upon one account, occurs at signature C 3:
"But he, the myrrour of mild patience,
"Puts up all wrongs, and never gives reply:"
Perillus says this of Leir; comprizing therein his character, as drawn by this author: how opposite to that which Shakspeare has given him, all know; and yet he has found means to put nearly the same words into the very mouth of his Lear,— "No, I will be the pattern of all patience, "I will say nothing."
Lastly, two of Shakspeare's personages, Kent, and the Steward, seem to owe their existence to the above-mention'd "shaghair'd wretch," and the Perillus of this Leir.
The episode of Gloster and his two sons is taken from the Arcadia: in which romance there is a chapter thus intitl'd;"The pitifull state, and storie of the Paphlagonian unkinde King, and his kind sonne, first related by the son, then by the blind father.” (Arcadia, p. 142, edit. 1590, 4to.) of which episode there are no traces in either chronicle, poem, or play, wherein this history is handl'd.
Love's Labour's Lost.
The fable of this play does not seem to be a work entirely of invention; and I am apt to believe, that it owes its birth to some novel or other, which may one day be discover'd. The character of Armado has some resemblance to Don Quixote; but the play is older than that work of Cervantes: of Holofernes, another sin gular character, there are some faint traces in a masque of Sir Philip Sidney's that was presented before Queen Elizabeth at Wansted: this masque, call'd in catalogues—The Lady of May, is at the end of that author's works, edit. 1627, folio.
Measure for Measure.
In the year 1578, was publish'd in a black-letter quarto a miserable dramatick performance, in two parts, intitl❜d—Promos and Cassandra; written by one George Whetstone, author likewise of the Heptameron, and much other poetry of the same stamp, printed about that time. These plays their author, perhaps, might form upon a novel of Cinthio's; (v. Dec. 8, Nov. 5,) which Shakspeare went not to, but took up with Whetstone's fable, as is evident from the argument of it; which, though it be somewhat of the longest, yet take it in his own words.
"The Argument of the whole Historye.
"In the Cyttie of Julio (sometimes under the dominion of
Corvinus Kinge of Hungarie and Boemia) there was a law, that what man soever committed adultery, should lose his head, & the woman offender, should weare some disguised apparel, during her life, to make her infamouslye noted. This severe lawe, by the favour of some mercifull magistrate, became little regarded, untill the time of Lord Promos auctority: who convicting, a yong gentleman named Andrugio of incontinency, condemned, both him, and his minion to the execution of this statute. Andrugio had a very vertuous, and beawtiful gentlewoman to his sister, named Cassandra: Cassandra to enlarge her bro thers life, submitted an humble petition to the Lord Promos: Promos regarding her good behaviours, and fantasying her great beawtie, was much delighted with the sweete order of her talke: and doyng good, that evill might come thereof: for a time, he repryv'd her brother: but wicked man, tourning his liking unto unlawfull lust, he set downe the spoile of her honour, raunsome of her Brothers life: Chaste Cassandra, abhorring both him and his sute, by no perswasion would yeald to this raunsome. But in fine, wonne with the importunitye of hir brother (pleading for life :) upon these conditions she agreed to Promos. First that he should pardon her brother, and after marry her. Promos as fearless in promisse, as carelesse in performance, with sollemne vowe, sygned her conditions: but worse than any Infydel, his will satisfyed, he performed neither the one nor the other: for to keepe his aucthoritye, unspotted with favour, and to prevent Cassandraes clamors, he commaunded the Gayler secretly, to present Cassandra with her brother's head. The Gayler, with the outcryes of Andrugio, (abhorryng Promos lewdnes,) by the providence of God, provided thus for his safety. He presented Cassandra with a felons head newlie executed, who, (being mangled, knew it not from her brothers, by the Gayler, who was set at libertie) was so agreeved at this trecherye, that at the pointe to kyl her selfe, she spared that stroke, to be avenged of Promos. And devysing a way, she concluded, to make her fortunes knowne unto the kinge. She (executing this resolution) was so highly favoured of the King, that forthwith he hasted to do justice on Promos: whose judgement was, to marrye Cassandra, to repaire her erased Honour: which donne, for his hainous offence he should lose his head. This maryage solempnised, Cassandra tyed in the greatest bondes of affection to her husband, became an earnest suter for his life: the Kinge (tendringe the generall benefit of the cōmon weale, before her special case, although he favoured her much) would not graunt her sute. Andrugio (disguised amonge the company) sorrowing the griefe of his sister, bewrayde his safety, and craved pardon. The Kinge, to renowne the vertues of Cassandra, pardoned both him, and Promos. The circumstances of this rare Historye, in action livelye foloweth."
The play itself opens thus:
"Actus I..... Scena 1.
"Promos, "Mayor, Shirife, Sworde bearer: One with a bunche of keyes: Phallax, Promos man.
"You Officers which now in Julio stape,
"Phallax readeth the Kinges Letters Patents, which must be fayre written in parchment, with some great counterfeat zeale.
Pro. Loe, here you see what is our Soveraignes
Loe, heare his wish, that right, not might, beare swape:
Loe, heare his care, to weed from good the pll, To scourge the wights, good Lawes that disobay."
And thus it proceeds; without one word in it, that Shakspeare could make use of, or can be read with patience by any man living: and yet, besides the characters appearing in the argument, his Bawd, Clown, Lucio, Juliet, and the Provost, nay, and even his Barnardine, are created out of hints which this play gave him; and the lines too that are quoted, bad as they are suggested to him the manner in which his own play opens.
Merchant of Venice.
The Jew of Venice was a story exceedingly well known in Shakspeare's time; celebrated in ballads; and taken (perhaps) originally from an Italian book intitl'd-Il Pecorone: the au thor of which calls himself,-Ser Giovanni Fiorentino; and writ his book, as he tells you in some humorous verses at the beginning of it, in 1378, three years after the death of Boccace: it is divided into giornata's, and the story we are speaking of is in the first novel of the giornata quarta; edit. 1565, octavo, in Vi negia. This novel Shakspeare certainly read; either in the ori
ginal, or (which I rather think) in some translation that is not now to be met with, and form'd his play upon it. It was translated anew, and made publick in 1755, in a small octavo pamphlet, printed for M. Cooper: and, at the end of it, a novel of Boccace; (the first of day the tenth) which, as the translator rightly judges, might possibly produce the scene of the caskets, substituted by the poet in place of one in the other novel, that was not proper for the stage.
Merry Wives of Windsor.
"Queen Elizabeth," says a writer of Shakspeare's life, was so well pleas'd with that admirable character of Falstaff, in the two parts of Henry the Fourth, that she commanded him to continue it for one play more, and to shew him in love. This is said to be the occasion of his writing The Merry Wives of Windsor." As there is no proof brought for the truth of this story, we may conclude that it is either some play-house tradition, or had its rise from Sir William D'Avenant, whose authority the writer quotes for another singular anecdote, relating to lord Southampton. Be this as it may; Shakspeare, in the conduct of Falstaff's love-adventures, made use of some incidents in a book that has been mention'd before, call'd-Il Pecorone; they are in the second novel of that book. It is highly probable, that this novel likewise is in an old English dress somewhere or other; and from thence transplanted into a foolish book, call'd-The fortunate, the deceiv'd, and the unfortunate Lovers; printed in 1685, octavo, for William Whittwood; where the reader may see it, at p. 1. Let me add too, that there is a like story in the "Piacevoli Notti, di Straparola, libro primo; at Notte quarto, Favola quarta; edit. 1567, octavo, in Vinegia.
Midsummer Night's Dream.
The history of our old poets is so little known, and the first editions of their works become so very scarce, that it is hard pronouncing any thing certain about them: but, if that pretty fantastical poem of Drayton's, call'd-Nymphidia, or The Court of Fairy, be early enough in time, (as, I believe, it is; for I have seen an edition of that author's pastorals, printed in 1593, quarto,) it is not improbable, that Shakspeare took from thence the hint of his faires: a line of that poem, "Thorough bush, thorough briar," occurs also in his play. The rest of the play is, doubtless, invention: the names only of Theseus, Hippolita, and Theseus' former loves, Antiopa and others, being histori. cal; and taken from the translated Plutarch, in the article Theseus.
Much Ado about Nothing.
"Timbree de Cardone deviet amoureux à Messine de Feni. cie Leonati, & des divers & estrages accidens qui advindret avāt qu'il l' espousast,"—is the title of another novel in the Histoires Tragiques of Belleforest; Tom. 3, Hist. 18: it is taken from one of Bandello's, which you may see in his first tome, at p. 150,
of the London edition in quarto, a copy from that of Lucca in 1554. This French novel comes the nearest to the fable of Much Ado about Nothing, of any thing that has yet been discovered, and is (perhaps) the foundation of it. There is a story something like it in the fifth book of Orlando Furioso: (v. Sir John Harrington's translation of it, edit. 1591, folio) and another in Spencer's Fairy Queen.
Cinthio, the best of the Italian writers next to Boccace, has a novel thus intitl'd:-" Un Capitano Moro piglia per mogliera una cittadina venetiana, un suo Alfieri l'accusa de adulterio al [read, il, with a colon after-adulterio] Marito, cerca, che l'Alfieri uccida colui, ch'egli credea l'Adultero, il Capitano uccide la Moglie, è accusato dallo Alfieri, non confessa il Moro, ma essendovi chiari inditii, è bandito, Et lo scelerato Alfieri credendo nuocere ad altri, procaccia à sè la morte miseramente." Hecatommithi, Dec. 3, Nov. 7; edit. 1565, two tomes, octavo. If there was no translation of this novel, French or English; nor any thing built upon it, either in prose or verse, near enough in time for Shakspeare to take his Othello from them; we must, I think, conclude-that he had it from the Italian; for the story (at least, in all it's main circumstances) is apparently the same.
Romeo and Juliet.
This very affecting story is likewise a true one; it made a great noise at the time it happen'd, and was soon taken up by poets and novel-writers. Bandello has one; it is the ninth of tome the second: and there is another, and much better, left us by some anonymous writer; of which I have an edition, printed in 1553 at Venice, one year before Bandello, which yet was not the first. Some small time after, Pierre Boisteau, a French writer, put out one upon the same subject, taken from these Italians, but much alter'd and enlarg'd: this novel, together with five others of Boisteau's penning, Belleforest took; and they now stand at the beginning of his Histoires Tragiques, edition before-mention'd. But it had some prior edition; which falling into the hands of a countryman of ours, he converted it into a poem; altering, and adding many things to it of his own, and publish'd it in 1562, without a name, in a small octavo volume, printed by Richard Tottill; and this poem, which is call'd -The Tragical Historie of Romeus and Juliet, is the origin of Shakspeare's play: who not only follows it even minutely in the conduct of his fable, and that in those places where it differs from the other writers; but has also borrow'd from it some few thoughts, and expressions. At the end of a small poetical miscellany, publish'd by one George Turberville in 1570, there is a poem-" On the death of Maister Arthur Brooke drownde in passing to New-haven;" in which it appears, that this gentleman, (who, it is likely, was à military man,) was the writer of Romeus and Juliet. In the second tome of The Palace of Pleasure, (Nov. 25) there is a prose translation of Boisteau's novel but Shakspeare made no use of it.