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CHARACTER OF THE PIECE, ORIGIN OF THE PLOT, DATE, ETC.
preparing the TAMING OF THE SHREW, as we now have it, for the stage, Shakespeare seems to have originally intended nothing more than a revisal or improvement of a play of considerable but very unequal merit, very popular at the time, under the title of "The Taming of a Shrew," which he found in possession of the stage, and which was printed in 1594. In retaining the wellknown old title, with the whole plot, and all those striking incidents of the action which tell most upon the stage, and become most familiar to the public, it was evident that he made no claim to originality, and had no thought of concealing the source of his obligations. But it is as evident that, in the progress of his revision, his busy invention and poetic fancy could not rest contented with the mere corrections and alterations of an editor or a manager; so that he was led to recast and reconstruct the whole story, to change the scene of action from Greece to the Italy of his own times, and to interweave with its incidents some circumstances from a play of Ariosto's, of a similar plot, (the "Suppositi,") some time before translated and published (in 1566) under the title of "The Supposes." In doing this, he could not refrain from improving and heightening the humour and interest, by filling the stage with gay and rapid action, and giving more individuality to the characters, such as transforming a common-place serving-man into Grumio—a worthy kinsman of Launcelot Gobbo, Speed, Launce, and the Dromios-yet in no danger of being mistaken for any one of them; and elevating the wife-taming hero (Ferando) of the old play, who is but a coarse and noisy tyrant, into the whimsical and boisterous affectations of the good-natured Petruchio, so well described by Hazlitt as "acting an assumed character to the life with the most fantastical extravagance, with untiring animal spirits, but without a particle of ill-humour from beginning to end."
Finally, he has stamped upon the comedy throughout, and especially in the "Induction," the indelible and unquestionable marks of his own mind, by deliberately rejecting many passages of elaborate and even splendid imagery, such as no poet of that age would have been ashamed of, to substitute other passages and even scenes, of a higher and purer poetry and sweeter melody. These (take, for example, the poetic passages of the second scene with Sly) are, in my judgment, very much in the taste, spirit, and style of the poetry of the MERCHANT OF VENICE, and fix the reconstruction and decoration of the old play somewhere about the same date, (between 1597 and 1601,) after the author had thrown off the peculiar defects of his earlier compositions, and before his style had acquired its later compressed and thought-burdened character, or his mind that habitual tendency to gloomier reflections which casts its shades athwart the most brilliant and glowing conceptions of the middle period of his literary life. On this point, however, the critics differ. Knight refers the remodelling of this piece to a somewhat earlier period, as a task which "Shakespeare would not have undertaken in the high and palmy' period of his dramatic career," after the production of his Histories, ROMEO AND JULIET, and several of his most successful comedies. in this view, he agrees with Malone, who places its production as early as 1594. Collier, on the contrary, thus pronounces as to the date:
"On the question, when it was originally composed, opinions, including my own, have varied considerably; but 1 mow think we can arrive at a tolerably satisfactory decision. Malone first believed that the TAMING OF THE SHREW was written in 1606, and subsequently gave 1596 as its probable date. It appears to me that nobody has sufficiently attended to the apparently unimportant fact that in HAMLET Shakespeare mistakenly introduces the name of Baptista as that of a woman, while in the TAMING OF THE SHREW Baptista is the father of Katharina and Bianca. Had he been aware when he wrote HAMLET that Baptista was the name of a man, he would hardly have used it for that of a woman; but before he produced the TAMING OF THE SHREW he had detected his own error. The great probability is, that HAMLET was written at the earliest in 1601, and the TAMING OF THE SHREW perhaps came from the pen of its author not very long afterwards.
The recent reprint of the Pleasant Comedy of Patient Grissill,' by Decker, Chettle, and Haughton, from the dition of 1603, tends to throw light on this point. It contains various allusions to the taming of shrews; and the old Taming of a Shrew' was acted by Henslowe's company, and is mentioned by him under the date of 11th June, 1594. One of the passages in Patient Grissill,' which seems to connect the two, occurs in act v. scene 2, where Sir Owen, producing his wands, says to the Marquess, ‘I will learn your medicines to tame shrews.' This expression is remarkable, because we find by Henslowe's Diary' that, in July, 1602, Decker received a payment from the old manager, on account of a comedy he was writing under the title of A Medicine for a curst Wife.' My conjecture is, that Shakespeare, (in coalition, possibly, with some other dramatist, who wrote the portions which are admitted not to be in Shakespeare's manner,) produced his TAMING OF THE SHREW, soon after Patient Grisill' had been brought upon the stage, and as a sort of counterpart to it; and that Decker followed up the subject in the summer of 1602 by his Medicine for a curst Wife,' having been incited by the success of Shakespeare's TAMING OF THE SHREW at a rival theatre. At this time the old Taming of a Shrew' had been laid by as a public performance, and Shakespeare having very nearly adopted its title, Decker took a different one, in accordance with the expression he had used two or three years before in 'Patient Grissill.'
"The silence of Meares, in 1598, regarding any such play by Shakespeare, is also important; had it then been written, he could scarcely have failed to mention it; so that we have strong negative evidence of its non-existence before the appearance of Palladis Tamia.' When Sir John Harrington, in his Metamorphosis of Ajax,' (1596,) says, Read the booke of ‘Taming a Shrew,' which hath made a number of us so perfect that now every one can rule a shrew in our country, save he that hath her,' he meant the old Taming of a Shrew,' reprinted in the same year."
The original play and the reconstruction of it, by Shakespeare, are thus contrasted by Mr. Knight:"The Taming of a Shrew,' upon which the comedy attributed to Shakespeare is undoubtedly founded, first appeared in 1594, under the following title: "A pleasant conceited Historie called the taming of a Shrew. As it was sundry times acted by the Right honourable the Earle of Pembroke his servants. Printed at London by Peter Short, and are to be sold by Cuthbert Burbie, at his shop at the Royal Exchange, 1594.* The comedy opens with an Induction, the characters of which are a Lord, Slie, a Tapster, Page, Players, and Huntsmen. The incidents are precisely the same as those of the play which we must call Shakespeare's. There is this difference in the management of the character of Sly in the original comedy, that, during the whole of the performance of the Taming of a Shrew,' he occasionally makes his remarks; and is finally carried back to the alehouse door in a state of sleep. In Shakespeare we lose this most diverting personage before the end of the first act. After our Poet had fairly launched him in the Induction, and given a tone to his subsequent demeanour during the play, the performer of the character was perhaps allowed to continue the dialogue extemporally. We doubt, by the way, whether this would have been permitted after Shakespeare had prescribed that the clowns should speak no more than what is set down for them.'
"The scene of the old Taming of a Shrew' is laid at Athens; that of Shakespeare's at Padua. The Athens of the one and the Padua of the other are resorts of learning; the old play opening thus:—
Welcome to Athens, my beloved friend,
To Plato's schools, and Aristotle's walks.
Alfonso, a merchant of Athens, (the Baptista of Shakespeare,) has three daughters, Kate, Emelia, and Phylema. Aurelius, son of the Duke of Cestus, (Sestos.) is enamoured of one, Polidor of another, and Ferando (the Petruchio of Shakespeare) of Kate, the Shrew. The merchant hath sworn, before he will allow his two younger daughters to be addressed by suitors, that—
His eldest daughter first shall be espous'd.
The wooing of the Kate of the old play by Ferando is exactly in the same spirit as the wooing by Petruchio in this play; so is the marriage; so the Lenten entertainment of the bride in Ferando's country-house; so the scene with the Tailor and Haberdasher; so the prostrate obedience of the tamed Shrew. The under-plot, however, is essentially different. The lovers of the younger sisters do not woo them in assumed characters; though a merchant is brought to personate the Duke of Cestus. The real duke arrives, as Vincentio arrives in our play, to discover the imposture; and his indignation occupies much of the latter part of the action, with sufficient tediousness. All parties are ultimately happy and pleased; and the comedy ends with the wager, as in Shakespeare, about the obedience of the several wives, the Shrew pronouncing a homily upon the virtue and beauty of submission, which sounds much more hypocritical even than that of the Kate of our Poet. There cannot be a doubt that the latter author had the original play before him; that he sometimes adopted particular images and forms of expression,-occasionally whole lines; but that he invariably took the incidents of those scenes in which the process of taming the shrew is carried forward. There can only be one solution of the motives which led to this bold adaptation of the performance of another, and that not a contemptible production like the Famous Victories,' upon which HENRY IV. and HENRY V. may be said to have been founded. Shakespeare found the old Taming of a Shrew' a favourite, in its rude mirth and high-sounding language; and in presenting a nearly similar plot to the audience at his own theatre, he was careful not to disturb their recollections of what had afforded them the principal entertainment in what he had to remodel. Infinitely more spirited and characteristic was the drama which he produced; but it would leave the same impressions as the older play upon the majority of his audience. They would equally enjoy the surprise and self-satisfaction of the drunken man when he became a lord; equally relish the rough wooing of the master of the taming school;' rejoice at the dignity of the more worthy gender when the poor woman was denied beef and mustard;' and hold their sides with convulsive laughter, when the Tailor was driven off with his gown and the Haberdasher with his cap. Shakespeare took these incidents as he found them; perhaps, for the purposes of the stage, he could not have improved them."
The story of Christopher Sly, again, is worked up from one of those pleasant old stories which are either founded on facts that have actually occurred in various countries and ages, or have else travelled along from generation to generation, and across the globe, from ancient or eastern tradition or invention.
Mr. Singer has summed up, with his usual perspicuous brevity, much of the curious learning on this subject, collected by the several editors, as well as their leading opinions on the comedy itself:
There is an old anonymous play extant with the same title, first printed in 1596, which (as in the case of KING JOHN and HENRY V.) Shakespeare rewrote, 'adopting the order of the scenes, and inserting little more than a few lines which he thought worth preserving, or was in too much haste to alter.' Malone, with great probability, suspects the old play to have been the production of George Peele or Robert Greene. Pope ascribed it to Shakespeare, and his opinion was current for many years, until a more exact examination of the original piece (which is of extreme rarity) undeceived those who were better versed in the literature of the time of Elizabeth than that poet. It is remarkable that the Induction, as it is called, has not been continued by Shakespeare so as to complete the story of Sly, or at least it has not come down to us; and Pope therefore supplied the deficiencies in this play from the elder performance. They have been degraded from their station in the text, as in some places
We copy this title from Mr. Collier's "History of Dramatic Poetry." This edition was unknown to the commentators. That of 1606, which Stevens reprinted, has no material variations from this very rare copy.
There was a second edition of the anonymous play in 1607; and the curious reader may consult it, in "Six old plays upon which Shakespeare founded," etc., published by Stevens.