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BECAUSE William Shakspere, who lived in this world only fifty-two years, wrote so much within that brief period, and, furthermore, because he wrote with such transcendent genius and ability, it has pleased theoretical and visionary observers to declare that he never wrote at all. Shakspere viewed alone, they maintain, is a miracle, and therefore an impossibility; but Shakspere and Francis Bacon, rolled into onc, constitute a being who is entirely natural and authentic. The works of Shakspere and the works. of Bacon present, indeed, almost every possible point of dissimilarity, and no point of resemblance. The man behind Shaksperc's plays and poems and the man behind Bacon's essays and philosophy are absolutely distinct from one another, and as far apart as the poles. The direct and positive testimony of Shakspere's friend and professional associate, Ben Jonson—a close observer, a ̋stern critic, a truth-teller, a moralist, not over-amiable in his commentary upon human nature, and neither prone to error nor liable to credulity-tells the world, not only that Shakspere wrote, but in what manner he wrote. The assumption, implied in the Bacon theory,` that a poet capable of writing "Hamlet," "Macbeth," "Lear," and "Othello," either would or could, for any reason whatsoever, wish to escape the imputation of their authorship, is obviously absurd. The idea that Shakspere, hired by Bacon to father those plays, could for a period of years go in and out among the actors and the authors of his time, and so impose upon their sagacity and elude their jealous scrutiny as to keep the secret of this gigantic fraud, is simply ludicrous. The notion that the man who wrote Shakspere's poems-and these, undeniably, were the work of William Shakspere-was the kind of man to lend himself to any scheme of imposture is repudiated by every intimation of character that those poems contain; and the same may rightfully be said of the man who wrote Shakspere's plays. The fact that the plays, which these theorists would. deny to Shakspere's pen, are entirely, absolutely, and incontestibly kindred with the poems, which they cannot deny to it, stands forth as clear as the daylight. The associate fact that the plays contain precisely such errors as would naturally be made by the untutored Shakspere. but could not possibly be made by the thoroughly taught and erudite Bacon, is likewise distinctly visible. Yet, all the same-because Shaksperc, like Burns,
sprung from a family in humble station, and was but poorly schooled-this preposterous doctrine persistently rears its foolish head, and insults with idle chatter the Shaksperean scholarship of the world. Only a few weeks ago a prominent representative dramatist of the day had the astounding folly to announce an hypothesis-apparently intended to be taken in earnest that Shakspere's tragedy of "Hamlet" was written by Jonson, Webster, Dekker, and Alleyne, in conjunction with Shakspere, and under his supervision; a doctrine which, to any student acquainted with those writers and their times, is pitiable in its silliness. For if there be in literature any work which, from the first line to the last, and in every word and syllable of it, bears the authentic pressure of one creative and predominant mind-the broad-headed arrow of imperial dominion-that work is "Hamlet." Shakspere's style, once known, can never be mistaken. No man of his time, with the single exception of John Fletcher, could write in anything like his peculiar strain of simplicity and power. In some of the historical plays there are traces of collaboration-as all readers know; but in his greater plays the only hand that is visible is the hand of Shaksperc.
This is especially true of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and prob. ably no better mental exercise than the analysis of the style and spirit and component elements of this piece could be devised for those persons -if any such there be-who incline to entertain either the Bacon theory or the collaboration theory of the authorship of Shakspere. Bacon, if his avowed writings may be taken as the denotement of his mind, could no more have written this play than he could have flown on wings of tissuepaper over the spire of old St. Paul's; nor does it exhibit the slightest deviation from one invariable poetic mind and temperament. Shak
spere's fancy takes a free range here, and revels in beauty and joy. The Dream was first published in 1600; the carliest allusion made to it is that of Francis Meres, in his "Palladis Tamia," in 1598; and probably it was written as early as 1594, when Shakspere was thirty years old. A significant reference to the subject of it occurs in the second scene of the second act of the "Comedy of Errors" (1589-91), which has been thought to indicate that the poet had already considered and, perhaps, conceived it he was working with wise and incessant industry at that time, and the amazing fertility of his creative genius was beginning to reveal itself. The Dream is absolutely of his own invention. The names of the characters, together with a few incidents, he derived from Plutarch, Ovid, and Chaucer-authors with whom he shows himself to have been acquainted. The story of Pyramus and Thisbe occurs in Ovid, and a translation of that Latin poct, made by Arthur Golding, was current in Shakspere's day. It is thought that the "Knight's Tale" and "Tysbe of Babylone," by Chaucer, may have been the means of suggesting this play to Shakspere, but his story and his characters are his own. And although, as
Dr. Johnson observes, fairies were in his time fashionable, and Spenser's poem ("The Faerie Queene ") had made them great, Shakspere was the first to interblend them with the proceedings of mortals in a drama. The text of this piece is considered to be exceptionally free from error or any sort of defect. Two editions of the Dream, quarto, appeared in 1600one published by Thomas Fisher, bookseller; the other by James Roberts, printer. The Fisher publication had been entered at Stationers' Hall, October 8th, that year, and probably it was sanctioned by the author. The two editions do not materially differ, and the modern Shakspercan editors have made a judicious use of both in their choice of the text. The play was not again printed until 1623, when it appeared in the first Folio.
The title-pages of the Fisher and the Roberts Quartos are given here. with, in fac-simile. It is not known which was first, or which was au thorized. Each of these Quartos consists of 32 leaves. Neither of them distinguishes the acts or scenes. In the first Folio (1623) the Dream occupies 18 pages, from p. 145 to p. 162 inclusive, in the section devoted to comedies-the Acts, but not the Scenes, being distinguished. The editors of that Folio, Heminge and Condell, followed the text of the Roberts Quarto. The memory of one of the actors who appeared in the Dream in its earliest days is curiously preserved in a stage-direction, printed in the First Folio, in Act v. Sc. i. : “Tawyer with a trumpet." The piece, of course, appears in the later folios,-1632, 1664, and 1685. "A Midsum mer Night's Dream" was popular in Shakspere's own time. Mention of it, as impliedly a play in general knowledge and acceptance, was made by Taylor, the Water Poet, in :622.
A piece called "The Fairy Queen," being Shakspere's comedy, with music by Purcell, was published in London in 1692. It had been acted there at the Haymarket-the presentation being made with rich dresses, fine scenery, and elaborate mechanism. There is another old piece, called "The Merry-Conceited Humours of Bottom the Weaver." This was made out of an episode in the Dream, and it is included in the collection of farces attributed to Robert Cox, a comedian of the time of Charles the First, published in 1672. A comic masque, by Richard Leveridge, similarly derived, entitled "Pyramus and Thisbe," was performed at Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre, and was published in 1716. Two other musical farces, with this same title and origin, are recorded-one by Mr. Lampe, acted at Covent Garden, and published in 1745; the other by W. C. Oulton, acted at Birmingham, and published in 1798. Garrick made an acting-copy of "A Midsummer Night's Dream"-adding to the text as well as curtailing it, and introducing songs-and this was played at Drury Lane, where it failed, and was published in 1763. Colman reduced Garrick's piece to two acts, and called it "A Fairy Tale," and in this form it was tried at Drury Lane, and published in 1764 and 1777. Colman, however, wrote: