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A Magazine of Literature, Science, and Art.
VOL. VII.—JAN., 1856.—NO, XXXVII.
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE AND HIS PLAYS;
AN INQUIRY CONCERNING THEM.*
OW can we undertake to account for the literary miracles of antiquity, while this great myth of the modern ages still lies at our own door, unquestioned?
This vast, magical, unexplained phenomenon which our own times have produced under our own eyes, appears to be, indeed, the only thing which our modern rationalism is not to be permitted to meddle with. For, here the critics themselves still veil their faces, filling the air with mystic utterances which seem to say, that to this shrine at least, for the footstep of the common reason and the common sense, there is yet no admittance. But how can they instruct us to take off here the sandals which they themselves have taught us to wear into the inmost sekos of the most ancient sanctities?
THE SHAKESPEARE DRAMA-its import, its limitations, its object and sources, its beginning and end-for the modern critic, that is surely now the question.
What, indeed, should we know of the origin of the Homeric poems? Twentyfive hundred years ago, when those mys
tic characters, which the learned Phenician and Egyptian had brought in vain to the singing Greek of the Heroic Ages, began, in the new modifications of national life which the later admixtures of foreign elements created, at length to be put to their true uses, that song of the nation, even in its latest form, was already old on the lips of the learned, and its origin a tradition. All the history of that wonderful individuality, wherein the inspirations of so many ages were at last united-the circumstance, the vicissitude, the poetic life that had framed that dazzling mirror of old time, and wrought in it those depths of clearness-all had gone before the art of writing and memories had found its way into Greece, or even the faculty of perceiving the actual had begun to be developed there.
And yet are the scholars of our time content to leave this matter here, where they find it! With these poetic remains in their hands, the monuments of a genius whose date is ante-historical, are they content to know of their origin only what Alexander and Plato could know, what Solon and Pisistratus were
In commencing the publication of these bold, original, and most ingenious and interesting speculations upon the real authorship of Shakespeare's plays, it is proper for the Editor of Putnam's Monthly, in disclaiming all responsibility for their startling view of the question, to say that they are the result of long and conscientious investigation on the part of the learned and eloquent scholar, their author; and that the Editor has reason to hope that they will be continued through some future numbers of the Magazine.
fain to content themselves with, what the Homerids themselves received of him as their ancestral patron!
No: with these works in their hands to-day, reasoning from them alone, with no collateral aids, with scarce an extant monument of the age from which they come to us, they are not afraid to fly in the face of all antiquity with their conclusions.
Have they not settled among them, already, the old dispute of the contending cities, the old dispute of the contending ages, too, for the honor of this poet's birth? Do they not take him to pieces before our eyes, this venerable Homer; and tell us how many old forgotten poets' ashes went to his formation, and trace in him the mosaic seams which eluded the scrutiny of the age of Pericles? Even Mr. Grote will tell us now, just where the Iliad "cuts me" the fiery Achilles "cranking in ;" and what could hinder the learned Schlegel, years ago, from setting his chair in the midst of the Delian choirs, confronting the confounded children of Ion with his definitions of the term Homeros, and demonstrating, from the Leipsic Iliad in his hand that the poet's cotemporaries had, in fact, named him Homer the seer, not Homer the Blind One?
The criticism of our age found this whole question where the art of writing found it, two thousand five hundred years ago; but, because the Ionian cities, and Solon, and Pisistratus, might be presumed, beforehand, to know at least as much about it as they, or because the opinions of twenty-five centuries, in such a case, might seem to he entitled to some reverence, did the critics leave it there?
Two hundred and fifty years ago, our poet-our Homer-was alive in the world. Two centuries and a half ago, when the art of letters was already millenniums old in Europe, when the art of printing had already been in use a century and a half, in the midst of a cotemporary historical illumination which has its equal nowhere in history, those works were issued that have given our English life and language their imperishable claim in the earth, that have made the name in which they come to us a word by itself, in the human speech; and, to this hour, we know of their origin hardly so much as we knew of the origin of the Homeric ep
ics, when the present discussions in regard to them commenced, not so much, -not a hundredth part so much, as we now know of Pharaoh's, who reigned in the valley of the Nile, ages before the invasion of the Hyksos.
But with these products of the national life in our hands, with all the cotemporary light on their implied conditions which such an age as that of Elizabeth can furnish, are we going to be able to sit still much longer, in a period of historical inquiry and criticism like this, under the gross impossibilities which the still accepted theory on this subject involves?
The age which has put back old Homer's eyes, safe, in his head again, after he had gone without them well nigh three thousand years; the age which has found, and labeled, and sent to the museum, the skull in which the pyramid of Cheops was designed, and the lions which 66 the mighty hunter before the Lord" ordered for his new palace on the Tigris some millenniums earlier; the age in which we have abjured our faith in Romulus and Remus, is surely one in which we may be permitted to ask this question.
Shall this crowning literary product of that great epoch, wherein these new ages have their beginning, vividly arrayed in its choicest refinements, flashing everywhere on the surface with its costliest wit, crowded everywhere with its subtlest scholasticisms, betraying, on every page, its broadest, freshest range of experience, its most varied culture, its profoundest insight, its boldest grasp of comprehension-shall this crowning result of so many preceding ages of growth and culture, with its essential, and now palpable connection with the new scientific movement of the time from which it issues, be able to conceal from us, much longer, its history?-Shall we be able to accept in explanation of it, much longer, the story of the Stratford poacher?
The popular and traditional theory of the origin of these works was received and transmitted after the extraordinary circumstances which led to its first imposition had ceased to exist, because, in fact, no one had any motive for taking the trouble to call it in question. The common disposition to receive, in good faith, a statement of this kind, however extraordinary-the natural intellectual preference of the affirmative