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at about the beginning of the present century. Neither did it seem to me that orthodox Shakespeareans (if by that term we mean those who believe William Shakespeare to have written every line, exit, entrance—to have made every pen stroke in some thirty-seven plays; to have borrowed plots and incidents by the handful, but never by any chance to have used the words or speech of another) were exactly in a position to protest against an alleged claimant being fully, even emphatically, heard. They had certainly had ample time to present their side. Their day in court had lengthened out to over two centuries. To raise the hue and cry against hearing the other side seemed to me as if they proposed to confess that they had half heartedly, feebly, and imperfectly presented their own case, or felt incompetent to be intrusted with it further, or lacked confidence in the presumption in their favor.
Still less was I, nor am I yet, able to see anything emotional, anything over which gentlemen should lash themselves into a temper, in a passionless historical question as to something which happened three hundred years ago. So long as the capital question of a SHAKESPEARE Canon remains open, a discussion of the secondary question of the William Shakespeare authorship, whether considered as a whole (as is the method of the Baconian Society) or as to particular works, or parts of works (as conducted by Mr. Fleay in his admirable “Shakespeare Manual," and Mr. Rolfe, in his invaluable “ Friendly Edition”), would seem to be proper. I, for one, am willing to confess that after many years of familiarity with it the question as to what William Shakespeare wrote with his own pen, and what became his (to use Mr. R. G. White's language) “after the theatrical fashion and under the theatrical conditions of his day,” is, in my opinion, an inquiry as legitimate as it is fascinating-entitled to the fullest examination and treatment on purely historical grounds; and one which may not only be pursued to any extent without casting suspicion on the querist's loyalty or othodoxy, but whose discussion is always a contribution the moreand therefore always welcome—to the world's noble and ever magnifying Library of Shakespeareana.
In leaving the subject of the authorship as a whole (for I shall never touch it, except possibly in detail, again), there are one or two points to which I ask permission to call attention, viz. :
I. The very great elaboration the Baconian Theory has received—since my first edition—at the hands of Mrs. Henry Pott, Mr. Ignatius Donnelly, and others.
II. The wonderful demonstration which my friend Ex-Governor Davis has given in his “ The Law in Shakespeare," of the argument from the Legalisms which is only touched upon in my own pages. The eloquent Governor has gone beyond all his predecessors in showing that the Plays are not only fluent in the use of our lawyers' and attorneys' jargon and technicalities; but that their very structure is legal and juridicial; that the Hamlet, at least, was once thoroughly revised by some one learned in the law of England, by supplying the legal explanation of the succession of Fortinbras, just as, in another play, a misconstruction of the Salic law was set right, etc.
On re-reading the following pages I see only two points as to which I have something to add, viz:
In the first edition I was obliged to confess that the evidence that Sakespeare's verses were favorites at court, and he the friend of Southampton, did not impress me as of any particular value. But it has since occurred to me that, although obituary poetry is not of any legal value as evidence, yet Ben Jonson, writing for his contemporaries, would hardly have introduced such a line as
" That did so take Eliza and our James," if he had not been pretty sure of his facts; especially since Elizabeth's courtiers were still alive, and “our James” himself upon the throne. The Plays, then, did attract some attention at court, and the playwright may have been sent for, even though we have no evidence to that effect. And I was in error also in inferring that when young Shakespeare left Stratford for London, he was liable to arrest under the statute against “schollers, idlers, common players of interludes and minstrels wandering abroad, jugglers, tinkers and petty chapmen.” On referring to that statute (39 Eliz. c. 4), I find that it was not passed until 1599, the year Shakespeare's father received his grant of arms. However, as to the friendship between Shakespeare and Southampton in 1593, I am still not only skeptical, but every record of those times which I approach, confirms me in my disbelief.
The answers to the first edition (I have read ninetythree of them) seem to me mostly sentimental. The only practical point made appears to be that the discrepancies of the Will are to be accounted for by supposing the Plays to have passed either to Mrs. Shakespeare the relict, or to Dr. John Hall the executor, of the dramatist. But in either case, entries to that effect in the Books of the Stationers' Company would have been imperatively essential. And it must be remembered, too, that copyright in those days -being by common law and not by statute-did not expire by limitation at all, but was perpetual. (In other words, were it possible to trace them, we could find to-day parties in whom the copyright of the Shakespeare Plays still vests.) If light is wanted as to the laws of literary property in Elizabeth's and James's days, why guess at it, when law libraries are accessible, and the Books of the Stationers' Company extant? Blount and Jaggard, who printed the First Folio, were alive to their own interests, when (November 8, 1623,) they copyrighted the sixteen Plays first printed in that Folio. How did they obtain a right to print the remaining twenty which had already been copyrighted ? Nobody knows. They did not re-copyright them for the simple reason that, having helped themselves to them, they had no legal rights to make registry of. Blount and Jaggard were not interfered with, because these Plays, having lost for the time their commercial value, were not esteemed worth a lawsuit by their former printers. But the interesting fact remains that it was the firm of Blount and Jaggard, and not their predecessors, who printed “stolne and surreptitious copies.” It is simply silly to talk, as commentators will, of Shakespeare omitting to mention his Plays in his Testament, because his copyrights in them had expired, or because he or his representatives had sold them to the Globe Theater.
If his Plays had never been entered for copyright on the Books of the Stationers' Company, he or his executors might undoubtedly have sold them without registering the transfer. But, unfortunately, these Plays were registered; and, once registered, it was impossible to alienate them except by registry of later date. If, however, William Shakespeare never owned more than what we call to-day a Stageright in the Plays, all is accounted for. There was no law