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JHE WINTER'S TALE is unquestionably one of Shakespeare's later works, and it may

have been his very last drama. This play was never printed during the author's life, and is

preserved only in the folio edition of 1623. As it has not the evidence of the date of its composition afforded to many other plays by their early publication in pamphlets, and as there is not to be found any entry of the title upon the registers of the Stationers' Company, nor any mention of it in contemporary authors, there was formerly much doubt and critical discussion as to the epoch of the author's literary life to which it should be assigned. This is, however, now very satisfactorily ascertained by the general agreement of its style of language and thought, with the more precise evidence resulting from the collation of several insulated pieces of testimony successively discovered, within the last few years, by the industry of Mr. Collier and his associates, in the investigation of Shakespearian and other Old-English lore. The internal evidence of style and manner alone would not fix any very definite period for the composition of this play, nor indeed do more than indicate that it was written at some time after he entered upon the middle stage of his career, when he had passed from the purely poetical cast of thought and language still predominant (though not exclusively so) in the MERCHANT OF Venice, to the peculiar dramatic character, at once passionate and philosophical, of his maturer mind. The free and dramatic cast of versification, the elliptical sentences, the compressed diction, the bold use of words in the graver passages, and the easier and more natural tone of humour, as compared with the brilliant and gay but more artificial cast of his earlier comedy, sufficiently demonstrate that the Winter's Tale was not written until the author's mind had acquired those habits of thought

which characterize his portraits of Hamlet, of Othello, and of Falstaff, But beyond this general limit, mere internal evidence cannot guide us, and it is therefore not to be wondered at that the critics of the last century, from Pope to Chalmers, differed widely in their conjectures, and that even those who, like Warburton and Walpole, did justice to the poetry and genius of the piece, were not much nearer in their conjectures than the feebler critics, who, following the dicta of Dryden and Pope, were shocked at the daring contempt of the unity of time, and disposed to excuse the author by supposing it to be an old play of some inferior author, merely remodelled by Shakespeare, “ with the addition of some characters or single scenes.”

But the date of the first representation, and probably of its composition not long before, has at length been ascertained, by the discovery and collation of four or five separate points of evidence, with which the indications of style just noticed very well correspond.

Malone, who had at first maintained that the Winter's Tale was written in 1604, discovered in his old age a memorandum in the office-book of Sir Henry Herbert, Master of the Revels under James II., dated August, 1623, and mentioning “ an old play called Winter's Tale, formerly allowed by Sir George Buc, and likewise by me.” Now this George Buc, or Bucke, held the office of Master of the Revels, from October, 1610, until 1622, and in virtue of it the sole authority of licensing plays for performance or printing. The piece must therefore have been produced at some time after October, 1610. Several years after this the manuscript diary was discovered of the astrological and theatrical Dr. Simon Forman, to whose acquaintance the readers of this edition have been more formally introduced in the Introductory Remarks on CYMBELINE. In the “ book of plays, and notes thereof, for common policy,” under the date of 15th May, 1611, he gives an account of the piece as he had just seen it at the Globe Theatre ; and he is as minute in his narrative of the plot as a modern theatrical reporter is of that of a new piece, as this must in all probability then have been. Again, it appears from the “ Extracts from the accounts of the Revels at Court,” printed in 1842, for the Shakespeare Society, that there was represented at the palace of Whitehall, on the 5th November, 1611, "a play called the • Winter's Nightes Tayle.' "

While the date of the first representation is thus nearly ascertained by the curious collation of accidental testimony, that of the composition is again indicated by another equally accidental chronological evidence, slight in itself, yet quite conclusive in its connection with the rest.

The drama, as our readers will find, was founded wholly upon Greene's little novel of “Pandosto, or the History of Dorastus and Fawnia," from which Shakespeare has not only drawn his main plot and incidents, but has occasionally used its very language, with the same freedom with which he employed old Hollingshed in his historical plays. This is done, in both cases, in such a manner that it is evident that he wrote with the book before him. Greene's novel was first printed in 1588, and then not again until 1607 and 1609, in which editions it appeared with many alterations by the author himself. Now it happens that in act iii. scene 2 (as Mr. Collier has shown) that

in copying the oracle from the novel, the Poet did not use the earier edition, but one of these, (1607 or 16 09,) in which the language had been changed.

It thus becomes manifest that the Winter's Tale was written at some time about 1610, in the reign of James II., some years after Othello, and not very long before or after the production of CYMBELINE in its present formthe two of our author's dramas, which the exhibition of the same terrible passion in all three, most frequently brings to the reader's mind in the perusal of this play.

I have been the more minute in stating and comparing this curious concatenation of independent testimony, thus brought to the elucidation of a single question, not only because every thing that thus throws light on the varying progress of the great Poet's mind is full of interest, but because it is in itself a very instructive inquiry, as showing how little weight the most plausible conjectural probabilities are entitled to, on much weightier matters, when opposed to the evidence furnished by the investigation of documentary or other positive external testimony. Indeed, it may well be doubted whether much of the philosophical history of the present day stands on any more solid foundation than the very ingenious theory of Horace Walpole on this very play, which, taken alone, seemed to be perfectly satisfactory and conclusive, until overthrown by the irreconcilable facts and dates since disinterred. This conjecture of this acute and ingenious writer is too curious a portion of Shakespearian criticism to be omitted here :

“The Winter's Tale (says he) may be ranked among the historic plays of Shakespeare, though not one of his numerous critics and commentators have discovered the drift of it. It was certainly intended (in compliment to Queen Elizabeth) as an indirect apology for her mother, Anne Boleyn. The address of the Poet appears nowhere to more advantage. The subject was too delicate to be exhibited on the stage without a veil; and it was too recent, and touched the queen too nearly, for the bard to have ventured so home an allusion on any other ground than compliment. The unreasonable jealousy of Leontes, and his violent conduct in consequence, form a true portrait of Henry VIII., who generally made the law the engine of his boisterous passions. Not only the general plan of the story is most applicable, but several passages are so marked that they touch the real history nearer than the fable. Hermione, ou her trial, says:

- For honour, 'Tis a derivative from me to mine, And only that I stand for.

This seems to be taken from the very letter of Anne Boleyn to the king before her execution, where she pleads for the infant princess, his daughter. Mamillius, the young prince, an unnecessary character, dies in his infancy; but it confirms the allusion, as Queen Anne, before Elizabeth, bore a still-born son. But the most striking passage, and which had nothing to do in the tragedy but as it pictured Elizabeth, is where Paulina, describing the new-bora princess, and her likeness to her father, says, “She has the very trick of his frown.' There is one sentence, indeed, so applicable, both to Elizabeth and her father, that I should suspect the Poet inserted it after her death. Paulina, speaking of the child, tells the king :

- 'Tis yours;
And might we lay the old proverb to your charge,
So like you, 'tis the worse.

The Wister's Tale was therefore in reality a second part of Henry VIII."

Elizabeth died in March, 1603, and it is certain that five or six years after the accession of her successor, James II., who had little sympathy with the personal feelings of Elizabeth, there could have been no possible motive for flattery, or even more justifiable compliment or palliation of the memory of Henry VIII. and Anne Boleyn.

Nor can the intent to shadow forth Henry VIII.'s capricious jealousies be transferred from the Poet to the author of the novel from which he drew his plot; for there the story is much less susceptible of courtly application : among other circumstances which would negative such a conjecture, is the prominent one of the catastrophe. In the novel, after some other revolting incidents, which the Poet rejected with the rest of the catastrophe, Pandosto, the jealous sovereign, the Leontes of Shakespeare, “moved with desperate thoughts, fell into a melancholy fit, and to close up the comedy with a tragical stratagem, slewe himself.”

It is, indeed, not impossible that in drawing the portrait of an unreasonable and capricious royal jealousy, Anne Boleyn and her tyrant husband might have been transiently in the mind of the author of HENRY VIII.; but if so, they served only as affording models of character or hints for dialogue, like any other personages of real life, or of history, who have furnished hints to his dramatic invention, without the most remote idea of making it evident to the reader or spectator, that the Poet was relating or alluding to any story of his own age and nation.

Although the play is confessedly not to be classed among its author's greatest works, yet it is in no wise unworthy of the Poet who had written Othello and LEAR. Dryden,-whose delightful and instructive critical discussions are generally very strongly biassed by the particular controversial object he had in view,-in defence, direct or indirect, of his own poetical and dramatic works, had, in a sweeping censure of the plays of Shakespeare and Fletcher, classed the Winter's Tale among the plays the author “ wrote first,” together with Pericles, the historical plays, Love's Labour Lost, and MEASURE FOR MEASURE; all which (he adds) “are either grounded on impossibilities, or at least so meanly written that the comedy neither caused your mirth, nor the serious parts your concernment." All this is coolly said, by a man of genius, of dramas of which Falstaff and his inimitable companions formed part of “ the comedy;" and the noble moralities of MEASURE FOR MEASURE, the pastoral sweetness

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