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Dro. E. That's a question: how shall we try it?
Dro. S. We will draw cuts for the senior: till then, lead thou first.
Dro. E. Nay, then thus :
[Exeunt. On a careful revision of the foregoing scenes, I do not hesitate to pronounce them the composition of two very unequal writers. Shakspeare had undoubtedly a share in them ; but that the entire play was no work of his, is an opinion which (as Benedict says) "fire cannot melt out of me; I will die in it at the stake.” Thus, as we are informed by Aulus Gellius, lib. iii. cap. 3. some plays were actually ascribed to Plautus, which in truth had only been (retracta et expolita) retouched and polished by him.
In this comedy we find more intricacy of plot than distinction of character; and our attention is less forcibly engaged, because we can guess in a great measure how the denouement will be brought about. Yet the subject appears to have been reluctantly dismissed, even in this last and unnecessary scene, where the same mistakes are continued, till their power of affording entertainment is entirely lost.-STEEVENS.
The long doggrel verses that Shakspeare has attributed in this play to the two Dromios, are written in that kind of metre which was usually attributed, by the dramatick poets before his time, in their comick pieces, to some of their inferior characters; and this circumstance is one of many that authorizes us to place the preceding comedy, as well as Love's Labour's Lost, and The Taming of the Shrew, (where the same kind of versification is likewise found,) among our author's earliest productions; composed probably at a time when he was imperceptibly infected with the prevailing mode, and before he had completely learned " to deviate boldly from the common track.”-Malone.
Op this splendid poem the first edition was that of the players in 1623. It was however, in the opinion of Mr. Malone, written either in 1606 or 1607. :-When Mr. Reed first discovered the MS of Middleton's tragi-comedy the Witch, it was supposed that Shakspeare had taken from it the hint of the supernatural portion of this tragedy. There is no reason for suspecting that the play of Middleton was anterior to that of Shakspeare, and Mr. Malone has adduced several very strong arguments to shew that it was written several years later. The following Essay on the superstitious opinions prevalent in Shakspeare's time is from Dr. Johnson.
“In order to make a true estimate of the abilities and merit of a writer, it is always necessary to examine the genius of his age, and the opinions of his contemporaries. "A poet who should now make the whole action of his tragedy depend upon enchantment, and produce the chief events by the assistance of supernatural agents, would be censured as transgressing the bounds of probability, be banished from the theatre to the nursery, and condemned to write fairy tales instead of tragedies; but a survey of the notions that prevailed at the time when this play was written, will prove that Shakspeare was in no danger of such censures, since he only turned the system that was then universally admitted, to his advantage, and was far from overburdening the credulity of his audience.
“The reality of witchcraft or enchantment, which, though not strictly the same, are confounded in this play, has in all ages and countries been credited by the common people, and in most, by the learned themselves. The phantoms have indeed appeared more frequently, in proportion as the darkness of ignorance has been more gross ; but it cannot be shewn, that the brightest gleams of knowledge have at any time been sufficient to drive them out of the world. The time in which this kind of credulity was at its height, seems to have been that of the holy war, in which the Christians imputed all their defeats to enchantments or diabolical opposition, as they ascribed their success to the assistance of the military saints; and the learned Dr. Warburton appears to believe (Supplement to the Introduction to Don Quixote), that the first accounts of enchantments were brought into this part of the world by those who returned from their eastern expeditions. But there is always some distance between the birth and maturity of folly as of wickedness: this opinion had long existed, though perhaps the application of it had in no foregoing age been so frequent, nor the reception so general. Olympiodorus, in Photius's Extracts, tells us of one Libanius who practised this kind of military magick, and having promised χώρις οπλιτών κατα βαρβάρων ενεργεϊν, to perform great things against the Barbarians without soldiers, was, at the instance of the empress Placidia, put to death, when he was about to have given proofs of his abilities. The empress shewed some kindness in her anger, by cutting him off at a time so convenient for his reputation.
“But a more remarkable proof of the antiquity of this notion may be found in St. Chrysostom's book de Sacerdotio, which exhibits a scene of enchantments not exceeded by any romance of the middle age : he supposes a spectator overlooking a field of battle, attended by one that points out all the various objects of horror, the engines of destruction and the arts of slaughter. AELxvÚTO δε έτι παρά τοϊς εναντίοις και πετομένους ίππους διά τινος μαγγανείας, και οπλίτας δι αέρος φερομένους, και πάσης γοητείας δύναμιν και ιδεαν. Let him then proceed to shew him in the opposite armies flying horses by enchantment, armed men transported through the air, and every power and form of magick. Whether St. Chrysostom believed that such performances were really to be seen in a day of battle, or only endeavoured to enliven his description, by adopting the notions of the vulgar, it is equally certain, that such notions were in his time received, and that therefore they were not imported from the Saracens in a later age ; the wars with the Saracens, however, gave occasion to their propagation, not only as bigotry naturally discovers prodigies, but as the scene of action was removed to a great distance.
“The Reformation did not immediately arrive at its meridian, and though day was gradually increasing upon us, the goblins of witchcraft still continued to hover in the twilight. In the time of Queen Elizabeth was the remarkable trial of the witches of Warbois, whose conviction is still commemorated in an annual sermon at Huntingdon. But in the reign of King James, in which this tragedy was written, many circumstances concurred to propagate and confirm this opinion. The king, who was much celebrated for his knowledge, had, before his arrival in England, not only examined in person a woman accused of witchcraft, but had given a very formal account of the practices and illustons of evil spirits, the compacts of witches, the ceremonies used by them, the manner of detecting them, and the justice of punishing them, in his diálogues of Demonologie, written in the Scottish dialect, and published at Edinburgh. This book was, soon after his succession, reprinted at London; and as the ready way to gain King James's favour was to flatter his speculations, the system of Dæmonologie was immediately adopted by all who desired either to gain preferment or not to lose it. Thus the doctrine of witchcraft was very powerfully inculcated; and as the greatest part of mankind have no other reason for their opinions than that they are in fashion, it cannot be doubted but this persuasion made a rapid progress, since vanity and credulity co-operated in its favour. The infection soon reached the parliament, who, in the first year of King James, made a law, by which it was enacted, chap. xii. That" if any person shall use any invocation or conjuration of any evil or wicked spirit; 2. or shall consult, covenant with, entertain, employ, feed, or reward any evil or cursed spirit, to or for any intent or purpose ; 3. or take up any dead man, woman, or child, out of the grave,-or the skin, bone, or any part of the dead person, to be employed or used in any manner of witchcraft, sorcery, charm, or enchantment; 4. or shall use, practise, or exercise any sort of witchcraft, sorcery, charm, or enchantment; 5. whereby any person shall be destroyed, killed, wasted, consumed, pined, or lamed in any part of the body; 6. That every such person being convicted shall suffer death.” This law was repealed in our own time.
“Thus, in the time of Shakspeare, was the doctrine of witchcraft at once established by law and by the fashion, and it became not only unpolite, but criminal, to doubt it; and as prodigies are always seen in proportion as they are expected, witches were every day discovered, and multiplied so fast in some
places, that Bishop Hall mentions a village in Lancashire, where their number was greater than that of the houses. The jesuits and sectaries took advantage of this universal error, and endeavoured to promote the interest of their parties by pretended cures of persons afflicted by evil spirits ; but they were detected and exposed by the clergy of the established church.
“Upon this general infatuation Shakspeare might be easily allowed to found a play, especially since he has followed with great exactness such histories as were then thought true ; nor can it be doubted that the scenes of enchantment, however they may now be ridiculed, were both by himself and his audience thought awful and affecting."-JOHNSON.