Shakspere's Plays: An Examination

E. H. C. Oliphant
1909 Modern Language Review  
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more » ... ll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions SHAKSPERE'S PLAYS: AN EXAMINATION. III1. THOSE who are inclined to make a 'root-and-branch' study of the plays that pass current under the name of Shakspere for the purpose of obtaining a thorough knowledge of his style will do well to avoid the common practice of beginning with the earliest ones and working onwards. To do so is to begin with plays that are in all probability not very largely the work of Shakspere, and in any case are not characteristic of him. One may adopt such a plan in connection with Scott or Thackeray, Byron or Shelley, because in the first place there is no doubt as to what are their early works, and because in the second place the whole or almost the whole of their first-period work was done alone. Concerning Shakspere's early efforts, on the contrary, all is doubt: some may be extant, unrecognised as his: some, included among his works, may be mainly the outcome of the labours of others. In any case it is tolerably certain that he began as a pupil and as an imitator; and therefore to begin with the plays of his first period is to run the risk of acquiring a false impression of his literary manner. It is better and wiser to start with plays that may reasonably be assumed to belong to the middle of his third period, and work thence onward to his plays of supposed latest date and then from the starting-point backwards to the commencement of his career. One may take as the middle of the great writer's third period the early part of the year 1601; and as the seventeenth century began, according to the reckoning of the day, in the month of March that month may be taken as giving the actual point of departure. If we adopt the chronology of one of the critics most highly endowed and most highly esteemed-Professor Dowden-we shall then read in the following order the plays which appear in the first folio:-Julius Caesar, Hamlet, All's Well, Measure for Measure, Troilus, Othello, 1 plays, which have been already discussed, that they are dealt with here. The first six, as they appear in the folio (and no notice will be taken of other versions), are entirely the work of Shakspere. Julius Caesar is almost certainly of two dates, though but little of the early work is left. There is plenty of reason to believe that the play in some form was in existence in 1599, when Weever penned an allusion to it and Jonson ridiculed a line from it in his Every Man out of his Humour. The original play, of which traces are visible -here and there, must have been of very early date; witness this passage (from v, 3):
doi:10.2307/3713061 fatcat:b63ohyi2rne7dchl7hdizyvqeu