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It is observable, that this play is printed in the quarto of 1611, with exactness equal to that of the other books of those times. The first edition was probably corrected by the author, so that here is very little room for conjecture or emendation; and accordingly none of the editors have much molested this piece with officious criticism.
There is an authority for ascribing this play to Shakspeare, which I think a very strong one, though not made use of, as I remember, by any of his commentators. It is given to him, among other plays, which are undoubtedly his, in a little book, called Palladis Tamia, or the Second Part of Wit's Commonwealth, written by Francis Meres, Maister of Arts, and printed at London in 1598. The other tragedies, enumerated as his in that book, are King John, Richard the Second, Henry the Fourth, Richard the Third, and Romeo and Juliet. The comedies are, the Midsummer-Night's Dream, the Gentlemen of Verona, the Comedy of Errors, the Love's Labour's Lost, the Love's Labour Won, and the Merchant of Venice. I have given this list, as it serves so far to ascertain the date of these plays; and also, as it contains a notice of a comedy of Shakspeare, the Love's Labour Won, not included in any collection of his works; nor, as far as I know, attributed to him by any other authority. If there should be a play in being with that title, though without Shakspeare's name, I should be glad to see it; and I think the editor would be sure of the publick thanks, even if it should prove no better than the Love's Labour's Lost. TYRwhitt.
The work of criticism on the plays of our author, is, I believe, generally found to extend or contract itself in proportion to the value of the piece under consideration; and we shall always do little where we desire but little should be done. I know not that this piece stands in need of much emendation; though it might be treated as condemned criminals are in some countries,-any experiments might be justifiably made on it.
The author, whoever he was, might have borrowed the story, the names, the characters, &c. from an old ballad, which is entered in the books of the Stationers' Company immediately after the play on the same subject. "John Danter] Feb. 6, 1593. A book entitled A Noble Roman Historie of Titus Andronicus." "Enter'd unto him also the ballad thereof."
Entered again April 19, 1602, by Tho. Pavyer.
The reader will find it in Dr. Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, Vol. I. Dr. Percy adds, that "there is reason to conclude that this play was rather improved by Shakspeare with
a few fine touches of his pen, than originally writ by him; for not to mention that the style is less figurative than his others generally are, this tragedy is mentioned with discredit in the induction to Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair in 1614, as one that had then been exhibited five-and-twenty or thirty years:' which, if we take the lowest number, throws it back to the year 1589, at which time Shakspeare was but 25: an earlier date than can be found for any other of his pieces, and if it does not clear him entirely of it, shews at least it was a first attempt."
Though we are obliged to Dr. Percy for his attempt to clear our great dramatick writer from the imputation of having produced this sanguinary performance, yet I cannot admit that the circumstance of its being discreditably mentioned by Ben Jonson, ought to have any weight; for Ben has not very sparingly censured The Tempest, and other pieces which are undoubtedly among the most finished works of Shakspeare. The whole of Ben's Prologue to Every Man in his Humour, is a malicious sneer on him.
Painter, in his Palace of Pleasure, Tom. II. speaks of the story of Titus as well known, and particularly mentions the cruelty of Tamora: And, in A Knack to know a Knave, 1594, is the following allusion to it:
as welcome shall you be
"To me, my daughters, and my son in law,
"When he had made a conquest on the Goths."
Whatever were the motives of Heming and Condell for admitting this tragedy among those of Shakspeare, all it has gained by their favour is, to be delivered down to posterity with repeated remarks of contempt,-a Thersites babbling among heroes, and introduced only to be derided.
See the notes at the conclusion of this piece. STEEVENS.
On what principle the editors of the first complete edition of our poet's plays admitted this into their volume, cannot now be ascertained. The most probable reason that can be assigned, is, that he wrote a few lines in it, or gave some assistance to the author, in revising it, or in some other way aided him in bringing it forward on the stage. The tradition mentioned by Ravenscroft in the time of King James II. warrants us in making one or other of these suppositions. "I have been told" (says he in his preface to an alteration of this play published in 1687,) "by some anciently conversant with the stage, that it was not originally his, but brought by a private author to be acted, and he only gave some master touches to one or two of the principal parts or characters."