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TOPIC: Literary Criticism of English and American Authors

Literary Criticism of English and American Authors 9 years 9 months ago #249

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From The Library of Literary Criticism of English and American Authors, ed. Charles Wells Moulton, 8 vols. (London: Moulton Publishing, 1901), 1: 461-64.

[This section was prepared and proofread by Deborah Hill.]

(?) 1588-1600

The most lamentable Romaine Tragedie of Titus | Andronicus. | As it hath sundry times beene playde by the | Right Honourable the | Earle of Pembrooke, the | Earl of Darbie, the Earle of Sussex, and the | Lorde Chamberlaine theyr | Seruants. | AT LONDON, | Printed by I. R. for Edward White | and are to bee solde at his shoppe, at the little | North doore of Paules, at the signe of | the Gun. 1600. -- TITLE PAGE OF FIRST EDITION, 1600.

It is also agreed, that every man heere, exercise his owne Iudgement, and not censure by Contagion, or upon trust, from anothers voice, or face. . . . Hee that will sweare Ieronimo or Andronicus are the best playes yet, shall passe unexcepted at, heere, as a man whose Iudgement shewes it is constant, and hath stood still, these five and twentie, or thirtie yeeres. --JONSON, BEN, 1614, Bartholomew Fayre, The Induction.

I have been told 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. --RAVENSCROFT, EDWARD, 1678, Titus Andronicus, Preface.

All the editors and critics agree with Mr. Theobald in supposing this play spurious. I see no reason for differing from them; for the colour of the style is wholly different from that of the other plays and there is an attempt at regular versification and artificial closes, not always inelegant, yet seldom pleasing. The barbarity of the spectacles, and the general massacre, which are here exhibited, can scarcely be conceived tolerable to an audience; yet we are told by Jonson, that they were not only born, but praised. That Shakspeare wrote any part though Theobald declares it incontestible, I see no reason for believing. -- JOHNSON, SAMUEL, 1768, General Observations on Shakspeare's Plays.

If those who reject this play as Shakespear's think it inferior to the rest of his productions, the doubt is easily cleared by recollecting that it was his first effort. There are certainly some things in it equal to his happiest sallies, and, as we know those are superior to the writings of any man who ever lived, the question to be asked is, and this will perpetually occur, if Shakespear did not write "Titus Andronicus," who did?. -- DIBDIN, CHARLES, 1795, A Complete History of the Stage, vol. III, p. 31.

If it be true that genius, even in its lowest abasement, gives forth some luminous rays to betray its presence; if Shakspeare, in particular, bore that distinctive mark which, in one of his sonnets, makes him say, in reference to his writings,

"That every word doth almost tell my name" [in Sonnet 76]

assuredly he had not to reproach himself with the production of that execrable accumulation of horrors which, under the name of "Titus Andronicus," has been fosted upon the English people as a dramatic work, and in which, Heaven be thanked! there is not a single spark of truth, or scintillation of genius, which can give evidence against him. -- GUIZOT, FRANCOIS PIERRE GUILLAUMAE, 1821-52, Shakespeare and His Times, p. 66.

"Titus Andronicus" is now by common consent deemed be, in any sense, a production of Shakspeare: very few passages, I should think not one, resemble his manner. -- HALLAM, HENRY, 1837-39, Introduction to the Literature of Europe, vol.II, pt. ii, ch. vi, par. 35.

That, nevertheless, this drama is rich in isolated beauties, profound thougths, and striking peculiarities, Shakapearean imagery, which like lightning flashes over and illumines the whole piece, and that single scenes are even deeply affecting and highly poetical, is generally admitted and requires no proof. It will be sufficient to call attention to the scenes of the shooting the arrows, and of the interview between Titus and Tamora, who announces herself to the old man, whom she believes to be mad, as the Goddess of Vengeance. -- ULRICI, HERMANN, 1839, Shakspeare's Dramatic Art, p. 237.

Critics have vied with one another in loading this play with epithets of contempt; and indeed, as compared with the higher products of dramatic poetry, it has little to recommend it. But in itself, and for its times, it was very far from giving the indication of an unpoetical or undramatic mind. One proof of this is that it was long a popular favorite on the stage. It is full of defects, but these are precisely such as a youthful aspirant, in an age of authorship, would be most likely to exhibit such as the subjection to the taste of the day, good or bad, and the absence of that dramatic truth and reality which some experience of human passion and observation of life and manners, can alone give the power to produce. -- VERPLANCK, GULIAN CROMMELIN, 1844-47, ed. The Illustrated Shakespeare, vol. III.

After the first scene of "Andronicus, " in which the author sets out with the stately pace of his time, we are very soon carried away, by the power of the language, the variety of the pause, and the especial freedom with which trochees are used at the ends of lines, to forget that the versification is not altogether upon the best Shaksperean model. There is the same instrument, but the performer has not yet thoroughly learnt its scope and its power. -- KNIGHT, CHARLES, 1849, Studies of Shakspere, bk. ii, ch. i, p. 49.

In 1687 there was a tradition reported by Ravenscroft that this play was only touched by Shakespeare. Theobald, Johnson, Farmer, Steevens, Drake, Singer Dyce, Hallam, H. Coleridge, W. S. Walker reject it entirely. Malone, Ingleby, Staunton, think it was touched up by him. Capell, Collier, Knight, Gervinus, Ulrici and many Germans, think it to be Shakespeare's; R. G. White, that it is a joint work of Greene, Marlowe, and Shakespeare.... Is not Shakespeare's; it is built on the Marlowe blank-verse system, which Shakespeare in his early work opposed; and did not belong to Shakespeare's company till 1600. -- FLEAY, FREDERICK GARD, 1859, Shakespeare Manual, p. 44.

Shakepere is the tragedy of Terror; this is the tragedy of Horror. It reeks blood, it smells of blood, we almost feel that we have handled blood it is so gross. The mental stain is not whitened by Shakepere's sweet springs of pity; the horror is not hallowed by that appalling sublimity with which he invested his chosen ministers of death. It is tragedy only in the coarsest material relationships. -- MASSEY, GERALD, 1866, Shakspere's Sonnets never before Interpreted, p. 581, Appendix D.

That tragedy belongs to the pre-Shaksperian school of bloody dramas. If any portions of it be from Shakspere's hand, it has at least this interest it shows that there was a period of Shakspere's authorship when the poet had not yet discovered himself, a period when he yielded to the popular influences of the day end hour; this much interest, and no more. -- DOWDEN, EDWARD, l575-80, Shakspere, A Critical Study of His Mind and Art, p. 48.

To me, as to Hallam and many others, the play declares as plainly as play can speak, "I am not Shakspere's; my repulsive subject, my blood and horrors, are not, and never were, his." I accept the tradition that Ravenscroft reports when he revived and altered the play in 1687, that it was brought to Shakspere to be touched up and prepared for the stage. -- FURNIVALL, FREDERICK JAMES, 1877, ed. The Leopold Shakspere.

Nearly all tbe best critics, from Theobald downwards, are agreed that very little of this play was written by Shakespeare. And such is decidedly my own judgment now, though some thirty years ago, in "my salad days," I wrote and printed otherwise. . . . The question, by whom the main body of the play was written, is not so easily answered, and perhaps is hardly worth a detailed investigation. . . . I agree substantially with Mr. White and Mr. Fleay as to Marlowe's share in the workmanship. -- HUDSON, HENRY N., 1880-81, Harvard ed. Shakespeare, vol. XIII, pp. 4, 5.

It is unnecessary to give any analysis of the play, which is simply a tissue of horrors. In no reader, however little educated, could it possibly excite the slightest emotion; all pity and all terror absolutely cease when the horrible is carried to such lengths, and its outrageous atrocity is even capable of provoking a fit of laughter. -- STAPFER, PAUL, 1880, Shakespeare and Classical Antiquity, tr. Carey, p. 2.

It may at first seem strange that his name should have come to be associated with a work in which we find so few traces of his hand; but he may have improved the old play in other ways than by rewriting any considerable portion of it by omissions, re-arrangement of scenes, and the like and its great popularity in the revised form may have led to its being commonly known as "Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus" (in distinction from the earlier version, whosesoever it may have been), until at length it got to be generally regarded as one of his original productions. The verdict of the editors and critics is so nearly unanimous against the authenticity of the play that the burden of proof clearly rests with the other side. -- ROLFE, WILLIAM J., 1883, ed. Shakespeare's Tragedy of Titus Andronicus, Introduction, p. 15.

As I re-read this play after coming straight from the study of Marlowe, I find again and again passages that, as it seems to me, no hand but his could have written. It is not easy in a question of this kind to set down in detail reasons for our belief. Marlowe's influence permeated so thor- oughly the dramatic literature of his day that it is hard sometimes to distinguish between master and pupil. When the master is writing at his best there is no difficulty, but when his work is hasty and ill-digested, or has been left incomplete and has received additions from other hands, then our perplexity is great. In our disgust at the brutal horrors that crowd the pages of "Titus Andronicus," we must beware of blinding ourselves to the imaginative power that marks much of the writing. -- BULLEN, A. H., 1884, ed. Works of Christopher Marlowe, Introduction, vol. I, p. lxxvi.

It was no invention of Shakespeare's, it is not reconstructed upon Shakespeare's lines; but, as we see, characters were renamed, some of the matter was recast, crudities were struck out, here and there the writing was touched over, and some fresh lines were inserted. We find lines in which we feel young Shakespeare's touch and while the whole construction of the play that Shakespeare worked upon is thoroughly unlike the inventions of Shakespeare himself, its crude horrors are, no doubt, felt the more intensely for his removal of absurdities in the first way of telling them, and for touches of his that gave more pomp of words and more force to the style, with now and then some small hint of a grace beyond the reach of the inventor and first writer of the play. -- MORLEY, HENRY, 1893, English Writers, vol. x, p. 46.

Although, on the whole, one may certainly say that this rough-hewn drama, with its piling-up of external effects, has very little in common with the tone or spirit of Shakespeare's mature tragedies, yet we find scattered through it lines in which the most diverse critics have professed to recognize Shakespeare's revising touch, and to catch the ring of his voice.... It is quite unnecessary for any opponent of blind or exaggerated Shakespeare-worship to demonstrate to us the impossibility of bringing "Titus Andronicus" into harmony with any other than a barbarous conception of tragic poetry. But although the play is simply omitted without apology from the Danish translation of Shakespeare's works, it must by no means be overlooked by the student, whose chief interest lies in observing the genesis and development of the poet's genius. The lower its point of departure, the more marvellous its soaring flight. -- BRANDES, GEORGE, 1898 William Shakespeare, A Critical Study, vol. I, pp. 40, 41.

Our loss is great indeed if an impertinent solicitude for Shakespeare's morals, an officious care for his reputation as a creator of character, lead us to pass over "Titus Andronicus." -- WYNDHAM, GEORGE, 1898, The Poems of Shakespeare, Introduction, p. xvi.
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