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We will first state the facts respecting the early impressions of “Troilus and Cressida,” and then make such observations upon them as seem necessary.
The play was originally printed in 1609. It was formerly supposed that there were two editions in that year, but they were merely different issues of the same impression : the body of the work (with two exceptions, pointed out hereafter) is alike in each ; they were from the types of the same printer, and were published by the same booksellers. The title-pages, as may be seen on the opposite leaf, vary materially; but there is another more remarkable alteration. On the title-page of the copies first circulated, it is not stated that the drama had been represented by any company; and in a sort of preface headed, “A never Writer to an ever Reader. News,” it is asserted that it had never been “ staled with the stage, never clapper-clawed with the palms of the vulgar;" in other words, that the play had not been acted. This was probably then true ; but as “ Troilus and Cressida ” was very soon afterwards brought upon the stage, it became necessary for the publishers to substitute a new title-page, and to suppress their preface : accordingly a re-issue of the same edition took place, by the title-page of which it appeared, that the play was printed “as it was acted by the King's Majesty's servants at the Globe.”
In the Stationers' Registers are two entries, of distinct dates, relating to a play, or plays, called “Troilus and Cressida :" they are in the following terms :
“7 Feb. 1602-3 “Mr. Roberts] The booke of Troilus and Cresseda, as yt is
acted by my Lo. Chamberlens men." " 28 Jan. 1608-9 “Rich. Bonion and Hen. Whalleys] Entered for their copie
under t'hands of Mr. Segar Deputy to Sir Geo. Bucke, and Mr. Warden Lownes : A booke called the History
of Troylus and Cressula." The edition of 1609 was, doubtless, published in consequence of the entry of “ 28 Jan. 1608-9;" but if Roberts printed a “Troilus and Cressida," whether by Shakespeare or by any other dramatist, in consequence of the earlier entry of “7 Feb. 1602-3," none such has come down to our time. Shakespeare's tragedy was not again printed, as far as can now be ascertained, until it appeared, under rather peculiar circumstances, in the folio of 1623.
In that volume the dramatic works of Shakespeare, as is well known, are printed in three divisions—“Comedies,” “Histories," and “ Tragedies ;" and a list of them, under those heads, is inserted at the commencement. In that list “Troilus and Cressida" is not found; and it is farther remarkable, that it is inserted near the middle of the folio of 1623, without any paging, excepting that the second leaf is numbered 79 and 80: the signatures also do not correspond with any others in the series. Hence it was inferred by Farmer, that the insertion of “ Troilus and Cressida” was an afterthought by the player-editors, and that when the rest of the folio was printed, they had not intended to include it. It seems to us, that there is no adequate ground for this notion, and that the peculiar circumstances to which we have alluded may be sufficiently accounted for by the supposition, that “ Troilus and Cressida " was given to, and executed by, a different printer. The paging of the folio of 1623 is in several places irregular, and in the division of “ Tragedies" (at the head of which “Troilus and Cressida” is placed) there is a mistake of 100 pages. The list of “Comedies," " Histories,” and “Tragedies," at the beginning of the volume was most likely printed last, and the person who formed it accidentally omitted “Troilus and Cressida,” because it had been as accidentally omitted in the pagination. No copy of the folio of 1623 is, we believe, known, which does not contain “ Troilus and Cressida:" it is not there divided into acts and scenes, although at the commencement of the piece we have Actus Primus, Scoena Prima.
Such are the facts connected with the appearance of the tragedy in quarto and folio. It seems very evident that “Troilus and Cressida" was acted in the interval between the first and the secord issue of the quarto, as printed by G. Eld for Bonian and Walley in the early part of 1609. It is probable that our great dramatist prepared it for the stage in the winter of 1608-9, with a view to its production at the Globe as soon as the season commenced at that theatre : before it was so produced, and after it had been licensed ', Bonian and Walley seem to have possessed themselves of a copy of it; and having procured it to be printed, issued it to the world as “a new play, never staled with the stage, never clapper-clawed with the palms of the vulgar.” That they had obtained it without the consent of the company, “the grand possessors," as they are called, may be gathered from the conclusion of the preface. The second issue of Bonian and Walley's edition of 1609 was not made until after the tragedy had been acted at the Globe, as is stated on the title-page. This is an easy and intelligible mode of accounting for the main differences in the quarto copies ; and it enables us with some plausibility to conjecture, that the date when Shakespeare wrote “Troilus and Cressida” was not long before it was first represented, and a still shorter time before it was first printed.
i We infer this from the terms of the entry in the Stationers' Registers, in which Sir George Buck, and his deputy, Segar, are mentioned. It is upon this evidence only that we know that Segar acted for the Master of the Revels. Sir George Buck was not formally appointed until 1610.
Some difficulty has arisen out of the entry, already quoted, of a “ Troilus and Cressida" in the Stationers' books, with the date of 7th Feb. 1602-3, in which entry it is stated that the play was “ acted by the Lord Chamberlain's servants ;” the company to which Shakespeare belonged having been so denominated anterior to the license of James I. in May, 1603. This circumstance formed Malone's chief ground for contending that Shakespeare wrote his " Troilus and Cressida” in 1602. It may, however, be reasonably inferred that this was a different play on the same subject. Every body must be struck with the remarkable inequality of some parts of Shakespeare's “ Troilus and Cressida,” especially towards the conclusion : they could hardly have been written by the pen which produced the magnificent speeches of Ulysses and other earlier portions, and were probably relics of a drama acted by the Lord Chamberlain's servants about 1602, and in the spring of 1603 intended to be printed by Roberts. In April and May, 1599, it appears by Henslowe's Diary that he paid various sums to Dekker and Chettle for a play they were then writing under the title of “Troilus and Cressida:" it may be concluded that it was soon afterwards acted by the Earl of Nottingham's players, for whom it was composed; and the “ Troilus and Cressida," entered by Roberts on 7th Feb. 1602-3, may have been a tragedy, not by Shakespeare, brought out by the Lord Chamberlain's servants at the Globe, in competition with their rivals at the Rose or Fortune. Of this piece it is not impossible that Shakespeare in some degree availed himself; and he might be too much in haste to have time to alter and improve all that his own taste and genius would otherwise have rejected.
This brings us to the question of the source from which Shakespeare derived his plot : how far he did, or did not, follow the older play we suppose him to have employed, it is not possible to determine. In 1581 “a proper ballad, dialogue-wise, between Troilus and Cressida” was entered on the Stationers' Registers by Edward White, and in the lax form of expression of that day this may have been a dramatic performance. More than a century earlier, viz. in 1471, Caxton had printed his “Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye," which at various dates, and in a cheap form, was reprinted. Lydgate's “ History, Sege, and Destruccyon of Troye " came from Pynson's press in 1513; but Shakespeare seems to have been so
attentive a reader of Chaucer's five books of " Troylus and Creseyda" (of which the last edition, anterior to the production of Shakespeare's play, appeared in 1602) as to have been considerably indebted to them. It is not easy to trace any direct or indirect obligations on the part of Shakespeare to Chapman's translation of Homer, of which the earliest portion came out in 1598. It is well known that the adventures of Troilus and Cressida are not any where mentioned in the Iliad.
After adverting to the real or supposed origin of the story of “ Troilus and Cressida," Coleridge remarks in his Literary Remains, vol. ii. p. 130, that it “can scarcely be classed with his dramas of Greek and Roman History; but it forms an intermediate link between the fictitious Greek and Roman Histories, which we may call legendary dramas, and the proper ancient histories; that is, between the Pericles or Titus Andronicus, and the Coriolanus or Julius Cæsar.” He then adverts to the characters of the hero and heroine, and the purpose Shakespeare had in view in pourtraying them, and goes on to observe :-“I am half inclined to believe that Shakespeare's main object, or shall I rather say, his ruling impulse, was to translate the poetic heroes of paganism into the not less rude, but more intellectually vigorous, and more featurely, warriors of Christian chivalry,—and to substantiate the distinct and graceful profiles or outlines of the Homeric epic into the flesh and blood of the romantic drama, -in short, to give a grand history-piece in the robust style of Albert Durer.” Consistently in some degree with this opinion, Schlegel remarks, that “the whole play is one continued irony of the crown of all heroic tales—the tale of Troy," and after dwelling briefly upon this point, he adds :—“in all this let no man conceive that any indignity was intended to Homer: Shakespeare had not the Iliad before him, but the chivalrous romances of the Trojan war derived from Dares Phrygius.” Shakespeare, in fact, found the story popular, and he applied it to a popular purpose in a popular manner.
One reason for thinking that “ Troilus and Cressida" came from the hands of a different printer, though little or no distinction can be traced in the type, is that there is hardly any play in the folio of 1623 which contains so many errors of the press. The quarto of 1609 was unquestionably the foundation of the text of the folio, for in various instances the latter adopts the literal blunders of the former : it besides introduces not a few important corruptions, for which it is not easy to account, so that the language of Shakespeare, on the whole, is perhaps best represented in the quarto. There are, however, some valuable additions in the folio, not found in the quarto, while on the other hand the quarto contains passages omitted in the folio, though sometimes absolutely necessary to the sense. The variations, whether important or comparatively insignificant, are noted at the foot of the page; but there are two instances deserving notice in which our text differs from that of all preceding editions. It has been thought that the quarto impressions of 1609, as far as regards the body of the play, are identical. Such is not precisely the case, and a copy of the drama issued after it had been “acted by the King's Majesty's servants at the Globe,” belonging to the Duke of Devonshire, contains two valuable improvements of the text, as it had been given in the earlier copies published before it had been performed. The first of these occurs in Act iii. sc. 2, where Troilus, anticipating the entrance of Cressida, exclaims, as we find the passage in all modern editions,
“ I am giddy : expectation whirls me round.
Th’imaginary relish is so sweet
Love's thrice-reputed nectar?”. For “ thrice-reputed nectar," the Duke of Devonshire's copy of the quarto, 1609, has “thrice-repured nectar,” or thrice purified and refined nectar. The other instance of the same kind occurs near the end of the play (Act v. sc. 7.) where Achilles is exciting his armed Myrmidons to the slaughter of Hector, and tells them,
“ Empale him with your weapons round about:
In fellest manner execute your arms." Thus it stands in all editions, from the folio of 1623 downwards, and the commentators have been at some pains to explain the phrase "execute your arms," when in truth, as Steevens suspected, it is nothing but a misprint for "execute your aims," as appears upon the authority of the quarto, 1609, in the Collection of the Duke of Devonshire : for Achilles, to charge his followers to encircle Hector with their weapons, and then to execute their aims against him in the fellest manner, requires no explanation, and is an improvement of the received text. This copy of the second issue of the quarto, 1609, seems originally to have belonged to Humphry Dyson, a curious collector, who considerably outlived Shakespeare, and who registers on the title-page, with the attestation of his signature, that “ Troilus and Cressida" was “ printed amongest the workes” of Shakespeare, referring of course to the folio of 1623.
Dryden produced an alteration of “ Troilus and Cressida" at the Dorset Garden Theatre in 1679, and it was printed in the same year: in the preface he states that he had “refined Shakespeare's language, which before was obsolete.”