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To myself Troilus and Cressida is, with Henry VI, Part I, the most mysterious among the Shakespearean plays. Here we find, if Will wrote it, or had any hand in it, the greatest poet of the modern world in touch with the heroes of the greatest poet of the ancient world; but the English author's eyes are dimmed by the mists and dust of post-Homeric perversions of the Tale of Troy. The work of perversion began, we know, in the eighth century before our era, when, by the author of the Cypria, these favourite heroes of Homer, Odysseus and Diomede, were represented as scoundrels, assassins, and cowards.

In the Prologue to the play (whosoever wrote it) we see that the writer is no scholar. He makes the Achaean fleet muster in "the port of Athens," of all places. Even Ovid gave the Homeric trysting-place, Aulis, in Boeotia. (This Prologue is not in the Folio of 1623.) Six gates hath the Englishman's Troy, and the Scaean is not one of them.

The loves of Troilus and Cressida, with Pandarus as go-between, are from the mediaeval Troy books, and were wholly unknown to Homer, whose Pandarus is only notable for loosing a traitor's shaft at Menelaus, in time of truce, and for his death at the hand of Diomede. The play begins after the duel (Iliad, III) between Paris and Menelaus: in the play, not in Homer, Paris "retires hurt," as is at first reported. Hector has a special grudge against the Telamonian Aias. As in the Iliad there is a view of the Achaeans, taken from the walls by Priam and Helen; so, in the play, Pandarus and Cressida review the Trojans re-entering the city. Paris turns out not to be hurt after all.

In Act i. Scene 3, the Achaeans hold council, and regret the disaffection of Achilles. Here comes Ulysses' great speech on discipline, in armies, and in states, the gradations of rank and duty; commonly thought to be a leaf in Shakespeare's crown of bays. The speeches of Agamemnon and Nestor are dignified; indeed the poet treats Agamemnon much more kindly than Homer is wont to do. But the poet represents Achilles as laughing in his quarters at Patroclus's imitation of the cough and other infirmities of old Nestor, to which Homer, naturally, never alludes. Throughout, the English poet regards Achilles with the eyes of his most infamous late Greek and ignorant mediaeval detractors. The Homeric sequence of events is so far preserved that, on the day of the duel between Paris and Menelaus, comes (through AEneas) the challenge by Hector to fight any Greek in "gentle and joyous passage of arms" (Iliad, VII). As in the Iliad, the Greeks decide by lot who is to oppose Hector; but by the contrivance of Odysseus (not by chance, as in Homer) the lot falls on Aias. In the Iliad Aias is as strong and sympathetic as Porthos in Les Trois Mousquetaires. The play makes him as great an eater of beef, and as stupid as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Achilles, save in a passage quite out of accord with the rest of the piece, is nearly as dull as Aias, is discourteous, and is cowardly! No poet and no scholar who knew Homer's heroes in Homer's Greek, could thus degrade them; and the whole of the revilings of Thersites are loathsome in their profusion of filthy thoughts. It does not follow that Will did not write the part of Thersites. Some of the most beautiful and Shakespearean pieces of verse adorn the play; one would say that no man but Will could have written them. Troilus and Cressida, at first, appear "to dally with the innocence of love"; and nothing can be nobler and more dramatic than the lines in which Cressida, compelled to go to her father, Calchas, in the Greek camp, in exchange for Antenor, professes her loyalty in love. But the Homeric and the alien later elements,--the story of false love,--cannot be successfully combined. The poet, whoever he was, appears to weary and to break down. He ends, indeed, as the Iliad ends, with the death of Hector, but Hector, in the play, is murdered, while resting unarmed, without shield and helmet, after stripping a suit of sumptuous mail from a nameless runaway. In the play he has slain Patroclus, but has not stripped him of the armour of Achilles, which, in Homer, he is wearing. Achilles then meets Hector, but far from rushing to avenge on him Patroclus, he retires like a coward, musters his men, and makes them surround and slay the defenceless Hector.

Cressida, who is sent to her father Calchas, in the Greek camp, in a day becomes "the sluttish spoil of opportunity," and of Diomede, and the comedy praised by the preface-writer of a quarto of 1609, is a squalid tragedy reeking of Thersites and Pandarus, of a light o' love, and the base victory of cruel cowardice over knightly Hector. Yet there seemed to be muffled notes from the music, and broken lights from the splendour of Homer. When Achilles eyes Hector all over, during a truce, and insultingly says that he is thinking in what part of his body he shall drive the spear, we are reminded of Iliad, XXII, 320-326, where Achilles searches his own armour, worn by Patroclus, stripped by Hector from him, and worn by Hector, for a chink in the mail. Yet, after all, these points are taken, not from the Iliad, but from Caxton's popular Troy Book.

Once more, when Hector is dead, and Achilles bids his men to

   "cry amain,
Achilles hath the mighty Hector slain,"

we think of Iliad, XXII, 390-393, where Achilles commands the Myrmidons to go singing the paean

"Glory have we won, we have slain great Hector!"

The sumptuous armour stripped by Hector from a nameless man, recalls his winning of the arms of Achilles from Patroclus. But, in fact, this passage is also borrowed, with the murder of Hector, from Caxton, except as regards the paean.

It may be worth noting that Chapman's first instalment of his translation of the Iliad, containing Books I, II, and VII-XI, appeared in 1598, and thence the author could adapt the passages from Iliad, Book VII. In or about 1598-9 occurred, in Histriomastix, by Marston and others, a burlesque speech in which Troilus, addressing Cressida, speaks of "thy knight," who "SHAKES his furious SPEARE," while in April 1599, Henslowe's account-book contains entries of money paid to Dekker and Chettle for a play on Troilus and Cressida, for the Earl of Nottingham's Company. {297a} Of this play no more is known, nor can we be sure that Chapman's seven Books of the Iliad (I, II, VII-XI) of 1598 attracted the attention of playwrights, from Shakespeare to Chettle and Dekker, to Trojan affairs. The coincidences at least are curious. If "SHAKES his furious SPEARE" in Histriomastix refers to Shakespeare in connection with Cressida, while, in 1599, Dekker and Chettle were doing a Troilus and Cressida for a company not Shakespeare's, then there were TWO Troilus and Cressida in the field. A licence to print a Troilus and Cressida was obtained in 1602-3, but the quarto of our play, the Shakespearean play, is of 1609, "as it is acted by my Lord Chamberlain's men," that is, by Shakespeare's Company. Now Dekker and Chettle wrote, apparently, for Lord Nottingham's Company. One quarto of 1609 declares, in a Preface, that the play has "never been staled with the stage"; another edition of the same year, from the same publishers, has not the Preface, but declares that the piece "was acted by the King's Majesty's servants AT THE GLOBE." {298a} The author of the Preface (Ben Jonson, Mr. Greenwood thinks, {298b}) speaks only of a single author, who has written other admirable comedies. "When he is gone, and his comedies out of sale, you will scramble for them, and set up a new English Inquisition." Why? The whole affair is a puzzle. But if the author of the Preface is right about the single author of Troilus and Cressida, and if Shakespeare is alluded to in connection with Cressida, in Histriomastix (1599), then it appears to me that Shakespeare, in 1598-9, after Chapman's portion of the Iliad appeared, was author of one Troilus and Cressida, extant in 1602-3 (when its publication was barred till the publisher "got authority"), while Chettle and Dekker, in April 1599, were busy with another Troilus and Cressida, as why should they not be? In an age so lax about copyright, if their play was of their own original making, are we to suppose that there was copyright in the names of the leading persons of the piece, Troilus and Cressida?

Perhaps not: but meanwhile Mr. Greenwood cites Judge Stotsenburg's opinion {298c} that Henslowe's entries of April 1599 "refute the Shakespearean claim to the authorship of Troilus and Cressida," which exhibits "the collaboration of two men," as "leading commentators" hold that it does. But the learned Judge mentions as a conceivable alternative that "there were two plays on the subject with the same name," and, really, it looks as if there were! The Judge does not agree "with Webb and other gifted writers that Bacon wrote this play." So far the Court is quite with him. He goes on however, "It was, in my opinion, based on the foregoing facts, originally the production of Dekker and Chettle, added to and philosophically dressed by Francis Bacon." But, according to Mr. Greenwood, "it is admitted not only that the different writing of two authors is apparent in the Folio play, but also that 'Shakespeare' must have had at least some share in a play of Troilus and Cressida as early as the very year 1599, in the spring of which Dekker and Chettle are found engaged in writing their play of that name," on the evidence of Histriomastix. {299a} How that evidence proves that "a play of Troilus and Cressida had been PUBLISHED as by 'Shakespeare' about 1599," I know not. Perhaps "published" means "acted"? "And it is not unreasonable to suppose that this play" ("published as by Shakespeare") "was the one to which Henslowe alludes"--as being written in April 1599, by Dekker and Chettle.

If so, the play must show the hands of three, not two, men, Dekker, Chettle, and "Shakespeare," the Great Unknown, or Bacon. He collaborates with Dekker and Chettle, in a play for Lord Nottingham's men (according to Sir Sidney Lee), {300a} but it is, later at least, played by Shakespeare's company; and perhaps Bacon gets none of the 4 pounds paid {300b} to Dekker and Chettle. Henslowe does not record his sale of the Dekker and Chettle play to Shakespeare's or to any company or purchaser. Without an entry of the careful Henslowe recording his receipts for the sale of the Dekker and Chettle play to any purchaser, it is not easy to see how Shakespeare's company procured the manuscript, and thus enabled him to refashion it. Perhaps no reader will fail to recognise his hand in the beautiful blank verse of many passages. I am not familiar enough with the works of Dekker and Chettle to assign to them the less desirable passages. Thersites is beastly: a Yahoo of Swift's might poison with such phrases as his the name and nature of love, loyalty, and military courage. But whatsoever Shakespeare did, he did thoroughly, and if he were weary, if man delighted him not, nor woman either, he may have written the whole piece, in which love perishes for the whim of "a daughter of the game," and the knightly Hector is butchered to sate the vanity of his cowardly Achilles. If Shakespeare read the books translated by Chapman, he must have read them in the same spirit as Keats, and was likely to find that the poetry of the Achaean could not be combined with the Ionian, Athenian, and Roman perversions, as he knew them in the mediaeval books of Troy, in the English of Lydgate and Caxton. The chivalrous example of Chaucer he did not follow. Probably Will looked on the play as one of his failures. The Editor, if we can speak of an Editor, of the Folio clearly thrust the play in late, so confusedly that it is not paged, and is not mentioned in the table of the contents.

"The Grand Possessors" of the play referred to in the Preface to one of the two quartos of 1609 we may suppose to be Shakespeare's Company. In this case the owners would not permit the publication of the play if they could prevent it. The title provokes Mr. Greenwood to say, "Why these worthies should be so styled is not apparent; indeed the supposition seems not a little ridiculous." {301a} Of course, if the players were the possessors, "grand" is merely a jeer, by a person advertising a successful piracy. And in regard to Tieck's conjecture that James I is alluded to as "the grand possessor, for whom the play was expressly written," {301b} the autocratic James was very capable of protecting himself against larcenous publishers.


In discussing contemporary allusions to William Shakspere or Shakespeare (or however you spell the name), I have not relied on Chettle's remarks (in Kind-Hart's Dreame, 1592) concerning Greene's Groatsworth of Wit. Chettle speaks of it, saying, "in which a letter, written to divers play-makers, is offensively by one or two of them taken." It appears that by "one or two" Chettle means TWO. "With NEITHER of them that take offence was I acquainted" (at the time when he edited the Groatsworth), "and with one of them I care not if I never be." We do not know who "the Gentlemen his Quondam acquaintance," addressed by Greene, were. They are usually supposed to have been Marlowe, Peele, and Lodge, or Nash. We do not know which of the two who take offence is the man with whom Chettle did not care to be acquainted. Of "the other," according to Chettle, "myself have seen his demeanour no less civil than he is excellent in the quality he professes" (that is, "in his profession," as we say), "besides divers of worship have reported his uprightness of dealing, which argues his honesty; and his facetious grace in writing that approves his art."

Speaking from his own observation, Chettle avers that the person of whom he speaks is civil in his demeanour, and (APPARENTLY) that he is "excellent in the quality he professes"--in his profession. Speaking on the evidence of "divers of worship," the same man is said to possess "facetious grace in writing." Had his writings been then published, Chettle, a bookish man, would have read them and formed his own opinion. Works of Lodge, Peele, and Marlowe had been published. Writing is NOT "the quality he professes," is not the "profession" of the man to whom Chettle refers. On the other hand, the profession of Greene's "Quondam acquaintance" WAS writing, "they spend their wits in making Plays." Thus the man who wrote, but whose profession was not that of writing, does not, so far, appear to have been one of those addressed by Greene. It seems undeniable that Greene addresses gentlemen who are "playmakers," who "spend their wits in making Plays," and who are NOT actors; for Greene's purpose is to warn them against the rich, ungrateful actors. If Greene's friends, at the moment when he wrote, were, or if any one of them then was, by profession an actor, Greene's warning to him against actors, directed to an actor, is not, to me, intelligible. But Mr. Greenwood writes, "As I have shown, George Peele was one of the playwrights addressed by Greene, and Peele was a successful player as well as playwright, and might quite truly have been alluded to both as having 'facetious grace in writing,' and being 'excellent in the quality he professed,' that is, as a professional actor." {304a}

I confess that I did not know that George Peele, M.A., of Oxford, had ever been a player, and a successful player. But one may ask,--in 1592 did George Peele "profess the quality" of an actor; was he then a professional actor, and only an occasional playwright? If so, I am not apt to believe that Greene seriously advised him not to put faith in the members of his own profession. From them, as a successful member of their profession (a profession which, as Greene complains, "exploited" dramatic authors), Peele stood in no danger. Thus I do not see how Chettle's professional actor, reported to have facetious grace in writing, can be identified with Peele. The identification seems to me impossible. Peele and Marlowe, in 1592, were literary gentlemen; Lodge, in 1592, was filibustering, though a literary man; he had not yet become a physician. In 1592, none of the three had any profession but that of literature, so far as I am aware. The man who had a special profession, and also wrote, was not one of these three; nor was he Tom Nash, a mere literary gentleman, pamphleteer and playwright.

I do not know the name of any one of the three to whom Greene addressed the Groatsworth, though the atheistic writer of tragedies seems meant, and disgracefully meant, for Marlowe. I only know that Chettle is expressing his regrets for Greene's language to some one whom he applauded as to his exercise of his profession; and who, according to "divers of worship," had also "facetious grace in writing." "Myself have seen him no less civil than he is excellent in the quality he professes"; whether or not this means that Chettle has SEEN his excellence in his profession, I cannot tell for certain; but Chettle's remark is, at least, contrasted with what he gives merely from report--"the facetious grace in writing" of the man in question. HIS writing is not part of his profession, so he is not, in 1592 (I conceive), Lodge, Peele, Marlowe, or Nash.

Who, then, is this mysterious personage? Malone, Dyce, Steevens, Collier, Halliwell-Phillipps, Knight, Sir Sidney Lee, Messrs. Gosse and Garnett, and Mr. J. C. Collins say that he is Will Shakspere. But Mr. Fleay and Mr. Castle, whose "mind" is "legal," have pointed out that this weird being cannot be Shake-scene (or Shakspere, if Greene meant Shakspere), attacked by Greene. For Chettle says that in the Groatsworth of Wit "a letter, written to divers play-makers, is offensively by one or two of them taken." The mysterious one is, therefore, one of the playwrights addressed by Greene. Consequently all the followers of Malone, who wrote before Messrs. Fleay and Castle, are mistaken; and what Mr. Greenwood has to say about Sir Sidney Lee, J. C. Collins, and Dr. Garnett, and Mr. Gosse, in the way of moral reprobation, may be read by the curious in his pages. {305a}

Meanwhile, if we take Chettle to have been a strict grammarian, by his words--"a letter, written to divers play-makers, is offensively by one or two of them taken," Will is excluded; the letter was most assuredly not written to HIM. But I, whose mind is not legal, am not certain that Chettle does not mean that the letter, written to divers play-makers, was by one or two makers of plays offensively taken.

This opinion seems the less improbable, as the person to whom Chettle is most apologetic excels in a quality or profession, which is contrasted with, and is not identical with, "his facetious grace in writing"--a parergon, or " bye-work," in his case. Whoever this person was, he certainly was not Marlowe, Peele, Lodge, or Nash. We must look for some other person who had a profession, and also was reported to have facetious grace in writing.

If Chettle is to be held tight to grammar, Greene referred to some one unknown, some one who wrote for the stage, but had another profession. If Chettle is not to be thus tautly construed, I confess that to myself he seems to have had Shakspere, even Will, in his mind. For Will in 1592 had "a quality which he professed," that of an actor; and also (I conceive) was reported to have " facetious grace in writing." But other gentlemen may have combined these attributes; wherefore I lay no stress on the statements of Chettle, as if they referred to our Will Shakspere.

Andrew Lang