Poets’ Borrowings. An unsigned review of Shakespeare, Jonson and Wilkins as Borrowers. A Study in Elizabethan Dramatic Origins and Imitations, by Percy Allen
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[ 385 Poets’ Borrowings An unsigned review of Shakespeare, Jonson and Wilkins as Borrowers. A Study in Elizabethan Dramatic Origins and Imitations, by Percy Allen London: Cecil Palmer, 1928. Pp. xix + 236. The Times Literary Supplement, 1366 (5 Apr 1928) 255 Mr. Percy Allen, a dramatic critic who modestly professes no special skill in Elizabethan scholarship, has written an intelligent and interesting book which should be of service to students of Elizabethan drama, whether they accept his particular conclusions or not.1 His subject lies slightly outside the field of exact Elizabethan scholarship, but is one which the scholars should not ignore. He is not concerned with what may be literally called the “borrowings” of one Elizabethan dramatist from another. The enumeration of such pilfering is not completed, but has been already carried pretty far. Nor does Mr. Allen’s method help very much in the fascinating game of “attributions.” Nor is he occupied exclusively with “borrowing” in any sense of that word. The book is a series of essays dealing with the relations of particular plays, and his “borrowings” may be separated (though he does not do so himself) into four classes: the borrowings of Shakespeare from himself , or from plays in which he had a hand; the borrowings of Jonson from Shakespeare(Mr.Allen’sthesisbeingthatJonson’s“borrowings”fromShake­ speare were deliberate satires or criticisms of Shakespeare);2 then a very special problem: the question of the authorship of Pericles; and the borrowings of Milton from Shakespeare. Mr. Allen makes this general statement: All men, whether writers or no, most borrow; since the whole of this world’s progress, by infinitely slow degrees, out of chaos and old night has been accomplished by a process of age-long, multitudinous, accumulated loans and adaptations from our progenitors, which we, as inheritors of a sacred trust, must make use of, and adapt to the service of our own generation , before handing it down, in a more shapely form, to a posterity 1928 386 ] which will do likewise. The borrower will be vindicated or convicted by the use that he makes of the loan. [xvi] It may be cavilling to suggest that borrowing only leads to a more shapely form in rare instances, and the vast majority of borrowing is borrowing by inferiors from superiors, and therefore usually results in less shapely form. But Mr. Allen has hit upon a line of inquiry which should interest literary critics as much as scholars. To our mind, the most important point that Mr. Allen makes is the borrowing of writers from themselves. The debt of every poet to his predecessors and contemporaries is a scent eagerly sniffed and followed by every critic; but the debts of poets to their own earlier work are apt to be overlooked. Yet any intelligent psychologist ought to see at once that any poet, even the greatest, will tend to use his own impressions over and over again. It is by no means a matter of poverty of inspiration. Every man who writes poetry has a certain number of impressions and emotions which are particularly important to him. Every man who writes poetry will be inclined to seek endlessly for a final expression of these, and will be dissatisfied with his expressions and will want to employ the initial feeling, the original image or rhythm, once more in order to satisfy himself. It would be surprising if Shakespeare did not illustrate this tendency. Hence we are inclined to believe, whatever we think of Mr. Allen’s instances, that this thesis of his is right. Mr. Allen deals in this way with several possible reworkings by Shake­ speare. The first, and perhaps the most interesting, is the manipulation of material from Titus Andronicus for the Midsummer Night’s Dream and other plays.Thissuggestionisinprinciplemoreoriginalthanthenext,andindeed interesting suggestion, that Shakespeare made use of Arden of Feversham for Macbeth. The question of the extent of Shakespeare’s work in the composition of Titus as we now have it does not arise. It is agreed by most competent scholars nowadays that Shakespeare had a little to do with Titus, and there are several lines at least which are probably Shakespeare’s. But all that is needful for Mr. Allen’s purpose is to assume that Shakespeare had enough to do with our version of that play to know the text very well; and of that much there is little doubt. Yet to propose that this play was of use to Shakespeare for a play so...