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William Shakespeare

by Victor Hugo

Part I -- Book I: His Life
Chapter 5

In 1728 Voltaire imported from England to France the name of Will Shakespeare. Only in place of Will, he pronounced it Gilles.

Jeering began in France, and oblivion continued in England. What the Irishman Nahum Tate had done for "King Lear" others did for other pieces. "All's Well that Ends Well" had successively two arrangers, -- Pilon for the Haymarket, and Kemble for Drury Lane. Shakespeare existed no more, and counted no more. "Much Ado About Nothing" served likewise as a rough draft twice, -- for Davenant in 1673, for James Miller in 1737. "Cymbeline" was recast four times: under James II, at the Theatre Royal, by Thomas Dursey; in 1695 by Charles Marsh; in 1759 by W. Hawkins; in 1761 by Garrick. "Coriolanus" was recast four times: in 1682, for the Theatre Royal, by Tates; in 1720, for Drury Lane, by John Dennis; in 1755, for Covent Garden, by Thomas Sheridan; in 1801, for Drury Lane, by Kemble. "Timon of Athens" was recast four times: at the Duke's Theatre, in 1678, by Shadwell; in 1768, at the Theatre of Richmond Green, by James Love; in 1771, at Drury Lane, by Cumberland; in 1786, at Covent Garden, by Hull.

In the eighteenth century the persistent raillery of Voltaire ended in producing in England a certain waking up. Garrick, while correcting Shakespeare, played him, and acknowledged that it was Shakespeare that he played. They reprinted him at Glasgow. An imbecile, Malone, made commentaries on his plays, and as a logical sequence, whitewashed his tomb. There was on this tomb a little bust, of a doubtful resemblance, and moderate as a work of art; but, what made it a subject of reverence, contemporaneous with Shakespeare. It is after this bust that all the portraits of Shakespeare have been made that we now see. The bust was whitewashed. Malone, critic and whitewasher of Shakespeare, spread a coat of plaster on his face, of idiotic nonsense on his work.

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