Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Shirley, James

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SHIRLEY, JAMES (1596–1666), dramatic poet, was born on 18 Sept. 1596 (Robinson, Register of Merchant Taylors' School, 1882, i. 60) in or near the parish of St. Mary Woolchurch, since incorporated in that of St. Mary Woolnoth, Walbrook. The coat of arms inserted in his portrait in the Bodleian has been said to imply his descent from the Shirleys of Sussex or Warwickshire, but he appears to have no claim to connection with the former [see Shirley, Henry]. Other Shirleys or Sherleys in Leicestershire and Huntingdonshire are mentioned among compounding royalists in the Commonwealth period; but there is no proof—and seemingly no likelihood—that James Shirley was of gentle blood. He was admitted on 4 Oct. 1608 into Merchant Taylors' school, where on 11 March 1612 he was eighth boy or last monitor, and in the same year he entered at St. John's College, Oxford. Wood relates that Laud (who had recently become president of the college) was much attracted by Shirley and by the promise of his talents, but declared himself definitively adverse to his taking orders on account of his disfigurement by a mole on his left cheek (cf. Cibber, Lives of the Poets, 1753, ii. 26). Shirley, while still an undergraduate, migrated to Catharine Hall, Cambridge, whence he graduated B.A. in or before 1618 (no traces of him have been discovered in university or college records at either university). At Catharine Hall one of his contemporaries was Thomas Bancroft (fl. 1633–1658) [q. v.], who afterwards referred to ‘some precious yeeres’ spent by Shirley and himself under St. Catharine's wheel (see his Epigrams, 1639, dedicated to Sir Charles Shirley, bart., and William Davenport, esq.). In 1618 Shirley, designating himself as B.A., printed his earliest poem, ‘Eccho, or the Infortunate Lovers.’ No copy is extant under that title, but it is believed to be identical with his poem ‘Narcissus, or the Self-Lover,’ and published in 1646 with the motto ‘Hæc olim’ (‘Narcissus’ is a palpable, and indeed almost confessed, imitation of ‘Venus and Adonis’). In 1619, again as B.A., he added in manuscript to the ‘Lacrymæ Cantabrigienses’ on the death of Queen Anne a ‘drop of water’ (four lines), and an ‘Epitaphium’ (reprinted by Dyce, vi. 514–515). Soon afterwards Shirley took orders and qualified for preferment by proceeding M.A. Wood says that he ‘became a minister of God's word in or near St. Albans in Hertfordshire.’ From 1623–5 he held the mastership of Edward VI's grammar school in that borough (Clutterbuck, Hertfordshire, 1815, i. 48 n. 83), having, according to Wood, previously ‘changed his religion for that of Rome’ and ‘left his living.’ His voluminous writings suggest that he was during the remainder of his life a conscientious and fervent Roman catholic. From the glorification of the Benedictine order in ‘The Grateful Servant’ (act iii. sc. 3), it has been concluded that Shirley's confessor belonged to this order. St. Albans was a Benedictine monastery. Shirley afterwards wrote a tragedy called ‘St. Albans,’ entered in ‘Stationers' Register,’ 14 Feb. 1639, but not known to have been printed (see, however, Fleay, English Drama, ii. 244). If the Matthias Shirley, son of James Shirley, baptised on 26 Feb. 1624, was his eldest son (see the reference by Collier to the register of St. Giles', Cripplegate, cited by Hunter, Chorus Vatum, Addit. MS. 24489, Brit. Mus.), an early marriage may have played its part in the crisis of his life.

In or before 1625 Shirley abandoned the scholastic life and moved to London, where, according to Wood, he lived in Gray's Inn, and ‘set up for a play-maker.’ The prologue to his first play, licensed on 4 Feb. 1625–6 under the title of ‘Love Tricks, with Complements,’ however, deprecates any intention on the part of the author

… to swear himself a factor for the scene;

while it announces the piece as

    The first fruits of a Muse, that before this
    Never saluted audience,

But the rapid succession of the plays which followed between 1626 and 1642 shows him to have speedily recognised that he had found his vocation. The beginnings of his career as a playwright coincided with the accession of Charles I. Shirley says (Prologue to The Maid's Revenge) that he ‘never affected the ways of flattery; some say I have lost my preferment by not practising that Court sin.’ On the other hand, there can be no doubt that, like other bearers of his name who suffered heavily in the days of the Commonwealth, he entertained strong feelings of personal loyalty towards the king and the royal family (see his jovial cavalier lines Upon the Prince's Birth, 1630). These feelings may naturally have been enhanced by the personal interest taken in at least one of his productions by Charles I (cf. The Gamester. Wood states that he met with especial respect and encouragement from Queen Henrietta Maria, who ‘made him her servant.’ This tallies with the well-known fact that in the dedication to ‘A Bird in a Cage’ (printed 1633) he attacked Prynne, then in the Tower awaiting his sentence for having published ‘Histriomastix’ (November 1632); and in the ‘Commendatory Verses’ prefixed to Ford's ‘Love's Sacrifice,’ printed in the same year, he made another violent onslaught on the ‘voluminously ignorant’ adversary of the stage (cf. Genest, ix. 347). In the next year (1634) Shirley supplied the text of the masque entitled ‘The Triumph of Peace,’ presented at Whitehall on a scale of unexampled magnificence by the gentlemen of the four Inns of Court in response to a hint from high quarters that such a demonstration would be welcome as a reply to Prynne (see the description prefixed to the masque by Shirley; cf. Whitelocke's Memorial of the English Affairs, ed. 1853, i. 53–62; Strafford's Letters and Despatches, ed. Knowles, 1740, i. 177, and p. 207). During this period of his literary life Shirley seems to have enjoyed the favour of various persons of rank, as well as the goodwill of many of his fellow-dramatists and poets, among whom Massinger, Ford, Habington, Randolph, May, and Stapylton wrote commendatory verses on one or more of his plays. He is said to have been a friend of Izaak Walton, but this may have been after his visit, or visits, to Ireland. For, apparently as early as 1636, he betook himself to Dublin, where John Ogilby [q. v.] had in 1635 opened in Werburgh Street the first public theatre ever built in Ireland (Hitchcock, An Historical View of the Irish Stage, 1788, i. 11). The date of Shirley's first visit to Ireland is thought by Mr. Fleay (English Drama, ii. p. 235) to be assignable to 1636, as shown by the pretty (though outspoken) lines addressed by him to Lady B[ishop] and her sister the Lady Dia[na] Curs[on or Curzon] ‘on his departure,’ taken in conjunction with the fact that the London theatres were closed on account of the plague from May 1636 to February 1637, and then again to October of the latter year (Fleay, History of the Stage, p. 363). According to a letter from Octavius Gilchrist in Wilson's ‘History of Merchant Taylors' School’ (ii. 673, cited ap. Dyce, vol. i. p. xxxiv n.), Shirley went to Ireland under the patronage of George Fitzgerald, sixteenth earl of Kildare [q. v.], to whom he dedicated his play of the ‘Royal Master,’ and by whose influence this play was acted in the castle before the lord-deputy (it was also acted at Ogilby's new theatre). Although the dedication merely states that he was encouraged when ‘a stranger’ in Ireland by Kildare's patronage, it is by no means impossible that he made this young nobleman's acquaintance in England, where he had been educated. From the same dedication we further gather that at the time when it was written—in 1638, or possibly in 1637—Shirley's ‘affairs in England’ were ‘hastening his departure’ from Ireland; but if he revisited England, he must speedily have gone back to Dublin. His permanent return to England Mr. Fleay (English Drama, ii. 240–1) considers to be fixed by the mention of it in the dedication to ‘The Opportunity,’ which was published in England after 25 March 1640. If so, it preceded by a few weeks or days the return of Strafford (3 April), to whose recovery from the serious illness, which greatly increased after his arrival in London (see Strafford, Letters and Despatches, vol. ii. Appendix, p. 431), Shirley must refer in his verses ‘To the Earl of Strafford upon his Recovery.’ In 1653 Shirley dedicated ‘The Court Secret’ to Strafford's son and heir, William.

Three, or possibly four, of Shirley's plays were produced in Dublin. In the prologue to the ‘Imposture’ (licensed 10 Nov. 1640) he speaks of himself as having been

    Stranger long to the English scene,

for which he now actively recommenced writing. The tragedy which (in the dedication) he claimed to be ‘the best of his flock’—viz. ‘The Cardinal’—was licensed on 25 Nov. 1641; it was followed by ‘The Sisters,’ licensed 26 April 1642, in the prologue to which he exclaims desolately that ‘London has gone to York;’ the next, ‘The Court Secret,’ is stated in the title-page of the edition of 1653 to have been never acted, ‘but prepared for the scene at the Black-friers.’ In September 1642 stage-plays were suppressed by the first ordinance of the parliament.

According to Wood, Shirley was ‘hereupon forced to leave London, and so, consequently, his wife [Frances] and children, who were afterwards put to their shifts.’ Wood further states that Shirley was at this time invited by the Earl (afterwards Marquis and Duke) of Newcastle ‘to take his fortune in the wars; for that count had engaged him so much by his generous liberality towards him that he thought he could not do a worthier act than to serve him, and so, consequently, his prince.’ Shirley had in 1638 dedicated to Newcastle ‘The Traitor,’ a play inferior among his tragedies only to ‘The Cardinal.’ Wood's assertion that Shirley did much to assist Newcastle ‘in the composure of certain plays which the latter afterwards published’ derives a slender support from the fact that the song in Newcastle's ‘Country Captain,’ ‘Come, let us throw the dice,’ was printed among Shirley's ‘Poems’ as a sort of rebus (see Dyce, Shirley, vi. 439, and cf. Cavendish, William (1592–1676)). There is no mention of Shirley in the ‘Life’ of Newcastle by his duchess; but the lines ‘To Odelia’ (ap. Dyce, vi. 408) certainly imply that Shirley took a personal part in the ‘war’ in which Newcastle was concerned from November 1642 till July 1644, when (after Marston Moor) he quitted England.

On the decline of the king's fortunes, says Wood, Shirley ‘retired obscurely to London, where, among other of his noted friends, he found Thomas Stanley (1625–1678) [q. v.], who exhibited to him’ (cf. the Dedication to The Brothers, printed 1652). This accomplished scholar appears to have at this time resided in the Middle Temple. His kinsman, Edward (afterwards Sir Edward) Sherburne, is likewise stated to have been on friendly terms with Shirley. Thus encouraged, the latter published in 1646 a small volume of ‘Poems,’ chiefly no doubt juvenile productions, and including ‘Narcissus, or the Self-Lover,’ together with ‘The Triumph of Beauty,’ ‘as presented by some young gentlemen for whom it was intended as a private recreation.’ He also furnished a preface ‘To the Reader’ to a series of ten hitherto unprinted dramas by Beaumont and Fletcher, referring in it to ‘this tragical age, in which the theatre has been so much outacted,’ and inviting the reader to ‘congratulate his own happiness that in this silence of the stage he has a liberty to read these inimitable plays.’ To the same volume he contributed some loyal lines predicting the king's recovery of his throne. Subsequently he wrote commendatory verses to the ‘Poems’ of Thomas Stanley and of Edmund Prestwich (1651), to Ogilby's ‘Fables of Æsop’ (1651), and to other publications (cf. Fleay, English Drama, ii. 235–236). The translation of Bonarelli's pastoral, ‘Phillis of Scyros’ (1655), has been attributed to him on no better evidence than that of the initials ‘J. S.’ on the title-page.

Wood states that in the course of these years he resumed ‘his old trade of teaching school,’ and, residing chiefly in Whitefriars, thereby ‘not only gained a comfortable subsistence, but educated many ingenious youths, who afterwards proved most eminent in divers faculties.’ One of these was Thomas Dingley or Dineley [q. v.] the antiquary. Shirley's usher at Whitefriars is said by Wood to have been a Scotsman of the name of David Whitford, who taught Ogilby enough Greek to enable him to publish a translation of Homer. Shirley's labours as a schoolmaster led to the publication in 1649 of his ‘Via ad Latinam Linguam complanata’ (dedicated to William Herbert, ‘Pembroke's’ grand-nephew), to which was attached a set of rules composed ‘for the greater delight and benefit of readers,’ in both English and Latin verse. This treatise, which Shirley's literary friends hailed by a collection of commendatory verses, was followed in 1656 by the ‘Rudiments of Grammar,’ with rules in English verse, reissued in 1660 in an enlarged edition under the title of ‘Manductio, or a Leading of Children by the Hand through the Principles of Grammar.’ It was republished under the title of ‘An Essay towards an Universal and Rational Grammar,’ by Jenkin J. Phillipps, in 1726.

But the theatre still attracted him. In 1653 he had published ‘Six New Playes,’ of which five had been performed before the troubles; and the esteem in which he was still held as a dramatist is shown by the notable lines prefixed by ‘Hall’ to one of these, ‘The Cardinal’ (cited ap. Genest, ix. 541). On 26 March of the same year his masque of ‘Cupid and Death’ was performed as a private entertainment presented to the Portuguese ambassador. In 1655 he printed two more plays, and in 1659 a small volume containing, together with ‘The Contention of Ajax and Ulysses’ (as privately performed, perhaps at an earlier date), the ‘moral’ of ‘Honoria and Mammon.’ But in the preface to the latter he deprecatingly added that this was ‘likely to be the last’ production of his put forth ‘dressed in dramatic ornament,’ since he had resolved that ‘nothing of this nature’ should henceforth ‘engage his pen or invention.’ The changes brought about by the Restoration failed to divert him from this resolution, although some of his plays were during his lifetime revived with more or less success (two of these were seen by Pepys—‘The Traitor’ repeatedly—between 1660 and 1666). No sneer could have been more unjust than that of the ribald ‘Session of the Poets’ (see Poems on State Affairs, ed. 1697, p. 208), implying that after the Restoration Shirley engaged in futile attempts to equal the performances of younger men; while nothing is known as to the truth or falsehood of the assertion in the same ‘poem,’ that he ‘owned’ a play printed under the name of Edward Howard (fl. 1669) [q. v.]

Shirley was one of the most prominent of the group of literary survivors of the Commonwealth period whom Masson (Life of Milton, 1880, vi. 293) aptly calls the ‘sexagenarians,’ and his reputation probably gained rather than suffered from his consciousness of the fact. The circumstance mentioned by Langbaine that he left behind him several plays in manuscript does not necessarily indicate that they were of late composition. But though he showed wisdom in confining his publications at all events to the sphere of his daily labours, it proved unfortunate for his more immediate reputation that he remained in such close association with the bookmaking Ogilby. According to Wood, Shirley drudged for him in his translations of both ‘Iliad’ (1660) and ‘Odyssey,’ as well as of parts of Virgil (enlarged in 1657 and 1658 from the original edition of 1649), and wrote annotations for his use. No acknowledgment of this assistance, if it were given, was made by Ogilby, although, in return for Shirley's commendatory lines in his ‘Æsop,’ he wrote some on Shirley's ‘Via ad Latinam Linguam.’

To Wood again is owing all the information extant as to Shirley's end. During the great fire of London in September 1666 he and his wife were driven from their habitation near Fleet Street (i.e. Whitefriars) into the parish of St. Giles, then actually in the fields, where less than two months afterwards they died on the same day, ‘being in a manner overcome with affrightments, disconsolations, and other miseries occasion'd by that fire and their losses.’ They were buried in St. Giles's churchyard on 29 Oct. From Shirley's will at Doctors' Commons it appears that he left behind him three sons and a married daughter; another daughter, ‘Lawrinda,’ married to Edward Fountain, predeceased him (Hunter, Chorus Vatum, u.s.). One of his sons, according to Wood, was afterwards butler at Furnival's Inn. The miscellaneous writer, John Shirley, who flourished during the last two decades of the seventeenth century, may be another son [see under Shirley, John, (1648–1679)].

Shirley's portrait in the Bodleian Library, which is engraved as the frontispiece of Dyce's edition of his ‘Works,’ represents him as of dark complexion and a rather full habit of body.

After Shirley's death several more of his plays were revived on the London stage. Pepys saw five of these, and Langbaine, who speaks of Shirley in 1691 as ‘one of such Incomparable parts that he was the Chief of the Second-rate Poets,’ mentions having seen four of his plays in his own ‘remembrance.’ In Edward Phillips's ‘Theatrum Poetarum’ (1675), Shirley is mentioned with respect, and said to be accounted ‘little inferior to Fletcher himself.’ But in 1682 Dryden, in his ‘Mac Flecknoe,’ not only loosely coupled Shirley with Heywood as ‘prophets of tautology,’ but recklessly associated their names with that of a dramatist of an altogether inferior type, as well as with that of Ogilby:

    Much Heywood, Shirley, Ogilby there lay,
    But loads of Shadwell almost chok'd the way.

Oldham, in the ‘Satire’ where he introduces Spenser as dissuading from the practice of poetry, which must have been written soon after the publication of ‘Mac Flecknoe,’ less contemptuously speaks of Shirley's works as ‘moulding’ with Sylvester's in Duck Lane shops. A third satirist of the period, Robert Gould [q. v.], who is stated to have stolen from Shirley the plot of a play to which D'Urfey wrote prologue and epilogue, ingeniously combined his recognition of these debts by saluting Shirley as

    The scandal of the ancient stage,
    Shirley, the very D'Urfey of his age.

Pope, happily, seems to have forgotten Shirley, perhaps intentionally, for the sake of their common creed. Although some of his plays were from time to time adapted by later hands, the revival of his reputation as a dramatist was probably due, in the first instance, to Richard Farmer [q. v.], and after him to Charles Lamb, who in his ‘Specimens’ speaks of Shirley as ‘the last of a great race, all of whom spoke nearly the same language, and had a set of moral feelings and actions in common.’ The editorial labours of Gifford and Dyce definitively restored him to the place thus indicated in the history of our dramatic literature.

The fertility of Shirley as a dramatist and the deference paid by him to his great predecessors have obscured his claims to recognition as a dramatic poet of rare original power. Chance, however, is partly responsible for the preservation of his plays in a number relatively so large; and it is to his honour that, besides being fond of reminiscences of Shakespeare (see Ward, English Dramatic Literature, ii. 311 n.), he should have hailed Jonson as ‘an acknowledged master’ (see dedication of ‘The Grateful Servant’), and have so enthusiastically extolled the merits of Beaumont and Fletcher, of some ‘sketches’ by whom an unauthenticated tradition (cf. Hitchcock, u.s. p. 12) declares him to have been possessed. Fletcher, and still more perhaps Webster and Massinger, greatly influenced him; but in the invention of his plots, both tragic and comic, he seems frequently to have been original; while Langbaine is within the mark in asserting that ‘whatever he borrows from novels loses nothing in his hands.’ Remarkably alive to the danger of distracting the spectator's interest from the main plot of the action of a play, he displayed in tragic as well as in comic actions a curious presentiment of the modern theatrical principle that everything depends on the success of one great scene (la scène à faire). His tragedies of ‘The Traitor’ and ‘The Cardinal,’ his tragi-comedy of ‘The Royal Master,’ and his comedy of ‘The Gamester,’ may be instanced as signal examples of his constructive skill. His excellence seems to lie less in the depiction of comic than in that of serious scenes and characters; but, as is shown in all his comedies from the earliest onwards, but more especially by his ‘Hyde Park’ and by the less attractive comedy of ‘The Ball,’ in which he collaborated with Chapman, he was an acute observer and at times a humorous delineator of the vagaries of contemporary manners, whether in town or country. Nor should it remain unnoticed that, whether he tells a story of passion or depicts a phase of folly, Shirley, while anything but severe in thought or strait-laced in expression, on the whole, though not uniformly, shows himself averse to licentiousness for its own sake, and conscious of the respect which a dramatic poet owes both to himself and to his true public.

But what chiefly entitles Shirley to hold the place to which he has been restored among our great dramatists is the spirit of poetry which adorns and elevates so many of his plays. He was one of the last of our seventeenth-century playwrights who interspersed their dialogue with passages of poetic beauty, at once appropriate to the sentiment of the situation and capable of carrying their audience to a higher imaginative level. Nor was he merely the last of the group; few members of it, besides Shakespeare himself, have surpassed Shirley in the exercise of the rare power of ennobling his dramatic diction by images which, while they ‘would surpass the life,’ spring without effort from the infinitude of the suggestions offered by it to creative fancy.

The chief non-dramatic contributions of Shirley have been cited above, together with the dates of publication. Dyce, in vol. vi. of his edition of Shirley's ‘Works,’ supplemented the poetical pieces previously printed by the hitherto unprinted poems which proved part of a manuscript collection of ‘Verses and Poems by James Shirley’ preserved in the Bodleian. The following is a list of his dramatic works, arranged in what seems to be their probable chronological order of composition: 1. ‘Love Tricks with Complements,’ comedy, licensed 10 Feb. 1625; printed as ‘The Schoole of Complement,’ 1631, 1637, and 1667 (the year in which it was seen on the stage by Pepys, 5 Aug.). Out of this was taken Kirkman's droll, ‘Jenkins' Love-Course and Perambulation,’ printed 1673 in ‘The Wits, or Sport upon Sport.’ 2. ‘The Maid's Revenge,’ tragedy, licensed 9 Feb. 1626, printed 1639. The plot of this effective early work is taken from John Reynolds's ‘Triumphs of God's Revenge against Murder’ (of which the first instalment was printed in 1621), bk. ii. hist. 7 (cf. Genest, ii. 74, as to Gould's dramatic version of the same story, 1696). 3. ‘The Wedding,’ comedy, licensed 9 Feb. 1626 (see the clue as to date ingeniously pointed out by Fleay, English Drama, ii. 236), printed 1629 and 1633. 4. ‘The Brothers,’ comedy, licensed 4 Nov. 1626, printed as one of ‘Six New Plays’ by Shirley, 1653. Fleay supposes the play licensed in 1626 to have been ‘Dick of Devonshire,’ and that printed in 1653 to have been a different play. See, however, A. H. Bullen's Introduction to ‘Dick of Devonshire,’ printed in vol. ii. of ‘Old English Plays’ (1883), and attributed by him, with much probability, to Thomas Heywood. 5. ‘The Witty Fair One,’ comedy, licensed 3 Oct. 1628, printed 1633. Revived on the stage 1667. 6. ‘The Grateful Servant,’ comedy, licensed under the title of ‘The Faithful Servant,’ 3 Nov. 1629; printed 1630, 1637, and 1660 (?). Not less than eleven sets of commendatory verses, including one by Massinger, accompanied the publication of this play. It was revived on the stage in 1667. 7. ‘The Traitor,’ tragedy, licensed 4 May 1631, printed 1635, with a dedication to Newcastle. It was revived on the Restoration, and seen not less than four times by Pepys; on being again revived it was printed, with a dedication stating it to have been originally written by the jesuit Antony Rivers [q. v.], but this statement, supported by Motteux, is discredited. It was again revived in 1718, with alterations by Christopher Bullock [q. v.], and it furnished the basis of Richard Lalor Sheil's ‘Evadne, or the Statue’ (acted at Covent Garden in 1829). The story of Lorenzo de' Medici constitutes the plot of Alfred de Musset's ‘Lorenzaccio.’ 8. ‘Love's Cruelty’ (tragedy), licensed 14 Nov. 1631; revived in 1667, when Pepys saw it, and printed in the same year. 9. ‘The Changes, or Love in a Maze,’ comedy, licensed 10 Jan. 1632, and printed in the same year. Pepys saw it five times after its revival in 1662. 10. ‘Hyde Park,’ comedy, licensed 20 April 1632, printed 1637; revived after the Restoration, when Pepys saw it, with the horses on the stage, 11 July 1668. 11. ‘A Contention for Honour and Riches,’ a masque, entered on the ‘Stationers' Register’ in 1632, and printed 1633. This masque, which is founded on the ‘Decameron’ (v. 8), was reprinted in a revised and enlarged form by Shirley in 1659, under the title of ‘Honoria and Mammon.’ 12. ‘The Ball,’ comedy, licensed 16 Nov. 1632 as by Chapman and Shirley, and printed 1639. There is no reason for supposing that Chapman had a material share in the composition of this comedy. Sir Henry Herbert found fault with the introduction of actual court personages into this play, and the passages in question were probably omitted before publication; Mr. Fleay thinks that they were replaced by other passages written by Chapman; he also points out that a passage in ‘The Lady of Pleasure’ (act i. sc. 1), in which Shirley confesses that the author of ‘The Ball’ was ‘bribed’ to suppress certain vivacities in it, implies that he contemplated a second part of that comedy. 13. ‘The Arcadia,’ pastoral, printed 1614. It was never licensed for performance, but seems (see act iii. sc. 1) to have been first acted in honour of the king's birthday (19 Nov.). This clue has led Mr. Fleay to the conclusion that the play was produced in 1632; Carew, he thinks, wrote the lyrics in it. Genest (iv. 396) states that Shirley's ‘Arcadia’ was reprinted about the time of the production of Macnamara Morgan's ‘Philoclea’ (January 1754), which, however, professes to be independent of it. 14. ‘The Beauties,’ licensed 21 Jan. 1633, but renamed ‘The Bird in a Cage,’ in order to point the reference to Prynne, then in prison, to whom the farcical comedy so named is dedicated (there can hardly be a doubt that this theory of Mr. Fleay's is correct; no ‘Bird in a Cage’ was ever licensed; and in this play, act iii. sc. 3, the court beauties resolve to play an interlude and to ‘engage the person of the princess in the action.’ See also act i. sc. 1). ‘The Bird in a Cage’ was revived on the stage in 1786 (Genest, vi. 399). 15. ‘The Young Admiral,’ romantic comedy, licensed 3 July 1633, being specially commended by Sir Henry Herbert in his office-book as ‘free from oaths, prophaneness, or obsceanes,’ and fit to serve ‘for a patterne to other poetts, not only for the bettring of maners and language, but for the improvement of the quality,’ i.e. the actors, ‘which hath received some brushings of late.’ It was acted on the following 19 Nov. (the king's birthday) and printed in 1637. It was acted before Charles II on 20 Nov. 1662 (Evelyn, Diary, s.d.). 16. ‘The Gamester,’ comedy, licensed 11 Nov. 1633, and acted 6 Feb. 1634. Herbert says that it was made by Shirley ‘out of a plot of the king's,’ given to the poet by Herbert, and that the king ‘said it was the best play he had seen for seven year’ (the plot seems in part based on a novel by Celio Malespini, or on one by the Queen of Navarre, i. 8). Posterity would seem to have been much of Charles's mind, for this clever, though in other respects far from faultless, comedy has been repeatedly adapted for the stage by later writers. Among these are Charles Johnson (‘The Wife's Relief, or the Husband's Cure,’ 1711), Garrick (‘The Gamesters,’ with a notable prologue, 1758 and 1773), and John Poole (‘The Wife's Stratagem,’ 1827). 17. ‘The Triumph of Peace,’ masque, performed at Whitehall 3 Feb., and repeated in Merchant Taylors' Hall 11 Feb. 1634; printed in the same year in three editions, besides an anagrammatical list of masquers separately published. 18. ‘The Example,’ comedy, licensed 1634, printed 1637; revised after the Restoration (see Genest, i. 340). 19. ‘The Opportunity,’ comedy, licensed 29 Nov. 1634, entered in ‘Stationers' Register’ April 1639, printed 1640. This comedy of ‘errors’ was revived after the Restoration (Genest, u.s. p. 339). One of Kirkman's drolls (1673), ‘A Prince in Conceit,’ was taken from this play. 20. ‘The Coronation,’ comedy, licensed 6 Feb. 1635, was printed as by Fletcher in 1640, but was explicitly claimed by Shirley as his own, and as ‘falsely ascribed to Jo. Fletcher’ in a list of his pieces appended to ‘The Cardinal,’ when printed among ‘Six New Plays’ in 1653. It was, however, included in the second (1679) folio of Beaumont and Fletcher, and in several subsequent editions of their works. Fletcher's hand may possibly have contributed an occasional touch to an early sketch of this work (he died in 1625), but there is no evidence on which Shirley can be denied the credit of its many beauties of diction. Mr. Fleay points out that the first line of the prologue (spoken by a woman) implies that the title of the play had been changed. 21. ‘The Lady of Pleasure,’ comedy, licensed 15 Oct. 1635, and seen acted 8 Dec. of the same year by Sir Humphrey Mildmay (see the entry of his manuscript diary, ap. Collier, ii. 5), printed 1637. This remarkably lively, but under another aspect by no means praiseworthy, comedy suggested part of the plot, and part of the text, of Taverner's successful play, ‘The Artful Husband,’ 1717 (cf. Genest, ii. 609). 22. ‘The Duke's Mistress,’ tragedy, licensed 18 Jan. and acted 22 Feb. 1636; printed 1638.

All the above-mentioned plays were produced in London, for the most part at ‘the private house,’ i.e. the Cockpit in Drury Lane. The following four were produced at Dublin. 23. ‘St. Patrick for Ireland,’ tragedy, in which the miracle-play elements occupy a quite subordinate place, acted at Dublin some time between 1636 and 1640, and printed in 1640; reprinted in Chetwood's ‘Selection of Old Plays,’ Dublin, 1751. The title-page of the 1640 quarto describes its contents as the ‘First Part’ of the play, and the promise of a ‘Second Part’ (not known to have been fulfilled) is held out in both prologue and epilogue. 24. ‘The Constant Maid,’ comedy, doubtless acted in Dublin during the same period as the preceding play, with which it was printed in 1640. Reprinted in 1661 under the title of ‘Love will finde out the Way,’ by J. B.; but the same impression was again put forth in 1667 with the correct title of ‘The Constant Maid, or Love will finde out the Way,’ by J. S. 25. ‘The Royal Master,’ tragedy, licensed 23 April 1638, and printed in the same year, ‘as previously acted,’ both in Ogilby's new theatre and at the Castle before the lord-deputy. The dedication, announcing Shirley's intention of leaving for England, inclines Mr. Fleay to think that this play was written in the spring of 1637. He conjectures that the prologue ‘To the Irish Gent …’ (supposed by Dyce to have been a prologue to a lost play, ‘The Irish Gentleman’) was intended as a prologue to ‘The Royal Master,’ but the evidence is insufficient. The publication of this play was accompanied by ten sets of commendatory verses; the pathetic motif of the story of Domitilla is the same as that of Alfred de Musset's charming play, ‘Carmosine,’ and of George Eliot's tender little poem, ‘How Lisa loved the King.’ 26. ‘The Doubtful Heir,’ romantic comedy, produced at Dublin under the title of ‘Rosania, or Love's Victory’ (see the ‘Prologue’ spoken in the Dublin theatre, printed in Shirley's ‘Poems,’ 1646). Licensed 1 June 1640 as ‘Rosania,’ and acted at the Globe (see the curious ‘Prologue at the Globe to the Doubtful Heir, which should have been presented at the Black Friers,’ printed ib. 1646:

    Our author did not calculate this play
    For this meridian——

but for a more select audience). Shirley reprinted it as one of the ‘Six New Plays,’ 1654, ‘as it was acted in the private house at the Black Friers.’

The next two plays are thought by Mr. Fleay to have been likewise acted in Ireland. 27. ‘The Gentleman of Venice,’ romantic comedy, licensed 30 Oct. 1639, and acted at Salisbury Court (printed 1655). 28. ‘The Politician,’ tragedy (which suggests reminiscences of ‘Hamlet’), acted at Salisbury Court, and published with the preceding play in 1655. Dyce supposed, with much probability, that this play is identical with the ‘Politique Father,’ licensed 26 May 1641, which, however, Mr. Fleay supposes to have been the same play as the ‘Brothers.’

The following plays were produced in London, after Shirley's final return from Dublin. 29. ‘The Imposture,’ romantic comedy, licensed 10 Nov. 1640, printed as one of the ‘Six New Plays,’ 1653. 30. ‘The Humorous Courtier,’ comedy, acted at the Cockpit (date unknown) and printed in 1640. Mr. Fleay thinks this to be the same play as the ‘Duke,’ licensed 7 May 1631 as by Shirley, but not extant under that name, and as the ‘Conceited Duke,’ mentioned by Beeston in 1639. 31. ‘The Triumph of Beauty,’ printed 1646 as ‘performed at a private recreation,’ is a dramatic entertainment on the familiar theme of Peele's ‘Arraignment of Paris,’ introducing a very palpable imitation of the comic portion of ‘A Midsummer Night's Dream,’ a shepherd named ‘Bottle’ doing duty for Bottom the Weaver. Mr. Fleay (English Drama, ii. 244–5) advances an elaborate hypothesis, that this entertainment was written about 1640 as a satire on Thomas Heywood and his ‘Mayor's Pageants.’ The date of its performance remains conjectural. 32. ‘The Cardinal,’ tragedy, licensed 25 Nov. 1641, printed 1653 as one of the ‘Six New Plays.’ This powerful tragedy, which Shirley was probably justified in regarding as his masterpiece, and to the composition of which Webster's ‘Duchess of Malfy’ can hardly have been a stranger, was revived after the Restoration, and seen by Pepys in 1662. 33. ‘The Sisters,’ comedy, licensed 26 April 1642, and printed 1653 with the preceding play. ‘Like to Like, or a Match well made up’ (1723), was probably an adaptation of this (Genest, iii. 142). 34. ‘The Court Secret,’ romantic comedy, written for performance but not acted, before the civil wars; printed in the ‘Six New Plays’ (1653). It was revived after the Restoration (Genest, i. 351). 35. ‘Cupid and Death,’ masque, acted before the Portuguese ambassador, printed in 1653 and 1659. 36. ‘The Contention of Ajax and Ulysses,’ a dramatic entertainment, printed in 1659 as privately acted. Mr. Fleay thinks that it was composed about the same time as ‘The Triumph of Beauty’ (c. 1640). It contains the famous dirge, commencing ‘The glories of our mortal state,’ the recital of which is said to have terrified Oliver Cromwell. It was afterwards printed as Butler's in a volume of ‘Posthumous Works.’

To these may be added another dramatic entertainment or masque, ‘Honoria and Mammon,’ printed with the last-named, an enlargement of ‘The Contention of Honour and Riches.’ In addition to the above, Fletcher's ‘Night Walker’ was licensed on 11 May 1633, as ‘corrected’ by Shirley, and acted in 1634. It remained, however, to all intents and purposes Fletcher's (see Fleay, English Drama, i. 197). The case is not quite the same with Chapman's ‘Chabot, Admiral of France,’ licensed on 29 April 1635, and printed in 1639 as by Chapman and Shirley. But although Shirley may have made some not immaterial additions to this fine tragedy, which Chapman may have left incomplete at his death in 1634, there can be little doubt but that in substance it is to be reckoned among Chapman's works, to some of the most characteristic of which it exhibits an undoubted affinity.

Unless the hypotheses already noticed as to ‘The Duke’ (licensed on 17 May 1631), and as to ‘The Beauties’ (licensed on 21 Jan. 1643), be accepted, these must be regarded as lost plays of Shirley's. Other lost plays, if they were actually written, are the tragedy ‘St. Albans’ and the comedy ‘Looke to the Ladies,’ both of which were entered on the ‘Stationers' Register’ in 1639. To him have also been attributed the tragedy ‘Andromana, or the Merchant's Wife’ (1660, founded on Sidney's ‘Arcadia’), apparently for no better reason than that it purported to be written by ‘J. S.,’ and the tragic comedy, ‘The Double Falsehood,’ which in 1728 Theobald, on the strength of its being similarly ascribed to ‘Sh.,’ published as a work of Shakespeare revised by himself, but of which no copy has been preserved in its original form. Farmer's supposition that this was one of the plays which Langbaine stated Shirley to have left behind him in manuscript commended itself to the judgment of Dyce. Finally, Mr. A. H. Bullen somewhat doubtfully assigns to Shirley the disagreeable comedy ‘Captain Underwit,’ reprinted by him in vol. ii. of his ‘Old English Plays’ (1883); internal evidence fixes the date between 1640 and 1642.

[The Dramatic Works and Poems of James Shirley, with notes by William Gifford, and additional notes, and some account of Shirley and his Writings, by Alexander Dyce, 6 vols. 1833. Our knowledge of Shirley's personal life rests almost entirely on Wood's account of him in Athenæ Oxonienses, ed. Bliss, 1817, iii. 737–44. See also: Genest's Account of the English Stage, ix. 541–63, et al.; Langbaine's Account of the English Dramatick Poets, 1691, pp. 474–85; The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland, by Mr. Cibber and other hands, 1753, ii. 26–32; T. G. Fleay's Biographical Chronicle of the English Drama, 1891, ii. 233–47; A. W. Ward's History of English Dramatic Literature, 1875, ii. 309–37. A very interesting essay on Shirley appeared in the Quarterly Review, vol. xlix., April and July 1833.]

A. W. W.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.250
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
132 i 24 Shirley, James: for 1651 read 1751
16f.e. for address read prologue