Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

and again, on receiving commission from the same quarter:

"Obe. About the wood go swifter than the wind :
Puck. I go, I go; look, how I go;

Swifter than arrow from the Tartar's bow."

Act iii, sc. 2.

Upon the whole we may be allowed, from the preceding dissertation, to consider the following series of circumstances as entitled to the appellation of facts: namely, that the patria of our popular system of fairy mythology, was the Scandinavian Peninsula; that, on its admission into this country, it gradually underwent various modifications through the influence of Christianity, the introduction of classical associations, and the prevalence of feudal manners; but that ultimately two systems became established; one in Scotland, founded on the wild and more terrific parts of the Gothic mythology, and the other in England, built, indeed, on the same system, but from a selection of its milder features, and converted by the genius of Shakspeare into one of the most lovely creations of a sportive imagination. Such, in fact, has been the success of our bard in expanding and colouring the germs of Gothic fairyism; in assigning to its tiny agents new attributes and powers; and in clothing their ministration with the most light and exquisite imagery, that his portraits, in all their essential parts, have descended to us as indissolubly connected with, and indeed nearly, if not altogether, forming our ideas of the fairy tribe.

The canvas, it is true, which he stretched, has been since expanded, and new groups have been introduced; but the outline and the mode of colouring which he employed, have been invariably followed. It is, in short, to his picture of the fairy world, that we are indebted for the "Nymphidia" of Drayton; the "Robin Goodfellow" of Jonson;† the miniatures of Fletcher and Browne; the full-length portraits of Herrick; the sly allusions of Corbet, ** and the spirited and picturesque sketches of Milton.++

To Shakspeare, therefore, as the remodeller, and almost the inventor of our fairy system, may, with the utmost propriety, be addressed the elegant compliment which Browne has paid to Occleve, certainly inappropriate as applied to that rugged imitator of Chaucer, but admirably adapted to the peculiar powers of our bard, and delightfully expressive of what we may conceive would be the gratitude, were such testimony possible, of these children of his playful fancy:

Many times he hath been seene
With the faeries on the greene,
And to them his pipe did sound
As they danced in a round;

Mickle solace would they make him,
And at midnight often wake him;
And convey him from his roome
To a fielde of yellow broome,

Or into the meadowes where

Mints perfume the gentle aire,

And where Flora spreads her treasure,
There they would beginn their measure.
If it chanc'd night's sable shrowds
Muffled Cynthia up in clowds,
Safely home they then would see him,
And from breakes and quagmires free him.
There are few such swaines as he
Now a days for harmonie."‡‡

This beautiful and highly fanciful poem could not certainly have been written before 1605; for the Don Quixote of Cervantes, which was first published in Spain during the above year, is expressly mentioned in one of the stanzas; and Mr. Malone thinks that the earliest edition of the Nymphidia was printed

in 1619.

+ Peck attributes this song to Ben Jonson; and Percy observes, that it seems to have been originally intended for some masque.-Reliques, vol. iii. p. 203. ed. 1594.

See Fletcher's Faithfull Shepherdess, and Browne's Britannia's Pastorals.

Herrick, as I have observed in a former work, seems more particularly to have delighted in drawing the manners and costume of the fairy world.-He has devoted several of his most elaborate poems to these sportive creations of fancy. Under the titles of The Fairy Temple, Oberon's Palace, The Fairy Queen, and Oberon's Feast, a variety of curious and minute imagery is appositely introduced-Literary Hours, 3d edit. vol. iii, p. 85. To these may be added another elegantly descriptive piece, entitled, King Obe ron's Apparel, written by Sir John Mennis, and published in The Musarum Delicia, or The Muses Recreation, 1656

** In his political ballad entitled The Fairies Farewell.

++Vide L'Allegro, and the occasional sketehes in Paradise Lost and Comus.

# See Shepherd's Pipe, Eglogue 1. Chalmers's English Poets, vol. vi. p. 315. col. 2.


Observations on Romeo and Juliet; on the Taming of the Shrew; on The Two Gentlemen of Verona; on King Richard the Third; on King Richard the Second; on King Henry the Fourth, Parts First and Second; on The Merchant of Venice; and on Hamlet-Dissertation on the Agency of Spirits and Apparitions, and on the Ghost in Hamlet.

In endeavouring to ascertain the chronological series of our author's plays, we must ever hold in mind, that, in general, nothing more than a choice of probabilities is before us, and that, whilst weighing their preponderancy, the slightest additional circumstance, so equally are they sometimes balanced, may turn the scale. It appears to us, that an occurrence of this kind will be found to point out, more accurately than hitherto, the precise period to which the first sketch of the following tragedy may be ascribed.

7. ROMEO AND JULIET: 1593. The passage in this play on which the commentators have chiefly relied for the establishment of their respective dates, runs thus::

[blocks in formation]

Building on Shakspeare's usual custom of alluding to the events of his own time, and transferring them to the scene and period of the piece on which he happened to be engaged, Mr. Tyrwhitt with much probability conjectured, that the poet, in these lines, had in view the earthquake which, according to Stowe,* and Gabriel Harvey, took place in England on the 6th of April, 1580; but then, relying, unfortunately too much, on the computation of the good nurse, he hastily concludes, that Romeo and Juliet, or a part of it at least, was written in 1591.

Mr. Malone, after admitting the inference of Mr. Tyrwhitt, adds another conjecture, that the foundation of this play might be laid in 1591, and finished at a subsequent period, which period he has assigned in his chronology to the year


Lastly, Mr. Chalmers, principally because Shakspeare appears to have borrowed some imagery in the fifth act, from Daniel's " Complaint of Rosamond," which was entered at Stationers' Hall on the 4th of February, 1592, has ascribed the first sketch of Romeo and Juliet to the spring-time of the same year.

Now, adopting the opinion of Mr. Tyrwhitt as to Shakspeare's reference to the earthquake of 1580, a little attention to the lines which the poet has put into the mouth of his garrulous nurse, will convince us that these gentlemen are alike mistaken in their chronological calculations.

The nurse in the first place tells us, that Juliet was within little more than a fortnight of being fourteen years old, an assertion in which she could not be incorrect, as it is corroborated by Lady Capulet, who thinks her daughter, in consequence of this age, fit for marriage. In the next place she informs us that Juliet was weaned on the day of the earthquake, and as she could then stand and run alone, we must conceive her to have been at this period at least a twelvemonth

* See Stowe's Chronicle, and Gabriel Harvey's Letter in the Preface to Spenser's Works, edit. 19

old; and thirdly, and immediately afterwards we are told, with a contradiction which assigns to Juliet but the age of twelve,

""Tis since the earthquake now eleven years."

There can be no doubt, therefore, that this miscalculation of eleven for thirteen years, was intended as a characteristic feature of the superannuated nurse, and that, assuming the era of 1580 as the epoch meant to be conveyed in the allusion to the earthquake at Verona, the composition of Romeo and Juliet must be allotted, not to the years 1591, 1592, or 1595, but to the year 1593.

It appears somewhat singular, indeed, that Mr. Malone, contrary to his usual custom, should have given a place in his Chronology not to the first sketch of this play, but to a supposed completion of it in 1595; more especially when we find, from his own words, that this, like several other dramas of our bard, was gradually and successively improved, and that, though first printed in 1597, it was not filled up and completed as we now have it, until 1599, when a second edition was published.

Some surprise also must be excited by the reasons which induced Mr. Chalmers to date the first sketch of this tragedy in the spring of 1592. Of these the first, he remarks," is plainly an allusion to the Faerie Queene, the three first books of which were published in 1590; and which was continually present in our poet's mind; Mercutio, in his airy and satiric speech, cries out,

"O, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you.

She is the fairies midwife; and she comes,

In shape no bigger than agate stone

On the fore-finger of an alderman :"

forgetting, that between the popular fairies, the tiny elves, of Shakspeare, and the allegorical fairies of Spenser, there is not the smallest similarity, not even a point in contact. The second, drawn from the imitation of Daniel, has been noticed above, and might with as much, if not more, probability be assigned for its date in 1593 as in the year preceding.

There is much reason to suppose, from a late communication by Mr. Haslewood, that this play was not altogether founded on Arthur Broke's " Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet," but partly ou a theatrical exhibition of the same story which had taken place anterior to 1562; for in a copy of Broke's poem of this date in the Collection of the Rev. H. White, of the Close, Lichfield, occurs an address “To the Reader," not found in Mr. Capell's impression of 1562, and omitted in the edition of 1577, which closes with the following curious piece of information: -"Though I saw," observes Broke, speaking in reference to his story," the same argument lately set forth on the stage with more commendation, then I can looke for (being there much better set for then I have or can doe), yet the same matter penned as it is, may serve to lyke good effect, if the readers do brynge with them lyke good myndes, to consider it, which hath the more incouraged me to publishe it, suche as it is."*

Here we find three important circumstances announced that a play on this subject had, previous to 1562, been set forth with no little preparation; that it contained the same argument and matter with the Tragical History, and that it had been well received and productive of a good effect! Thirty years, consequently, before Shakspeare's tragedy appeared, had the stage been familiar with this pathetic tale. †

British Bibliographer, vol. ii. p. 115.—The title, which is wanting in Mr. Capell's copy of 1562, is thus given by Mr. Haslewood:

"The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet, written first in Italian by Bandell, and nowe in Englishe by Ar. Br. In ædibus Richardi Tottelli. Cum Priuilegio. (Col.) Imprinted at London in Flete strete within Temble barre, at the signe of the hand and starre, by Richard Tottill the xix day of November. An do. 1562."

+"Steevens," remarks Mr. Haslewood, "in a note prefixed to the play, rather prophetically observes, * we are not yet at the end of our discoveries relative to the originals of our author's dramatic pieces :'

The play therefore, as well as the metrical history of Broke, must have departed, in its catastrophe, from the story of Luigi da Porta, in which Juliet awakens from her trance before the death of Romeo. It is probable also that the play misled the English translator, and both Shakspeare; for it is remarkable that Broke, who pretends to translate from Bandello, has deserted his supposed original, which, with regard to the denouement, as in every thing else, precisely copies Da Porta, who, it would seeem, had the honour of improving on a preceding writer by the introduction of this novel and affecting incident.

"The origin of Shakspeare's Romeo and Juliet," observes Mr. Dunlop, "has generally been referred to the Giuletta of Luigi da Porta. Of this tale Mr. Douce has attempted to trace the origin as far back as the Greek romance by Xenophon Ephesius; but when it is considered that this work was not published in the lifetime of Luigi da Porta, I do not think the resemblance sa strong as to induce us to believe that it was seen by that novelist. His Giuletta is evidently borrowed from the thirty-second novel of Massucio, which must unquestionably be regarded as the ultimate origin of the celebrated drama of Shakspeare, though it has escaped, as far as I know, the notice of his numerous commentators. In the story of Massucio, a young gentleman, who resided in Sienna, is privately married by a friar to a lady of the same place, of whom he was deeply enamoured. Mariotto, the husband, is forced to fly from his country, on account of having killed one of his fellow-citizens in a squabble in the streets. An interview takes place between him and his wife before the separation. After the departure of Mariotto, Gianozza, the bride, is pressed by her friends to marry: she discloses her perplexing situation to the friar, by whom the nuptial ceremony had been performed. He gives her a soporific powder, which she drinks dissolved in water; and the effect of this narcotic is so strong that she is believed to be dead by her friends, and interred according to custom. The accounts of her death reach her husband in Alexandria, whither he had fled before the arrival of a special messenger, who had been dispatched by the friar to acquaint him with the real posture of affairs. Mariotto forthwith returns in despair to his own country, and proceeds to lament over the tomb of his bride. Before this time she had recovered from her lethargy, and had set out for Alexandria in quest of her husband, who meanwhile is apprehended and executed for the murder he had formerly committed. Giannozza, finding he was not in Egypt, returns to Sienna, and, learning his unhappy fate, retires to a convent, where she soon after dies. The catastrophe here is different from the novel of Luigi da Porta and the drama of Shakspeare, but there is a perfect correspondence in the preliminary incidents. The tale of Massucio was written about 1470, which was long prior to the age of Luigi da Porta, who died in 1531, or of Cardinal Bembo, to whom some have attributed the greater part of the composition."

With the exception of the incident which distinguishes the close of the story as related by Luigi da Porta, Shakspeare has worked up the materials which preceded his drama with the most astonishing effect; and by the beauty of his sentiments, the justness of his delineation, and the felicity of his language, he has

true a play founded on the story of Romeo and Juliet, appearing on the stage with commendation, anterior to the time of Shakspeare, is a new discovery for the commentators."

To the notices afforded us by the Commentators on Shakspeare, of the popularity of the story of Romes and Juliet, may be added the following, collected by the industry of Mr. Haslewood. The first is from "The Pleasant fable of Hermaphroditus and Salmacis, by T. Peend, Gent. With a morall in Engi Verse. Anno Domini 1565, Mense Decembris. (Col.) Imprinted at London in Flete streat beneath the Conduyt, at the sygne of S. John Euangeliste, by Thomas Colwell. Oct. 24 leaves."

"And Juliet, Romeus yonge,
for bewty did embrace,
Yet dyd hys manhode well agree,
unto hys worthy grace:"

On which lines occurs the following note, at the end of the poem :-" Juliet. A noble maiden of the extre Verona in Italye, whyche loued Romeus, eldest soune of the Lorde Montesche, and beinge pryuely moryd together he at last poysoned hymselfe for loue of her. She for sorowe of his deathe, slewe her selfe in the same tombe, with hys dagger."-Brit. Bibliographer, vol, ii. p. 344, 347, 349.

[ocr errors]

The second instance is from a work entitled Philotimus. The Warre betwixt Nature and Fortune. Compiled by Brian Melbancke Student in Graies Iune. Palladi virtutis famula. Imprinted at London by Roger Warde, dwelling neere unto Holborne Conduit at the signe of the Talbot, 1583." 4to. p. 226

Nowe Priams sone give place, thy Helen's hew is stainde. O Troylus, weepe no more, faire Cressed thyne is lothlye fowle. Nor Hercules thou haste cause to vaunt for thy swete Omphale: nor Romes then hast cause to weepe for Juliets losse." &c.-Brit. Bibliographer, vol. ii. p. 438, 444.

The History of Fiction, vol. ii. p. 339-341 1st edit

drawn the most glowing, pathetic, and interesting picture of disastrous love which the world has yet contemplated.

We perceive the highest tone of enthusiasm, combined with the utmost purity, fidelity, and tenderness, pervading every stage of the intercourse between Romeo and Juliet: and, elevated as they are, to an almost perfect ideal representation of the influence of love, so much of actual nature is interwoven with every expression of their feelings, that our sympathy irresistibly augments with the progress of the fable, and becomes at length almost overwhelming. Indeed, such is the force of the appeal which the poet makes to the heart in this bewitching drama, that, were it not relieved by the occasional intervention of lighter emotions, the effect would be truly painful; but, with his wonted fertility of resource, our author has effected this purpose in a manner, which, while it heightens by the power of contrast, at the same time diversifies the picture, and exhilarates the mind. Every hue of many-coloured life, the effervescence of hope, and the hushed repose of disappointment, the bloom of youth, and the withered aspect of age, the intoxication of rapture, and the bitterness of grief, the scintillations of wit, and the speechless agonies of despair, tears and smiles, groans and laughter, are so blended in the texture of this piece, as to produce the necessary relief, without disturbing the union and harmony of the whole, or impairing, in the smallest degree, the gradually augmenting interest which accompanies the hapless lovers to their tomb. What, for instance, can be more opposed to each other, and to the youthful victims of the drama, than the characters of Mercutio, Friar Lawrence, and the Nurse; yet the brilliancy and gaiety of the first, the philosophic dignity of the second, and the humorous garrulity of the third, while they afford a welcome repose to our feelings, are essential to the development of the plot, and to the full display of those scenes of terror and distress which alternately freeze and melt the heart, to the last syllable of this sweet and mournful tale.

Numerous as have been its relators, who has told it like our matchless bard?

"It was reserved for Shakspeare," remarks Schlegel, in a tone of the finest enthusiasm, "to unite purity of heart and the glow of imagination, sweetness and dignity of manners and passionate violence, in one ideal picture. By the manner in which he has handled it, it has become a glorious song of praise on that inexpressible feeling which ennobles the soul, and gives to it its highest sublimity, and which elevates even the senses themselves into soul, and at the same time is a melancholy elegy on its frailty, from its own nature, and external circumstances; at once the deification and the burial of love. It appears here like a heavenly spark that, descending to the earth, is converted into a flash of lightning, by which mortal creatures are almost in the same moment set on fire and consumed. Whatever is most intoxicating in the odour of a southern spring, languishing in the song of the nightingale, or voluptuous in the first opening of the rose, is breathed into this poem. But even more rapidly than the earliest blossoms of youth and beauty decay, it hurries on from the first timidly-bold declaration of love and modest return, to the most unlimited passion, to an irrevocable union; then, amidst alternating storms of rapture and despair, to the death of the two lovers, who still appear enviable as their love survives them, and as by their death they have obtained a triumph over every separating power. The sweetest and the bitterest, love and hatred, festivity and dark forebodings, tender embraces and sepulchres, the fulness of life and self-annihilation, are all here brought close to each other; and all these contrasts are so blended in the harmonious and wonderful work, into a unity of impressions, that the echo which the whole leaves behind in the mind, resembles a single but endless sigh."

8. THE TAMING of the Shrew: 1594. Nothing appearing to invalidate the conclusion of Mr. Malone, that this was one of our author's earliest plays, we have adhered to his chronology; for the lines quoted by Mr. Chalmers, in order to establish a posterior date,

"Tis death for any one in Mantua

To come to Padua," &c.

⚫ A Course of Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature. By Augustus William Schlegel. Translated from the original German, by John Black. 8vo. 2 vols 1815. vol. i. p. 187, 188.

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »