Page images
PDF
EPUB

to whom some have attributed the greater part of the compo

sition.” *

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 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.

* The History of Fiction, vol. ij. pp. 339-341. Ist edit.

а.

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 developement 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 à 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 fullness of life and self-annihilation, are all here brought close to each other; and all these contrasts are so blended in the

a

harmonious and wonderful work, into a unity of impresions, 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.t

would, if there be any weight in this instance, procare a similar assignment, as to time, for the Comedy of Errors, where we find a like prohibition of intercourse :

“ If any Syracusan born
Come to the bay of Ephesus, he dies;" |

yet no one, in consequence of such a passage, has entertained an idea of ascribing this comedy to the year 1598.

The outline of the induction to this drama may be traced, as Mr. Douce observes , through many intermediate copies, to the Sleeper Awakened of the Arabian Nights; but it is most probable, that the immediate source of this prelude, both to the anonymous author of the old Taming of a Shrew, and to Shakspeare himself, was the story-book said by Warton to have been once in the possession of Collins the poet, a collection of short comic tales, “ sett forth by maister Richard Edwards, mayster of her Majesties revels,” in the

[ocr errors]

year 1570. ||

* 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. pp. 187, 188.

+ Supplemental Apology, p. 371.
# Reed's Shakspeare, vol. xx. p. 349. Act i. sc. 1.

Illustrations of Shakspeare, vol. i. p. 342. ! Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ix. p. 5.

a

From whatever source, however, this apologue may have been directly taken, we cannot but feel highly indebted to Shakspeare for its conversion into a lesson of exquisite moral irony, while, at the same time, it unfolds his wonted richness of humour, and minute delineation of character. The whole, indeed, is conducted with such lightness and frolic spirit, with so many happy touches of risible simplicity, yet chastised by so constant an adherence to nature and verisimilitude, as to form one of the most delightful and instructive sketches.

So admirably drawn is the character of Sly, that we regret to find the interlocution of the groupe before whom the piece is supposed to be performed, has been dropped by our author after the close of the first scene of the play. Here we behold the jolly tinker nodding, and, at length, honestly exclaiming, Would't were done !' and, though the integrity of the representation require, that he should finally return to his former state, the transformation, as before, being effected during his sleep, yet we hear no more of this truly comic personage ; whereas in the spurious play, he is frequently introduced commenting on the scene, is carried off the stage fast asleep, and, on the termination of the drama, undergoes the necessary metamorphosis.

It would appear, therefore, either that our bard's continuation of the induction has been unaccountably lost, or that he trusted the remainder of Sly's part to the improvisatory ingenuity of the performers; or, what is more likely, that they were instructed to copy a certain portion of what had been written, for this subordinate division of the tinker's character, by the author of the elder play. Some of the observations, indeed, of Sly, as given by the writer of this previous comedy, are incompatible with the fable and Dramatis Persone of Shakspeare's production ; and have, consequently, been very injudiciously introduced by Mr. Pope; but there are two passages which, with the exception of but two names, are not only accordant with our poet's prelude, but absolutely necessary to its completion. Shakspeare, as we have seen, represents Sly as nodding at the end of the first scene; and the parts of the anonymous play to which we allude, are those where the nobleman orders the sleeping tinker to be put into his own apparel again, and where he awakens in this garb, and believes the whole to have been a dream ; the only alterations required in this finale, being the omission of the Christian appellative Sim, and the conversion of Tapster into Hostess. These few lines were, most probably, those which Shakspeare selected as a necessary accompaniment to his piece, from the old drama supposed to have been written in 1590 * ; and these lines should be withdrawn from the notes in all the modern editions, and, though distinguished as borrowed property, should be immediately connected with the text. +

As to the play itself, the rapidity and variety of its action, the skilful connection of its double plot, and the strength and vivacity of its principal characters, must for ever ensure its popularity. There is, indeed, a depth and breadth of colouring, in its execution, a boldness and prominency of relief, which may be thought to border upon coarseness; but the result has been an effect equally powerful and interesting, though occasionally, as the subject demanded, somewhat glaring and grotesque.

Petruchio, Katharina, and Grumio, the most important personages of the play, are consistently supported throughout, and their peculiar features touched and brought forward with singular sharpness and spirit; the wild, fantastic humour of the first, the wayward and insolent demeanor of the second, contrasted with the meek, modest, and retired disposition of her sister, together with the inextinguishable wit and drollery of the third, form a picture, at once rich, varied, and pre-eminently diverting.

*“ I suspect,” says Mr. Malone, “that the anonymous Taming of a Shrew was written about the year 1590, either by George Peele or Robert Greene.” — Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ix. p. 196.

+ “A very droll print of village society," observes Mr. Felton, "might be taken” from this interlude.

“It might represent this worthy tinker, at Marian Hackets of Wincot, with Stephen Sly, Old John Naps oth Green, Peter Turf, and Henry Pimpernell, not as smoking their pipes, (as scarce at that day introduced,) but drinking their ale in stone. jugs."Imperfect Hints towards a New Edition of Shakspeare, part i. p. 21.

« PreviousContinue »