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9. The Two GENTLEMEN OF VERONA ; 1595. There can be little doubt that the episode of Felismena, in the Diana of George of Montemayor, was the source whence the principal part of the plot of this play has been taken ; for, though the Translation of Bartholomew Yong, was not published until 1598, it appears from the translator's 56 Preface to divers learned Gentlemen,” that it had been completed in the
year 1582; "it hath lyen by me finished,” he says, “ Horace's ten and six yeeres more," a declaration which renders it
very probable, that the manuscript may have been circulated among his friends, and the more striking parts impressed upon their memory. further informed, in this very preface, that a partial but excellent version of the Diana, had preceded his labours :-“ Well might I,” says Yong,
“ have excused these paines, if onely Edward Paston, Esquier, who heere and there for his own pleasure, as I understand, hath aptly turned out of Spanish into English some leaves that liked him best, had also made an absolute and complete Translation of all the Parts of Diana : the which, for his travell in that countrey, and great knowledge in that language, accompanied with other learned and good parts in him, had of all others, that ever I heard translate these Bookes, prooved the rarest and worthiest to be embraced.” We also learn from Dr. Farmer, that the Diana was translated two or three years before 1598, by one Thomas Wilson; but, he adds, “ this work, I am persuaded, was never published entirely; perhaps some parts of it were, or the tale might have been translated by
These intimations sufficiently warrant the conclusion, that Shakspeare may have become familiar with this portion of the Spanish romance, anterior to the publication of Yong's version in 1598 ; indeed so closely does the story of Proteus and Julia correspond with the episode of Montemayor, that Shakspeare's obligations cannot be mistaken. “. He has copied the original,” as Mr. Dunlop observes, “ in some minute particulars, which clearly evince the source from which the drama has been derived. As for example, in the letter which Proteus addresses to Julia, her rejection of it when offered by her waiting-maid, and the device by which she afterwards attempts to procure a perusal. (Act i. sc. 2.) In several passages, indeed, the dramatist has copied the language of the pastoral.” *
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iv. p. 176.
This play, though betraying marks of negligence and haste, especially towards its termination, is yet a most pleasing and instructive composition. There is scarcely a page of it, indeed, that is not pregnant with some just and useful maxim, and we stand amazed at the blind and tasteless decisions of Hanmer, Theobald, and Upton, who not only disputed the authenticity of this drama, but condemned it as a very inferior production.
So far are these opinions, however, from having any just foundation, that we may safely assert the peculiar style of Shakspeare to be vividly impressed on all the parts of this drama, whether serious or comic; and as to its aphoristic wealth, it may be truly said, with Dr. Johnson, that "it abounds with yoouces beyond most of his plays, and few have more lines or passages, which, singly considered, are eminently beautiful.”
But besides this, justice requires of us to remark, that there is a romantic and pathetic cast, both of sentiment and character, throughout the more elevated parts of this production, which has given to them a peculiar charm. The delineation of Julia in particular, from the gentleness and modesty of her disposition, the ill requital of her attachment, and the hazardous disguise which she assumes, must be confessed to excite the tenderest emotions of sympathy. This is a character, indeed, which Shakspeare has delighted to embody, and which he has further developed in the lovely and fascinating portraits of Viola and Imogen, who, like Julia, forsaken or despised, are driven to the same expedients, and, deserting their native roof, perform
* History of Fiction, Ist edit. vol. iii. p. 131. + Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iv. p. 177.
their adventurous pilgrimages , under similar modes of concealment.
A portion also of this romantic enthusiasm has thrown an interest over the characters of Sir Eglamour and Silvia, and evanescent as the part of the former is, we see enough of him to regret that he has not been brought more forward on the canvas. He is represented as a gentleman
« Valiant, wise, remorseful, well accomplished,"
and when Silvia, on the eve of her elopement, solicits his assistance, she thus addresses him :
“ Thyself hast loved ; and I have heard thee say,
No grief did ever come so near thy heart,
Nor are the ludicrous scenes less indicative of the hand of Shakspeare, the part of Launce, which forms the chief source of mirth in this play, being supported throughout with undeviating wit and humour, and with an effect greatly superior to that of the comic dialogue of Love's Labour's Lost and The Comedy of Errors.
Nor must we forget to remark, that the versification of the Two Gentlemen of Verona is peculiarly sweet and harmonious, and very happily corresponds with the delicacy, simplicity, and tenderness of feeling which have so powerfully shed their never-failing fascination over many of its serious scenes. How exquisitely, for instance, does the rhythm of the following lines, coalesce with and expand their sentiment and imagery :
It is remarkable, that a great poet of the present day has exhibited, in his poetical romances, an equal attachment to this mode of disguise. I will here also add, that the compass of English poetry does not, in point of interest, afford any thing more stimulating and attractive than the Dramas of Shakspeare, the Romances of Scott, and the Tales of Byron. + Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iv. p. 277. Act iv. sc. 3. VOL. II.
“ Julia. Counsel, Lucetta ; gentle girl, assist me!
Tell me some good mean,
Luc. Alas! the way is wearisome and long.
Jul. A true-devoted pilgrim is not weary
Luc. Better forbear, till Proteus make return.
Jul. The current, that with gentle murmur glides,
10. KING RICHARD THE THIRD: 1595. It is the conjecture of Mr. Malone, and by which he has been guided in his chronological arrangement, that this play, and King Richard the Second, were written, acted, registered, and printed in the year 1597. That they were registered and published during this year, we have indisputable authority t; but that they were written and acted within the same period, is a supposition without any proof, and, to say the least of it, highly improbable.
Mr. Chalmers, struck by this incautious assertion, of two such plays being written, acted, and published in a few months †; reflecting that
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iv. p. 234. Act ii. sc. 7.
+ Richard the Second was entered on the Stationers' books, on August 29. 1597; and Richard the Third on October 20. 1597; and both printed the same year.
† It must be recollected that Mr. Malone's “ Chronological Order of Shakspeare's Plays," is founded, not on the period of their publication, but on that of their composition; it is “ an attempt to ascertain the order in which the Plays of Shakspeare were written.”
Shakspeare, impressed by the character of Glocester, in his play of Henry the Sixth, might be induced to resume his national dramas by continuing the Historie of Richard, to which he might be more immediately stimulated by his knowledge that an enterlude entitled the Tragedie of Richard the Third, had been exhibited in 1593, or 1594 ; and ingeniously surmising that Richard the Second was a subsequent production, because it ushered in a distinct and concatenated series of history, has, under this view of the subject, given precedence to Richard the Third in the order of composition, and assigned its origin to the year 1595.
The description of a small volume of Epigrams by John Weever, in Mr. Beloe's Anecdotes of Literature, has since confirmed the chronology of Mr. Chalmers, so far as it proves that one of Shakspeare's Richards had certainly been acted in 1595.
The book in question, in the collection of Mr. Comb, of Henley, and supposed to be a unique, was published in 1599, at which period, according to the date of the print of him prefixed by Cecill, the author was twenty-three years old ; but Weever tells us, in some in
this volume, he was not twenty years old ; that he was one
“-That twenty twelve months yet did never know,”
consequently, these Epigrams must have been written in 1595, though not printed before 1599. They exhibit the following title : “ Epigrammes in the oldest Cut and newest Fashion. A twise seven Houres (in so many Weekes) Studie. No longer (like the Fashion) not unlike to continue. The first seven, John Weever.
Sit voluisse sit valuisse.
At London: printed by V. S. for Thomas Bushell, and are to be sold at his shop, at the great North doore of Paules. 1599. 12mo.”
Of this collection the twenty-second Epigram of the fourth Weeke, which we have formerly had occasion to notice, and which we shall now give at length, is addressed