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devotion, being marked by the most spirited and vigorous touches of his pencil.
The numerous vicissitudes in the story; its rapidity of action ; its contrast of character ; the splendid vigour of its serious, and the satirical sharpness and relish of its more familiar scenes, together with the animation which prevails throughout all its parts, have conferred on this play, both in the closet, and on the stage, a remarkable degree of attraction.
32. THE WINTER's Tale: 1610. That this play was written after the accession of King James, appears probable from the following
6 If I could find example
“ If, as Mr. Blackstone supposes,” observes Mr. Douce, “ this be an allusion to the death of the Queen of Scots, it exhibits Shakspeare in the character of a cringing flatterer, accommodating himself to existing circumstances, and is moreover an extremely severe one. But the perpetrator of that atrocious murder did flourish many years afterwards. May it not rather be designed as a compliment to King James, on his escape from the Gowrie conspiracy, an event often brought to the people's recollection during his reign, from the day on which it happened being made a day of thanksgiving?” of
Thus Osborne tells us, that “amongst a number of other Novelties, he (King James) brought a new Holyday into the Church of England, wherein God had publick thanks given him for his Majesties deliverance out of the hands of E. Goury. And this fell out upon Aug. 51;" and from Wilson we learn, the title which this day bore in the almanacks of the time:-“ The fifth of August this year (1603)
* Winter's Tale, act i. sc. 2.
Osborne's Works, 9th edit. 8vo. 1689, p. 477.
+ Illustrations, vol. i. p. 347.
had a new title given to it. The Kings Deliveries in the North must resound here.” *
From an allusion to this play and to The Tempest, in Ben Jonson's Induction to Bartholomew Fair, 1614, there is some reason to conclude, that these dramas were written within a short period of each other, and that The Winter's Tale was the elder of the two.
" He is loth,” he says, “to make nature afraid in his plays, like those that beget Tales, Tempests, and such like drolleries.”+ Now, it will be found in the next article, that we have no trifling data for attributing the composition of The Tempest to the year 1611; and, could it be rendered highly probable, that the production of The Winter's Tale did not occur before 1610, an almost incontrovertible support would be given to our chronology of both plays. It happens, therefore, very fortunately, that in a note by Mr. Malone, annexed to his chronological notice of The Winter's Tale, in the edition of our author's plays of 1803, a piece of information occurs, that seems absolutely to prove the
appears, says this critic, from the entry which has been quoted in a preceding page, that The Winter's Tale “ had been originally licensed by Sir George Buck;" and he concludes by remarking, that “ though Sir George Buck obtained a reversionary grant of the office of Master of the Revels, in 1603, which title Camden has given him in the edition of his Britannia printed in 1607, it appears from various documents in the Pells-office, that he did not get complete possession of his place till August, 1610.” I In fact, Edmond Tilney, the predecessor of Sir George Buck, died at the very commencement of October, 1610, and was buried at Leatherhead, in Surrey, on the sixth of the same month ; and it is very likely that, during his illness, probably
History of Great Britain, folio, 1653, p. 12. + “ I am inclined to think,” says Mr. Malone, “ that he (Jonson) joined these plays in the same censure, in consequence of their having been produced at no great distance of time from each other.”- Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ii. p. 326. note. That this passage was intended, however, as a censure on Shakspeare remains doubtful.
Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ii. p. 326.
commencing in August, Sir George, as his destined successor, might officiate for him.
We learn from Mr. Vertue's manuscripts, that The Winter's Tale was acted at court in 1613, a circumstance which, though it may lead us to infer that its popularity on the public stage had been considerable, by no means necessarily warrants the supposition which Mr. Malone is inclined to make, that it had passed through all its stages of composition, public performance, and court exhibition, during the same year.
Instead, therefore, of conjecturing with Mr. Malone that this play was written in 1594, or 1602, or 1604, or 1613, for such has been the vacillation of this gentleman in his chronology of the piece, or, with Mr. Chalmers, in 1601, we believe it to have been written, for the reasons which we have already assigned, and which will receive additional corroboration from the arguments to be adduced under the next head, towards the close of 1610, and to have been licensed and performed during the succeeding year.
“ The observation by Dr. Warburton,” remarks Mr. Douce, “ that The Winter's Tale, with all its absurdities, is
entertaining though stated by Dr. Johnson to be just, must be allowed at the same time to be extremely frigid.” Certainly had Warburton said this, or nothing but this, he had merited the epithet ; but Mr. Douce has been misled by Dr. Johnson, for most assuredly Warburton has not said this, but, on the contrary, has spoken of the play not only with taste and feeling, but in a tone of enthusiasm. “ This play, throughout,” says he, “is written in the very spirit of its author. And in telling this homely and simple, though agreeable country-tale,
“ Our sweetest Shakspeare, fancy's child,
Warbles his native wood-notes wild."
“ This was necessary to observe in mere justice to the play: as
* It appears, from Mr. Malone, that the copy of The Winter's Tale, licensed by Sir George Buck, had been lost.-Vide Reed's Shakspeare, vol. i. p. 326. note.
the meanness of the fable, and the extravagant conduct of it, had misled some of great name into a wrong judgment of its merit; which, as far as it regards sentiment and character, is scarce inferior to any in the whole collection." * This, indeed, is all that Warburton has said on the general character of The Winter's Tale, but it is high praise, and coincides in almost every respect with what Mr. Douce has himself very justly declared on the same subject, when, in the passage immediately following that which we have already quoted from his Illustrations, he adds, — “ In point of fine writing it may
be ranked among Shakspeare's best efforts. The absurdities pointed at by Warburton, together with the whimsical anachronisms of Whitson pastorals, Christian burial, an emperor of Russia, and an Italian painter of the fifteenth century, are no real drawbacks on the superlative merits of this charming drama. The character of Perdita will remain for ages unrivalled; for where shall such language be found as she is made to utter?”
As Shakspeare was indebted for the story of The Winter's Tale to the Dorastus and Fawnia of Robert Greene, which was published in 1588, so it is probable that he was under a similar obligation for its name to “ A booke entitled A Wynter Nyght's Pastime," which was entered at Stationers' Hall on May the 22d, 1594. It is, also, not unlikely that the adoption of the title might influence the nature of the composition ; for, as Schlegel has remarked, “ The "Winter's Tale is as appropriately named as The Midsummer-Night's Dream. It is one of those tales which are peculiarly calculated to beguile the dreary leisure of a long winter evening, which are even attractive and intelligible to childhood, and which, animated by fervent truth in the delineation of character and passion, invested with the decoration of a poetry lowering itself, as it were, to the simplicity of the subject, transport even manhood back to the golden age of imagination.” I
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ix. p. 209.
Lectures on Dramatic Literature, vol. ii. p. 181.—That Shakspeare considered the romantic incidents of this play as properly designated by the appellation of an old tale, is
Such indeed is the character of the latter and more interesting part of this drama, which, separated by a chasm of sixteen years from the business of the three preceding acts, may be said, in some measure, to constitute a distinct play. The fourth act, especially, is a pastoral of the most fascinating description, in which Perdita,
- the fann'd snow
ignorant of her splendid origin, yet, under the appearance of a shepherd's daughter, acting with such an intuitive nobleness of mind, that
“ nothing she does, or seems, But smacks of something greater than herself,” +
exhibits a portrait fresh from nature's loveliest pencil, where simplicity, artless affection, and the most generous resignation sweetly blended with a fortitude at once spirited and tender. Thus, when Polixenes, discovering himself at the sheep-shearing, interdicts the contract between Perdita and his son, and threatens the former with a cruel death, if she persist in encouraging the attachment, the reply which she gives is a most beautiful developement of the qualities of mind and heart which we have just enumerated :
evident from his own application of the phrase to several parts of the plot. Thus, in the
sir? this news, which is called true, is so like an old tale.” “ 2d Gent. What, pray you, became of Antigonus, that carried hence the child ?
3d Gent. Like an old tale still.”
That she is living,
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ix. p. 362. Act iv. sc. 3.