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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, “Woulďt 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 o'th 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.
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
66 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.
But we are 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 others." *
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, 6 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 yvojas 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 their adventurous pilgrimages under similar modes of concealment. *
* History of Fiction, Ist edit. vol. iii. p. 131. + Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iv. p. 177.
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,
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.