« AnteriorContinuar »
which put the King in a greater rage than ever, insomuch that he ordered both the mother and the babe to be burnt alive. Against this cruel sentence his nobles stoutly remonstrated; but the most they could gain was, that he should spare the child's life; his next device being to put her in a boat and leave her to the mercy of the winds and waves. At the hearing of this hard doom, the Queen fell down in a trance, so that all thought her dead; and on coming to herself she at last gave up the babe, saying, “Let me kiss thy lips, sweet infant, and wet thy tender cheeks with my tears, and put this chain about thy little neck, that if fortune save thee, it may help to succour thee.”
When the day of trial came, the Queen, standing as a prisoner at the bar, and seeing that nothing but her death would satisfy the King, “ waxed bold, and desired that she might have law and justice,” and that her accusers might be brought before her face. The King replied that their word was enough, the flight of Egistus confirming what they had said; and that it was her part “to be impudent in forswearing the fact, since she had passed all shame in committing the fault.” At the same time he threatened her with a cruel death; which she met by telling him that her life had ever been such as no spot of suspicion could stain, and that, if she had borne a friendly countenance towards Egistus, it was only as he was her husband's friend : “therefore, if she were condemned without further proof, it was rigour, and not law.” The judges said she spoke reason, and begged that her accusers might be openly examined and sworn; whereupon the King went to browbeating them, the very demon of tyranny having got possession of him. The Queen then told him that, if his fury might stand for law, it was of no use for the jury to give their verdict; and therefore she begged him to send six of his noblemen to “ the Isle of Delphos,” to inquire of Apollo whether she were guilty or not. This request he could not refuse. The messengers using all haste soon came back
with the sealed answer of Apollo. The court being now assembled again, the scroll was opened and read in their presence, its contents being much the same as in the play. As soon as Apollo's verdict was known, the people raised a great shout, rejoicing and clapping their hands, that the Queen was clear. The repentant King then besought his nobles to intercede with the Queen in his behalf, at the same time confessing how he had tried to compass the death of Egistus; and while he was doing this word came that the young Prince was suddenly dead; at the hearing of which the Queen fell down, and could never be revived: the King also sank down senseless, and lay in that state three days; and there was nothing but mourning in Bohenia. Upon reviving, the King was so frenzied with grief and remorse that he would have killed himself, but that his peers being present stayed his hand, entreating him to spare his life for the people's sake. He had the Queen and Prince very richly and piously entombed; and from that time repaired daily to the tomb to bewail his loss.
Up to this point, the play, so far as the mere incidents are concerned, is little else than a dramatized version of the tale: henceforth the former diverges more widely from the latter, though many of the incidents are still the same in both.
The boat with its innocent freight was carried by wind and tide to the coast of Sicilia, where it stuck in the sand. A poor shepherd, missing one of his sheep, wandered to the seaside in search of it. As he was about to return he heard a cry, and, there being no house near, he thought it might be the bleating of his sheep; and going to look more narrowly he spied a little boat from which the cry seemed to come. Wondering what it might be, he waded to the boat, and found the babe lying there ready to die of cold and hunger, wrapped in an embroidered mantle, and having a chain about the neck. Touched with pity he took the infant in his arms, and as he was fixing the mantle there fell at his feet a very fair rich purse containing a
great sum of gold. To secure the benefit of this wealth, he carried the babe home as secretly as he could, and gave her in charge to his wife, telling her the process of the discovery. The shepherd's name was Porrus, his wife's Mopsa; the precious foundling they named Fawnia. Being themselves childless, they brought her up tenderly as their own daughter. With the gold Porrus bought a farm and a flock of sheep, which Fawnia at the age of ten was set to watch; and, as she was likely to be his only heir, many rich farmers' sons came to his house as wooers; for she was of singular beauty and excellent wit, and at sixteen grew to such perfection of mind and person that her praises were spoken at the Sicilian Court. Nevertheless she still went forth every day with the sheep, veiling her face from the Sun with a garland of flowers; which attire became her so well, that she seemed the goddess Flora herself for beauty.
King Egistus had an only son, named Dorastus, a Prince so adorned with gifts and virtues, that both King and people had great joy of him. He being now of ripe age, his father sought to match him with some princess; but the youth was little minded to wed, as he had more pleasure in the exercises of the field and the chase. One day, as he was pursuing this sport, he chanced to fall in with the lovely shepherdess, and while he was rapt in wonder at the vision one of his pages told him she was Fawnia, whose beauty was so much talked of at the Court.
The story then goes on to relate the matter of their courtship; how the Prince resolved to forsake his home and inheritance, and become a shepherd, for her sake, as she could not think of matching with one above her degree; how, forecasting the opposition and dreading the anger of his father, he planned for escaping into Italy, in which enterprise he was assisted by an old servant of his named Capnio, who managed the affair so shrewdly, that the Prince made good his escape, taking the old shepherd along with him; how, after they got to sea, the ship was seized by a tempest and carried away to Bohemia; and
how at length the several parties met together at the Court of Pandosto, which drew on a disclosure of the facts, and a happy marriage of the fugitive lovers.
I must add one more item from the novel, as it aptly shows what advantage is sometimes to be gained by tracing the Poet in his reading. In the play, the Shepherd on finding the babe is made to exclaim, “ What have we here? Mercy on's, a bairn; a very pretty bairn ! a boy, or a child, I wonder ?” For some hundred years, editorial ingenuity has been strained to the utmost to explain why child should be thus used in opposition to boy; and nothing would do but to surmise an obsolete custom of speech which made child signify girl. The simple explanation is, that boy is a misprint for god. For this felicitous restoration we are indebted to Mr. R. G. White, of New York, who was guided to it by the corresponding passage of the novel : “ The shepherd, who before had never seen so fair a babe nor so rich jewels, thought assuredly that it was some little god, and began with great devotion to knock on his breast. The babe, who writhed with the head to seek for the pap, began again to cry, whereby the poor man knew it was a child.” That we are not gods, is indeed evident enough when we cry. Of course the man's devotion turned all to pity as soon as he caught that little but most unequivocal note of humanity.
From the foregoing sketch, it would seem that the Poet must have written with the novel before him, and not merely from general recollection. Here, again, as in case of As You Like It, to appreciate his judgment and taste, one needs to compare his workmanship in detail with the original, and to note what he left unused. The free sailing between Sicily and Bohemia he retained, inverting, however, the local order of the persons and incidents, so that Polixenes and Florizel are Bohemian Princes, whereas their prototypes, Egistus and his son, are Sicilians. The reason of this inversion does not appear. Of course, the Poet could
not have done it with any view to disguise his obligations; as his purpose evidently was, to make the popular interest of the tale tributary to his own success and profit. The most original of men, he was also the most free from pride and conceit of originality. In this instance, too, as in others, the instinctive rectitude of his genius is manifest in that, the subject once chosen, and the work begun, he thenceforth lost himself in the inspiration of his theme; all thoughts of popularity and pay being swallowed up in the supreme regards of Nature and Truth. For so, in his case, however prudence might dictate the plan, poetry was sure to have command of the execution. If he was but human in electing what to do, he became divine as soon as he went to doing it. And it is further considerable that, with all his borrowings in this play, the Poet nowhere drew more richly or more directly from his own spring. The whole life of the work is in what he gave, not in what he took ; the mechanism of the story being used but as a skeleton to underpin and support the eloquent contexture of life and beauty. In the novel, Paulina and the Clown are wanting altogether; while Capnio yields but a slight hint, if indeed it be so much, towards the part of Antolycus. And, besides the great addition of life and matter in these persons, the play has several other judicious departures from the novel.
In Leontes all the revolting features of Pandosto, save his jealousy, and the headstrong insolence and tyranny thence proceeding, are purged away; so that while the latter has neither intellect nor generosity to redeem his character, jealousy being the least of his faults, the other has a liberal stock of both. And in Bellaria the Poet had little more than a bare framework of incident wherein to set the noble, lofty womanhood of Hermione, — a conception far, far above the reach of such a mind as Greene’s. In the matter of the painted statue, Shakespeare, so far as is known, was altogether without a model, as he is without an imitator; the boldness of the plan being indeed such as nothing but entire success could justify, and wherein it is