Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

have been conscious of the inferiority of his own versification, which Coleridge calls “ too poematic minus-dramatic." The improbability, then, that Fletcher imitated Shakspere in portions of the play, writing other portions in his own proper language and versification, throws the critic back upon the other conjecture, that Shakspere's own hand is to be found in it. But then again he says, “ The harshness of many of these very passages, a harshness unrelieved by any lyrical inter-breathings, and still more the want of profundity in the thoughts, keep me from an absolute decision.” We state these opinions of Coleridge with reference to what we must briefly call the style of the different parts, to show that any decision of the question founded mainly upon style is not to be considered certain even within its own proper limits. We have rested our doubts principally upon another foundation; but, taken together, the two modes of viewing the question, whether as to style or dramatic structure, require that we should look out for another partner than Shakspere in producing this work in alliance with Fletcher. Coleridge appears to have thought the same when he threw out the name of Jonson; but we cannot conceive that, if he had pursued this inquiry analytically, he would have abided by this conjecture. Jonson's proper versification is more different from Shakspere's than perhaps that of any other of his contemporaries; and we doubt if his mind was plastic enough, or his temper humble enough, to allow him to become the imitator of any man. We request our readers to compare the following invocation by Jonson, from Cynthia's Revels, with the invocation to Mars in the fifth act of "The Two Noble Kinsmen;' and we think they will agree that the versification of Jonson, in a form in which both the specimens are undramatic, is essentially different :

“Phæbus Apollo, if with ancient rites,

And due devotions, I have ever hung
Elaborate pæans on thy golden shrine,
Or sung thy triumphs in a losty strain,
Fit for a theatre of gods to hear;
And thou, the other son of mighty Jove,
Cyllenian Mercury, sweet Maia's joy,
If in the busy tumults of the mind
My path thou ever bast illumined,
For which thine altars I have oft perfum'd,
And deck'd thy statues with discolour'd flowers :
Now thrive invention in this glorious court,
That not of bounty only, but of right,
Cynthia may grace, and give it life by sight."

Here is no variety of pause; the couplet with which the speech concludes is not different from the pairs of blank-verse which have gone before, except in the rhyming of the tenth syllables. But there is another writer of that period who might have been associated with Fletcher in the production of a drama, and did participate in such stage partnerships; who, from some limited resemblances to Shakspere that we shall presently notice, might without any improbability be supposed to have written those portions of The Two Noble Kinsmen' which are decidedly and essentially different from the style of Fletcher. We select, though probably not the best selection we could make, a passage of the same general character as the invocations so often mentioned, and which may be compared also with Jonson's address to Apollo. It is an invocation to Behemoth :

“ Terror of darkness! ob thou king of flames!

That with thy music-footed horse dost strike
The clear light out of crystal, on dark earth,
And hurl'st instructive fire about the world,
Wake, wake, the drowsy and enchanted night,
That sleeps with dead eyes in this heavy riddle ;
Oh, thou great prince of shades, where never sun
Sticks his far-darted beams, whose eyes are made
To shine in darkness, and see ever best
Where men are blindest! open now the heart
Of thy abashed oracle, that for fear
Of some ill it includes would fain lie hid,
And rise thou with it in thy greater light.”

The writer of this invocation, which we select from the tragedy of Bussy D'Ambois,' is George Chapman.

Webster, in his dedication to · Vittoria Corombona,' speaks of “that full and heightened style of Master Chapman,” in the same sentence with “the laboured and understanding works of Master Jonson.” It is in the “full and heightened style" that we shall seek resemblances to parts of 'The Two Noble Kinsmen,' rather than in the “laboured and understanding works.” We are supported in this inquiry by the opinion of one of the most subtle and yet most sensible of modern critics, Charles Lamb:—“Of all the English play-writers, Chapman perhaps approaches nearest to Shakspeare in the descriptive and didactic, in passages which are less purely dramatic. Dramatic imitation was not his talent. He could not go out of himself, as Shakspeare could shift at pleasure, to inform and animate other existences, but in himself he had an eye to per.

ceive and a soul to embrace all forms. He would have made a great epic poet, if, indeed, he has not abundantly shown himself to be one; for his · Homer' is not so properly a translation as the stories of Achilles and Ulysses re-written.” Our theory is, that the passages which have been ascribed to Shakspere as a partner in the work of The Two Noble Kinsmen’ are essentially “descriptive and didactic;" that to write these passages it was not necessary that the poet should be able to "go out of himself;" that they, for the most part, might enter into the composition of a great epic poem; that the writer of these passages was master, to a considerable extent, of Shakspere's style, especially in its conciseness and its solemnity, although he was ill fitted to grapple with its more dramatic qualities of rapidity or abruptness; that also, unlike most of the writers of his day, who sought only to please, he indulged in the same disposition as Shakspere, to yield to the prevailing reflection which the circumstances of the scene were calculated to elicit; and, lastly, that his intimate acquaintance with the Greek poets fitted him to deal more especially with those parts of the tale of Palamon and Arcite' in which Chaucer, in common with all the middle-age poets, built a tale of chivalry upon a classical foundation. We can understand such a division of labour between Fletcher and Chapman, as that Fletcher should take the romantic parts of the story, as the knighterrantry, the love, the rivalry, the decision by bodily prowess,-and that Chapman should deal with Theseus and the Amazons, the lament of the three Queens, (which subject was familiar to him in The Seven against Thebes' of the Greek drama,) and the mythology which Chaucer had so elaborately sketched as the machinery of his great story

Lord Byron somewhere says, speaking of his own play of Sardanapalus,' “ I look upon Shakspere to be the worst of models, though the most extraordinary of writers.” We think, if Shakspere be the worst of models, it is because he is the most extraordinary of writers. His prodigious depth of thought, his unbounded range of imagery, his intense truth of characterization, are not to be imitated. The other qualities, which might remain as a model, lie beneath the surface. Imitate, if it be possible, the structure of his verse; the thought and the imagery are wanting, and the mere versification is a lifeless mass. Dryden says, in his preface to · All for Love,' “In my style I have professed to imitate the divine Shakspeare." Open the play at any part, and see if the imitation has produced a resemblance. Rowe tells us that - Jane Shore' is an imitation of

Shakspere. It is a painted daub of the print-shops imitating the colouring of Titian. Otway pieced Romeo and Juliet' into his

Caius Marius,' where the necessity for imitation was actually forced upon him, in making a cento of Shakspere's lines and his own; and yet the last speech of the Romeo of Otway's tragedy substitutes these three lines in the place of “ Thus with a kiss I die:”.

“ This world's gross air grows burthensome already,

I am all a god; such heavenly joys transport me,
That mortal sense grows sick, and faints with lasting."

We mention these things to show that men of very high talent have not been able to grapple with Shakspere's style in the way of imitation. A poet, and especially a contemporary poet, might have formed his own style, in some degree, upon Shakspere; not only by the constant contemplation of his peculiar excellences, but through the general character that a man of the very highest genius impresses unconsciously upon the aggregate poetry of his age. This we believe to have been the case with Chapman. He was not an imitator of Shakspere in the ordinary sense of the word; he could not imitate him in his scenes of passion, because he could not "shift at pleasure, to inform and animate other existences.” But, in a limited range, he approached Shakspere, because he had the same earnestness, the same command of striking combinations of language, a rhythm in which harmony is blended with strength, a power of painting scenes by vivid description, a tendency to reflect and philosophize. All this Shakspere had, but he had a great deal more. Is that more displayed in the scenes of · The Two Noble Kinsmen' which have been attributed to him ? or, not being present, had Chapman the power of producing these scenes out of his own resources ? This is a question which we certainly cannot pretend to answer satisfactorily: all that we can do is to compare a few peculiarities in the first and last acts of The Two Noble Kinsmen’ with passages that offer themselves in those of Chapman's works with which we have an acquaintance.

We will begin with a quality which is remarkable enough in passages of · The Two Noble Kinsmen’to distinguish them from those written by Fletcher—we mean the presence of general truths and reflections, propounded always with energy, sometimes with solemnity, not dragged in as a moral at the end of a fable, but arising spontaneously out of the habit of the author's mind. Coleridge doubts the profundity of these thoughts and we think he is right.

We will place in one column a few of such passages from “The Two Noble Kinsmen ;' and, in the other, passages of a similar nature, selected somewhat hastily from three or four of Chapman's plays :

CHAPMAN.
“Sin is a coward, madam, and insults
But on our weakness, in his truest valour;
And so our ignorance tames us, that we let
His shadows fright us." Bussy D' Ambois.

Two NOBLE KINSMEN.
We come unseasonably; but when could

Grief
Cull forth, 'as unpang'd Judgment can,

fitt'st
time
For best solicitation ?"

“ Oh you heavenly charmers, What things you make of us ! For what we

lack We laugh, for what we have are sorry ; still Are children in some kind.”

“ Let th' event, That never-erring arbitrator, tell us When we know all ourselves; and let us

follow The becking of our chance !"

“O the good God of Gols,
How blind is pride! what eagles we are still
In matters that belong to other men!
What beetles in our own!" All Fools.

“ 01 the strange difference 'twixt us and the

stars! They work with inclinations strong and fatal, And nothing know: and we know all their

working, And nought can do or nothing can prevent."

Byron's Tragedy.

It would be easy to multiply examples of this kind; and it would not be necessary for our purpose to select passages that are very closely parallel. We only desire to show that Chapman is a reflective poet; and that in this respect the tone of thought that may be found in the first and last acts of The Two Noble Kinsmen' is not incompatible with his habits of composition.

We have already selected an invocation by Chapman, with the intent of showing that his style in this detached and complete form of poetry approaches much more closely to the invocations in The Two Noble Kinsmen' than the style of Jonson. Chapman appears to us to delight in this species of oratorical verse, requiring great condensation and majesty of expression, and demanding the nicest adjustment of a calm and stately rhythm. He derived, perhaps, this love of invocation, as well as the power of introducing such passages successfully in his dramas, from his familiarity with Homer; and thus for the same reason his plays have more of the stately form of the epic dialogue than the passionate rapidity of the true drama. We will select one invocation from Chapman's translation of the • Iliad,' that of Agamemnon's prayer in the third book, to show the sources at least which were open to the writer of the invocations in the fifth act of “The Two Noble Kinsmen, for examples of condensation of thought, majesty of diction, and felicity of epithet :

“Jove, that Ida doth protect, and hast the titles won,
Most glorious, most invincible; and thou all-seeing sun;

« AnteriorContinuar »