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It is indeed a pastoral of the golden age, and Perdita “no shepherdess, but Flora,
Peering in April's front,” and breathing flowers, in the spring-tide of youth and beauty. How gracefully she distributes her emblematic favors! What language accompanies them! Well may Florizel exclaim,
The reader reëchoes the sentiment of the lover, and is sorry to come to the close. With what modest, unconscious dignity are all her words and actions accompanied even Polixenes, who looks on her with no favorable eye, says that there is
“— nothing she does or says
The shepherds and shepherdesses, with whom she has been brought up, are such as ordinary life affords, and are judicious foils to this delightful couple of lovers.
The arch roguery and mirthful stratagems of Autolycus are very amusing, and his character is admirably sustained. “The jealousy of Leontes (says the judicious Schlegel) is not, like that of Othello, developed with all the causes, symptoms, and gradations; it is brought forward at once, and is portrayed as a distempered frenzy. It is a passion which does not produce the catastrophe, but merely ties the knot of the piece.” But it has the same intemperate course, is the same soulgoading passion which wrings a noble nature to acts of revengeful cruelty; at which, under happier stars, it would have shuddered, and which are no sooner committed than repented of.
The patient and affecting resignation of the wronged Hermione, under circumstances of the deepest anguish, and the zealous and courageous remonstrances of the faithful Paulina, have the stamp of Shakspeare upon them. Indeed I know not what parts of this drama could be attributed to any even of the most skilful of his contemporaries. It was perhaps the discrepancies of the plot, (which, in fact, almost divides it into two plays with an interval of sixteen years between,) and the anachronisms, which made Dryden” and Pope overlook the beauties of execution in this enchanting play.
* Dryden, in the Essay at the end of the second part of the Conquest of Granada, speaking of the plays of Shakspeare and Fletcher, says:—“Witness the lameness of their plots; many of which, especially those which they wrote first, (for even that age refined itself in some measure,) were made up of some ridiculous, incoherent story, which in one play many
Malone places the composition of The Winter's Tale in 1611, because it was first licensed for representation by Sir George Bucke, Master of the Revels, who did not assume the functions of his office until August, 1610. The mention of the “Puritan singing psalms to hornpipes” also points at this period, as does another passage, which is supposed to be a compliment to James on his escape from the Gowrie Conspiracy. These are conjectures, but probable ones. Malone had in former instances placed the date much earlier; first in 1594, and then in 1602. The supposition that Ben Jonson intended a sneer at this play in his Induction to Bartholomew Fair, has been satisfactorily answered by Mr. Gifford.”
Horace Walpole, in his Historic Doubts, attempts to show that The Winter's Tale was intended (in compliment to Queen Elizabeth) as an indirect apology for her mother Anne Boleyn; but the ground for his conjecture is so slight as scarcely to deserve attention. Indeed it may be answered, that the plot of the play is not the invention of Shakspeare, who therefore cannot be charged with this piece of flattery: if it was intended, it must be attributed to Greene, whose novel was published in 1588. I think, with Mr. Boswell, that these supposed allusions by Shakspeare to the history of his own time, are very much to be doubted.
times took up the business of an age. I suppose I need not name Pericles, nor the historical plays of Shakspeare; besides many of the rest, as, The Win... . . .4, Love’s Labor’s Lost, Measure for Measure, which were either grounded on impossibilities, or at least so meanly written, that the comedy neither caused your mirth, nor the serious parts your concernment.” Pope, in his Preface to Shakspeare, almost reëchoes this:—“I should conjecture (says he) of some of the others, particularly Love's Labor's Lost, The Winter's Tale, Comedy of Errors, and Titus Andronicus, that only some characters or single scenes, or perhaps a few particular passages, are from the hand of Shakspeare.” * Works of Ben Jonson, vol. iv. p. 371.
LEoNTEs, King of Sicilia.
Servant to the old Shepherd.
Time, as Chorus.
HERMIONE, Queen to Leontes.
EMILIA, a Lady, -
Lords, Ladies, and Attendants; Satyrs for a Dance; Shepherds, Shepherdesses, Guards, &c.
SCENE, sometimes in Sicilia, sometimes in Bohemia.
Archidamus. IF you shall chance, Camillo, to visit Bohemia, on the like occasion whereon my services are now on foot, you shall see, as I have said, great difference betwixt our Bohemia and your Sicilia. Cam. I think, this coming summer, the king of Sicilia means to pay Bohemia the visitation which he justly owes him. Arch. Wherein our entertainment shall shame us, we will be justified in our loves; for, indeed,— Cam. Beseech you, Arch. Verily, I speak it in the freedom of my knowledge; we cannot with such magnificence—in so rare—I know not what to say. We will give you sleepy drinks; that your senses, unintelligent of our insufficience, may, though they cannot praise us, as little accuse us. Cam. You pay a great deal too dear for what’s given freely. Arch. Believe me, I speak as my understanding instructs me, and as mine honesty puts it to utterance. Cam. Sicilia cannot show himself over-kind to Bohemia. They were trained together in their childhoods; and there rooted betwixt them then such an affection, which cannot choose but branch now. Since their more mature dignities and royal necessities made separation of their society, their encounters, though not personal, have been royally attorneyed," with interchange of gifts, letters, loving embassies; that they have seemed to be together, though absent; shook hands, as over a vast; * and embraced, as it were, from the ends of opposed winds. The Heavens continue their loves | Arch. I think there is not in the world either malice, or matter, to alter it. You have an unspeakable comfort of your young prince Mamillius; it is a gentleman of the greatest promise, that ever came into my note. Cam. I very well agree with you in the hopes of him. It is a gallant child; one that, indeed, physics the subject,” makes old hearts fresh. They that went on crutches ere he was born, desire yet their life, to See him a man. Arch. Would they else be content to die? Cam. Yes; if there were no other excuse why they should desire to live. Arch. If the king had no son, they would desire to live on crutches till he had one. [Exeunt.
SCENE II. The same. A Room of State in the
Enter LEoNTEs, PolixENES, HERMIONE, MAMILLIUS, CAMILL0, and Attendants.
Pol. Nine changes of the watery star have been The shepherd's note, since we have left our throne Without a burden. Time as long again
Would be filled up, my brother, with our thanks;
I “Royally attorneyed.” Nobly supplied by substitution of embassies.
2 i.e. over a wide, intervening space.
3 “Physics the subject.” Affords a cordial to the state; has the power of assuaging the sense of misery.