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here its exquisite poetry first fell upon the ear of some secluded scholar, and was to him as a fragrant flower blooming amidst the arid sands of his Bracton and his Fleta; and here its gentle satire upon the vain and the foolish penetrated into the natural heart of some grave and formal dispenser of justice, and made him look with tolerance, if not with sympathy, upon the mistakes of less grave and formal fellow-men; and here its evergushing spirit of enjoyment, of fun without malice, of wit without grossness, of humour without extravagance,—taught the Swaggering, roaring, overgrown boy, miscalled student, that there were higher sources of mirth than affrays in Fleet Street, or drunkenness in Whitefriars. Wenerable Hall of the Middle Temple, thou art to our eyes more stately and more to be admired since we looked upon that entry in the Table-book of John Manningham : The Globe has perished, and so has the Blackfriars. The works of the poet who made the names of these frail buildings immortal need no associations to recommend them ; but it is yet pleasant to know that there is one locality remaining where a play of Shakspere was listened to by his contemporaries; and that play, “Twelfth Night.” Accepting, though somewhat doubtingly, the statement of the commentators that ‘Twelfth Night’ was produced as late as 1614, Schlegel says, “If this was really the last work of Shakspere, as is affirmed, he must have enjoyed to the last the same 3/outhfulness of mind, and have carried with him to the grave the whole fulness of his talents.”* There is something very agreeable in this theory; but we can hardly lament that the foundation upon which it rests has been utterly destroyed. Shakspere did, indeed, carry “with him to the grave the whole fulness of his talents,” but they were talents, perhaps not of a higher order, but certainly employed upon loftier subjects, than those which were called out by the delicious comedies of the Shakspere of forty. His “youthfulness of mind” too, even at this middle period of his life, is something
* “Lectures on Dramatic Literature,” Black's translation, vol. ii. p. 175.
very different from the honeyed luxuriance of his spring-time—more subjected to his intellectual penetration into the hidden springs of human action—more regulated by the artistical skill of blending the poetical with the comic, so that in fact they are not presented as opposite principles constrained to appear in a patchwork union, but are essentially one and the same creation of the highest imaginative power. We are told that of ‘Twelfth Night’ the scenes in which Malvolio, and Sir Toby, and Sir Andrew appear are Shakspere's own. The Duke, and Olivia, and Viola, and Sebastian, belong to some one else, it is said, because they existed, before he evoked them from their hiding-places, in the rude outlines of storybooks without poetry, and comedies without wit. Honoured be the memories of Bandello and Barnaby Rich, not so much for their own work as for the happy accident by which they saved some popular tradition from oblivion, for a Shakspere to make his own for all ages! Honoured be the learned or unlearned authors of the ‘Inganni' and the “Ingannati,’ if they suggested to him that their shadowy representations of a wandering brother and sister, coming through mistakes and crosses to love and happiness, had in them dramatic capabilities such as he could deal with ! Honoured be they, as we would honour the man, were his name recorded, who set the palette of Raphael or made Paganini's violin | Whether a writer invents, in the commonly received meaning of invention,-that is, whether his incidents and characters be spick-and-span new ;-or whether he borrows, using the same ordinary phraseology, his incidents and characters from tradition, or history, or written legends, —he is not a poet unless his materials are worked up into a perfect and consistent whole: and if the poetry be not in him, it matters little whether he raises his fabric “all out of his own head,” as children say, or adopts a bit here and a bit there, and pieces them together with a bit of his own, —for his house will not stand; it is built upon the sands. Now it is this penetration of his own imaginative power in and through all his materials which renders it of little more account than as a matter of antiquarian curiosity where Shakspere picked up hints for the plots of his plays. He might have found the germ of Viola in Barnaby Rich; and he might have altogether invented Malvolio: but Viola and Malvolio are for ever indissolubly united, in the exact proportions in which the poetic and the comic work together for the production of a harmonious effect. The neutral title of ‘Twelfth Night'—conveying as it does a notion of genial mirth—might warrant us in thinking that there was a preponderance of the comic spirit. Charles I. appears to have thought so, when, in his copy of the second edition of Shakspere, he altered the title with his own pen to that of “Malvolio.' * But Malvolio is not the predominant idea of the comedy; nor is he of that exclusive interest that the whole action, even of the merely comic portions, should turn upon him. When Shakspere means one character to be the centre of the dramatic idea, he for the most part tells us so in his title:–Hamlet, Othello, Lear, Macbeth, Timon. Not one of the comedies has such a personal title, for the evident reason that the effect in them must mainly depend upon the harmony of all the parts, rather than upon the absorbing passion of the principal character. The “Twelfth Night’ is especially of this description. It presents us with the golden and the silver sides of human life, the romantic and the humorous. But the two precious metals are moulded into one statue. It is scarcely necessary for us to enter into any analysis of the plot of this charming comedy, or attempt any dissection of its characters, for the purpose of opening to the reader new sources of enjoyment. It is impossible, we think, for one of ordinary sensibility to read through the first act without yielding himself up to the genial temper in which the entire play is written. “The sunshine of the breast” spreads its rich purple light over the whole champaign, and penetrates into every thicket and every dingle.
* This copy, which formerly belonged to Steevens, was purchased for the private library of George III., and was retained when George IV. gave that valuable collection to the nation. It is now in the Queen's Library at windsor.
From the first line to the last—from the
to the Clown's
there is not a thought, nor a situation, that is not calculated to call forth pleasurable feelings. The love-melancholy of the Duke is a luxurious abandonment to one pervading impression—not a fierce and hopeless contest with one o'ermastering passion. It delights to lie “canopied with bowers,”—to listen to “old and antique " songs, which dally with its “innocence,”—to be “full of shapes,” and “high fantastical.” The love of Wiola is the sweetest and tenderest emotion that ever informed the heart of the purest and most graceful of beings with a spirit almost divine. Perhaps in the whole range of Shakspere's poetry there is nothing which comes more unbidden into the mind, and always in connection with some image of the ethereal beauty of the utterer, than Wiola’s “She never told her love.” The love of Olivia, wilful as it is, is not in the slightest degree repulsive. With the old stories before him, nothing but the refined delicacy of Shakspere's conception of the female character could have redeemed Olivia from approaching to the anti-feminine. But as it is we pity her, and we rejoice with her. These are what may be called the serious characters, because they are the vehicles for what we emphatically call the poetry of the play. But the comic characters are to us equally poetical—that is, they appear to us not mere copies of the representatives of temporary or individual follies, but embodyings of the universal comic, as true and as fresh to-day as they were two centuries and a half ago. Malvolio is to our minds as poetical as Don Quixote; and we are by no means sure that Shakspere meant the poor cross-gartered steward only to be laughed at, any more than Cervantes did the knight of the rueful countenance. He meant us to pity him, as Olivia and the Duke pitied him; for, in truth, the delusion by which Malvolio was wrecked, only passed out of the romantic into the comic through the manifestation of the
vanity of the character in reference to his situation. But if we laugh at Malvolio we are not to laugh ill-naturedly, for the poet has conducted all the mischief against him in a spirit in which there is no real malice at the bottom of the fun. Sir Toby is a most genuine character, one given to strong potations and boisterous merriment; but with a humour about him perfectly irresistible. His abandon to the instant opportunity of laughing at and with others is something so thoroughly English, that we are not surprised the poet gave him an English name. And like all genuine humorists Sir Toby must have his butt. What a trio is presented in that glorious scene of the second act, where the two Knights and the Clown
“make the welkin dance;”—the humorist, the fool, and the philosopher!—for Sir Andrew is the fool, and the Clown is the philosopher. We hold the Clown's epilogue song to be the most philosophical Clown's song upon record; and a treatise might be written upon its wisdom. It is the history of a life, from the condition of “a little tiny boy,” through “man’s estate,” to decaying age—“when I came unto my bed;” and the conclusion is, that what is true of the individual is true of the species, and what was of yesterday was of generations long past away—for “A great while ago the world begun.”
Steevens says this “nonsensical ditty” is utterly unconnected with the subject of the comedy. We think he is mistaken.
CHAPTER III. MEASURE FOR MEASURE.
THIs comedy was first printed in the folio collection of 1623, and there had been no previous claim to the right of printing it made by any entry in the registers of the Stationers' Company. We are very much inclined to think, from the state of the original text, that the editors of the first folio possessed no copy but that from which they printed. Some of the sentences throughout the play are so involved that they have very little the appearance of being taken from a copy which had been used by the actors; and in two cases a word is found in the text (prenzie) which could never have been given upon the stage, and appears to have been inserted by the printer in despair of deciphering the author's manuscript. On the other hand, the metrical arrangement, which has been called “rough, redundant, and irregular,” was strictly copied, we have no doubt, from the author's original; for a printer does not mistake the beginnings and ends of blank-verse lines, although little attention might be paid to such matters in a prompter's book. The peculiar structure
of the versification in this comedy was, we are satisfied, the result of the author's system ; and, from the integrity with which it has been preserved in the first edition, we believe that the original manuscript passed directly through the hands of the printer, who made the best of it without any reference to other copies. We cannot trace that any allusion to “Measure for Measure’ is to be found in the works of Shakspere's contemporaries. There is, indeed, a passage in a poem published in 1607 which conveys the same idea as a passage in “Measure for Measure:’— “And like as when some sudden extasy Seizeth the nature of a sickly man; When he's discern'd to swoon, straight by and by Folk to his help confusedly have ran, And seeking with their art to fetch him back, So many throng, that he the air doth lack.” (‘Myrrha, the Mother of Adonis, by William Barksted.)
The following is the parallel passage in the
“So play the foolish throngs with one that swoons;
Malone says of this coincidence, “That “Measure for Measure’ was written before 1607 may be fairly concluded from the following passage in a poem published in that year, which we have good ground to believe was copied from a similar thought in this play, as the author, at the end of his piece, professes a personal regard for Shakspeare, and highly praises his ‘Venus and Adonis.” The other arguments of Malone as to the date of this play, which he assigns to 1603, have reference to public circumstances. Chalmers contends for the date of 1604.
Conjectures such as these are too often laborious trifling. But, for once, they are pretty nearly borne out by incontrovertible testimony. The perseverance of Mr. Peter Cunningham has been rewarded by discovering in the Audit Office certain passages in the original Office Books of the Masters and Yeomen of the Revels, which fix the date of the representation at Court of some of Shakspere's plays. The Office Book shows that “Measure for Measure’ was presented at Court by the King's Players in 1604.
The ‘ Promos and Cassandra” of George Whetstone, printed in 1578, but not acted, was, there can be no doubt, the foundation upon which Shakspere built his “Measure for Measure.” Whetstone tells us in a subsequent work that he constructed his play upon a novel of Giraldi Cinthio, of which he gives us a translation; observing, “This history, for rareness thereof, is livelily set out in a comedy by the reporter of the work, but yet never presented upon stage.” +
The performance of Whetstone, as might be expected in a drama of that date, is feeble and monotonous, not informed with any real dramatic power, drawling or bombastic in its tragic parts, extravagant in its comic. It is scarcely necessary to offer to our readers any parallel examples of the modes in which Whetstone and Shakspere have treated the same incidents.
“Look, the unfolding star calls up the shepherd.” In the midst of the most business-like and familiar directions occur these eight words of the highest poetry. By a touch almost magical Shakspere takes us in an instant out of that dark prison, where we have been surrounded with crime and suffering, to make us see the morning star bright over the hills, and hear the tinkle of the sheep-bell in the folds, and picture the shepherd bidding the flock go forth to pasture, before the sun has lighted up the dewy lawns. In the same way, throughout this very extraordinary drama, in which the whole world is represented as one great prison-house, full of passion, and ignorance, and sorrow, we have glimpses every now and then of something beyond, where there shall be no alternations of mildness and severity, but a condition of equal justice, serene as the valley under “the unfolding star,” and about to rejoice in the dayspring.
The little passage which we have quoted is one amongst the numberless poetical gems which are scattered up and down this comedy with a profusion such as only belongs to one poet. It has been said of Shakspere, “He is the text for the moralist and the philosopher. His bright wit is cut out ‘into little stars; his solid masses of knowledge are meted out in morsels and proverbs; and, thus distributed, there is scarcely a corner which he does not illuminate, or a cottage which he does not enrich.”* This is by no means his highest praise, and his ‘Beauties’ give a very imperfect idea of his attributes; but certainly no other man ever wrote single sentences that to such an extent have now become mixed up with the habits of thought of millions of human beings. This play appears to us especially glittering with these “little stars.” We cannot open a scene in which we do not encounter some passage that has set us thinking at some moment of our lives. Of such distinct passages, which the memory never parts from, the following will be recognised by all as familiar friends:– “Heaven doth with us as we with torches do;
Not light them for themselves: for if our Did not go forth of us,’t were all alike
* “Chronological Order," p. 387.
As if we had them not. Spirits are not finely touch'd
But to fine issues.”
“Reason thus with life: If I do lose thee, I do lose a thing That none but fools would keep : a breath thou art, (Servile to all the skiey influences) That dost this habitation, where thou keep'st, Hourly afflict.”
Thou rather, with thy sharp and sulphurous bolt,
Splitt'st the unwedgeable and gnarled oak,
“The sense of death is most in apprehension;
We select these, contrary to our usual practice of not separating the parts from the whole, for the purpose of pointing out that there is something deeper in them than the power of expressing a moral observation strikingly and poetically. They are imbued with the writer's philosophy. They form a part of the system upon which the play is written. But, opposed to passages like these, there are many single sentences scattered through this drama which, so far from dwelling on with pleasure, we hurry past—which we like not to look upon again—which appear to be mere grossnesses. They are, nevertheless, an integral portion of the drama— they also form part of the system upon which the play is written. What is true of single passages is true of single scenes. Those between Isabella and Angelo, and Isabella and Claudio, are unsurpassed in the Shaksperean drama, for force, and beauty, and the delicate management of a difficult subject. But there are other scenes which appear simply revolting, such as those in which the Clown is conspicuous; and even
Barnardine, one of the most extraordinary of Shakspere's creations, will produce little beyond disgust in the casual reader. But these have, nevertheless, not crept into this drama by accident—certainly not from the desire “to make the unskilful laugh.” Perhaps the effect of their introduction, coupled with the general subject of the dramatic action, is to render the entire comedy not pleasurable. Coleridge says, “This play, which is Shakspeare's throughout, is to me the most painful—say, rather, the only painful—part of his genuine works.” This is a strong opinion; and, upon the whole, a just one. But it requires explanation. The general outline of the story upon which “Measure for Measure’ is founded is presented to us in such different forms, and with reference to such distinct times and persons, that, whether historically true or not, we can have no doubt of its universal interest. It is told of an officer of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy; of Oliver le Diable, the wicked favourite of Louis XI. ; of Colonel Kirke, in our own country; of a captain of the Duke of Ferrara. In all these cases an unhappy woman sacrifices her own honour for the promised safety of one she loves; and in all, with the exception of the case of Colonel Kirke, the abuser of authority is punished with death. Whatever interest may attach to the narrative of such an event, it is manifest that the dramatic conduct of such a story is full of difficulty, especially in a scrupulous age. But the public opinion, which, in this particular, would operate upon a dramatist in our own day, would not affect a writer for the stage in the times of Elizabeth and James; and, in point of fact, plots far more offensive became the subject of very popular dramas long after the times of Shakspere. It appears to us that, adopting such a subject in its general bearings, he has managed it with uncommon adroitness by his deviations from the accustomed story. By introducing a contrivance by which the heroine is not sacrificed, he preserves our respect for her, which would be involuntarily lost if she fell, even though against her own will ; and by this management he is also enabled to spare