Imágenes de páginas
PDF

thinking it had strayed into the covert that was hard by, sought very diligently to find that which he could not see, fearing either that the wolves or eagles had undone him (for he was so poor as a sheep was half his substance), wandered down towards the sea-cliffs to see if perchance the sheep was browsing on the sea-ivy, whereon they greatly do feed; but not finding her there, as he was ready to return to his flock he heard a child cry, but, knowing there was no house near, he thought he had mistaken the sound, and that it was the bleating of his sheep. Wherefore looking more narrowly, as he cast his eye to the sea he spied a little boat, from whence, as he attentively listened, he might hear the cry to come. Standing a good while in amaze, at last he went to the shore, and, wading to the boat, as he looked in he saw the little babe lying all alone ready to die for hunger and cold, wrapped in a mantle of scarlet richly embroidered with gold, and having a chain about the neck.”

Although the circumstances of the child’s exposure are different, Shakspere adopts the shepherd's discovery pretty literally. He even makes him about to seek his sheep by the sea-side, “browsing on the sea-ivy.” The infant in the novel is taken to the shepherd's home, and is brought up by his wife and himself under the name of Fawnia. In a narrative the lapse of sixteen years may occur without any violation of propriety. The shepherd of Greene, every night at his coming home, would sing to the child and dance it on his knee : then, a few lines onward, the little Fawnia is seven years old; and very shortly,

“when she came to the age of sixteen years she so increased with exquisite perfection both of body and mind, as her natural disposition did bewray that she was born of some high parentage.”

These changes, we see, are gradual. But in a drama, whose action depends upon a manifest lapse of time, there must be a sudden transition. Shakspere is perfectly aware of the difficulty; and he diminishes it by the introduction of Time as a Chorus:–

“Impute it not a crime To me, or my swift passage, that I slide

O'er sixteen years, and leave the growth
untried
Of that wide gap; since it is in my power
To o'erthrow law, and in one self born hour
To plant and o'erwhelm custom.”

Lyly, without such an apology, gives us a lapse of forty years in his ‘Endymion.’ Dryden and Pope depreciated the “Winter's Tale !’ and no doubt this violation of the unity of time was one of the causes which blinded them to its exquisite beauties. But Dr. Johnson, without any special notice of the case before us, has made a triumphant defence against the French critics of Shakspere's general disregard of the unities of time and place:–

“By supposition, as place is introduced, time may be extended; the time required by the fable elapses for the most part between the acts; for, of so much of the action as is represented, the real and poetical duration is the same. If, in the first act, preparations for war against Mithridates are represented to be made in Rome, the event of the war may, without absurdity, be represented in the catastrophe as happening in Pontus. We know that there is neither war nor preparation for war; we know that we are neither in Rome nor Pontus—that neither Mithridates nor Lucullus are before us. The drama exhibits successive imitations of successive actions, and why may not the second imitation represent an action that happened years after the first, if it be so connected with it that nothing but time can be supposed to intervene 3 Time is, of all modes of existence, most obsequious to the imagination; a lapse of years is as easily conceived as a passage of hours. In contemplation we easily contract the time of real actions, and therefore willingly permit it to be contracted when we only see their imitation.”*

Shakspere has exhibited his consummate art in opening the fourth act with Polixenes and Camillo, of whom we have lost sight since the end of the first. Had it been otherwise, had he brought Autolycus, and Florizel, and Perdita, at once upon the scene, —the continuity of action would have been destroyed; and the commencement of the fourth act would have appeared as the commencement of a new play. Shakspere made the difficulties of his plot bend to his art; instead of wanting art, as Ben Jonson says. Autolycus and the Clown prepare us for Perdita; and when the third scene opens, what a beautiful vision lights upon this earth ! There perhaps never was such a union of perfect simplicity and perfect grace as in the character of Perdita. What an exquisite idea of her mere personal appearance is presented in Florizel's rapturous exclamation,-

* Preface to his edition of 1765.

“When you do dance, I wish you A wave o' the sea, that you might ever do Nothing but that:”

Greene, in describing the beauties of his shepherdess, deals only in generalities:–

“It happened not long after this that there was a meeting of all the farmers' daughters in Sicilia, whither Fawnia was also bidden as the mistress of the feast, who, having attired herself in her best garments, went among the rest of her companions to the merry meeting, there spending the day in such homely pastimes as shepherds Wise. As the evening grew on and their sports ceased, each taking their leave at other, Fawnia, desiring one of her companions to bear her company, went home by the flock to see if they were well folded; and, as they returned, it fortuned that Dorastus (who all that day had been hawking, and killed store of game) encountered by the way these two maids, and, casting his eye suddenly on Fawnia, he was half afraid, fearing that with Acteon he had seen Diana, for he thought such exquisite perfection could not be found in any mortal creature. As thus he stood in amaze, one of his pages told him that the maid with the garland on her head was Fawnia, the fair shepherd whose beauty was so much talked of in the court. Dorastus, desirous to see if nature had adorned her mind with any inward qualities, as she had decked her body with outward shape, began to question j with her whose daughter she was, of what age, and how she had been trained up? who answered him with such modest reverence and sharpness of wit, that Dorastus thought her outward beauty was but a counterfeit to darken her inward qualities, wondering how so courtly behaviour could be found in so simple a cottage, and cursing fortune that had shadowed wit and beauty with such hard fortune.”

But Greene was unequal to conceive the grace of mind which distinguishes Perdita:—

“Sir, my gracious lord, To chide at your extremes it not becomes me; 0, pardon, that I name them: your high self, The gracious mark o' the land, you have obscur'd With a swain's wearing; and me, poor lowly maid, Most goddess-like prank'd up.”

Contrast this with Greene:—

“Fawnia, poor soul, was no less joyful that, being a shepherd, fortune had favoured her so as to reward her with the love of a prince, hoping in time to be advanced from the daughter -of a poor farmer to be the wife of a rich king.”

Here we see a vulgar ambition, rather than a deep affection. Fawnia, in the hour of discovery and danger, was quite incapable of exhibiting the feminine dignity of Perdita:— “I was not much afeard: for once, or twice, I was about to speak; and tell him plainly, The selfsame sun that shines upon his court. Hides not his visage from our cottage, but Looks on alike.—Will't please you, sir, be

gone? [to FLORIZEL. I told you what would come of this: 'Beseech you, Of your own state take care: this dream of mine, Being now awake, I 'll queen it no inch farther,

But milk my ewes, and weep.”

This is something higher than the sentiment of a “queen of curds and cream.” In the novel we have no trace of the interruption by the father of the princely lover in the disguise of a guest at the shepherd's cottage. Dorastus and Fawnia flee from the country without the knowledge of the king. The ship in which they embark is thrown by a storm upon the coast of Bohemia. Messengers are despatched in search of the lovers; and they arrive in Bohemia with the request of Egistus that the companions in the flight of Dorastus shall be put to death. The secret of Fawnia's birth is discovered by the shepherd; and her

father recognises her. But the previous circumstances exhibit as much grossness of conception on the part of the novelist, as the different management of the catastrophe shows the matchless skill and taste of the dramatist. We forgive Leontes for his early folly and wickedness; for during sixteen years has his remorse been bitter and his affection constant. The pathos of the following passage is truly Shaksperean:

“Leon. Whilst I remember Her, and her virtues, I cannot forget My blemishes in them; and so still think of The wrong I did myself: which was so much, That heirless it hath made my kingdom; and Destroy'd the sweet'st companion that e'erman Bred his hopes out of. Paul. True, too true, my lord: If, one by one, you wedded all the world, Or, from the all that are took something good, To make a perfect woman, she, you kill'd, Would be unparallel’d. Leon. I think so. Kill'd She I kill'd I did so : but thou strik'st me Sorely, to say I did; it is as bitter Upon thy tongue as in my thought. good now, Say so but seldom.”

[ocr errors]

The appropriateness of the title of the “Winter's Tale” has been prettily illustrated by Ulrici:

“From the point of view taken in this drama, life appears like a singular and serene, even while terrifying, winter's tale, related by the flickering light of the fire in a rough boisterous night, in still and homelike trustiness, by an old grandmother to a listening circle of children and grandchildren, while the warm, secure, and happy feeling of the assembly mixes itself with a sense of the fear and the dread of the related adventures and the cold wretched night without. But this arises only through the secret veil which lies over the power of chance, and which is here spread over the whole. It appears serene, because everywhere glimmers through this veil the bright joyful light of a futurity leading all to good; because we continually feel that the unhealthy darkness of the present will be again thrown off even through an equally obscure inward necessity.”

This comedy is so thoroughly taken out of

the region of the literal that it would be worse than idle to talk of its costume. When the stage-manager shall be able to reconcile the contradictions, chronological and geographical, with which it abounds, he may decide whether the characters should wear the dress of the ancient or the modern world, and whether the architectural scenes should partake most of the Grecian style of the times of the Delphic oracle, or of the Italian in the more familiar days of Julio Romano. We cannot assist him in this difficulty. It may be sufficient for the reader of this delicious play to know that he is purposely taken out of the empire of the real;-to wander in some poetical sphere where Bohemia is but a name for a wild country upon the sea, and the oracular voices of the pagan world are heard amidst the merriment of “Whitsun pastorals” and the solemnities of “Christian burial;” where the “Emperor of Russia” represents some dim conception of a mighty monarch of far-off lands; and “that rare Italian master, Julio Romano,” stands as the abstract personification of excellence in art. It is quite impossible to imagine that he who, when it was necessary to be precise, as in the Roman plays, has painted manners with a truth and exactness which have left at an inmeasurable distance such timitations of ancient manners as the learned Ben Jonson has produced,—that he should have perplexed this play with such anomalies through ignorance or even carelessness. There can be no doubt that the most accomplished scholars amongst our early dramatists, when dealing with the legendary and the romantic, purposely committed these anachronisms. Greene, as we have shown, of whose scholarship his friends boasted, makes a ship sail from Bohemia in the way that. Shakspere makes a ship wrecked upon a Bohemian coast. Yet, when we consider how differently Jonson and Shakspere worked, in their respective schools, it is not to be wondered at that Jonson, in his free conversations with Drummond of Hawthornden, in January, 1619, should say that “Shakspere wanted art.” When Jonson said this, he was in no laudatory mood. Drummond heads his record of the conversation thus: “His

[ocr errors]

censure of the English poets was this.” Censure is here, of course, put for opinion ; although Jonson's opinions are by no means favourable to any one of whom he speaks. Spenser's stanzas pleased him not, or his matter; Sir John Harrington's ‘Ariosto,” under all translations, was the worst ; Abraham France was a fool; Sidney did not keep a decorum in making every one speak as well as himself; Shakspere wanted art. And so, during two centuries, a mob of critics have caught up the word, and with the most knowing winks, and the most profound courtesies to each other's sagacity, have they echoed—“Shakspere wanted art.” But a cunning interpolator, who knew the temper of the critics, the anonymous editor of Cibber's ‘Lives of the Poets, took the “heads of a conversation” between Jonson and Drummond, prefixed to Drummond's works in 1711, and bestowed a few finishing touches upon them, after his own fashion. And thus, to the great joy of the denouncers of anachronisms, and other Shaksperean absurdities, as they are pleased to call them, we have read as follows for a hundred years:–“He said, Shakspere wanted Art, and sometimes Sense ; for, in one of his plays, he brought in a number of men, saying they had suffered shipwrack in Bohemia, where is no sea near by 100 miles.” Jonson, indeed, makes the observation upon the shipwreck in Bohemia, but without any comment upon it. It is found in another part of Drummond's record, quite separate from “Shakspere wanted art ; ” a casual remark, side by side with Jonson's gossip about Sidney's pimpled face and Raleigh's plagiaries. It was probably mentioned by Jonson as an illustration of some principle upon which Shakspere worked; and in the same way “Shakspere wanted art” was in all likelihood explained by him, in producing instances of the mode in which Shakspere's art differed from his (Jonson's) art. It is impossible to receive Jonson's words as any support of the

absurd opinion so long propagated that Shakspere worked without labour and without method. Jonson's own testimony, delivered five years after the conversation with Drummond, offers the most direct evidence against such a construction of his expression – “Yet must I not give Nature all: thy art, My gentle Shakespeare, must enjoy a part. For though the poet's matter Nature be, His art doth give the fashion: and that he Who casts to write a living line must sweat (Such as thine are), and strike the second heat Upon the Muses anvil: turn the same (And himself with it) that he thinks to frame; Or, for the laurel, he may gain a scorn,-For a good poet's made as well as born: And such wert thou.”

There can be no difficulty in understanding Jonson's dispraise of Shakspere, small as it was, when we look at the different characters of the two men. Jonson, in all likelihood, did not intend to impute an ignorant blunder to Shakspere, but a wilful inconsistency. Mr. Collier has quoted a passage from Taylor, the water-poet, who published his ‘Journey to Prague, in which the honest waterman laughs at an alderman who “catches me by the goll, demanding if Bohemia be a great town, whether there be any meat in it, and whether the last fleet of ships be arrived there.” Mr. Collier infers that Taylor “ridicules a vulgar error of the kind” committed by Shakspere. We rather think that he meant to ridicule very gross ignorance generally ; and we leave our readers to take their choice of placing Green and Shakspere in the same class with Taylor's “Gregory Gandergoose, an Alderman of Gotham,” or of believing that a confusion of time and place was considered (whether justly is not here the question) a proper characteristic of the legendary drama—such as ‘A Winter's Tale.”

CHAPTER II. CYMBELINE.

“THE Tragedie of Cymbeline was first printed in the folio collection of 1623. The play is very carefully divided into acts and scenes—an arrangement which is sometimes wanting in other plays of the folio edition. We have in previous chapters given extracts from “a book of plays and notes thereof, for common policy,” kept by Dr. Symon Forman, in 1610 and 1611. These notes, which were discovered and first printed

by Mr. Collier, contain not only an account

of some play of Richard II, at which the writer was present, but distinctly give the plots of Shakspere’s “Winter's Tale,” “Macbeth,’ and “Cymbeline.' We shall take the liberty of reprinting from Mr. Collier's ‘New Particulars’ Forman's account of the plot of “Cymbeline:

“Remember, also, the story of Cymbeline, King of England, in Lucius' time: how Lucius came from Octavius Caesar for tribute, and, being denied, after sent Lucius with a great army of soldiers, who landed at Milford Haven, and after were vanquished by Cymbeline, and Lucius taken prisoner, and all by means of three outlaws, of the which two of them were the sons of Cymbeline, stolen from him when they were but two years old, by an old man whom Cymbeline had banished; and he kept them as his own sons twenty years with him in a cave. And how one of them slew Cloten, that was the Queen's son, going to Milford Haven to seek the love of Imogen the King's daughter, whom he had banished also for loving his daughter.

“And how the Italian that came from her love conveyed himself in a chest, and said it was a chest of plate sent from her love and others to be presented to the King. And in the deepest of the night, she being asleep, he opened the chest and came forth of it, and viewed her in her bed, and the marks of her body, and took away her bracelet, and after accused her of adultery to her love, &c. And, in the end, how he came with the Romans into England, and was taken prisoner, and after revealed to Imogen, who had turned herself into man's

apparel, and fled to meet her love at Milford Haven; and chanced to fall on the cave in the woods where her two brothers were: and how by eating a sleeping dram they thought she had been dead, and laid her in the woods, and the body of Cloten by her, in her love's apparel that he left behind him, and how she was found by Lucius,” &c.

“This,” Mr. Collier adds, “is curious; principally because it gives the impression of the plot, upon the mind of the spectator, at about the time when the play was first produced.” We can scarcely yield our implicit assent to this. Forman's note-book is evidence that the play existed in 1610 or 1611; but it is not evidence that it was first produced in 1610 or 1611. Mr. Collier, in his “Annals of the Stage,” gives us the following entry from the books of Sir Henry Herbert, Master of the Revels:—“On Wednesday night the first of January, 1633, “Cymbeline’ was acted at Court by the King's players. Well liked by the King.” Here is a proof that for more than twenty years after Forman saw it “Cymbeline' was still acted, and still popular. By parity of reasoning it might have been acted, and might have been popular, before Forman saw it.

Coleridge, in his classification of 1819, places “Cymbeline,’ as he supposes it to have been originally produced, in the first epoch, to which he assigns ‘Pericles: “In the same epoch I place ‘The Winter's Tale’ and “Cymbeline,” differing from the Pericles by the entire rifaccimento of it, when Shakspere's celebrity as poet, and his interest no less than his influence as manager, enabled him to bring forward the laid-by labours of his youth.” Tieck, whilst he considers it “the last work of the great poet, which may have been written about 1614 or 1615,” adds, “it is also not impossible that this varied-woven romantic history had inspired the poet in his youth to attempt it for the stage.” Tieck assigns no reason for believing that the play

« AnteriorContinuar »