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CHAPTER IV. TROILUS AND CRESSIDA.
THE original quarto edition of ‘Troilus and Cressida,' printed in 1609, bears the following title:—“The famous Historie of Troylus and Cresseid. Excellently expressing the Beginning of their Loues, with the Conceited Wooing of Pandarus Prince of Licia. Written by William Shakespeare. London, Imprinted by G. Eld, for R. Bonian and H. Walley, and are to be sold at the Spred Eagle in Paules Churchyeard, ouer against the great North Doore, 1609. In the same year a second edition was put forth by the same publishers, in the title-page of which appears, “As it was acted by the King's Majesty's Servants at the Globe.” No other edition of the play was published until it appeared in the folio collection of 1623. The first quarto edition of 1609 contains the following very extraordinary preface —
“A never writer to an ever reader. “News.
“Eternal reader, you have here a new play, never staled with the stage, never clapper-clawed with the palms of the vulgar, and yet passing full of the palm comical; for it is a birth of your brain, that never undertook anything comical vainly; and were but the vain names of comedies changed for the titles of commodities, or of plays for pleas, you should see all those grand censors, that now style them such vanities, flock to them for the main grace of their gravities; especially this author's comedies, that are so framed to the life, that they serve for the most common commentaries of all the actions of our lives, showing such a dexterity and power of wit, that the most displeased with plays are pleased with his comedies. And all such dull and heavy-witted worldlings as were never capable of the wit of a comedy, coming by report of them to his representations, have found that wit there that they never found in themselves, and have parted better witted than they came; feeling an edge of wit set upon them more than ever they dreamed they had brain to grind it on. So much and such favoured salt of wit is in his comedies, that they seem (for
their height of pleasure) to be born in that sea that brought forth Venus. Amongst all there is none more witty than this: and had I time I would comment upon it, though I know it needs not (for so much as will make you think your testern well bestowed), but for so much worth as even poor I know to be stuffed in it. It deserves such a labour, as well as the best comedy in Terence or Plautus. And believe this, that when he is gone, and his comedies out of sale, you will scramble for them, and set up a new English Inquisition. Take this for a warning, and at the peril of your pleasures' loss and judgments, refuse not, nor like this the less for not being sullied with the smoky breath of the multitude; but thank fortune for the scape it hath made amongst you, since by the grand possessors' wills I believe you should have prayed for them rather than been prayed. And so I leave all such to be prayed for (for the states of their wit’s healths) that will not praise it. Wale.”
In 1609, then, the reader is told, “You have here a new play, never staled with the stage, never clapper-clawed with the palms of the vulgar;” and he is further exhorted—“refuse not, nor like this the less for not being sullied with the smoky breath of the multitude.” The reader is also invited to spend a sixpence upon this play:—“Had I time I would comment upon it, though I know it needs not, for so much as will make you think your testern well bestowed.” Never was one of Shakspere's plays set forth during his life with such commendation as here abounds. His Comedies “are so framed to the life, that they serve for the most common commentaries of all the actions of our lives.” The passage towards the conclusion is the most remarkable:—“Thank Fortune for the scape it hath made amongst you, since by the grand possessors’ wills I believe you should have prayed for them rather than been prayed.” We have here, then, first, a most distinct assertion that, in 1609, ‘Troilus and Cressida’ was a new play, never staled with the stage. This, one might think, would be decisive as to the chronology of this play; but in the Stationers' books is the following entry:-‘Feb. 7, 1602. Mr. Roberts. The booke of Troilus and Cresseda, as yt is acted by my Lo. Chamberlen's men.” Malone assumes that the ‘Troilus and Cressida’ thus acted by the Lord Chamberlain's men (the players at the Globe during the reign of Elizabeth) was the same as that published in 1609. Yet there were other authors at work upon the subject besides Shakspere. In Henslowe's manuscripts there are several entries of monies lent, in 1599, to Dekker and Chettle, in earnest of a book called ‘Troilus and Cressida.’ This play, thus bargained for by Henslowe, appears to have been subsequently called ‘Agamemnon.” The probability, is, that the rival company at the Globe had, about the same period, brought out their own ‘Troilus and Cressida ;’ and that this is the play referred to in the entry by Roberts in 1602; for if that entry had applied to the ‘Troilus and Cressida’ of Shakspere, first published in 1609, how are we to account for the subsequent entry in the same registers made previously to the publication of that edition? Altogether the evidence of the date of the play, derived from the entry of 1602, appears to us worth very little. And here arises the question, whether the expressions in the preface “never staled with the stage"—“never clapper-clawed with the palms of the vulgar,”—“not sullied with the smoky breath of the multitude,” mean that the play had not been acted at all, or that it had not been acted on the public stage. There is a good deal of probability in the conjecture of Tieck upon this subject: —“In the palace of some great personage, for whom it was probably expressly written, it was first represented; according to my belief for the King himself, who, weak as he was, contemptible as he sometimes showed himself, and pedantic as his wisdom and short-sighted as his politics were, yet must have had a certain fine sense of poetry, wit, and talent, beyond what his historians have ascribed to him. But whether the King, or some one else of whom we have not received
the name, it is sufficient to know that for this person, and not for the public, Shakspere wrote this wonderful comedy.” The proprietors of the Globe Theatre were clearly hostile to the publication of Shakspere's later plays; and, in fact, with the exception of ‘Lear,’ and ‘Troilus and Cressida, no play was published between 1603 and Shakspere's death. Now, in the title-page of the original ‘Lear,’ published in 1608, there is the following minute particularity:—“As it was played before the King's Majesty at Whitehall upon St. Stephen's night in Christmas holidays, by his Majesty's Servants playing usually at the Globe, on the Bank's side.” From this statement it appears to us highly probable that, in the instances both of ‘Lear’ and ‘Troilus and Cressida, the plays were performed, for the first time, before the King ; that the copies so used were out of the control of the players who represented these dramas; and that some one, authorized or not, printed each play from the copy used on these occasions. Let us look again at the passage in the preface to ‘Troilus and Cressida’ under this impression:—“Thank Fortune for the scape it hath made amongst you, since by the grand possessors' wills I believe you should have prayed for them rather than been prayed.” There is an obscurity in this passage. “I believe you should have prayed for them rather than been prayed” is quite unintelligible, if “the grand possessors” had been the proprietors of the Globe Theatre. But suppose the grand possessors to be, as Tieck has conjectured, some great personage, probably the King himself, for whom the play was expressly written, and a great deal of the obscurity of the preface vanishes. By the grand possessors' wills you should have prayed for them (as subjects publicly pray for their rulers) rather than been prayed (as you are by players who solicit your indulgence in prologues and epilogues).
“The original story,” says Dryden, “was written by one Lollius, a Lombard, in Latin verse, and translated by Chaucer into English ; intended, I suppose, as a satire on the inconstancy of women. I find nothing of it among the ancients, not so much as the name Cressida once mentioned. Shakspeare (as I hinted), in the apprenticeship of his writing, modelled it into that play which is now called by the name of ‘Troilus and Cressida.’” Chaucer himself speaks of “Myne Auctor Lollius;” and in his address to the Muse, in the beginning of the second book, he says, “To every lover I me excuse That of no sentiment I this endite, But out of Latin in my tongue it write.” Without entering into the question who Lollius was, or believing more than that “Lollius, if a writer of that name existed at all, was a somewhat somewhere,”* we at once receive the ‘Troilus and Creseide' of Chaucer as the foundation of Shakspere's play. Of his perfect acquaintance with that poem there can be no doubt. Chaucer, of all English writers, was the one who would have the greatest charm for Shakspere. ‘The Rape of Lucrece’ is written precisely in the same versification as Chaucer’s ‘Troilus and Creseide.” When Lorenzo, in ‘The Merchant of Venice, exclaims, “In such a night, Troilus, methinks, mounted the Trojan walls, And sigh’d his soul toward the Grecian tents, Where Cressid lay that night,”— we may be sure that Shakspere had in his mind the following passages of Chaucer:“Upon the wallés fast eke would he walk, And on the Greekés host he would ysee, And to himself right thus he would ytalk: “Lo yonder is mine owné lady free, Or ellés yonder there the tentés be, And thence cometh this air that is so sote, That in my soul I feel it doth me bote.’
+ + + + * + The day goth fast, and after that came eve, And yet came not to Troilus Creseid: He looketh forth by hedge, by tree, by grove, And far his head over the wall he laid.” Mr. Godwin has justly observed that the Shaksperean commentators have done injustice to Chaucer in not more distinctly associating his poem with this remarkable play :“It would be extremely unjust to quit the
* Coleridge's ‘Literary Remains,” vol. ii. p. 130.
consideration of Chaucer's poem of ‘Troilus and Creseide’ without noticing the high honour it has received in having been made the foundation of one of the plays of Shakespear. There seems to have been in this respect a sort of conspiracy in the commentators upon Shakespear against the glory of our old English bard. In what they have written concerning this play, they make a very slight mention of Chaucer; they have not consulted his poem for the purpose of illustrating this admirable drama ; and they have agreed, as far as possible, to transfer to another author the honour of having supplied materials to the tragic artist. Dr. Johnson says, “Shakspeare has in his story followed, for the greater part, the old book of Caxton, which was then very popular; but the character of Thersites, of which it makes no mention, is a proof that this play was written after Chapman had published his version of Homer.” Mr. Steevens asserts that ‘Shakspeare received the greatest part of his materials for the structure of this play from the Troye Boke of Lydgate.’ And Mr. Malone repeatedly treats the ‘History of the Destruction of Troy, translated by Caxton,’ as ‘Shakspeare's authority’ in the composition of this drama. . . . The fact is, that the play of Shakespear we are here considering has for its main foundation the poem of Chaucer, and is indebted for many accessory helps to the books mentioned by the commentators. . . * - - - “We are not, however, left to probability and conjecture as to the use made by Shakespear of the poem of Chaucer. His other sources were Chapman's translation of Homer, the “Troye Boke’ of Lydgate, and Caxton's ‘History of the Destruction of Troy.’ It is well known that there is no trace of the particular story of ‘Troilus and Creseide’ among the ancients. It occurs, indeed, in Lydgate and Caxton; but the name and actions of Pandarus, a very essential personage in the tale as related by Shakespear and Chaucer, are entirely wanting, except a single mention of him by Lydgate, and that with an express reference to Chaucer as his authority. Shakespear has taken the story of Chaucer with all its imperfections and defects, and has copied the series of its incidents with his customary fidelity; an exactness seldom to be found in any other dramatic writer.”* Although the main incidents in the adventures of the Greek lover and his faithless mistress are followed with little deviation, yet, independent of the wonderful difference in the characterization, the whole story under the treatment of Shakspere becomes thoroughly original. In no play does he appear to us to have a more complete mastery over his materials, or to mould them into more plastic shapes by the force of his most surpassing imagination. The great Homeric poem, the rude romance of the destruction of Troy, the beautiful elaboration of that romance by Chaucer, are all subjected to his wondrous alchemy; and new forms and combinations are called forth so lifelike, that all the representations which have preceded them look cold and rigid statues, not warm and breathing men and women. Coleridge's theory of the principle upon which this was effected is, we have no doubt, essentially true :— “I am half inclined to believe that Shakespear's main object (or shall I rather say his ruling impulse 7) was to translate the poetic heroes of Paganism into the not less rude, but more intellectually vigorous, and more featurely, warriors of Christian chivalry, and to substantiate the distinct and graceful profiles or outlines of the Homeric epic into the flesh and blood of the romantic drama, in short, to give a grand history-piece in the robust style of Albert Durer.”t To Dryden’s alteration of ‘Troilus and Cressida’ was prefixed a prologue, “ spoken by Mr. Betterton, representing the Ghost of Shakspere.” The Ghost appears to have entirely forgotten what he was on earth, and to present a marvellous resemblance, in his mind at least, to Mr. John Dryden. He says, “In this my rough-drawn play you shall behold Some master-strokes.” Dryden, in his elaborate ‘ Preface to Troilus and Cressida, containing the grounds of
* * Life of Chaucer,’ vol. i. (4to) p. 315. f “Literary Remains,’ vol ii. p. 183.
Criticism in Tragedy,’ thus speaks of Shakspere's performance:– “For the play itself, the author seems to have begun it with some fire; the characters of Pandarus and Thersites are promising enough ; but, as if he grew weary of his task, after an entrance or two he lets them fall; and the latter part of the tragedy is nothing but a confusion of drums and trumpets, excursions and alarms. The chief persons who give name to the tragedy are left alive : Cressida is false, and is not punished. Yet, after all, because the play was Shakspeare's, and that there appeared in some places of it the admirable genius of the author, I undertook to remove that heap of rubbish under which many excellent thoughts lay wholly buried.” The mode in which Dryden got rid of the rubbish, and built up his own edifice, is very characteristic of the age and of the man:— “I new modelled the plot; threw out many unnecessary persons; improved those characters which were begun and left unfinished,—as Hector, Troilus, Pandarus, and Thersites; and added that of Andromache. After this I made, with no small trouble, an order and connection of all the scenes, removing them from the places where they were inartificially set.” The result of all this is, that the Ghost of Shakspere, in the concluding lines of the Prologue, thus enlightens the audience as to the dominant idea of the ‘Troilus and Cressida :’— “My faithful scene from true records shall tell How Trojan valour did the Greek excel; Your great forefathers shall their fame regain, And Homer's angry ghost repine in vain.” Coleridge says, “there is no one of Shakspere's plays harder to characterize.” He has overlooked the circumstance that, when the “rubbish” was removed, it became a true record, a faithful chronicle, of the heroic actions of the Trojans,—our “great forefathers.” With every admiration for “glorious John” in his own proper line, we must endeavour to understand what Shakspere’s ‘Troilus and Cressida’ is, by com— paring it with what it is not in the alteration before us.
The notion of Dryden was to convert the “Troilus and Cressida’ into a regular tragedy. He complains, we have seen, that “the chief persons who give name to the tragedy are left alive : Cressida is false and is not punished.” The excitement of pity and terror, we are told, is the only ground of tragedy. Tragedy, too, must have “a moral that directs the whole action of the play to one centre.” To this standard, then, is Shakspere’s ‘Troilus and Cressida’ to be reduced. The chief persons who give name to the tragedy are not to be left alive. Cressida is not to be false; but she is to die: and so terror and pity are to be produced. And now comes the moral – “Then, since from home-bred factions ruin
Let subjects learn obedience to their kings.” The management by which Dryden has accomplished this metamorphosis is one of the most remarkable examples of perverted ingenuity. He had a licentious age to please. He could not spare a line, or a word, of what may be considered the objectionable scenes between Pandarus, Troilus, and Cressida. They formed no part of the “rubbish” he desired to remove. He has heightened them wherever possible; and what in Shakspere was a sly allusion becomes with him a positive grossness. Now let us consider for a moment what Shakspere intended by these scenes. Cressida is the exception to Shakspere's general idea of the female character. She is beautiful, witty, accomplished, but she is impure. In her, love is not a sentiment, or a passion,--it is an impulse. Temperament is stronger than will. Her love has nothing ideal, spiritual, in its composition. It is not constant, because it is not discriminate. Setting apart her inconstancy, how altogether different is Cressida from Juliet, or Viola, or Helena, or Perdita | There is nothing in her which could be called love ; no depth, no concentration of feeling, nothing that can bear the name of devotion. Shakspere would not permit a mistake to be made on the subject; and he has therefore given to Ulysses to describe her, as he conceived her. Considering what his intentions were, and what really
is the high morality of the characterization, we can scarcely say that he has made the representation too prominent. When he drew Cressida, we think he had the feeling strong on his mind which gave birth to the 129th Sonnet. A French writer, in a notice of this play, says, “Les deux amants se voient, s'entendent, et sont heureua.” Shakspere has described such happiness:– “A bliss in proof–and proved, a very woe; Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream: All this the world well knows; yet none knows well To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.” It was this morality that Shakspere meant to teach when he painted this one exception to the general purity of his female characters. He did not, like the dramatists of the age of the Restoration, make purity the exception: his estimate of women was formed upon a truer standard. But when Dryden undertook to remodel Shakspere, female morality, like every other morality, was merely conventional: virtue was an affair of expediency, and not of principle. With an entire submission, then, to the genius of his age, does Dryden retain and heighten the scenes between Troilus and Cressida until she quits the Trojan camp. But in all this, as we are to see in the sequel, Cressida is a perfectly correct and amiable personage. We are told, indeed, of her frank reception of the welcome of the Grecian chiefs; but there is no Ulysses to pronounce a judgment upon her character. She admits, indeed, the suit of Diomedes, and she gives him pledges of her affection ; but this is all a make-believe, for, like a dutiful child, she is following the advice of her father :— “You must dissemble love to Diomede still: False Diomede, bred in Ulysses school, Can never be deceived But by strong arts and blandishments of love. Put 'em in practice all; seem lost and won, And draw him on, and give him line again.”
Upon this very solid foundation, then, are built up the terror and pity of Dryden's tragedy: and so Troilus, who has witnessed Cressida's endearments to Diomede, refuses