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to believe that she is faithful; and then Cressida kills herself; and Troilus kills Diomede ; and Achilles kills Troilus ; and all the Trojans are killed : and the Greeks who remain upon the field are very happy; and Ulysses tells us,
“Now peaceful Order has resumed the reins, Old Time looks young, and Nature seems renew'd.”
Here is a tragedy for you, which “is an imitation of one entire, great, and probable action, not told, but represented; which, by moving us to fear and pity, is conducive to the purging of those two passions in our minds.” So Dryden quotes Aristotle; and so, not understanding Aristotle, he takes upon himself to mend Shakspere, (“incomparable,” as he calls him.) according to the notions of “my friend Mr. Rymer,” and of “Bossu, the best of modern critics.” The feeling which the study of Shakspere's “Troilus and Cressida’ slowly but certainly calls forth is that of almost prostration before the marvellous intellect which has produced it. But this is the result of study, as we have said. The play cannot be understood upon a superficial reading: it is full of the most subtle art. We may set aside particular passages, and admire their surpassing eloquence,—their profound wisdom ; but it is long before the play, as a whole, obtains its proper mastery over the understanding. It is very difficult to define what is the great charm and wonder of its entirety. To us it appears as if the poet, without the slightest particle of presumption, had proposed to himself to look down upon the Homeric heroes from an Olympus of his own. He opens the ‘Iliad, and there he reads of “Achilles' baneful wrath.” A little onward he is told of the “high threatening” of “the great cloud-gatherer.” The gods of Homer are made up of human passions. But he appears throned upon an eminence, from which he can not only command a perfect view of the game which men play, but, seeing all, become a partisan of none,—perfectly cognizant of all motives, but himself motiveless. And yet the whole representation is true, and it is therefore
genial. He does not stand above men by lowering men. Social life is not made worse than it is, that he who describes it may appear above its ordinary standard. It is not a travestie of Homer or of Nature. The heroic is not lowered by association with the
ridiculous. Shakspere's heroes of the ‘Iliad”
show us very little of the vulgar side of human life, not much even of the familiar; but the result is, that they cease to be heroic. How this is attained is the wonder. It is something to have got rid of the machinery of the gods,--something to have a Thersites eternally despising and despised. But this is not all. The whole tendency of the play, —its incidents, its characterization,--is to lower what the Germans call herodom. Ulrici maintains that “the far-sighted Shakspere most certainly did not mistake as to the beneficial effect which a nearer intimacy with the high culture of antiquity had produced, and would produce, upon the Chris– tian European mind. But he saw the danger of an indiscriminate admiration of this classical antiquity; for he who thus accepted it must necessarily fall to the very lowest station in religion and morality:-as, indeed, if we closely observe the character of the eighteenth century, we see has happened. Out of this prophetic spirit, which penetrated with equal clearness through the darkness of coming centuries and the clouds of a far-distant past, Shakspere wrote this deeply significant satire upon the Homeric herodom. He had no desire to debase the elevated, to deteriorate or make little the great, and still less to attack the poetical worth of Homer, or of heroic poetry in general. But he wished to warn thoroughly against the over-valuation and idolatry of them, to which man so willingly abandons himself. He endeavoured, at the same time, to bring strikingly to view the universal truth, that everything that is merely human, even when it is glorified with the nimbus of a poetic ideality and a mythical past, yet, seen in the bird’s-eye perspective of a pure moral ideality, appears very small.” All this may seem as super-refinement, in which the critic pretends to see farther than the
poet ever saw. But to such an objection there is a very plain answer. A certain result is produced —is the result correctly described ). If it be so, is that result an effect of principle or an effect of chance As a proof that it was the effect of principle, we may say that Dryden did not see the principle ; and that, not seeing it, he entirely changed the character of the play as a work of art. For example, there is no scene in the drama so entirely in accordance with the principle as that in which Ulysses stirs up the slothful and dogged Achilles into a rivalry with Ajax. It is altogether so Shaksperean in its profundity,+it presents such a key to the whole Shaksperean conduct of this wonderful drama, that we cannot be content merely to refer to it.
“ Ulyss. Now, great Thetis' son Achil. What are you reading Ulyss. A strange fellow here
Writes me, That man, how dearly ever parted,
Fronting the sun, receives and renders back
Though less than yours in past, must o'ertop yours: For time is like a fashionable host, That slightly shakes his parting guest by the hand; And with his arms outstretch'd, as he would fly, Grasps in the comer: Welcome ever smiles, And farewell goes out sighing. Oh, let not virtue seek Remuneration for the thing it was; For beauty, wit, High birth, vigour of bone, desert in service, Love, friendship, charity, are subjects all To envious and calumniating time. One touch of nature makes the whole world kin, That all, with one consent, praise new-born gawds, Though they are made and moulded of things past; And give to dust, that is a little gilt, More laud than gilt o'er-dusted. The present eye praises the present object: Then marvel not, thou great and complete man, That all the Greeks begin to worship Ajax; Since things in motion sooner catch the eye, Than what not stirs. The cry went once on thee, And still it might; and yet it may again, If thou wouldst not entomb thyself alive, And case thy reputation in thy tent; Whose glorious deeds, but in these fields of late, Made emulous missions 'mongst the gods themselves, And drave great Mars to faction."
Now, of this scene Dryden has not a word. This was a part of the “rubbish” which he discarded. But in the place of it he gives us an entirely new scene between Hector and Troilus—“almost half the act.” He says, “the occasion of raising it was hinted to me by Mr. Betterton; the contrivance and working of it was my own.” The scene, he admits, was an imitation of the famous scene in ‘Julius Caesar’ between Brutus and Cassius. And so Dryden transposes the principle of one play into another ; destroys the grave irony of ‘Troilus and Cressida’ by the introduction of the heroic seriousness
which was in its place in ‘Julius Caesar;” and gives us, altogether, a set of mongrel characters, compounded of the common-place heroic and Shakspere's reduction of the false heroic to truth and reason. And yet, with all his labour, Dryden could not make the thing consistent. He is compelled to take Shakspere's representation of Ajax, for example. One parallel passage will be sufficient to show how Dryden and Shakspere managed these things:–
“Thank Heav'n, my lord, you're of agentle
nature, Praise him that got you, her that brought you
forth; But he who taught you first the use of arms, Let Mars divide eternity in two, And give him half. I will not praise your
wisdom, Nestor shall do 't; but pardon, father Nestor, Were you as green as Ajax, and your brain Temper'd like his, you never should excel him, But be as Ajax is.”
“ Ulyss. Thank the heavens, lord, thou art of sweet composure; Praise him that got thee, she that gave thee suck: Famed be thy tutor, and thy parts of nature Thrice-famed, beyond all erudition: But he that disciplined thy arms to fight, Let Mars divide eternity in twain, And give him half: and, for thy vigour, Bull-bearing Milo his addition yield To sinewy Ajax. I will not praise thy wisdom, Which, like a bourn, a pale, a shore, confines Thy spacious and dilated parts: Here's Nestor, L Instructed by the antiquary times, He must, he is, he cannot but be wise;— But pardon, father Nestor, were your days As green as Ajax, and your brain so temper'd, You should not have the eminence of him, But be as Ajax.”
One of the most extraordinary subtleties of Shakspere’s ‘Troilus and Cressida’ arises out of the circumstance that the real heroic tragedy is found side by side with the ironical heroic. Cassandra, short as the character is, may be classed among the finest creations of art. Dryden omits Cassandra altogether. Was this a want of a real perception of “the grounds” of tragedy; or an instinct which avoided the higher heroic, when it would come into contrast with his
own feebler conceptions ! The Cassandra of Shakspere is introduced to heighten the effect of the petty passions, the worldliness, which are everywhere around her. The solemn and the earnest are in alliance with madness.
CHAPTER V. KING HENRY WIII.
‘THE famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eighth was first published in the folio collection of Shakspere's works in 1623. The date of the original production of this drama has been a subject of much discussion. The opinions in favour of its having been produced in the reign of Elizabeth are far more numerous than those which hold it to be a later production. As the question is one of more than usual interest, we shall examine it somewhat in detail. And first, of the external evidence. The Globe, Shakspere's theatre, was burnt down in June, 1613. The cause of this accident, and the circumstances attending it, are minutely related by several witnesses. In Winwood’s “Memorials' there is a letter from John Chamberlain to Sir Ralph Winwood, dated from London the 12th of July, 1613, which describes the burning, “which fell out by a peal of chambers.” This conflagration took place on the previous 29th of June. The play acted on this occasion was one on the story of ‘Henry VIII.” Were the “chambers” (small cannon) which produced the misfortune those fired according to the original stage-direction in the fourth scene of the first act of Shakspere’s ‘King Henry VIII., “Drum and trumpet, chambers discharged?” In the Harleian Manuscripts there is a letter from Thomas Lorkin to Sir Thomas Puckering, dated “this last of June, 1613,” in which the writer says, “No longer since than yesterday, while Bourbage his company were acting at the Globe the play of “ Henry VIII.,’ and there shooting of cer
tain chambers in way of triumph, the fire catch'd.” But this does not establish that it was Shakspere's play. The accomplished Sir Henry Wotton, writing to his nephew on the 6th of July, 1613, gives a minute and graphic account of the accident at the Globe: —“Now to let matters of state sleep, I will entertain you at the present with what happened this week at the Bankside. The king's players had a new play, called “All is True,' representing some principal pieces of the reign of Henry the Eighth, which was set forth with many extraordinary circumstances of pomp and majesty, even to the matting of the stage; the knights of the order, with their Georges and Garter, the guards with their embroidered coats, and the like; sufficient, in truth, within a while to make greatness very familiar, if not ridiculous. Now King Henry, making a mask at the Cardinal Wolsey's house, and certain cannons being shot off at his entry, some of the paper, or other stuff, wherewith one of them was stopped, did light on the thatch, where, being thought at first but an idle smoke, and their eyes being more attentive to the show, it kindled inwardly, and run round like a train, consuming, within less than an hour, the whole house to the very ground. This was the fatal period of that virtuous fabric, wherein yet nothing did perish but weod and straw, and a few forsaken cloaks: only one man had his breeches set on fire, that would perhaps have broiled him, if he had not, by the benefit of a provident wit, put it out with bottle ale.”* Here, then, is a new play described “representing some principal pieces of the reign of Henry VIII.;” and further, the passage of Shakspere's play in which the “chambers” are discharged, being the “entry’ of the king to the “mask at the cardinal's house,” is the same to the letter. But the title which Sir Henry Wotton gives the new play is “ All is True.” Gifford thinks this sufficient to show that the play represented at the Globe in June, 1613, was not Shakspere's. But other persons call the play so represented “Henry VIII. Howes, in his continuation of Stow's “Chronicle, so calls it. He writes some time after the destruction of the Globe, for he adds to his account of the fire, “And the next spring it was new builded in far fairer manner than before.” He speaks of the title of the play as a familiar thing:— “the house being filled with people to behold the play, viz. of ‘Henry the Eighth.’” When Howes wrote, was the title “All is True' merged in the more obvious title derived from the subject of the play, and following the character of the titles of Shakspere's other historical plays? There can be no difficulty in showing that the Prologue to ‘Henry VIII.' especially keeps in view such a title as Sir Henry Wotton has mentioned:—
* “Reliquiae Wottonianae.”
“Such as give Their money out of hope they may believe, May here find truth too.” “Gentle hearers, know, To rank our chosen truth with such a show As foot and fight is,” &c. “To make that only true we now intend.”
Boswell has a very ingenious theory that this Prologue had especial reference to another play on the same historical subject, “When You See Me You Know Me, or the Famous Chronicle History of King Henry the Eighth, &c., by Samuel Rowley, in which “the incidents in Henry's reign are thrown together in the most confused manner.” But, upon the whole, the probability is that the “Henry VIII.’ of Shakspere, and the “All is True' described by Wotton, are one and the same play. The next question is, then, whether Wotton was correct in describing the “Henry VIII.' as a new play. Chalmers, who almost stands alone in his
opinion, maintains that the fact of a play on the subject of Henry VIII. being termed new in 1613 is decisive as to the date of its original production at that time. Malone, on the contrary, conjectures that the “Henry VIII.’ was written in 1601, and revived in 1613, with a new title and prologue, “having lain by some years unacted.” This conjecture rests upon no external evidence. We proceed, therefore, to the other division of the subject —the evidence of its date which is furnished by the play itself.
In the prophecy of Cranmer in the last scene, the glories of the reign of Elizabeth are carried on to that of her successor, in the following lines:—
“Nor shall this peace sleep with her: But as
This passage would appear to be decisive as to the date of the play, by the introduction of these lines:–
“Wherever the bright sun of heaven shall shine, His honour, and the greatness of his name, Shall be, and make new nations.”
That the colonization of Virginia is here distinctly alluded to is without doubt. The first charter was granted in 1606; the colony was planted in 1607, in which year James Town was built; another charter was
given to the colonists in 1612, and a lottery