« ZurückWeiter »
ALLEGED ANACHRONISMS, DISCREPANCIES, &c. Various have been the charges brought against Shakespeare for anachronisms, inappropriatenesses, discrepancies, forgetfulnesses, inaccuracies, &c.; but we think that in each instance where he has been accused of oversight or error, the insufficient attention or knowledge will be found to be rather that of the critic than of the author. In giving the following passages, to which objections have been made by previous commentators, we shall append our own view of each passage, as our answer in vindication of Shakespeare's intention therein :
A piece many years in doing, and now newly performed by that rare Italian master, Julio Romano.-W. T., v. 2.
The introducing this compliment to the greatest artist of his time, by the greatest dramatist of all time, into a play where Apollo's oracle is consulted, has been denounced as a strange absurdity of anachronism. As well might objection be taken against the allusion to him (Judas Iscariot) “that did betray the best,” which occurs in this same play. But the dramatist refers to Julio Romano as the type of artistic excellence, and to Judas Iscariot as the type of treacherous betrayal; knowing that typical truth in impression is superior to rigidity in accuracy of chronological detail, where dramatic effect is concerned.
The thunder of my cannon shall be heard.—John, i. 1. As John's reign commenced in 1199, and cannon are said to have been first used at the battle of Cressy in 1346, our author is here liable to the charge of anachronism; but Shakespeare spoke of engines of war in the terms most readily understood by his audience.
A half-faced groat five hundred pound a year !—Ibid., i. 1. Here again is the poet taxed with anachronism, because groats and half-groats, with faces of the king in profile upon them, were not coined until the reign of Henry VII. ; whereas the dramatist purposely mentions a piece of money familiar to his audience.
Report of fashions in proud Italy,
Limps after, in base imitation.-R. II., ii. 1. Whereupon Johnson finds Shakespeare guilty of charging the times of Richard with a folly not perhaps known then, but very frequent in Shakespeare's time. It is precisely for this reason that the great playwright satirises and denounces it.
That sprightly Scot of Scots, Douglas, that runs o' horseback up a hill perpendicular, -He that rides at high speed and with his pistol kills a sparrow flying.–
:-1 H. IV., ii. 4. Here Johnson is severe upon Shakespeare's speaking of a weapon that was not known in the time of Henry IV., although the critic simultaneously observes that pistols were in the poet's time “eminently used by the Scots.” Of course this was why the dramatist introduced the point, because he knew it was a piece of national characterisation
sure to be understood and appreciated by the audience for whom he wrote, and because accuracy in characterisation always weighed with him above strictness in chronology.
Thy place in council thou hast rudely lost.—1 H. IV., iii. 2. Steevens and Malone point out an anachronism in this passage, because the event of the Prince of Wales's removal from his post of President of the Council in consequence of his having struck the Lord Chief Justice Gascoigne on the bench, occurred some years later than is here represented; but Shakespeare anticipated the period for dramatic purposes.
Shall not thou and I, between Saint Denis and Saint George, compound a boy, half French, half English, that shall go to Constantinople and take the Turk by the beard ?-H. V., V. 2.
Theobald informs us that “ Shakespeare has here committed an anachronism. The Turks were not possessed of Constantinople before the year 1453, when Henry V. had been dead thirty-one years." But by allusion to this antedated circumstance, the poet gives animation to his character and dialogue.
And whereas, before, our forefathers had no other books but the score and the tally, thou hast caused printing to be used.—2 H. VI., iv. 7.
Johnson here arraigns the poet for being a "little too early with this accusation,” since printing was not invented and introduced till some years later than the period here supposed; but who would wish a passage that has so much dramatic propriety to have been unwritten because of its chronological impropriety?
And set the murderous Machiavel to school.—3 H. VI., iii. 2. Inasmuch as this allusion to the Italian politician involves an anachronism, Warburton prefers the adoption of the aspiring Catiline," which are the three words that occur in parallel passages of the old play that formed the basis of his present drama. But since Machiavel was popularly known in our dramatist's time as the exemplar of astute political strategists, he in all probability designedly made the substituted allusion, a probability that is confirmed by his having made reference to Machiavel (with the same typical force) in two other of his plays, The Merry Wives of Windsor " (iii. 1), and · The First Part of King Henry VI." (v. 4).
Unfit to hear moral philosophy.—Tr. & Cr., ii. 2. That Hector should cite Aristotle's opinion may subject Shakespeare to the charge of having committed an anachronism; but, such as it is, he found it in many of the classical poems and old romances that evidently were known to him. Moreover, if a point did but suit the general appropriateness of the theme, this sufficed for Shakespeare as well as for the writers who preceded him.
Bull-bearing Milo his addition yield
Malone observes : “ Our author, here, as usual, pays no regard to chronology. Milo of Croton lived long after the Trojan war.” the contrary, Shakespeare, though usually having regard to chronology, knew when it was better to employ an incident for the sake of apt illustration than to pay strict attention to relative dates.
Thou wast a soldier even to Cato's wish.—Coriol., i. 4. Shakespeare, basing the play upon Plutarch's Life of Coriolanus, and adopting this among many other passages therefrom, occasions Theobald to remark: “ The poet, hereby following the historian, is fallen into a great chronological inpropriety;" but it is very possible that the poet, although he knew the historian used an illustration which anticipated a later period, yet chose to employ the illustration because it would be dramatically effective.
The most sovereign prescription in Galen is but empiricutic.-Ibid., ii. 1. This is denounced by Grey as an anachronism of near 650 years.' That Galen was known to Shakespeare's audiences as one of the most celebrated authorities of antique times was quite sufficient for the dramatist's purpose; who puts the name into Menenius's mouth with appropriate effect, if not with chronological propriety.
Matrons flung gloves,
Upon him as he pass'd.—Ibid., ii. 1. Because it was not a custom among the Romans, and because it was a custom in the age of Shakespeare, for successful tilters at tournaments to have these marks of female favour thrown upon them as they rode round or from the lists, Malone complains that “ here our author has attributed some of the customs of his own age to a people who were wholly unacquainted with them." But it was exactly this reason, that his audience would at once comprehend the form of approbation showered upon Coriolanus as a victorious warrior, which induced the dramatist to write the passage as it stands.
When he might act the woman in the scene.—Ibid., ii. 2. Steevens's note on this passage, stating that “the parts of women were, in Shakespeare's time, represented by the most smooth-faced young men to be found among the players,” is followed up by a note from Malone, declaring that “here is a great anachronism. There were no theatres at Rome for the exhibition of plays for above 250 years after the death of Coriolanus.” But it appears to us that the line may be taken to imply, “When his youth might have warranted his behaving with no more martial prowess than a woman’; although the habit of seeing boys enact women's characters, of course, gave farther force of effect to the line with those for whom it was written.
I would they would forget me, like the virtues
Which our divines lose by them.--Ibid., ii. 3. By using the term “divines" here, Shakespeare has brought upon himself the disdain of one critic, Mr. Singer, who calls it " another amusing instance of anachronism." But though it happens to have been applied to ministers of the Gospel in Christian times, it is surely
an expression of sufficiently wide signification to admit of being aptly employed in designating interpreters of Divine Nature and Divine Wisdom, in whatever creed or age of the world recognised.
The noble house o' the Marcians, from whence came
Was his great ancestor.-Coriol., ii. 3. This passage has caused Shakespeare to be taunted as "he who would disregard such anachronisms, or rather he to whom they were not known” by Malone ; and to be twitted with “ haste ” and “inadvertency” by Warburton. But although Censorinus, Publius, and Quintus, were in fact descendants, not ancestors, of Coriolanus; yet the passage in Plutarch (from whose book Shakespeare derived his historic material for this play) is worded with sufficient latitude in expression to warrant the poet in supposing, or choosing to represent, them as being predecessors of the hero— Plutarch saying: “Of the same house” and “ also came of that family."
He sits in his state, as a thing made for Alexander.-Ibid., v. 4. It has been pointed out that this is an anachronism, inasmuch as Alexander was not born until 355 B.C., and Coriolanus died 488 B.C. Nevertheless, the poet is dramatically correct in citing Alexander the Great as a type of human grandeur; Shakespeare ever preferring dramatic fitness in typical expression to rigid fidelity in historic chronology. Peace! count the clock.
The clock hath stricken three.-7ul. C., ii. 1. Clocks and watches being unknown to the Romans, Shakespeare has been accused of here committing an anachronism. It is true they measured their time by sun-dials and clepsydræ; but a sun-dial would not have suited the poet's purpose in a night-scene, and a clepsydra would have been an unknown instrument to the dramatist's audience. Judging from the free allusion to clock” which is to be found in many of his plays—even such plays as “ Comedy of Errors,' “ Winter's Tale,” and “Cymbeline," where the supposed period of the action renders the allusion, strictly speaking, an anachronism—we believe that Shakespeare uses the word as an acknowledged and readily understood time-measurer, which was what his object required.
In going back to school in Wittenberg.-Hamlet, i. 2. Malone points out that “the University of Wittenberg was not founded till 1502, consequently did not exist in the time to which this play is referred;" but inasmuch as the University of Wittenberg was known by Shakespeare's hearers to exist when he wrote and they listened to his plays, he introduced the allusion.
The music, ho!
“ This is one of the numerous anachronisms that are found in these plays. This game was not known in ancient times.” The latter is mere vague assertion ; for, there are many probabilities that billiards is only a modern form of an antique pastime. But were it still affirmed that the more recent term is improper in a drama of remote period, we contend that the term which most readily conveys to a modern audience the idea intended to be conveyed of the luxurious pursuits of that “Serpent of old Nile," Cleopatra, would be the best that could here be employed.
If I can get him within my pistol's length,
I'll make him sure.-Per., i. 1. As well might Shakespeare have been taxed with anachronism for introducing mention of a pistol ” in the present passage, as in the case objected to by Johnson from “i Henry IV.," ii. 4; and though the same defence cannot be set up for the poet here as we advanced for him there, yet it may be urged that he merely names a weapon familiarly known to his audience, and therefore one that they would recognise as fit for the mention and use of an assassin.
By the bare scalp of Robin Hood's fat friar.--Two G. of V., iv. I. That this allusion to Robin Hood and Friar Tuck, outlaws of Sherwood Forest, should be put into the mouth of the outlaws in a Mantuan forest need shock no one's sense of appropriateness who bears in mind the poet's privilege to introduce all that may serve to heighten impression; and reference to a well-known English outlaw would infallibly impress Shakespeare's English hearers with extra vivid consciousness of outlaw presence.
Look here what I found on a palm-tree.—As You L., iii. 2. Mr. Steevens appends the following remark to this passage :—"A palm-tree in the forest of Arden is as much out of its place as the lioness in a subsequent scene.” The commentator first takes for granted that--because the scene of Lodge's novel (on which the present play is founded) is laid in France, because the novel makes the place of exile “the forest of Arden," and because there is a real forest of Ardenne or Ardennes in French Flanders—Shakespeare meant this same Flemish forest, and then asserts that he made a great mistake in introducing a palm-tree and a lioness there. Now we believe that Shakespeare, by his “ forest of Arden," meant no special or actual forest, but a typical and ideal forest; a forest that represents a poetical forest generally, where lovers, dukes, lords, shepherds, jesters, natural philosophers and artificial philosophers, lions and lambs, serpents and goats, oaks and olives, palm-trees and osiers, may all flourish contentedly and plausibly, without disturbing the peace of those whose imaginations accept the truths of poetry as universal truth, not mere geographical, animal, or botanical literalities. The old English word “ Arden” originally signified woodiness; it was applied to a large wooded district in Warwickshire, called the Forest of Arden ; and it was the maiden name of Shakespeare's own mother, Mary Arden, whose ancient family derived their name from this very forest of their