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courtry, thew it to your friends, and neighbours, as my gift to you ; and you have my permission to boat, that it is a reward of your virtues.
Of The MERCHANT of Venice the file is even and easy, with few peculiarities of diction, or anomalies of construction. The comick part raises laughter, and the serious fixes expectation. The probability of either one or the other story cannot be maintained. The union of two actions in one event is in this drama eminently happy. Dryden was much pleased with his own address in connecting. the two plots of his Spanish Friar, which yet, I believe, the critick will find excelled by this play.
JOHNSON P. ur. The Merchant of Venice.] The antient ballad, on which the greater part of this play is probably founded, has been mentioned in Observations on the Fairy Queen, 1 129. Shakespeare's track of reading may be traced in the common books and popular stories of the times, from which he manifestly derived most of his piots. Historical songs, then very fashionable, often fuggested and recommended a subject. Many of his incidental allufons also relate to pieces of this kind ; which are now grown vaJuable on this account only, and would otherwise have been deservedly forgotten. A ballad is still remaining on the subject of Romeo and Juliet, which by the date appears to be much older than Shakespeare's time. It is remarkable, that all the particulars in which that play differs from the story in Bandello, are found in this ballad. But it may be said, that he has copied this ftory as it stands in Paynter's Pallace of Pleasure, 1567, where there is the same variation of circumstances. This, however, thews us that Shakespeare did not first alter the original story for the worse, and is at leait a presumptive proof that he never saw the Italian.
Shakespeare alludes to the tale of King Cophetua and the Beggar, more than once. This was a ballad ; the oldest copy of which, that I have seen, is in A Crown Garland of golden Roses gathered out of England's royall Garden, 1612. The collector of this miscellany was Richard Johnson, who compiled, from various romances, THE SEVEN CHAMPIONS. This story of Cophetua was in high vogue, as appears from our author's man. ner of introduciug it in Love's Labour loft, act iv. sc. 1. As likewise from John Marston's Satires, called the Scourge of Villanie, printed 1598, viz.
" Go buy some ballad of the fairy king,
Sign, B. ii.
The first stanza of the ballad begins thus,
“ I read that once in Africa
“ A prince that there did raine, “ Who had to name Cophetua,
“ As peets they do faine, &c.' The prince, or king, falls in love with a female beggar, whom he sees accidentally from the windows of his palace, and afterwards marries her. (Sign. D. 4.] The fons, cited at length by the learned Dr. Gray, on this subject, is evidently spurious, and much more modern than Shakespeare's time. The name Cophetua is not once mentioned in it.
Notes on Shakespeare, vol. ii. p. 267. However, I suspect, there is fome more genuine copy than that of 1612, which I before mentioned. But this point may be, perhaps, adjusted by an ingenious enquirer into our old English literature, who is now publishing a curious collection of antient ballads, which will illuftrate many passages in Shakespeare.
I doubt not but he received the hint of writing King Lear from a ballad on that subject. But in most of his historical plays, he copies Hall, Holinihed, and Stowe, the reigning historians of that age. And although these Chronicles were then universally known and read, he did not scruple to transcribe their materials with the most circumstantial minuteness. For this he could not escape an oblique stroke of satire from his envious friend, Ben. Jonson, in the comedy called, The Devil's an Ass, act ii. fc. 4.
“ Fitz-doi. Thomas of Woodstock, I'm sure, was duke : and “ he was made away at Calice, as duke Humfrey was at Bury. " And Richard the Third, you know what end he came to.
“ Meer-er. By my faith, you're cunning in the Chronicle.
“ Fitz-dot. No, I confeis, I ha’t from the play-books, and “ think they're more authentick."
In Antony Wood's collection of ballads, in the Ashmolean Mu. feum, I find one with the rollowing title : “ The lamentable and tragical Historie of Titus Andronicus, with the fall of his five and twenty fons in the wars with the Goths ; with the murder of his daughter Lavinia, by the emprcffes two sons, through the means of a bloody Moor, taken by the sword of Titus in the war: his revenge upon their cruel and inhumane acte.”
“ You noble mindes and famous martiall wights." The use which Shakespeare might make of this piece, is obvious. WARTON.
The two principal incidents of this play are to be found feparately in a collection of odd stories, which were very popular, a! least five hundred years ago, under the title of Gefia Romanorum. The first, Of the bond, is in ch. xlviii. of the copy, which I chufe
to refer to, as the completelt of any which I have yet seen. M$. Harl. n. 2270. A knight there borrows money of a merchant, upon condition of forfeiting all bis flip for non-payment. Then the penalty is exacted before the judge; the knight's mistress, disguised, in forma viri & veftimentis pretiofis induta, comes into coust, and, by permiffion of the judge, endeavours to mollify the merchant. She first offers him his money, and then the double of it, &c, to all which his answer is - Conventionem meam volo habere.
-Puella cum hoc audisset ait coram omnibus Domine mi judex, da rectum judicium fuper his quæ vobis dixero. — Vos fcitis quod miles nunquam se obligabat ad aliud per literam nifi quod mercator habeat poteftatem carnes ab offibus scindere, fine fanguinis effufocne, de quo nihil erat prolocutum. Statim mittat manum in eum ; fi vero fanguinem effuderit, Rex contra eum actionem habet. Mercator, cum hoc audisset, ait; datę mihi pecuniam & omnem actionem ei remitto. Ait puella, Amen dico tibi, nullum denarium habebis — pone ergo manum in eam, ita ut fanguinem non effundas. Mercator vero videns se confusum absceslit; & fic vita militis salvata eft, & nullum denarium dedit.
The other incident, of the caskets, is in ch. xcix. of the same collection. A king of Apulia fends his daughter to be married to the son of an emperor of Rome. After some adventures, (which are nothing to the present purpose) she is brought before the emperor ; who says to her, “ Puella, propter amorem filii mei multa adversa fuftinuisti. Tamen fi digna 'fueris ut uxor ejus fis cito probabo. Et fecit fieri tria vasa. Primum fuit de auro purifimo & lapidibus pretiofis interius ex omni parte, & plenum ofsibus mortusrum ; & exterius erat subscriptio : Qui me eligerit in me invenit, quod meruit. SECUNDUM vas erat de argento puro, & gemmis pre• tiofis plenom terra;& exterius erat subscriptio: qui me elegerit, in me inveniet quod natura appetit. TERTIUM vas de plumbo plenumlațidia bus pretiofis interius & gemmis nobil.Jimis ; & exterius erat subscriptio talis : Qui me elegerit, in me inveniet quod deus difpojuit. Itta tria oftendit puellæ, & dixit, si unum ex iltis elegeris in quo commodum & proficuum eft filium meum habebis. Si vero elegeris quod nec tibi nec aliis et commodum, ipsum pon habebis.” The young lady, after mature consideration of the vefels and their inscriptions, chuses the leader, which being opened, and found to be full of gold and precious stones, the emperor says: “Bona puclla
-ideo filium meum habebis." From this abtract of these two stories, I think it appears fuficiently plain that they are the remote originals of the two incidents in this play. i can hardly suppose that they were the originals which Shakespeare immediately copied, for this reason principally, because I doubt whether they have ever appeared in print." They certainly are not to be found in an edition of the Gejta Romanorum, which I have myself, printed as late as 1521; Vol. III.
nor in some much older editions, which I have occasionally exa. mined. There is a book of one Richard Robinson, mentioned by Tanner, Biblioth. Brit. Hib. p. 476. which might poffibly afford some light to this subject. The title, as given by the author himself, is, A Record of ancient Hystoryes, in Latin, Gefta Romanorum (autore, ut supponitur, Johanne Leylando, Antiquario) translated by me, perused, corrected, and better'd. London, MDLXXVII. 12mo. This book is there faid, to have had fix edi. tions between 1577 and 1601 ; but I have never been able to meet with a copy of it. The supposition that Leland was the author of Gefia Romanorum is certainly groundless; but it is not impoflible, that a copy of that book (differing from the printed copy, and, perhaps, containing the two stories which I have here abridged from the Harleian Ms.) might have been found among Leland's manuscripts, and translated by Ms. R. Robinson as an original.