Imagens da página


(1) Scene II.—A devil in an everlasting garment hath him.] A sergeant's buff leather garment was called durance; partly, it would appear, on account of its everlasting qualities, and partly from a quibble on the occupation of the wearer, which was that of arresting and clapping men in durance. In Greene's " Quip for an Upstart Courtier," sig. D, 3d edit. 1620, there is a graphic description of a sergeant, or sheriff's officer. "One of them had on a buffe-leather jerkin, all greasio before with the droppings of beere, that fell from his board, and by his side, a skeine like a brewer's bung knife; and muffled ho was in a close, turn'd over his nose, as though hee had beone ashamed to showe his face."

This peculiar garb is again referred to by our author in a passage of " Henry IV." Part I. Act I. So. 2,—

"And is not a buff jerkin a most sweet robe ot durance?" the point of which seems not to have boon fully understood by the commentators. A robe of durance was a cant term, implying imprisonmsnt; and the Prince, after dilating on purso-stealing, humorously calls attention to its probable consequences, by his query about the buff jerkin. See MlDDLEIONS " Blurt, Master Constable," Act III. Sc. 2:—

"Tell my lady, that I go in a suit of durance."

(2) Scene IL-- A hound that runs counter, and yet draws dry foot well.] To run counter is to follow on a false scent; to draw dry foot means to track by the mere scent of the foot. A hound that does one is not likely to do the other; but the ambiguity is oxplainod by the double meaning attached to the words counter and dry foot. The former implying both false, and a prison, and the latter, privation of scent, and lack of means. The sheriff's officer, as he tracks for a prison, may be said to run counter, and, as he follows thoso who have expended their substance, he draws dry fool.

(3) Scene II.—One that, before the judgment, carries poor souls to hell.] By before the judgment, in its secondary sense, Dromio is supposed to allude to arrest on mesneprocess. Hell was a cant term for the worst dungeon in the wretched prisons of the time. There was the Master's Side, the Knights Ward, the Hole, and last and most deplorable, the department called Hell, which was the receptacle for those who had no means to pay the extortionate fines exacted for better accommodation.

(4) Scene III.—He that sets up his rest to do more exploits with his m<t;e than a morris-pike.] Dromio plays


on the word rest, arrest, and a metaphor, very common in
our old writers, setting up his rest, which is taken from
gaming, and means staking his all upon an event. Hence
it was frequently applied to express fixed determination,
steadfast purpose. Thus, in "All's Well that Ends Well,"
Act II, Sc. 1 :—

"What I can do, can do no hurt to try,
Since you set up your rest 'gainst remedy."

The Morris-pike is often mentioned by old writers. It was the Moorish pike, and was constantly used both in land and sea warfare, during the sixteenth century.

(5) Scene III.—A ring he hath of mine worth forty ducats.} The number forty was very anciently adopted to express a great many, in the same way that we now use, fifty, or a s-ore. In the Scriptures it is recorded that the flood was forty days on the earth; the Israelites were forty years, and our Saviour forty days in the wilderness; and Job mourned forty days. In Hindustani, the word chairs, forty, has the same indefinite acceptation; chdlis-sutiin, denoting literally forty columns, being applied to a palace with a number of pillars. So also in Persia, chihal signifies furty, and Persepolis, because it is a city of many towers, is called chihal-minar, "the forty towers." In like manner, too, the insect which we name centipede, is there known as chiltal-pd, "forty feet." The word in this sense is not at all uncommon among old English writers ;—

"Quoth Niceness to Newfangle, thou art such a Jacke. That thou devisest/or/i> fashions for my ladle's backe."

The Cobier's Prophecy, 1534.

And it is so used repeatedly by Shakespeare; for example, —

"I have learned these forty years."

Richard II. Act I. Sc. S. "I will have forty moys."

Henry V. Act IV. Sc. 4. "I myself fight not once in forty years."

Henry VI, Part I. Act I. Sc. 3.

"Someforty truncheoueers draw."

Henry Fill. Act V. Sc. 3.

"I could beat forty of them."

Coriolanus, Act III, Sc. 1. "I saw her once hop forty paces."

Antony and Cleopatra, Act II. Sc. !.

"I had rather than forty pound."

Twelfth Night, Act V. Sc. 1.

(1) Scene I.—At your important letters, <£••;.] "Shakspoaro, who givos to all nations the customs of his own, seems from this passage to allude to the court of wards in Ephesus. The court of wards was always considered as a grievous oppression. It is glanced at as oarly as in the old morality of Hycke Scorner:— ,

'these ryche men ben unkinde:

Wydowes do curse lordes and gentyllmen,

For they contrayne them to marry with their men;

Ye, wheder they wyll or no.'"—Steevens.

"In the passage before us, Shakespeare was thinking particularly on the interest which the king had in England in the marriage of his wards, who were the heirs of his tenants holding by knight's service, or in capite", and were under age; an interest which Queen Elizabeth in Shake- speare's time exerted on all occasions, as did her successors, till the abolition of the Court of Wards and Liveries; the poet attributes to the duke the same right to choose a wife or a husband for his wards at Ephesus. — Malone.



"The alternate rhymes that are found in this play, as well as in f A Midsummer Night's Dream,* 1 Love's Labour's Lost,' 'The Two Gentlemen of Verona/ and 'Romeo and Juliet,' are a further proof that these pieces were among our author's earliest productions. We are told by himself that1 Venus and Adonis' was 'the first heir of his invention.' The 'Rape of Lucrece' probably followed soon afterwards. When he turned his thoughts to the stage, the measure which he had used in those poems naturally presented itself to him in his first dramatick essays: I mean in those plays which were written originally by himself. In those which were grounded, like the Henries, on the preceding productions of other men, he naturally followed the example before him, and consequently in those pieces no alternate rhymes are found. The doggrel measure, which, if I recollect right, is employed in none of our author's plays except' The Comedy of Errors,' 'The Taming of the Shrew/ and 1 Love's Labour's Lost/ also adds support to the dates assigned to these plays; for these long doggrel verses are written in that kind of metre which was usually attributed by the dramatic poets before his time to some of their inferior characters.* He was imperceptibly infected with the prevailing mode in these his early compositions ; but soon learned to 'deviate boldly from the common track' left by preceding writers."—M Alone.

u This drama of Shakspeare's is much more varied, rich, and interesting in its incidents than the Mensechmi of Plautus ; and while, in rigid adherence to the unities of action, time, and place, our poet rivals the Roman play, he has contrived to insinuate the necessary previous information for the spectator, in a manner infinitely more pleasing and artful than that adopted by the Latin bard ; for whilst Plautus has chosen to convey it through the medium of a prologue, Shakspeare has rendered it at once natural and pathetic, by placing it in the mouth of age, the father of the twin brothers.

"In a play, of which the plot is so intricate, occupied, in a great measure, by mere personal mistakes and their whimsical results, no elaborate development of character can be expected; yet is the portrait



"Rotst. If your name to me you will declare and showe, You may in this matter my minde the sooner knowe.

Tos. Few wordes are best among freends, this is true,
Wherefore I shall briefly show my name unto you.
Tom Tospot it is, it need not to be painted,
Wherefore I with Raife Roister must needs be acquainted," &c.

(About 1570.)

"shift. By gogsbloud, my maisters, we were not best longer
here to staie,

I thinke was never such a craftic knave before this daif.

[Ex. Am Bo.

Cond. Are the! all gone? Ila, ha, well fare old Shiftataneede:
By his woundes had I not devised this, I had hanged indeed.
Tinkers, (qd you) tinke me no tinkes; I'll meddle with them no

I thinke was never knave so used by a companie of tinkers before.
By your leave I'll be so bolde as to looke about me and spie,
Lest any knaves for my coming down in ambush do lie.
By your license I minde not to preache longer in this tree.
My tinkerly slaves are packed hence, as farre as I maie seeSic.


*' The wind is yl blows no man's gaine: for cold I neede not care:
Here is nine and twentie states of apparel for my share:

And some, berlady, very good, for so standeth the case,
As neither gentlemen nor other Lord Promos sheweth any grace;
But I marvel much, poore slaves, that they are hanged sosoone,
They were wont to stare a day or two, now scarce an after-
noone;" &c.


"You think I am going to market to buy rost meate, do ye not?
I thought so, but you are deceived, for I wot what I wot:
I am neither going to the butchers, to buy veal, mutton, or

But I am going to a bloodsucker, and who is it! faith Usurie,
that theefe."


"Quoth Nicencss to Newfangle, thou art such a Jacke,
That thou devisest fortie fashions for my ladie's backe.
And thou, quoth he, art so possest with everie frantick toy,
That following of my ladie's humour thou dost make her coy,
For once a day for fashion-sake my lady must be sicke,
No meat but mutton, or at most the pinion of achicke;
To-day her owne haire best becomes, which yellow is as gold
A periwig is better for to-morrow, blacke to behold:
To-day in pumps and cheveril gloves to walk she will be bold,
To-morrow cuffes and countenance, for feare of catching cold,
Now is she barefast to be seene, straight on her muffler goes;
Now is she huffs up to the crowne, straight nusled to the nose."

of ./Egeon touched with a discriminative hand, and the pressure of age and misfortune is so painted, as to throw a solemn, dignified, and impressive tone of colouring over this part of the fable, contrasting well with the lighter scenes which immediately follow,—a mode of relief which is again resorted to at the close of the drama, where the re-union of JSgeon and JSmilia, and the recognition of their children, produce an interest in the denouement of a nature more affecting than the tone of the preceding scenes had taught us to expect.

"As to the comic action which constitutes the chief bulk of this piece, if it be true, that, to excite laughter, awaken attention, and fix curiosity, be essential to its dramatic excellence, theComedy of Errors cannot be pronounced an unsuccessful effort; both reader and spectator are hurried on to the close, through a series of thick-coming incidents, and under the pleasurable influence of novelty, expectation, and surprise; and the dialogue is uniformly vivacious, pointed, and even effervescing. Shakspeare is visible, in fact, throughout the entire play, as well in the broad exuberance of its mirth, as in the cast of its more chastised parts,—a combination of which may be found in the punishment and character of Pinch, the pedagogue and conjuror, who is sketched in the strongest and most marked style of our author.

"If we consider, therefore, the construction of the fable, the narrowness of its basis, and that its powers of entertainment are almost exclusively confined to a continued deception of the external senses, we must confess that Shakspeare has not only improved on the Plautian model, but, making allowance for a somewhat too coarse vein of humour, has given to his production all the interest and variety that the nature and the limits of his subject would permit."—Drake.

"Shakespeare has in this piece presented us with a legitimate force in exactest consonance with the philosophical principles and character of farce, as distinguished from comedy and from entertainments. A proper farce is mainly distinguished from comedy by the license allowed, and even required, in the fable, in order to produce strange and laughable situations. The story need not be probable, it is enough that it is possible. A comedy would scarcely allow even the two Antipholuses, because although there have been instances of almost undistinguishable likeness in two persons, yet these are mere individual antecedents, casus Indent is natura, and the verum will not excuse the inverisimile. But farce dares add the two Dromios, and is justified in so doing by the laws of its end and constitution. In a word, farces commence in a postulate which must be granted."—Coleridge.

"' The Comedy of Errors' is the subject of the Mencechmi of Plautus, entirely recast and enriched with new developments. Of all works of Shakspeare this is the only example of imitation of, or borrowing from, the ancients. To the two twin brothers of the same name are added two slaves, also twins, impossible to be distinguished from each other, and of the same name. The improbability becomes by this means doubled; but when once we have lent ourselves to the first, which certainly borders on the incredible, we shall not perhaps be disposed to cavil at the second; and if the spectator is to be entertained by mere perplexities, they cannot be too much varied. * * * * In short, this is perhaps the best of all written or possible Menoechmi; and if the piece be inferior in worth to other pieces of Shakspeare, it is merely because nothing more could be made of the materials."—Schlegel.

« AnteriorContinuar »