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That had at his request the dedly poyson sold,
asswage, Nor threatning of the prince, ne mynde of murthers donne, At length, (so mighty Joue it would) by pitye they are wonne.
And lest that length of time might from our myndes remoue
And euen at this day the tombe is to be seene ;*
q Imprinted at London in
Nouember. An. do. 1562.
* Breval says, in his Travels, 1726, that when he was at Verona, his guide shewed him an old building, then converted into a house for orphans, in which the tomb of these unhappy lovers had been ; but it was then destroyed. ,
* COMEDY OF Errors.] Shakspeare might have taken the general plan of this comedy from a translation of the Menachmi of Plautus, by W. W. i. e. (according to Wood) William Warner, in 1595, whose version of the acrostical argument hereafter quoted is as follows:
“ Two twinne borne sonnes a Sicill marchant had,
6. The first his father lost, a little lad;
“ This (growne a man) long travell took to seeke
“ Where th’ other dwelt inricht, and him so like, “ That citizens there take him for the same:
“ Father, wife, neighbours, each mistaking either, “ Much pleasant error, ere they meet togither.” Perhaps the last of these lines suggested to Shakspeare the title for his piece.
See this translation of the Menæchmi, among six old Plays on which Shakspeare founded, &c. published by S. Leacroft, Charing Cross.
At the beginning of an address Ad Lectorem, prefixed to the errata of Decker's Satiromastix, &c. 1602, is the following passage, which apparently alludes to the title of the comedy before us :
" In steed of the Trumpets sounding thrice before the play begin, it shall not be amisse (for him that will read) first to beholde this short Comedy of Errors, and where the greatest enter, to give them instead of a hisse, a gentle correction.”
STEEVENS. I suspect this and all other plays where much rhyme is used, and especially long hobbling verses, to have been among Shakspeare's more early productions. BLACKSTONE.
I am possibly singular in thinking that Shakspeare was not under the slightest obligation, in forming this comedy, to Warner's translation of the Menachmi. The additions of Erotes and Sereptus, which do not occur in that translation, and he could never invent, are, alone, a sufficient inducement to believe that he was no way indebted to it. But a further and more convincing proof is, that he has not a name, line, or word, from the old play, nor any one incident but what must, of course, be common to every translation. Sir William Blackstone, I observe, suspects “ this and all other plays where much rhyme is used, and especially long hobbling verses, to have been among Shakspeare's more early productions.” But I much doubt whether any of these “ long hobbling verses” have the honour of proceeding from his pen: and, in fact, the superior elegance and harmony of his language is no less distinguishable in his earliest than his latest production. The truth is, if any inference can
be drawn from the most striking dissimilarity of style, a tissue as different as silk and worsted, that this comedy, though boasting the embellishments of our author's genius, in additional words, lines, speeches, and scenes, was not originally his, but proceeded from some inferior playwright, who was capable of reading the Menechmi without the help of a translation, or, at least, did not make use of Warner's. And this I take to have been the case, not only with the three Parts of King Henry VI. (though not, perhaps, exactly in the way, or to the extent, maintained by a late editor,) but with The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Love's Labour's Lost, and. King Richard II. in all which pieces Shakspeare's new work is as apparent as the brightest touches of Titian would be on the poorest performance of the veriest canvass-spoiler that ever handled a brush. The originals of these plays were never printed, and may be thought to have been put into his hands by the manager, for the purpose of alteration and improvement, which we find to have been an ordinary practice of the theatre in his time. We are therefore no longer to look upon the above “pleasant and fine conceited comedie," as entitled to a situation among the “ six plays on which Shakspeare founded his Measure for Measure,” &c. of which I should hope to see a new and improved edition. Ritson.
This comedy, I believe, was written in 1593. See An Attempt to ascertain the Order of Shakspeare's Plays, Vol. II.