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THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA.
"In this play there is a strange mixture of knowledge and ignorance, of care and negligence. The versification is often excellent, the allusions are learned and just, but the author conveys his heroes by sea from one inland town to another in the same country. He places the Emperor at Milan, and sends his young men to attend him, but never mentions him more. He makes Protheus, after an interview with Silvia, say he has only seen her picture ; and, if we may credit the old copies, he has, by mistaking places, left his scenery inextricable. The reason of all this confusion seems to be that he took his story from a novel, which he sometimes followed and sometimes forsook, sometimes remembered and sometimes forgot.
"That this play is rightly attributed to Shakespeare, I have little doubt. If it be taken from him, to whom shall it be given? This question may be asked of all the disputed plays, except Titus Andronicus ; and it will be found more credible that Shakespeare might sometimes sink below his highest flights, than that any other should rise up to his lowest.”—JOHNSON.
“Mr. Pope has expressed his surprise that 'the style of this comedy is less figurative, and more natural and unaffected, than the greater part of this author's, THOUGH supposed to be one of the first he wrote.' But I conceive it is natural and unaffected, and less figurative, than some of his subsequent productions, in consequence of the very circumstance which has been mentioned—because it was a youthful performance. Though many young poets of ordinary talents are led by false taste to adopt inflated and figurative language, why should we suppose that such should have been the course pursued by this master genius? The figurative style of ‘Othello,''Lear,' and 'Macbeth,' written when he was an established and long-practised dramatist, may be ascribed to the additional knowledge of men and things which he had acquired during a period of fifteen years ; in consequence of which his mind teemed with images and illustrations, and thoughts crowded so fast upon him, that the construction in these, and some other of his plays of a still later period, is much more difficult and involved than in the productions of his youth, which in general are distinguished by their ease and perspicuity; and this simplicity and unaffected elegance, and not its want of success, were, I conceive, the cause of its being less corrupted than some others. Its perspicuity rendered any attempt at alteration unnecessary. Who knows that it was not successful? For my owu part, I have no doubt that it met with the highest applause. Nor is this mere conjecture ; for we know from the testimony of a contemporary well acquainted with the stage, whose eulogy on our author I have already produced, that he was very early distinguished for his comic talents, and that before the end of the year 1592, he had excited the jealousy of one of the most celebrated dramatick poets of the time.
“In a note on the first scene of this comedy, Mr. Pope has particularly objected to the low and trifling conceits which, he says, are found there and in various other parts of the play before us ; but this censure is pronounced without sufficient discrimination, or a due attention to the period when it was produced. Every composition must be examined with a constant reference to the opinions that prevailed when the piece under consideration was written ; and, if the present comedy be viewed in that light, it will be found that the conceits here objected to were not denominated by any person of Shakespeare's age low and trifling, but were very generally admired, and were considered pure and genuine wit. Nothing can prove the truth of this statement more decisively than a circumstance which I have had occasion to mention elsewhere,—that Sir John Harrington was commonly called by Queen Elizabeth her WITTY godson, and was very generally admired in his own time for the liveliness of his talents and the playfulness of his humour; yet, when we examine his writings,* we find no other proof of his wit than those very conceits which have been censured in some of our author's comedies as mean, low, and trifling. It is clear, therefore, that the notions of our ancestors on this subject were very different from ours. What we condemn, they highly admired; and what we denominate true wit, they certainly would not have relished, and perhaps would scarcely have understood.
“Mr. Pope should also have recollected that, in Shakespeare's time, and long before, it was customary in almost every play to introduce a jester, who, with no great propriety, was denominated a CLOWN, whose merriment made a principal part of the entertainment of the lower ranks, and, I believe, of a large portion of the higher orders also. When no clown or jester was introduced in a comedy, the servants of the principal personages sustained his part, and the dialogue attributed to them was written with a particular view to supply that deficiency, and to amuse the audience by the promptness of their pleasantry, and the liveliness of their conceits. Such is the province assigned to those characters in Lilly's comedies, which were performed with great success and admiration for several years before Shakespeare's time; and such are some of the lower characters in this drama, “ The Comedy of Errors,'' Lore's Labour's Lost,' and some others. On what ground, therefore, is our poet to be condemned for adopting a mode of writing universally admired by his contemporaries, and for not foreseeing that, in a century after his death, these dialogues which set the audience in a roar would, by more fastidious criticks, be denominated low quibbles and trifling comments ? +
“With respect to his neglect of geography in this and some other plays, it cannot be defended by attributing his errour in this instance to his youth, for one of his latest productions is liable to the same objection. The truth, I believe, is, that as he neglected to observe the rules of the drama with respect to the unities, though before he began to write they had been enforced by Sidney in a treatise, which doubtless he had read, so he seems to have thought that the whole terraqueous globe was at his command; and as he brought in a child in the beginning of a play, who, in the fourth act, appears as a woman, so he seems to have wholly set geography at defiance, and to have considered countries as inland or maritime, just as it suited his fancy or couvenience.
“With the qualifications and allowances which these considerations demand, the present comedy, viewed as a first production, may surely be pronounced a very elegant and extraordinary performance.
“Having already given the reasons why I suppose this to have been our author's first play, it is only necessary to say here, that I believe it to have been written in 1591. See the Essay on the Chronological Order of Shakespeare's Plays.”—MALONE.
“The 'Two Gentlemen of Verona’paints the irresolution of love, and its infidelity to friendship, pleasantly enough, but in some degree superficially—we might almost say, with the levity of mind which a passion suddenly entertained, and as suddenly given up, presupposes. The faithless lover is at last, on account of a very ambiguous repentance, forgiven without much difficulty by his first mistress. For the more serious part, the premeditated flight of the daughter of a prince, the capture of her father along with herself by a band of robbers, of which one of the Two Gentlemen, the betrayed and banished friend, has been against his will elected captain: for all this a peaceful solution is soon found. It is as if the course of the world was obliged to accommodate itself to a transient youthful caprice, called love. Julia, who accompanies her faithless lover in the disguise of a page, is, as it were, a light sketch of the tender female figures of a Viola and an Imogen, who, in the latter pieces of Shakespeare, leave their home in similar disguises on love adventures, and to whom a peculiar charm is communicated by the display of the most virginly modesty in their hazardous and problematical situation."-SCHLEGEL.
See particularly his “Supplie” (or Supplement) to Godwin's Account of the English Bishops, which abounds in almost every page with such conceits as we are now speaking of. The titles of some of our poet's comedies, which appear to have been written by the booksellers for whom they were printed, may also be cited for the same purpose; thus we have, “A pleasant conceited comedy called Love's Labour's Lost," &c, 1598; that is, a comedy
full of pleasant conceits. The bookseller, doubtless, well knew the publick taste, and added this title as more likely to attract purchasers than any other he could devise. See also " A most pleasant and excellent conceited comedy of Syr John Falstaffe, &c., 1602, i.e. a comedy full of excellent concerts.
+ See this topick further discussed in the preliminary observa tions to the Comedy of Errors."
LOVE'S LABOUR’S LOST.
“ A PLEASANT Conceited Comedie called Loves labor 's lost. As it was presented before her Highnes this last Christmas. Newly corrected and augmented. By W. Shakespeare. Imprinted at London by W. W., for Cuthbert Burby. 1598. 440." Such is the title of the first edition we possess of the present comedy. Whether any impression was published prior to the corrections and augmentations mentioned, or between the date of this quarto and the folio, 1623, has yet to be discovered. Like The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Love's Labour's Lost bears unmistakeable traces of Shakespeare's earliest style. We find in both, though in different degree, the same fluency and sweetness of measure, the same frequency of rhymes, the same laborious addiction to quibbling, repartees, and doggerel verse, and in both it is observable that depth of characterization is altogether subordinate to elegance and sprightliness of dialogue. In the former, however, the wit and fancy of the poet are infinitely more subdued; the events are within the range of probability; and the humour, for the most part, is confined to the inferior personages of the story. But Love's Labour's Lost is an extravaganza for Le bon Roi, René, and the Court of Provence; a humoursome display of frolic,” as Schlegel calls it, “ in which every one is a jester ; and the sparkles of wit fly about in such profusion that they resemble a blaze of fireworks; while the dialogue is in the same hurried style in which the masks at a carnival attempt to banter each other.”
From the circumstance that Armado is sometimes styled “the Braggart,” and Holofernes “ the Pedant," it has been conjectured that Shakespeare borrowed his plot from the Italian stage, where these buffoons once formed a staple source of entertainment.* But, judging from the names of the characters, and an evident Gallicism in the Fourth Act,+ Douce attributes its origin to a French novel, and his opinion is in some degree countenanced by the following passage in the Chronicles of Monstrelet (Lond. 1810, i. 108, ed. Johnes), first pointed out by Mr. Hunter :-“ Charles king of Navarre came to Paris to wait on the King. He negotiated so successfully with the King and Privy Council, that he obtained a gift of the castle of Nemours with some of its dependant castlewicks, which territory was made a duchy. He instantly did homage for it, and at the same time surrendered to the King the castle of Cherbourg, the county of Evreux, and all the other lordships he possessed within the kingdom of France, renouncing all claims or profits in them to the King and to his successors, on condition that with the duchy of Nemours the king of France engaged to pay him two hundred thousand gold crowns of the coin of the King our lord.” I
This passage is interesting because it shows that the original story, whether French or Italian, whence Shakespeare drew the outline of his plot, was founded in part at least upon an historical event, and because it enables us to fix the time of the play to about 1425, in which year
*“I was often," says Montaigne, "when a boy, wonderfully
Boyet, you can carve :
using the same metaphor of a poulet for a love epistle, that
The payment of a hundred thousand crowns;
King of Navarre died. To the date of its production we have no such clue ; it is one of the plays enumerated by Meres in the oft-quoted passage from his Palladis Tamia, 1598, “ As Plautus and Seneca are accounted the best for comedy and tragedy among the Latins, so Shakespeare among ye English, is the most excellent in both kinds for the stage ; for comedy, witness his Gētlemē of Verona, his Errors, his Love Labor 's Lost, his Love Labour 's Wonne, his Midsummer's Night Dreame, and his Merchant of Venice; for tragedy, his Richard the II., Richard the III., Henry the IV., King John, Titus Andronicus, and his Romeo and Juliet.”
It is noticed also, and in a manner which seems to imply that the writer had seen it some time before, in the rare poem by R[obert T[ofte, intituled “ Alba; or, The Month's Minde of a Melancholy Lover, 80, 1598."
" Love's Labour Lost ! I once did see a play
Ycleped so, so called to my paine,
The play, no play, but plague was unto me,
Each actor plaid in cunning wise his part,
Beyond these two allusions we have no external evidence positive or negative to aid us in ascertaining the precise date when this comedy was written. We do not despair, however, of the first draft, like the Hamlet of 1603, turning up some day, and in the meantime shall not be far wrong if we assign its production to a period somewhere between 1587 and 1591.
FERDINAND, king of NAVARRE.
Moth, page to ARMADO.
Princess of FRANCE.
, Lords attending on the Princess ROSALINE, MERCADE, of FRANCE.
Maria, Ladies attending on the Princess. Don ADRIANO DE ARMADO, a Spaniard.
JAQUENETTA, a country wench.
Officers and others, attendant on the King and COSTARD, a clown.
* This list of characters was first printed by Rowe.