« ZurückWeiter »
VI. ROMEO AND JULIET.—This tragedy was taken from Brooke's poem of Romeus and Juliet, and from a translation of Bandello's tale, in Paynter's Palace of Pleasure ; not from the poem alone, which has been remarked by others, and farther explained by Mr. Skottowe. After its first appearance, it received many amendments from the author's hand.
No deviation from the originals is extraordinary, except that which represents Juliet “ not yet fourteen.” It cannot be understood. I have indeed a guess at the cause, which will seem ridiculous, but it is possible ;-the extreme youth was, at the time, an apology to the audience for the boy who played so arduous a part. An alteration in the text may here be admissible, but in no other word, however it may be curtailed for the better in representation.
Nothing on the stage has offended me more, where our poet has been concerned, than the daring innovation at the deaths of the two lovers. Garrick, I believe, was the contriver; and he has been praised for the unworthy task. Mr. Skottowe, not confining himself to inquiries into the originality of Shakespeare's dramatic plots and characters, where he has proved himself an adept, ventures to say,_" The concluding circumstances of the Italian novel are infinitely more affecting, and better calculated for dramatic effect, than those of Shakespeare, who was misled in this important particular by the English versions of the story.” Now, with all due respect for the opinion of Mr. Skottowe, and of others, I beg leave to affirm that our poet was, as usual, in the right.
He had the Italian and the English version of the concluding scene before him, and he chose to follow the latter, which makes Romeo die before the waking of Juliet. To do otherwise would, I contend, have been against his own good feeling, and most likely against that of his audience. It is true, our ancestors were accustomed to scenes of physical horror on the stage, and mental horror also, when the consequence of evil; but I question if their good feeling would have endured the sight of two young guiltless creatures suffering the most excruciating mental torments. No, though death was dealt out with an unsparing hand in their tragedies, agony of mind, during a human being's last moments, was reserved to Othello in his remorse, or to the atrocious Cardinal Beaufort on his death-bed. Even Lear, in his bitter pang before he dies, justly suffers for the injury he had committed towards Cordelia. An actor and actress may rejoice in the opportunity given to them of struggling, screaming, and groaning, and in the frantic, though ill-written speeches assigned to them; but their rejoicing ought not to be our pain. Had Shakespeare chosen to write such a scene, the effect, from its truth to nature, would have been too intense to be witnessed. As it is, the rodomontade is offensive in two ways: one as being an ignorant caricature; the other, as intruding on our better thoughts the possibility of so unalloyed and so unmerited a horror.
If any particular moral is to be drawn, it must be from the punishment of the two rancorous fathers, with their only son and daughter dead at their feet. Shakespeare has throughout described Romeo and
Juliet as objects of envy, rather than of compassion. The charm of their love extends to our own breasts. In spite of the conscious drawbacks that may exist within us, we listen to them, hoping that we may feel, or wishing that we had felt, so pure a passion. As with most of Shakespeare's characters, we are the creatures he represents, we are Romeo or Juliet while we read. Though quickly followed by misfortune and death, we partake of their transport, think it purchased cheaply, and would undergo ten times as much to be enabled to love and be beloved with so much purity. Their joy, short as it is in counted time, surpasses that of the most lengthened lives of common mortals.
Happiness in this excess cannot endure; it must be extinguished, or, I should say, made immortal by death; not sullied, or possibly destroyed, by indifference, or worldly experience. Our imaginations are insulted at the supposition of a Romeo and Juliet being married, and living happy ever after,-at least in this world. But in the necessity for their death, as Shakespeare had sublimated their nature, he shrunk from the Italian authority for putting them to the torture ; he would not for a moment bereave them of their happiness, but he made them die for each other gladly. Misfortune to them was nothing in comparison with their true passion; whatever they had suffered, it was a suffering for each other, therefore a delight. They kill themselves with scarcely less joy than when they met in the friar's cell to be joined together. Romeo calmly drinks the poison with, “ Here's to my love !” welcomes the touch of death,
and “ Thus with a kiss I die!" Juliet, awakening, finds him dead, kisses his lips, and calls the dagger “ happy," with which she kills herself to follow him. Poison and the dagger are nothing; the end is peace.
VII. Love's LABOUR Lost. - Whether this comedy was ever popular, or merely admired by the few, may be doubted; but it was formed to be acceptable to the gentry of the time; and it was played before the Queen, with additions to its first appearance. This fact may account for the unequal division of the acts. It is a comedy of conversation, and exhibits every mode of speech, from ignorance, pedantry, and affected euphony, up to elegant discourse, and the grandest eloquence.
Hazlitt did not study all Shakespeare's works, or he did not discern all his qualities. He says: “ Still we have some objections to the style, which we think savours more of the pedantic spirit of Shakespeare's time, than of his own genius; more of controversial divinity, and the logic of Peter Lombard, than of the inspiration of the muse. It transports us quite as much to the manners of the court, and the quirks of courts of law, as to the scenes of nature, or the fairyland of his own imagination. Shakespeare has set himself to imitate the tone of polite conversation then prevailing among the fair, the witty, and the learned; and he has imitated it but too faithfully. It is as if the hand of Titian had been employed to give grace to the curls of a full-bottomed periwig, or Raphael had attempted to give expression to the tapestry figures in the House of Lords. Shakespeare has put
an excellent description of this fashionable jargon into the mouth of the critical Holofernes, as too picked, too spruce, too affected—too odd, as it were, too peregrinate, as I may call it; and nothing can be more marked than the difference when he breaks loose from the trammels he had imposed on himself, s as light as bird from brake,' and speaks in his own person."
Now this seems to have been written without a suspicion that our poet's purpose, in his imitations, was satire. As such it must have been understood in his day, and keenly so; and it is our business to understand it in the same way, or confine ourselves to those passages of elegant language and eloquence, which he has brought forward as contrasts to the rest.
So completely is this a comedy of conversation, that majesty itself is a companionable gentleman; and we mix among the groups of lords and ladies, or with Costard and Holofernes, finding ourselves equally at home. We are carried back to the days of Elizabeth, when knights thought more of poetry than a tournament—when they had not long fallen in love with the alphabet; and, in compliment to their modern Dulcinea, were careful not to speak without proving that they had “ fed of the dainties that are bred in a book.”
Objections are made to the poverty of the fable, and to the want of invention in its management. But the author would have defeated his own purpose, had he admitted an intricacy of plot, or placed his characters in situations to call forth the stronger