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know, in the twenty-third novel of Massucio's collection, pub. lished at Naples in 1476.* But Da Porto's narrative in which the Capelletti and Montecchi first appear; in which Verona is first made the scene, and its civil broils the disastrous element, of the tragedy; in which the lovers are first called Romeo and Giulietta, and have their first meeting at a feast given by Giulietta's father, their second in his garden, and their last in the tomb of her ancestors; and in which Mercutio, Tibaldo, and the Nurse first take part in the action is justly regarded as the original relation of what the whole world knows as the story of Romeo and Juliet. That narrative corresponds with Shakespeare's play, except as to the catastrophe, in which Da Porto represents Juliet as waking from her trance before the death of Romeo.
But Shakespeare did not go to Da Porto for his story. After his usual manner, he took what lay nearer at hand. The loves of Romeo and Juliet, with their tragic end, as Da Porto had related them, were retold by Matteo Bandello in the ninth novel of the second part of his collection, published in 1554; † and Bandello's version was translated into French (with a variation in the catastrophe before alluded to, and of which more hereafter) by Pierre Boisteau, whose translation forms a part of a book known as Belleforest's Histoires Tragiques. Boisteau's French version was translated into English, and published by William Paynter as part of the second volume of his Palace of Pleasure, which appeared in 1567. Five years previous to this date, however, the story of Romeo and Juliet had been given to the English public in the form of a poem by Arthur Brooke.§
* See Dunlop's History of Fiction, Vol. II. p. 93, Philad. ed. I cannot regard Douce's endeavor (Illustrations of Shakespeare, Vol. II. p. 108) to trace this story to the Greek romance of Xenophon of Ephesus as other than an ingenious perversion of recondite learning.
"La prima (la seconda et la terza) parte de le novelle del Bandello. Lucca, per il Burdrago." 1554. 3 vols. 4to.
That Paynter translated the translation of Boisteau I am able to state only on the authority of Steevens' assertion, repeated by Malone and Mr. Collier. For, although Masuccio's, Da Porto's, and Bandello's novels are at my hand, I have not met with a copy of Belleforest's Histoires Tragiques; and I can find no notice of its publication at an earlier date than 1580, under the following title: "Histoires tragiques extraites des œuvres italiennes de Bandel, et mises en langue françoise; les six 1res par P. Boiastuau surnommé Launay, et les suivantes par Fr. de Belleforest. Paris, Jean de Bordeaux. 1580." 7 vols. 16mo. Unless there was an earlier edition either of Belleforest's collection or Boisteau's six Histoires by themselves, (of which I can discover no evidence,) here is a conflict of dates.
"The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Iuliet, written first in Italian by
Brooke implies rather than asserts, in the title and in certain passages of his poem, that he made his translation from the Italian of Bandello. But the correspondence between the catastrophe of the story as he tells it and that of Boisteau's version, taken in connection with certain minute verbal resemblances which have been discovered between the two works, supports Malone's opinion that Brooke, like Paynter, translated from the French translation rather than the Italian original.
Upon these two English versions of this touching story, but chiefly upon Brooke's poem, the following tragedy is based, as all students of Shakespearian literature well know. It is possible that an English play founded upon the incidents of the Italian tale had been produced before the birth of Shakespeare.* For Brooke says, in the Address to the Reader which precedes his poem, "Though I saw the same argument lately set foorth on stage with more commendation then I can looke for: (being there much better set forth then I have or can dooe) yet the same matter, penned as it is, may serve to lyke good effect, if the readers do brynge with them lyke good myndes to consider it, which hath the more incouraged me to publishe it, such as it is. This seems to be a very unmistakable assertion that Brooke had seen a dramatic version of the story of Romeo and Juliet played. But yet, as Brooke has not stated in what country the play to which he refers was represented, it seems difficult to withhold assent from Boswell's remark that "the rude state of our drama prior to 1562 renders it improbable that it was in England." But, again, it must be confessed that the tone of Brooke's apology for his poem, and his assertion that he had seen its argument "lately set forth" upon the stage, seem to imply that the performance to which he refers took place in England, rather than beyond "the narrow seas." And this supposition is in accordance with the fact, to which there is abundant contemporary testimony, that the story of Romeo and Juliet was well known in England by the middle of the sixteenth century, and was even then a subject for illustration upon painted cloths. Be this as it may, there are sufficient grounds for the opinion, universally received among Shakespearian schol
Bandell, and nowe in Englishe by Ar. Br. In ædibus Richardi Tottelli. Cum Privilegio." 4to. 1562. Reprinted in Collier's Shakespeare's Library.
* See Walker's Historical Memoir on Italian Tragedy, p. 50, ed. 1799, for an account of one by Luigi Groto, with which the author supposes, on very slender grounds, that Shakespeare was acquainted.
ars, that Romeo and Juliet was not formed directly upon a play precedent to Brooke's poem and Paynter's tale, and that in the dramatization of the story the poem was preferred as a guide to the prose version in the Palace of Pleasure. This point Malone first established by the following comparison of correspondent passages, incidents, and characters in the tragedy, the prose tale, and the poem :—
"1. In the poem the prince of Verona is called Escalus; so also in the play. - In Painter's translation from Boisteau he is named Signor Escala; and sometimes Lord Bartholomew of Escala. 2. In Painter's novel the family of Romeo are called the Montesches; in the poem and in the play, the Montagues. 3. The messenger employed by friar Lawrence to carry a letter to Romeo to inform him when Juliet would awake from her trance is in Painter's translation called Anselmo: in the poem, and in the play, friar John is employed in this business. 4. The circumstance of Capulet's writing down the names of the guests whom he invites to supper is found in the poem and in the play, but is not mentioned by Painter, nor is it found in the original Italian novel. 5. The residence of the Capulets, in the original and in Painter, is called Villa Franca; in the poem and in the play, Freetown. 6. Several passages of Romeo and Juliet appear to have been formed on hints furnished by the poem, of which no traces are found either in Painter's novel, or in Boisteau, or the original; and several expressions are borrowed from thence.”
As to the construction of his tragedy, the characters and incidents, Shakespeare must have said to himself, like the greatest of his successors,
you writer of plays,
Here's a story made to your hand."
For the tragedy follows the poem with a faithfulness which might be called slavish, were it not that any variation from the course of the old story was entirely unnecessary for the sake of dramatic interest, and were there not shown in the progress of the action, in the modification of one character, and in the disposal of another, all peculiar to the play, self-reliant dramatic intuition of the highest order. For the rest, there is not a personage or a situation, hardly a speech, essential to Brooke's poem, which has not its counterpart — its exalted and glorified counterpart· in the tragedy. To mention every point of correspondence between the poem and the play, would be to recount here the entire progress of the story in both, accompanied by a
description of the characters: — a needless labor, since the parallel is so exact, even would it not require more space than can be given to it in these introductory remarks.* Suffice it here to observe, that in the poem we find even Romeo's invisible and soon-forgotten mistress, the remorseless Rosaline, though without her name; Friar Lawrence, addicted to study
"What force the stones, the plants and metals have to woorke And divers others things that in the bowels of the earth do loorke;" the Nurse, greedy, garrulous, gross, and faithless, just as we find her in the play; the Apothecary, whom, by "his heavy countenance," Romeo "gessed to be poore," "And in his shop he saw his boxes were but fewe And in his window of his wares there was so small a shewe;' Tibalt,best exercised in feates of armes ; " and even Friar John, who, seeking to be "accompanide by one of his profession," enters a house whence, to carry his brother Lawrence's letter to Romeo,
"he might not issue out agayne,
For that a brother of the house a day before or twayne
Dyed of the plague."
And not only have such minor characters and incidents of the play their germs or counterparts in the old story, but even such incidental passages as the soliloquy uttered by Juliet, terrorstricken at her imagination of what might await her in her kinsmen's vault if she should take the Friar's potion, and that other soliloquy, in which she so passionately calls on Night and Romeo to come to her. In brief, Romeo and Juliet owes to Shakespeare only its dramatic form and its poetic decoration. But what an exception is the latter! It is to say that the earth owes to the sun only its verdure and its flowers, the air only its perfume and its balm, the heavens only their azure and their glow. Yet this must not lead us to forget that the original tale is one of the most truthful and touching among the few that have entranced the ear and stirred the heart of the world for ages, or that in Shakespeare's transfiguration of it his fancy and his youthful fire had a much larger share than his philosophy or his imagination.
The only variations from the story in the play are the three which have just been alluded to. The compression of the action, which in the story occupies four or five months, to within
* The reader curious to see such a comparison will find it made in Skot towe's Life of Shakespeare; Enquiries, &c., London, 1824, Vol. I. p. 290 to p. 317
as many days, thus adding impetuosity to a passion which had only depth, and enhancing dramatic effect by quickening truth to vividness; the conversion of Mercutio from a mere "courtier," "bolde emong the bashfull maydes," "courteous of his speech and pleasant of devise," into that splendid union of the knight and the fine gentleman, in portraying which Shakespeare, with prophetic eye piercing a century, shows us the fire of faded chivalry expiring in a flash of wit; and the bringing in of Paris (forgotten in the story after his bridal disappointment) to die at Juliet's bier by the hand of Romeo, thus gathering together all the threads of this love entanglement to be cut at once by Fate.
The condition in which the text of Romeo and Juliet has come down to us brings up some very interesting questions. Like that of The Merry Wives of Windsor, Henry the Fifth, the Second and the Third Parts of Henry the Sixth, and Hamlet, it exists in two versions. The earlier of these is not only corrupt in itself and much briefer than the later, but has peculiarities which are due neither to corruption nor to accidental omission, and the variations from which in the later version are in many instances manifestly the result of the substitution of one text for another. A consideration of the relations, the authority, and the value of these two versions (the later of which comes to us under the authority of Shakespeare's fellow-actors) involves, therefore, an inquiry into the manner in which the earlier was published, the character of the difference between the two, and, it will be found, even the authorship of the play as it was first produced.
The first version was published in 1597: the second appeared in 1599, with the announcement that it was " newly corrected, augmented, and amended." The latter text was printed in at least three distinct editions before the appearance of the folio of 1623; and it is especially worthy of remark that neither on the title page of any one of these, nor on that of their predecessor, did Shakespeare's name appear, although in 1599 he was in high repute as a dramatic writer, and in 1598, if not before, this play was known to be his, as we learn from the often cited passage in Meres' Palladis Tamia, published in that year. The later version being nearly one fourth longer than the earlier, and it having been announced as "corrected, augmented, and amended,” the opinion naturally obtained that the difference between the two versions was due to a revision and elaboration of the play as at first written. This opinion has been generally supposed to be sustained by the manner in which the changes and even the