Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

It is observed of The Tempest, that its plan is regular ; this the author of The ReVisaL thinks, what I think too, an accidental effect of the story, not intended or regarded by our author. But whatever might be Shakspeare's intention in forming or adopting the plot, he has made it instrumental to the production of many characters, diversified with boundless invention, and preserved with profound skill in nature, extensive knowledge of opinions, and accurate observation of life. In a single drama are here exhibited princes, courtiers, and sailors, all speaking in their real characters. There is the agency of airy spirits, and of an earthly goblin. The operations of magic, the tumults of a storm, the adventures of a desert island, the native effusion of untaught affection, the punishment of guilt, and the final happiness of the pair for whom our passions and reason are equally interested.

JOHNSON,

[merged small][graphic][ocr errors][ocr errors]

Valentine. Then know, that I have little wealth to lose.

Act iv. Sc. 1.

FROM THE CHISWICK PRESS.

1826.

Two Gentlemen of Werona.

PRELIMINARY REMARKS. This is one of Shakspeare's earliest if not his first play. It was not printed until 1623, but it is mentioned by Meres in his Wits’ Treasury, printed in 1598. It bears strong internal marks of an early composition. Pope has observed, that “ the style of this comedy is less figurative, and more natural and unaffected than the greater part of Shakspeare's, though supposed to be one of the first he wrote.” Malone is inclined to consider this to be in consequence of that very circumstance, and that it is natural and unaffected 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 plays of a still later period, is much more difficult and involved than in the productions of his youth.”

Hanmer thought Shakspeare had no other hand in this play than the enliveping it with some speeches and lines, which, le thinks, are easily distinguished from the rest. Upton peremptorily asserts, “ that if any proof can be drawn from manner and style, this play must be sent packing, and seek for its parent elsewhere." “ How otherwise,” says he, “ do painters distinguish copies from originals, and have not authors their peculiar style and manner, from which a true critic can form as unerring judgment as a painter?” To this Johnson replies very satisfactorily: “ I am afraid this illustration of a critic's science will not prove what is desired. A painter knows a copy from an original by rules somewhat resembling those by which critics know a translation, wbich, if it be literal, and literal it must be to resemble the copy of a picture, will be easily distinguished. Copies are known from originals, even when a painter copies his own pictare; so if an author should literally translate his work, he would lose the manner of an original. Upton confounds the copy of a picture with the imitation of a painter's manner. Copies are easily known; but good imitations are not detected with equal certainty, and are, by the best judges, often mistaken. Nor is it true that the writer has always peculiarities equally distinguishable with those of the painter. The peculiar manner of each arises from the desire, natural to every performer, of facilitating his subsequent work by recurrence to his former ideas; this recurrence produces that repetition which is called babit. The painter, whose work is partly intellectual and partly manual, has habits of the mind, the eye, and the hand; the writer has only habits of the mind. Yet some painters have differed as much from themselves as from any other; and I have been told, that there is little resemblance between the first works of Raphael and the last. The same variation may be expected in writers; and, if it be true, as it seems, that they are less subject to habit, the difference between their works may be yet greater.”

“But by the internal marks of composition we may discover the author with probability, though seldom with certainty. When I read this play, I cannot but think that I find both in the serious and ludicrous scenes, the language and sentiments of Shakspeare. It is not indeed one of his most powerful effusions; it has neither many diversities of character, nor striking delineation of life; but it abounds in yvouat beyond most of his plays, and few have more lines or passages which, singly considered, are eminently beautiful. I am yet inclined to believe that it was not very successful, and suspect that it has escaped corruption, only because, being seldom played, it was less exposed to the hazards of transcription.”

Pope has set what he calls a mark of reprobation upon the low and trifling conceits which are to be found in this play. It is true that the familiar scenes abound with quibbles and conceits; but the poet must not be condemned for adopting a mode of writing admired by his contemporaries; they were not considered low and trifling in Shakspeare's age, but on the contrary were very generally admired and allowed for pure and genuine wit. Yet some of these scenes have much farcical drollery and invention : that of Launce with his dog in the fourth act is an instance, and surely “ Speed's mode of proving his master to be in love is neither deficient in wit or sense.”

“ The tender scenes in this play, though not so highly wrought as in some others, have often much sweetness of sentiment and expression.” Schlegel says: “ it is as if the world was obliged to accommodate itself to a transient youthful caprice, called love." Julia may be considered a light sketch of the lovely characters of Viola and Imogen. Her answer to Lucetta's advice against following ber lover in disguise has been pointed out as a beautiful and highly poetical passage.

“ That it should ever have been a question whether this comedy were the genuine and entire composition of Shakspeare appears to me very extraordinary,” says Malone. “ Hanmer and Upton never seem to have considered whether it were his first or

« ZurückWeiter »