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CHRONOLOGY, CHARACTERISTICS OF MANNER, ETC.
NTIL within a few years, this comedy was considered as one of the latest, and even sometimes decidedly pronounced to be the very last, of its author's works. This opinion was founded partly on the conjectures of the critics of the last century, as to some supposed allusions to the events of King James's reign, in the dialogue; but, on the whole, it was rather assumed as a traditionary critical opinion than deduced from any clear show of presumptive proof. There was besides, formerly, no positive external evidence known for any other date. The play had appeared in print, for the first time, in the folio of 1623. It is there carefully printed, with the regular divisions into acts and scenes, (circumstances often more or less neglected in other plays in that volume,) and without any of those repetitions, or confusions of sense, which, in some other cases, have shown that the manuscript in the printers' hands had been altered or interlined, as if in a subsequent revision of scenes written during the author's earlier life. The entries of intended new publications in Stationers' Hall, and the record of the plays acted at court, which have often thrown light on the chronology of the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, contain no mention of TWELFTH NIGHT; nor is there any mention of it by any contemporary critic, nor any probable allusion to it in any other writer of the age. Thus the field was fairly open to critical acuteness and antiquarian research. Tyrwhitt, an ingenious and well-read commentator, supposed that Sir Toby's indignation at "undertakers" was a popular allusion to the political undertakers of James the First's time, who undertook to carry the measures of the court through parliament, by certain gentle appliances, similar to those familiar to the modern "lobby-members" of our own republica point of resemblance (by the way) of Old-England in the good old times with our age and country, which, like many others, may serve to attest the strong influence and effect of our Anglo-Saxon blood. If this allusion were really intended, the comedy must have been written after 1614, when this phrase of "undertakers" first came into use. Then there is a mention of the Sophy of Persia; and a passage (act iii. scene 2) in which the insolence of Sir Edward Coke, when attorney-general, in repeatedly thou-ing Sir Walter Raleigh on his trial, is assumed to have been meant to be rebuked. Upon such and similar very slight grounds of conjecture, Malone decided first that this play was written in 1614, and afterwards in 1607, while Chalmers maintained the date of 1613. This slender foundation for chronological conjecture, however, was thought sufficient authority for a pretty general acquiescence, for some years, in the opinion that the TWELFTH NIGHT was written after all the author's great tragedies, and as affording some indication of the author's temper and cast of mind in the later years of his life. Thus Schlegel adopted it so far as to build on it, half doubtingly, one of his ingenious and brilliant speculations. "If this (says he) were really the last work of Shakespeare, as is affirmed, he must have enjoyed to the last his youthfulness of mind, and have carried with him to his grave the fulness of his talents."
This observation, pleasing as the idea is in reference to the Poet himself, and in itself probably true in fact as to him, might yet, in the critical judgment it implies as to the comedy, have suggested doubts in regard to the date of composition thus assumed.
This comedy, with all its admirable points, and its delightful variety of poetic feeling and humorous invention, yet certainly has not those indications of the fulness of its author's talent which may be traced in his later works, even in those not of the highest comparative rank. After the succession of his great tragedies, OTHELLO, MACBETH, LEAR, including the deeper sentiment and sadder philosophy at that time infused into his before merely dramatic HAMLET, he seems to have written nothing which does not retain some trace, in thought and expression, of that storm-like inspiration which had thus swept over his mind. The poetry of the TWELFTH NIGHT is exquisite in fancy and feeling, but has none of that intense idiosyncrasy of thought and expression-that unparalleled fusion of the intellectual with the passionate-which discriminates the poetry of LEAR from that of the MERCHANT OF VENICE, not only in the general spirit, but in more transient images and phrases, and even single epithets. All this does not detract from the exquisite delicacy and grace of the poetic scenes of this comedy, but still it marks
that the very highest and most peculiar powers of the author's mind had not yet been so developed and made familiar by use, that his genius had become (as it did afterwards) wholly "indued unto that element."
Again: so far as "youthfulness of mind" is implied in the faculty of creating and depicting incidents or characters of the broadest humour, and the manifest self-enjoyment of the author himself in the exercise of that talent, this is displayed as much in Shakespeare's later works as in any of those of earlier date-as much in Autolycus as in Bottom. Yet it is very observable that in every one of his dramas known to have been written after he had acquired that cast of thought which at once led to the composition of his later tragedies, and was evolved and made habitual by their composition, the predominant tone is never that of festive enjoyment; but the bright flashes of gay invention seem always to illuminate a graver and sometimes a more gloomy back-ground.
The TWELFTH NIGHT is wholly pleasurable in its intent and in its feeling, the gay and the ludicrous predominating over and yet assimilating with its higher dramatic poetry; because the passion of that is not of strong emotion, but of fancy and sentiment. Thus its characters claim immediate brotherhood with that throng of comic inventions which seem to have been spontaneously developed in the Poet's mind between his thirtieth and fortieth year, amid the excitement and variety of a great city, when he probably mixed widely in various society, and enjoyed the passing scenes of "many-coloured life" with the joyous buoyancy of youth and health, and successful genius; at the same time that he scanned the foibles and caprices of his companions with an artist's eye.
I do not maintain that all these indications of the period of the author's life at which he wrote this agreeable and beautiful drama are so conclusive as alone to settle that question definitively; for the highest probabilities of this nature are often refuted by stubborn facts; but I am glad to find that this view of the subject, which appears to throw some light on the intellectual as well as the personal history of the great dramatist, is confirmed by the recently discovered evidence of facts. Mr. Collier first ascertained " that it was acted on the celebration of the Readers' Feast, at the Middle Temple, on Feb. 2, 1602. The fact of its performance we have on the evidence of an eye-witness, who seems to have been a barrister, and whose 'Diary,' in his own hand-writing, is preserved in the British Museum. The memorandum runs, literatim, as follows:
Feby. 2, 1601. At our feast we had a play called Twelve-Night, or What You Will, much like the comedy of errors, or Menechmi in Plautus, but most like and neere to that in Italian, called Inganni. A good practise in it to make the steward believe his lady widdowe was in love with him, by counterfayting a letter, as from his lady, in generall termes telling him what shee liked best in him, and prescribing his gestures, inscribing his apparaile, &c., and then when he came to practise, making him believe they tooke him to be mad.'
'This remarkable entry was pointed out in the 'History of English Dramatic Poetry and the Stage,' (1831;) and the Rev. Joseph Hunter, in his Disquisition on the TEMPEST,' (1839,) has ascertained that it was made by a person of the name of Manningham." Besides this date, we have also the fact that Meares, who was a personal friend of Shakespeare's, in the list of his plays, up to 1598, does not include this comedy. Moreover, the critical antiquarians have proved that it must have been written after the publication of the translation of Linschoten's "Voyages into the East and West Indies," to which only Maria's allusion (act ii. sc. 3) can be referred, where she says of Malvolio, "He does smile his face into more lines, than are in the new map, with the augmentation of the Indies." Malone could not ascertain the date of this map, but it is now known to have been published in 1598. Thus we may safely fix the date of this comedy about the year 1600 or 1601, and class it among the later productions of that period of Shakespeare's life when his mind most habitually revelled in humorous delineation, while his luxuriant fancy, turning aside from the sterner and painful passions, shed its gayest tints over innumerable forms of grace and beauty. He seems, by his title of the TWELFTH NIGHT, to apprise his audience of the general character of this agreeable and varied comedy-a notice intelligible enough at that time, and still not without its significance in a great part of Europe, though quite otherwise among our un-holiday-keeping people on this side of the Atlantic. The TWELFTH NIGHT (twelfth after Christmas) was, in the olden times, the season of universal festivity-of masques, pageants, feasts, and traditionary sports. This comedy then would not disappoint public expectation, when it was found to contain a delightful combination of the delicate fancy and romantic sentiment of the poetic masque, with a crowd of revelling, laughing, or laugh-creating personages, whose truth all would recognize, and whose spirit and fun no gravity could resist. He gave to these the revelling spirit, and the exaggeration of character necessary for the broadest comic effect, but still kept them from becoming mere buffoon masquers by a truth of portraiture which shows them all to be drawn from real life. Malvolio-the matchless Malvolio—was not only new in his day, to comic delineation of any sort, but I believe has never since had his fellow or his copy, in any succeeding play, poem, essay, or novel. The gravity, the acquirement, the real talent and accomplishment of the man, all made ludicrous, fantastical, and absurd, by his intense vanity, is as true a conception as it is original and droll, and its truth may still be frequently attested by actual comparison with real Malvolios, to be found everywhere, from humble domestic life up to the high places of learning, of the state, and even of the church. Sir Toby certainly comes out of the same associations where the Poet saw Falstaff hold his revels. He is not Sir John, nor a fainter sketch of him, yet with an odd sort of family likeness to him. Dryden and other dramatists have felicitated themselves upon success in grouping together their comic underplots with their more heroic personages. But here, all, grave and gay, the lovers, the laughers, and the laughed-at, are made to harmonize in one scene and one common purpose. I cannot help adding―though perhaps it may be a capricious over-refinement—that to my mind this comedy resembles MACBETH, in one of the marked characteristics of that great drama; appearing, like it, to have been struck out at a heat, as if the whole plot, its characters and dialogue, had presented themselves at
once, in one harmonious group, before the "mind's eye" of the Poet, previously to his actually commencing the formal business of writing, and bearing no indication either of an original groundwork of incident, afterwards enriched by the additions of a fuller mind, or of thoughts, situations, and characters accidentally suggested, or growing unexpectedly out of the story, as the author proceeded.
SOURCE OF THE PLOT AND CHARACTERS.
The Shakespearian critics of the present century have been very industrious in their endeavours to trace out the source of the plot of the TWELFTH NIGHT. I abridge, from Mr. Collier, the substance of their researches and discoveries. It is, however, very obvious that though there were several tales and plays founded on incidents similar to the story of Viola, yet Shakespeare has borrowed nothing from them of character, situation, or imagery, and is indeed in no way indebted to them, beyond the suggestion of the leading ideas of a resembling twin, brother and sister, their separation, and the heroine being disguised as a page, and living in the service of a prince whom she passionately loves, and who loves another. Several authors had used these materials, and he must have read all or most of them, so that the recollection of these incidents somewhat mingled with his own invention or adaptation of the main plot; but there is nothing in the comedy that looks at all like the adopting and translating any particular original, still less like compiling from more than one. There is no verbal trace of any obligation to any of them, such as have been pointed out in ROMEO AND JULIET to Brooke's poem, and such as in fact he never disdained to use whenever it would add to the effect of his work. But here he selected for the groundwork of his plot two or three incidents which he knew to be familiar and pleasing to his audience, and possessing a certain dramatic or romantic interest; and beyond this he owes nothing to those who had worked on the same materials.
"Several originals of TWELFTH NIGHT, in English, French, and Italian, have been pointed out, nearly all of them discovered within the present century. A voluminous and various author, of the name of Barnabe Rich, who had been brought up a soldier, published a volume, called Rich his Farewell to Military Profession,' without date, but between the years 1578 and 1581. It contains a novel entitled 'Apolonius and Silla,' which has many points of resemblance to Shakespeare's comedy. Rich derived his chief materials from the Italian of Bandello, or from the French of Belleforest. In Bandello it forms the thirty-sixth novel of the Seconda Parte, where it bears the subsequent title:- Nicuola, innamorata di Latantio, và à servirlo vestita da paggio; e dopo molti casi seco si marita; e ciò che ad un suo fratello avvenne.' In the collection by Belleforest, (Paris, 1572,) it is headed as follows:'Comme une fille Romaine, se vestant en page, servist long temps un sien amy sans estre cogneue, et depuis l'eust à mary, avec autres divers discours.' Belleforest adopts the names of Bandello, but abridges or omits many of the speeches and some portions of the narrative: what in Bandello occupies several pages is often included by Belleforest in a single paragraph.
"Upon the novel by Bandello two Italian plays were composed, which were printed, and have come down to our time. The title of one of these is given by Manningham, where he says that Shakespeare's TWELFTH NIGHT was 'most like and neere to that in Italian called Inganni.' It was first acted in 1547, and was printed in 1582, when it bore the title of Gl' Inganni Commedia del Signor N. S.' The other Italian drama, founded upon Bandello's novel, bears this title:- Gl' Ingannati Commedia degl' Accademici Intronati di Siena,' which was several times printed. Whether our great dramatist saw either of these pieces before he wrote his TWELFTH NIGHT, may admit of doubt. It might seem as if it were a matter understood, at the time TWELFTH NIGHT was acted at the Temple, on Feb. 2, 1602, that it was founded upon the Inganni.' There is no indication in the MS. Diary that the writer of it was versed in Italian literature, and 'Gl' Inganni' might at that day be a known comedy of which it was believed Shakespeare had availed himself.
"ToGl Ingannati,' as respects its similarity of construction with TWELFTH NIGHT, attention was first directed by the Rev. Joseph Hunter, in his 'Disquisition on Shakespeare's TEMPEST.' 'G' Ingannati' follows Bandello's novel with more exactness than 'G' Inganni,' though both change the names of the parties; and here we have the important feature that the heroine, called Lelia, (disguised as Fabio,) is a page to Flamminio, with whom she is in love, but who is in love with a lady named Isabella. Lelia, as in Shakespeare, is employed by Flamminio to forward his suit with Isabella.
"The likeness between Gl' Ingannati' and TWELFTH NIGHT is, in some points, stronger than that between 'G' Inganni' and Shakespeare's drama; but to neither can we say, with any degree of certainty, that our great dramatist resorted, although he had perhaps read both, when he was considering the best mode of adapting to the stage the incidents of Bandello's novel. There is no hint, in any source yet discovered, for the smallest portion of the comic business of TWELFTH NIGHT. In both the Italian dramas it is of the most homely and vulgar materials, by the intervention of empirics, braggarts, pedants, and servants, who deal in the coarsest jokes and the grossest buffoonery. Shakespeare shows his infinite superiority in each department: in the more serious portion of his drama he employed the incidents furnished by predecessors as the mere scaffolding for the erection of his own beautiful edifice; and for the comic scenes, combining so admirably with, and assisting so importantly in the progress of the main plot, he seems, as usual, to have drawn merely upon his own interminable resources.