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mayster of her Majestie's revels,' and printed in the year 1570. The story was popular with our ancestors, and appeared again, somewhat changed in fashion, in the Admirable and Memorable Histories of E. Grimstone, in 1607."
The story of Romeo and Juliet, (which made its appearance in 1596,).
" Originated with the Neapolitan Massuccio, who flourished about 1470. From his thirty-third novel it was copied by Luigi da Porto, a gentleman of Vicenza, who published it under the title of La Guilietta, in 1535, Bandello has a novel on the subject, and the tale is clad in the garb of truth by its insertion in the History of Venice, by Girolamo de la Corte. The tale of the lovers, varied from its Italian origin, appeared in a French novel, by Pierre Boisteau; and in 1562 it found its way from the French, with considerable alterations and large additions, into an English poem of four thousand tedious lines, by Mr. Arthur Brooke, under the title of “The Tragicall Hystory of Romeus avd Juliet, containing a rare Example of true Constancie: with the subtill Counsels and Practices of an Old Fryer, and their ill event.' Another translation from the French of Boisteau was made in prose by William Painter, and published in his · Palace of Pleasure' in 1567, as Rhomeo and Julietta.' It appears also that a play on the subject was exhibited on the stage even before the publication of Brooke's poem.”
"No personage in the play is so distinguished for perfect distinctness and individuality as Mercutio, and Mercutio is the indisputable property of the dramatist. The name, indeed, is met with in the poem, and the description of him as
•A courtier that eche where was highly had in price,
Such was among the bashful maids Mercutio to behold,' may be allowed to have furnished a leading idea for the delineation of his character, But Mercutio, the gallant and the gay, is to be met with no where but in the scenes of Shakspeare."
The Merchant of Venice—(1597.)
“The plot comprises the main incident of the bond, the auxiliary circumstance of the caskets, and the episode of the loves of Lorenzo and Jessica ; all unconnected by any natural association, and deducible from entirely separate sources.
“ The story of the bond bears every stamp of oriental origin, and is still extant in the Persian language. So early as the fourteenth century it made its appearance in Europe in a work called Il Pecorone, by Ser Giovanni, a Florentine novelist; and before the close of the sixteenth century it had found its way into various collections of romantic
The dramatist, however, derived his materials, though probably indirectly, from the Pecorone.
“ The incident of the caskets, in the seventh scene of the second act, is
borrowed from the English Gesta Romanorum, a collection of tales in the highest estimation with our story-loving ancestors."
“The third plot in the drama,—the love of Jessica and Lorenzo,-bears a great resemblance to the 14th tale of Massuccio di Salerno, who flourished about 1470."
“ In the novel, the improbability of a lady possessing so large a portion of legal acumen as the judgment on the Jew's case implies, is not disguised by any artifice. In the play, the objection is skilfully removed, by making Portia consult an eminent lawyer, Bellario, and act under his advice."
The plot of the beautiful and romantic comedy of As You Like It, (produced in 1599,) we are informed was copied by Sbakspeare from Lodge's Rosalynd, or Euphues' Golden Legacye.
“This story is told by Lodge with prolixity the most exhausting, and pedantry and conceit perfectly insufferable. The style is stilted and inflated; the thoughts unnatural, and the sentiments affected. With a depravity of taste common to the age in which he lived, he thought more of the display of his own learning than of beauty and simplicity in the style of his narrative, and his ladies quote Latin with the glibness of pedagogues.
Such was the work selected by Shakspeare for the foundation of As You Like It, and the use he made of it demonstrates both the force of his genius and the delicacy of his taste. He seized the romantic character of a tale in which nobles lived, like the old Robin Hood of England, and fleeted the time carelessly, as they did in the golden world;' he embellished it with all the bewitching graces of his own poetic pen, and enriched it with the high-toned observations of his masculine understanding. Some few thoughts and expressions he adopted from Lodge into the dialogue and songs of his drama; but he entirely discarded the hyperbolical cast of feeling and taffeta phrases that pervade the novel, and substituted in their stead a strain of poetry and sentiment beautifully romantic and harmonious.
“ There is weight and dignity about the play of As You Like It, altogether unusual in comedy, for which it appears principally indebted to the presence of the moralising Jaques, whose character is not only conceived with felicity, but is, throughout, supported with vigour, and managed with inimitable tact. It may be partly accounted for on the principle of contrast, that the sombre reflections of Jaques heighten, rather than detract from, the effect of the high-wrought comedy of the play. But the cause of a result so unexpected, from a combination so unusual, lays somewhat more remote. It is to be found in that perfect harmony which the genius of Shakspeare established between the two distinct features of his subject. Had Jaques taken a saturnine view of the vices and follies of mankind, the spirit of comedy would have been damped by the gloom of his misanthropy. But the better feelings of humanity predominate in his bosomn, and he never gives utterance to a sentiment which loses not its asperity in the dry humour or good-natured badinage which accompanies it. Nor is even the romantic character of this beautiful drama injured by the introduction of the sententious sage. With equal taste and judgment it is provided, that the deep recesses of the forest, and the
oak, whose antique root peeps out
Upon the brook that brawls along the wood,' should be the scenes whence Jaques inculcated his lessons of philosophy and morality.”
Much Ado about Nothing-(1600.)
“The principal incident of this comedy of wit and taste, may be traced to a period as early as the date of the Spanish romance, Tirante the White, composed in the dialect of Catalonia, about the year 1400. In the fifth canto of the Orlando Furioso, the same story is also to be found; and from that poem it was copied by the Italian novelist, Bandello, who made it the subject of the twenty-second fable of the first part of his work."
“The story of Bandello probably reached Shakspeare through the medium of the Cent Histories Tragiques, a compilation from tragical writers, published by Belleforest in 1583, and translated into English shortly afterwards.”
“It is neither in the management of the plot, which he derived from the Italian novelist, nor in the delineation of its necessary characters, that the merit of this elegant comedy is comprised. Benedick and Beatrice constitute its real claim to admiration. Scarcely in any way connected with the main incident, and in no shape existing in the original, they form the peculiar charm of the play. They are alike in disposition and mind, and that very similarity is ingeniously made the foundation of an avowed hostility between them, which expresses itself in agreeable, yet pointed raillery.
Benedick and Beatrice are the pure and beautiful productions of Shakspeare's imagination. He first conceived and gave a faint sketch of their characters in Love's Labour's Lost. In Much Ado About Nothing, they are expanded into finished portraits, and launched into a new scene of acțion, of which he himself was the entire inventor. It is not often that Shakspeare appears as the constructor of his dramatic incidents. The plot on the two marriage haters is ingeniously conceived and executed; and the characters of the parties being as similar as is consistent with the difference of sex, the practice of the same mode of deception on each of them is highly, natural and humorous.
Regarding Hamlet, (1600), we are presented with the following statement :
«The French novelist, Belleforest, extracted from Saxo Gramma. ticus' History of Denmark the history of Amleth, and inserted it in the collection of novels published by him in the latter half of the sixteenth century; whence it was transfused into English, under the title of · The Hystorie of Hamblett,' a small quarto volume printed in black-letter
“The history of Hamlet also formed the subject of a play which was
acted previous to 1589; and arguing from the general course of Shakspeare's mind, that play influenced him during the composition of his own Hamlet. But unfortunately the old play is lost, and the only remaining subject for illustration is the black-letter quarto.
Shakspeare has not marked by a very broad distinction the assumed from the natural disposition of Hamlet; and hence arises an obscurity, which reference to the black-letter history, will greatly contribute to remove. A satisfactory solution of the difficulty of reconciling Hamlet's treatment of Ophelia with our conceptions of his character, will be derived from the history. The Hystorie of Hamlet assigns rational motives for actions otherwise unintelligible. The mere existence of Polonius may be traced in the history, but beyond that the poet was not indebted for the delineation of a character which is original in conception and excellent in execution. The prototype of Ophelia is also to be found in the history, but it furnished only a hint.
The Merry Wives of Windsor stands next in order (1601). The plot was formed, it seems, on a story in Il Pecorone di Ser Giovanni, Fiorentino, which reached Shakspeare through the medium of an old translation; the saine, in all probability, that was afterwards printed in a collection of novels bearing the title of The Fortunate, the Deceived, and the Unfortunate Lovers. The story is a real, the play a mock, affair of gallantry. From the novel, Shakspeare derived nothing to assist him in the formation of his characters, and it was in this, the chief excellence of dramatic composition, that the bard so wonderfully excelled all other writers.
Caxton's Recuyel, and Chaucer's “Booke of Troilus and Creseide,” were the chief materials, it appears, used by Shakspeare in the construction of Troilus and Cressida (1602). There is also to be traced the influence of some portions of Homer's Iliad, which appeared in English before the play.
From a novel of Cinthio's, Shakspeare had been erroneously supposed to have derived his plot of “Measure for Measure, (1603). But our author refers us to the play of Promos and Cassandra, which bad appeared in 1578, by George Whetstone. The stories of Whetstone and Cinthio do not coincide in several particulars, and the drama follows the deviation of Whetstone. There are passages also in the latter, which are very closely paralleled by Shakspeare; and, on the whole, the evidence appears very conclusive in favour of the author's opinion.
Othello (1604,) was founded on the seventh novel of the third decade of Cinthjo's Hecatommithi. There are many striking accordances, but some dissimilarities, between the tale and the play. The motives of Iago are not the same
VOL. I. PART II.
in each, nor the plans he adopted to execute his design. The Iago of Shakspeare is distinguished by far higher ingenuity than the lieutenant of the novel; this appears conspicuously in the dialogue. The incidents are chiefly borrowed, but the catastrophe is different. The Moor of Cinthio, as well as the hapless heroine, are far inferior to the characters presented by the bard. “All the passion, all the mind of the play, are Shakspeare's.”
King Lear. (1605.)
“The story of Lear and his daughters is to be met with in many national repositories of romantic fiction. Geoffrey of Monmouth gave the tale an English character and English names. In this instance, Holinshed was the faithful transcriber of Geoffrey; and Holinshed was constantly in Shakspeare's hands.
“ Camden is, likewise, a brief narrator of the history, and from him Shakspeare gleaned an incident which will be mentioned in its proper place,
- But more numerous than to all other sources combined were the obligations of Shakspeare to a drama entitled, "The True Chronicle History of King Leir and His Three Daughters, Gonorill, Ragan, and Cordella,' a work which must, in fact, be considered as the foundation stone of the bard's performance." To these materials must be added the Arcadia of Sir Philip Sidney.
All's Well that End's Well, (1606), was supposed by Dr. Farmer to have been sometimes called Love's Labour Wonne. The plot is traced to Boccacio, but Shakspeare received it from the thirty-eighth novel in the first volume of Painter's Palace of Pleasure, entitled Giletta of Narbona. Minute and unimportant circumstances, as well as leading features, are copied by Shakspeare.
“The comic scenes, and the general graceful ease and fluency of its diction, give an air of lightness and variety to the play that are wanting in the novel. The mere story is not productive of more effect in one than in the other, and the drama makes no pretensions to rank in the rst order of excellence. But a alue is conferred upon Shakspeare's performance beyond its dramatic merit, by its being the repository of much sententious wisdom, and numerous passages of remarkable elegance. A single speech of the king may be referred to as an instance of both,* and Helena's description of her hopeless passion may be selected as exquisitély beautiful.”+
The incidents in Macbeth (1606), are derived from Holinshed's Chronicle of Scotland; but the tragedy deviates from the record, in order to reflect lustre upon the hero. The chronicle merely relates that Macbeth slew the King at
It much repairs me
Act I. sc. 3.