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of Ægeon touched with a discriminative hand, and the pressure of age and misfortune is so painted, as to throw a solemn, dignified, and impressive tone of colouring over this part of the fable, contrasting well with the lighter scenes which immediately follow,--a mode of relief which is again resorted to at the close of the drama, where the re-union of Ægeon and Æmilia, and the recognition of their children, produce an interest in the denouëment of a nature more affecting than the tone of the preceding scenes had taught us to expect.
“ As to the comic action which constitutes the chief bulk of this piece, if it be true, that, to excite laughter, awaken attention, and fix curiosity, be essential to its dramatic excellence, the Comedy of Errors cannot be pronounced an unsuccessful effort; both reader and spectator are hurried on to the close, through a series of thick-coming incidents, and under the pleasurable influence of novelty, expectation, and surprise ; and the dialogue is uniformly vivacious, pointed, and even effervescing. Shakspeare is visible, in fact, throughout the entire play, as well in the broad exuberance of its mirth, as in the cast of its more chastised parts,-a combination of which may be found in the punishment and character of Pinch, the pedagogue and conjuror, who is sketched in the strongest and most marked style of our author.
“ If we consider, therefore, the construction of the fable, the narrowness of its basis, and that its powers of entertainment are almost exclusively confined to a continued deception of the external senses, we must confess that Shakspeare has not only improved on the Plautian model, but, making allowance for a somewhat too coarse vein of humour, has given to his production all the interest and variety that the nature and the limits of his subject would permit.”—DRAKE.
“Shakespeare has in this piece presented us with a legitimate farce in exactest consonance with the philosophical principles and character of farce, as distinguished from comedy and from entertainments. A proper farce is mainly distinguished from comedy by the license allowed, and even required, in the fable, in order to produce strange and laughable situations. The story need not be probable, it is enough that it is possible. A comedy would scarcely allow even the two Antipholuses, because although there have been instances of almost undistinguishable likeness in two persons, yet these are mere individual antecedents, casus ludentis nature, and the verum will not excuse the inverisimile. But farce dares add the two Dromios, and is justified in so doing by the laws of its end and constitution. In a word, farces commence in a postulate which must be granted.”—COLERIDGE.
“The Comedy of Errors' is the subject of the Menachmi of Plautus, entirely recast and enriched with new developments. Of all works of Shakspeare this is the only example of imitation of, or borrowing from, the ancients. To the two twin brothers of the same name are added two slaves, also twins, impossible to be distinguished from each other, and of the same name. The improbability becomes by this means doubled; but when once we have lent ourselves to the first, which certainly borders on the incredible, we shall not perhaps be disposed to cavil at the second; and if the spectator is to be entertained by mere perplexities, they cannot be too much varied.
In short, this is perhaps the best of all written or possible Menæchmi; and if the piece be inferior in worth to other pieces of Shakspeare, it is merely because nothing more could be made of the materials.”—SCHLEGEL.
ROMEO AND JULIET.
The pathetic legend on which Shakespeare founded the plot of this beautiful tragedy has been cherished from time immemorial among the traditions of Italian history, although no such story has ever been discovered in the authentic records of any particular state. The Veronese, Lord Byron tells us, are tenacious to a degree of the truth of it, insisting on the fact, giving a date (1303), and showing the tomb. But this is only an instance of pardonable local vanity; no account exists of any actual Romeo and Juliet, but a tale more or less resembling that immortalized by our great dramatist may be found in several ancient writers. Mr. Douce has attempted to trace it to a Middle Greek author, one Xenophon Ephesius. The earliest writer, however, who set forth the romance in a connected narration is believed to be Masuccio di Salerno, in whose “Novellino," a collection of tales first printed at Naples in 1476, a similar event is recorded to have occurred, not at Verona, but in Sienna. He relates that in Sienna there lived a young man of good family, named Mariotto Mignanelli
, who was enamoured of a lady, Gianozza, and succeeded in engaging her affections ; some impediment standing in the way
of a public marriage, they are secretly united by an Augustine monk. Shortly after the ceremony, Mariotto has the misfortune to slay a fellow-citizen of rank in a street brawl, for which he is condemned by the Podesta to perpetual banishment. He obtains a farewell interview with his wife, and departs to Alexandria, where resides a rich uncle of his, Sir Nicolo Mignanelli. After the flight of Mariotto, Gianozza is pressed by her father to accept a husband whom he has found for her. Having no reason which she dare allege to oppose her parent's wishes, she pretends to consent, and then determines to escape the hated nuptials by an act as daring as it was extraordinary. She discloses her miserable situation to the monk who had married her to Mariotto, and bribes him to prepare a soporific powder, which, drunk in water, will throw her into a death-like trance for three days; she drinks the narcotic, is supposed to be dead, and in due time is interred by her friends in the church of St. Augustine. Before this, she had despatched a special messenger to Alexandria, apprising her husband of her determination ; but the messenger is unhappily seized by pirates, and her missive never reaches him; instead of it, he receives another letter written by his brother, informing him of her death and that of her father also, who had died of grief for the loss of his daughter. The wretched Mariotto resolves to return forthwith to Sienna, and die upon her tomb, or perish by the hand of justice. He is taken in an attempt to break
open the vault, and is condemned to death. Gianozza, in the meanwhile, recovers from her lethargy, disguises herself in man's apparel, and sets out for Alexandria in search of her banished husband; here she learns, to her dismay, that Mariotto, believing her dead, had departed for Sienna. She returns to that place, and, arriving just three days after his execution, dies of anguish and a broken heart.*
A story closely corresponding with this in the preliminary incidents, though varying in the catastrophe, is told by Luigi da Porto in his Novella, “ La Giulietta,” first published in 1535. “ Hystoria Novella mente Ritrovata di dui nobili Amanti: Con la loro Pietosa Morte: Intervenuta gia nella Citta di Verona Nel tempio del Signor Bartholomeo Scala.” Luigi, in his dedication to Madonna Lucina Savorgnana, pretends to have derived the legend from an archer of Verona, one Peregrino, who quotes as his authority for it a relation of his father's. In the narrative of Peregrino, we first meet with the families of Montague and Capulet in connexion with the story, which he relates to have occurred in Verona. The real or supposititious archer expresses doubts of the historical truth of the event, since he had read in some ancient chronicles that the Capelletti and Montecchi had always been of the same party.*
* "La donna no'l trova in Alesandria, ritorna a Siena, e trova l'amunto decolla e ella sopra il suo corpo per dolore si muore," are the words of the “ Argument;" but the novel itself she is said to retire to a monastery,-"Con in
tenso dolore e sanguinose lagrime con poco cibo e niente dormire, il suo' Mariotto di continovo chian do, in brevis simo tempo finì li suvi miserimi giorni."
In 1554, Bandello published at Lucca a novel on he same subject, which, like Da Porto, he says was related to him by one Peregrino. This was followed at a brief interval by another, in French, by Pierre Boisteau, founded on the narratives of Luigi da Porto and Bandello, but differing from them in many particulars. From the translation of Boisteau, the English versions of the tale-namely, the poem called “ The Tragical Historye of Romeus and Juliet,” (1562,) by Arthur Brooke, and the novel found in Paynter's “Palace of Pleasure," under the title of “ The goodly hystory of the true and constant love betweene Rhomeo and Julietta”. -were both derived; † and to these, more especially the poem, Shakespeare was certainly indebted, not for the story,—which seems to have been popular long before he adapted it for representation,—but for the names of his chief characters, and many of the incidents, and even expressions of his tragedy.
The first edition of “Romeo and Juliet” was printed by John Danter, in the year 1597, with the title of “ An excellent conceited tragedie of Romeo and Juliet. As it hath been often (with great applause) plaid publiquely, by the right honourable the L. of Hunsdon his Seruants."
The second edition was printed by Thomas Creede, for Cuthbert Burby, in 1599, and is entitled “ The most excellent and lamentable Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet ; Newly corrected, augmented, and amended : As it hath been sundry times publiquely acted, by the right Honourable the Lord Chamberlaine his Seruants."
The two remaining editions, published before the folio collection of 1623, are a quarto printed in 1609, and another without date, both by the same publisher, John Smethwicke.
The first two of these editions are extremely rare and valuable; and there is every reason to conclude that the numerous corrections and amplifications in that of 1599 are exclusively Shakespeare's own, since the former evince the judgment and tact of the master, and the latter comprise some of the finest passages in the play. But a correct copy of the text can only be obtained by a collation of both these editions, as the first is free from certain typographical errors which disfigure and obscure the second, and vice versâ. The subsequent copies are all founded on the quarto, 1599, and contain but few deviations from its text.
As Shakespeare was only thirty-three years of age when this play was first published, it must obviously rank among his early productions. But the date of publication is no criterion to determine the period when it was written, or when it was first performed. The words on the titlepage of the first edition, “ As it hath been often (with great applause) plaid publiquely, by the right honourable the L. of Hunsdon his Seruants,” Malone considers proof that the play was first acted in 1596, because Henry, Lord Hunsdon, who held the office of Lord Chamberlain, died in that year, and his son George, Lord Hunsdon, only succeeded to the office in April, 1597. He is of opinion that the actors would only have designated themselves “ Lord Hunsdon's servants” during the interval of these dates, because they would have been called “ The Lord Chamberlain's servants” at a time when the office was really held by their noble patron. This argument, Mr. Knight remarks, is no doubt decisive as to the play being performed before George, Lord Hunsdon ; but it is not in any degree decisive as to the play not having been performed without the advantage of this nobleman's patronage. Chalmers assigns its composition to the spring of 1592; and Drake places it a year later. The belief in its production at an earlier period than that ascribed by Malone, is strengthened by the indications
* This accords with a passage in Dante (Purgatorio, c. vi.), where the poet, reproaching “ Alberto Tedesco," the German emperor Albert, for his treatment of Italy, exclaims:
“ Vieni a veder Montecchi e Capelletti, Monaldi e Fillippeschi, uom senza cura!
Color già tristi e costor con sospetti." Which Cary renders :
“Come, see the Capulets and Montagues,
The Fillippeschi and Monaldi, man
+ The story must have been eminently popular all over Europe from an early period. It forms the subject of a Spanish play by Lopez de Vega, entitled "Los Castelvies y Monteses," and another by Don Francisco de Roxas, under the name of “Los Vandos de Verona.” In Italy, so early as 1578, it had been adapted to the stage by Luigi Groto, under the title of “Hadriana;" and Arthur Brooke, in the preface to the poem above mentioned, speaks of having seen "the same argument lately set forth on stage with more commendation than I can looke for (being there much better set forth then I have or can dooe): an allusion most probably to some representation of it abroad, for the rude condition of our drama at the time, renders it unlikely that he should refer to any play of the kind performed in this country.