Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub
[graphic]

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS

CHRONOLOGY, PECULIAR CONNECTION

WITH SHAKESPEARE's CHANGE OF STYLE AND OF CAST OF THOUGHT, STATE OF THE TEXT, ETC. HIS comedy—if indeed it can be properly called a comedy-was first printed in the folio collection of 1623. It differs, in so marked a manner, in diction, versification, and still more in general spirit and tone of sentiment, from its author's other comedies, and, indeed, from all his works known to have been written before be drew nigh to his fortieth year, that the precise date of its composition, and the probable reasons of this variation of manner, have naturally become subjects of interesting examination and critical controversy. No mention of this play, or allusion to it, has been found in any contemporary writer; and, until recently, no external evidence was discovered of any date at which it had been acted. It was only known that it was not to be classed among the dramas by which, before his thirty-fifth year, the author had established his dramatic fame.

The mere matter-of-fact and unphilosophical commentators, as Malone and Chalmers, attempted to ascertain the date from several supposed allusions to incidents

of the first years of the reign of James I., such as the war with Spain, referred to (says Malone) in the “Heaven grant us peace!" in the street conversation of act i. scene 2—the "sweat,” meaning the plague, or sweating-sickness, of that period—the mention of the young rakes in prison, for stabbing, as al. luding to the statute against stabbing, enacted in the first year of James I.—“the plucking down the houses in the suburbs," as suggested by the absurd proclamation of 1604 against the further increase of London—and others, some slight and doubtful, and all of them quite inconclusive. By far the most probable of them are those passages insisted on as alluding to and excusing the king's dislike of exhibiting his ungainly presence to the crowds who welcomed him on his first progress from Scotland to take possession of his English throne. “I love the people," says the duke

But do not like to stage me to their eyes. and again,

and even so
The general, subject to a well-wish'd King,
Quit their own part, and in obsequious fondness
Crowd to his presence, where their untaught love

Must needs appear offence.
Upon which Stevens quotes a passage from “ A True Narration of the Entertainment” of the king on his way from
Edinburgh to London, (1608,) where, it is said, “ he was faine to publish an inhibition against the inordinate and
dayly accesse of people comming." Upon such arguments, the English editors of the last generation decided
MEASURE FOR MEASURE to have been written in 1603 or 1604, and certainly before 1607.

On the other hand, Tieck, the very original and acute German translator, arguing from higher principles of taste and criticism, was led to assign this drama to a later time, as the production certainly of some one of the last years of the author's life, and probably his very last work. This is concurred in by Ulrici, Knight, and other critics of the same school of philosophical, though it may sometimes be over-refined speculation. This opinion naturally resulted from the very probable supposition that the great Poet's more striking peculiarities of style increased progressively with use and habit, while the advance of age, and the sadder experience of man, which years bring with them, cast, in each successive period, a "browner horror" over his views of life. Adopting this principle, none could hesitate to place MEASURE FOR MEASURE, with Tieck and Knight, among its author's “latest labours ;" and the question of its real date thus assumes an interest far beyond that of mere antiquarian inquiry, from the theory it thus involves of the intellectual and moral history of one of the greatest of human spirits. The date and the theory connected with it are probable enough in themselves, and the only weighty critical objection to them is, that this drama, in those very characteristics on which the theory is founded, most resembles Othello, LEAR, the revised Hamlet, and in general those tragedies known to have been written between 1602 and 1607 ; while, on the contrary, its tone and fancy are entirely dissimilar from the pastoral beauties of the WINTER's Tale, with the sprightliness of its gayer scenes, or the spirit of cheerful enjoyment which breathes in the mountain scenes of CYMBELINE, both of them known to belong to a later period than that of LEAR.

But a recent antiquarian discovery has unexpectedly confirmed the fainter probabilities collected by the duller editors, and completely established the date of Malone and his fellows against the authority and argument of the later and better critics. We now know that MEASURE FOR MEASURE was acted at court on the 26th December, 1604. This fact (Mr. Collier informs us) is stated in Edmund Tylney's account of the expenses of the revels," from October, 1604, to the same date in 1605, preserved in the Audit Office. The original memorandum of the Master of the Revels runs thus :—“By his Ma'tis Plaiers. On St. Stevens night, in the Hall, a play called Mesur for Mesur.” In a column of the same entries, headed, “The poets which mayd the Plaies," the name of “Shaxberd" is written—a mode of misspelling the Poet's name, which occurs in several other instances. The Master of the Revels, when he made this careless entry in his record of courtly amusements, could bave liitle dreamed that he himself and the pleasures of his royal master would be remembered and recorded in after ages. and on other continents, only for their accidental connection with a minute circumstance in the biography of the dramatist, whose very name he did not condescend to take the pains to ascertain correctly.

This direct and positive evidence, combined with those slighter indications of date which had been before col lected—at least those of them which are not altogether trifling and fanciful, and supported by the comparison I have above suggested, of the internal indications of style and spirit with those of Shakespeare's other dramas which are known to have first appeared not long after the date of this representation at court-leave no room to doubt that MEASURE for MEASURE was written not very long from the time to which Mr. Collier has assigned it“either at the close of 1603, or in the beginning of 1604."

This places this remarkable drama at the commencement of that portion of the author's life, from 1002 to 1609. which was memorable for the production of OTHELLO, with all its bitter passion ; the additions to the original Hamlet, with their melancholy wisdom; probably of Timon, with his indignant and hearty scorn, and rebukes of the baseness of civilized society; and above all of Lear, with its dark pictures of unmixed, unmitigated guilt, and its terrible and prophet-like denunciations. Like all these, and perhaps more than any of them, it bears the stamp of that period of the author's life, first noted by Hallam, to which the reader's attention has been already called, in the Introductory Remarks on As You Like It—when some sad influence weighed upon the Poet's spirit, and prompted him constantly to appear as “the stern censurer of man.” I see no reason to doubt that this did not arise merely from a change of taste, or an experiment in dramatic art, but was, in some manner, connected with events or circumstances personal to the author, and affecting his temper, disposition, and moral associations of thought. There is no part of the author's own practical philosophy more true than that “a man's mind is parcel of his fortunes." He does not, indeed, like Milton, or Rousseau, or Byron, delight to make himself the prominent figure in all his intellectual creations; yet these are not the less evidently coloured by the varying moodi predominant, from time to time, during the changes of life. Few men could have more enjoyed life, or have more intensely relished the beautiful or the pleasurable, or more revelled in the ludicrous and the fantastical, than the author of that gay and bright succession of poetic comedies, from Love's Labour's Lost to As You Like It and the Twelfth Night. How striking is the contrast, in this respect, between these, and especially between the last—and to my taste the most delightful of all, and the MEASURE FOR MEASURE, austere in its ethical poetry, and sarcastic in its humorous delineations !-or between this last and the Merchant of Venice, where the same topics are often enforced, the same train of thought and even of imagery introduced! They are the same, yet how different—like the same landscape seen in the sparkling sunshine, after a vernal rain, and again under a lowering wintry sky! The cause must remain in darkness, but, to my mind, it appears manifest that the effect was not the result merely of altering taste or ripening judgment. * Samson Agonistes" does not more strongly testify to some great and overwhelming physical and political revolution prostrating and fettering the intellectual giant, in body and mind, than this play and the nearly contemporary writings of its author do to some similar moral cause, or some external calamity of life acting upon the moral faculties, and producing new combinations and results in Shakespeare's moral anatomy of the human heart. It may have been some deep wound of the affections, some repeated evidence of man's ingratitude and heartlessness-possibly some mere personal calamity,-bringing home to the brilliant and successful man of genius the living sense of the world's worthlessness, and opening to his sight the mysterious evil of his own nature.

Whatever, then, may have been the immediate and external causes of this signal intellectual phenomenon in our literary history, it is undeniable that this drama of MEASURE FOR MEASURE specially marks the period of this great climacteric of Shakespeare's genius, resembling those climacterics of the body which, according to the old notions of philosophy or superstition, come in their regular periods over man, working a strange alteration in the functions of his body, as different planets succeed with new influences to rule his mind and his destiny. Although under its strong influence, the Poet was now about to enter upon a nobler course of labour, and to teach the world deeper and truer lessons in the learning of “ human dealings;" yet we cannot but rejoice that this solemn change of all the Poet's lighter fancies into something still more "rich and strange," came not until after the quick and brilliant succession of his matchless poetic comedies had perpetuated the memory of his years of buoyant spirits, hope, joy, and untiring fancy. For although we often find in his later works a calm and serene spirit of enjoy. ment, such as we have before alluded to in the pastoral beauties of Perdita's conversation, and the mountain scenes of Cymbeline-though his comic sketches in his later dramas prove that his perception of whimsical or absurd character was as acute and active as ever, and his power of graphic delineation as vivid—yet even then there seems to be an absence of that personal abandonment of the author's own spirit to the beauty or the humour of the scene, to which he had before accustomed us. He appears more as the great philosophical artist, depicting the very truth and nature of his scenes, and not, as was his former wont, as himself one of his own joyous throng,

scenes.

mixing in the plot against the bachelor liberty of Benedick-enjoying the frolics in Eastcheap as much as Falstaff or the Prince or joining his own voice in the boisterous glee of Sir Toby and Sir Andrew.

But MEASURE FOR MEASURE breathes a sterner spirit than belongs to the productions of either the earlier or the later periods. Dr. Johnson has said that its “comic scenes are natural and pleasing.” Their fidelity to nature cannot, indeed, be denied.

But if they please, they do so from their faithfulness of portraiture; not like the scenes of Bottom, or Falstaff, and their companions, from their exuberance of mirthful sport, or their rich origi. nality of invention and wit. They, as well as the loftier scenes of the piece, are but too faithful pictures of the degrading and hardening influence of licentious passion, from the lighter profligacy of Lucio, the dissipated gentle. man, to the grosser and contented degradation of the Clown; and if these are all painted with the truth of Ho garth, or Crabbe, they are depicted with no air of sport or mirth, but rather with that of bitter scorn. The author seems to smile like his own Cassius, “as if he mocked himself.” Thus Elbow, in his self-satisfied conceit and pedantic ignorance, would appear, as some of the critics regard him, simply as an inferior version of Dogberry. But he is not a Dogberry in whose absurdities the author himself luxuriates, but one whose peculiarities are delineated with a contemptuous sneer. Lucio, again, is a character unfortunately too common in civilized, and especially in city life—a gentleman in manners and education, and of good natural ability, made frivolous in mind and debased in sentiment and disposition by licentious and idle habits—thus substantially not a very different character from some of the lighter personages of the prior dramas ; but he differs mainly from them because exhibited under a very different light, and regarded in a different temper. The others are represented in his scenes as they ap peared to the transient acquaintance, or the companions of their pleasures. But the Poet looks deeper into the heart and life of Lucio, and pourtrays this man of pleasure in the same mood which governs the higher and more tragic scenes of this dramama mood sometimes contemptuous, sometimes sad, often indignant, but never such as had been his former wont, either merely playful or imaginative. Thus it seems to me that, if his comic scenes excite mirth from their truth, it is a mirth in which the author did not participate ; and their sarcastic humour assimilates itself in feeling to that of the stern and grave interest of the plot, and the strong passion of its poetic

Characters, in themselves light and amusing, are branded with contempt from the degradation of licen. tious habits; while the same passion, in a form of less grossness, but of deeper guilt, prostrates before it high reputation, talent, and wisdom. The intellectual and amiable Claudio, willing to purchase “the weariest and most loathed worldly life," at any cost of shame and sin, is strangely contrasted with the drunken Barnardine, “careless, reckless, and fearless of what is past, present, or to come.” Indeed, the higher characters are mainly discriminated from the lower ones, in this moral delineation, in that conscience is dull or dead in the latter, while it appears in all its terrors in Angelo and Claudio, and in all the majesty of purity in Isabella. There is little formality of moral instruction, but the secret workings of guilt and fear are laid open with the rapidity, suddenness, and brevity of unuttered and half-formed thoughts. That men of lax moral opinions should shrink with disgust as sone of his critics have done, from this too true a delineation of so common a vice, is not to be wondered at. It was less to be expected that Coleridge should have formed the judgment he has expressed on this drama, though there are not a few readers who will assent to it. He observes, in his “ Literary Remains :"-" This play, which is Shakespeare's throughout, is to me the most painful, say rather the only painful part of his genuine works. The comic and tragic parts equally border on the miseteon-the one being disgusting, the other horrible; and the pardon and marriage of Angelo not merely baffles the strong, indignant claim of justice, (for cruelty, with lust and damuable baseness, cannot be forgiven, because we cannot conceive them as being morally repented of,) but it is likewise degrading to the character of woman." We also learn from Mr. Collier that, in the course of Lectures on Shakespeare, delivered in 1818, (which were delivered from imperfect notes, and never written out,) Coleridge pointed especially to the artifice of Isabella, and her seeming consent to the suit of Angelo, as the circumstances which tended to lower the character of the female sex. He then called MEASURE FOR MEASURE Ouly the “least agreeable" of Shakespeare's dramas.

This criticism, however little laudatory, is still substantially an acknowledgment of the severe unity of feeling and purpose which pervades the piece, and the impressive power with which it enforces revolting and humbling truths. These are the more conspicuous, because the dark painting of moral degradation, of guilt, remorse, the dread of death, is not relieved, as is the Poet's use elsewhere, by passages of descriptive beauty, or fancy, or teuderuess. The only strong contrast which supplies their place is that of the severe beauty of Isabella's character, and the majestic wisdom and deep sentiment of her fervid eloquence. That in this sense the drama is not agreeable, and that it is even painful, is very true; yet the degree of pain thus given is precisely that by which the intellect is most excited, and which is thus the source of the deep and absorbing interest excited by all gloomy yet true pictures of life, in its sadder shapes of crime and woe. Though the subject and the thoughts be in themselves repulsive, yet when, as here, we feel that the author is breathing through them the strong emotions of his own soul, the attention is fixed, and the sympathy enchained. This is the secret of Dante's power, and of that of the nobler portion of Byron's poetry. That MEASURE FOR MEASURE possesses much of this power, is proved by the fact that, in spite of the objections of critics of every degree, it has always taken a strong hold of the general mind. No one of the high female characters of tragedy has been found more effective in representation than Isabella ; while there is perhaps no composition, of the same length, in tho language, which has left more of its expressive phrases, its moral aphorisms, its brief sentences crowded with meaning, fixed in the general memory, and embodied by daily use in every form of popular eloquence, argument, and literature.

The language and the rhythm have also peculiar boldness and austerity, congruous to the intellectual character and the sentiment of the drama, and as much marked in their difference from the author's preceding works. The

and

Abd

copies. Nes

SCENE II.

In the MERE Now the hungry lion roars"—“Very Anacreon,

And (says Coleridge,) in perfectness, proportion, grace, and

Noro, ure spontaneity. So far it is Greek; but then add, o! what both the old wealth, what wild ranging, and yet what compression

of 1623, and and condensation of English fancy. In truth, there is

have restore nothing in Anacreon more perfect than these thirty lines, or halt so rich and imaginative. They form a speckless his declaruti

the blessing diamond."—(Literary Remains.")

fairies how "- triple HecaTE's team"-Marlowe, Middleton, then, is the and Golding, also use " Hecate" as a dissyllable. In other things Spenser and Jonson we find " Hecate.”

songs are lo

speech of 1 “— sweep the dust behind the door"_“Cleanliness

song,

which was always supposed to be necessary to invite the residence and favour of the fairies. Drayton says

deed lost, le These make our girls their sluttery rue,

deavoured to By pinching them both black and blue;

to the despa And put a penny in their shoe, The house for cleanly sweeping.

pose, were

players' par • To sweep the dust behind the door is a common ex

“ – I'm pression for to sweep the dust from behind the door;

meant the a necessary monition in large old houses, where the doors of balls and galleries are thrown backward, and

in that sense seldom shut.”

where. It

fairy messe " — dance il TRIPPINGLY"— The trip was the fairy self from a pace : in the Tempest we have

COLLIER. Each one tripping on his toe,

"Give me Will be here with mop and moe.

tended to In VENUS AND ADONIS

joining han Or, like a fairy trip upon the green.

atrical apple

[graphic]

GROUP 08 FARIES

[graphic][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors]
« PředchozíPokračovat »