Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

THE COMEDY OF ERRORS

THIS Comedy is taken very much from the Menæchmi of Plautus, and is not an improvement on it. Shakespear appears to have bestowed no great pains on it, and there are but a few passages which bear the decided stamp of his genius. He seems to have relied on his author, and on the interest arising out of the intricacy of the plot. The curiosity excited is certainly very considerable, though not of the most pleasing kind. We are teazed as with a riddle, which notwithstanding we try to solve. In reading the play, from the sameness of the names of the two Antipholuses and the two Dromios, as well from their being constantly taken for each other by those who see them, it is difficult, without a painful effort of attention, to keep the characters distinct in the mind. And again, on the stage, either the complete similarity of their persons and dress must produce the same perplexity whenever they first enter, or the identity of appearance which the story supposes, will be destroyed. We still, however, having a clue to the difficulty, can tell which is which, merely from the practical contradictions which arise, as soon as the different parties begin to speak; and we are indemnified for the perplexity and blunders into which we are thrown by seeing others thrown into greater and almost inextricable ones. This play (among other considerations) leads us not to feel much regret that Shakespear was not what is called a classical scholar. We do not think his forte would ever have lain in imitating or improving on what others invented, so much as in inventing for himself, and perfecting what he invented, not perhaps by the omission of faults, but by the addition of the highest excellences. His

own genius was strong enough to bear him up, and he soared longest and best on unborrowed plumes.— The only passage of a very Shakespearian cast in this comedy is the one in which the Abbess, with admirable characteristic artifice, makes Adriana confess her own misconduct in driving her husband mad.

"Abbess. How long hath this possession held the man ? Adriana. This week he hath been heavy, sour, sad, And much, much different from the man he was; But, till this afternoon, his passion

Ne'er brake into extremity of rage.

Abbess. Hath he not lost much wealth by wreck at sea?
Bury'd some dear friend? Hath not else his eye
Stray'd his affection in unlawful love?

A sin prevailing much in youthful men,
Who give their eyes the liberty of gazing.
Which of these sorrows is he subject to?

Adriana. To none of these, except it be the last :
Namely, some love, that drew him oft from home.
Abbess. You should for that have reprehended him.
Adriana. Why, so I did.

Abbess. But not rough enough.

Adriana. As roughly as my modesty would let me.
Abbess. Haply, in private.

Adriana. And in assemblies too.

Abbess. Aye, but not enough.

Adriana. It was the copy of our conference:

In bed, he slept not for my urging it;

At board, he fed not for my urging it;
Alone it was the subject of my theme;
In company, I often glanc'd at it;

Still did I tell him it was vile and bad.

Abbess. And therefore came it that the man was mad :

The venom'd clamours of a jealous woman

Poison more deadly than a mad dog's tooth.

It seems, his sleeps were hinder'd by thy railing :

And therefore comes it that his head is light.

Thou say'st his meat was sauc'd with thy upbraidings:

Unquiet meals make ill digestions,

Therefore the raging fire of fever bred :

And what's a fever but a fit of madness?

Thou say'st his sports were hinder'd by thy brawls:
Sweet recreation barr'd, what doth ensue,

But moody and dull melancholy,

Kinsman to grim and comfortless despair;
And, at her heels, a huge infectious troop
Of pale distemperatures, and foes to life?
In food, in sport, and life-preserving rest
To be disturb'd, would mad or man or beast:
The consequence is then, thy jealous fits
Have scar'd thy husband from the use of wits.

Luciana. She never reprehended him but mildly,
When he demeaned himself rough, rude, and wildly.—
Why bear you these rebukes, and answer not?

Adriana. She did betray me to my own reproof."

Pinch the conjuror is also an excrescence not to be found in Plautus. He is indeed a very formidable anachronism.

"They brought one Pinch, a hungry lean-fac'd villain, A meer anatomy, a mountebank,

A thread-bare juggler and a fortune-teller ;

A needy, hollow-ey'd, sharp-looking wretch,

A living dead man."

This is exactly like some of the Puritanical portraits to be met with in Hogarth.

DOUBTFUL PLAYS OF

SHAKESPEAR

We shall give for the satisfaction of the reader what the celebrated German critic, Schlegel, says on this subject, and then add a very few remarks of our own.

"All the editors, with the exception of Capell, are unanimous in rejecting Titus Andronicus as unworthy of Shakespear, though they always allow it to be printed with the other pieces, as the scapegoat, as it were, of their abusive criticism. The correct method in such an investigation is first to examine into the external grounds, evidences, &c. and to weigh their worth; and then to adduce the internal reasons derived from the quality of the work. The critics of Shakespear follow a course directly the reverse of this; they set out with a preconceived opinion against a piece, and seek, in justification of this opinion, to render the historical grounds suspicious, and to set them aside. Titus Andronicus is to be found in the first folio edition of Shakespear's works, which it was known was conducted by Heminge and Condell, for many years his friends and fellow-managers of the same theatre. Is it possible to persuade ourselves that they would not have known if a piece in their repertory did or did not actually belong to Shakespear? And are we to lay to the charge of these honourable men a designed fraud in this single case, when we know that they did not shew themselves so very desirous of scraping every thing together which went by the name of Shakespear, but, as it appears, merely gave those plays of which they had manuscripts in hand? Yet the following circumstance is still stronger : George Meres, a contemporary and admirer of Shakespear, mentions Titus Andronicus in an enumeration of his works, in the year 1598. Meres was personally acquainted with the poet, and so very intimately, that the latter read over to him his Sonnets before they were printed. I cannot conceive that all the critical scepticism in the world would be sufficient to get over such a testimony.

"This tragedy, it is true, is framed according to a false idea of the tragic, which by an accumulation of cruelties and enormities degenerates into the horrible, and yet leaves no deep impression behind: the story of Tereus and Philomela is heightened and overcharged under other names, and mixed up with the repast of Atreus and Thyestes, and many other incidents. In detail there is no want of beautiful lines, bold images, nay, even features which betray the peculiar conception of Shakespear. Among these we may reckon the joy of the treacherous Moor at the blackness and ugliness of his child begot in adultery; and in the compassion of Titus Andronicus, grown childish through grief, for a fly which had been struck dead, and his rage afterwards when he imagines he discovers in it his black enemy, we recognize the future poet of Lear. Are the critics afraid that Shakespear's fame would be injured, were it established that in his early youth he ushered into the world a feeble and immature work? Was Rome the less the conqueror of the world because Remus could leap over its first walls? Let any one place himself in Shakespear's situation at the commencement of his career. He found only a few indifferent models, and yet these met with the most favourable reception, because men are never difficult to please in the novelty of an art before their taste has become fastidious from choice and abundance. Must not this situation have had its influence on him before he learned to make higher demands on himself, and by digging deeper in his own mind, discovered the richest veins of a noble metal? It is even highly probable that he must have made several failures before getting into the right path. Genius is in a certain sense infallible, and has nothing to learn; but art is to be learned, and must be acquired by practice and experience. In Shakespear's acknowledged works we find hardly any traces of his apprenticeship, and yet an apprenticeship he certainly had. This every artist must have, and especially in a period where he has not before him the example of a school already formed. I consider it as extremely probable, that Shakespear began to write for the theatre at a much earlier period than the one which is generally stated, namely, not till after the year 1590. It appears that, as early as the year 1584, when only twenty years of age, he had left his paternal home and repaired to London. Can we imagine that such an active head would remain idle for six whole years without making any attempt to emerge by his talents from an uncongenial situation? That in the dedication of the poem of Venus and Adonis

« FöregåendeFortsätt »