Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

To these observations I may add, that though Shakspeare seems to have been well versed in the writings of Chaucer, his plays contain no marks of his acquaintance with the works of Gower, from whose fund of stories not one of his plots is adopted. When I quoted the Confessio Amantis to illustrate "Florentius' love" in The Taming of a Shrew, it was only because I had then met with no other book in which that tale was related.—I ought not to quit the subject of these choruses without remarking that Gower interposes no less than six times in the course of our play, exclusive of his introduction and peroration. Indeed he enters as often as any chasm in the story requires to be supplied. I do not recollect the same practice in other tragedies, to which the chorus usually serves as a prologue, and then appears only be tween the Acts. Shakspeare's legitimate pieces in which these mediators are found, might still be represented without their aid; but the omission of Gower in Pericles would render it so perfectly confused, that the audience might justly exclaim with Othello: "Chaos is come again.”

Very little that can tend with certainty to establish or oppose our author's exclusive right in this dramatick performance, is to be collected from the dumb shows; for he has no such in his other plays, as will serve to direct our judgment. These in Pericles are not introduced (in compliance with two ancient customs) at stated periods, or for the sake of adventitious splendor. They do not appear before every Act, like those in Ferrer and Porrer; they are not, like those in Jocasta, merely ostentatious. Such deviations from common practice incline me to believe that originally there were no mute exhibitions at all throughout the piece; but that when Shakspeare undertook to reform it, finding some parts peculiarly long and uninteresting, he now and then struck out the dialogue, and only left the action in its room; advising the author to add a few lines to his choruses, as auxiliaries on the occasion. Those whose fate it is to be engaged in the repairs of an old mansion-house, must submit to many aukward expedients, which they would have escaped in a fabrick constructed on their own plan: or it might be observed, that though Shakspeare has expressed his contempt of such dumb shows as were inexplicable, there is no reason to believe he would have pointed the same ridicule at others which were more easily understood. I do not readily perceive that the aid of a dumb show is much more reprehensible than that of a chorus:

"Segnius irritant animos demissa per aurem

"Quam quæ sunt oculis subjecta fidelibus."

If it be observed that the latter will admit of sentiment and poetical imagery, it may be also urged that the former will serve to furnish out such spectacles of magnificence as should by no

means appear despicable in a kingdom which has ever encouraged the pomp of lord mayors' feasts, installments, and co ronations. I should extend these remarks to an unwarrantable length, or might be tempted to prove that many of Shakspeare's plays exhibit traces of these solemn pantomimes;* though they are too adroitly managed by him to have need of verbal interpretation.

Next it may be remarked, that the valuable parts of Pericles are more distinguished by their poetical turn, than by variety of character, or command over the passions. Partial graces are indeed almost the only improvements that the mender of a play already written can easily introduce; for an error in the first concoction can be redeemed by no future process of chemistry. A few flowery lines may here and there be strewn on the surface of a dramatick piece; but these have little power to impregnate its general mass. Character, on the contrary, must be designed at the author's outset, and proceed with gradual congeniality through the whole. In genuine Shakspeare, it insinuates itself every where, with an address like that of Virgil's snakesit tortile collo

[ocr errors]

"Aurum ingens coluber; fit longæ tænia vittæ,

[ocr errors]

Innectitque comas, et membris lubricus errat."

But the drama before us contains no discrimination of manners,+ (except in the comick dialogues,) very few traces of original thought, and is evidently destitute of that intelligence and useful knowledge that pervade even the meanest of Shakspeare's undisputed performances. To speak more plainly, it is neither enriched by the gems that sparkle through the rubbish of Love's Labour's Lost, nor the good sense which so often fertilizes the barren fable of The Two Gentlemen of Verona.-Pericles, in short, is little more than a string of adventures so numerous, so

* The reader who is willing to pursue this hint, may consult what are now called the stage directions, throughout the folio 1623, in the following pages. I refer to this copy, because it cannot be suspected of modern interpolation. Tempest, p. 13, 15, 16. All's Well &c. 234, 238. King Henry VI. P. I. 100, 102, 105. Ditto, P. II. 125, 127, 129. Ditto, P. III. 164. King Henry VIII. 206, 207, 211, 215, 224, 226, 231. Coriolanus, 6, 7. Titus Andronicus, 31. Timon, 82. Macbeth, 135, 144. Hamlet, 267. and Cleopatra, 351, 355. Cymbeline, 392, 393.

Antony

+ Those opticks that can detect the smallest vestige of Shakspeare in the character of the Pentapolitan monarch, cannot fail with equal felicity to discover. Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt, and to find all that should adorn the Graces, in the persons and conduct of the weird sisters. Compared with this Simonides, the King of Navarre, in Love's Labour's Lost, Theseus, in A Midsummer-Night's Dream, and the Rex fistulatissimus in All's well that ends well, are the rarest compounds of Machiavel and Hercules.

inartificially crouded together, and so far removed from probability, that, in my private judgment, I must acquit even the irregular and lawless Shakspeare of having constructed the fabrick of the drama, though he has certainly bestowed some decoration on its parts. Yet even this decoration, like embroidery on a blanket, only serves by contrast to expose the meanness of the original materials. That the plays of Shakspeare have their inequalities likewise, is sufficiently understood; but they are still the inequalities of Shakspeare. He may occasionally be absurd, butisseldom foolish; he may be censured, but can rarely be despised.

I do not recollect a single plot of Shakspeare's formation (or even adoption from preceding plays or novels) in which the majority of the characters are not so well connected, and so necessary in respect of each other, that they proceed in combination to the end of the story; unless that story (as in the cases of Antigonus and Mercutio) requires the interposition of death. In Pericles this continuity is wanting:

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

and even with the aid of Gower the scenes are rather loosely tacked together, than closely interwoven. We see no more of Antiochus after his first appearance. His anonymous daughter utters but one unintelligible couplet, and then vanishes. Simonides likewise is lost as soon as the marriage of Thaisa is over; and the punishment of Cleon and his wife, which poetick justice demanded, makes no part of the action, but is related in a kind of epilogue by Gower. This is at least a practice which in no instance has received the sanction of Shakspeare. From such deficiency of mutual interest, and liaison among the personages of the drama, I am further strengthened in my belief that our great poet had no share in constructing it.* Dr. Johnson long

It is remarkable, that not a name appropriated by Shakspeare to any character throughout his other plays, is to be found in this. At the same time the reader will observe that, except in such pieces as are built on historical subjects, or English fables, he employs the same proper names repeatedly in his different dramas.

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

ago observed that his real power is not seen in the splendor of particular passages, but in the progress of his fable, and the tenour

[blocks in formation]

To these may be added such as only differ from each other by means of fresh terminations:

[blocks in formation]

Names that in some plays are appropriated to speaking characters, in other dramas are introduced as belonging only to absent persons or things. Thus we have mention of a

Rosaline, a Lucio, a Helena, a Valentine, &c. in Romeo and Juliet.
Isabella, Escalus, Antonio, and Sebastian, in All's well that ends well.
Capulet and Roderigo, in Twelfth-Night.

Ferdinand and Troilus, in the Taming of a Shrew, &c.

I have taken this minute trouble to gain an opportunity of observing how unlikely it is that Shakspeare should have been content to use second-hand names in so many of his more finished plays, and at the same time have bestowed original ones throughout the scenes of Pericles. This affords additional suspicion, to me, at least, that the story, and the persona dramatis, were not of our author's selection.-Neither Gower, nor the translator of King Appolyn, has been followed on this occasion; for the names of Pericles, Escanes, Simonides, Clean, Lysimachus, and Marina, are foreign to the old story, as related both by the poet and the novellist.

of his dialogue: and when it becomes necessary for me to quote a decision founded on comprehensive views, I can appeal to none in which I should more implicitly confide.-Gower relates the story of Pericles in a manner not quite so desultory; and yet such a tale as that of Prince Appolyn, in its most perfect state, would hardly have attracted the notice of any playwright, except one who was quite a novice in the rules of his art. Mr. Malone indeed observes that our author has pursued the legend exactly as he found it in the Confessio Amantis, or elsewhere. I can only add, that this is by no means his practice in any other dramas, except such as are merely historical, or founded on facts from which he could not venture to deviate, because they were universally believed. Shakspeare has deserted his originals in As you like it, Hamlet, King Lear, &c. The curious reader may easily convince himself of the truth of these assertions.

That Shakspeare has repeated in his later plays any material circumstances which he had adopted in his more early ones, I am by no means ready to allow. Some smaller coincidences with himself may perhaps be discovered. Though it be not usual for one architect to build two fabricks exactly alike, he may yet be found to have distributed many ornaments in common over both, and to have fitted up more than one apartment with the same cornice and mouldings. If Pericles should be supposed to bear any general and striking resemblance to The Winter's Tale, let me enquire in what part of the former we are to search for the slightest traces of Leontes' jealousy (the hinge on which the fable turns) the noble fortitude of Hermione, the gallantry of Florizel, the spirit of Paulina, or the humour of Autolycus? Two stories cannot be said to have much correspondence, when the chief features that distinguish the one, are entirely wanting in the other.

Mr. Malone is likewise willing to suppose that Shakspeare contracted his dialogue in the last Act of The Winter's Tale, because he had before exhausted himself on the same subject in Pericles. But it is easy to justify this distinction in our poet's conduct, on other principles. Neither the king or queen of Tyre feels the smallest degree of self-reproach. They meet with repeated expressions of rapture, for they were parted only by unprovoked misfortune. They speak without reserve, because there is nothing in their story which the one or the other can wish to be suppressed. Leontes, on the contrary, seems content to welcome his return of happiness without expatiating on the means by which he had formerly lost it; nor does Hermione recapitulate her sufferings, through fear to revive the memory of particulars which might be construed into a reflection of her husband's jealousy. The discovery of Marina would likewise admit of clamorous transport, for similar reasons; but whatever could be said on the

« FöregåendeFortsätt »