Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

nently beautiful; but the whole piece appears to me to furnish abundant proofs of the hand of Shakspeare. The inequalities in different parts of it are not greater than may be found in fome of his other dramas. It should be remembered also, that Dryden, who lived near enough the time to be well informed, has pronounced this play to be our author's first performance :

"Shakspeare's own Mufe his Pericles firft bore;

"The Prince of Tyre was elder than the Moor."

Let me add, that the contemptuous manner in which Ben Jonfon has mentioned it, is, in my apprehenfion, another proof of its authenticity. In his memorable Ode, written foon after his New Inn had been damned, when he was comparing his own unsuccessful pieces with the applauded dramas of his contempo raries, he naturally chofe to point at what he esteemed a weak performance of a rival, whom he appears to have envied and hated merely because the splendor of his genius had eclipsed his own, and had rendered the reception of those tame and disgusting imitations of antiquity, which he boaftingly called the only legitimate English dramas, as cold as the performances themselves.

As the subject is of fome curiofity, I fhall make no apology for laying before the reader a more minute investigation of it. It is proper, however, to inform him, that one of the following dif fertations on the genuineness of this play precedes the other only for a reafon affigned by Dogberry, that where two men ride on a horfe, one must ride behind. That we might catch hints from the ftrictures of each other, and collect what we could mutually advance into a point, Mr. Steevens and I fet forward with an agreement to maintain the propriety of our respective fuppofitions relative to this piece, as far as we were able; to fubmit our remarks, as they gradually increased, alternately to each other, and to difpute the oppofite hypothefis, till one of us fhould acquiefce in the opinion of his opponent, or each remain confirmed in his own. The reader is therefore requested to bear in mind, that if the last series of arguments be confidered as an answer to the first, the firft was equally written in reply to the last:

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

THAT this tragedy has fome merit, it were vain to deny ; but that it is the entire compofition of Shakspeare, is more than can be haftily granted. I fhall not venture, with Dr. Farmer, to determine that the hand of our great poet is only visible in the laft Act, for I think it appears in feveral paffages dispersed over each of thefe divifions. I find it difficult, however, to perfuade

myself that he was the original fabricator of the plot, or the author of every dialogue, chorus, &c. and this opinion is founded on a concurrence of circumftances which I fhall attempt to enumerate, that the reader may have the benefit of all the lights I am able to throw on fo obfcure a subject.

Be it first observed, that moft of the chorufes in Pericles are written in a measure which Shakspeare has not employed on the fame occafion, either in The Winter's Tale, Romeo and Juliet, or King Henry the Fifth. If it be urged, that throughout these recitations Gower was his model, I can safely affirm that their language, and fometimes their verfification, by no means refembles that of Chaucer's contemporary. One of these monologues is compofed in hexameters, and another in alternate rhymes; neither of which are ever found in his printed works, or those which yet remain in manuscript; nor does he, like the author of Pericles, introduce four and five-feet metre in the same series of lines. If Shakspeare therefore be allowed to have copied not only the general outline, but even the peculiarities of nature with eafe and accuracy, we may furely suppose that, at the expence of fome unprofitable labour, he would not have failed fo egregioufly in his imitation of antiquated style or numbers.-That he could affume with nicety the terms of affectation and pedantry, he has shown in the characters of Ofrick and Armado, Holofernes and Nathaniel. That he could fuccefsfully counterfeit provincial dialects, we may learn from Edgar and Sir Hugh Evans; and that he was no ftranger to the peculiarities of foreign pronunciation, is likewife evident from several scenes of English tinctured with French, in The Merry Wives of Windfor and King Henry the Fifth.*

* Notwithstanding what I have advanced in favour of Shakspeare's uncommon powers of imitation, I am by no means fure he would have proved fuccessful in a cold attempt to copy the peculiarities of language more ancient than his own. His exalted genius would have taught him to defpife fo fervile an undertaking; and his good fenfe would have restrained him from engaging in a task which he had neither leisure nor patience to perform. His talents are displayed in copies from originals of a higher rank. Neither am I convinced that inferior writers have been over-lucky in poetical mimickries of their early predeceffors. It is lefs difficult to deform language, than to bestow on it the true caft of antiquity; and though the licentiousness of Chaucer, and the obfolete words employed by Gower, are within the reach of moderate abilities, the humour of the one, and the general idiom of the other, are not quite fo eafy of attainment. The beft of our modern poets have fucceeded but tolerably in short compofitions of this kind, and have therefore shown their prudence in attempting none of equal length with the affembled chorufes in Pericles, which confift at least of three hundred lines.-Mr. Pope profeffes to give us a ftory in the manner of Chaucer; but uses a metre on the occafion in which not a fingle tale of that author is written.

But it is here urged by Mr. Malone, that an exact imitation of Gower would have proved unintelligible to any audience during the reign of Elizabeth. If it were (which I am flow to admit) our author's judgment would scarce have permitted him to choose an agent fo inadequate to the purpose of an interpreter; one whole years and phrafeology must be fet at variance before he could be understood, one who was to affume the form, office, and habit of an ancient, and was yet to speak the language of a modern.

I am ready to allow my opponent that the authors who introduced Machiavel, Guicciardine, and the Monk of Chester, on the ftage, have never yet been blamed because they avoided to make the two former fpeak in their native tongue, and the latter in the English dialect of his age. The proper language of the Italian ftatefman and hiftorian, could not have been understood by our-common audiences; and as to Rainulph, he is known to have compofed his Chronicle in Latin. Befides, these three perfonages were writers in profe. They are alike called up to fuperintend the relations which were originally found in their respective books; and the magick that converted them into poets, might claim an equal power over their modes of declamation. The cafe is otherwise, when ancient bards, whofe compofitions were in English, are fummoned from the grave to inftruct their coun¬ trymen; for these apparitions may be expected to speak in the ftyle and language that diftinguishes their real age, and their known productions, when there is no fufficient reason why they fhould depart from them.

If the inequalities of measure which I have pointed out, be alfo visible in the lyrick parts of Macbeth, &c. I muft obferve that throughout these plays our author has not profeffed to imitate the ftyle or manner of any acknowledged character or age; and therefore was tied down to the obfervation of no particular rules. Moft of the irregular lines, however, in A MidfummerNight's Dream, &c. I fufpect of having been prolonged by cafual monofyllables, which stole into them through the inatten tion of the copyift, or the impertinence of the speaker.-If indeed the chorufes in Pericles contain many fuch marked expreffions as are discoverable in Shakspeare's other dramas, I must confefs that they have hitherto escaped my notice; unless they may be faid to occur in particulars which of neceffity mufi be common to all foliloquies of a fimilar kind. Such interlocutions cannot fail occafionally to contain the fame modes of address, and the fame perfuafive arguments to folicit indulgence and fe cure applaufe. As for the ardentia verba celebrated by Mr. Malone, (to borrow Milton's phrase,) in my apprehenfion they burn but cold and frore.

To thefe obfervations I may add, that though Shakspeare feems 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 Confeffio Amantis to illuftrate" 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 fubject of these chorufes without remarking that Gower interpofes no less than fix times in the courfe of our play, exclufive of his introduction and peroration. Indeed he enters as often as any chaẩm in the ftory requires to be fupplied. I do not recollect the fame practice in other tragedies, to which the chorus ufually ferves as a prologue, and then appears only between the Acts. Shakspeare's legitimate pieces in which these mediators are found, might still be represented without their aid; but the omiffion of Gower in Pericles would render it fo perfectly: confused, that the audience might justly exclaim with Othello 2. "Chaos is come again."

Very little that can tend with certainty to establish er oppose our author's exclufive right in this dramatick performance, is to be collected from the dumb fhows; for he has no fuch in his other plays, as will ferve to direct our judgment. These in Pericles are not introduced (in compliance with two ancient cuftoms) at ftated periods, or for the fake of adventitious splendor. They do not appear before every Act, like thofe in Ferrex and Porrex; they are not, like thofe in Jocafia, merely oftentatious. 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 fome parts peculiarly long and uninterefting, he now and then ftruck out the dialogue, and only left the action in its room; advifing the author to add a few lines to his choruses, as auxiliaries on the occafion. Those whose fate it is to be engaged in the repairs of an old manfion-house, must submit to many aukward expedients, which they would have escaped in a fabrick conftructed on their own plan or it might be observed, that though Shakspeare has expreffed bis contempt of fuch dumb shows as were inexplicable, there is no reafon to believe he would have pointed the fame ridicule at others which were more eafily underftood. I do not readily perceive that the aid of a dumb show is much more reprehenfible than that of a chorus:

[ocr errors]

Segnius irritant animos demiffa per aurem " Quam quæ funt oculis fubjecta fidelibus.'

[ocr errors]

If it be obferved that the latter will admit of fentiment and poetical imagery, it may be alfo urged that the former will ferve to furnish out fuch fpectacles of magnificence as fhould by ne

[ocr errors]

means appear defpicable in a kingdom which has ever encouraged the pomp of lord mayors' feasts, installments, and coronations. I fhould extend these remarks to an unwarrantable length, or might be tempted to prove that many of Shakspeare's plays exhibit traces of these folemn 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 diftinguished by their poetical turn, than by variety of character, or command over the paffions. Partial graces are indeed almost the only improvements that the mender of a play already written can eafily 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 ftrewn on the surface of a dramatick piece; but these have little power to impregnate its general mass. Character, on the contrary, muft be defigned at the author's outfet, and proceed with gradual congeniality through the whole. In genuine Shakspeare, it infinuates itselfevery where, with an address like that of Virgil's snake

"

fit tortile collo

"Aurum ingens coluber; fit longæ tænia vittæ,

[ocr errors]

Innectitque comas, et membris lubricus errat."

But the drama before us contains no difcrimination of manners,† (except in the comick dialogues,) very few traces of original thought, and is evidently deftitute of that intelligence and ufeful knowledge that pervade even the meaneft of Shakspeare's undifputed performances. To speak more plainly, it is neither enriched by the gems that sparkle through the rubbish of Love's Labour's Loft, nor the good fense which so often fertilizes the barren fable of The Two Gentlemen of Verona.-Pericles, in fhort, is little more than a string of adventures fo numerous, fo in

*The reader who is willing to pursue this hint, may confult 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. Antony and Cleopatra, 351, 355. Cymbeline, 392, 393.

+ Thofe opticks that can detect the smallest veftige of Shakspeare in the character of the Pentapolitan monarch, cannot fail with equal felicity to difcover 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 rareft compounds of Machiavel and Hercules.

« FöregåendeFortsätt »