« PreviousContinue »
end, relates his discovery of Fawnia, and displays the jewels found with her. Joyful reconciliation follows, and Porrus' of a shepherd is made a knight'; but Pandosto, calling to mind his many errors, falls into a melancholy fit, and 'to close up the Comedie,' as Greene puts it, with a 'tragicall stratagem,' puts an end to his life.
Such a subject offered still graver difficulties to the dramatist than did Lodge's kindred romance Rosalynde, which had been transformed, a decade before, into As You Like It. There also, a pastoral idyll had been grafted upon a tale of tragic feud. But Lodge had not, like Greene, followed the licence of the older romantic dramas denounced by Sidney, where, within the limits of five acts, children were followed from the cradle to the altar and beyond. It is clear, too, that the significance and beauty of the earlier romance lay for Shakespeare altogether in the Arden scenes, so that the early history of Orlando, voluminously recorded by Lodge, could be treated as a mere prelude—a blaze of martial trumpets heralding a pastoral symphony. It is equally clear that in Pandosto he was arrested by the tragic story of fatuity and retribution even more than by the idyll of rustic love. Frederick and Oliver are capriciously cruel and capriciously repentant, like Leontes. But their cruelty and their repentance are little more than theatrical devices which open the charmed gates of Arden to the wooing lovers and restore them to the brilliant court when won. The cruelty of Leontes and his repentance, the sufferings of Hermione, the intervention of Paulina, are drawn with a feeling for ethical chiaroscuro of which in As You Like It there is hardly a trace. And the idyll of Perdita owes much of its subtler charm, when compared with that of Rosalind, to our perception that it is an element in the harmonious solution of a longer story.
Hence the action of The Winter's Tale falls into two sharply-marked phases, each occupying almost exactly half the play (acts i.-iji., iv.-v.)-a 'wasp-like' structure nowhere else in Shakespeare approached. The drama owes its beautiful harmony of effect very little to mechanical coherence of plot. Accidents of wind and wave, fortunate discovery and miraculous secrecy, play an even larger part than in the Romance. The bear which devours Antigonus after he has exposed the babe is a less poetic and certainly not a more dramatic expedient for securing her fate from her father's knowledge, than Greene's open boat. The sixteen years' concealment of Hermione, and the supposed sixteen years' concealment of Giulio Romano's statue of her, are short cuts to the superb final scene which nothing but their daring simplicity recommends.
For such seeming licences Shakespeare has hinted a justification in the title; and three other passages (in v. 2.) carry the hint home. “This news, which is called true, is so like an old tale, that the verity of it is in strong suspicion,' says the Second Gentleman, and as each new marvel is rehearsed, the verdict is "like an old tale still.' It is plain that Shakespeare did not attempt to efface the marks of the old tale' in his materials; at certain points he even heightens them. He repeats with perfect gravity Greene's geographical and historical eccentricities, and caps the oracle of Delphos and the coast of Bohemia with a sculptor, Giulio Romano.
Nearly all the characters are touched with the caprice, the sudden impulses, the rapid changes, of romance; and what is more, Shakespeare, in drawing them, seems at times to forego his profound art of disclosing the psychical past and future of his persons in a few touches, and to reveal only the momentary
mood. Leontes is, even at the close, not so much a character as a series of moods, each as luminous as the pieces in a kaleidoscope, and as incoherent. very nobility of Hermione makes his caprice more extravagant than Pandosto's. Jealousy takes possession of him like a sudden blast, and leaves him as suddenly. 1 Polixenes is a far loftier and stabler nature, but the outburst which shatters the idyll of the fourth act is as unforeseen as that by which Leontes shatters the harmonious friendship of the first.
The Shakespearean quality of the play centres chiefly in four characters. Two of them are already adumbrated in Greene; two are wholly original.
In Perdita and her little pastoral world, we have Shakespeare's last and most beautiful rendering of the motifs of pastoral poetry. Sicilia is not, like Arden, a meeting-place of piquant incongruities where the shepherd to the manner born is set off by the courtier posing as shepherd, and both by the conventional shepherd of literature.
All three types are indeed present, but their divergences are not humorously exposed and exhibited, but subdued into modulations of a rich harmony, the ground-tone of which is drawn from the actual life of English shepherd folk in their blithest mood. Here Florizel mingles and here Perdita grows up. They speak the same choice and beautiful language, as little coloured, in his case, by the dialect of courtly and literary pastoralism, as, in hers, by rustic rudeness, but embodying in its noble simplicity, in its blending of 1 One degree less suddenly,
The sessions shall proceed. however, than Pandosto, who
Then comes the news of Maacquiesces instantly on hearing
millius' death, and he is broken : the oracle. Leontes has moment of rebellion :
Apollo 's angry; and the heavens There is no truth at all i'the oracle : Do strike at my injustice.
high-bred delicacy and wild untaught charm, the inmost impulses from which all true pastoral has sprung.
Perdita is foreshadowed in Fawnia, but Greene has no hint of Autolycus. This last and not least delightful of Shakespeare's jesters is, like Perdita and Florizel, conceived with the finest congruity to his surroundings. Instead of being a court-jester adrift, like Touchstone, he is the embodiment of rustic knavery, shrewdness and gaiety,—a frequenter of wakes, fairs, bear-baiting and country feasts. Touchstone adds flavour to the atmosphere of Arden, but contributes almost nothing to the plot. Autolycus is not only the source of almost all the humour in the play, his interventions repeatedly give the action the needful lucky turn. He secures Florizel's escape and prevents Polixenes from learning it. He is called, he tells us, after the fabled son of Mercury, of whom Shakespeare read in Ovid (Metam. ix. 313 f.) that he had all his father's cunning; and the incensed Apollo of the Leontes story has a comic counterpart in the Autolycus-Mercury of the Pastoral.
But Shakespeare's most remarkable modification of Greene's work is in the story of Hermione. Greene's Bellaria, as has been seen, gave some pretext for her husband's suspicions; those of Leontes are forged out of the ordinary courtesies of Elizabethan hospitality, the noble frankness of a woman for whom disloyalty is inconceivable. Bellaria's protest on meeting the charge is not without nobility; but she protests too much, and at the subsequent trial condescends to beg that the evidence of her guilt
1 The ceremonial kiss between mus regarded it as one of the guest and hostess, invariable in
many advantages of English the courtly society of the middle hospitality, and it is repeatedly ages, lingered longer in England implied by Shakespeare. than on the Continent. Eras
may be produced and Apollo's oracle consulted. Shakespeare has not attempted thus to heighten the pathos of Hermione at the cost of her dignity; the appeal to Delphi is due to Leontes' weary conscience, not to her entreaty, and her final swoon at Mamillius' death is pathetic in proportion to her previous selfcontrol.
Such an end to her story, however, would have been quite out of keeping with the manner in which it has so far been told. Leontes' fury seems to promise tragedy enough, but it is exhibited under conditions which hint that the promise will not be finally kept. He is an isolated madman, with no lago or Iachimo at his elbow to turn his weak moments to evil account; no rotten society about him to warp or poison his better self. On the contrary, his whole entourage seems designed (quite contrary to Shakespeare's wont in drawing courts) to expose his morbid infatuation to a continual corrective of good feeling and good sense. He himself cannot bear the imputation of tyranny, and quails before the vehemence of Paulina. He is not of the stuff of which Shakespeare makes tragic heroes, or for whom he provides a pitiless Nemesis. Hermione, then, had to live. Her secret concealment recalls that of Hero in Much Ado. It is not known whence Shakespeare took the beautiful device of her discovery. A. v. Schack pointed out a parallel in Lope's El Mármol de Felisardo; but it consists merely in the stratagem of a young lover who carries his point by procuring his father's permission to be wedded to a 'marble statue.' A closer and very interesting parallel has lately been pointed out by J. Bolte in the Dutch drama of Alcinea, or Steadfast Chastity, by Hendrike de Graeff, 1671.But this may very well be, like several earlier 1 Bolte, in Jahrbuch der Sh. Gesellschaft, xxvi. 87.