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MR. POPE supposed the story of this play to have been borrowed from a novel of Boccace; but he was mistaken, as an imi. tation of it is found in an old story-book entitled Westward for Smelts. This imitation differs in as many particulars from the Italian novelist, as from Shakspeare, though they concur in some material parts of the fable. It was published in a quarto pamphlet 1603. This is the only copy of it which I have hitherto seen.
There is a late entry of it in the books of the Stationers' Com. pany, Jan. 1619, where it is said to have been written by Kitt of Kingston. Steevens.
The tale in Westward for Smelts, which I published some years ago, I shall subjoin to this play. The only part of the fable, however, which can be pronounced with certainty to be drawn from thence, is, Imogen's wandering about after Pisanio has left her in the forest; her being almost famished; and being taken at a subsequent period, into the service of the Roman General as a page. The general scheme of Cymbeline is, in my opinion, formed on Boccace's novel (Day 2, Nov. 9,) and Shakspeare has taken a circumstance from it, that is not mentioned in the other tale. See Act II, sc. ii. It appears from the preface to the old translation of the Decamerone, printed in 1620, that many of the novels had be. fore received an English dress, and had been printed separately: “I know, most worthy lord, (says the printer in his Epistle Dedi. catory) that many of them (the novels of Boccace] have long since been published before, as stolen from the original author, and yet not beautified with his sweet style and elocution of phrase, neither savouring of his singular morall applications.”
Cymbeline, I imagine, was written in the year 1605. The king from whom the play takes its title began his reign, according to Holinshed, in the 19th year of the reign of Augustus Cæsar; and the play commences in or about the twenty-fourth year of Cymbeline's reign, which was the forty-second year of the reign of Augustus, and the 16th of the Christian æra: notwithstanding which, Shakspeare has peopled Rome with modern Italians; Philario, Iachimo, &c. Cymbeline is said to have reigned thirty-five years, leaving at his death two sons, Guiderius and Arviragus.
Malone. An ancient translation, or rather a deformed and interpolated imitation, of the ninth novel of the second day of the Decameron of Boccacio, has recently occurred. The title and colophon of this rare piece, are as follows:
“This mater treateth of a merchaūtes wyfe that afterwarde went lyke a mã and becam a great lorde and was called Frederyke of Jennen afterwarde.”
“ Thus endeth this lytell story of lorde Frederyke. Imprýted ī Anwarpe by me John Dusborowhge, dwellynge besyde ye Camer porte in the yere of our lorde god a. M.CCCCC. and xviij."
This novel exhibits the material features of its original; though the names of the characters are changed, their sentiments debased, and their conduct rendered still more improbable than in the scenes before us, John of Florence is the Ambrogiulo, Ambrosius of Jennens the Bernabo of the story. Of the translator's elegance of imagination, and felicity of expression, the two following instances may be sufficient. He has converted the pic. turesque mole under the left breast of the lady, into a black wart on her left arm; and when at last, in a male habit, she discovers her sex, instead of displaying her bosom only, he obliges her to appear before the King and his whole court completely “naked, save that she had a karcher of sylke before hyr members.”—The whole work is illustrated with wooden cuts representing every scene throughout the narrative.
I know not that any advantage is gained by the discovery of this antiquated piece, unless it serves to strengthen our belief that some more faithful translation had furnished Shakspeare with incidents which, in their original Italian, to him at least were inaccessible. Steevens.