Page images
PDF
EPUB

Sitting in the sun under the dove-house wall,

Shake, quoth the dove-house; 't was no need, I trow,
To bid me trudge.

And since that time it is eleven years."
All this particularity with reference to the earthquake- '

“ I never shall forget it,

Of all the days of the year”— was for the audience. The poet had to exhibit the minuteness with which unlettered people, and old people in particular, establish a date, by reference to some circumstance which has made a particular impression upon their imagination; but in this case he chose a circumstance which would be familiar to his audience, and would have produced a corresponding impression upon themselves. Tyrwhitt was the first to point out that this passage had, in all probability, a reference to the great earthquake which happened in England in 1580. Stow has described this earthquake minutely in his Chronicle, and so has Holinshed. “ On the 6th of April, 1580, being Wednesday in Easter week, about six o'clock toward evening, a sudden earthquake happening in London, and almost generally throughout all England, caused such an amazedness among the people as was wonderful for the time, and caused them to make their earnest prayers to Almighty God!” The circumstances attendant upon this earthquake show that the remembrance of it would not have easily passed away from the minds of the people. The great clock in the palace at Westminster, and divers other clocks and bells, struck of themselves against the hammers with the shaking of the earth. The lawyers supping in the Temple “ ran from the tables, and out of their halls, with their knives in their hands." The people assembled at the theatres rushed forth into the fields, lest the galleries should fall. The roof of Christ Church, near to Newgate-market, was so shaken, that a large stone dropped out of it, killing one person, and mortally wounding another, it being sermon-time. Chimneys toppled down, houses were shattered. Shakspere, therefore, could not have mentioned an earthquake with the minuteness of the passage in the Nurse's speech without immediately calling up some associations in the minds of his audience. He knew the double world in which an excited audience lives,—the half belief in the world of poetry amongst which they are placed during a theatrical representation, and the half consciousness of the external world of their ordinary life. The ready disposition of every audience to make a transition from the scene before them to the scene in which they ordinarily move, to assimilate what is shadowy and distant with what is distinct and at hand,-is perfectly well known to all who are acquainted with the machinery of the drama. Actors seize upon the principle to perpetrate the grossest violations of good taste; and authors who write for present applause invariably do the same when they offer us, in their dialogue, a passing allusion, which is technically called a clap-trap. In the case before us, even if Shakspere had not this principle in view, the association of the English earthquake must have been strongly in his mind when he made the Nurse date from an earthquake. Without reference to the circumstance of Juliet's age,

“Even or odd, of all days in the year,

Come Lammas-eve at night, shall she be fourteen,”— he would naturally, dating from the earthquake, have made the date refer to the period of his writing the passage instead of the period of Juliet's being weaned :-.“ Then she could stand alone." But, according to the Nurse's chronology, Juliet had not arrived at that epoch in the lives of children till she was three years old. The very contradiction shows that Shakspere had another object in view than that of making the Nurse's chronology tally with the age of her nursling. Had he written,

“'T is since the earthquake now just thirteen years,” we should not have been so ready to believe that · Romeo and Juliet' was written in 1593; but as he has written,

“'Tis since the earthquake now eleven years,” in defiance of a very obvious calculation on the part of the Nurse, we have no doubt that he wrote the passage eleven years after the earthquake of 1580, and that, the passage being also meant to fix the attention of an audience, the play was produced, as well as written, in 1591.

Reasoning such as this would, we acknowledge, be very weak if it were unsupported by evidence deduced from the general character of the performance, with reference to the maturity of the author's powers. But, taken in connexion with that evidence, it becomes important. Now, we have no hesitation in believing, although it would be exceedingly difficult to communicate the grounds of our belief fully to our readers, that the alterations made by Shakspere upon his first copy of Romeo and Juliet,' as printed in 1597 (which alterations are shown in his second copy as printed in 1599), exhibit differences as to the quality of his mind-differences in judgmentdifferences in the cast of thought—differences in poetical powerwhich cannot be accounted for by the growth of his mind during two years only. If the first “Romeo and Juliet' were produced in 1591, and the second in 1599, we have an interval of eight years, in which some of his most finished works had been given to the world. During this period his richness, as well as his sweetness, had been developed; and it is this development which is so remarkable in the superadded passages in “Romeo and Juliet.' We almost fancy that the “Queen Mab” speech will of itself furnish an example of what we mean.

“Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut,
Made by the joiner squirrel, or old grub,

Time out of mind the fairies' coach-makers.” These lines are not in the first copy; but how beautifully they fit in after the description of the spokes--the cover—the traces- the collars—the whip—and the waggoner; while, in their peculiarly rich and picturesque effect, they stand out before all the rest of the passage! Then, the “I have seen the day—* * * 't is gone, 't is gone, 't is gone,” of old Capulet, seems to speak more of the middleaged than of the youthful poet, of whom all the passages hy which it is surrounded are characteristic. Again, the lines in the friar's soliloquy, beginning

“The earth, that 's Nature's mother, is her tomb,” look like the work of one who had been reading and thinking more deeply of nature's mysteries than in his first delineation of the benevolent philosophy of this good old man. But, as we advance in the play, the development of the writer's powers is more and more displayed in his additions. The examples are far too numerous for us to particularize many of them. The critical reader may trace what has been added by our foot-notes. We would especially direct attention to the soliloquy of Juliet in the fifth scene of Act II. ;-to her soliloquy, also, in the second scene of Act III. ;—and to her great soliloquy, before taking the draught, in the fourth act. We have given this last passage as it stood in the original copy; and we confidently believe that whoever peruses it with attention will entertain little doubt that the original sketch was the work of a much younger man than the perfect composition which we now possess. The whole of the magnificent speech of Romeo in the tomb may be said to be re-written; and it produces in us precisely the same impressionthat it was the work of a genius much more mature than that which is exhibited in the original copy.

Tieck, who, as a translator of Shakspere, and as a profound and beautiful critic, has done very much for cultivating the knowledge, built upon love, which the Germans possess of our poet, has not been trammelled by Malone and Chalmers, but has placed “Romeo and Juliet' amongst Shakspere's early plays. We have no exact statements on this subject by Tieck; but, in a very delightful imaginary scene between Marlowe and Greene, he has made Marlowe describe to his brother dramatist the first performance of 'Romeo and Juliet' to which he had been witness.* Tieck has made this imaginary conversation a vehicle for the most enthusiastic praise of this play. Marlowe describes the performance as taking place at the palace of the Lord Hunsdon. He had expected, he says, that one of his own plays would have been performed; but he found that it was “ that old poem, which we have all long known, worked up into a tragedy.After Marlowe has run through the general characteristics of the play, with an eloquent admiration, mingled with deep regret that he himself had been able to approach so distantly the excellence of that “out-sounding mouth, which a godlike muse has herself inspired with the sweetest of her kisses,” he thus replies to Greene's inquiry as to who was the poet :-“ Wilt thou believe ?—one of Henslowe's common comedians, who has already served him many years on very low wages.” “ And now, if thy fever has passed," said Greene, “let us look on this thing in the broad light. This is merely such a passing apparition as we have seen many of beforeadmired, gaped at, praised without limit—but full of faults and imperfections, and soon to be altogether forgotten.” “ The same thing," said Marlowe, “ the same words were whispered to me by my base envy, when I observed the universal delight, the deep emotion, of every spectator. I endeavoured to comfort myself therewith, and again to recover my lost honours in this miserable manner. I fled from the company; and the house-steward, who had acted as an assistant, gave me the manuscript of the play. In my lonely chamber I sat and read the whole night, and read again, and each time admired the more; for much that had appeared to me episodical or superfluous, acquired, on more exact examination, a significancy and needful fulness. The good house-steward gave me also another poem, which the author has not yet quite completed, • Venus and Adonis,' that I might read it in my nightly leisure. My friend, even here, even in this sweet narrative,-even in this soft speech and voluptuous imagery,-in this intoxicating realm, where I, till now, only looked upon likenesses of myself,—I am

* Dichterleben, von Tieck : Berlin, 1828, p. 128, &c.

completely, completely beaten. O this man, this more than mortal! to him (I feel as if my life depends on it) I must become the most intimate friend or the most bitter enemy. Either I will yet find my way to him, or I will succumb to this Apollo, and he may then speak over my outstretched corpse the last words of praise or blame.” Tieck has thus decidedly placed the date of the performance of “Romeo and Juliet' before 1592,—for Greene died in that year, and Marlowe in the year following. The • Venus and Adonis,' which is here mentioned as not quite completed, was published in 1593. Tieck built his opinion, no doubt, upon internal evidence; and upon this evidence we must be content to let the question rest.

SUPPOSED SOURCE OF THE PLOT.

When Dante reproaches the Emperor Albert for neglect of Italy,–

“ Thy sire and thou have suffer'd thus, Through greediness of yonder realms detain'd,

The garden of the empire to run waste," he adds, –

“ Come, see the Capulets and Montagues,

The Filippeschi and Monaldi, man
Who car’st for nought! those sunk in grief, and these

With dire suspicion rack’d."* The Capulets and Montagues were amongst the fierce spirits who, according to the poet, had rendered Italy - savage and unmanageable.” The Emperor Albert was murdered in 1308; and the Veronese, who believe the story of. Romeo and Juliet' to be historically true, fix the date of this tragedy as 1303. At that period the Scalas, or Scaligers, ruled over Verona.

If the records of history tell us little of the fair Capulet and her loved Montague, whom Shakspere has made immortal, the novelists have seized upon the subject, as might be expected from its interest and its obscurity. Massuccio, a Neapolitan, who lived about 1470, was, it is supposed, the writer who first gave a somewhat similar story the clothing of a connected fiction. He places the scene at Sienna, and, of course, there is no mention of the Montagues and Capulets. The story, too, of Massuccio varies in its catastrophe; the bride recovering from her lethargy, produced by the same means as in the case of Juliet, and the husband being executed for a murder which had caused him to flee from his country. Mr. Douce has endeavoured to trace back the groundwork of the

* Purgatory, Canto 6 : Cary's Translation.

« PreviousContinue »