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‘Romeo AND JULIET' was first printed in the year 1597. The second edition was printed in 1599. The title of that edition declares it to be “Newly corrected, augmented, and amended.” There can be no doubt whatever that the corrections, augmentations, and emendations were those of the author. We
know of nothing in literary history more
curious or more instructive than the example of minute attention, as well as consummate skill, exhibited by Shakspere in correcting, augmenting, and amending the first copy of this play. “of the truth of Juliet's story, they (the Veronese) seem tenacious to a degree, insisting on the fact—giving a date (1803), and showing a tomb. It is a plain, open, and partly decayed sarcophagus, with withered ieaves in it, in a wild and desolate conventual garden, once a cemetery, now ruined to the very graves. The situation struck me as very appropriate to the legend, being blighted as their love.” Byron thus described the tomb of Juliet to his friend Moore, as he saw it at the close of autumn, when withered leaves had dropped into the decayed sarcophagus, and the vines that are trailed above it had been stripped of their fruit. His letter to Moore, in which this passage occurs, is dated the 7th November. But this wild and desolate garden only struck
Byron as appropriate to the legend—to that simple tale of fierce hatreds and fatal loves which tradition has still preserved, amongst those who may never have read Luigi da Porto or Bandello, the Italian romancers who give the tale, and who, perhaps, never heard the name of Shakspere. To the legend only is the blighted place appropriate. For who that has ever been thoroughly imbued with the story of Juliet, as told by Shakspere-who that has heard his “glorious song of praise on that inexpressible feel
|ing which ennobles the soul and gives to it
its highest sublimity, and which elevates even the senses themselves into soul,”— who that, in our great poet's matchless delineation of Juliet's love, has perceived “whatever is most intoxicating in the odour of a southern spring, languishing in the song of
the nightingale, or voluptuous on the first
opening of the rose,” “–who, indeed, that looks upon the tomb of the Juliet of Shakspere, can see only a shapeless ruin amidst wildness and desolation?
of pleasure, is interwoven with the whole structure and conduct of the play. The tragical part of the story, from the first scene to the last, is held in subjection to the beautiful. It is not only that the beautiful comes to the relief of the tragic, as in ‘Lear' and “Othello, but here the tragic is only a mode of exhibiting the beautiful under its most striking aspects. Shakspere never intended that the story of “Romeo and Juliet' should lacerate the heart. When Mrs. Inchbald, therefore, said, in her preface to the acted play, “‘Romeo and Juliet' is called a pathetic tragedy, but it is not so in reality —it charms the understanding and delights the imagination, without melting, though it touches, the heart,”—she paid the highest compliment to Shakspere's skill as an artist, for he had thoroughly worked out his own idea. Coleridge has described the homogeneousmess—the totality of interest—which is the great characteristic of this play, by one of those beautiful analogies which could only proceed from the pen of a true poet:“Whence arises the harmony that strikes us in the wildest natural landscapes, in the relative shapes of rocks, the harmony of colours in the heaths, ferns, and lichens, the leaves of the beech and the oak, the stems and rich brown branches of the birch and other mountain trees, varying from verging autumn to returning spring, compared with the visual effect from the greater number of artificial plantations?—From this, that the natural landscape is effected, as it were, by a single energy modified ab intra in each component part. And, as this is the particular excellence of the Shaksperian drama generally, so is it especially characteristic of the ‘Romeo and Juliet.'”" Schlegel carried out the proofs of this assertion in an Essay on ‘Romeo and Juliet';* in which, to use his own words, he “went through the whole of the scenes in their order, and demonstrated theinward necessity
* * Literary Remains,’ vol. ii. p. 150. * “Charakteristiken und Kritiken.”
of each with reference to the whole; showed why such a particular circle of characters and relations was placed around the two lovers; explained the signification of the mirth here and there scattered; and justified the use of the occasional heightening given to the poetical colours.” Schlegel wisely did this to exhibit what is more remarkable in Shakspere than in any other poet, “the thorough formation of a work, even in its minutest part, according to a leading idea— the dominion of the animating spirit over all the means of execution.” The general criticism of Schlegel upon ‘Romeo and Juliet' is based upon a perfect comprehension of this great principle upon which Shakspere worked. The following is the close of a celebrated passage upon ‘Romeo and Juliet,' which has often been quoted;—but it is altogether so true and so beautiful, that we cannot resist the pleasure of circulating it still more widely:
“Whatever is most intoxicating in the odour of a southern spring, languishing in the song of the nightingale, or voluptuous on the first opening of the rose, is breathed into this poem. But, even more rapidly than the earliest blossoms of youth and beauty decay, it hurries on from the first timidlybold declaration of love and modest return, to the most unlimited passion, to an irrevocable union; then, amidst alternating storms of rapture and despair, to the death of the two lovers, who still appear enviable as their love survives them, and as by their death they have obtained a triumph over every separating power. The sweetest and the bitterest, love and hatred, festivity and dark forebodings, tender embraces and sepulchres, the fulness of life and self-annihilation, are all here brought close to each other; and all these contrasts are so blended in the har. monious and wonderful work into a unity of impression, that the echo which the whole leaves behind in the mind resembles a single but endless sigh.”
SCENE,--DURING THE GREATER PART of THE PLAY, IN VERONA; once (IN THE FIFTH Act) AT MANTUA.
Two households, both alike in dignity,
The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love,
And the continuance of their parents' rage,
Which, but their children's end, nought could remove, Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage; The which if you with patient ears attend, What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.
SCENE I.—A public Place.
SAM. Gregory, o' my word, we'll not carry coals".
* The first quarto of 1597, which we mark as (A), “Stand to it.”