ePub 版



[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Much ADO ABOUT Nothing' was

first “The story is taken from Ariosto,” says printed in 1600. It had been entered at Pope. To Ariosto then we turn ; and we Stationers' Hall on the 23rd of August of are repaid for our labour by the pleasure of the same year.

The first edition is not reading that long but by no means tedious divided into acts; but in the folio of 1623 story of Genevra, which occupies the whole we find this division. There was no other of the fifth book, and part of the sixth, separate edition. The variations between of the Orlando Furioso.' “ The tale is a the text of the quarto and that of the folio pretty comical matter," as Harrington are very few. There is a remarkable pecu- quaintly pronounces it. The famous town liarity, however, in the text of the folio, of St. Andrew's forms its scene; and here which indicates very clearly that it was was enacted something like that piece of printed from the playhouse copy. In the villainy by which the Claudio of Shakspere second act (Scene 3) we find this stage- was deceived, and his Hero “done to death direction :-“Enter Prince, Leonato, Claudio, by slanderous tongues.” In Harrington's and Jack Wilson.” In the third act, when good old translation of the Orlando' there the two inimitable guardians of the night are six-and-forty pictures, as there are sixfirst descend upon the solid earth in Messina, and-forty books ; and, says the translator, to move mortals for ever after with un- “they are all cut in brass, and most of them extinguishable laughter, they speak to us by the best workmen in that kind that have in their well-known names of Dogberry and been in this land this many years : yet I Verges ; but in the fourth act we find the will not praise them too much because I names of mere human actors prefixed to gave direction for their making.” The witty what they say: Dogberry becomes Kempe, godson of Queen Elizabeth—"that merry and Verges Covley. Here, then, we have a poet, my godson”_adds, “ the use of the piece of the prompter's book before us. picture is evident, which is, that having Balthazar, with his “Sigh no more, ladies, read over the book you may read it as it sigh no more,” is identified with Jack Wil

were again in the very picture.” He might son; and Kempe and Cowley have come have said, you may read it as it were before; down to posterity in honourable association and if we had copied this picture-in which with the two illustrious “compartners of the whole action of the book is exhibited at the watch." We could almost believe that once in a bird's eye view, and where yet, as the play-editors of the folio in 1623 pur- he who gave “ direction for its making” posely left these anomalous entries as an

truly says,

“the personages of men, the historical tribute to the memory of their shapes of horses, and such like, are made fellows. Kempe, we know, had been dead | large at the bottom and lesser upward,”– some years before the publication of the our readers would have seen at a glance how folio ; and probably Cowley and Jack Wil- far “the story is taken from Ariosto.” For son had also gone where the voice of their here we have, “large at the bottom,” a fair merriment and their minstrelsy was heard one at a window, looking lovingly upon a no more.

man who is ascending a ladder of ropes, The chronology of this comedy is suffi- whilst at the foot of the said ladder an ciently fixed by the circumstance of its pub- unhappy wight is about to fall upon his lication in 1600, coupled with the fact that sword, from which fate he is with difficulty it is not mentioned by Meres in 1598. arrested by one who is struggling with him.



We here see at once the resemblance between | in Ariosto; nor is slain by her furious loyer, the story in Ariosto and the incident in as in Spenser ; but she is rejected, believed Much Ado about Nothing' upon which both to be dead, and finally married in disguise, the tragic and comic interest of the play as in “Much Ado about Nothing.' hinges. But here the resemblance ceases. Ariosto made this story a tale of chivalry; As we ascend the picture, we see the King Spenser a lesson of high and solemn morality; of Scotland seated upon a royal throne,- Bandello an interesting love-romance. It but no Dogberry; his disconsolate daughter was for Shakspere to surround the main inis placed by his side, but there is no veiled cident with those accessories which he could Hero; King, and Princess, and courtiers, nowhere borrow, and to make of it such a and people, are looking upon a tilting-ground, comedy as no other man has made—a comedy where there is a fierce and deadly encounter not of manners or of sentiment, but of life of two mailed knights,—but there is no viewed under its profoundest aspects, whether Beatrice and no Benedick. The truth is, of the grave or the ludicrous. that Ariosto found the incident of a lady betrayed to suspicion and danger, by the imagine-for, as a lover of Shakspere, thou

We request thee, O gentle reader, to personation of her own waiting-woman, canst imagine that thou wert extant in amongst the popular traditions of the south

the year of grace 1600 ; and that on a fine of Europe—this story has been traced to Spain ; and he interwove it with the adven- summer's morning of that year, as thou wert tures of his Rinaldo as an integral part of painfully guiding thy palfrey amongst the his chivalrous romance. The lady Genevra, thou didst tarry in thy pilgrimage for a few

deep ruts and muddy channels of Cheapside, so falsely accused, was doomed to die unless a true knight came within a month to do minutes to peruse a small printed bill affixed battle for her honour. Her lover, Ariodant, pon a post, which bore something like the

following announcement : had fled, and was reported to have perished.

BY THE Right HONOURABLE THE LORD The wicked duke, Polinesso, who had betrayed Genevra, appears secure in his treachery.

CHAMBERLAINE HIS SERVANTS, But the misguided woman, Dalinda, who AT THE GLOBE THEATRE AT BANKSIDE, had been the instrument of his crime, flying This day, being Tuesday, July 11, 1600, will from her paramour, meets with Rinaldo,

be acted, and declares the truth ; and then comes the combat, in which the guilty duke is slain by

MUCH A DOE ABOUT NOTHING, the champion of innocence, and the lover

WRITTEN BY WILLIAM SHAKSPERE. re-appears to be made happy with his spotless This, thou seest—for thou art cognizant of princess.

the present time as well as imaginative of The motive which influences the Polinesso the past—is not a bill as big as a house, the of Ariosto is the hope that by vilifying the smallest letters of which are afflicted with character of Genevra he may get rid of his elephantiasis ; nor is it a bill which talks of rival in her love. Spenser has told a similar "prodigious hit” and “thunders of apstory in the 'Faerie Queene' (Book II., plause,” nor in which you see Mr. William Canto IV.), in which Phedon describes the Kempe's name towering in red letters above like treachery of his false friend Philemon. all his fellows : but a modest, quiet, little The motive here was not very unlike bill—an innocent bill—which ought not to that of Don John in 'Much Ado about have provoked the abuse of the Puritans, Nothing.'

that “players, by sticking of their bills in The European story, which Ariosto and London, defile the streets with their infecSpenser have thus adopted, has formed also tious filthiness."* In reading this bill thou the groundwork of one of Bandello's Italian receivest especially into thy mind three novels. And here the wronged lady has ideas which set thee thinking—the company neither her honour vindicated in battle, as

* Mirror of Monsters,' 1587.


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]



of actors who perform the play, the name of Ado ;' the “objective reality” the about the play to be performed, the name of the Nothing. The reviewer has given us clearly writer. Thou knowest that it is the best and concisely the results to which the incompany, and the best writer, of the day; quiry, pursued upon this principle, has conbut the play—is the play a tragedy, or a ducted the German critic. The contradichistory, or a comedy ? Thou opinest that it tion between life and its aspects “is set is a comedy. If the title were ' Much Ado' forth in an acted commentary on the title of thou wouldst be puzzled ; but 'Much Ado the drama ;—a series of incidents which, in about Nothing' lets thee into a secret. Thou themselves neither real, nor strange, nor knowest, assuredly, that the author of the important, are regarded by the actors as play will take the spectators into his con- being all these things. The war at the fidence ; that he will show them the pre- opening, it is said, begins without reason paration, and the bustle, and the turmoil, and ends without result ; Don Pedro and it may be the distress, of some domestic seems to woo Hero for himself, while he event, or chain of events,—the 'Much Ado' gains her for his friend ; Benedick and to the actors, of the events, who have not Beatrice, after carrying on a merry camthe thread of the labyrinth ; but, to the paign of words without real enmity, are spectators, who sit with the book of fate entrapped into a marriage without real love : open before them,—who know how all this the leading story rests in a seeming faithbegins and expect how it will all end,-it is lessness, and its results are a seeming death

Much Ado about Nothing. It is a comedy, and funeral, a challenge which produces no then; in which surprise is for the actors,— fighting, and a marriage in which the bride expectation is for the audience. Thou wilt is a pretender ; and the weakness and shacross London Bridge and see this comedy; dowiness of human wishes and plans are for, “ as the feeling with which we startle at exposed with yet more cutting irony in the a shooting star, compared with that of means that bring about the fortunate catawatching the sunrise at the pre-established strophe,-an incident in which the unwitting moment, such and so low is surprise com- agents_headed by Dogberry, the very repared with expectation."*

presentative of the idea of the piece_ar We have no wish to tutoyer the gentle the lowest and most stupid characters of the reader any farther. We have desired only whole group.” The reviewer adds—“The to show the significancy of the title of this poet's readers may hesitate in following his play, by exhibiting it in slight connection speculative critic the whole way in this with the circumstances under which it was journey to the temple of abstract truth." published. For the title of this comedy, There are many of the poet's readers who rightly considered, is the best expositor of will altogether reject this abstract mode of the idea of this comedy. Dr. Ulrici, em- examining his works. To them the “absploying a dialect with which the English tract truth" appears but as a devious and ear is not quite familiar, tells us that the uncertain glimmering-a taper in the sunfundamental idea lies in the antithesis which shine. Have we not in Shakspere, say they, the play exhibits of the objective reality of high poetry, sparkling wit, the deepest human life to its subjective aspect. An able pathos ? are not the characters well defined, anonymous writer translates this for us into

adroitly grouped ; his plots interesting, his more intelligible language :-“ He considers incidents skilfully evolved ? True. And so, the play as a representation of the contrast in nature, we have sky and water, and the and contradiction between life in its real forms and colours of leafy trees, and quiet essence and the aspect which it presents to dells, and fertile fields, and dewy lawns, and those who are engaged in its struggle.”+ | brilliant flowers ; and we can understand The subjective aspect,” then, is the 'Much the loveliness of separate objects, and we * Coleridge, ' Literary Remains,' vol. ii. p. 78.

partly see how they forin what the eye calls . Edinburgh Review,' July, 1840.

a picture. But there comes an artist, and

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

he sets us to look at the same objects from and added enough to prove his want of another point of view; and he watches a judgment”—this lady even is not insensible moment when there is a sunny gleam upon to the merits of parts of the composition: this part of the landscape, and a softened “ There is a great deal of true wit and shade upon the other part; and he tells us humour in the comic scenes of this play; the to look again with the eye of his technical characters of Benedick and Beatrice are knowledge, and the scene has become al properly marked.” But there are critics, and together picturesque ; and, when we have those of a higher order, who do not quite habituated ourselves to this mode of view- agree with Mrs. Lenox in giving to Shakspere ing the works of nature, we have acquired this comparatively small merit. Mr. Campbell almost a new sense. So it is with the works tells us,—“ during one half of the play we of the poet: he looks upon nature, and have a disagreeable female character in that copies nature, not with a camera-lucida of Beatrice. Her portrait, I may be told, is fidelity, but with the higher truth of his deeply drawn and minutely finished. It is ; own art; and, till we have arrived at some- and so is that of Benedick, who is entirely thing like a comprehension of the principle her counterpart, except that he is less disof harmony in which he works, we are not agreeable. But the best drawn portraits, by qualified to judge of his work as a whole, the finest masters, may be admirable in however we may be pleased with many of execution, though unpleasant to contemplate; its details. With regard to Shakspere, a and Beatrice's portrait is in this category great deal of the false judgment upon his ... She is an odious woman."* With powers, which has long passed current, is every respect for a poet's opinion of a poet's to be traced to the utter blindness of the work, we presume to think that Mr. Campbell critics to the presence of any pervading idea has fallen into a mistake; and that his running through a particular work, which mistake arises from his contemplation of should illuminate all its parts. Had the Beatrice as a single portrait cut out of a Zoili of the last generation conceived that large picture, and not viewed in reference to Shakspere worked upon some principle its relative position with, and its dependence which, like the agencies of nature, was to upon, the other parts of that picture. For, be seen more in its effects than in its mani- in truth, whether Beatrice be disagreeable festation of itself, could such a sentence as and odious, or "cette charmante et redoutable this have been written of the comedy before femme," as a French critic has it, she could us !_“ This fable, absurd and ridiculous as be no other than the identical Beatrice, in it is, was drawn from the foregoing story of the place in which she is. For is she not Genevra, in Ariosto's Orlando Furioso,' a one that at first presents to us the prosaic fiction which, as it is managed by the epic side of human nature—the jesting, gibing, poet, is neither improbable nor unnatural ; sarcastic side; one who has no faith in valour, but by Shakespear mangled and defaced, and is not to be subdued by courtesy; who full of inconsistencies, contradictions, and prefers a “ skirmish of wit" to making blunders.”* We have done with this style “account of her life to a clod of wayward of criticism, of course, now; but it has only marl ?” But is not the real Beatrice at been banished by the disposition of the world bottom a true woman, — high-spirited, to look at Shakspere's art, and at all art, a imaginative woman,-one who, with all her little more from the abstract point of view. wit, has no slight portion of woman's

But Mrs. Lenox, who, in default of a sense sensibility about her; and is by no means of the poetical picturesque, has thus told very gay when she says "I may sit in a us of “inconsistencies, contradictions, and corner, and cry, heigh ho! for a husband ?” blunders,”—and who is farther pleased to Truly she is a woman that falls into the say that Shakspere, in this play, " borrowed trap of affection with wonderful alacrity; just enough to show his poverty of invention, who, while hidden in * Shakespear Illustrated,' vol. iii. p. 261.

* Moxon's Edition of Shakspeare. Life.

[ocr errors]

“the pleached bower, than a man swear he loves me," does to Where honeysuckles, ripen'd by the sun, that of Beatrice. They are each acting; and Forbid the sun to enter,"

they have each a shrewd guess that the other hears it said of her, and hears it without any

is acting; and each is in the other's thoughts; violence or burst of passion,

and the stratagem by which they are each

entrapped-not, as we think, into an unreal “Disdain and scorn ride sparkling in her eyes,

love, as Ulrici says—is precisely in its Misprising what they look on; and her wit

symmetrical simplicity what was necessary Values itself so highly, that to her

to get rid of their reciprocal disguises, and to All matter else seems weak: she cannot love,

make them straightforward and in earnest. Nor take no shape nor project of affection,

The conclusion of the affair is the playful She is 80 self-endeared.”

echo of all that is past :And why is she so calm under this bitter

Bene. Come, I will have thee; but, by this reproach, which she believes to be real? Why light, I take thee for pity. shows she no after resentment against her

Beat. I would not deny you; but, by this cousin for the representation which she has good day, I yield upon great persuasion.” drawn of her? Simply because she knows she has been playfully wearing a mask to The 'Much Ado about Nothing' was acted hide the real strength of her sympathies. under the name of Benedick and Beatrice,'

even during the life of its author. These Contempt, farewell! and maiden pride, adieu !"

two characters absorb very much of the She is not a thing of mere negations; a acting interest of the play. They are starfashionable, brilliant, untrusting thing. It characters, suited for the Garricks and Jordans is she whom we next encounter, all heart, to display themselves in. But they cannot presenting to us the poetical side of human be separated from the play without being nature, when all around her is prosaic; who, liable to misconstruction. The character of when her cousin's wedding “ looks not like a

Beatrice cannot be understood, except in nuptial,” and that poor innocent Hero is connection with the injuries done to Hero; deserted by lover and father, has alone the and except, once again, we view it, as well courage to say,

as the characters of all the other agents in

the scene, with reference to the one leading “Oh, on my soul, my cousin is belied.”

idea, that there is a real aspect of things It is the injury done to Hero which wrings which is to be seen by the audience and not from Beatrice the avowal of her love for seen by the agents. The character of Don Benedick. Is it a reproach to her that she John, for example, and the characters of his would have her lover peril his life against loose confederates, are understood by the the false accuser of her cousin? She has spectators; and their villainy is purposely thrown off her maidenly disguises, and transparent. Without Don John the plot the earnestness of her soul will have vent. could not more. He is not a rival in Claudio's She and Benedick are now bound for ever in love, as the "wicked duke” of Ariosto : he their common pity for the unfortunate. The is simply a moody, ill-conditioned, spiteful conventional Beatrice has become the actual rascal:-such a one as ordinarily takes to Beatrice. The “subjective appearance” has backbiting and hinting away character. become the “objective reality.” The same Shakspere gets rid of him as soon as he can : process is repeated throughout the character he fires the train and disappears. He would of Benedick, for the original groundwork of be out of harmony with the happiness which the character is the same as that of Beatrice. he has suspended but not destroyed; and so “Would you have me speak after my custom, he passes from the stage, with as being a professed tyrant to their sex,"

“ Think not on him till to-morrow." presents the same key to his character as “ I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow, But his instrumentality has been of theutmost

[ocr errors]
« 上一頁繼續 »