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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, aug. mented, 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, aug. menting, 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 (1303), and showing a tomb. It is a plain, open, and partly decayed sarcophagus, with withered leaves 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 YOL. VII.
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 feeling 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?
"- A grave? O, no: a lantern,
This vault a feasting presence full of light." In “Romeo and Juliet' the principle of limiting the pathetic according to the degree in which it is calculated to produce emotions 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 * A. W. Schlegel's Lectures.
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 homogeneousness--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';t in which, to use his own words, he went through the whole of the scenes in their order, and demonstrated the inward necessity 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
• Literarv Remains, vol. ij. p. 150.