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fact, taken singly, may possibly be accounted for; but the many facts, all correctly given, form the marvel.
The scene of Much ado about Nothing is at Messina. If Dogberry and Verges should be pronounced nothing else than the constables of the night in London, before the new police was established, I can assert that I have seen those very officers in Italy, France and Russia; and doubtless they are to be found at Constantinople,-unless among the Turks there are no petty dogs in office, at once self-sufficient, pompous, and ignorant. Nothing in this Sicilian comedy is of a contradictory nature.
There is no other Italian play, by our poet, which I consider to have been written after 1597, except the Tempest, and the characters in it are sufficiently national. As this is one of his last plays, if it could be proved there is a topographical error in it, (as is insinuated by Henley, in a note to a passage, misunderstood by him, in Othello) I grant that my arguments are much weakened. The note says, "Shakespeare's acquaintance with the topography of Italy, (as appears from the Tempest) was very imperfect." In vain have I looked for the imperfection; nor can I guess in what passage it was imagined, unless in Prospero's account of his having been forced from Milan to the sea, the annotator assuming that the poet believed Milan was a sea-port. He neither wrote so, nor ought any one to be impressed with such a notion. The passage referred to may be this:
A treacherous army levied, one midnight
The gates of Milan; and, i' the dead of darkness,
In few, they hurried us aboard a bark;
Bore us some leagues to sea; where they prepared
Prospero was hurried from Milan, and also hurried aboard a bark; but no distance is specified, nor is it necessary. A man may be hurried from Portsmouth to the sea, or from Paris to the sea at Marseilles. State-prisoners, in close carriages, are hurried to this day, for hundreds of miles, across Italy, as I myself have witnessed. But this is not all; a common mode of reaching the sea from Milan, is to travel by land merely to Piacenza, and thence in a bark, down the wide, deep, and rapid Po. So plain is either of these methods, that I am still in doubt if I rightly interpret Henley's critical note; but I can find no other peg whereon to hang it.
Thus much on the Italian plays written after 1597. I believe that the three remaining were written before that date.
All's well that ends well. This comedy is ascribed to the year 1598 or 9, by the Chronologers, on no authority whatever. To me it appears, from its general character, an earlier work by some years. Here the third and fourth acts are chiefly at Florence. The expression "beside the port" of course means "beside the gate;" otherwise it is a sad error; but Helena, as a pilgrim, going to the shrine of the " great Saint Jacques," is strange enough; and such names
as Escalus and Corambus are very unlike his after Italian names.
Romeo and Juliet, an early play, contains nothing more of Italian manners than can be found in the English poem, from which it is taken, of Romeus and Juliet. Here we have another Escalus; an odd corruption, I conjecture, of Della Scala, the real prince, according to Bandello and Da Porto.
As for the Two Gentlemen of Verona, it tends to show more strongly than the two last mentioned, that Shakespeare, before 1597, knew not Italy as it appears he did afterwards; and that the intuitive knowledge of genius by no means belonged to him.
His knowledge of the language has been denied. A question on this subject properly appertains to a consideration of the extent of his learning, of which I am about to treat; but it will be of more service in this place.
Dr. Farmer thus speaks of the Italian words introduced into his plays: "Their orthography might lead us to suspect them to be not of the writer's importation." Whose then, with bad orthography? I cannot understand this suspicion; but perhaps it implies that the words, being incorrectly printed, were not originally correct. The art of printing was formerly far from being so exact as at present; but even now, I beg leave to say, I rarely meet with an Italian quotation in an English book that is correct; yet I can perceive plainly enough, from the context, the printer is alone to blame. In the same way I see that the following passage in the Taming of the Shrew, bears evident marks of having been correct, before it was
corrupted in the printing of the first folios, and that it originally stood thus:
"Petruchio. Con tutto il core ben' trovato,—may I say. Hortensio. Alla nostra casa ben' venuto, molto onorato signor mio Petruchio."
These words show an intimate acquaintance with the mode of salutation on the meeting of two Italian gentlemen; and they are precisely such colloquial expressions as a man might well pick up in his travels through the country. My own opinion is that Shakespeare, beyond the power of reading it, which is easily acquired, had not much knowledge of Italian; though I believe it infinitely surpassed that of Stevens, or of Dr. Farmer, or of Dr. Johnson; that is, I believe that, while they pretended to pass an unerring judgment on his Italian, they themselves must have been astonishingly ignorant of the language. Let me make good my accusation against all three. It is necessary to destroy their authority in this instance.
Stevens gives this note in the Taming of the Shrew: "Me pardonuto. We should read, Mi pardonate.” Indeed we should read no such thing as two silly errors in two common words. Shakespeare may have written Mi perdoni, or Perdonatemi; but why disturb the text farther than by changing the syllable par into per? It then expresses, instead of pardon me, me being pardoned, and is suitable both to the sense and the metre,
"Me perdonato,-gentle master mine."
Dr. Farmer says,-" When Pistol cheers up himself with ends of verse,' he is only a copy of Hanniball
Gonsaga, who ranted on yielding himself a prisoner to an English captain in the Low Countries, as you may read in an old collection of tales, called Wits, Fits, and Fancies,
'Si fortuna me tormenta,
Il speranza me contenta.'
This is given as Italian, not that of the ignorant Pistol, nor of Shakespeare, but of Hanniball Gonsaga; but how comes it that Dr. Farmer did not look into the first few pages of a grammar, to teach him that the lines must have been these?
And how could he corrupt orthography (a crying sin with him) in the name of Annibale Gonzaga?
Upon this very passage Dr. Johnson has a note, and, following the steps of Sir Thomas Hanmer, puts his foot, with uncommon profundity, in the mud. He says;-"Sir Thomas Hanmer reads: Si fortuna me tormenta, il sperare me contenta, which is undoubtedly the true reading, but perhaps it was intended that Pistol should corrupt it." Perhaps it was; but "undoubtedly" the Doctor in his "true reading," containing five blunders in eight words, has carried corruption too far.
There is not much Italian in Shakespeare's works, and possibly, as I have said, he did not know much more, though his century was very favourable to its study. When he wrote Hamlet, we may presume he knew nothing of the language, simply on account of his making Baptista the name of a woman, an error