ePub 版

mands of the modern theatre that the scenery and costume should belong to some definite period. This desire for exactness is, to a certain extent, an evil; and it is an evil which necessarily belongs to what, at first appearance, is a manifest improvement in the modern stage. The exceeding beauty and accuracy of scenery and dress in our days is destructive, in some degree, to the poetical truth of Shakspere's dramas. It takes them out of the region of the broad and universal, | to impair their freedom and narrow their range by a topographical and chronological minuteness.

When the word "Thebes"*

was exhibited upon a painted board to Shakspere's audience, their thoughts of that city were in subjection to the descriptions of the poet; but, if a pencil as magical as that of Stanfield had shown them a Thebes that the child might believe to be a reality, the words to which they listened would have been comparatively uninteresting, in the easier gratification of the senses instead of the intellect. Poetry must always have something of the vague and indistinct in its character. The exact has its own province. Let science explore the wilds of Africa, and map out for us where there are mighty rivers and verdant plains, in the places where the old geographers gave us pictures of lions and elephants to designate undiscovered desolation. But let poetry still have its undefined countries; let Arcadia remain unsurveyed; let us not be too curious to inquire whether Dromio was an ancient heathen or a Christian, nor whether Bottom the weaver lived precisely at the time when Theseus did battle with the Centaurs.

Coleridge has furnished the philosophy of all just criticism upon The Comedy of Errors' in a note, which we shall copy entire from his 'Literary Remains:'—

"The myriad-minded man, our, and all men's Shakspere, has in this piece presented us with a legitimate farce in exactest consonance with the philosophical principles and character of farce, as distinguished from comedy and from entertainments. A proper farce is mainly distinguished from comedy by the licence allowed, and even required, in * See Sydney's 'Defence of Poesy.'

the fable, in order to produce strange and laughable situations. The story need not be probable, it is enough that it is possible. A comedy would scarcely allow even the two Antipholuses; because, although there have been instances of almost indistinguishable likeness in two persons, yet these are mere individual accidents, casus ludentis naturæ, and the verum will not excuse the inverisimile. But farce dares add the two Dromios, and is justified in so doing by the laws of its end and constitution. In a word, farces commence in a postulate, which must be granted."

This postulate granted, it is impossible to imagine any dramatic action to be managed with more skill than that of 'The Comedy of Errors.' Hazlitt has pronounced a censure upon the play which is in reality a commendation:-"The curiosity excited is certainly very considerable, though not of the most pleasing kind. We are teased as with a riddle, which, notwithstanding, we try to solve." To excite the curiosity, by presenting a riddle which we should try to solve, was precisely what Plautus and Shakspere intended to do. Our poet has made the riddle more complex by the introduction of the two Dromios, and has therefore increased the excitement of our curiosity. But whe| ther this excitement be pleasing or annoying, and whether the riddle amuse or tease us, entirely depends upon the degree of attention which the reader or spectator of the farce is disposed to bestow upon it. Hazlitt adds, "In reading the play, from the sameness of the names of the two Antipholuses and the two Dromios, as well as from their being constantly taken for each other by those who see them, it is difficult, without a painful effort of attention, to keep the characters distinct in the mind. And again, on the stage, either the complete similarity of their persons and dress must produce the same perplexity whenever they first enter, or the identity of appearance which the story supposes will be destroyed. We still, however, having a clue to the difficulty, can tell which is which, merely from the contradictions which arise as soon as the different parties begin to speak; and we are

to us.

indemnified for the perplexity and blunders into which we are thrown, by seeing others thrown into greater and almost inextricable ones." Hazlitt has here, almost undesignedly, pointed out the source of the pleasure which, with an "effort of attention," not a "painful effort," we think,-a reader or spectator of 'The Comedy of Errors' is sure to receive from this drama. We have "a clue to the difficulty;"—we know more than the actors in the drama;-we may be a little perplexed, but the deep perplexity of the characters is a constantly increasing triumph We have never seen the play; but one who has seen it thus describes the effect: “Until I saw it on the stage (not mangled into an opera), I had not imagined the extent of the mistakes, the drollery of them, their unabated continuance, till, at the end of the fourth act, they reached their climax with the assistance of Dr. Pinch, when the audience in their laughter rolled about like Mr. Brown adds, with great truth, "To the strange contrast of grave astonishment among the actors, with their laughable situations in the eyes of the spectators, who are let into the secret, is to be ascribed the irresistible effect." The spectators, the readers, have the clue, are let into the secret, by the story of the first scene. Nothing can be more beautifully managed, or is altogether more Shaksperean, than the narrative of Egeon: and that narrative is so clear and so impressive, that the reader never forgets it amidst all the errors and perplexities which follow. The Duke, who, like the reader or spectator, has heard the narrative, instantly sees the real state of things when the dénouement is approaching :



'Why, here begins his morning story right." The reader or spectator has seen it all along, -certainly by an effort of attention, for without the effort the characters would be confounded like the vain shadows of a halfwaking dream;—and, having seen it, it is impossible, we think, that the constant readiness of the reader or spectator to solve the riddle should be other than pleasurable.


*Shakespeare's Autobiographical Poems,' &c. By Charles Armitage Brown.

appears to us that every one of an audience of 'The Comedy of Errors,' who keeps his eyes open, will, after he has become a little familiar with the persons of the two Antipholuses and the two Dromios, find out some clue by which he can detect a difference between each, even without "the practical contradictions which arise as soon as the different parties begin to speak." Schlegel says, "In such pieces we must always presuppose, to give an appearance of truth to the senses at least, that the parts by which the misunderstandings are occasioned are played with masks: and this the poet, no doubt, observed." Whether masks, properly so called, were used in Shakspere's time in the representation of this play, we have some doubt. But, unquestionably, each pair of persons selected to play the twins must be of the same height,—with such general resemblances of the features as may be made to appear identical by the colour and false hair of the tiring-room,—and be dressed with apparently perfect similarity. But let every care be taken to make the deception perfect, and yet the observing spectator will detect a difference between each; some peculiarity of the voice, some 66 trick o' the eye," some dissimilarity in gait, some minute variation in dress. We once knew two adult twin-brothers who might have played the Dromios without the least aids from the arts of the theatre. They were each stout, their stature was the same, each had a sort of shuffle in his walk, the voice of each was rough and unmusical, and they each dressed without any manifest peculiarity. One of them had long been a resident in the country town where we lived within a few doors of him, and saw him daily; the other came from a distant county to stay with our neighbour. Great was the perplexity. It was perfectly impossible to distinguish between them, at first, when they were apart; and we well remember walking some distance with the stranger, mistaking him for his brother, and not discovering the mistake (which he humoured) till we saw his total ignorance of the locality. But after seeing this Dromio erraticus a few times the perplexity was at an end. There was a difference which was

palpable, though not exactly to be defined. | execute, which he has for years pursued If the features were alike, their expression without success:— was somewhat varied; if their figures were the same, the one was somewhat more erect than the other; if their voices were similar, the one had a different mode of accentuation

from the other; if they each wore a blue coat with brass buttons, the one was decidedly more slovenly than the other in his general appearance. If we had known them at all intimately, we probably should have ceased to think that the outward points of identity were even greater than the points of differWe should have, moreover, learned the difference of their characters. It appears to us, then, that as this farce of real life was very soon at an end when we had become a little familiar with the peculiarities in the persons of those twin brothers, so the spectator of The Comedy of Errors' will very soon detect the differences of the Dromios


[ocr errors]

and Antipholuses; and that, while his curiosity is kept alive by the effort of attention which is necessary for this detection, the riddle will not only not tease him, but its perpetual solution will afford him the utmost satisfaction.

But has not Shakspere himself furnished a clue to the understanding of the Errors, by his marvellous skill in the delineation of character? Pope forcibly remarked that, if our poet's dramas were printed without the names of the persons represented being attached to the individual speeches, we should know who is speaking by his wonderful discrimination in assigning to every character appropriate modes of thought and expression. It appears to us that this is unquestionably the case with the characters of each of the twin-brothers in 'The Comedy of Errors.'

"He that commends me to mine own content Commends me to the thing I cannot get.

I to the world am like a drop of water That in the ocean seeks another drop." Sedate, gentle, loving, the Antipholus of Syracuse is one of Shakspere's amiable creations. He beats his slave according to the custom of slave-beating; but he laughs with him and is kind to him almost at the same moment. He is an enthusiast, for he falls in love with Luciana in the midst of his perplexities, and his lips utter some of the most exquisite poetry:

"Oh, train me not, sweet mermaid, with thy note, To drown me in thy sister flood of tears; Sing, syren, for thyself, and I will dote: Spread o'er the silver waves thy golden hairs."


But he is accustomed to habits of self-command, and he resolves to tear himself away even from the syren :

[ocr errors]

'But, lest myself be guilty to self-wrong,

I'll stop mine ears against the mermaid's

As his perplexities increase, he ceases to be
with his slave:-
"The fellow is distract, and so am I;

And here we wander in illusions:

Some blessed power deliver us from hence!" Unlike the Menæchmus Sosicles of Plautus he refuses to dine with the courtezan. He is firm yet courageous when assaulted by the Merchant. When the Errors are clearing up, he modestly adverts to his love for Luciana; and we feel that he will be happy.

Antipholus of Ephesus is decidedly inferior to his brother in the quality of his intellect

The Dromio of Syracuse is described by his and the tone of his morals. He is scarcely

master as

"A trusty villain, sir; that very oft,
When I am dull with care and melancholy,
Lightens my humour with his merry jests."

But the wandering Antipholus herein de-
scribes himself: he is a prey to "
care and
melancholy." He has a holy purpose to

justified in calling his wife "shrewish." Her fault is a too sensitive affection for him. Her feelings are most beautifully described in that address to her supposed husband :—

[blocks in formation]

If aught possess thee from me, it is dross,
Usurping ivy, briar, or idle moss."

The classical image of the elm and the vine would have been sufficient to express the feelings of a fond and confiding woman; the exquisite addition of the.

Usurping ivy, briar, or idle moss,” conveys the prevailing uneasiness of a loving and doubting wife. Antipholus of Ephesus has somewhat hard measure dealt to him throughout the progress of the Errors ;—but he deserves it. His doors are shut against him, it is true;—in his impatience he would force his way into his house, against the remonstrances of the good Balthazar :

“Your long experience of her wisdom, Her sober virtue, years, and modesty, Plead on her part some cause to you unknown."

He departs, but not "in patience;”—he is content to dine from home, but not at "the Tiger." His resolve

"That chain will I bestow

(Be it for nothing but to spite my wife) Upon mine hostess"

would not have been made by his brother in a similar situation. He has spited his wife; he has dined with the courtezan. But he is not satisfied :

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

Of pale distemperatures."

The characters of the two Dromios are not so distinctly marked in their points of difference, at the first aspect. They each have their " merry jests;" they each bear a beating with wonderful good temper; they each cling faithfully to their master's interests. But there is certainly a marked difference in the quality of their mirth. The Dromio of Ephesus is precise and antithetical, striving to utter his jests with infinite gravity and discretion, and approaching a pun with a sly solemnity that is prodigiously diverting :"The capon burns, the pig falls from the spit; The clock hath strucken twelve upon the bell; My mistress made it one upon my cheek: She is so hot, because the meat is cold." Again :

"I have some marks of yours upon my pate, Some of my mistress' marks upon my shoulders,

But not a thousand marks between you both." He is a formal humorist, and, we have no doubt, spoke with a drawling and monotonous accent, fit for his part in such a dialogue as this:

"Ant. E. Were not my doors lock'd up, and I shut out?

Dro. E. Perdy, your doors were lock'd, and you shut out.

Ant. E. And did not she herself revile me there?

Dro. E. Sans fable, she herself reviled you there.

Ant. E. Did not her kitchen-maid rail, taunt, and scorn me?

Dro. E. Certes, she did; the kitchen-vestal scorn'd you."

On the contrary, the "merry jests" of Dromio of Syracuse all come from the outpouring of his gladsome heart. He is a creature of prodigious animal spirits, running over

with fun and queer similitudes. He makes not the slightest attempt at arranging a joke, but utters what comes uppermost with irrepressible volubility. He is an untutored wit, and, we have no doubt, gave his tongue such active exercise, by hurried pronunciation and variable emphasis, as could alone make his long descriptions endurable by his sensitive master. Look at the dialogue in the second scene of Act II., where Antipholus, after having repressed his jests, is drawn into a tilting-match of words with him, in which the merry slave has clearly the victory. Look, again, at his description of the "kitchenwench,”—coarse, indeed, in parts, but altogether irresistibly droll. The twin-brother was quite incapable of such a flood of fun.

Again, what a prodigality of wit is displayed in his description of the bailiff! His epithets are inexhaustible. Each of the Dromios is admirable in his way: but we think that he of Syracuse is as superior to the twinslave of Ephesus as our old friend Launce is to Speed, in 'The Two Gentlemen of Verona.' These distinctions between the Antipholuses and Dromios have not, as far as we know, been before pointed out ;—but they certainly do exist, and appear to us to be defined by the great master of character with singular force as well as delicacy. Of course the characters of the twins could not be violently contrasted, for that would have destroyed the illusion. They must still

"Go hand in hand, not one before another."



THIS play was one of those published in Shakspere's lifetime. The first edition appeared in 1598, under the following title: | 'A pleasant conceited Comedie, called Loues Labors Lost. As it was presented before her Highnes this last Christmas. Newly corrected and augmented by W. Shakespere.' We have seen, from the title of the first edition of 'Love's Labour's Lost,' that, when it was presented before Queen Elizabeth, at the Christmas of 1597, it had been "newly corrected and augmented." As no edition of the comedy, before it was corrected and augmented, is known to exist (though, as in the case of the unique 'Hamlet' of 1603,

*Love's Labour's Lost. The title of this play stands as follows in the folio of 1623: Loues Labour's Lost.' The modes in which the genitive case and the contraction of is after a substantive are printed in the titles of other plays in this edition, and in some of the earlier copies, lead us to

[ocr errors]

one may some day be discovered), we have no proof that the few allusions to temporary circumstances, which are supposed in some degree to fix the date of the play, may not apply to the augmented copy only. Thus, when Moth refers to "the dancing horse who was to teach Armado how to reckon what "deuce-ace amounts to," the fact that Banks's horse first appeared in London in 1589 does not prove that the original play might not have been written before 1589. This date gives it an earlier appearance than Malone would assign to it, who first settled it as 1591, and afterwards as 1594. A supposed allusion to 'The Metamorphosis of Ajax,' by Sir John Harrington, printed in 1596, is equally unimportant with reference to the original composition of the play. The "finished representation of colloquial excel

believe that the author intended to call his play 'Love's lence," in the beginning of the fifth act,

Labour is Lost.' The apostrophe is not given as the mark of the genitive case in these instances- The Winters Tale,' -A Midsummer Nights Dream'--(so printed). But, when the verb is forms a part of the title, the apostrophe is introduced, as in All's Well that Ends Well.' We do not think ourselves justified, therefore, in printing either 'Love's Labour Lost,' or 'Love's Labours Lost,'-as some have recommended.

[ocr errors]

is supposed to be an imitation of a passage in Sidney's 'Arcadia,' first printed in 1590. The passage might have been introduced in the augmented copy; to say nothing of the fact that the 'Arcadia' was known in manu

* Johnson.

« 上一頁繼續 »