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be content with referring to Dyce's elaborate annotation on the play.
Why the original printing of this play should thus have been exceptionally bad, is a matter about which we can only speculate; and as in such cases speculation can hardly lead to any firm result, probably our best way is to note the textual corruption as a fact, and there let it rest. Still it may be worth the while to observe on this head, that in respect of plot and action the piece is of a somewhat forbidding, not to say repulsive nature; and though it abounds in wisdom, and is not wanting in poetry, and has withal much choice delineation of character, and contains scenes which stream down with the Poet's raciest English, yet it is not among the plays which readers are often drawn to by mere recollections of delight: one does not take to it heartily, and can hardly admire it without something of effort: even when it wins our approval, it seems to do so rather through our sense of right than through our sense of pleasure : in short, I have to confess that the perusal is more apt to inspire an apologetic than an enthusiastic tone of mind. It may be a mere fancy of mine; but I have often thought that the extreme badness of the printing may have been partly owing to this cause; that the Poet may have left the manuscript in a more unfinished and illegible state, from a sense of something ungenial and unattractive in the subject-matter and action of the play.
No direct and certain contemporary notice of All's Well that Ends Well has come down to us. But the often-quoted list of Shakespeare's plays set forth by Francis Meres in his Palladis Tamia, 1598, includes a play called Love's Labour's Won, — a title nowhere else given to any of the Poet's pieces. Dr. Farmer, in his Essay on the Learning of Shakespeare, 1767, first gave out the conjecture, that the two titles belonged to one and the same play; and this opinion has since been concurred or acquiesced in by so many competent critics, that it might
well be allowed to pass without further argument. There is no other of the Poet's dramas to which that title applies so well, while, on the other hand, it certainly fits this play quite as well as the one it now bears. The whole play is emphatically love's labour : its main interest throughout turns on the unwearied and finally-successful struggles of affection against the most stubborn and disheartening obstacles. It may indeed be urged that the play entitled Love's Labour's Won has been lost; but this, considering what esteem the Poets works were held in, both in his time and ever since, is so very improbable as to be hardly worth dwelling upon. There was far more likelihood that other men's dross would be fathered upon him than that any of his gold would be lost. And, in fact, contemporary publishers were so eager to make profit of his reputation, that they forged his name to various plays which most certainly had no touch of his hand.
The Rev. Joseph Hunter has spent a deal of learning and ingenuity in trying to make out that the play referred to by Meres as Love's Labour's Won was The Tempest. Among Shakespeare's dramas he could hardly have pitched upon a more unfit subject for such a title. There is no love's labour in The Tempest. For, though a lover does indeed there labour awhile in piling logs, this is nowise from love, but simply because he cannot help himself. Nor does he thereby win the lady, for she was won before, — “ at the first sight they have chang'd eyes”; – and the labour was imposed for the testing of his love, not for the gaining of its object; and was all the while refreshed with the “sweet thoughts” that in heart she was already his; while in truth the father was overjoyed at the “ fair encounter of two most rare affections,” and was quite as intent on the match as the lovers were themselves. In short, there is no external evidence whatever in favour of Mr. Hunter's notion, while the internal evidence makes utterly against it.
There is, then, no reasonable doubt that All's Well that Ends Well was originally written before 1598. For myself, I have no doubt that the first writing was several years before that date; as early at least as 1592 or 1593. Coleridge, in his Literary Remains, holds the play to have been “ originally intended as the counterpart of Love's Labour's Lost”; and a comparison of the two naturally leads to that conclusion without any help from the title. This inward relation of the plays strongly infers them both to have been written about the same time, or in pretty near succession. Now Love's Labour's Lost was published in 1598, and in the title-page is said to have been " newly corrected and augmented,” which fairly supposes the first writing of that play also to have been several years before, since some considerable time would naturally pass before the Poet saw cause for revising his workmanship. And the diversities of style in that play fully concur herewith in arguing a considerable interval between the original writing and the revisal.
It is abundantly certain, from internal evidence, that the play now in hand also underwent revisal, and this too after a much longer interval than in the case of Love's Labour's Lost. Here the diversities of style are much more strongly marked than in that play. Accordingly it was Coleridge's decided opinion, first given out in his lectures in 1813, and again in 1818, though not found in his Literary Remains, that “ All's Well that Ends Well was written at two different and rather distant periods of the Poet's life.” This we learn from Mr. Collier, who heard those lectures, and who adds that Coleridge “pointed out very clearly two distinct styles, not only of thought, but of expression.” The same judgment has since been enforced by Tieck and other able critics; and the grounds of it are so manifest in the play itself, that no observant reader will be apt to question it. Verplanck tells us he had formed the same opinion before he learned through Mr. Collier what Coleridge thought on the subject; and his judgment of the matter is given with characteristic felicity as follows: “ The contrast of two different modes of thought and manners of expression, here mixed in the same piece, must be evident to all who have made the shades and gradations of Shakespeare's varying and progressive taste and mind at all a subject of study.” *
I have elsewhere observed at some length † on the Poet's diversities of style, marking them off into three periods, severally distinguished as earlier, middle, and later styles. Outside of the play itself, we have in this case no help towards determining at what time the revisal was made, or how long a period intervened between this and the original writing. To my taste, the better parts of the workmanship relish strongly of the Poet's later style, — perhaps I should say quite as strongly as the poorer parts do of his earlier. This would bring the revisal down to as late a time as 1603 or 1604: which date accords, not only with my own sense of the matter, but with the much better judgment of the critics I have quoted. I place the finished Hamlet at or near the close of the Poet's middle period; and I am tolerably clear that in this play he discovers a mind somewhat more advanced in concentrated fulness, and a hand somewhat more practised in sinewy sternness, than in the finished Hamlet. I will quote two passages by way of illustrating the Poet's different styles as seen in this play.
* The point is further amplified and illustrated by the same critic in a passage equally happy, as follows : “Much of the graver dialogue, especially in the first two Acts, reminds the reader, in taste of composition, in rhythm, and in a certain quaintness of expression, of The Two Gentlemen of Verona. The comic part is spirited and laugh-provoking, yet it consists wholly in the exposure of a braggart coxcomb, - one of the most familiar comic personages of the stage, and quite within the scope of a boyish artist's knowledge of life and power of satirical delineation. On the other hand, there breaks forth everywhere, and in many scenes entirely predominates, a grave moral thoughtfulness, expressed in a solemn, reflective, and sometimes in a sententious brevity of phrase and harshness of rhythm, which seem to me to stamp many passages as belonging to the epoch of Measure for Measure, or of King Lear. We miss, too, the gay and fanciful imagery which shows itself continually, alike amidst the passion and the moralizing of the previous come dies."
| Page 190 of this volume.
The first is from the dialogue of Helena and the King, in Act ii., scene 1, where she persuades him to make trial of her remedy:
“ The great'st Grace lending grace,
Health shall live free, and sickness freely die.” Here we have the special traits of Shakespeare's youthful style, — an air of artifice and studied finery, a certain selfconscious elaborateness and imitative rivalry, — which totally disappear in, for instance, the blessing the Countess gives her son as he is leaving for the Court:
“Be thou blest, Bertram ! and succeed thy father
Fall on thy head !” I the rather quote this latter, because of its marked resemblance to the advice Polonius gives his son in Hamlet. Mr. White justly observes that “either the latter is an expansion of the former, or the former a reminiscence of the latter"; and I fully concur with him that the second part of the alternative is the more probable. It is hardly needful to add that the passage here quoted breathes a higher and purer moral tone than the resembling one in Hamlet ; but this I take to be merely because the venerable Countess is a higher and purer source than the old politician. For a broader and bulkier illustration of the point in hand, the student probably cannot do better than by comparing