ePub 版

Roman history, and whose scenes of blood
were equally agreeable to an audience re-
quiring strong excitement. "Pericles,' how-
ever remodelled at an after period, belonged,
we can scarcely doubt, to Shakspere's first
efforts for the improvement of some popular
dramatic exhibition which he found ready
to his hand. So of 'The Taming of the
Shrew,' of which we may without any vio-
lence assume that a common model existed
both for that and for the other play with a
very similar name, which appears to belong
to the same period. From the first, Shak-
spere, with that consummate judgment which
gave a fitness to everything that he did, or
proposed to do, held his genius in subjection
to the apprehension of the people, till he
felt secure of their capability to appreciate
the highest excellence.
the highest excellence. In his case, as in
that of every great artist, perfection could
only be attained by repeated efforts. He
had no models to work upon; and in the
very days in which he lived the English
drama began to be created. It was not
"Learning's triumph o'er her barbarous
foes" which "first rear'd the stage," but a
singular combination of circumstances which
for the most part grew out of the reforma-
tion of religion. He took the thing as he
found it. The dramatic power was in him
so supreme that, compared with the feeble
personifications of other men, it looks like
instinct. He seized

and our control over tears or laughter is | tor, who exhibited the same Gothic view of taken away from us; and, if the poet be a philosopher, and without philosophy he cannot be a poet,-deep truths, before dimly seen, enter into our minds and abide there. Why do we state all this? Utterly to reject the belief that Shakspere was a line-maker: that, like Gray, for example, he was a manufacturer of mosaic poetry;-that he made verses to order :-and that his verses could be produced by some other process than an entire conception of, and power over, the design of a drama. It is this mistake which lies at the bottom of all that has been written and believed about the two Parts of "The Contention of the Houses of York and Lancaster' being polished by Shakspere into the Second and Third Parts of 'Henry VI.' The elder plays-which the English antiquarian critics persist in ascribing to Marlowe, or Greene, or Peele, or all of them contain all the action, even to the exact succession of the scenes, all the characterization, a very great deal of the dialogue, including the most vigorous thoughts and then Shakspere was to take the matter in hand, and add a thousand lines or two up and down, correct an epithet here and there, and do all this without the slightest exercise of invention, either in movement or characterization; producing fine lines without passing through that process of inspiration by which lines having dramatic beauty and propriety can alone be produced. We say this, after much deliberation, not only with reference to the ‘Henry VI.' and to the play before us, but with regard to the general belief that Shakspere, in the outset of his career, was a mender of the plays of other men. 'Timon,' according to our belief, is the only exception; and we regard that not as an exception to the principle, because there the characterization of Timon himself is the Shaksperian creation; and that depends extremely little upon the general action, which, to a large extent, is episodical.

But we must guard ourselves from being understood to deny that many of the earliest plays of Shakspere were founded upon some rude production of the primitive stage. Andronicus had, no doubt, its dramatic ances

upon the vague abstractions which he found in the histories and comedies of the Blackfriars and the Bel Savage, and the scene was henceforth filled with living beings. But not as yet were these individualities surrounded with the glowing atmosphere of burning poetry. The philosophy which invests their sayings with an universal wisdom that enters the mind and becomes its loadstar was scarcely yet evoked out of that profound contemplation of human actions and of the higher things dimly revealed in human nature, which belonged to the maturity of his wondrou mind. The wit was there in some degree from the first, for it was irrepressible; but it was then as the polished metal, which dazzlingly gives back the brightness of the

sunbeams; in after times it was as the diamond, which reflects everything, and yet appears to be self-irradiated in its lustrous depths. If these qualities, and if the humour which seems more especially the ripened growth of the mental faculty, could have been produced in the onset of Shakspere's career, it is probable that the career would not have been a successful one. He had to make his audience. He himself has told us of a play of his earliest period, that "I remember pleased not the million; 'twas caviarie to the general: but it was (as I received it, and others, whose judgments in such matters cried in the top of mine) an excellent play; well digested in the scenes; set down with as much modesty as cunning. I remember, one said there were no sallets in the lines to make the matter savoury; nor no matter in the phrase that might indite the author of affectation; but called it an honest method, as wholesome as sweet, and by very much more handsome than fine." * Was this play an attempt of Shakspere himself to depart from the popular track? If it were, we probably owe much to the million.

We hold, then, that Malone's principle of marking with inverted commas those passages in which he supposed the hand of Shakspere might be traced in this play of "Titus Andronicus' is based upon a vital error. It is not with us a question whether the passages which Malone has marked exhibit, or not, the critic's poetical taste: we say that the passages could not have been written except by the man, whoever he be, who conceived the action and the characteri


Take the single example of the character of Tamora. She is the presiding genius of the piece; and in her we see, as we believe, the outbreak of that wonderful conception of the union of powerful intellect and moral depravity which Shakspere was afterwards to make manifest with such consummate wisdom. Strong passions, ready wit, perfect self-possession, and a sort of oriental imagination, take Tamora out of the class of ordinary women. It is in her mouth that we find, for the most part, what readers of Malone's school would call the poetical

*Hamlet,' Act II., Se. II.


We will select a few

language of the play.
specimens (Act II., Scene 3) :—
"The birds chant melody on every bush;
The snake lies rolled in the cheerful sun;
The green leaves quiver with the cooling wind,
And make a chequer'd shadow on the ground:
Under their sweet shade, Aaron, let us sit,
And whilst the babbling echo mocks the

Replying shrilly to the well-tuned horns,
As if a double hunt were heard at once-
Let us sit down."

Again, in the same scene:

"A barren detested vale, you see, it is: The trees, though summer, yet forlorn and lean,

O'ercome with moss and baleful misseltoe. Here never shines the sun; here nothing breeds,

Unless the nightly owl, or fatal raven.

And, when they show'd me this abhorred pit,
They told me, here, at dead time of the night,
A thousand fiends, a thousand hissing snakes,
Ten thousand swelling toads, as many urchins,
Would make such fearful and confused cries,
As any mortal body, hearing it,
Should straight fall mad, or else die sud-

In Act IV., Scene 4 :—

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

adopted Malone's theory, we should have marked the two other passages; and have gone even further in our selection of the poetical lines spoken by Tamora. But we hold that the lines could not have been produced, according to Malone's theory, even by Shakspere. Poetry, and especially dramatic poetry, is not to be regarded as a bit of joiner's work-or, if you please, as an affair of jewelling and enamelling. The lines which we have quoted may not be amongst Shakspere's highest things; but they could. not have been produced except under the excitement of the full swing of his dramatic power-bright touches dashed in at the very hour when the whole design was growing into shape upon the canvass, and the form of Tamora was becoming alive with colour and expression. To imagine that the great passages of a drama are produced like "a copy of verses," under any other influence than the large and general inspiration which creates the whole drama, is, we believe, utterly to mistake the essential nature of dramatic poetry. It would be equally just to say that the nice but well-defined traits of character, which stand out from the physical horrors of this play, when it is carefully studied, were superadded by Shakspere to

the coarser delineations of some other man.

Aaron, the Moor, in his general conception is an unmitigated villain-something alien from humanity—a fiend, and therefore only to be detested. But Shakspere, by that insight which, however imperfectly developed, must have distinguished his earliest efforts, brings Aaron into the circle of humanity; and then he is a thing which moves us, and his punishment is poetical justice. One touch does this-his affection for his child : "Come on, you thick-lipp'd slave, I'll bear you hence;

For it is you that puts us to our shifts:

I'll make you feed on berries, and on roots, And feed on curds and whey, and suck the goat,

And cabin in a cave; and bring you up

To be a warrior, and command a camp." Did Shakspere put in these lines, and the previous ones which evolve the same feeling, under the system of a cool editorial mending

of a second man's work? The system may do for an article; but a play is another thing. Did Shakspere put these lines into

the mouth of Lucius, when he calls to his
son to weep over the body of Titus ?—
"Come hither, boy; come, come, and learn of us
To melt in showers: Thy grandsire lov'd thee

Many a time he danced thee on his knee,
Sung thee asleep, his loving breast thy pillow;
Many a matter hath he told to thee,
Meet and agreeing with thine infancy;
In that respect then, like a loving child,
Shed yet some small drops from thy tender

Malone marks

Because kind nature doth require it so." Malone has not marked these; they are too simple to be included in his poetical gems. But are they not full to overflowing of those deep thoughts of human love which the great poet of the affections has sent into so with his commas the address to the tribunes many welcoming hearts ? at the beginning of the third act. The lines are lofty and rhetorical; and a poet who had undertaken to make set speeches to another man's characters might perhaps have added these. Dryden and Tate did this service for Shakspere himself. But Malone does not mark one line which has no rhetoric in it, and does not look like poetry. The old man has given his hand to the treacherous Aaron, that he may save the lives of his sons; but the messenger brings him the heads of those

sons. It is for Marcus and Lucius to burst

into passion. The father, for some space, speaks not; and then he speaks but one line:

"When will this fearful slumber have an end?” Did Shakspere make this line to order? The poet who wrote the line conceived the whole situation, and he could not have conceived the situation unless the whole dramatic movement had equally been his conception. Such things must be wrought out of the redheat of the whole material-not filled up out of cold fragments.

Accepting Titus' as a play produced somewhere about the middle of the ninth decade of the sixteenth century, it possesses

other peculiarities than such as we have noticed, which, upon the system of Malone's inverted commas, would take away a very considerable number from the supposed original fabricator of the drama, and bestow them upon the reviser. We must extract a passage from Malone before we proceed to point out these other peculiarities:-"To enter into a long disquisition to prove this piece not to have been written by Shakspere would be an idle waste of time. To those who are not conversant with his writings, if particular passages were examined, more words would be necessary than the subject is worth; those who are well acquainted with his works cannot entertain a doubt on the question. I will, however, mention one mode by which it may be easily ascertained. Let the reader only peruse a few lines of 'Appius and Virginia,' 'Tancred and Gismund,' 'The Battle of Alcazar,' 'Jeronimo,' ' Selimus, Emperor of the Turks,' 'The Wounds of Civil War,' 'The Wars of Cyrus,' 'Locrine,'' Arden of Feversham,' 'King Edward I.,' 'The Spanish Tragedy,' 'Solyman and Perseda,' 'King Leir,' the old 'King John,' or any other of the pieces that were exhibited before the time of Shakspeare, and he will at once perceive that 'Titus Andronicus' was coined in the same mint." What Malone requests to be perused is limited to "a few lines" of these old plays; if he could have bestowed many words upon the subject, he would have examined "particular passages." Such an examination has of course reference only to the versification. It is scarcely necessary to say that we do not agree with the assumption that the pieces Malone has mentioned were exhibited "before the time of Shakspeare." It is difficult, if not impossible, to settle the exact time of many of these; but we do know that one of the plays here mentioned belongs to the same epoch

as Titus Andronicus.' "He that will swear 'Jeronimo,' or 'Andronicus,' are the best plays yet, shall pass unexcepted at here, as a man whose judgment shows it is constant, and hath stood still these five-and-twenty or thirty years." We shall confine, therefore, any comparison of the versification of 'Titus Andronicus' entirely to that of Jeronimo.'

'Titus Andronicus' contains very few couplets, a remarkable thing in so early a play. Of 'Jeronimo' one-half is rhyme. Of the blank verse of 'Jeronimo' we will quote a passage which is, perhaps, the least monotonous of that tragedy, and which Mr. Collier has quoted in his 'History of Dramatic Poetry,' pointing out that "Here we see trochees used at the ends of the lines, and the pauses are even artfully managed; while redundant syllables are inserted, and lines left defective, still farther to add to the variety:"

"Come, valiant spirits; you peers of Portugal,
That owe your lives, your faiths, and services,
To set you free from base captivity:
O let our father's scandal ne'er be seen
As a base blush upon our free-born cheeks:
Let all the tribute that proud Spain received
Of those all captive Portugales deccased,
Turn into chafe, and choke their insolence.
Methinks no moiety, not one little thought,
Of them whose servile acts live in their graves,
But should raise spleens big as a cannon-

Within your bosoms: O for honour,

Your country's reputation, your lives' freedom, Indeed your all that may be term'd revenge, Now let your bloods be liberal as the sea; And all those wounds that you receive of Spain,

Let theirs be equal to quit yours again. Speak, Portugales: are you resolved as I, To live like captives, or as free-born die?" We have no hesitation in saying (in opposition to Malone's opinion) that the freedom of versification which is discovered in 'Titus Andronicus' is carried a great deal further than even this specimen of 'Jeronimo;' and we cannot have a better proof of our assertion than this-that Steevens anxiously desired, and indeed succeeded, in reducing several of the lines to the exact dimensions of his ten-syllable measuring-tape. The Shaksperian versification is sufficiently marked in Titus,' even to the point of offending the critic who did not understand it. But the truth of the matter is, that the comparison of the versification of 'Titus' with

*Ordinarily pronounced in early dramatic poetry as a monosyllable.

the old plays mentioned by Malone is altogether a fallacy. Like the 'Henry VI.' it wants, for the most part, the

"Linked sweetness long drawn out."

of the later plays, and so do 'The Two Gentlemen of Verona,' and 'The Comedy of Errors.' But to compare the play, as a whole, even with 'Jeronimo' (and Kyd, in freedom and variety of rhythm, whatever he may want in majesty, is superior to Marlowe) argues, we think, an incompetent knowledge of the things compared. To compare it with the old 'King Leir,' and the greater number of the plays in Malone's list, is to compare the movement of the hunter with that of the horse in the mill. The truth is, that, after

the first scene of 'Andronicus,' in which the author sets out with the stately pace of his time, we are very soon carried away, by the power of the language, the variety of the pause, and the especial freedom with which trochees are used at the ends of lines, to forget that the versification is not altogether upon the best Shaksperean model. There is the same instrument, but the performer has not yet thoroughly learnt its scope and its power.

[ocr errors]

Horn has a very just remark on the language of Titus Andronicus:-"Foremost we may recognise with praise the almost never-wearying power of the language, wherein no shift is ever used. We know too well how often, in many French and German tragedies, the princes and princesses satisfy themselves to silence with a necessary Hélas! Oh Ciel! O Schicksal! (0 Fate!) and similar cheap outcries: but Shakspere is quite another man, who, for every degree of pain, knew how to give the right tone and the right colour. In the bloody sea of this drama, in which men can scarcely keep themselves afloat, this, without doubt, must have been peculiarly difficult." We regard this decided language, this absence of stage conventionalities, as one of the results of the power which the poet possessed of distinctly conceiving his situations with reference to his characters. The Ohs! and Ahs! and Heavens! of the English stage, as well as the O Ciel! of the French, are a consequence

of feebleness, exhibiting itself in commonplaces. The greater number of the old English dramatists, to do them justice, had the same power as the author of Titus Andronicus' of grappling with words which they thought fitting to the situations. But their besetting sin was in the constant use of that "huffing, braggart, puft" language, which Shakspere never employs in the dramas which all agree to call his, and of which there is a very sparing portion even in "Titus Andronicus.' The temptation to employ it must have been great indeed; for when, in every scene, the fearful energies of the action

"On horror's head horrors accumulate,"

it must have required no common forbearance, and therefore no common power, to prescribe that the words of the actors should not


Outface the brow of bragging horror." The son of Tamora is to be killed; as he is led away, she exclaims

"Oh! cruel, irreligious piety!" Titus kills Mutius: the young man's brother earnestly says

"My lord, you are unjust."

When Tamora prescribes their terrible wickedness to her sons, Lavinia remonstrates

"O! Tamora, thou bear'st a woman's face." When Marcus encounters his mutilated niece, there is much poetry, but no raving. When woe upon woe is heaped upon Titus, we have no imprecations:

"For now I stand as one upon a rock,

Environ'd with a wilderness of sea;
Who marks the waxing tide grow wave by


Expecting ever when some envious surge Will in his brinish bowels swallow him."

In one situation, after Titus has lost his hand, Marcus says

"Oh! brother, speak with possibilities,

And do not break into these deep extremes." What are the deep extremes? The unhappy

« 上一頁繼續 »