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IF the chronology of Chalmers be correct, the “Comedy of £rrors stands second on the list of Shakspeare's dramatic productions, being written in the year 1591. For, after diligently examining, and comparing the various authorities that would de. prive Pericles of the honor of being considered as the work of Shakspeare, we feel no hesitation in setting it down as his first dramatic essay; indeed, it bears sufficient internal evidence to establish the fact, independent of every other ;-and the balance of documentary testimony, and even of conjecture, is in favour of the conclusion. The question has already been so ably disputed, that, were this the place, we should not be tempted to revive it. In “ Pericles," as in the “Comedy of Errors, there is Shakspeare in every scene: not in all the plenitude of his ripened genius, but certainly giving promise of those wonderful powers that were to render his name celebrated to the end of time.
The “Comedy of Errors" is founded on the Menæchmi of Plautus; but Shakspeare has greatly improved upon his model. The sticklers for the unities will find in this drama no bone to pick. If the English has excelled the Roman Poet in the higher qualities of dramatic composition, he has also emulated him in a strict adherence to the unities of action, time, and place.
Both Ritson and Steevens have been unwarrantably severe on this Comedy They complain of inequalities; and Steevens dogmatically assigns the entire play to some previous writer, giving to Shakspeare the almost negative merit of retouching and polishing the scenes. In reading over the comments of this plausible critic, and very singular man, we have often felt disposed to question the sincerity of his admiration for the genius of Shakspeare. He abounds so much in malicious wit, sly insinuation, and equivocal censure-witness his strictures on “ Hamlet," and his comments on that glorious passage :
“ The man that hath not music in his soul, &c. &c." and innumerable other instances, that we are certain his ambition was more to perpetuate the ingenuity of the commentat than to illustrate the beauties of the poet. Mrs. inchbald has a string of phrases to express her opinion
of the impossibility of the story, “ The Ghost in “Hamlet,” Witches in “ Macbeth,” and Monster in the “Tempest," seem all like events in the common course of nature, when compared to those which take place in this drama!” Mrs. Inchbald is never more at fault than when she remarks on the Writings of Shakspeare, which we firmly believe, like most of her predecessors, she never studied beyond the part assigned to her on the stage. If the drama is to be judged by the rules of probability, very many of it's noblest productions shall not escape censure. The incidents in this play are improbable—perhaps impossible
“ There needs no ghost come from the grave
“ To tell us that." But the author's intention was to excite mirth, which he has done in a very extraordinary degree, by the mistakes arising from the supposed resemblance between the two Antipholises, and the two Dromios. The incidents succeed each other in such rapid succession, that the attention is kept continually awake; and if they bear a nearer alliance to farce than to comedy, it is the farce that sparkles with wit, humour, and character, highly original and exhilirating
The language-allowing for interpolations, which are to be found in all his productions-is Shakspeare's from beginning to end. The jokes, the quibbles, the “long hobbling verses" that so much offended the legal and critical ears of the learned Blackstone! There is abundance of drollery in these limping colloquies between the two Dromios: and, though we are not so infatuated as to say that they hobble no more than verses should hobble--as a zealous patriot once declared that Wilkes squinted not a bit more than a gentleman should squint;-we know not any author that preceded Shakspeare, to whom we can fairly assign so rich a fund of genuine humour. It will be recollected, that this drama is second on the list of Shakspeare's productions; and, if we refer to the specimens of doggrei verse that preceded and accompanied the era of the “Comedy of Errors," we may reasonably presume that Shakspeare adopted a species of rhyme that had become highly popular in the clowns of that period, and which, wlien in the mouths of such actors as Tarleton and Kempe, was productive of the broadest merriment. Let any one at all acquainted with the manner of Shakspeare, read the dialogue at the end of the 2nd scene in the 3rd act, between Antipholis of Syracuse, and Dromio of Syracuse ; and then ask if internal evidence of the master's hand be not
« Confirmation strong, “As proofs of holy writ.” The serious parts of this drama are exceedingly beautiful. The character of Ægcon, the father of the twin brothers, is c'rawn by
a hand familiar with every chord of humanity. There is something peculiarly graceful in the opening of this play. The pathetic narrative of the shipwreck, the broad humour of the succeeding scenes, and the affecting close, are admirably diversified. It was the delight of Shakspeare to excite a variety of emotions-to chasten our most exuberant mirth with a feeling of melancholy: and when the heart beat high with emotion, to afford it relief by some unexpected transition. Contemplating this play as one of his earliest productions, can we say that he ever afterwards excelled this pathetic exclamation of Ægeon to Antipholis of Ephesus 2
"Oh, grief hath chang'd me since you saw me last!
“Not know my voice? O, time's extremity!
“ Tell me, thou art my son, Antipholis." The character of the Lady Abbess is in the same tone of elevated feeling. It would almost seem that Shakspeare, anticipating the cavils of his future commentators, had set a seal on his writings, beyond their power to efface! The following description of a jealous woman says every thing th:t can be said upon the subject.
« The venom'd clamours of a jealous woman
“ The consequence is, then, thy jealousies
“ Have scar'd thy husband from his better sense." The acting of this comedy was very satisfactory. Charles Kemble and Pope were well inatched in the two Antipholises ; but the Dromios were still better paired in Munden and Blanchard. Much of the comic effect depends on the exact resemblance that is produced between these personages : and unless the audience, in a certain degree, partake of the illusion, the whim is weakened in the “incredulus odi.” Doctor Pinch was admirably represented by Mr. Simmons ;—the character is short, but Shakspeare has put his indelible mark upon it-and Simmons touched it with a skilful hand. Murray played Ægeon with a pathos that has not been caught by any succeeding actor.
DUKE.--Rich shape with long flowing arm-hole robe of blue velvet, white pantaloons, white shoes, hat and feathers.
ÆGEON.-Black velvet dress, arm-hole cloak, black stockings and shoes.
TWO ANTIPHOLIS'S.--Light blue shapes trimmed with yellow and buttons, blue stockings, russet boots, cross belts, swords, hat and feathers.
TWO DROMIO'S.--Close yellow shapes, trimmed with blue, yellow stockings and half boots.
ANGELO.-Green shape, trimmed with rose-coloured satin and ribbon, pantaloons, cloak, stockings, hat and shoes.
CLEON.-- Brown velvet shape, brown stockings, hat, shoes, and ruff.
CHARES.-Light blue shape, trimmed, &c.
DOCTOR PINCH.—Black shape, scarlet stockings, square-toed shoes, and small black hat.
OFFICERS.-Black shapes and gowns, hats, &c.
GENTLEMAN.-Crimson spangled shape, white pantaloons, boots, hat, &c.
GENTLEMAN.-Green velvet shape, white pantaloons, gloves, bat, &c.
EXECUTIONER.-Black close shape, trimmed with white, white stockings, shoes, &c.
SOLDIERS.--Scarlet and yellow shapes, hats, &c.
ABBESS.-Grey Nun, with white flowing muslin head-dress, sandals, &c.
ADRIANA.-Rich embroidered satin dress, with flowing crimson satin robe, jewels, &c.
LUCIANA.-Rich embroidered satin dress, with light blue satin robe, jewels, &c.
LESBIA.-White spangled muslin dress, with green satin flowing robe, &c.
HERMIA.-White muslin, with neat trimming.
BRIDGET.-Dark brown body with red binding, white necker. chief, dark petticoat, white high apron, mob cap, &c.