« PreviousContinue »
Romeo and Juliet.
PRELIMINARY REMARKS. The original relater of this story appears to have been Luigi da Porto a gentleman of Vicenza, who died in 1529. His novel seems not to have been printed till some years after his death ; being first published at Venice, in 1535, under the title of 'La Giulietta : there is, however, a dateless copy by the same printer. In the dedication to Madonna Lucina Savorgnana, he tells her that the story was related to him by one of his archers, pamed PEREGRINO, a native of Verona, while serving in Friuli, to beguile the solitary road that leads from Gradisca to Udine.
Girolamo della Corte, in his History of Verona, relates it circumstantially as a true event, occurring in 1303 *; but Maffei does not give him the highest credit as an historian: he carries his history down to the year 1560, and probably adopted the novel to grace his book. The earlier annalists of Verona, and above all Torello Sarayna, who published, in 1542, “Le Historie e Fatti de Veronesi nell Tempi d’il Popolo e Signori Scaligeri,' are entirely silent upon the subject, though some other domestic tragedies grace their narrations.
As to the origin of this interesting story Mr. Douce has observed that its material incidents are to be found in the Ephesiacs of Xenophon of Ephesus, a Greek romance of the middle ages ; he admits, indeed, that this work was not published nor translated in the time of Luigi da Porto, but suggests that he might have seen a copy of the original in manuscript. Mr. Dunlop, in his History of Fiction, has traced it to the thirty-second novel of Massuccio Salernitano, whose · Novelino, a collection of tales, was first printed in 1476. The hero of Massuccio is named
Captain Breval, in his Travels, tells us that he was shown at Verona what was called the tomb of these unhappy lovers; and that, on a strict inquiry into the histories of Verona, he found that Shakspeare had varied very little from the truth, either in the names, characters, or other circumstances of this play. The fact seems to be, that the invention of the novelist has been adopted into the popular history of the city, just as Shakspeare's historical dramas furnish numbers with their notions of the events to which they relate.
Mariotto di Giannozza, and his catastrophe is different; yet there are sufficient points of resemblance between the two narratives. Mr. Boswell observes, that we may perhaps carry the fiction back to a much greater antiquity, and doubts whether, after all, it is not the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe, enlarged and varied by the luxuriant imagination of the novelist.'
The story is also to be found in the second volume of the Novels of Bandello (Novel ix.); and it is remarkable that he says it was related to him, when at the baths of Caldera, by the Captain Alexander PEREGRINO, a native of Verona; we may presume the same person from whom Da Porto received it: unless this appropriation is to be considered supposititious. The story also exits in Italian verse; and I had once a glance of a copy of it in that form, but neglected to note the title or date, and had not time for a more particular examination. It was translated from the Italian of Bandello into French, by Pierre Boisteau, who varies from his original in many particulars; and, from the French, Painter gave a translation in the second volume of his Palace of Pleasure, 1567, which he entitled Rhomeo and Julietta. From Boisteau's novel the some story was, in 1562, formed into an English poem, with considerable alterations and large additions, by Arthur Brooke ; this poem the curious reader will find reprinted entire in the Variorum editions of Shakspeare: it was originally printed by Richard. Tottel, with the following title : · The Tragicall Hystorye of Romeus and Juliet, written first in Italian, by Bandell; and nowe in English, by Ar. Br.' Upon this piece Malone has shown, by unequivocal testimony, that the play was formed: numerous circumstances are introduced from the poem, which the novelist would not have supplied ; and even the identity of expression, which not unfrequently occurs, is sufficient to settle the question. Steevens, without expressly controverting the fact, endeavoured to throw a doubt upon it by his repeated quotations from the Palace of Pleasure. In two passages, it is true, he has quoted Painter, where Brooke is silent; but very little weight belongs to either of them. In one there is very little resemblance; and in the other the circumstance might be inferred from the poem, though not exactly specified. The poem of Arthur Brooke was republished in 1587, with the title thus amplified :— Containing a rare Example of true Constancie: with the subtill Counsells and Practices of an old Fryer, and their ill Event.'
In the preface to Arthur Brooke's poem there is a very curi- . ous passage, in which he says, 'I saw the same argument lately set foorth on stage with more commendation then I can looke for (being there much better set forth then I have or can dooe).' He has not, however, stated in what country this play was represented: the rude state of our drama, prior to 1562, renders it
improbable that it was in England. “Yet (says Mr. Boswell), I cannot but be of opinion that Romeo and Juliet may be added to the list, already numerous, of plays in which our great poet has had a dramatic precursor, and that some slight remains of the old play are still to be traced in the earliest quarto.'
• The story has at all times been eminently popular in all parts of Europe. A Spanish play was formed on it by Lope de Vega, entitled Los Castelvies y Monteses; and another in the same language, by Don Francisco de Roxas, under the name of Los Vandos de Verona. In Italy, as may well be supposed, it bas not been neglected. The modern productions on this subject are too numerous to be specified; but as early as 1578 Luigi Groto produced a drama upon the subject, called Hadriana, of which an analysis may be found in Mr. Walker's Memoir on Italian Tragedy. Groto has stated in his prologue that the story is drawn from the ancient history of Adria, his native place;' so that Verona is not the only place that has appropriated this interesting fable.
This has been generally considered one of Shakspeare's earliest plays *; and Schlegel has eloquently said, that it shines with the colours of the dawn of morning, but a dawn whose purple clouds already announce the thunder of a sultry day.' * Romeo and Juliet (says the same admirable critic) is a picture of love and its pitiable fate, in a world whose atmosphere is too rough for this tenderest blossom of human life. Two beings, created for each other, feel mutual love at first glance; every consideration disappears before the irresistible influence of living in one another; they join themselves secretly, under circumstances hostile in the highest degree to their union, relying merely on the protection of an invisible power. By unfriendly events following blow upon blow, their heroic constancy is exposed to all manner of trials, till forcibly separated from each other, by a voluntary death they are united in the grave to meet again in another world. All this is to be found in the beautiful story which Shakspeare has not invented, and which, however
* Malone thinks that the foundation of the play might be laid in 1591, and finished in 1596. Mr. George Chalmers places the date of its composition in the spring of 1592. And Dr. Drake, with greater probability, ascribes it to 1593. There are four early quarto editions in 1597, 1599, 1609, and one without a date. The first edition is less ample than those which succeed. Shakspeare appears to have revised the play; but in the succeeding impressions no fresh incidents are introduced, the alterations are merely additions to the length of particular speeches and scenes. The principal variations are pointed out in the notes.
simply told, will always excite a tender sympathy: but it was reserved for Shakspeare to unite purity of heart and the glow of imagination, sweetness and dignity of manners and passionate violence, in one ideal picture. By the manner in which he has handled it, it has become a glorious song of praise on that inexpressible feeling which ennobles the soul, and gives to it its highest sublimity, and which elevates even the senses themselves into soul, and at the same time is a melancholy elegy on its frailty from its own nature and external circumstances; at once the deification and the burial of love. It appears here like a heavenly spark that, descending to the earth, is converted into a flash of lightning, by which mortal creatures are almost in the same moment set on fire and consumed. Whatever is most intoxicating in the odour of a southern spring, languishing in the song of the nightingale, or voluptuous in the first opening of the rose, is to be found in this poem. But even more rapidly than the earliest blossoms of youth and beauty decay, it hurries on from the first timidly-bold declaration of love and modest return, to the most unlimited passion, to an irrevocable union; then, amidst alternating storms of rapture and despair, to the death of the two lovers, who still appear enviable as their love survives them, and as by their death they have obtained a triumph over every separating power. The sweetest and the bitterest, love and hatred, festivity and dark forebodings, tender embraces and sepulchres, the fulness of life and self-annihilation, are all here brought close to each other; and all these contrasts are so blended in the harmonious and wonderful work into a unity of impression, that the echo which the whole leaves behind in the mind resembles a single but endless sigh.
* The excellent dramatic arrangement, the signification of each character in its place, the judicious selection of all the circumstances even the most minute,' have been pointed out by Schlegel in a dissertation referred to in a note at the end of the play ; in which he remarks, that · there can be nothing more diffuse, more wearisome, than the rhyming history, which Shakspeare's genius,“ like richest alchymy,” has changed to beauty and to worthiness.' Nothing but the delight of seeing into this wonderful metamorphosis can compensate for the laborious task of reading through more than three thousand six and seven-footed iambics, which, in respect of every thing that amuses, affects, and enraptures us in this play, are as a mere blank leaf.-Here all interest is entirely smothered under the coarse, heavy pretensions of an elaborate exposition. How much was to be cleared away, before life could be breathed into the shapeless mass! In many parts what is here given bears the same relation to what Shakspeare has made out of it, which any common description of a thing bears to the thing itself. Thus out of the following hint
• A courtier, that eche-where was highly had in pryce, For he was courteous of his speche and pleasant of devise: Even as a lyon would emong the lambes be bolde,
Such was emonge the bashfull maydes Mercutio to beholde;' and the addition that the said Mercutio had from his swathingbands constantly had cold hands,--has arisen a splendid character decked out with the utmost profusion of wit. Not to mention a number of nicer deviations, we find also some important incidents from the invention; for instance, the meeting and the combat between Paris and Romeo at Juliet's grave.-Shakspeare knew how to transform by enchantment letters into spirit, a workman's daub into a poetical masterpiece.
Lessing declared Romeo and Juliet to be the only tragedy, that he knew, which love himself had assisted to compose. I know not (says Schlegel) how to end more gracefully than with these simple words, wherein so much lies :- -One
call this poem an harmonious miracle, whose component parts that heavenly power alone could so melt together. It is at the same time enchantingly sweet and sorrowful, pure and glowing, gentle and impetuous, full of elegiac softness, and tragically overpowering.'
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life; Whose misadventur’d piteous overthrows
Do, with their death, bury their parents' strife. The fearful
passage of their death-mark'd love, And the continuance of their parents' rage, Which, but their children's end, nought could re
moye, Is now the two hours' traffick of our stage; The which if you with patient ears attend, What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.