« PreviousContinue »
enough to know he had no real claim, and which he had as sumed only as a means to live.
“PAROLLES. Yet I am thankful : if my heart were great,
The story of All's WELL THAT ENDS WELL and of several others of Shakspeare's plays, is taken from Boccaccio. The poet has dramatised the original novel with great skill and comie spirit, and has preserved all the beauty of character and senti ment without improving upon it, which was impossible. There is indeed in Boccaccio's serious pieces a truth, a pathos, and an exquisite refinement of sentiment, which is hardly to be met with in any prose writer whatever. Justice has not been done him by the world. He has in general passed for a mere narrator of lascivious tales or idle jests. This character probably originated in his obnoxious attacks on the monks, and has been kept up by the grossness of mankind, who revenged their own want of refinement on Boccaccio, and only saw in his writings what suited the coarseness of their own tastes. But the truth is, that be has carried sentiment of every kind to its very highest purity and perfection. By sentiment we would here understand the hab itual workings of some one powerful feeling, where the heart reposes almost entirely upon itself, without the violent excite ment of opposing duties or untoward circumstances. In this way, nothing ever came up to the story of Frederigo Alberigi and his Falcon. The perseverance in attachment, the spirit of gallantry and generosity displayed in it, has no parallel in the history of heroical sacrifices. The feeling is so unconscious too, and involuntary, is brought out in such small, unlooked-for, and unostentatious circumstances, as to show it to have been woven into the very nature and soul of the author. The story of Isabella is scarcely less fine, and is more affecting in the cir. cumstances and in the catastrophe. Dryden has done justice to the impassioned eloquence of the Tancred and Sigismunda; but has not given an adequate idea of the wild preternatural interest of the story of Honoria. Cimon and Iphigenia is by no means one of the best, notwithstanding the popularity of the subject. The proof of unaltered affection given in the story of Jeronymo, and the simple touches of nature and picturesque beauty in the story of the two lovers, who were poisoned by tasting of a leaf in the garden at Florence, are perfect master-pieces. The epithet of Divine was well bestowed on this great painter of the human heart. The invention implied in his different tales is immense: but we are not to infer that it is all his own. He probably availed himself of all the common traditions which were floating about in his time, and which he was the first to appropriate. Homer appears the most original of all authors probably for no other reason than that we can trace the plagiarism no farther. Boccaccio has furnished subjects to number. less writers since his time, both dramatic and narrative. The story of Griselda is borrowed from his Decameron by Chaucer ; as is the Knight's Tale (Palamon and Arcite) from his poem of the Theseid.
LOVE'S LABOR'S LOST.
If we were to part with any of the author's comedies, it should be this. Yet we should be loth to part with Don Adriano de Armado, that mighty potentate of nonsense, or his page, that handful of wit ; with Nathaniel the curate, or Holofernes the school-master, and their dispute after dinner on the golden cadences of poesy;" with Costard the clown, or Dull the con. stable. Biron is too accomplished a character to be lost to the world, and yet he could not appear without his fellow courtiers and the king: and if we were to leave out the ladies, the gentle men would have no mistresses. So that we believe we may let the whole play stand as it is, and we shall hardly venture to " set a mark of reprobation on it." Still we have some objee tions to the style, which we think savors more of the pedantio spirit of Shakspeare's time than of his own genius; more of con. troversial divinity, and the logic of Peter Lombard, than of the inspiration of the Muse. It transports us quite as much to the manners of the court, and the quirks of courts of law, as to the sornes of nature or the fairy land of his own imagination. Shakspeare has set himself to imitate the tone of polite conver. sation then prevailing among the fair, the witty, and the leamed, and he has imitated it but too faithfully. It is as if the band of Titian had been employed to give grace to the curls of a full. bottomed periwig, or Raphael had attempted to give expression to the tapestry figures in the House of Lords. Shakspeare has put an excellent description of this fashionable jargon into the mouth of the critical Holofernes," as too picked, too spruce, too affected, too odd, as it were, too peregrinate, as I may call it ;** and nothing can be more marked than the difference when he breaks loose from the trammels he had imposed on himself, “ as light as bird from brake," and speaks in his own person. We think, for instance, that in the following soliloquy the poet has fairly got the start of Queen Elizabeth and her maids of honor :
" BIRON. O! and I forsooth in love,
The character of Biron drawn by Rosaline and that which Biron gives of Boyet are equally happy. The observations on the use and abuse of study, and on the power of beauty to quicken the understanding as well as the senses, are excellent. The scene which has the greatest dramatic effect is that in which
Biron, the king, Longaville, and Dumain, successively detect each other and are detected in their breach of their yow and in their profession of attachment to their several mistresses, in which they suppose themselves to be overheard by no one. The reconciliation between these lovers and their sweethearts is also very good, and the penance which Rosaline imposes on Biron, before he can expect to gain her consent to marry him, full of propriety and beauty.
" ROSALINE. Oft have I heard of you, my lord Biron,
Tenforce the pained impotent to smile," &e. The famous cuckoo-song closes the play: but we shall add no more criticisms : " the words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo."