« PreviousContinue »
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 has 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 ear. liest 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 enrobles 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,-bas 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 may 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
move, 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.
Escalus, Prince of Verona.
} Servants to Capulet.
LADY MONTAGUE, Wife to Montague.
Citizens of Verona; several Men and Women, Relations to
both Houses ; Maskers, Guards, Watchmen, and Attendants.
SCENE, during the greater Part of the Play, in Verona:
once in the Fifth Act, at Mantua.
ROMEO AND JULIET.
SCENE I. A public Place.
Swords and Bucklers.
Gre. No, for then we should be colliers.
neck out of the collar.
Sam. I strike quickly, being moved.
carry coals is to put up with insults, to submit to any degradation. Anciently, in great families, the scullions, turnspits, and carriers of wood and coals were esteemed the very lowest of menials, the drudges of all the rest. Such attendants upon the royal household, in progresses, were called the black-guard; and hence the origin of that term. Thus in May Day, a Comedy by Geo. Chapman, 1608:
—You must swear by no man's beard but your own; for that may breed a quarrel: above all things, you must carry no coals.' Again, in the same play :— Now my ancient being of an un-coal-carrying spirit, &c. And in Ben Jopson's Every Man in his Humour :- Here comes one that will carry coals; ergo will hold my dog. Again in King Henry V. Act iii. Sc. 2:~At Calais they stole a fireshovel; I knew by that piece of service the men would carry coals.'