« PreviousContinue »
CHARACTERISTICS OF THOUGHT AND MANNER-DATE OF THE
PLAY, STATE OF THE TEXT, ETC.
connected with man's duties and history, having occasion, in one of his
tragedies, and any one of his best comedies, would give us a notion faithful in kind, although requiring to be augmented in degree.”—(Introductory Lecture on Modern History.)
True as this rule may be, as regards the mass of authors of every age, and even most of those of the very highest rank, it is surely erroneous in reference to Shakespeare, even in the guarded and qualified form in which it is applied to him; and this exception of the great English Poet from so general a law of mind, which has governed the loftiest and most powerful minds, is among the most striking and unequivocal evidences of his superiority. Neither Macbeth nor Hamlet, alone, could give any competent idea of the character of mind and cast of thought, or of the habitual views of life, of the author of Othello; while Lear, with all its wonderful combination of intellect and passion, would as little lead us to imagine that the same author had written such a tragedy as Romeo AND JULIET. This play of the TempeST, especially, is one of those works for which no other production of the anthor's prolific fancy could have prepared his readers. It is wholly of a different cast of temper, and mood of disposition, from those so conspicuous in his gayer comedies; while even the ethical dignity and poetic splendour of the MERCHANT OF VENICE, could not well lead the critic to anticipate the solemn grandeur, the unrivalled harmony and grace, the bold originality, and the grave beauty of the Tempest.
The Midsummer-Night's DREAM, as different from its author's other gayer and more purely poetical works, as the Tempest is from his graver delineations of deeper thought and stronger passion, is that among his dramas which, from its fairy machinery and the predominance of the imaginative over the real, most naturally presents itself as the counterpart of the TEMPEST. Yet it is as essentially different as if it had been the work of some other contemporary poet; being, indeed, rather a contrast than a resembling counterpart. More abounding in single passages of matchless and varied sweetness or brilliancy, it is less perfect as a whole, and differs still more 'com it in its pervading tone of feeling, and the impression it leaves on the mind. The one is joyous in emper, luxuriant in fancy, and dazzling throughout from its sudden and brilliant contrasts. The other is also filled with high and true poetry, but it is poetry pervaded and controlled by a contemplative philosophy; and it is the calm, solemn light of that philosophy that harmonizes, and mellows down, the richest fancies and boldest inventions into one grave and even severe tone of colour. The two dramas are to each other as the full and strong burst of life, and the balmy fragrance of spring, with its joyous and exhilarating influence, and bright confusion of beauties, compared with the autumnal magnificence of our Indian summer, with its calmness and repose, its yellow radiance, and all its pensive yet soothing associations and influences. There are several respects in which the Tempest Thus stands alone, as distinguishable in character from any other of its author's varied creations. Without being his work of greatest power, not equalling several of the other dramas in depth of passion, or in the exhibition of the working of the affections ; surpassed by others in brilliancy of poetic fancy or exquisite delicacies of expression. it is nevertheless among the most perfect (perhaps in fact the most perfect) of all, as a work of art, of the most unbroken unity of effect and sustained majesty of intellect. It is too—if we can speak of degrees of originality in the productions of this most creative of all poets—the most purely original of his conceptions, deriving nothing of any consequence from any other source for the plot, and without any prototype in literature of the more important personages, or any model for the thoughts and language, beyond the materials presented by actual and living human nature, to be raised and idealized into the “wild and wondrous” forms of Ariel and Caliban, of the majestic Prospero, and, above all, of his peerless daughter. Miranda is a character blending the truth of nature with the most exquisite refinement of poetic fancy, unrivalled, even in Shakespeare's own long and beautiful series of portraitures of feminine excellence, and paralleled only by the Eve of Milton, who, I cannot but think, was indirectly indebted for some of her most fascinating attributes to the solitary danghter of Prospero.
Caliban, a being without example or parallel in poetic invention, degraded in mind, as well as in moral affections, below the level of humanity, and yet essentially and purely poetical in all his conceptions and language, is a creation to whose originality and poetic truth every critic, from Dryden downward, has paid homage. Nor is it a less striking peculiarity, that the only buffoon characters and dialogue in the drama are those of the sailors, who seem to be introduced for the single purpose of contrasting the grossness and lowness of civilized vice with the nobler forms of savage and untutored depravity.
It is partly on account of this perfect novelty of invention, and probably still more from the fairy and magical machinery of the plot, that the later critics have designated the Tempest as specially belonging to the Romantic Drama. Yet to me it appears, not only in its structure, but in its taste and feeling, to bear a more classical character, and to be more assimilated to the higher Grecian drama, in its spirit, than any other of its author's works or indeed any other poem of his age. The rules of the Greek stage, as to the unities of time and place, are fully complied with. This cannot well be the result of accident, for in an age of classical translation, and learned (eveu pedantie) imitation, it needed no classical learning to make the unities known to any dramatic author; and a Shakespeare had. in 'his other plays, totally rejected them, he would seem here to have expressly designed to conform his plot to their laws. But there also appears to me to be something in the poetic character and tone of the drama, approaching to the spirit and manner of the Greek dramatic poetry, which can certainly not be ascribed to intentional imitation, any more than to the unconscious resemblance often produced by habitual familiarity with favourite models. It has nothing of the air of learned and elaborate imitation which, in the works of Tasso an. Milton and Gray, make the scholar everywhere as perceptible as the poet. But it is the resemblance of solema thought, of calm dignity, of moral wisdom, of the dramatic dialogue in its most majestic form, passing now into the lyrical and now into the didactic or ethical. This resemblance of taste and feeling is rendered more striking, by a similar bold and free invention and combination of poetic diction, making the English language as flexible a the Greek to every shade of thought. In all these respects, the resemblance to antiquity goes just far enough to show that its result is not artificial or intentional ; but the result of the same mental causes operating upon the author's poetic temperament and taste, at the time, which predominated in forming the “lofty, grave tragediaks” of ancient Athens.
It is partly for these reasons, and partly also in consequence of the grave and sustained harmony of its versification, that the TEMPEST SO constantly reminds the reader of Milton's noblest strains. Yet here again the similitude arises, in a very small degree, not from direct imitation or adaptation of diction, or imagery, or sentiment-for of these Milton has borrowed more largely from others of Shakespeare's dramas—but in the general effect upon the ear, and the solemn impression left upon the mind.
All these circumstances, while they indicate the maturity of genius, and the judgment and taste exercised and refined by long experience, combine with its stately tone of pensive, yet not gloomy moralizing, to give to the Tempest the calm magnificence of a golden sunset in autumn, according fully with (if indeed it did not originally suggest) the commonly entertained opinion that this was its author's latest work. Thus it has become invested with a sort of “sacredness, as the last work of a mighty workman;" while many an admiring critic has thought with Campbell, “ that Shakespeare, as if conscious it would be his last, and as if inclined to typify himself, has made his hero a natural, a dignified and benevolent magician, who would conjure up spirits from the vasty deep' by the most seemingly natural and simple means. Shakespeare himself is Prospero, or rather the superior genius who commands both Prospero and Ariel. But the time was approaching when the potent sorcerer was to break ais staff, and to bury it fathoms in the ocean
Deeper than did ever plummet sound." I am unwilling to reject this pleasing, and, in itself, not improbable opinion; and it may, perhaps, be to some extent reconciled with the evidence we now possess of the date of the TEMPEST, though that proves nothing positively, but that this was one among the author's four or five later works, belonging to the period of the WisTER'S TALE, CYMBELINE, and Coriolanus.
The most direct piece of chronological testimony is one which was not accessible to any editor or critic before Mr. Collier. This proves that the TEMPEST was performed at court, before James I., on Nov. 1, 1611. This appear: from the “ Extracts from the Accounts of the Revels at Court,” (lately published for the Shakespeare Society.) which contains this memorandum:-“ Hallomas night, was presented at Whithall, before the King's Majestie, a play called the Tempest.” The Winter's Tale was also among the plays selected for the royal amusement, and was acted at court four days after. According to the well-ascertained customs of the times, it is highly probable, from this circumstance, that both of these dramas were new and successful plays, which had just passed the public ordeal. This probability, as to the TEMPEST, is confirmed by the whole internal evidence of the style, the rhythm. and other characteristics of authorship, which have certainly little affinity to those of the author's youthful taste. but very much with his productions of a later date. Coleridge, in his lectures, (as reported by Mr. Collier,) pronounced that the Tempest was “one of Shakespeare's latest works, judging from the language alone;" and the same argument seems to have led to the similar decisions of Schlegel and of Campbell. We have, in addition to this, the fact that there is no mention of the TEMPEST by Meares, nor any satisfactory reference to it by any contemporary, prior to 1611; and there are, moreover, several smaller points of circumstantial evidence; the whole amounting to very satisfactory proof that the TEMPEST was not written very long before that date. The evidence of the last class is thus stated by Mr. Collier :
• There is one piece of external evidence which strongly confirms the opinion that the TEMPEST was composed not very long before Ben Jonson wrote one of his comedies: we allude to his • Bartholomew Fair,' and to a passage in the "Induction,' frequently mentioned, and which we concur in thinking was intended as a hit not only at the TEMPEST, but at the WINTER's Tale. Ben Jonson's · Bartholomew Fair' was acted in 1614, and written perhaps in the preceding year, during the popularity of Shakespeare's two plays; and there we find the following words, which we reprint, exactly as they stand in the original edition, where Italic type seems to have been used to make the allusions more distinct and obvious :-* If there bee never a Servant-monster i' the Fayre, who can helpe it, he sayes ; nor a nest of Antiques ? Hee is loih to make Nature afraid in his Playes, like those that beget Tales, Tempests, and such like Drolleries.' The words “servant-monster,' antiques,' Tales,' • Tempests,' and drolleries,' which last Shakespeare himself employs in the Tempest, (act iii. scene 3,) seem so applicable, That they can hardly relate to any thing else."
In reply to the supposition that the Tempest of 1611 was only the revival of an older play, Mr. Collier
"We do not think it probable, for several reasons. One of these is an apparently trifling circumstance, pointed out by Farmer; viz. that in the MERCHANT OF Venice, written before 1598, the name of Stephano is invariably to be pronounced with the accent on the second syllable, while in the Tempest the proper pronunciation is as constantly required by the verse. It seems certain, therefore, that Shakespeare found his error in the interval, and he may have learned it from Ben Jonson's • Every Man in his Humour,' in which Shakespeare performed, and in the original list of characters to which, in the edition of 1601, the names not only of Stephano but of Pros. pero occur.
“Another circumstance shows, almost decisively, that the Tempest was not written until after 1603, when the translation of Montaigne's • Essays,' by Florio, made its first appearance in print. In act ii. scene 1, is a passage so closely copied from Florio's version, as to leave no doubt of identity. if it be said that these lines may have been an insertion subsequent to the original production of the play, we answer, that the passage is not such as could have been introduced, like some others, to answer a temporary or complimentary purpose, and that it is given as a necessary and continuous portion of the dialogue.”
In addition to all this, it cannot be omitted that Malone has made out, with great probability, that very many of the incidents, allusions, scenery, etc., of the play, were at least suggested by Jourdan's “ Narrative" of the “Discovery of the Bermudas,” published 1610, giving an account of the shipwreck of Sir George Somers upon those islands.
This cumulative evidence of differing kinds, every part, in its way, difficult to refute, seems to me to leave no room to doubt that the Tempest belongs entirely to the later period of its author's genius; yet it would rather place it a little anterior than subsequent to some others impressed with the same stamp of mighty but calm and subdued energy-unless indeed we suppose that none of his plays were written during the last seven years of his life, or after his forty-seventh year. But I am unwilling to give up the old opinion which has not only commended itself as true, upon its own evidence, to critics of the soundest judgment and the truest taste, but also appears to be the old traditional notion, and like other traditions, where there is no inducement for fabricating them, inore likely to be true in some degree, or in origin, than to have been wholly invented. My own theory of the matter is this: Malone has shown, from contemporary MSS., that, in the beginning of 1612, the Tempest was acted by the “ King's Company," before Prince Charles (afterwards Charles I.) and the Prince Palatine, during the court festivities on occasion of the nuptials of the Princess Elizabeth with the Elector Palatine-an ill-starred marriage, conspicuous in history for the long train of disasters to which it led. This was about three years after the composition and first representation of the Tempest. We know from the history of some other plays that advantage was taken of such selections for representation on occasions of state festivity, to improve and give novelty to the piece by revisal and enlargement. I suppose that Shakespeare then gave to the Tempest the same careful revisal to which he had formerly subjected ROMEO AND Juliet, but with a more perfect effect of unity, because the original fabric was, as in Lear and Othello, of the same general tone, taste, and belonging to the same period of the author's intellectual character, with the enlargement. To this circumstance it may be ascribed, that the whole piece came to be regarded as its author's final work on retiring from the public field; while in reality that was true only of some of its nobler strains, and of the prophetic allusions at the end, which have stamped upon the drama the last impress of its author's genius, and left it as his farewell to the “rough magic,” the “ heavenly inusic,” and the “ airy charms," which had for years obeyed the biddings of his “ so potent art.” He died about three years after, and no other work of his can be ascribed, with any authority, to a later date than 1613.
The Rev. Mr. Hunter, in his “ Disquisition on the Tempest,” has maintained a theory just the reverse of this that this play was in reality one of his very earliest works, being the same mentioned by Meares, before 1598, nnder the title of “Love's Labour Won.” Whatever may be the probability of the theory last stated, (for which the American editor alone is answerable,) the historical testimony that the Tempest was written at some period between 1603 and 1611, and much nearer to the latter than to the former date, is so strong, and so corroborated by the literary and intellectual indications of style and thought, and the harmony of the whole, as belonging to one and the same period of the author's mind, and that not an immature or early one, that the aggregate evidence cannot be shaken by mere ingenuity of argument or conjecture, unsustained by direct proof. We have elsewhere (see Introductory Remarks to All's Well that Ends Well) occasion to notice this theory again, in reference to the inquiry as to what was the piece designated by Meares as “Love's Labour Won."
The Tempest is printed only in the folio of 1623, which is an additional, though not at all conclusive, indication that it was written in the author's later years. It is in general correctly printed, and the metrical arrangement is carefully preserved; so that there are but two or three various readings of any doubt or difficulty.
Like LEAR, ROMEO AND Juliet, and others of Shakespeare's dramas, the Tempest has undergone strange and causeless alterations, to suit it to the supposed public taste, or add to the presumed scenic effect and interest. One alteration bears the great name of Dryden, who introduced it with an admirable prologue, and one of his agreeable prefaces; but a great portion of the additions, especially the comic ones, were by his associate in this singular undertaking, Sir William Davenant. They have given Caliban a sister, Sycorax, on whom they have bestowed her brother's depravity, without his poetical character. They have added to the plot a young prince, as unexperienced as Miranda, having never seen a woman; and they provide Miranda with a sister to marry to the prince, so as to work out a double plot, and conclude with a double wedding. The sailor dialogue is also enlarged by more personages. In all this there is but little invention, and less merit of execution; yet, such as it is, it substantially kept possession of the stage, to the exclusion of the genuine TEMPEST, for a century and a half, down to our times; and is still found, a little abridged, in Mrs. Inchbald's “ British Theatre," and other collections of the acted drama, under the title of “The Tempest, as performed at Drury Lane and Covent Garden.” Mrs. Inchball even records unconsciously the bad taste of her times, by remarking, in the preface to her stage-edition of the play, that “though the learned may admire the Poet's grand conception, the play would never have become a favourite on the stage without the aid of Dryden's alteration; the human beings in the original had not business enough to inake human beings anxious about them; and the preternatural characters are more wonderful than pleasing." Yet we learn from Dryden himself that the TEMPEST, as Shakespeare wrote it, had been, before his own time, acted with great success; while Walter Scott thus contrasts with the original the taste and morality of the adul. lerated drama, preferred by the lady critic and the London managers :
“ The alteration of the Tempest was Davenant's last work; and it seems to have been undertaken, chiefly, with a view to give room for scenical decoration. Few readers will think the play much improved by the introduction of the sea-language, which Davenant had acquired during the adventurous period of his life. Nevertheless, the ludicrous contest betwixt the sailors, for the dukedom and viceroyship of a barren island, gave much ainusement at the time, and some of the expressions were long after proverbial. Much cannot be said for Dave. uant's ingenuity, in contrasting the character of a woman, who had never seen a man, with that of a man who had never seen a woman, or in inventing a sister-monster for Caliban. The majestic simplicity of Shakespeare's plau is injured by thus doubling his characters; and his wild landscape is converted into a formal parterre, where each alley has its brother.'. In sketching characters drawn from fancy, and not from observation, the palm of genius must rest with the first inventor; others are but copyists, and a copy shows no where to such disadvantage as when placed by the original. Besides, although we are delighted with the feminine simplicity of Miranda, it becomes unmanly childishness in Hippolyto; and the premature coquetry of Dorinda is disgusting, when contrasted with the maidenly purity that chastens the simplicity of Shakespeare's heroine. The latter seems t dis play, as it were by instinct, the innate dignity of her sex; the former, to show, even in solitude, the germ of those vices, by which, in a voluptuous age, the female character becomes degraded. The wild and savage character of Caliban is also sunk into low and vulgar buffoonery."-Scott's Dryden.
Besides this alteration, Suckling, in his “Goblins," attempted an imitation of Miranda and of Ariel; and, still wearer to the Poet's time, a more worthy copyist, Fletcher, in his “Sea-voyage," used the same plot, but little varied, as the storm, the desert island, and the woman who had never seen a man, sufficiently testify. But Dryden's criticism on Fletcher, in his own spirited prologue, applies to all the imitations and alterations :
That innocence and beauty, which did smile
SOURCE OF THE PLOT.
There is a very curious story told by T. Warton, of poor Collins (the poet) informing him, during his mental berration, that he had seen a romance which contained the story of the TEMPEST:
“I was informed by the late Mr. Collins, that Shakespeare's Tempest, for which no origin is yet assigned, was founded on a romance called • Aurelio and Isabella,' printed in Italian, Spanish, French, and English, in 1588. But though this information has not proved true on examination, a useful conclusion may be drawn from it, that Shakespeare's story is somewhere to be found in an Italian novel; at least, that the story preceded Shakespeare. Mr. Collins had searched this subject, with no less fidelity than judgment and industry ; but his memory failing, in his last calamitous indisposition, he probably gave me the name of one novel for another. I remember he added one circumstance which may lead to a discovery—that the principal character of the romance, answering lo Shakespeare's Prospero, was a chemical necromancer, who had bound a spirit like Ariel to obey his call and perform his services."—WARTON.
"Mr. Thoms, in a very interesting paper on the early • English and German Dramas,' has given, from Tieck. in account of certain early productions of English dramatists, which were translated into German about the year
We cannot here enter into the very curious question whether an English company performed English plays in Germany at that period; but it is quite certain that some of our earliest dramas were either translated cor adapted for the German stage, at this early period. Jacob Ayrer, a notary of Nuremberg, was the author of Thirty dramas, in the beginning of the seventeenth century. Some are clearly derived from English models; and Mr. Thoms thinks that an old play, on which Shakespeare founded the TEMPEST, is translated in Ayrer's works, published in 1618:
“* The origin of the plot of the TEMPEST is for the present a Shakespearian mystery, are the words of our friend Mr. Hunter. in his learned and interesting dissertation npon that play. That mystery, however, I consider as solved,—Tieck appears to entertain no doubt upon the subject,--and I hope to bring the matter before you in such a manner as will satisfy you of the correctness of Tieck's views in this respect. But to the point. Shakespeare unqnestionably derived bis idea of the TEMPEST from an earlier drama, not now known to exist, but of which a German version is preserved in Ayrer's play, entitled Die Schöne Sidea, (the Beautiful Sidea ;) and
the proof of this fact is to be found in the points of resemblance between the two plays, which are far too striking and peculiar to be the result of accident.
" " It is true that the scene in which Ayrer's play is laid, and the names of the personages, differ from those of The TEMPEST; but the main incidents of the two plays are all but identically the same. For instance, in the Ger. inan drama, Prince Ludolph and Prince Leudegast supply the places of Prospero and Alonzo. Ludolph, like Prospero, is a magician, and like him has an only daughter, Sidea—the Miranda of the TEMPEST-and an attendant spirit, Runcifal, who, though not strictly resembling either Ariel or Caliban, may well be considered as the primary type which suggested to the nimble fancy of our great dramatist those strongly yet admirably contrasted beings. Shortly after the commencement of the play, Ludolph having been vanquished by bis rival, and with his daughter Sidea driven into a forest, rebukes her for complaining of their change of fortune; and then summons his spirit Runcifal to learn from him their future destiny, and prospects of revenge. Runcifal, who is, like Ariel, somewhat inoudy, announces to Ludolph that the son of his enemy will shortly become his prisoner. After a comic episode, inost probably introduced by the German, we see Prince Leudegast, with his son Engelbrecht-the Ferdinand of the TEMPEST—and the councillors, hunting in the same forest; when Engelbrecht and his companion Famulus, having separated from their associates, are suddenly encountered by Ludolph and his daughter. He commands them to yield themselves prisoners; they refuse, and try to draw their swords, when, as Prospero tells Ferdinand
I can here disarm thee with this stick,
And make thy weapon dropso Ludolph, with his wand, keeps their swords in their scabbards, paralyzes Engelbrecht, and makes him confess his
nerves are in their infancy again,
And have no vigour in them ;and when he has done so, gives him over as a slave to Sidea, to carry logs for her.
". The resemblance between this scene and the parallel scene in the TEMPEST is rendered still more striking in 1 late part of the play, when Sidea, moved by pity for the labours of Engelbrecht, in carrying logs, declares to him
I am your wife, if you will marry me;an event which, in the end, is happily brought about, and leads to the reconciliation of their parents, the rival princes.'"-Knight.
“ No novel, in prose or verse, to which Shakespeare resorted for the incidents of the Tempest, has yet been discovered; and although Collins, late in his brief career, mentioned to T. Warton that he had seen such a tale, it nas never come to light; and we apprehend that he must have been mistaken. We have turned over the pages, we believe, of every Italian novelist, anterior to the age of Shakespeare, in hopes of finding some story containing traces of the incidents of the TEMPEST, but without success. The ballad entitled the • Inchanted Island' is a more modern production than the play, from which it varies in the names, as well as in some points of the story, as if for the purpose of concealing its connection with a production which was popular on the stage. Our opinion decidedly is, that it was founded upon the Tempest, and not npon any ancient narrative to which Shakespeare also might have been indebted. It may be remarked, that here also no locality is given to the island: on the confrary, we are told, if it ever had any existence but in the imagination of the Poet, that it had disappeared :
From that daie forth the lele has beene
Some say 'tis buryed deepe
Nor ere is knowne to sleepe. “Mr. Thoms has pointed out some resemblances in the incidents of an early German play, entitled Die Schöne Sidea, and the Tempest: his theory is, that a drama upon a similar story was at an early date performed in Gerinany, and that if it were not taken from Shakespeare's play, it was perhaps derived from the same unknowu source. Mr. Thoms is preparing a translation of it for the Shakespeare Society, and we shall then be better able to form an opinion as to the real or supposed connection between the two."-Collier.
Collins's conversation with Warton was some time between 1750 and 1756, and as the most diligent search of the antiquarians and commentators, for ninety years, have resulted as Mr. Collier's late persevering investigations have done, the inference is very strong that this supposed lost Italian novel was a delusion of the unfortunate poet's shattered mind, in which his recollections of the Tempest itself mingled with his imagination, till the whole took the form of a romance formerly read and imperfectly remembered. For such a delusion, in an enfeebled and disturbed state of mind, his previous habits of thought and fancy had predisposed him. “ He had employed his mind (says his biographer) chiefly upon works of fiction and subjects of fancy. He loved fairies, genii, giants, and monsters; he delighted to rove through the meanders of enchantment, to gaze on the magnificence of golden palaces, to repose by the waterfalls of Elysian gardens."
I am equally incredulous on the subject of the origin of the Tempest in an older English play, preserved only in a German translation. The resemblance, even as stated by Tieck and Thoms, seems little more than of the inagical machinery, which might well have come from the common origin of some old tale of fairies or magic.
There is good reason to believe that the early accounts of the Bermudas, then very lately made known to the English public, suggested to the Poet the general idea of his enchanted island, and gave it much of its picturesque and supernatural character. But it is very strange that so many of the critics, from the dull Chalmers to the imaginative Mrs. Jameson, have taken it for granted that the Poet actually “ placed the scene of his drama there." Ariel's flight from a “nook of the isle" to fetch dew from “ the still-vex'd Bermoothes," while it shows that the Bermudas were in the Poet's mind, shows also that in his imagination they were far distant from the island of his fancy. Mr. Hunter maintained that the island is Lampedusa, between Malta and the African coast. To this there can be no very especial objections, although any other island, real or imaginary, in the Mediterranean or the Atlantic, would answer as well.