Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

and the rest, should stir up no more concernment where he most endeavoured it.

But it is clear, I think, from internal evidence that Shakespeare had been struck with the dramatic power of many of the narratives of the Metamorphoses' long before Dryden noted the fact. The stories of Phaeton, of Medea, of Pyramus and Thisbe, of Midas, of Progne and Philomela, of Baucis and Philemon, amongst others, had evidently impressed themselves on his youthful imagination in a way never to be forgotten. But these points and others connected with Shakespeare's acquaintance with Ovid will come more fully out in the special illustrations which are to follow.

Probably no critic would deny that Shakespeare was familiar with Ovid, but many maintain, as Farmer did, that his knowledge was derived solely from translations, and especially from Golding's translation of the Metamorphoses.' That Shakespeare well knew this vigorous and picturesque version is certain; but I feel equally confident, from what has already been said, that his study of Ovid in the original was begun at Stratford School, and had been voluntarily extended to his chief poems before he became acquainted with any translation. There are some points of evidence which tend directly to support this view. In the first place it is a striking fact that the keynote as it were of Shakespeare's public career as a poet should have been struck by a quotation from a section of Ovid's poems not yet translated into English. So far as we know Shakespeare himself published in his own name only three poems—the • Venus and Adonis,' the 'Lucrece,' and the Sonnets. Of these, the · Venus and Adonis' was not only the first published, but apparently the earliest considerable poem the author had written. The first heir of my invention,' he calls it in the dedication to the Earl of Southampton. The poem, though not published till 1593, must, in this case, have been written some years earlier, probably before Shakespeare left Stratford for London. On the title-page are the following lines from Ovid's Elegies :

Vilia miretur vulgus : mihi flavus Apollo

Pocula Castalia plena ministret aqua. These line are taken from a poem of which, as I have said, there existed at the time no English version. The earliest translation of the Elegies' is that usually attributed to Marlowe, and published by his friends some years after his death. The exact date of the first edition cannot be decided with certainty, but Ritson fixes it at 1596, and Gifford, on apparently good grounds, a year or two later. The second edition, which probably followed within a year of the first, contains two versions of the “Elegy' from wbich Shakespeare quotes—the second, signed B. J., being the work of Ben Jonson. This is established, not only by the initials, but by the fact that it is printed in full by Jonson as his own in the Poetaster,' which appeared in 1601. Gifford is probably right in his conjecture that both versions are by Jonson, the first being a rough sketch of And the Metamorphoses' opens with the gravity and earnestness befitting a religious poem. But if he ever seriously thought himself capable of producing a sacred epic, he certainly formed an erroneous estimate of his literary aptitudes and poetical gifts. In any case his joyous temper and dramatic genius soon triumphed over the original design, and instead of bringing the gods down from heaven and exhibiting them as objects of awe and reverence to men, he simply carried his contemporaries to Olympus, and filled the august seats with lively representatives of the morals and manners of the Augustan age. This has sometimes been urged as a fatal objection to the poem. It is said that in its treatment of the national mythology, instead of maintaining their antique majesty, Ovid had not only modernised the gods, but represented them in the most literal, if not in the lowest, sense as being of like passions with ourselves. The reply of course is, that after warming to his work the poet treated the subject naturally, under the inspiration and according to the impulses of his own genius. He could not help vitalising the stories, and he filled them with the only life he knew, that of human passion and mundane activities. Instead of a sacred epic, we have accordingly a series of brilliant stories and vivid dramatic sketches, often pathetic enough in their tenderness and tragical in their intensity. Although not dramatic in form, most of his longer and most important works are, in this way, thoroughly dramatic in substance. This is true not only of the 'Fasti’and Metamorphoses,' but of the Heroic Epistles,' in which Ovid's dramatic genius is often displayed with singular vividness and power. The objections sometimes urged against them on the ground of anachronisms and external incongruities, such as, in the case of Ariadne, the want of any means of communication with Theseus, the absence of writing materials, and possibly her ignorance of the art, are ludicrously wide of the mark. The real question is whether, realising in essentials the character and circumstances of the heroines, the poet expresses with vividness and truth the poignant internal conflict of grief and hope, of tumultuous passion, agonising dread, and tender desire. It will hardly be denied that this is strikingly true with regard to many of the Epistles, and especially the best. On this ground they might well be described in the phrase of a modern poet as . Dramatic Lyrics.' But the “Metamorphoses' contain a number of powerful sketches that might appropriately come under the same heading. Dryden, with his usual critical sagacity and poetical insight, has noted this. Referring to a theory, since disproved, about the © Medea’ of Seneca, that it might possibly be the lost tragedy of Ovid, he says:

I am confident the “Medea' is none of his : for though I esteem it for the gravity and sententiousness of it, which he himself concludes to be suitable to a tragedy, Omne genus scripti gravitate tragedia vincit,' yet it moves not my soul enough to judge that he, who in the epick way wrote

and the rest, should stir up no more concernment where he most endeavoured it.

But it is clear, I think, from internal evidence that Shakespeare had been struck with the dramatic power of many of the narratives of the Metamorphoses' long before Dryden noted the fact. The stories of Phaeton, of Medea, of Pyramus and Thisbe, of Midas, of Progne and Philomela, of Baucis and Philemon, amongst others, had evidently impressed themselves on his youthful imagination in a way never to be forgotten. But these points and others connected with Shakespeare's acquaintance with Ovid will come more fully out in the special illustrations which are to follow.

Probably no critic would deny that Shakespeare was familiar with Ovid, but many maintain, as Farmer did, that his knowledge was derived solely from translations, and especially from Golding's translation of the “Metamorphoses.' That Shakespeare well knew this vigorous and picturesque version is certain; but I feel equally confident, from what has already been said, that his study of Ovid in the original was begun at Stratford School, and had been voluntarily extended to bis chief poems before he became acquainted with any translation.

There are some points of evidence which tend directly to support this view. In the first place it is a striking fact that the keynote as it were of Shakespeare's public career as a poet should have been struck by a quotation from a section of Ovid's poems not yet translated into English. So far as we know Shakespeare himself published in his own name only three poems—the • Venus and Adonis,' the “ Lucrece,' and the Sonnets. Of these, the Venus and Adonis' was not only the first published, but apparently the earliest considerable poem the author had written. • The first heir of my invention,' he calls it in the dedication to the Earl of Southampton. The poem, though not published till 1593, must, in this case, have been written some years earlier, probably before Shakespeare left Stratford for London. On the title-page are the following lines from Ovid's Elegies :

Vilia miretur vulgus : mihi flavus Apollo

Pocula Castalia plena ministret aqua. These line are taken from a poem of which, as I have said, there existed at the time no English version. The earliest translation of the · Elegies’ is that usually attributed to Marlowe, and published by his friends some years after his death. The exact date of the first edition cannot be decided with certainty, but Ritson fixes it at 1596, and Gifford, on apparently good grounds, a year or two later. The second edition, which probably followed within a year of the first, contains two versions of the “Elegy' from which Shakespeare quotes—the second, signed B. J., being the work of Ben Jonson. This is established, not only by the initials, but by the fact that it is printed in full by Jonson as his own in the Poetaster, which appeared in 1601. Gifford is probably right in his conjecture that both versions are by Jonson, the first being a rough sketch of

6

6

the second. In any case, the earlier version was not published till some years after the “Venus and Adonis.' But what, perhaps, is even more to the point, the quotation is one which, from the circumstances of the case, could hardly have been chosen by any but a scholar, or at least by one who knew the original well. From their setting in the • Elegy,' the lines would fail to attract special attention and be relatively unimportant in a translation. On the other hand, in the original poem, they have a distinctive emphasis and are full of concentrated meaning and power. The‘Elegy’is a spirited vindication of poetry from the envious criticism of those who represented the poet as an idler, ignobly shirking the public duties which, as a reputable citizen, he ought to discharge. In reply, Ovid proudly asserts that the position of the true poet is higher than any to be gained by wealth or rank or public honours, that in his works he leaves an immortal heritage to men through which his nobler essence not only survives, but outlasts all the symbols and monuments of earthly greatness. In illustration of this, he commemorates some of the greatest poets of the past, including Homer, Hesiod, Sophocles, Menander, Ennius, Lucretius, Virgil, Tibullus, Gallus; and after going through the inspiring roll, he virtually says: “ With these I take my part, their labours and rewards are the only objects of my ambition, their life the only life I care to live.' It is a characteristic utterance on the part of Ovid, and expresses the fixed resolve of his nobler nature. But it is perhaps still more characteristic in the mouth of Shakespeare, when, conscious of great powers, and resolved to find, or create, an ample field for their exercise, he set out on his life's journey with no help from fortune or friends, and no ultimate hope or desire beyond the poet's

In these lipes he avows himself the child of Apollo, and declares that henceforth his elixir vito will be full draughts from the Castalian spring. The same proud note of confidence in himself and devotion to his art reappears again and again in the “Sonnets,' and here too, as we shall see, he echoes the confident predictions of future fame in which Ovid indulges at the close of his greatest work. But the earlier quotation shows that Shakespeare had extended his studies in Ovid, not only beyond the books usually read in the schools, the De Tristibus' and the Metamorphoses, but beyond the utmost limits where the help of a translation was available.

I may next take another point of evidence, which, though comparatively small and indirect, appears to tell with some force in the same direction. It is well known that Shakespeare derived several of the names occurring in his dramas, such as Autolycus, directly from Ovid. Some of these have curious points of interest connected with them. But there is one, about which little has been said, that is perhaps more remarkable and interesting than any besides—the name of the fairy queen, Titania. Of this name so accomplished a student of Shakespeare as Mr. Ward says, singularly enough: The figure of the elf-queen Shakspere might have found in the * Wife of Bath's

crown.

spere's invention, and may have been suggested by Diana, who, as King James I. informs us, “amongst us was called the Pbairee,” though Simrock (ii. 34) derives the same from Titti (children), the stealing of whom is a favourite pursuit of the elfin spirits. Both the German critic and the English historian had apparently forgotten that the name is traceable to Ovid, and that as used by him it has a very distinctive significance. So far as I know, however, Mr. Keightley is the only critic who has connected the name with Ovid; and he does so very generally, without bringing out in any detail the meaning and value of the fact. His statement is that Titania occurs once in the • Metamorphoses' as a designation of Diana. But in reality the name occurs not once only, but several times, not as the designation of a single goddess, but of several female deities, supreme or subordinate, descended from the Titans. On this ground it is applied to Diana, to Latona, to Circe, to Pyrrba, and Hecate. As Juno is called by the poets Saturnia, on account of her descent from Saturn, and Minerva, on less obvious or more disputed grounds, is termed Tritonia, só Diana, Latona, and Circe are each styled by Ovid Titania. This designation illustrates, indeed, Ovid's marked power of so employing names as to increase both the musical flow and imaginative effect of his verse.

The name Titania, as thus used, embodies rich and complex associations connected with the silver bow, the magic cup, and the triple crown. It may be said, indeed, to embrace in one comprehensive symbol the whole female empire of mystery and night belonging to classical mythology. Diana, Latona, Hecate are all goddesses of night, queens of the shadowy world, ruling over its mystic elements and spectral powers. The common name thus awakens recollections of gleaming huntresses in dim and dewy woods, of dark rites and potent incantations under moonlit skies, of strange aërial voyages, and ghostly apparitions from the under-world. It was, therefore, of all possible names the one best fitted to designate the queen of the same shadowy empire, with its phantom troops and activities, in the Northern mythology. And since Shakespeare, with prescient inspiration, selected it for this purpose, it has naturally come to represent the whole world of fairy beauty, elfin adventure, and goblin sport connected with lunar influences, with enchanted herbs, and muttered spells. The Titania of Shakespeare's fairy mythology may thus be regarded as the successor of Diana and other regents of the night belonging to the Greek Pantheon. Shakespeare himself appears to support this view in a line over which a good deal of critical ink has been shed. It occurs in the invocation to the Fairies in the Merry Wives of Windsor:'

Fairies, black, grey, green, and white,
You moonshine revellers, and shades of night,
You orphan heirs of fixed destiny,

Attend your office, and your quality.
The deities of the Greek mythology were instruments of destiny

« НазадПродовжити »