Зображення сторінки
PDF

and that Heminge the player received on the 20th of May, 1613. the sum of 40 pounds, and 20 pounds more as his Majesty's gra Luity, for exhibiting six plays at Hampton Court, among which was this comedy.

Except the quarto of 1600, there was no other edition of Much Ado about Nothing, that we know of, till the folio of 1623, where it stands the sixth in the division of Comedies. In the first edition neither the scenes nor the acts, in the second only the latter, are marked. Some question has been made whether the folio were a reprint of the quarto, or from another manuscript. Considerable might be urged on either side of the question : but the arguments would hardly pay for the stating; the differences between the two copies being so few and slight as to make it of little consequence whether they were printed from several manuscripts, or the one from the other. And the superior authority of the quarto is suf ficiently established in that it came out during the author's life, and when he was at hand to correct the proof : besides, in nearly every case of difference the reading of the quarto seems better in itself. There is one point, however, bearing rather in favor of sereral manuscripts, which ought perhaps to be stated. In Act ii. sc. 3, one of the stage directions in the folio is, -"Enter Prince, Leo nato, Claudio, and Jack Wilson," thus substituting the name of the actor for that of the character; which looks very much as if the whole came fresh from the prompter's book. Wilson was a celebrated stage singer of that time, and we thus learn that he performed the part of Balthazar. Again, in Act iv. sc. 2, both quarto and folio set the names of Kemp and Cowley before the speeches of Dogberry and Verges; thus showing what actors originally played the parts of those immortal magistrates. So far as the question of several manuscripts is concerned, perhaps the agreement of the two editions in this latter case may be fairly regarded as offsetting their difference in the former, as Kemp had been dead so.ne years when the folio appeared. It may be worth the while to add, that the folio omits some passages that are found in the quarto, two of which, besides being quite at home where they stand, are too good to be lost. One is the following part of Don Pedro's speech in Act iii. sc. 2: « Or in the shape of two countries at once; as a German from the waist downward, all slops, and a Spaniard from the hip upward, no doublet : " which Mr. Collier thinks may have been left out in consequence of some change of fashion between 1600 and 1623. The other passage includes a part of Dogberry's speech in Act iv. sc. 2: “ Write down that they hope they serve God:- and write God first; for God defend but God should go before such villains :" which, as Blackstone suggests, may have been thrown out in 1623, on account of a law made in the third year of James I. against the irreverent use of the sacred Name.

What with the copies of 1600 anu 1623, the text of Much Ado

about Nothing, except in one instance, is every where so clear and well-settled as almost to foreclose controversy. That exception is the last verse of the Song in Act v. sc. 3; where the best result we can coine to will be found in a note.

This play, as may be seen in our Introduction to The Two Gentlemen of Verona, is not in the list given by Francis Meres in 1598. As Meres' purpose was to set forth the Poet's excellence in comedy, it is hardly to be supposed that he would have taken The Two Gentlemen of Verona and left Much Ado about Nothing, if the latter had then been known. This circumstance, there. fore, together with the publishing of the play in the latter part of 1600, sufficiently ascertains the probable date of the composition. Allowing time enough for a successful run upon the boards, and for such a growth of popularity as to invite a fraudulent publication, the play could scarce have been written after 1599, when the Poet was in his thirty-fifth year.

As in many other of our Author's plays, a part of the plot and story of Much Ado about Nothing was borrowed. But the same matter had been borrowed so many times before, and run into so many variations, that we cannot affirm with certainty to what source Shakespeare was immediately indebted. Mrs. Lenox, indeed, characteristically instructs us, that the Poet here“ borrowed just enough to show his poverty of invention, and added enough to prove his want of judgment:" and this choice dropping of criticism, like many others vouchsafed by her learned ladyship, is too wise, if not too womanly, to need any comment from us, save that the Poet can better afford to bave such things said, than the sayer can to have them repeated.

Pope says, — « The story is taken from Ariosto.” And so much of it as relates to Hero, Claudio, and John, certainly bears a strong resemblance to the tale of Ariodante and Genevra, which occupies the whole of the fifth and part of the sixth books of Ariosto's Orlando Furioso. A translation of this part of the poem by Peter Beverly was licensed for the press in 1565; and Warton tells us it was reprinted in 1600 ; which is of some consequence, as suggesting that Shakespeare's play may have had something to do with the republication. An English version of Ariosto's whole poem, by Sir John Harrington, came out in 1591 ; but Much Ado about Nothing yields no traces of the Author's having been with Sir John. And indeed the fixing of any obligations in this quarter is the more difficult, forasmuch as the same matter appears to have been borrowed by Ariosto himself. For the story of a la ly betrayed to peril and disgrace by the personation of her waiting-woman was an old European tradition: it has been traced to Spain; and Ariosto interwove it with the adventures of Rinaldo, as yielding an apt occasion for his chivalrous heroism. An outline of the story as told by Ariosto is thus given by Mr. Knight:

“The Lady Genevra, so falsely accused, was doomed to die

be

unless a true knight came within a month to do battle for her hon our. Her lover, Ariodante, had fled, and was reported to have perished. The wicked duke, Polinesso, who had betrayed Gene. vra, appears secure in his treachery. But the misguided woman, Dalinda, who had been the instrument of his crime, flying from her paramour, meevith Rinaldo, and declares the truth. Then comes the combat, in which the guilty duke is slain by the champion of innocence, and the lover reappears to be made happy with his spotless princess.”

From which it will be seen at once that the Polinesso of the poem answers to the Jobn of the play. But there is this imporiant diffesence, that the motive of the former in vilifying the lady is to drivě away her lover, that he may have her himself; whereas the latter acts from a self-generated malignity of spirit that takes pleasure in blasting the happiness of others without any hope of supplanting them.

Spenser, whose genius sucked in whatsoever was rich and rare in all the resources that learning could accumulate, seems to have followed Ariosto in working the same tale into the variegated structure of his great poem: but the Englishman so used it as to set forth a high moral lesson ; the Italian, to minister opportunity for a romantic adventure. The story of Phedon, relatin treachery of his false friend Philenon, is in Book ii. Canto 4 of the Faery Queene.

The same story also forms the groundwork of one of Bandello's novels; and Mr. Skottowe's brief analysis of that tale will indicate the most probable source of Shakespeare's borrowings :

« Fenicia, the daughter of Lionato, a gentleman of Messina, is betrothed to Timbreo de Cardona. Giroudo, a disappointed lover of the young lady, resolves, if possible, to prevent the marriage. He insinuates to Timbreo that his mistress is disloyal, and offers to show him a stranger scaling her chamber window. Timbreo accepts the invitation, and witnesses the hired servant of Girondo, in the dress of a gentleman, ascending a ladder and entering the nouse of Lionato. Stung with rage and jealousy, Timbreo the next morning accuses his innocent mistress to her father, and re.

jects the alliance. Fenicia sinks in a swoon ; a dangerous illness succeeds; and to stifle all reports injurious to her fame, Liouato proclaims that she is dead. Her funeral rites are performed in Messina, while in truth she les concealed in the obscurity of a country residence.

“ The thought of having occasioned the death of an innocert and lovely female strikes Girondo with horror; in the agony of remorse he confesses his villany to Timbreo, and they both throw themselves on the mercy, and ask forgiveness, of the insulted fam. ily of Fenicia. On Timbreo is imposed only the penance of espousing a lady whose face he should not see previous to his marriage : instead of a new bride, whom he expected, he is pre

jented, at the nuptial altar, with his injured and beloved Fe. nicia."

How Shakespeare could have come to the knowledge of Bandello's novel, unless through the original, is not easy to explain ; no translation of so early a date having been preserved. Which is probably the cause why the critics have 'ren so unwilling to trace him to this source; as it did not suit their theory to allow that he had learning enough to read a simple tale in what was then the most generally-studied language of Europe.

This account of the inatter, if it do no more, may serve to show, what is so often shown elsewhere, that in his borrowing of stories Shakespeare seems to have preferred such as were most received into the common circulatioi. of thought, and most familiar to his audience, that he might have some tie of association to draw and hold their minds to the deep lessons of beauty and wisdom which he was ever poaring forth from himself. And surely much less of insight than he possessed might have taught him, that men are apt to study for novelty in proportion as they lack originality; and that where the latter abounds the former may be rather a hindrance than a help.

This placing of the main interest in something higher and better than any mere plot or story'can be, is well stáled by Coleridge : « The interest in the plot is on account of the characters, not rice versa, as in almost all other writers; the plot is a mere canvas, and no more. Take away from Much Ado about Nothing all that s not indispensable to the plot, either as having little to do with it, or, like Dogberry and his comrades, forced into the service, when any other less ingeniously-absurd watchmen and night-constables would have answered the mere necessities of the action ; take away Benedick, Beatrice, Dogberry, and the reaction of the former on the character of Hero, - and what will remain ? In other writers the main agent of the plot is always the prominent character: John is the mainspring of the plot in this play; but he is mereiy shown, and then withdrawn.”

We have already seen from the external evidence that Much Ado about Nothing was probably written in or near the author's thirty-fifth year. And it requires no great perspicacity to see from the play itself that it naturally falls somewhere in the middle period of his productive years. The style, like that of Twelfth Night, is sustained and equal; easy, natural, and modest in dress and bearing ; every where alive indeed with the exhilaration of wit, or numour, or poetry, but without the labored smoothness of his earlier plays, or the penetrating energy and quick, sinewy movement of his later ones. Compared with some of its predecessors, the play shows a decided growth in what may be termed virility of mind: a wider scope, a higher reach, a firmer grasp, have been attained: the Poet's faculties have manifestly been feeding ypon topics and inhaling invigoration : be has come to rcad nature less through the spectacles of books," and does not hesi. tate to meet her face to face, and trust and try himself alone with her. The result of all which appears in a greater freshness and reality of characterization: there being less of a certain dim, equivocal hearsay air about the persons ; as if his mind, bav. ing outgrown its recollected terms and bookish generalities, had plunged into living intercourse with surrounding life, where his personal observation and experience are blossoming up into poetry and going to seed in philosophy.

Much Ado about Nothing has great variety of interest, now run. ning into the most grotesque drollery, now rising into an almost tragic dignity, now revelling in the most sparkling brilliancy. Its excellences, however, both of plot and of character are rather of the striking sort, involving little of the hidden beauty which shows just enough on the surface to invite a diligent search, and then overpays all the labour it costs. The play, accordingly, has ai. ways been very effective on the stage. — The characters of Hero and Claudio, though rather beautiful than otherwise in their implicity and uprightness, offer no very salient points, and are indeed nowise extraordinary : they derive their interest mainly from the events that befall them; the reverse of which is generally true of Shakespeare's plays. One can scarce help thinking, that had the course of love run smooth with them, its voice, even if audible, had been hardly worth the hearing. Hero, indeed, is altogether gentle and womanly in her ways, and she offers a rather sweet, inviting nestling-place for the fireside affections; and there is something very pathetic and touching in her situation when she is stricken down in mute agony by the tongue of slander. -- Thai Claudio should lend his ear to the poisonous breathings of one whose spirits are known to “ toil in frame of villanies," is no little impeachment of his temper, or his understanding; and the preparing us for this, by representing him as falling into a fit of jealousy

rds the Prince, is a fine instance of the Poet's skill and care in small matters. A piece of conduct, which the circumstances do not explain, is explained at once by thus disclosing a slight predisposition 10 jealousy in the subject. In keeping with this part of his behaviour, Claudio's action every where smacks of the scl. dier : he shows all along both the faults and the virtues of his calling: is sensitive, rash, « quick in quarrel," and as quick in reconciliauon; and has a sort of unreflective spontaneousness about him, that is only not so good as a chastened discretion and a firm, steady self-control. This accounts very well for his sudden running into a match, which in itself looks more like a freak of fancy than a resolution of love; while the same suddenness on the side of the more calm, ciscreet, and patient Hero, is accounted for hy the intervention of the Prince, and the sway he might justly bave over her thoughts. - ('rities have unnecessarily found fault with the l'oet for the character of John, as if it lay without the circum

« НазадПродовжити »