« НазадПродовжити »
Tofte put forth a poem entitled “ Alba the Months Minde of Melancholy Lover," wherein the play is thus referred to :
“ Love's Labour Lost! I once did see a play
Ycleped so, so called to my paine,
Giving attendance on my froward dame :
This play no play, but plague, was unto me.
For there I lost the love I liked most;
I that in earnest found unto my cost.
Each actor plaid in cunning wise his part,
But chiefly those entrapt in Cupid's snare;
They seeme to grieve, but yet they felt no care ;
These are all the contemporary notices of the play that have reached us. In our Introduction to The Two Gentlemen of Ve. rona we have stated our main reasons for assiguing an earlier date to the Poet's first dramatic efforts than has been generally supposed. That this play was among the earliest scarce admits of question, from the character of the thing itself. Though it be apparently designed as a satire upon book-men in general, yet it displays in almost every part, and a good deal more than any other of the Poet's dramas, just such a preponderance of book-knowl. edge as were to be looked for in one fresh from school. Moreover, after the first writing a considerable time must naturally have passed before it was " newly corrected and augmented," as stated in the title-page of the quarto. There may be some questiou as to what year “it was presented before her Highness ;" but as the year was then reckoned from the twenty-fifth of March, it seenis quite likely that “this last Christmas” refers to the Christmas of 1598. Though we need not suppose so many as ten years to have elapsed between the writing and the revising, yet there is nothing that apparently makes against such a supposal. And Tofte's expression, “ I once did see a play,” may well enough iufer that it was some years since he saw it.
The fact of the play's having been “corrected and argmented," of course invalidates wbatsoever of evidence on this score might else be drawn from allusions to contemporary matters. The dancing horse," spoken of in Act 1. sc. 2, is plainly an allusion of this sort. Bankes and his wonderful horse made their debut in London in 1589. But all that can be thence inferred is, that the passage in question was written after that date; and Bankes and his horse were so much and so long distinguished, that the refer. ence may well enough have been made eight or nine years after their first appearance, when the play was revised. The many allusions to the same matter in other writers of the time show that it was a more remarkable performance than to pass out of thought with the day that brought it forth; though much of this celebrity was loubtless owing to the alleged fate of Bankes and his horse when they fell under the papal discipline. The “ finished represeutation of colloquial excellence," as Dr. Johnson calls it, at the opening of Act v., has been thought to have been borrowed from a passage in Sidney's Arcadia, which came out in 1590. But the resemblance is not so close but that it may very well have been a mere coincidence. The passage is Sir Philip's fine description of Parthenia : “ That which made her fairness much the fairer was that it was but the fair embassador of a most fair mind, full of wit, and a wil which delighted more to judge itself than to show itself: her speech being as rare as precious; her silence without sullenness; her modesty without affectation ; her shame. fastness without ignorance : in sum, one that to praise well, one must first set down with bimself what it is to be excellent." Even granting the imitation in this case, still there is no reason but that the similar passage may have first appeared in the augmented copy of the play. We lay no stress on the circumstance that the Arcadia was considerably read in manuscript before it was printed, and so may have come to the Poet's knowledge before the original writing of Love's Labour's Lost; for we suppose this play to have been one of the exhibitions that brought the Author into Sir Philip's acquaintance, and recommended him to Southampton's patronage. As for the notion of certain critics, ibat Holoferne. was ineant for satire upon John Florio, whose Second Fruits appeared in 1591, containing some reflections on the indecorum of the English stage, we cannot discover the slightest ground for it. Shakespeare, no doubt. had ample occasion to laugh at the pedantry of pedagogues long before he knew any thing of Florio.
Internal evidence in such questions is necessarily a matter of individual judgment and opinion ; so that no great weight can be given it, save where we have a concurrence of several experienced and judicious minds. Here, however, the best critics all agree in fixing the date in accordance with whatsoever of evidence is thus producible from without. Coleridge in 1819 set it down as a “ju. venile drama," and as “ Shakespeare's earliest dramatic attempt, – perhaps even prior in conception to the Venus and Adonis, and planned before he left Stratford;” and his judgment herein ig The more considerable, forasmuch as he once thought otherwise
He remarks, that the characters of this play are either imperson. ated out of Shakespeare's own multiformity by imaginative selfposition, or out of such as a country town and a schoolboy's observation might supply; "and that “the frequency of the rhymes, the sweetness as well as the smoothness of the metre, and the number of acute and fancifully-illustrated aphorisms, are all as they ought to be in a poet's youth.” Making due allowance for certain passages which show a more experienced hand, and were probably written in at the revisal, we apprehend that few will dissent from the judgment here given, so far as it bears upon the date of the original composition; though, as to the characters, we confess that the higher ones seem “ impersonated" rather at second hand and from books, than either out of the Poet's "observation" or out of his own multiformity."
For the plot and matter of this play no foreign sources have been identified; and the amount of research spent for that purpose in vain leaves little room to doubt that the whole was the offspring of the Poet's invention. Which only favours the conclusion, that Shakespeare, in common with the greatest dramatists before him, though probably without knowing it, in proportion as he came to understand his art and to be formed and furnished for its service, cared less for mere novelty, and took more to such subjects as were already fixed in the popular belief and familiar to the minds of his audience. It shoull be observed, however, that in the original copies Armado and Holofernes are often designated by their characters, not by their names, the former being called The Braggart, the latter The Pedant; which Mr. Collier regards as indicating that at the time of writing this play the Author had some acquaintance with the nature of the Italian comic performances, where such characters were quite common; and he points out a strong resemblance between these personages and two that figure in Gl Ingannati, the braggart under the name of Giglio, and the other under that of M. Piero Pedante. Gl Ingannati is one of the Italian plays spoken of in our Introduction to Twelfth Night, as having, perhaps, contributed something towards that delectable comedy. Besides the scarce-perceptible footprints in this quarter, the Poet's reading may be more clearly traced among the Spanish romances of chivalry; and indeed, as a clever writer hath remarked, “ the story has most of the features which would be derived from an acquaintance with the ancient romances." An apt instance of this is furnished in the King's description of this child of fancy, that Armado bight," in the first act. And Coleridge speaks of the extravagant whim of the leading characters as being “ not altogether improbable to those who are conversant in the history of the middle ages, with their Courts of Love, and all that lighter drapery of chivalry, which engaged even mighty kings with a sort of serio-comic interest, and may well be supposed to have occupied more completely the smaller princes, at a
time when the noble's or prince's court contained the only theatre of a domain or principality.”
We have already remarked upon the higher characters of this play as appearing to have been drawn rather from books than from life. They have little of the close compacting of living power, which so marks the Poet's delineations generally, and which naturally results in distinctive features and characteristic traits. We can scarce distinguish and remember them as individuals : they run together, as it were, in our thoughts, as being rather personified whimsicalities and affectations than affected and whimsical per. sons; are not fully cut out and rounded into severalty; but appear somehow too much like the same thing under several variations : in short, they affect us more as ingeniously-wrought figures and images of men and women, than as real men and women themselves; though we must confess that something of a determinate and specific individuality is given to Biron and Rosaline, so that we take up a more distinct impression and carry away a much clearer remembrance of them. Thus they differ from Shakespeare's other representations very much as a portrait taken from the life differs from a mere copy; which a practised eye will readily distinguish, without being told the facts. So that the play thus far almost reverses the Poet's general rule; the characters existing rather for the sake of the plot, than the plot for the sake of the characters; these being indeed mainly used as a sort of ground for the projecting and carrying on of a dramatic device. Thus the thing, at least in this part, is not so much a play as a show. Hence, perhaps, the comparatively little interest that readers generally take in it: for a mere story or show is interesting only while it is uew; whereas a work of art, a real expression of character and life, grows in interest as we grow more acquainted with it.
The other set of characters, however, especially Costard, Arma do, and Moth, are of a very different stamp. Here the Poet was evidently feeding of the fruit that grows from observation, not “ of the dainties that are bred in a book :” here he is plainly at work in a vein where his eye and hand are at home; moulding his forms out of the materials amidst which his life has been passed and his thinking shaped. For whatsoever prototypes of Armado may be found in Italian comedies, there is no denying that Shakespeare constructed that " mighty potentate of nonsense” in the strength of a knowledge far more living and operative than could have been gained by mere reading. In this case only a Spanish name was given to an old English substance : Coleridge informs us that even in his time the character was not extinct in the cheaper inns of North Wales. As for Holofernes the schoolmaster, and Sir Nathaniel the curate, those prodigious epicures of learned vocables, who have been at a great feast of languages, and stolen the scraps.” Shakespeare's age was just the time for such char acters lo e generalcd, and trainoil on into ludicrous perfection
The traits uppermost in them were but the natural working down of what was then a leading aim with the highest and wittiest in society, - a continual effort to appear clever and spirited, to shine and entertain by talking out of the common way; so that “ the courtiers, and men of rank and fashion, affected a display of wit, point, and sententious observation, that would be deemed intolerable at present." This straining after mentai ornament, which so filled the palace and the cottage with every variety of small wit, was indeed a disease, and perhaps this play yields proof enough that Shakespeare viewed it as such : yet there is no telling how much it may have had to do with the discipline, which taught Hooker to write the richest, noblest, most varied and musical prose style that has yet been written in the English tongue. Nor in our time, as perhaps in all times when learning is duly prized, is there wanting a class of men whose ordinary talk shows them to “have lived long on the alms-basket of words ;' thus eversing the fine old maxim of Roger Ascham, “ to speak as the common people do, to think as wise men do."
Whatsoever, therefore, may have been the Poet's design, at all events the play, throughout, is a shạm-fight of words; and perhaps it may be justly regarded as a piece of good-natured irony on the abuse of learning, and a merry caricature of intellectual vanity and display. In this view the whole forms a capital takeoff of the shallow, vain philosophy which puts men upon the study of words to the neglect of things, and prompts them to seek after wisdom by using other people's eyes instead of their own; - the same habit of mind which may be so often seen drawing out the smallest possible amount of matter into an infinite agitation of wit. It is not without significance, therefore, that the higher characters are represented all along as hunting and straining after puns, and quibbles, and clenches, and conceits, thus spending their superfluous mental activity in leamed trifling and elaborate folly. Perbaps Biron is the only one of them that has wisdom enough to catch and save him when his wit breaks down. Meanwhile the lower characters, though seemingly the opposite of the former, in reality but present the more ludicrous and farcical side of the same thing; the readiness with which they rattle off quips and quirks, and twist language into fantastical shapes, being an apt commentary on the tendency of the study, to which their betters have vowed themselves, to degenerate into verbal tricks and bookish formalities.
As a work of art, perbaps the chief merit of the play lies in the unity and harmony of feeling that pervade it. The leading characters are all young, and there is an answering spirit of youth in every thing about them, as if surrounding ohjects had caught from them the trick of hilarity, and must needs keep time with the beating of their hearts. It is by thus diffusing over all things the tone and temper of lis persons, that the Poet often so completely transports us into their whereabout, and makes us see with then