Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

"O, for my sake do you with Fortune chide,
The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds,
That did not better for my life provide
Than public means which public manners breeds.
Thence comes it that my name receives a brand ;
And almost thence my nature is subdu'd

To what it works in, like the dyer's hand.”
Moreover, as Dyce remarks, “it is evident that Shakespeare never
ceased to turn his thoughts towards his birth-place, as the spot where
he hoped to spend the evening of his days in honourable retirement.'
It is uncertain at what time he withdrew from the stage. The latest
notice we have of his acting was in 1603, when Ben Jonson's Sejanus
was performed at the Blackfriars, and one of the parts was sustained
by him. The probability is that he ceased to be an actor in the
course of the next year; though it is tolerably certain that he kept
up bis interest in the affairs of the company some years longer, and
that he continued to write more or less for the stage down to as late
a period as 1613.

The Poet's eldest daughter, Susanna, was married June 5th, 1607, to John Hall, a gentleman, and a medical practitioner at Stratford, and well-reputed as such throughout the county. His first grandchild, Elizabeth Hall, was baptised February 21st, 1608 ; and on the 9th cf September following his mother died. His other daughter, Judith, was married to Thomas Quiney, February 10th, 1616. Quiney was four years younger than his wife, and was a vintner and wine-merchant at Stratford.

Perhaps I ought to add that Meres, in the work already quoted, speaks of the Poet's "sugared Sounets among his private friends." At length, in 1609, these, and such others as the Poet may bave written after 1598, were collected, to the number of a hundred and fifty-four, and published. By this time, also, as many as sixteen of his plays, including the three already named, had been issued, some of them repeatedly, in quarto form.

On the 25th of March, 1616, Shakespeare executed his will. The testator is there said to be “ in perfect health and memory ;” nevertheless he died at New Place on the 23d of April following ; and, two days later, was buried beside the chancel of Stratford church. It is said that “ his wife and daughters did earnestly desire to be laid in the same grave with him ;” and accordingly two ot' them at lec:t, ita wife and the eldest daughter, were in due time gathered to his side.

Shakespeare was by no means so little appreciated in his time as later generations have mainly supposed. Besides the passages already cited, we have many other notes of respect and esteem from his contemporaries. No man indeed of that age was held in higher regard for his intellectual gifts ; none drew forth more or stronger tributes of applause. Kings, princes, lords, gentlemen, and, what is perhaps still better, common people, all united in paying homage to his transcendent genius. And from the scattered notices of his contemporaries, we get, also, a pretty complete and very exalted idea of his personal character. How dearly he was he:. -y those who knew him best is well shown by a passage of Ben Jonson's, written long after the Poet's death, and not published till 16 10 : “ I loved the man and do honour his memory, on this side idolatry, as much as any. He was indeed honest, and of an open and free naiure.

From the foregoing sketch it appears that the materials for a Lifu of Shakespeare are scanty indeed. Nevertheless there is enough, I think, to show that in all the common dealings of life he was eminently gentle, candid, upright, and judicious ; open-hearted, genial, and sweet in his social intercourses; while, in the smooth and happy

[merged small][ocr errors]

marriage which he seems to have realized, of the highest poetry and art with systematic and successful prudence in business affairs, we have an example of well-rounded practical manhood, such as may justly engage our admiration and respect.

STATE AND SOURCES OF THE POET'S Text.

Of the thirty-seven plays commonly known as Shakespeare's, sixteen were published, separately, in quarto, during the author's lito. Some of these were issued several times in that form ; as, for instance, King Richard II., of which there were five quarto'editions, sererally dated 1597, 1598, 1608, 1608, and 1615. Some of these issues, buw. ever, were undoubteilly stolen and surreptitious, and it is by no means certain that any of them were authorized by the Poet.

In some cases, as, for instance, in King Henry V. and The Jerry Wives of Windsm, the quartos present but wretched abortions of the genuine plays; the text being so mutilated and incomplete as to force the inference that the copy must have been taken at the theatre by ignorant or incompetent reporters. In other cases, again, as in the First and Serond Purts of King llenry IV., the quartos give the text in such order and fulness as to justify the belief that they were printed from the Poet's own mamiscript. Still, upon the whole, we have no clear reason for supposing that a single page of the proofs was ever corrected by the author himself. It should be observed further, that the plays were written for the special use and benefit of the company to which the author belonged. Of course the company was naturally interested in being able to prevent rival companies from getting holil of them; there being at that time no copyright law to restrain appropriations in that kind. Accordingly few things touching the bistory of the early English stage are more clearly settled, than that theatrical companies took great pains to keep their plays out of print, that so they might control them and have the exclusive use of them. Nevertheless, there are some cases in which we have strong reason to believe that companies gave their consent for the printing of their plays; as in The Merchant of Venice and Much Ado abort Vithing, both of which were published in 1600; some of the circumstances being such as to warrant, it not invite, a conclusion to that effect.

Of the quarto editions, in some cases, it not in all, the later were undoubtedly printed from the earlier issues. Notwithstanding, we often find the several quarto issues of a given play differing a good deal among themselves in the reading of particular passages. Besides, some of them are shockingly priniel, so that it is ofien impossible to make any sense at all out of the text; and ali of them abound in gross typographical errors. Before passing on from this head, I must adul that another of the plays, Othello, was published in quarto in 1022, six years after the author's death.

This brings me to what is known as the folio edition of 1653 in which the seventeen plays already printed in quarto, and all the others known or believed to be Shakespeare's, with the single exception of Pericles, were collected and published together in one volume. It was edited by two of the Poet's old friends and tellow-actore, Jolin Ileminge and Henry Condell; who dedicated the volume to the two brothers, William and Philip Herbert, Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery. In their dedication the editors speak thus: “ We have but collected them, and done an office to the dead, to procure his orphang guardians; without ambition either of self-profit or tame; only to keep the memory of so worthy a friend and fellow alive as was our Shakespeare, by offer of his plays to your most noble patronage."

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

The dedication was followed by an address “ to the great variety of readers,” in which the editors claim “80 to have published them as, where before you were abused with divers stolen and surreptitious copies, maimed and deformed by the frauds and stealthis of injurious impostors that exposed them, even those are now offered to your view cured and perfect of their limbs, and all the rest absolute in their members as he conceived them; who, as he was a happy imitator of Nature, was a most gentie expresser of it: his mind and hand went together; and what he thought, he uttered with that easiness, that we have scarce received from him a blot in his papers."

Doubtless it was natural, perhaps it was excusable, for the editors to speak in this manner; nevertheless, some of their statements are far from being borne out by the character and execution of the work. Some of the plays here published for the first time are wretchedly printed, insomuch that we have great cause to regret the lack of quarto copies to help us in clearing and rectifying the Poet's text. Others of them, however, it must be confessed, as, for instance, As You Like It and Julius Cæsar, are printed remarkably well for that time, so that modern editors have no great difficulty in making out, on the whole, a pretty satisfactory presentation of the workmanship. Some, again, of those which had previously appeared in quarto, are here given with errors so great and so frequent, and omissions so important, that no one thinks of relying wholly or even mainly on the folio for settling the text. In several of the plays, the best modern editors, our Mr. Grant White excepted, have no scruple in preterring, on the whole, the quarto copies, and accordingly use them as the chief authority in their textual reproduction.

All these circumstances, taken together, render Shakespeare's dramas one of the hardest books in the world, perhaps the very hardest, to get delivered in a thoroughly satisfactory state. Aside from the many errors, palpable or probable, in the printing, the variations of text in the old copies, the folio differing much from the quartos, and the quartos not a little among themselves, often tax an editor's juilgment and diligence to the utmost in fixing his choice of readings; while, moreover, in hundreds of cases, not to say thousands, the claims of different readings are so nearly balanced as almost to foreclose the possibility of editors ever agreeing entirely in their delivery of the text. Volumes enough to make a large library have been written in that behalf; and the result just proves that no two editors can agree with each other in the matier, or even any one with himself for two years together. Therewithal, in some of the plays, especially some of those first printed in the folio, as, for example, The Winter's Tale, and Coriolanus, there are divers passages so detective or so corrupt as fairly to defy the utmost stress of critical ingenuity and resource for curing them into soundness; so that they just have to be given up is incurable.

The folio of 1623 was reprinted in 1632, with a good many small changes of text made by some unknown hand. The folio of 1632 is nt regarded as of any authority, though in some cases it furnishes aid of no little value.

I have thus drawn together, in as small a compass and as fair a statement as I could, such particulars relating to the state an i sources of the Poet's text, as it seems needful that young students should have before them. For I cannot think it would be doing quite right, either by the subject or the student, to leave the latter altogether uninstructed touching the matters in question. Some further dotails in the same line are given from time to time, as occasion seemed to require, in the special introductions to particular plays.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

This General Introduction may not improperly close with two note-worthy commendations of the Poct. The first, prefixed to the folio of 16:23, is from the hand of “rare Ben Jonson," who, though ten years younger than Shakespeare, was one of his most intimate personal and professional friends; a ripe scholar; a diligent, painstaking, and highly idiomatic writer; and a right honest, true-hearted, apable, and thoroughly estimable man. It is certainly one of the noblest tributes ever paid by one man to another. The second first appeared among the commendatory verses prefixed to the folio of 1632. It was there printed without any signature, but was included by Milton in a collection of his poems published in 1645, which of course identifies him as the author of it. Milton was born eight years before Shakespeare died, and was twenty-four years old when this glorious little piece was first given to the public. It is worthy alike of the cathor and of the subject. To the Memory of my beloved, the Author, Mr. WILLIAM SHAKE

SPEARE, and what he hath left us.
To draw no envy, Shakespeare, on thy name,
Am I thus ample to thy book and fame ;
While I confess thy writings to be such
As neither man nor Muse can praise too much :
'Tis true and all men's suffrage. But these ways
Were not the paths I meant unto thy praise :
For silliest ignorance on these may light,
Which, when it sounds at best, but echoes right;
Or blind affection, which doth ne'er advance
The truth, but gropes, and urgeth all by chance ;
Or crafty malice might pretend this praise,
And think to ruin where it seem'd to raise.
But thou art proof against them; and, indeed,
Above th’ill fortune of them, or the need.
I therefore will begin :- Soul of the age,
Th’applause, delight, the wonder of our stage,
My Shakespeare, rise! I will not lodge thee by
Chaucer or Spenser; or bid Beaumont lie
A little further, to make thee a room :
Thou art a monument without a tomb;
And art alive still, while thy book doth live,
And we have wits to read, and praise to give.
That I not mix thee so, my brain excuses;
I mean, with great but disproportion’d Muses.
For, if I thought my judgment were of years,
I should commit thee surely with thy peers ;
And tell how far thou didst our Lily outshine,
Or sporting Kid, or Marlowe's mighty line :
And, though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek,
From thence to honour thee I would not seek
For names ; but call forth thundering Æschylus,
Euripides, and Sophocles, to us,
Pacuvius, Accius, him of Cordova, dead,
To lite again, to hear thy buskin tread
And shake a stage; or, when thy socks were on,
Leave thee alone for the comparison
Of all that insolent Greece or haughty Rome
Sent forth, or since did from their ashes come.
Triumph, my Britain ! thou hast one to show,
To whom ali scenes of Europe homage owe.

[ocr errors]

He was not of an age, but for all time!
And all the Muses still were in their prime,
When like Apollo he came forth to warm
Our ears, or like a Mercury to charm.
Nature herself was proud of his designs,
And joy'd to wear the dressing of his lines ,
Which were so richly spun, and woven so fit,
As since she will vouchsafe no other wit.
The merry Greek, tart Aristophanes,
Neat Terence, witty Plautus, now not please,
But antiquated and deserted lie,
As they were not of Nature's family.
Yet must I not give Nature all : thy art,
My gentle Shakespeare, must enjoy a part:
Fr, though the poet's matter nature be,
His art doth give the fashion; and that he
Who casts to write a living line must sweat,
(Such as thine are,) and strike the second heat
Upon the Muses' anvil ; turn the same,
(And himself with it,) that he thinks to frame ;
Or, for the laurel, he may gain a scorn,
For a good poet's made, as well as born:
And such wert thou. Look, how the father's face
Lives in his issue ; even so the race
Of Shakespeare's mind and manners brightly shines
In his well-turned and true-filed lines ;
In each of which he seems to shake a lance,
Ay brandish'd at the eyes of Ignorance.
Sweet Swan of Avon, what a sight it were
To see thee in our waters yet appear,
And make those flights upon the banks of Thames,
That so did take Eliza and our James !
But stay; I see thee in the hemisphere
Alvanc', and made a constellation there:
Shine torth, thou Star of poets ! and with rage
Or intluence chile or cheer the drooping stage;
Which, since thy flight from hence, hath mourn'd like night,
And despairs day, but for thy volume's light!

Ben Jonson
An Epitaph on the admirable Dramatic Poet,

W. SHAKESPEARE.
What needs my Shakespeare, for his honour'd bones,
The labour of an age in piled stones;
Or that his hallow'd reliques should be hid
Under a star-ypointing pyramid ?
Dear son of Memory, great heir of Fame,
What need'st thou such weak witness of thy name?
Ti.ou, in our wonder and astonishment,
Hlast built thyself a live-long monument:
For whilst, to the shame of slow endeavouring art
Thiy easy numbers flow; and that each heart
Hath, from the leaves of thy unvalu'd book,
Those Delphic lines with deep impression took;
Then thou, our fancy of itself bereaving,
Dost make us marble with too much conceiving :
And, so sepulchr'l, in such pomp dost lie,
That kings for such a tomb would wish to die.

« PoprzedniaDalej »