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THE Tempest and The Midsummer-Night's Dream are the noblest efforts of that sublime and amazing imagination peculiar to Shakspeare, which soars above the bounds of nature, without forsaking sense; or, more properly, carries nature along with him beyond her established limits. Fletcher seems particularly to have admired these two plays, and hath wrote two in imitation of them, The Sea Voyage and The Faithful Shepherdess. But when he presumes to break a lance with Shakspeare, and write in emulation of him, as he does in The False One, which is the rival of Antony and Cleopatra, he is not so successful. After him, Sir John Suckling and Milton catched the brightest fire of their imagination from these two plays; which shines fantastically indeed in The Goblins, but much more nobly and serenely in The Mask at Ludlow Castle. WARBURTON.
No one has hitherto been lucky enough to discover the romance on which Shakspeare may be supposed to have founded this play, the beauties of which could not secure it from the criticism of Ben Jonson, whose malignity appears to have been more than equal to his wit. In the introduction to Bartholomew Fair, he says: "If there be never a servant monster in the fair, who can help it, he says, nor a nest of antiques? He is loth to make nature afraid in his plays, like those that beget Tales, Tempests, and such like drolleries." STEEVENS.
I was informed by the late Mr. Collins of Chichester, that Shakspeare's Tempest, for which no origin is yet assigned, was formed 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, an useful conclusion may be drawn from it, that Shakspeare's story is somewhere to be found in an Italian novel, at least that the story preceded Shakspeare. Mr. Collins had searched this subject with no less fidelity than judgement 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 a circumstance, which may lead to a discovery,-that the principal character of the romance, answering to Shakspeare's Prospero, was a chemical necromancer, who had bound a spirit like Ariel to obey his call, and perform his services. It was a common pretence of dealers in the occult sciences to have a demon at command. At least Aurelio, or Orelio, was probably one of the names of this romance, the production and multiplicity of gold being the grand object of alchemy. Taken at large, the magical
part of the Tempest is founded on that sort of philosophy which was practised by John Dee and his associates, and has been called the Rosicrucian. The name Ariel came from the Talmudistick mysteries with which the learned Jews had infected this science. T. WARTON.
Mr. Theobald tells us that The Tempest must have been written after 1609, because the Bermuda Islands, which are mentioned in it, were unknown to the English until that year; but this is a mistake. He might have seen in Hackluyt, 1600, folio, a description of Bermuda, by Henry May, who was shipwrecked there in 1593.
It was however one of our author's last works. In 1598, he played a part in the original Every Man in his Humour. Two of the characters are Prospero and Stephano. Here Ben Jonson taught him the pronunciation of the latter word, which is always right in The Tempest:
"Is not this Stephăno my drunken butler?”
And always wrong in his earlier play, The Merchant of Venice, which had been on the stage at least two or three years before its publication in 1600:
My friend Stephano, signify, I pray you," &c.
So little did Mr. Capell know of his author, when he idly supposed his school literature might perhaps have been lost by the dissipation of youth, or the busy scene of publick life! FARMER.
This play must have been written before 1614, when Jonson sneers at it in his Bartholomew Fair. In the latter plays of Shakspeare, he has less of pun and quibble than in his early ones. In The Merchant of Venice, he expressly declares against them. This perhaps might be one criterion to discover the dates of his plays. BLACKSTONE.
See Mr. Malone's Attempt to ascertain the Order of Shakspeare's Plays, and a Note on "The cloud-capp'd towers," &c. Act IV. STEEVENS.
A hope has long been entertained, that at some time or other the romance or tale might be found, that furnished Shakspeare with the materials on which he formed this beautiful comedy. But after having ascertained the precise fact that unquestionably gave rise to it, and after the perusal of some rare and curious pieces of his age, of which a more particular account will presently be given, I am firmly persuaded that no such tale or romance will ever be found, or indeed ever existed.
In constructing many other plays, our poet frequently formed his drama on some story that he met with, either adopting it as he found it, or making some alterations; and in both cases, generally adding some new and original characters of his own invention. Such we know was the process in the formation of TwelfthNight, All's Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, The Winter's Tale, and some others. But here, as we have already
seen, the title and part of the story were suggested to him by the tremendous tempest, which, in July, 1609, dispersed the fleet carrying supplies from England to the infant colony in Virginia, and wrecked the vessel in which Sir George Somers and the other principal commanders had sailed, on one of the Bermuda islands. In strict propriety, the circumstances attending that disaster, having furnished an important part of the story of the piece before us, ought now to be recited in the first place; but as it was necessary to state them minutely in a former volume for the purpose of ascertaining its date, I shall here only refer the reader to the Essay, in which a very ample detail of them may be found.* The occurrence of the tempest, from the extraordinary circumstances which attended it, and the interest that it excited in a numerous body of his contemporaries, [forced] itself upon his notice; and yet supplied him with but a single, though important event. Hence, before it could be used for a dramatick purpose, it became necessary to form a fable that would accord with this incident; for surely it must be allowed to be in the highest degree improbable, that, just when the occasion demanded it, he should have found a tale corresponding in its principal parts with the story of The Tempest, as we now have it; in which an usurper was represented as having been assailed at sea by a furious storm, similar in its effects to that in his contemplation, and wrecked on an enchanted and almost desert island, inhabited only by a savage, an aërial spirit, a young lady, and her father, the rightful prince, whom that usurper had despoiled of his dukedom. It follows, therefore, that our poet, on this occasion, must have taken a course somewhat different from what he usually pursued; and that, in order to avail himself of the popular topick thus presented to him, he was under the necessity of adopting such incidents as he could either invent or quickly find, taking care that they should sufficiently harmonize with the particular fact on which he had already determined to write a play.
Of that part of the story which was suggested by the disastrous storm above mentioned, enough has already been said; and with respect to all the rest of the fable, it was, I am persuaded, in a great measure, of his own invention; set on work and aided in a slight degree, partly by a play written about twenty years before by one of his dramatick predecessors, whose reputation then stood extremely high, and to whom he has other similar obligations; partly, by the sixth metrical tale of George Turberville, one of the most distinguished poets of his time; and partly by the popular histories of voyages of discovery with which Shakspeare doubtless was perfectly conversant.
* See An Attempt to ascertain the Chronology of Shakspeare's plays, vol. ii. Art. Tempest.