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THE trial of a wife's chastity, with the connivance of her husband, was an incident well adapted to the use of the romancewriters and story-tellers of the earliest days of chivalry. When ladies were left long alone, during the absence of their lords upon warlike expeditions of more or less importance, and in the mean time were almost daily called upon to show hospitality to the merest strangers, there would naturally be, within the knowledge of most people, occurrences making such a design as that upon which the villain of this play sets out from Italy, seem not at all extravagant. Hence it is rather surprising that so few old stories have been discovered which turn upon the cardinal incident in the fortunes of Posthumus and Imogen.
Two ancient romances and one middle-age miracle-play in the French language, one of Boccaccio's novels, (the Ninth of the Second Day,) and a tale in an old English tract, are the only sources which literary antiquarians have discovered whence Shakespeare could have derived the most interesting part of the plot of this drama. All these romances and tales have manifestly a common origin. In all there is the boast of the wife's beauty and faithfulness, the wager that the latter may be undermined, the failure in the attempt, the fraudulent obtaining of seemingproofs of success, the condemnation of the wife to death, with her preservation and final triumphant restoration to her husband's confidence and favor. In the two romances, and in Boccaccio's novel, the evidences against the lady are procured by the assistance of a female attendant; and in one of the former, and in the latter, they consist in part of the knowledge that the victim of the conspiracy has a mole upon one of her breasts. In Boccaccio's version of the story, the baffled intriguer obtains en
trance to the lady's bed chamber concealed in a chest. She keeps n light burning during the night, by which he is enabled to note the situation of the apartment, the pictures, and all the other remarkable things in it.* These points of resemblance make it certain that the incidents of the English play were derived from the Italian novel. But it is interesting to observe that while both play and novel place the mole upon the lady's left breast, though in the old romance it is placed upon the right, it is in the romance that it is made five pointed, and compared to a flower, as to which minor but striking peculiarities the novel is silent.f Of Boccaccio's novel no English translation is known to have been printed in Shakespeare's time. A rude imitation of it, published in 1518, with which I am not acquainted, was described by Steevens; and yet another (above mentioned) appears as the second tale in a tract called Westward for Smelts, which was entered on the books of the Stationers' Company in 1619-20, and published in 1620.J From neither of these could
* "Rimasa aclunque la cassa nella camera, e vernita la notte, all' ora che Ambrogiuolo avviso che la Donna dormisse, con certi suoi ingegni apertala, chetamente nella camera uscl, nella quale tin lume accesso avea: per la qual cosa egli il sito clella camera, le depinture, e ogn' altra cosa notabile che in quella era comincio a ragguardare, e a fermare nella sua memoria."
"Imo. Take not away the taper; leave it burning
* * * *
"lack. But my design,
To note the chamber: I will write all down : ■—
Cymbeline, Act II. Sc. 2.
"— I voit De sur sa desire mamelete Le semblant dhme violete." —lb. "— ma niuno segnale da potere rapportare le vide, fuori che uno cla' ella Q' avea sotto la sinistra poppa; cio era un neo, d' intorno al quale erano alquanti peluzzi biondi come oro." — Boccaccio, ubi supra. "On her left breast A mole cinque-spotted, like the crimson drops P th' bottom of a cowslip." — Cymbeline, Act II. Sc. 2. It will be remembered that the petals of a violet are five in number. % This tale has been reprinted by Malone (See the Variorum of 1821), and Shakespeare have drawn materials for this play; and for this reason and another to be mentioned hereafter, I am sure that he was acquainted more directly with Boccaccio's novel.
The episode of early British history with which the tale of the Italian novelist is so skilfully interwoven Shakespeare found in Holinshed. But he made such sparing use of the few incidents which the old chronicler records of the reign of Cymbeline, and moulded them so freely to his purpose, that his obligations in this respect are hardly worth consideration. They amount to little more than a use of the king's name and period, and his relations with the Romans. The Queen, Imogen, Post humus, Cloten, and Belarius are unknowTn to the chronicle; and of Guiderius and Arviragus it gives the names only.
When Cymbeline was written has hitherto been only inferred from the style of its versification. This bears strong resemblance to that of The Tempest and The Winter's Tale. In my judgment, the resemblance is much the stronger in the latter instance; and that play also shows, in its extravagant defiance of the unities, and the involved construction of its plot, that it was composed with dramatic purposes similar to those which influenced the production of Cymbeline. But I have noticed another circumstance which seems to me to bear upon this question, and, trifling as it is, to show at once that Shakespeare went directly to Boccaccio, and that the Winter's Tale and Cymbeline were composed at about the same period. In Boccaccio's novel the convicted slanderer is condemned by the Sultan to be anointed with honey, and exposed to the rays of the sun, tied to a stake upon some elevated spot, and to remain there until his flesh falls away from his bones.* Prom this doom it seems quite clear that Shakespeare took the hint for that mock sentence which Autolycus passes upon the Young Clown in The Winter's Tale, Act IV. Sc. 3: "He hath a son, who shall be flayed alive, then 'nointed over with honey . . . then raw as he is, and in the hottest day prognostication proclaims, shall he be set against a brick wall, the sun looking with a southward eye upon him, where he is to behold him with flies blown to death." As this, too, is plainly a reminiscence, it goes to show that The Winter's Tale was written after its author read up for Cymbeline; and as the former was quite surely produced in 1611, the latter may be regarded as the fruit of 1609 or 1610.
since by the Percy Society, and also by Mr. Collier in his Shakespeare's Library. Malone speaks of an edition of 1603; but none such is known, and the entry above mentioned is apparently inconsistent -with its existence. For an account of the two old romances, which were published in 1831 and 1834. under the editorship of M. Michel, see the Journal des Savans.
* "II Soldano appresso comand6 che incontanente Ambrogiuolo in alcuno alto luogo della citt& fosse al sole legato ad unpalo, e unto di mele; nh di quindi mai infino a tanto che per s6 medesimo non cadesse levato fosse: e cosi fu fatto."
The only source of text of Cymbeline is the folio of 1623, in which it is infested with errors of the press of more or less importance, the correction of which is embarrassed by the somewhat involved and elliptical style of the play. The vision—• both dumb show and speeches — in the fifth Act is as plainly not from Shakespeare's hand as the Chorus which introduces the fourth Act of The Winter's Tale. In my judgment, the dirge sung over Imogen, though of somewhat better quality, is open to the same criticism. It has been supposed that the former is a remnant of an older play, which is possible; but the supposition is not necessary to account for the occurrence of the passage in question. There must have been men enough about the Globe Theatre ready to relieve Shakespeare of this sort of labor.
The period of the action is a few years before the beginning of our era. For the costume of the principal personages there is no authority, nor need there be* It would probably have been the Roman costume of the period provincialized.