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A LIFE OF THE POET, EXPLANATORY FOOT-NOTES, CRITICAL
REV. HENRY N. HUDSON, LL.D.
IN TWENTY VOLUMES.
PUBLISHED BY GINN & COMPANY.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1880, by
HENRY N. HUDSON,
In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
General Library System
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Madison, WI 53706-1494
IRST published in the folio of 1623, and among the worstprinted plays in that volume. In many places the text, as there given, is in a most unsatisfactory state, and in not a few I fear it must be pronounced incurably at fault. A vast deal of study and labour has been spent in trying to rectify the numerous errors: nearly all the editors and commentators, from Rowe downwards, have strained their faculties upon the work: many instances of corruption have indeed yielded to critical ingenuity and perseverance, and it is to be hoped that still others may; yet there are several passages that seem too hard for any legitimate efforts of corrective sagacity and skill. The matter need not be dwelt upon here, as it is set forth in detail in the Critical Notes. Of course, in a case of such extreme textual corruption, something more of scope than usual must, in all reason, be allowed to conjectural emendation.
No direct and certain contemporary notice of All's Well that Ends Well has come down to us. But the often-quoted list of Shakespeare's plays set forth by Francis Meres in his Palladis Tamia, 1598, includes a play called Love's Labours Won, title nowhere else given to any of the Poet's pieces. Dr. Farmer, in his Essay on the Learning of Shakespeare, 1767, first gave out the conjecture, that the two titles belonged to one and the same play; and this opinion has since been concurred or acquiesced in by so many competent critics, that it might well be allowed to pass without further argument. There is no other of the Poet's dramas to which that title applies so well, while, on the other hand, it certainly fits this play quite as well as the one it now bears. The whole play is emphatically love's labours: its main interest throughout turns on the unwearied and finally-successful
struggles of affection against the most stubborn and disheartening obstacles. It may indeed be urged that the play entitled Love's Labours Won has been lost; but this, it being considered what esteem the Poet's works were held in, both in his time and ever since, is so very improbable as to be hardly worth dwelling upon. There was far more likelihood that other men's dross would be fathered upon him than that any of his gold would be lost. And, in fact, contemporary publishers were so eager to make profit of his reputation, that they forged his name to various plays which most certainly had no touch of his hand.
There is, then, no reasonable doubt that this play was originally written before 1598. For myself, I have no doubt that the original writing was several years before that date; as early, perhaps, as 1592 or 1593. Coleridge, in his Literary Remains, holds the play to have been "originally intended as the counterpart of Love's Labours Lost"; and a comparison of the two naturally leads to that conclusion without any help from the title. This inward relation of the plays strongly infers them both to have been written about the same time, or in pretty near succession. Now Love's Labours Lost was printed in 1598, and in the title-page is said to have been “newly corrected and augmented ”; and its diversities of style naturally infer a considerable interval of time between the original writing and the revisal.
It is abundantly certain, from internal evidence, that the play now in hand also underwent revisal, and this too after a much longer interval than in the case of Love's Labours Lost. Here the diversities of style are much more strongly marked than in that play. Accordingly it was Coleridge's decided opinion, first given out in his lectures in 1813, and again in 1818, though not found in his Literary Remains, that “ All's Well that Ends Well was written at two different and rather distant periods of the Poet's life." This we learn from Collier, who heard those lectures, and who adds that Coleridge "pointed out very clearly two distinct styles, not only of thought, but of expression.” The same judgment has since been enforced by Tieck and other able critics; and the grounds of it are so manifest in the play itself, that no observant reader will be apt to question it. Verplanck tells us he had formed the same opinion before he learned through
Collier what Coleridge thought on the subject; and his judgment of the matter is given as follows: "The contrast of two different modes of thought and manners of expression, here mixed in the same piece, must be evident to all who have made the shades and gradations of Shakespeare's varying and progressive taste and mind at all a subject of study."
Some of the more recent Shakespearians are for dividing the Poet's time of authorship into four or five distinct periods: but I am still content with the threefold division of early, middle, and later periods; as these seem to me enough for all practical purposes. In All's Well, we have no help, outside of the play itself, towards determining at what time the revisal was made, or how long a period intervened between this and the original writing. To my taste, the better parts of the workmanship relish strongly of his later style, — perhaps I should say quite as strongly as the poorer do of his early style. This would bring the revisal down to as late a time as 1603 or 1604. I place the finished Hamlet at or near the close of the Poet's middle period; and I am tolerably clear that in All's Well he discovers a hand somewhat more practised in sinewy sternness than in the finished Hamlet. I will quote two passages by way of illustrating the Poet's different styles as seen in this play. The first is from the dialogue of· Helena and the King, in Act ii, scene I, where she persuades him to make trial of her remedy:
The great'st Grace lending grace,
Their fiery torcher his diurnal ring;
Ere twice in murk and occidental damp
Moist Hesperus hath quench'd his sleepy lamp;
Here we have the special traits of Shakespeare's youthful style, an air of artifice and studied finery, a certain self-conscious elaborateness and imitative rivalry, which totally disappear in, for instance, the blessing the Countess gives her son as he is leaving for the Court: