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THE COMEDY OF ERRORS.
« The alternate rhymes that are found in this play, as well as in "A Midsummer Night's Dream,' * Love's Labour 's Lost,' The Two Gentlemen of Verona,' and 'Romeo and Juliet,' are a further proof that these pieces were among our author's earliest productions. We are told by himself that Venus and Adonis' was 'the first heir of his invention. The 'Rape of Lucrece' probably followed soon afterwards. When he turned his thoughts to the stage, the measure which he had used in those poems naturally presented itself to him in his first dramatick essays: I mean in those plays which were written originally by himself. In those which were grounded, like the Henries, on the preceding productions of other men, he naturally followed the example before him, and consequently in those pieces no alternate rhymes are found. The doggrel measure, which, if I recollect right, is employed in none of our author's plays except ‘The Comedy of Errors,' “The Taming of the Shrew,' and 'Love's Labour 's Lost,' also adds support to the dates assigned to these plays; for these long doggrel verses are written in that kind of metre which was usually attributed by the dramatic poets before his time to some of their inferior characters.* He was imperceptibly infected with the prevailing mode in these his early compositions ; but soon learned to deviate boldly from the common track' left by preceding writers."—MALONE.
This drama of Shakspeare's is much more varied, rich, and interesting in its incidents than the Menæchmi of Plautus; and while, in rigid adherence to the unities of action, time, and place, our poet rivals the Roman play, he has contrived to insinuate the necessary previous information for the spectator, in a manner infinitely more pleasing and artful than that adopted by the Latin bard; for whilst Plautus has chosen to convey it through the medium of a prologue, Shakspeare has rendered it at once natural and pathetic, by placing it in the mouth of Ægeon, the father of the twin brothers.
* In a play, of which the plot is so intricate, occupied, in a great measure, by mere personal mistakes and their whimsical results, no elaborate development of character can be expected; yet is the portrait
LIKE WILL TO LIKE,
Tos. Pew wordes are best among freends, this is true,
And some, berlady, very good, for so standeth the case,
(About 1570.) "SKITT. By gogs bloud, my maisters, we were not best longer
here to staie, I thinke W39 never such a crastie knave before this daie.
THE COBLER'S PROPHECY.
That thou devisest fortie fashions for my ladie's backe.
PROMOS AND CASSANDRA.
1578. "The wind is yl blows no man's gaine: for cold I neede not care: Here is mine and twentie sutes of apparel for my share :
of Ægeon touched with a disoriminative hand, and the pressure of age and misfortune is so painted, as to throw a solemn, dignified, and impressive tone of colouring over this part of the fable, contrasting well with the lighter scenes which immediately follow,-mode of relief which is again resorted to at the close of the drama, where the re-union of Ægeon and Æmilia, and the recognition of their children, produce an interest in the denouëment of a nature more affecting than the tone of the preceding scenes had taught us to expect.
“ As to the comic action which constitutes the chief bulk of this piece, if it be true, that, to excite laughter, awaken attention, and fix curiosity, be essential to its dramatic excellence, the Comedy of Errors cannot be pronounced an unsuccessful effort; both reader and spectator are hurried on to the close, through a series of thick-coming incidents, and under the pleasurable influence of novelty, expectation, and surprise ; and the dialogue is uniformly vivacious, pointed, and even effervescing. Shakspeare is visible, in fact, throughout the entire play, as well in the broad exuberance of its mirth, as in the cast of its more chastised parts,-a combination of which may be found in the punishment and character of Pinch, the pedagogue and conjuror, who is sketched in the strongest and most marked style of our author.
“ If we consider, therefore, the construction of the fable, the narrowness of its basis, and that its powers of entertainment are almost exclusively confined to a continued deception of the external senses, we must confess that Shakspeare has not only improved on the Plautian model, but, making allowance for a somewhat too coarse vein of humour, has given to his production all the interest and variety that the nature and the limits of his subject would permit.”—DRAKE.
“ Shakespeare has in this piece presented us with a legitimate farce in exactest consonance with the philosophical principles and character of farce, as distinguished from comedy and from entertainments. A proper farce is mainly distinguished from comedy by the license allowed, and even required, in the fable, in order to produce strange and laughable situations. The story need not be probable, it is enough that it is possible. A comedy would scarcely allow even the two Antipholuses, because although there have been instances of almost undistinguishable likeness in two persons, yet these are mere individual antecedents, casus ludentis naturæ, and the cerum will not excuse the inverisimile. But farce dares add the two Dromios, and is justified in so doing by the laws of its end and constitution. In a word, farces commence in a postulate which must be granted.”—COLERIDGE.
“ The Comedy of Errors' is the subject of the Menachmi of Plautus, entirely recast and enriched with new developments. Of all works of Shakspeare this is the only example of imitation of, or borrowing from, the ancients. To the two twin brothers of the same name are added two slaves, also twins, impossible to be distinguished from each other, and of the same name. The improbability becomes by this means doubled ; but when once we have lent ourselves to the first, which certainly borders on the incredible, we shall not perhaps be disposed to cavil at the second; and if the spectator is to be entertained by mere perplexities, they cannot be too much varied. * * * * In short, this is perhaps the best of all written or possible Menæchmi; and if the piece be inferior in worth to other pieces of Shakspeare, it is merely because nothing more could be made of the materials."-SCHLEGEL.
ROMEO AND JULIET.
The pathetic legend on which Shakespeare founded the plot of this beautiful tragedy has been cherished from time immemorial among the traditions of Italian history, although no such story has ever been discovered in the authentic records of any particular state. The Veronese, Lord Byron tells us, are tenacious to a degree of the truth of it, insisting on the fact, giving a date (1303), and showing the tomb. But this is only an instance of pardonable local vanity; no account exists of any actual Romeo and Juliet, but a tale more or less resembling that immortalized by our great dramatist may be found in several ancient writers. Mr. Douce has attempted to trace it to a Middle Greek author, one Xenophon Ephesius. The earliest writer, however, who set forth the romance in a connected narration is believed to be Masuccio di Salerno, in whose “Novellino," a collection of tales first printed at Naples in 1476, a similar event is recorded to have occurred, not at Verona, but in Sienna. He relates that in Sienna there lived a young man of good family, named Mariotto Mignanelli, who was enamoured of a lady, Gianozza, and succeeded in engaging her affections; some impediment standing in the way of a public marriage, they are secretly united by an Augustine monk. Shortly after the ceremony, Mariotto has the misfortune to slay a fellow-citizen of rank in a street brawl, for which he is condemned by the Podesta to perpetual banishment. He obtains a farewell interview with his wife, and departs to Alexandria, where resides a rich uncle of his, Sir Nicolo Mignanelli. After the flight of Mariotto, Gianozza is pressed by her father to accept a husband whom he has found for her. Having no reason which she dare allege to oppose her parent's wishes, she pretends to consent, and then determines to escape the hated nuptials by an act as daring as it was extraordinary. She discloses her miserable situation to the monk who had married her to Mariotto, and bribes him to prepare a soporific powder, which, drunk in water, will throw her into a deatb-like trance for three days; she drinks the narcotic, is supposed to be dead, and in due time is interred by her friends in the church of St. Augustine. Before this, she had despatched a special messenger to Alexandria, apprising her husband of her determination; but the messenger is unhappily seized by pirates, and her missive never reaches him; instead of it, he receives another letter written by his brother, informing him of her death and that of her father also, who had died of grief for the loss of his daughter. The wretched Mariotto resolves to return forthwith to Sienna, and die upon her tomb, or perish by the hand of justice. He is taken in an attempt to break open the vault, and is condemned to death. Gianozza, in the meanwhile, recovers from her lethargy, disguises herself in man's apparel, and sets out for Alexandria in search of her banished husband; here she learns, to her dismay, that Mariotto, believing her dead, had departed for Sienna. She returns to that place, and, arriving just three days after his execution, dies of anguish and a broken heart.*
A story closely corresponding with this in the preliminary incidents, though varying in the catastrophe, is told by Luigi da Porto in his Novella, “ La Giulietta,” first published in 1535. “Hystoria Novella mente Ritrovata di dui nobili Amanti: Con la loro Pietosa Morte: Intervenuta gia nella Citta di Verona Nel tempio del Signor Bartholomeo Scala.” Luigi, in his dedication to Madonna Lucina Savorgnana, pretends to have derived the legend from an archer of Verona, one Peregrino, who quotes as his authority for it a relation of his father's. In the
"La donna no'l trova in Alesandria, ritorna a Siena, e trova l'amunto decollato, o ella sopra il suo corpo per dolore si muore," are the words of the Argument;" but in the novel itself she is said to retire to a monastery,—"Con in
tenso dolore e sanguinose lagrime con poco cibo e niente dormire, il suo' Mariotto di continovo chiamando, in brevissimo tempo finl li su vi miserimi giorni."