Imagens das páginas

and tenderly asked him from what pain he suffered. But to all this he answered nothing, and piteously in his heart remembered Brisaida; but all the time the sweet melody of sounds soothed him a little.” An excellent picture of soft Italian ways,—the handsome young hero lying languishing of love, his couch surrounded by music and by fair ladies," who stand round in a hush and thrill of sympathetic spectatorship!”

In Benoit de Sainte-More, Troilus soon passes from sorrow to contempt of the faithless one who has forsaken him, and expresses his disdain with the cold irony of one whose heart is completely cured of its wound; plunging into the thick of the battle he cries out to Diomedes to watch well over Cressida, for her constancy is of short duration, and she will assuredly deceive him too, in his turn, and not fail to give him a successor.

Still more complete in Shakespeare, Troilus unites both phases of feeling—the bitter cry of a wounded heart, and the energy of a manly resolution. The Troilus of Benoit de Sainte-More is a Gaul, that of Boccaccio an Italian, but the Troilus of Shakespeare is a man.

It is in the “Filostrato" that Pandarus first makes his appearance, but Boccaccio's Pandaro differs, as widely as night from day, from the Pandarus of Shakespeare and Chaucer, and the contrast between them brings out

forcible manner the difference of moral nature in the northern and the southern races. We have already seen what a sorry part is borne by Pandarus in Shakespeare, and in Chaucer it is even worse. It is evident that in English eyes the man's trade is a vile one. But Pandaro has nothing vile about him.

« Boccaccio," says one of his critics, “was too devoted a slave to Love, not to look upon everything that concerned or could procure love as sacred and well-nigh venerable.” His go-between is therefore a knight who is himself in love, a faithful, disinterested, devoted friend, who holds it to be a duty owed alike to friendship and to chivalry to serve Troilus

in a very

in his love affairs, but who expects no recompense in return. He does “what one friend should do for another when he sees him in tribulation.” He is indeed by far the noblest character in the story. A stern moralist would pronounce him to be thoroughly corrupt, but he must be taken in connection with all the surrounding circumstances, with the voluptuous land of Italy where to love is not only a law of nature but also the admitted rule of good society, and where there are no backward or bashful lovers. Troilus, sincerely touched by what Pandaro has done for him, offers him quite simply and in good faith either his sister Polyxena or the beautiful Helen.

“ And that you may know the love I bear you, there is my sister Polyxena whose beauty is held in higher esteem than all others, and there is also the beautiful Helen my brother's wife : question your heart a little to see if neither of these would please it, and then leave me to settle with the one that would give it most pleasure.” Thus Troilus is ready, out of gratitude, to reverse their position and to play the part of Pandaro to his friend. We must be allowed one more quotation to listen to the consolation offered to the lover by his friend, when Brisaida has deserted him :

“ You see that the whole city is full of beauteous and gentle ladies, and I swear to you by the love and loyalty that I bear to you that there is not one, however proud and cold, who if she were to see you and know that you loved her would not take pity on you. Let me do this thing for you, for I will willingly and gladly do it. love chases away the old love, and your present misery will be chased away by new pleasure.”

Chaucer's poem of Troylus and Cryseyde” was written about the year 1360. The poet was not in the same state of feeling as Boccaccio was from whom he borrowed his story; his heart was free from pain, and

... A new

[ocr errors]

* The quotations are taken from a French translation made towards the end of the fourteenth century.

there is nothing particularly passionate about his Troylus. Cryseyde is a widow, as in Boccaccio, and even more obdurate than the Italian Brisaida, and Troylus only succeeds by means of a treacherous plot, in the Lovelace style of adventure, which he plans in concert with Pandarus. Cryseyde ends by loving him very dearly, which might well be, but ere long she leaves him and is no longer faithful to him, and the poet hardly knows what to make of her treachery. He may well be amazed. After the prolonged resistance exhibited by this coy widow, after all the noble sentiments to which she has given vent, both when she repulsed the advances of Troylus and also later on when she left him, we are completely at a loss to understand her conduct with Diomedes.

One of Chaucer's commentators praises him for having enabled us to feel a sympathy and liking for Cryseyde, and blames Shakespeare for not having done as much for his Cressida. To listen to the animadversions of certain critics would almost make one believe that the mission of art is the representation of virtue rather than of human nature, and that the finely painted portrait of a Helen or a Phryne is not a more pleasing sight than a badly executed portrait of the most worthy wife and mother. It is a matter of deep regret to Gervinus that Shakespeare should have given Cressida so light and fickle a nature, and is one of the reasons why to his grave and serious mind, this masterpiece of irony is so disconcerting and unsatisfactory; he remarks with. genuine sorrow that Cressida is a stain in the gallery of Shakespeare's heroines, who are generally so pure. Would to heaven that there were many more such stains in his plays, and that some of the heroines of his tragedies, as well as of his comedies, even at the risk of being less ideal women, were as lively and lifelike as the brilliant daughter of Calchas! We are


not here concerned with awarding a prize for virtue to the most deserving woman, but with deciding which author has best fulfilled the laws of art; and from this point of view the preference must be given, not to the most highly moral character, but to the most poetical execution. Consistency and truth of character are wanting in Chaucer's poem as in that of Boccaccio's, and it is the less excusable in Chaucer's case because his work was of a purely objective and impersonal character, so that he was master of his subject, -he was not throwing his own heart and recollections and his own history, upon paper, as the Italian poet had done.

Benoit de Sainte-More, the old French trouvère, in spite of all his inexperience and his clumsiness, is the only one to whom the simple and natural idea occurred of representing Cressida from the very beginning as a coquette.

Whether Shakespeare knew this poem of Benoit's is extremely doubtful; but when tradition gave him the story, which in the course of four hundred years had undergone so many changes and additions as it passed from hand to hand, he rediscovered, with the clear and piercing glance of genius, the original conception, and putting aside the incomprehensible widow of Boccaccio and of Chaucer, he again brought to life the young girl " of quick and ready wit, but whose heart was changeable," of Benoit de Sainte-More.





SHAKESPEARE's play of “Troilus and Cressida” has excited among critics more absurd and chaotic discussions than perhaps any other of his writing. This parody of the heroic world of Homer, the irreverent manner in which the Greeks are treated, has been a subject of joy with some, of virtuous horror with many, and of wonder with all. The thought of the stupendous genius of Shakespeare, who to all his great titles to glory,—to “ Macbeth,” “Hamlet,” “Othello,”—has added the singular honour of having anticipated MM. Meilhac and Halévy in composing “ La Belle Hélène,” and of having written in the sixteenth century a libretto for Offenbach, is quite overwhelming.

M. François Hugo can hardly contain himself for joy, and glorifies Shakespeare as prospectively raising the standard of revolt against classical tragedy from which he wished beforehand to tear its“ periwig,beforehand, for the best of the matter is, that the periwig had yet to come, and that Shakespeare's protest has in consequence all the value of a prophecy. The German critic Ulrici also regards the play with admiration and awe as a prophetic warning; not, however, as one made in the name of art, but in the name of morals and religion, *

* See Introductory Chapter, p. 4.

« AnteriorContinuar »