Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

of the Revels in October, 1610, which office he held till May, 1622. So that we may fairly conclude the play to have been new,

and probably in its first run, when Forman saw it at the Globe Theatre.

It also appears from the accounts of Sir George Buck, that “a play called The Winter's Night's Tale” was acted at Whitehall by “ the king's players,” November 5, 1611. As the king's players were the company to which Shakespeare belonged, there can be little doubt that The Winter's Night's Tale was Shakespeare's Winter's Tale. In the same account are included eleven other plays, 'The Tempest being one, the oldest of which probably had not been written more than three years; which yields something of an argument that The Winter's Tale was selected for performance at court because it was then popular and new. And in our Introduction to The Tempest we have seen that both these plays are most likely referred to by Ben Jonson in his Bartholomew Fair, which was first acted in 1614; and that the style of the reference favours the opinion that the plays had not then lost the charm of novelty. Upon the whole, therefore, we have no scruple in setting down the composition of The Winter's Tale to the winter of 1610–11, when the Poet was in his forty-sixth year.

That The Winter's Tale was written after The Tempest, has been justly argued by Mr. Collier, and for this reason : Shakespeare, as we shall presently see, in his plot and story closely follows the Pandosto of Robert Greene. In the novel, however, the new-born babe is put into a boat and turned adrift at sea without a keeper, and so floats to the place where she is found by the shepherd : and there is no apparent reason why Shakespeare should have varied from the novel herein, unless it were to avoid a repetition of incident; he having already done a similar thing in the case of Prospero and Miranda.

As for the rest, The Winter's Tale first appeared in the folio of 1623, being the fourteenth in the series of Comedies, regularly divided into acts and scenes, and having at the end a list of the persons headed “ The Names of the Actors.” The printing is remarkably clear, though in several passages the sense is so per plexed and obscure as to make us regret the want of earlier impressions.

Greene's Pandosto, or, as it is sometimes called, Dorastus and Fawnia, seems to have been one of the most successful books of the time; there being no less than fourteen old editions of it known, the first of which was in 1588, and the second in 1607; and between these there were, no doubt, several editions that have been lost, as that was the very time when it would naturally have been in the greatest demand. Greene was a scholar, a man of soine genius, Master of Arts in both the Universities, and had indeed much more of learning than of judgment in the use and application thereof; it having been seemingly impossible for him. to write without overloading his pages with classical allusion, or

to hit upon any thought so trite and cummonplace hut that he must run it through a series of aphoristic sentences twisted out of Greek and Roman lore. Herein he is apt to remind one of his fellow-dramatist, Thomas Lodge, of whom we have already spoken in the Introduction to As You Like It; for it was then much the fashion for authors to prank up their matter with superfluous erudition ; which being the case, it is no wonder if in wellformed minds a sense of fitness and proportion sometimes got strangely crippled and thwarted. Like all the surviving works of Greene, Pandosto is greatly charged with learned impertinencr, and in the annoyance thence resulting one is apt to overlook the real merit of the performance. It is better than Lodge's Rosalynd for this reason, if for no other, that it is shorter. It has been lately republished by Mr. Collier in his Shakespeare Library. How largely the Poet drew from this source may be seen by the fol lowing abstract.

Pandosto, king of Bohemia, and Egistus, king of Sicilia, had passed their childhood together, and grown into such a mutual friendship as kept its hold on them long after coming to their several crowns. Pandosto had for his wife a very beautiful, wise, and virtuous lady, named Bellaria, with whom he led a most sweet and happy life, and who had borne him a son, called Garinter, in whom both himself and his subjects greatly delighted. After many years of separation, Egistus “ provided a navy of ships, and sailed into Bohemia to visit his old friend and companion," who hearing of his arrival went with a great train of lords and ladies to meet him, received him very lovingly, and wished his wife to welcome him as his old friend and acquaintance. Having saluted and embraced each other, they rode to the palace, recounting how they had spent their youth in friendly pastimes ; and no pains were spared to honour the royal visitor, and make him feel at home. Bellaria, “ to show how much she liked him whom her husband loved,” treated Egistus with great confidence, often going herself unto his chamber to see that nothing should be amiss. This honest familiarity increased daily ; for, each finding the other adorned with sundry excellent qualities, “ there grew such a secret uniting of affections that the one could not well be without the other's company;" insomuch that when Pandosto was busy with state affairs they would walk into the garden, and pass their time in pleasant devices. This continuing some time, Pandosto began to have doubtful thoughts, calling to mind the bcauty of his wife, the comeliness and bravery of his friend; and considering “ that Egistus was a man and must needs love, that his wife was a woman and therefore subject to love." These and such thoughts, “a long time smothering in his stomach," at last grew to a flaming jealousy, so that he could take no rest; he began to measure all their actions, to misconstrue their familiarity, und to watch them narrowly, if he could get any certain proof to contirmi his suspicions. His mind soon became so charged with

jealousy that he was quite sure of what he feared, and studied for nothing so much as revenge. He resolved to work by poison, and called upon his cup-bearer, Franion, to serve as agent in this black design ; who standing out and trying to dissuade him therefrom, he set before him the alternative of preferment and death. Being thus beset, and seeing no way but to dissemble, Franion gave his consent, thereby to gain time, and then, after some debate with himself, went to Egistus and told him the secret, and stole away with him.

No sooner were they fairly off than the king, full of rage at being thus baffled, let loose his fury against the queen, giving order that she should forthwith be carried to prison. When the men put upon this work came to her lodging, they found her playing with the young prince: they wept as they did the inessage, and she, having nothing but a clear conscience to plead ner cause, resigned herself to the hard measure. The king then had his suspicion proclaimed as a certain truth, and though the queen's character went far to discredit the charge, yet the sudden flight of Egistus caused it to be believed. And he would fain have made war upon Egistus, but that the latter not only was of great strength and prowess to withstand him, but had many kings in his alliance, his wife being daughter to the Emperor of Russia.

Meanwhile the queen in prison gave birth to a daughter; which when the king heard of, being certain that Egistus was father of he child, he ordered that both the mother and the babe should be burnt. Against this cruel sentence his nobles stoutly remonstrated ; but the most they could prevail with him was, that he should spare the child's life; his next device being to put it in a boat and leave it to the inercy of the winds and seas. At the hearing of this hard doom the poor queen fell down in a trance, so that all thought her dead; but at last, coming to herself, she yielded up the bahe, , at the same time saying, -“Let me kiss thy lips, sweet infant, and wet thy tender cheeks with my tears, and put this chain about thy little neck, that if fortune save thee it may help to succour Thee.

When the time came for the queen's trial, the king assembled bis nobles and counsellors, and had her called into open court. The charge being read, she, standing like a prisoner at the bar and seeing that nothing less than her death would satisfy the king, “waxed bold, and desired that she might have law and justice, for mercy she neither craved nor hoped for ;” and that her accusers might be brought before her face. The king replied, that they were of such credit that their word was enough, the secret flight of Egistus and Franion confirming what they had said ; that it was her part “ to be impudent in forswearing the fact, since she had passed all share in committing the fault; " and that she should be punished with some cruel death. Undismayed at this rough answer,

she told him her life had ever been such as no spot of suspicion could stain ; and that, if she had borne a friendly a intenance towards Egistus, it was only as he was her husband's friend; “ thereiore, if she were condemned without further proof, it was rigour, and not law." The noblemen who sat as judges said she spoke reason, and entreated that ber accusers might be openly examined and sworn : the king answered, that in this case ne would dispense with law, and that the jury should take his word as sufficient proof, else he would make the proudest of them repent it. The queen then told him, that if his fury might stand for law it were vain for the jury to yield their verdict; and therefore she begged that for the love of his young son he would send six of his noblemen to “ the Isle of Delphos," there to inquire of the oracle of Apollo whether she were guilty of the crime laid to her charge. This request he could not for shame deny, and so despatched the messengers, ordering that his wife meanwhile should be kept in close prison. The ambassadors making all haste soon came back with the sealed answer of Apollo; where. upon, the nobles and counsellors being again assembled, and the queen brought into court, the scroll was opened and read in their presence, its contents being much the same as in the play; and at the hearing thereof the people gave a great shout, rejoicing and clapping their hands that the queen was clear. Then the king, smitten with shame and remorse, besought his nobles that they would persuade Bellaria to forgive and forget these injuries, and went on to tell how he had tried to compass the death of Egistus. While he was telling this, word came that the young prince was suddenly dead; at the hearing of which the queen fell down, and could never be revived: the king also sunk down senseless, and lay in that state three days; and there was nothing but mourning to be heard throughout Bohemia. The king, upon reviving, being in a frenzy of grief and horror, would have killed himself, but that his peers being present stayed him therefrom, entreating him to spare bis life for his people's sake. As soon as he could go abroad he had his wife and son very richly and piously entombed ;

and from that time forth repaired daily to the tomb to bewail his loss.

Now the boat containing bis infant daughter was carried by tempest and tide to the coast of Sicilia, where it stuck in the sand. A poor shepherd, who got his living by other men's flocks, chanced to miss one of his sheep, and, knowing they were fond of browsing on the sea-ivy, wandered thither in search of it. As be was about to returu he heard a child cry, and, there being no house near, thought it might be the bleating of his sheep; and going to look more narrowly he spied a little boat from which the cry seemed to come. After wondering awhile what it might be, be waded to the boat, and found the babe lying there ready to die of hunger and cold, wrapped in an embroidered mantle, and having a chain about the neck. As he had never before seen so fair a babe nor so rich jewels, he at first thought it was a little god, and went to worshipping it; but when it began to cry again he knew it was a child, and, being touched with pity, took it in

nis arms,

ber care.

[ocr errors]

and as he was fixing the mantle there fell at his feet a very fair rich purse containing a great sum of gold, whereat his spirits were much revived. That he might keep this wealth, be; was careful to let nothing of his discovery be known: so he took the babe home as secretly as he could, gave it in charge to his wife, telling her how he had found it, and after that went to his sheep with a merry uote: The shepherd's naine was Porrus, his wife's Mopsa; the precious foundling they named Fawnia ; and, being themselves childless, they bred her up tenderly as their own daughter, and became very fond of her, seeing that she waxed in heauty as in age; and she in turn grew to love them as her father and mother. With the gold Porrus bought a pretty farm and a small flock of sheep, which Fawnia at the age of ten was set to keep; and she did this so well that the flock prospered greatly in

In a short time the shepherd became a man of some wealth and credit; and as Fawnia was likely to be bis only heir many rich farmers' sons came to his house as wooers; for she was of singular beauty and excellent wit, and at sixteen grew to such perfection of mind and person that her praises were spoken at court. Nevertheless she still went forth every day with the sheep, veiling her face from the sun with a garland of flowers, which attire became her so well that “ she seemed to be the goddless Flora herself for beauty.”

Now Egistus had an only son, named Dorastus, about the age of twenty; a prince so adorned with the gifts of nature and fraught with virtuous qualities, that both king and people had great joy of him. He being now of a ripe age, his father sought to match him with some princess; but the youth was little minded to wed, as he had more pleasure in the exercises of the field and the chase. About this time there was a meeting of all the farm ers' daughters in that section, and Fawnia was the mistress of the feast; and as evening drew on and their sports ceased, taking a companion along, she went home by the flock to see that they were well folded; and it chanced that the prince, who had been hunting all that day, met them on the way, and casting his eye npon Fawnia “ he was half afraid, for he thought such exquisite perfection could not be in any mortal creature:” and as he stood amazed one of his pages told him the maid was Fawnia, she whose beauty was so much talked of in the court. Falling into conversation with her, he was still more charmed with her inward graces of mind, and upon going home his thoughts were so be witched with this vision that he could take no rest. She, too, was equally taken with his noble person and manly behaviour; and all that night she was kept awake with thinking of him, or if at any time she fell asleep she was still dreaming of him. After this he would sometimes steal from court alone to the place where the shepherdess kept her flock; and the more they were together the more they could not bear to be asunder, for there was no theught helween them but of honour and truth; and when at last

« AnteriorContinuar »