« PreviousContinue »
jointed to the old stock, and freshly grow; then shall Posthumus end his miseries, Britain be fortunate, and flourish in peace and plenty. Thou, Leonatus, art the lion's whelp; The fit and apt construction of thy name, Being Leo-natus, doth import so much : The piece of tender air, thy virtuous daughter,
Which we call mollis aer : and mollis aer
This hath some seeming.
Sooth. The fingers of the powers above do tune
Laud we the gods;
This play has many just sentiments, some natural dialogues, and some pleasing scenes, but they are obtained at the expense of much incongruity. To remark the folly of the fiction, the absurdity of the conduct, the confusion of the names, and manners of different times, and the impossibility of the events in any system of life, were to waste criticism upon unresisting imbecility, upon faults too evident for detection, and too gross for aggravation.-JOHNSON.
Of the enormous injustice of the above sentence, nearly every page of Cymbeline will, to a reader of any taste or discrimination, bring the most decisive evidence. That it possesses many of the too common inattentions of Shakspeare, that it exhibits a frequent violation to costume, and a singular confusion of nomenclature, cannot be denied; but these are trifles light as air, when contrasted with its merits, which are of the very essence of dramatic worth, rich and full in all that breathes of vigour, animation, and intellect; in all that elevates the faney, and improves the heart. In possession of excellencies, vital as those must be deemed, cold and fastidious is the criticism, that, on account of irregularities in mere technical detail, would shut its eyes upon their splendour. Nor are there wanting critics of equal learning with, and superior taste to, Johnson, who have considered what he has branded with the unqualified charge of “confusion of manners," as forming in a certain point of view, one of the most pleasing recommendations of the piece. Thus Schlegel, after characterising Cymbeline, as one of Shakspeare's most wonderful compositions, adds, “ He has here connected a novel of Boccacio with traditionary tales of the ancient Britons, reaching back to the times of the first Roman emperors; and he has contrived by the most gentle transitions, to blend together into a harmonious whole, the social manners of the latest times, with the heroic deeds, and even with the appearances, of the gods." (Essay on Dram. Lit. vol. ii. p. 183.) It may also be remarked, that if the unities of time and place be as little observed in this play, as in many others of the same poet, unity of character and feeling, the test of genius, and without which the utmost efforts of art will be unavailing, is uniformly and happily supported.
In this drama, poetical justice has been strictly observed, the vicious characters meet the punishment due to their crimes, while virtue in all its various degrees is proportionably rewarded. The scene of retribution, which is the closing one of the play, is a masterpiece of skill; the development of the plot, for its fulness, completeness, and ingenuity, surpassing any effort of the kind among our author's contemporaries, and atoning for any partial incongruity which the structure or conduct of the story may have displayed.-Dr. DRAKE. A SONG,
SUNG BY GUIDERIUS AND ARVIRAGUS OVER FIDELE,
SUPPOSED TO BE DEAD.
BY MR. WILLIAM COLLINS. To fair Fidele’s grassy tomb,
Soft maids and village hinds shall bring Each opening sweet, of earliest bloom,
And rifle all the breathing spring:
host shall this qihere, we
No wailing ghost shall dare appear
To vex with shrieks this quiet grove ; But shepherd lads assemble here,
And melting virgins own their love.
No witherd witch shall here be seen,
No goblins lead their nightly crew ; The female fays shall haunt the green,
And dress thy grave with pearly dew.
Shall kindly lend his little aid,
To deck the ground where thou art laid. When howling winds, and beating rain,
In tempests shake the sylvan cell ; Or midst the chace on every plain,
The tender thought on thee shall dwell.
For thee the tear be duly shed;
• See Page 280, note u.
Tars play was entered at Stationers' Hall, Feb. 6, 1593—4 ; in which year (according to Langbaine, who alone appears to have seen the first edition) it was also printed. There were two editions in quarto, one in 1600, and another in 1611; but neither of these have the author's name on the title page. The tragedy however was written several years before ; as it is mentioned in the induction to Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair in 1614, as one that had been exhibited five-and-twenty or thirty years :" which, if we take the lowest number, throws it back to the year 1589, at which time Shakspeare was but twentyfive. It was most probably written two or three years earlier, and was the first production of our author.
That it is his, there is not only the testimony of its having been printed in the players' edition ; but the authority of Meres, a contemporary author, who in a little book called Palladis Tamia, printed in 1598, enumerates this tragedy among the works of Shakspeare.
The commentators have shown themselves very desirous of discrediting the authenticity of this play; but they have nothing to oppose to the above strong evidence in its favour; but such inconclusive arguments as may be derived from the dissimilarity of its style, and the inferiority of its merit to the other works of our author. To which may be answered, that it was a boyish production; that it is, perhaps, superior to any of the plays which were most popular at the period of its composition, and which a young writer would naturally be led to imitate in the first timid experiment of his powers; and that however displeasing its horrors and its turgid declamation may be to us, they were particularly admired by our author's contemporaries.
Much stress has been laid by Malone on the tradition mentioned by Ra. venscroft; in his preface to the alteration of this play, published in 1687, he says, “I have been told by some anciently conversant with the stage, that it was not originally Shakspeare's; but brought by a private author to be acted, and he only gave some master touches to one or two of the principal parts or characters.” This tradition, from whomsoever Ravenscroft received it, is overthrown by the slightest reference to dates. The play was produced, as we have already seen, certainly in 1589, probably as early as 1584; at this time Shakspeare was as yet unknown; a young man little more than twenty, without either literary reputation or theatrical influence, and the very last person to whom a play would be entrusted for the benefit of revision and correction.
The plot, names, and characters of the play are from an old ballad, which the reader will find in the first volume of Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry.