« PreviousContinue »
(as Dr. Farmer has observed), from a passage in Ames's Typographical Antiquities, that the story had likewise been translated by another hand. Captain Breval, in his Travels, tells us, that he saw at Verona the tomb of these unhappy lovers. STEEVENS.
This story was well known to the English poets before the time of Shakspeare. In an old collection of poems, called, A gorgeous gallery of gallant Inventions, 1578, I find it mentioned :
“ Sir Romeus' annoy but trifle seems to mine." And again Romeus and Juliet are celebrated in “ A poor Knight his Palace of private Pleasure, 1579."
FARMER. The original relater of the story on which this play is formed, was Luigi da Porto, a gentleman of Vicenza, who died in 1529. His novel did not appear till some years after his death; being first printed at Venice in 153.5, under the title of La Giulietta. A second edition was published in 1539: and it was again reprinted at the same place in 1553, (without the author's name,) with the following title : Historia nuovamente ritrovata di due nobili Amanti, con la loro pietosa morte; intervenuta gia nella citta di Verona, nell tempo del Signor Bartolomeo della Scala, Nuovamente stampata. Of the author some account may be found prefixed to the poem
of Romeus and Juliet.
In 1554 Bandello published, at Lucca, a novel on the same subject; [Tom. II. Nov. ix.] and shortly afterwards Boisteau exhibited one in French, founded on the Italian narratives, but varying from them in many particulars. From Boisteau's novel the same story was, in 1562, formed into an English poem, with considerable alterations and large additions, by Mr. Arthur Brooke. This piece was printed by Richard Tottell with the following title, written probably, according to the fashion of that time, by the bookseller : The Tragicall Hystory of Romeus and Juliet, containing a rare example of true constancie ; with the subtill counsels; and practices of an old Fryer, and their ill event. It was again published by the same bookseller in 1582. Painter in the second volume of his Palace of Pleasure, 1567, published a prose translation from the French of Boisteau, which he entitled Rhomeo and Julietta. Shakspeare had probably read Painter's novel, having taken one circumstance from it or some other prose translation of Boisteau, but his play was undoubtedly formed on the poem of Arthur Brooke. This is prored decisively by the following circumstances.
1. In the poem the prince of Verona is called Escalus ; so also in the play.- -In Painter's translation from Boisteau he is named Signor Escala ; and sometimes Lord Bartholomew of Escala. 2. In Painter's novel the family of Romeo are called the Montesches; in the poem and in the play, the Montagues. 3. The messenger employed by friar Lawrence to carry a letter to Romeo to inform him when Juliet would awake from her trance, is in Painter's translation called Anselme : in the poem, and in the play, friar John is employed in this business. 4. The circumstance of Capulet's writing down the names of the guests whom he invites to supper, is found in the poem and in the play, but is not mentioned by Painter, nor is it found in the original Italian novel. 5. The residence of the Capulets, in the original, and in Painter, is called Villa Franca ; in the poem and in the play Freetown. 6. Several passages of Romeo and Juliet appear to have been formed on hints furnished by the poem, of which no traces are found either in Painter's novel, or in Boisteau, or the original; and several expressions are borrowed from thence, which will be found in their proper places.
With respect to the name of Romeo, this also Shakspeare might have found in the poem ; for in one place that name is given to him: or he might have had it from Painter's novel, from which or from some other prose translation of the same story he has, as I have already said, taken one circumstance not mentioned in the poem. In 1570 was entered on the Stationers' books by Henry Bynneman, The Pitifull Hystory of ij lovyng Italians, which I suspect was a prose narrative of the story on which our author's play is constructed.
Breval says in his Travels, that on a strict inquiry into the histories of Verona, he found that Shakspeare had varied very little from the truth, either in the names, characters, or other circumstances of his play.
MALONE. This play is one of the most pleasing of our author's performances. The scenes are busy and various, the incidents numerous and important, the catastrophe irresistibly affecting, and the process of the action carried on with such probability, at least with such congruity to popular opinions, as tragedy requires.
Here is one of the few attempts of Shakspeare to exhibit the conversation of gentlemen, to represent the airy sprightliness of juvenile elegance. Mr. Dryden mentions a tradition, which might easily reach his time, of a declaration made by Shakspeare, that he was obliged to kill Mercutio in the third act, lest he should have been killed by him. Yet he thinks him no such formidable person, but that he might have lived through the play, and died in his bed, without danger to a poet. Dryden well knew, had he been in quest of truth, that, in a pointed sentence, more regard is commonly had to the words than the thought, and that it is very seldom to be rigorously understood. Mercutio's wit, gaiety, and courage, will always procure him friends that wish him a longer life; but his death is not precipitated : he has lived out the time allotted him in the construction of the play ; nor do I doubt the ability of Shakspeare to have continued his existence, though some of his sallies are perhaps out of the reach of Dryden; whose genius was not very fertile of merriment, nor ductile to humour, but acute, argumentative, comprehensive, and sublime.
The Nurse is one of the characters in which the author delighted: he has, with great subtilty of distinction, drawn her at once loquacious and secret, obsequious and insolent, trusty and dishonest.
His comic scenes are happily wrought, but his pathetick strains are always polluted with some unexpected depravations. His persons, however distressed, have a conceit left them in their miseryA miserable conceit.
THE FABLE AND COMPOSITION
The original story on which this play is built, may be found in Saxo Grammaticus the Danish historian. From thence Belleforest adopted it in his collection of novels, in seven volumes, which he began in 1564, and continued to publish through succeeding years. From this work, The Hystorie of Hamblett, quarto, bl. 1. was translated. I have hitherto met with no earlier edition of the play than one in the year 1604, though it must have been performed before that time, as I have seen a copy of Speght's edition of Chaucer, which formerly belonged to Dr. Gabriel Harvey (the antagonist of Nash), who, in his own hand-writing, has set down the play, as a performance with which he was well acquainted, in the year 1598. His words are these : “ The younger sort take much “ delight in Shakspeare's Venus and Adonis ; but his Lucrece, " and his tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmarke, have it in them “ to please the wiser sort, 1598.”
In the books of the Stationers' Company this play was entered by James Roberts, July 26, 1602, under the title of “A booke called The Revenge of Hamlett, Prince of Denmarke, as it was lately acted by the Lord Chamberlain his servantes.”
In Eastward Hoe by G. Chapman, B. Jonson, and T. Marston, 1605, is a fling at the hero of this tragedy. A footman named Hamlet enters, and a tankard-bearer asks him-“ 'Sfoote, Hamlet, are you mad ?" The following particulars, relative to the date of VOL. VIII.
the piece, are borrowed from Dr. Farmer's Essay on the Learning of Shakspeare, p. 85, 86, second edition. Greene, in the Epistle prefixed to his Arcadia, hath a lash at
“ vaine glorious tragedians," and very plainly at Shakspeare in particular.—“ I leave all these to the mercy of their mothertongue, that feed on nought but the crumbs that fall from the translator's trencher.—That could scarcely latinize their neck verse if they should have neede, yet English Seneca read by candlelight yeelds many good sentences-hee will afoord you whole Hamlets, I should say, handfuls of tragicall speeches."-I cannot determine exactly when this Epistle was first published; but, I fancy, it will carry the original Hamlet somewhat further back than we have hitherto done: and it may be observed, that the oldest copy now extant is said to be “ enlarged to almost as much againe as it was." Gabriel Harvey printed, at the end of the year 1592, “ Foure Letters and certaine Sonnets, especially touching Robert Greene:" in one of which his Arcadia is mentioned. Now Nash's Epistle must have been previous to these, as Gabriel is quoted in it with applause; and the Foure Letters were the beginning of a quarrel. Nash replied, in “Strange news of the intercepting certaine Letters, and a Convoy of Verses, as they were going privilie to victuall the Low Countries, 1593." Harvey rejoined the same year in " Pierce's Supererogation, or a new praise of the old Asse.” And Nash again, in “Have with you to Saffron-Walden, or Gabriell Harvey's Hunt is up ; containing a full answer to the eldest sonne of the halter-maker, 1596."—Nash died before 1600, as appears from an old comedy called “The Return from Parnassus.”
STEEVENS. Surely no satire was intended in Eastward Hoe, which was acted at Shakspeare's own playhouse, (Blackfriers,) by the children of the revels, in 1605.
MALONE. A play on the subject of Hamlet had been exhibited on the stage before the year 1589, of which Thomas Kyd was, I believe, the author. On that play, and on the bl. 1. Historie of Humblet, our poet, I conjecture, constructed the tragedy before us. The earliest edition of the prose-narrative which I have seen, was printed in 1608, but it undoubtedly was a republication.
Shakspeare's Hamlet was written, if my conjecture be well