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MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.
« Timbree de Cardone deviet amoureux à Messine de Fe. nicie Leonati, & des divers & estrages accidens qui advindiet avat qu'il l'espousast.”—is the title of another novel in the Histoires Tragiques of Belleforest; Tom. 3. Hist. 18: it is taken from one of Bandello's, which you may see in his first tome, at p. 150, of the London edition in quarto, a copy from that of Lucca in 1554. This French novel comes the nearest to the fable of Much ado about Nothing, of any thing that has yet been discovered, and is (perhaps) the foundation of it. There is a story something like it in the fifth book of Orlando Furioso: (v. Sir John Harrington's translation of it, edit. 1591, folio) and another in Spencer's Fairy Queen.
Cinthio, the best of the Italian writers next to Boccace, has a novel thus intitld:-“Un Capitano Moro piglia per mogliera una cittadina venetiana, un suo Alfieri l'accusa de adulterio al [read, il with a colon after-adulterio] Marito, cerca, che l’Alfieri uccida colui, ch'egli credea l’Adultero, il Capitano uccide la Moglie, è accusato dallo Alfieri, non confessa il Moro, ma essendovi chiari inditii, è bandito, Et lo scelerato Alfieri, credendo nuocere ad altri, procaccia à sè la morte miseramente.” Hecatommithi, Dec. 5, Nov. 7; edit. 1565, two tomes, octavo. If there was no translation of this novel, French or English; nor any thing built upon it, either in
prose or verse, near enough in time for Shakspeare to take his Othello from them; we must, I think, conclude—that he had it from the Italian; for the story (at least, in all it's main circumstances) is apparently the same.
ROMEO AND JULIET. This very affecting story is likewise a true one; it made a great noise at the time it happen'd, and was soon taken up by poets and novel-writers. Bandello has one; it is the ninth of tome the second: and there is another, and much better, left us by some anonymous writer; of which I have an edition, printed in 1553 at Venice, one year before Bandello, which yet was not the first. Some small time after, Pierre Boisteau, a French writer, put out one upon the same subject, taken from these Italians, but much alter'd and enlarg’d: this novel, together with five others of Boisteau's penning, Belleforest took; and they now stand at the beginning of his Histoires Tragiques, edition before-mention'd. But it had some prior edition ; which falling into the hands of a countryman of ours, he converted it into a poem; altering, and adding many things to it of his own, and publish'd it in 1562, without a name, in a small octavo volume, printed by Richard Tottill; and this poem, which is call’d—The Tragical Historie of Romeus and Juliet, is the origin of Shakspeare's play: who not only follows it even minutely in the conduct of his fable, and that in those places where it differs from the other writers; but has also borrow'd from it some few thoughts, and expressions. At the end of a small poetical iniscellany, publish'd by one George Turbeville in 1570, there is a poem-“ On the death of Maister Arthur Brooke drownde in passing to New-haven;" in which it appears, that this gentleman, (who it is likely, was a military man,) was the writer of Romeus and Juliet. In the second tome of The Palace of Pleasure, (Nov. 25.) there is a prose translation of Boisteau's novel; but Shakspeare made no use of it.
TAMING OF THE SHREW. Nothing has yet been produc'd that is likely to have given the poet occasion for writing this play, neither has it (in truth)
the air of a novel, so that we may reasonably suppose it a work of invention ; that part of it, I mean, which gives it it's title. For one of it's underwalks, or plots, ---to wit, the story of Lucentio, in almost all it's branches, (his love-affair, and the artificial conduct of it; the pleasant incident of the Pedant; and the characters of Vicentio, Tranio, Grernio, and Bion, dello,) is form’d upon a comedy of George Gascoigne's, callid -Supposes, a translation from Ariosto’s I Suppositi : which comedy was acted by the gentlemen of Grey's Inn in 1566; and may be seen in the translator's works, of which there are several old editions: and the odd induction of this play is taken from Goulart's Histoires admirables de notre Temps; who relates it as a real fact, practis'd upon a mean artisan at Brussels by Philip the good, duke of Burgundy. Goulart was translated into English, by one Edw. Grimeston: the edition I have of it, was printed in 1607, quarto, by George Eld; where this story may be found, at p. 587: but, for any thing that there appears to the contrary, the book might have been printed before.
The Tempest has rather more of the novel in it than the play that was last spoken of: but no one has yet pretended to have met with such a novel; nor any thing else, that can be suppos’d to have furnish'd Shakspeare with materials for writing this play: the fable of which must therefore pass for entirely his own production, 'till the contrary can be made appear by any future discovery. One of the poet's editors, after observing that—the persons of the drama are all Italians; and the unities all regularly observ’d in it, a custom likewise of the Italians; concludes his note with the inention of two of their plays, -11 Negromante di L. Ariosto, and Il Negromante Palliato di Gio. Angelo Petrucci; one or other of which, he seems to think, may have given rise to the Tempest : but he is
mistaken in both of them; and the last must needs be out of the question, being later than Shakspeare's time.
And old ballad, whose date and time of writing can not be ascertain'd, is the ground work of Titus Andronicus ; the names of the persons acting, and almost every incident of the play are there in miniature:—it is, indeed, so like,—that one might be tempted to suspect, that the ballad was form’d upon the play, and not that upon the ballad; were it not sufficiently known, that almost all the compositions of that sort are prior to even the infancy of Shakspeare.
TROILUS AND CRESSIDA.
The loves of Troilus and Cressida are celebrated by Chaucer: whose poem might, perhaps, induce Shakspeare to work them up into a play. The other matters of that play (historical, or fabulous, call them which you will,) he had out of an ancient book, written and printed first by Caxton, callid -The destruction of Troy, in three parts : in the third part of it, are many strange particulars, occuring no where else, which Shakspeare has admitted into his play.
Another of Belleforest's novels is thus entitl'd : " Comme une fille Romaine se vestant en page servist long temps un sien amy sans estre cogneue, & depuis l'eut a mary avec autres divers discours.” Histoires Tragiques; Tom. 4, Hist. 7. This novel, which is itself taken from one of Bandello's (v. Tom. 2, Nov. 36,) is, to all appearance, the foundation of the serious part of Twelfth-Night: and must be so accounted; 'till some English novel appears, built (perhaps) upon that French one, but approaching nearer to Shakspeare's comedy.
TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA.
Julia's love-adventures being in some respects the same with those of Viola in Twelfth-Night, the same novel might give rise to them both; and Valentine's falling amongst out-laws, and becoming their captain, is an incident that has some resemblance to one in the Arcadia, (Book I, chap. 6.) where Pyrocles heads the Helots : all the other circumstances which constitute the fable of this play, are, probably of the poet's own invention.
To the story-book, or Pleasant History (as it is calld) of Dorastus and Fawnia, written by Robert Greene, M. A. we are indebted for Shakspeare's Winter's Tale. Greene join'd with Dr. Lodge in writing a play, call’d A Looking-Glass for London and England, printed in 1598, in quarto, and black letter; and many of his other works, which are very numerous, were publish'd about that time, and this rest: it went through many impressions, all of the same form and letter as the play; and that so low down as the year 1664, of which year I have a copy. Upon this occasion, I shall venture to pronounce an opinion, that has been reserv'd for this place, (though other plays too were concern'd in it, as Han let and Cymbeline) which if it be found true, as I believe it will
, may be of use to settle many disputed points in literary chronology. My opinion is this:-—that almost all books, of the gothick or black character, printed any thing late in the seventeenth century, are in truth only re-impressions; they having pass’d the press before in the preceding century, or (at least) very soon after. For the character began then to be disus'd in the printing of new books : but the types remaining, the owners of them found a convenience in using them for books