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The following poem was transcribed many years ago by Mr. Malone, from a copy belonging to the late Mr. Capell, deposited among his collections in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge. It was published in his Supplement to Johnson and Steevens's Shakspeare, 1778; and has since occupied a place in all the subsequent editions of our great poet. The account given of it by Mr. Malone in his own work, is as follows:
“ In a preliminary note on Romeo and Juliet, I observed that it was founded on The Tragicall Hystory of Romeus and Juliet, printed in 1562. That piece being almost as rare as a manuscript, I reprinted it a few years ago, and shall give it a place here as a proper supplement to the commentaries on this tragedy.
"From the following lines in An Epitaph on the Death of Maister Arthur Brooke drownde in passing to New-Haven, by George Turberville, [Epitaphes, Epigrammes, &c. 1567,] we learn that the former was the author of this poem :
“ Apollo lent him lute, for solace sake,
“ To sound his verse by touch of stately string, “ And of the never-fading baye did make
“ A lawrell crowne, about his browes to cling.
As may be judge by Julyet and her mate ;
“ When he the tale to English did translate.
“ With others moe his soveraigne queene to serve,
“More speedie death than such one did deserve.” * The original relater of this story 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 octavo, in 1535, under the title of La Giulietta. In an epistle prefixed to this work, which is addressed Alla bellissima e leggiadra Madonna Lucina Savorgnana, the author gives the following account (probably a fictitious one) of the manner in which he became acquainted with this story,
“As you yourself have seen, when heaven had not as yet levelled against me its whole wrath, in the fair spring of 'my
youth I devoted myself to the profession of arms, and, following therein many brave and valiant men, for some years I served in your delightful country, Frioli, through every part of which, in the course of my private service, it was my duty to roam.
I was ever accustomed, when upon any expedition on horseback, to bring with me an archer of mine, whose name was Peregrino, a man about fifty years old, well practised in the military art, a pleasant companion, and, like almost all his countrymen of Verona, a great talker. This man was not only a brave and experienced soldier, but of a gay and lively disposition, and, more perhaps than became his age, was for ever in love; a quality which gave a double value to his valour. Hence it was that he delighted in relating the most amusing novels, especially such as treated of love, and this he did with more grace and with better arrangement than any I have ever heard It therefore chanced that, departing from Gradisca, where I was quartered, and, with this archer and two other of my servants, travelling, perhaps impelled by love, towards Udino, which route was then extremely solitary, and entirely ruined and burned up by the war,--wholly absorbed in thought, and riding at a distance from the others, this Peregrino drawing near me, as one who guessed my thoughts, thus addressed me : Will you then for ever live this melancholy life, because a cruel and disdainful fair one does not love you? though I now speak against myself, yet, since advice is easier to give than to follow, I must tell you, master of mine, that, besides its being disgraceful in a man of your profession to remain long in the chains of love, almost all the ends to which he conducts us
so replete with misery, that it is dangerous to follow him. And in testimony of what I say, if it so please you, I could relate a transaction that happened in my native city, the recounting of which will render the way less solitary and less disagreeable to us; and in this relation you would perceive how two noble lovers were conducted to a miserable and piteous death.'
- And now, upon my making him a sign of my willingness to listen, he thus began.'
" The phrase, in the beginning of this passage, when heaven had not as yet levelled against me its whole wrath,' will be best explained by some account of the author, extracted from Crescimbeni, Istoria della Volgar Poesia, t. v. p. 91 : “ Luigi da Porto, a Vicentine, was, in his youth, on account of his valour, made a leader in the Venetian army; but, fighting against the Germans in Friuli, was so wounded, that he remained for a time wholly disabled, and afterwards lame and weak during his life; on which account, quitting the profession of arms, he betook himself to letters," &c.
The copy from which Mr. Malone made his transcript, was defective as wanting the preface ; but in the year 1810, he was so fortunate as to procure a perfect copy from the Rev. Henry White, of
Lichfield; by the aid of which, it is now given complete, and with which it has been carefully collated. That this poem was the basis of Shakspeare's play, I believe every reader will allow, who has compared the extracts given of it in the notes with the corresponding passages in our author's drama. Mr. Steevens, indeed, without expressly controverting this opinion, has endeavoured to throw a doubt upon it by his repeated quotations from Painter's Palace of Pleasure; but the numerous circumstances introduced from the poem with which the novellist would not have supplied him, and even the identity of expression, which not unfrequently occurs, are sufficient to settle the question. In two passages, it is true, he has quoted Painter, where Brooke is silent, (see p. 143, and p. 186;] but very little weight belongs to either of them. In the one, there is no very striking resemblance to Shakspeare; and in the other, although the number of hours during which Juliet was to remain entranced are not specified in the poem, yet enough is said to make it easily inferred, when we are told that two nights after, the Friar and Romeo were to repair to the sepulchre.
As to the origin of this interesting story, Mr. Douce has observed that its material incidents are to be found in the Ephesiacs of Xenophon of Ephesus, a romance of the middle ages; he admits, indeed, that this work was not published nor translated in the time of Luigi Porto; but suggests that he might have seen a copy of the original in manuscript. Mr. Dunlop, in his History of Fiction, has traced it to the thirty-third novel of Masuccio di Salerno, whose collection of tales appeared first in 1476. Whatever was its source, the story has at all times been eminently popular in all parts of Europe. A play was formed upon it by Lopez de Vega, entitled Los Castelvies y Monteses; and another in the same language, by Don Francisco de Roxas, under the name of Los Vandos de Verona. In Italy, as may well be supposed, it has not been neglected. The modern productions on this subject are too numerous to be specified ; but as early as 1578, Luigi Groto produced a drama upon the subject, called Hadriana, of which an analysis may be found in Mr. Walker's Historical Memoir on Italian Tragedy. Groto, as Mr. Walker observes, has stated in his prologue that the story is drawn from the ancient history of Adria, his native place; yet Girolomo de la Corte has given it in his history of Verona, as a fact that actually took place in that city in the year 1303. If either of these statements should be supposed to have any foundation in truth, the resemblance pointed out between Romeo and Juliet, and Xenophon's Ephesiacs, must be a mere coincidence; but if the whole should be considered as a fiction, we may perhaps carry it back to a much greater antiquity, and doubt whether, after all, it is not the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe enlarged and varied by the luxuriant imagination of the later novellist? We have there the outlines of the modern narrative; the repugnance of the parents on either side; the meeting of the lovers at the tomb, and Pyramus like Romeo drawn to self-destruction by a false opinion of the death of his mistress.
In the preface to Arthur Brooke's translation, there is a very curious passage, in which he informs us of a play upon the subject prior to his poem ; but as he has not stated in what country it was represented, the rude state of our drama prior to 1562 renders it improbable
that it was in England. Yet I cannot but be of opinion that Romeo and Juliet may be added to the list, already numerous, of our author's plays that had appeared in a dramatick shape before his performance, and that some slight remains of his predecessor are still to be traced in the earliest quarto. If the reader will turn back to the account which Benvolio gives of the rencontre between Romeo and Tybalt, which he will find in the notes to p. 130, I apprehend he will find, both in the rhythm and construction of that speech, a much greater resemblance to the style of some of Shakspeare's predecessors than to his own. See specimens of some of the earlier dramatists at the end of the Dissertation on the three parts of Henry the Sixth. BOSWELL.