Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

quotation, but the following specimen will give an idea of the nature of the similarity : “ When I retire with my wife in the evening, I will sit on the upper seat, I will affect a grave air, without turning my head to one side or the other. I will speak little ; and whilst my wife, beautiful as the full moon, stands before me in all her charms, I will make as if I did not see her. Her women about me will say to me, Our dear lord and master, here is your spouse, your humble servant, before you, ready to receive your caresses, but much mortified that

you

do not vouchsafe to look upon her; she is wearied with standing so long, bid her, at least, sit down.' I will make no answer, which will increase their surprise and grief. They will prostrate themselves at my feet; and after they have for a considerable time entreated me to relent, I will at last lift up my head, give her a careless look, and resume my former posture, &c. &c.

The plot of Maria is inimitably framed for the degradation of this paragon of coxcombs. More effectually he could not be exposed to contempt in the eyes of his mistress and his fellows, than by the behaviour he is prompted to assume. “Be opposite with a kinsman, surly with servants : let thy tongue tang arguments of state; put thyself into the trick of singularity.”

212

JULIUS CÆSAR.

1607.

On three occasions only had Shakspeare recourse to the fertile field of Roman story for subjects for his dramas. Such a portion of historical knowledge as was necessary to his purpose was easily to be acquired, from the highly popular translation of Plutarch by Sir Thomas North.

The dramatist appears to have had it generally in view to adhere as closely as possible to the classic biographer, and the notes which crowd the page of the variorum editions of Shakspeare, and which might with ease have been swelled to double their extent, furnish superabundant evidence of his scrupulous fidelity. *

* The errors as well as the true statements of his author were copied. In Coriolanus, Titus Lartius speaks of Marcius as a soldier even to Cato's wish.” (Act I. sc. 4.) Cato was posterior to Coriolanus two centuries and a half; but in North’s Plutarch, the poet found it said of Coriolanus that “ he was even such another as Cato would have a

The subject of Julius Cæsar was not first dramatized by Shakspeare; perhaps the honour of the dictator's introduction to the stage may be due to the contriver of the “ droll,” in which his fortunes were exhibited under the auspices of

soldier and a captain be." Publius and Quintus and Censorinus are, also, named as the ancestors of Coriolanus by Shakspeare (Act II. sc. 3.); but they were in fact his descendants; and from the indefinite manner in which Sir Thomas North speaks of them originated Shakspeare's error. In the same play it is stated as absolutely necessary to his election to the consulate, that Coriolanus should “ speak to the people.” (Act II. sc. 2.) But the senate then, and for more than a century afterwards, chose both the consuls. The anachronism was copied from the old Plutarch: “ it was the custom of Rome, at that time, that such as did sue for any office should for certain days before be in the market-place, only with a poor gown on their backs, and without any coat underneath, to pray the people to remember them at the day of election.” Life of Coriolanus. We will confine ourselves to the notice of one other error derived from the same source. In Julius Cæsar, where the scene is in the forum near the capitol, (Act III. sc. 2.) Antony informs the populace that Cæsar had bequeathed to them“ all his walks, his private arbours, and new planted orchards on this side Tyber:" now Cæsar's gardens were separated from the main city by the river, and, therefore, on the other side of the Tyber. But Sir Thomas North in. formed Shakspeare, that Cæsar “ bequeathed unto every citizen of Rome seventy-five drachmas a man, and he left his gardens and arbours unto the people, which he had on this side of the river Tyber."

“ mammets. Stephen Gosson mentions the existence of a play entitled “ The History of Cæsar and Pompey," in 1579, and in 1582 a Latin play, by Dr. Richard Eedes, on the subject of Cæsar's murder, was acted in the university of Oxford. It is highly probable, that Shakspeare's play was performed in 1607; and in that year an edition (perhaps the second, for there is another without a date,) of the anonymous tragedy of Cæsar and Pompey, or Cæsar's Revenge, was printed. At the same period Alexander, Earl of Sterline, published his Julius Cæsar t, and in 1607, also, Chapman's # Cæsar and Pompey appeared. To none of these sources, as far as we are acquainted with them, does Shakspeare seem to have been at all indebted, whilst every scene of his play proclaims his obligations to Sir Thomas North. It will be the object, therefore, of the following pages to contrast the characters of the drama with their prototypes, in the historical work of Roman annals which Shakspeare adopted as his guide.

Every Woman in her Humour. Malone's Chronol. Vol. II. p. 449.

+ The first act of this play is consumed by a speech of Juno, which consists of 240 lines, and a chorus of 70 lines. His Lordship was a friend to alliteration.

“ Great Pompey's pomp is past, his glory gone." | Life of Brutus, 994. ed. 1631.

[ocr errors]

Plutarch represents the great instigator of the conspiracy against Cæsar to have been Cassius, “ a cholericke man, and hating Cæsar privately; he incensed Brutus against him *The friends and countrimen of Brutus, both by divers procurements and sundrie rumours of the citie, and by many bils also, did openly call and

procure him to do that he did." * « Now when Cassius felt his friends, and did stirre them

up against Cæsar, they all agreed, and promised to take part with him, so Brutus were the chiefe off their conspiracie. For they told him that so high an enterprise and attempt as that, did not so much require men of manhood and courage to draw their swords, as it stood them upon to have a man of such estimation as Brutus, to make every man boldly thinke, that by his onely presence the fact were holy and just. If he tooke not this course, then that they should go to it with fainter hearts; and when they had done it, they should be more fearefull because every man would thinke that Brutus would not have refused to have made one with them, if the cause had been good and honest. Therefore Cassius, considering this matter with himselfe, did first of all speake to Brutus." +

* Life of Brutus, 994. ed. 1631.
+ Ibid. 995.

« AnteriorContinua »