Imatges de pàgina


The fable of this play does not seem to be a work entirely of invention; and I am apt to believe, that it owes its birth to some novel or other, which may one day be discover’d. The character of Armado has some resemblance to Don Quixote; but the play is older than that work of Cervantes : of Holofernes, another singular character, there are some faint traces in a masque of Sir Philip Sidney's that was presented before Queen Elizabeth at Wansted: this masque, callid in cataloguesThe Lady of May, is at the end of that author's works, edit. 1627, folio.


In the year 1578, was publish'd in a black-letter quarto a miserable dramatick performance, in two parts, intitldPromos and Cassandra ; written by one George Whetstone, author likewise of the Heptameron, and much other poetry of the same stamp, printed about that time. These plays their author, perhaps, might form upon a novel of Cinthio's; (v. Dec. 8, Nov. 5,) which Shakspeare went not to, but took up with Whetstone's fable, as is evident from the argument of it; which, though it be somewhat of the longest, yet take it in his own words.

The Argument of the whole


“ In the Cyttie of Julio (sometimes under the dominion of Corvinus Kinge of Hungarie and Boemia) there was a law, that what man so ever committed adultery, should lose his head, & the woman offender, should weare some disguised apparel, during her life, to make her infamouslye noted. This


severe lawe, by the favour of some mercifull magistrate, became little regarded, untill the time of Lord Promos auctority: who convicting, a yong gentleman named Andrugio of incontinency, condemned, both him, and his minion to the execution of this statute. Andrugio had a very vertuous, and beawtiful gentlewoman to his sister, named Cassandra : Cassandra to enlarge her brothers life, submitted an humble petition to the Lord Promos: Promos regarding her good behaviours, and fantasying her great beawtie, was much delighted with the sweete order of her talke: and doying good, that evill might come thereof: for a time, he repryv'd her brother: but wicked man, tourning his liking unto unlawfull lust, he set down the spoile of her honour, raunsome for her Brothers life: Chaste Cassandra, abhorring both him and his sute, by no perswasion would yeald to this raunsome.

But in fine, wonne with the importunitye of hir brother (pleading for life :) upon these conditions she agreed to Promos. First that he should pardon her brother, and after marry her.

her. Promos as fearles in promisse, as carelesse in performance, with sollemne vowe, sygned her conditions: but worse than any Infydel, his will satisfyed, he performed neither the one nor the other: for to keepe his aucthoritye, unspotted with favour, and to prevent Cassandraes clamors he commaunded the Gayler secretly, to present Cassandra with her brother's head. The Gayler, with the outcryes of Andrugio, (abhorryng Promos lewdnes,) by the providence of God, provided thus for his safety. He presented Cassandra with a felons head newlie executed, who, (being mangled, knew it not from her brothers, by the Gayler, who was set at libertie) was so agreeved at this trecherye, that at the pointe to kyl her selfe, she spared that stroke, to be avenged of Promos. And devysing a way, she concluded, to make her fortunes knowne unto the kinge. She (executing this resolution) was so highly favoured of the King, that forthwith he hasted to do justice on Promos; whose judgement was, b ३


to marrye Cassandra, to repaire her erased Honour: which donne, for his hainous offence he should lose his head. This maryage solempnised, Cassandra tyed in the greatest bondes of affection to her husband, became an earnest suter for his life: the Kinge (tendringe the generall benefit of the comon weale, before her special case, although he favoured her much) would not graunte her sute. Andrugio (disguised amonge the company) sorrowing the griefe of his sister, bewrayde his safety, and craved pardon. The Kinge, to renowne the vertues of Cassandra, pardoned both him, and Promos. The circumstances of this rare Historye, in action livelye foloweth."

The play itself opens thus:

Actus I. Scena 1.

* Promos, Mayor, Shirife, Sworde bearer: One with a bunche of keyes ;

Phallax, Promos man.

! You Officers which now in Julio staye,
“ Knowe you our leadge, the Kinge of Hungarie:
“ Sent me Promos, to ioyne with you


“ That still we may to Justice have an eye.
“ And now to show, my rule & power at lardge,
“ Attentivelie, his Letters Pattents heare:
« Phallax reade out my Soveraines chardge,
Phal. As you commande, I wyll: give heedful care.

"? Phallax readeth the Kinges Letters Patents, which must be

fayre written in parchment, with some great counterfear zeale.

« Pro. Loe, here you see what is our Sovereignes wyl,
“ Loe, heare his wish, that right, not might, beare swaye :
" Loe, heare his care, to weed from good the yll,
" To scourge the wights, good Lawes that disobey."

And thus it proceeds; without one word in it, that Shakspeare could make use of, or can be read with patience by any


man living: and yet, besides the characters appearing in the argument, his Bawd Clown, Lucio, Juliet, and the Provost, nay, and even his Bernardine, are created out of hints which this play gave him; and the lines too that are quoted, bad as they are, suggested to him the manner in which his own play opens.


The Jew of Venice was a story exceedingly well known in Shakspeare's time; celebrated in ballads; and taken (perhaps) originally from an Italian book intitld-1 Pecorone : the author of which calls himself, --Ser Giovanni Fiorentino; and writ his book, as he tells you in some humurous verses at the beginning of it, in 1378, three years after the death of Boccace; it is divided into giornata's, and the story we are speaking of is in the first novel of the giornata quarta ; edit. 1565, octavo, in Vinegia. This novel Shakspeare certainly read; either in the original, or (which I rather think) in some translation that is not now to be met with, and form'd his play upon it. It was translated anew, and made public in 1755, in a small octavo pamphlet, printed for M. Cooper: and, at the end of it, a novel of Boccace; (the first of day the tenth) which, as the translator rightly judges, might possibly produce the scene of the caskets, substituted by the poet in place of one in the other novel, that was not proper for the stage.


" Queen Elizabeth,” says a writer of Shakspeare's life, was so well pleas’d with that admirable character of Falstaff, in the two parts of Henry the Fourth, that she commanded him to continue it for one play more, and to shew him in love. This is said to be the occasion of his writing

The Merry Wives of Windsor.As there is no proof brought for the truth of this story, we may conclude—that it is either some playhouse tradition, or had its rise from Sir William D'Avenant, whose authority the writer quotes for another singular anecdote, relating to lord Southampton. Be this as it may; Shakspeare, in the conduct of Falstaff's loveadventures, made use of some incidents in a book that has been mention'd before, call d—1 Pecorone; they are in the second novel of that book. It is highly probable, that this novel likewise is in an old English dress somewhere or other; and from thence transplanted into a foolish book, call’d—The fortunate, the deceiv’d, and the unfortunate Lovers ; printed in 1685, octavo, for William Whittwood; where the reader may see it, at p. 1. Let me add too, that there is a like story in the--" Piacevoli Notti, di Straparola, libro primo; at Notte quarta, Favola quarta ; edit. 1567, octavo, in Vinegia.


The history of our old poets is so little known, and the first editions of their works become so very scarce, that it is hard pronouncing any thing certain about them: but, if that pretty fantastical poem of Drayton's, call d—Nymphidia, or the Court of Fairy, be early enough in time, (as, I believe, it is; for I have seen an edition of that author's pastorals, printed in 1593, quarto,) it is not improbable, that Shakspeare took from thence the hint of his fairies: a line of that poein, “ Thorough bush, thorough briar,” occurs also in his play. The rest of the play is, doubtless, invention: the names only of Theseus, Hippolita, and Theseus' former loves, Anțiopa and others, being historical; and taken from the translaicd Plutarch, in the article—Theseus.


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