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TROILUS AND CRESSIDA.
“MR. STEEVENS informs us that Shakspeare received the greater part of the materials that were used in the construction of this play from the Troy Book of Lyilgate. It is presumed that the learned commentator would have been nearer the fact, had he substituted the Troy Book, or Recueyl, translated by Carton from Raoul Le Fevre ; which, together with a translation of Homer, supplied the incidents of the Trojan war. Lydgate's work was becoming obsolete, whilst the other was at this time in the prime of its vigor. From its first publication, to the year 1619, it had passed through six editions, and continued to be popular even in the eighteenth century. Mr. Steevens is still less accurate in stating Le Fevre's work to be a translation from Guido of Colonna; for it is only in the latter part that he has made any use of him. Yet Guido actually had a French translation before the time of Raoul ; which translation, though never printed, is remaining in MS. under the whimsical title of La Vie de la pitieuse Destruction de la noble et superlative Cite de Troye le grand. Translatée en François l'an MCCCLXXX. Such part of the present play as relates to the loves of Troilus and Cressida, was most probably taken from Chaucer, as no other work, accessible to Shakspeare, could have supplied him with what was necessary.” This account is by MR. Douce, from whom also what follows on this subject is abstracted.
Chaucer, in his Troilus and Creseide, asserts that he followed Lollius, and that he translated from the Latin ; but who Lollius was, and when he lived, we have no certain indication, though Dryden boldly asserts that he was an historiographer of Urbino, in Italy, and wrote in Latin verse. Nothing can be more apparent than that the Filostrato of Boccaccio afforded Chaucer the fable and characters of his poem, and even numerous passages appear to be mere literal translations; but there are large additions in Chaucer's work, so that it is possible he may have followed a free Latin version, which may have had for its author Lollius.
Boccaccio does not give his poem as a translation, and we must therefore suppose him to have been the inventor of the fable, until we have more certain indications respecting Lollius. So much of it as relates to the departure of Cressida from Troy, and her subsequent amour with Diomed, is to be found in the Troy Book of Guido of Colonna, composed in 1287, and, as he states, from Dares Phrygius, and Dicty's Cretensis, neither of whom mention the name of Cressida. Mr. Tyrwhitt conjectured, and Mr. Douce confirmed the conjecture, that Guido's Dares was in reality an old Norman poet, named Benoit de Saint More, who wrote in the reign of our Henry the Second, and who himself made use of Dares. Guido is said to have come into England, where he found the Metrical Romance of Benoit, and translated it into Latin prose; and, following a practice too prevalent in the middle ages, he dishonestly suppressed the mention
of his real original. Benoit's work exists also in a prose French version. And there is a compilation also in French prose, by Pierre de Beauvau, from the Filostrato.
Lydgate professedly followed Gudo of Colonna, occasionally making use of and citing other authorities. In a short time after, Raoul le Fevre compiled, from various materials, his Recueil des Histoires de Troye, which was translated into English and published by Caxton: but neither of these authors have given any more of the story of Troilus and Cressida than any of the other romances on the war of Troy; Lydgate contenting himself with referring to Chaucer.
Chaucer having made the loves of Troilus and Cressida famous, Shakspeare was induced to try their fortunes on the stage. Lydgate's 'Troy Book was printed by Pynson in 1519. In the books of the Stationers' Company, anno 1581, is entered, “ A proper Ballad dialoguewise between Troilus and Cressida.” Again, by J. Roberts, Feb. 7, 1602: “ The Booke of Troilus and Cressida, as it is acted by my Lord Chamberlain's men.” And in Jan. 28, 1608, entered by Richard Bonian and Hen. Whalley: “ A Booke called the History of Troilus and Cressida.” This last entry is made by the booksellers, who published this play in 4to. in 1609. To this edition is prefixed a preface, showing that the play was printed before it had been acted; and that it was published, without the author's knowledge, from a copy that had fallen into the booksellers' hands. This preface, as bestowing just praise on Shakspeare, and showing that the original proprietors of his plays thought it their interest to keep them unprinted, is prefixed to the play in the present edition. It appears from somne entries in the accounts of Henslowe the player, that a drama on this subject, by Decker and Chetdle, at first called Troyelles and Cressida, but, before its production, altered in its title to The Tragedy of Agamemnon, was in existence anterior to Shakspeare's play, and that it was licensed by the master of the revels on the 3d of June, 1599. Malone places the date of the composition of Shakspeare's play in 1602; Mr. Chalmers in 1600; and Dr. Drake in 1601. They have been led to this conclusion by the supposed ridicule of the circumstance of Cressid receiving the sleeve of Troilus, and giving him her glove, in the comedy of Histriomastix, 1610. I think that the satire was pointed at the older drama of Decker and Chettle; and should certainly give a later date to the play of Shakspeare than that which has been assigned to it. If we may credit the preface to the 4to. of 1609, this play had not then appeared on the stage, and could not therefore have been ridiculed in a piece written previous to the death of queen Elizabeth.
“Were it not for the entry in the Stationers' books (of which there is no proof that it relates to this play), I should have been led, both by the color of the style, and from this preface, to class it in the year 1608.”
There is no reason for concluding, with Schlegel, that Shakspeare intended his drama as one continued irony of the crown of all heroic tales -the tale of Troy." The Poet abandoned the classic, and followed the Gothic or romantic authorities; and this influenced the color of his performance. The fact probably is, that he pursued the manner in which parts of the story had been before dramatized. There is an interlude on the subject of Thersites,* resembling the old mysteries its structure, but full of the lowest buffoonery. If the drama of Decker and Chettle were now to be found, I doubt not we should see that the present play was at least founded on it, if not a mere rifaccimento.t
* This interlude, together with another not less curious, called Jack Juggler, was reprinted from a unique copy by Mr. Haslewood for the Roxburgh club.
† Mr. Tyrwhiti has observed that there are more hard, bombastical phrases in this play than can be picked out of any other six plays of Shakspeare. Would not this be an additional argument that it may be a mere alieration of the older play above mentioned?
“The whole catalogue of the Dramatis Persone in the play of Troilus and Cressida (says Mr. Godwin), so far as they depend upon a rich and original vein of humor in the author, are drawn with a felicity which never was surpassed. The genius of Homer has been a topic of admiration to almost every generation of men since the period in which he wrote. But his characters will not bear the slightest comparison with the delineation of the same characters as they stand in Shakspeare. This is a species of honor which ought by no means to be forgotten when we are making the eulogium of our immortal Bard, a sort of illustration of his greatness which cannot fail to place it in a very conspicuous light. The dispositions of men, perhaps, had not been sufficiently unfolded in the very early period of intellectual refinement when Homer wrote; the rays of humor had not been dissected by the glass, or rendered perdurable by the rays of the poet.
Homer's characters are drawn with a laudable portion of variety and consistency; but his Achilles, his Ajax, and his Nestor, are, each of them, rather a species than an individual, and can boast more of the propriety of abstraction than of the vivacity of the moving scene of absolute life. The Achilles, Ajax, and the various Grecian heroes of Shakspeare, on the other hand, are absolutely men, deticient in nothing which can tend to individualize them, and already touched with the Promethean fire that might infuse a soul into what, without it, were lifeless form. From the rest, perhaps, the character of Thersites deserves to be selected, (how cold and schoolboy a sketch in Homer!) as exhibiting an appropriate vein of sarcastic humor amidst his cowardice, and a profoundness and truth in his mode of laying open the foibles of those about him, impossible to be excelled.”
Shakspeare possessed—no man in a higher perfection—the true dignity and loftiness of the poetical afflatus, which he had displayed in many of the finest passages of his works with miraculous success. But he knew that no man ever was, or ever can be, always dignified. He knew that those subtler traits of character which identify a man, are familiar and relaxed, pervaded with passion, and not played off with an eye to external decorum In this respect the peculiarities of Shakspeare's genius are no where more forcibly illustrated than in the play we are here considering."
“ The champions of Greece and Troy, froin the hour in which their names were first recorded, had always worn a certain formality of attire, and marched with a slow and measured step. No poet, till this time, had ever ventured to force them out of the manner which their epic creator had given them. Shakspeare first supplied their limbs, took from them the classic stiffness of their gait, and enriched them with an entire set of those attributes which inight render them completely beings of the same species with ourselves.”
TO THE QUARTO EDITION OF THIS PLAY, 1609.
A never writer, to an ever reader. Newes.
ETERNALL READER, you have heere a new play, never stal'd with the stage, never clapper-claw'd with the palmes of the vulger, and yet passing full of the palme comicall; for it is a birth of your braine, that never under-tooke any thing commicall, vainely: and were but the vaine names of commedies changde for the titles of commodities, or of playes for pleas; you should see all those grand censors, that now stile them such vanities, flock to them for the maine grace of their gravities; especially this authors commedies, that are fram’d to the life, that they serve for the most common commentaries of all the actions of our lives, shewing such a dexteritie and power of witte, that the most displeased with playes, are pleasd with his commedies. And all such dull and heavy witted worldlings, as were never capable of the witte of a commedie, comming by report of them to his representations, have found that witte there, that they never found in them-selves, and have parted better-wittied then they came : feeling an edge of witte set upon them, more than ever they dreamd they had braine to grind it on. So much and such savored salt of witte is in his commedies, that they seem (for their height of pleasure) to be borne in that sea that brought forth Venus. Amongst all there is none more witty than this: and had I time I would comment upon it, though I know it needs not (for so much as will make you think your testern well bestowd,) but for so much worth, as even poore I know to be stuft in it. It deserves such a labour, as well as the best commedy in Terence or Plautus. And beleeve this, that when hee is gone, and his commedies out of sale, you will scramble for them, and set up a new English inquisition. Take this for a warning, and at the perill of your pleasures losse, and judgements, refuse not, nor like this the lesse, for not being sullied with the smoaky breath of the multitude ; but thank fortune for the scape it hath made amongst you. Since by the grand possessors wills I believe you should have prayd for them rather then beene prayd. And so I leave all such to bee prayd for (for the states of their wits healths) that will not praise it.—Vale.