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THE FABLE AND COMPOSITION
THE WINTER'S TALE.
THIS play, throughout, is written in the very spirit of its author. And in telling this homely and simple, though agreeable, country tale,
Our sweetest Shakspeare, fancy's child,
Warbles his native wood-notes wild.
This was necessary to observe in mere justice to the play; as the meanness of the fable, and the extravagant conduct of it, had misled some of great name into a wrong judgement of its merit; which, as far as it regards sentiment and character, is scarce inferior to any in the whole collection. WARBURTON.
Dr. Warburton, by" some of great name," means Dryden and Pope. See the Essay the end of the Second Part of The Conquest of Granada: "Witness the lameness of their plots; [the plots of Shakspeare and Fletcher ;] many of which, especially those which they wrote first, (for even that age refined itself in some measure,) were made up of some ridiculous incoherent story, which in one play many times took up the business of an age. I suppose I need not name Pericles, Prince of Tyre, [and here, bythe-by, Dryden expressly names Pericles as our author's production,] nor the historical plays of Shakspeare; besides many of the rest, as The Winter's Tale, Love's Labour's Lost, Measure for Measure, which were either grounded on impossibilities, or at
least so meanly written, that the comedy neither caused your mirth, nor the serious part your concernment." Mr. Pope, in the Preface to his edition of our author's plays, pronounced the same ill-considered judgement on the play before us. "I should conjecture (says he) of some of the others, particularly Love's Labour's Lost, THE WINTER'S TALE, Comedy of Errors, and Titus Andronicus, that only some characters, single scenes, or perhaps a few particular passages, were of his hand."
None of our author's plays has been more censured for the breach of dramatick rules than The Winter's Tale. In confirmation of what Mr. Steevens has remarked in another place—“ that Shakspeare was not ignorant of these rules, but disregarded them," it may be observed, that the laws of the drama are clearly laid down by a writer once universally read and admired, Sir Philip Sidney, who in his Defence of Pocsy, 1595, has pointed out the very improprieties into which our author has fallen in this play.' After mentioning the defects of the tragedy of Gorboduc, he adds: "But if it be so in Gorboducke, how much more in all the rest, where you shall have Asia of the one side, and Africke of the other, and so manie other under kingdomes, that the player when he comes in, must ever begin with telling where he is, or else the tale will not be conceived.-Now of time they are much more liberal. For ordinarie it is, that two young princes fall in love, after many traverses she is got with childe, delivered of a faire. boy he is lost, groweth a man, falleth in love, and is readie to get another childe, and all this in two houres space: which how absurd it is in sence, even sence may imagine."
The Winter's Tale is sneered at by B. Jonson, in the induction to Bartholomew Fair, 1614: " If there be never a servant-monster in the fair, who can help it, nor a nest of Antiques? He is loth to make, nature afraid in his plays, like those that beget TALES, Tempests, and such like drolleries." By the nest of antiques, the twelve satyrs who are introduced at the sheep-shearing festival, are alluded to.-In his conversation, with Mr. Drummond of Hawthornden, in 1619, he has another stroke at his beloved friend: "He (Jonson) said, that Shakspeare wanted art, and sometimes sense for in one of his plays he brought in a number of men,
saying they had suffered shipwreck in Bohemia, where is no sea near by 100 miles." Drummond's Works, fol. 225, edit. 1711.
When this remark was made by Ben Jonson, The Winter's Tale was not printed. These words therefore are a sufficient answer to Sir T. Hanmer's idle supposition that Bohemia was an error of the press for Bythinia.
This play, I imagine, was written in the year 1604.
Sir Thomas Hanmer gave himself much needless concern that Shakspeare should consider Bohemia as a maritime country. He would have us read Bythinia: but our author implicitly copied the novel before him. Dr. Grey, indeed, was apt to believe that Dorastus and Faunia might rather be borrowed from the play; but I have met with a copy of it, which was printed in 1588.- -Cervantes ridicules these geographical mistakes, when he makes the princess Micomicona land at Ossuna.-Corporal Trim's king of Bohemia" delighted in navigation, and had never a sea-port in his dominions ;" and my lord Herbert tells us, that De Luines the prime minister of France, when he was embassador there, demanded, whether Bohemia was an inland country, or lay 66 upon the sea?"—There is a similar mistake in The Two Gentlemen of Veronu, relative to that city and Milan.
The story of this play is taken from The Pleasant History of Dorastus and Fawnia, written by Robert Greene.
This play, as Dr. Warburton observes, with all its absurdities, is very entertaining; the character of Autolycus is very naturally conceived, and strongly represented. JOHNSON.