« AnteriorContinuar »
springs not so much from any particular points or features, wherein it is surpassed by several others, as from the general toning and effect. The whole is replete with a beauty so delicate yet so intense, that we feel it everywhere, but can never tell especially where it is, or in what it consists. For instance, the descriptions of forest scenery come along so unsought, and in such easy, quiet, natural touches, that we take in the impression without once noticing what it is that impresses us. Thus there is a certain woodland freshness, a glad, free naturalness, that creeps and steals into the heart before we know it. And the spirit of the place is apon its inhabitants, its genius within them: we almost breathe with them the fragrance of the Forest, and listen to “the melodies of woods and winds and waters," and feel
“The Power, the Beauty, and the Majesty,
Even the Court Fool, notwithstanding all the crystallizing process that has passed upon him, undergoes, as we have seen, a sort of rejuvenescence of his inner man, so that his wit catches at every turn the fresh hues and odours of his new whereabout. I am persuaded indeed that Milton had a special eye to this play in the lines, –
"And sweetest Shakespeare, Fancy's child,
Warbles his native wood-notes wild."
To all which add, that the kindlier sentiments here seem playing out in a sort of jubilee. Untied from set purposes and definite aims, the persons come forth with their hearts already tuned, and so have but to let off their redundant music. Envy, jealousy, avarice, revenge, all the passions that afflict and degrade society, they have left in the city behind them. And they have brought the intelligence and refinement of the Court without its vanities and vexations; so that the graces of art and the simplicities of nature meet together in joyous, loving sisterhood. A serene and mellow atmosphere of thought encircles and pervades the actors in this drama; as if on purpose to illustrate how
“One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Than all the sages can.” Nature throws her protecting arms around them; Beauty pitches her tents before them; Heaven rains its riches upon them: with “no enemy but Winter and rough weather," Peace hath taken up her abode with them; and they have nothing to do but to "fleet the time carelessly, as they did in the golden world.”
But no words of mine, I fear, will justify to others my own sense of this delectable workmanship. I can hardly think of any thing else in the whole domain of Poetry so inspiring of the faith that “every flower enjoys the air it breathes." The play, indeed, abounds in wild, frolicsome graces which cannot be described; which can only be seen and felt; and which the hoarse voice of Criticism seems to scare away, as the crowing of the cocks is said to have scared away the fairy spirits from their nocturnal pastimes. I know not how I can better dismiss the theme than with some lines from Wordsworth, which these scenes have often recalled to my thoughts:
“Nature never did betray
TWELFTH NIGHT; OR, WHAT YOU WILL.
THE COMEDY of TWELFTH Night;, OR, WHAT You Will, was never printed, that we know of, during the author's life. It first appeared in the folio of 1623 : consequently that edition, and the reprint of it in 1632, are our only authorities for the text. Fortunately, in this instance, the original printing was very good for that time; the few errors have proved, for the most part, easy of correction; so that the text offers little matter of difficulty or disagreement among editors.
In default of positive information, this play was for a long time set down as among the last-written of the Poet's dramas. This opinion was based upon such slight indications, gathered from the work itself, as could have no weight but in the absence of other proofs. No contemporary notice of the play was discovered till the year 1828, when Mr. Collier, delving among the “musty records of antiquity” stored away in the Museum, lighted upon a manuscript Diary, written, as was afterwards ascertained, by one John Manningham, a barrister who was entered at the Middle Temple in 1597. Under date of February 2d, 1602, the author notes, “ At our feast we had a play called Twelfth Night, or What You Will, much like The Comedy of Errors, or Menechmi in Plautus, but most like and near to that in the Italian called Inganni." The writer then goes on to state such particulars of the action, as fully identify the play which he saw with the one now under consideration. It seems that the benchers and members of the several Inns-of-Court were wont to enrich their convivialities with a course of wit and poetry. And the forecited notice ascertains that Shakespeare's Twelfth Night was performed before the members of the Middle Temple on the old Church festival of the Purification, formerly called Candlemas; an important link in the course of festivities that used to continue from Christmas to Shrovetide. We thus learn that one of the Poet's sweetest plays was enjoyed by a gathering of his learned and studious contemporaries, at a time when this annual jubilee had rendered their minds congenial and apt, and when Christians have so much cause to be happy and gentle and kind, and therefore to cherish the convivial delectations whence kindness and happiness naturally grow.
As to the date of the composition, we have little difficulty in fixing this somewhere between the time when the play was acted at the Temple, and the year 1598. In Act iii., scene 2, when Malvolio is at the height of his ludicrous beatitude, Maria says of him, “ He does smile his face into more lines than are in the new map, with the augmentation of the Indies.” In 1598 was published an English version of Linschoten’s Discourse of Voyages, with a map exactly answering to Maria's description. Nor is any such multilineal map known to have appeared in England before that time. Besides, that was the first map of the world, in which the Eastern Islands were included. So that the allusion can hardly be to any thing else; and the words new map would seem to infer that the passage was written not long after the appearance of the map in question. .
Again : In Act iii., scene 1, the Clown says to Viola, “But, indeed, words are very rascals, since bonds disgraced them.” This may be fairly understood as referring to an order issued by the Privy Council in June, 1600, and laying very severe restrictions upon stage performances. This order prescribes that "there shall be about the city two houses and no more, allowed to serve for the use of common stage plays "; that “the two several companies of players, assigned unto the two houses allowed, may play each of them in their several houses twice a-week, and no oftener"; and that “they shall forbear altogether in the time of Lent, and likewise at such time and times as any extraordinary sickness or infection of disease shall appear to be in or about the city.” The order was directed to the principal magistrates of the city and suburbs, “strictly charging them to see to the execution of the same”; and it is plain, that if rigidly enforced it would have announted almost to a total suppression of play-houses, as the expenses of such establishments could hardly have been met, in the face of so great drawbacks.
Therewithal it is to be noted that the Puritans were specially forward and zealous in urging the complaints which put the Privy Council upon issuing this stringent process; and it will hardly be questioned that the character of Malvolio was partly meant as a satire on that remarkable people. That the Poet should be somewhat provoked at their action in bringing about such tight restraints
the freedom of his art, was certainly natural enough. Nor is it a small addition to their many claims on our gratitude, that their aptness to “think, because they were virtuous, there should be no more cakes and ale,” had the effect of calling forth so rich and withal so good-natured a piece of retaliation. Perhaps it should be remarked further, that the order in question, though solicited by the authorities of the city, was not enforced; for even at that early date those magistrates had hit upon the method of stimulating the complaints of discontented citizens till orders were taken for removing the alleged grievances, and then of letting such orders sleep, lest the enforcing of them should hush those complaints, and thus take away all pretext for keeping up the agitation.
The story upon which the more serious parts of Twelfth Night were founded appears to have been a general favourite before and during Shakespeare's time. It is met with in various forms and under various names in the Italian, French, and English literature of that period. The earliest form of it known to us is in Bandello's collection of novels. From the Italian of Bandello it was transferred, with certain changes and abridgments, into the French of Belleforest, and makes one in his collection of Tragical Histories. From one or the other of these sources the tale