Page:Romeo and Juliet (The Illustrated Shakespeare, 1847).djvu/6

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS.



published in 1597, being then a popular acted play, must have been originally written some years before. Mr. Hallam (Literature of Europe) judging from the evidence of style and thought, places its composition before that of the Midsummer Night's Dream, which would make it, in its original form, the production of the Poet's twenty-seventh or twenty-eighth year; and this date corresponds with some slight points of circumstantial evidence collected by the commentators, such as the supposed allusion of the Nurse to the great earthquake of 1580 as having occurred eleven years before. The enlarged edition was the work of the Poet's thirty-fourth or thirty-fifth year. The third edition appeared in 1609, and this, says Collier, "was printed from the edition which came out ten years earlier; the repetition, in the folio of 1623, of some decided errors of the press, shows that it was a reprint of the quarto, 1609. It is remarkable, that although every early quarto impression contains a Prologue, it was not transferred to the folio."

The first edition has also its value, as assisting to form a correct text, several difficulties in the later editions being cleared up by its aid, and the metrical arrangement especially has been thus preserved; Mercutio's "Queen Mab" speech, when improved in language, having been printed as prose in the enlarged edition, though correctly in the first. Otherwise, it is clear that the true text is to be found in the original enlarged editions, collated with each other, using the first only to correct accidental errors of the press or the copyist. But it is certainly not consistent with sound criticism to employ it, as several editors have done, to make up a text out of two differing editions, by inserting what the author had himself thrown aside, to substitute other words or lines. Wherever the text of the present edition differs from any in common use, as that of Stevens, the difference will be found to proceed from adherence to this principle, which is also followed by both Knight and Collier, the former of whom takes the folio of 1623, and the latter the 1597 quarto as the standard of his edition,—a difference which does not lead to any very material variations.


SOURCE OF THE PLOT.

“When Dante reproaches the Emperor Albert for neglect of Italy,—

—Thy sire and thou have suffer'd thus,
Though greediness of yonder realms detain'd,
The garden of the empire to run waste,’—

He adds,—

Come, see the Capulets and Montagues,
The Filippeschi and Monaldi, man,
Who car'st for nought! those sunk in grief, and these
With dire suspicion rack'd.’

The Capulets and Montagues were among the fierce spirits who, according to the poet, had rendered Italy 'savage and unmanageable.' The Emperor Albert was murdered in 1308; and the Veronese, who believe the story of Romeo and Juliet to be historically true, fix the date of this tragedy as 1303. At that period the Scalas, or Scaligers, ruled over Verona.

"If the records of history tell us little of the fair Capulet and her loved Montague, whom Shakespeare has made immortal, the novelists have seized upon the subject, as might be expected, from its interest and its obscurity. Massuccio, a Neapolitan, who lived about 1470, was, it is supposed, the writer who first gave a somcwhat similar story the clothing of a connected fiction. He places the scene at Sienna, and, of course, there is no mention of the Montagues and Capulets. The story too, of Massuccio, varies in its catastrophe; the bride recovering from her lethargy, produced by the same means as in the case of Juliet; and the husband being executed for a murder which had caused him to flee from his country. Mr. Douce has endeavoured to trace back the ground-work of the tale to a Greek romance by Xenophon Ephesius. Luigi da Porto, of Vicenza, gave a connected form to the legend of Romeo and Juliet, in a novel, under the title of "La Giulietta," which was published after his death in 1535. Luigi, in an epistle prefixed to this work, states that the story was told him by "an archer of mine, whose name was Peregrino, a man about fifty years old, well practised in the military art, a pleasant companion, and, like almost all his countrymen of Verona, a great talker." Bandello, in 1554, published a novel on the same subject, the ninth of his second collection. It begins "When the Scaligers were lords of Verona," and goes on to say that these events happened "under Bartholomew Scaliger" (Bartolomeo della Scala.) The various materials to be found in these sources were embodied in a French novel by Pierre Boisteau, a translation of which was published by Paynter in his "Palace of Pleasure," in 1567; and upon this French story was founded the English poem by Arthur Brooke published in 1562, under the title of "The tragicall Hystorye of Romeus and Juliet, written first in Italian by Bandell, and nowe in Englishe by Ar. Br." It appears highly probable that an English play upon the same subject had appeared previous to Brooke's poem; for he says in his address to the reader :—"Though I saw the same argument lately set forth on the stage with more commendation than I can look for: being there much better set foorth than I have or can dooe, yet the same matter penned as it is, may serve to lyke good effect, if the readers do brynge with them lyke good myndes, to consider it, which hath the more incouraged me to publish it, suche as it is." Thus Shakespeare had materials enough to work upon. But, in addition to these sources, there is a play by Lope de Vega in which the incidents are very similar; and an Italian tragedy also, by Luigi Groto, which Mr. Walker, in his Historical Memoirs of Italian Tragedy, thinks that the English bard read with profit. Mr. Walker gives us passages in support of his assertion, such as a description of a nightingale when the lovers are parting, which appear to confirm this opinion."—Knight.

6