Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 51.djvu/366

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

village schoolmasters and curates are all satirised with good humour (cf. ‘A New Study of “Love's Labour's Lost,”’ by the present writer in Gent. Mag. October 1880; Transactions of the New Shakspere Society, pt. iii. p. 80*). The play was revised in 1597, probably for a performance at court. It was first published next year, and on the title-page, which described the piece as ‘newly corrected and augmented,’ Shakespeare's name first appeared in print as that of author of a play.

Less gaiety characterised another comedy of the same date, ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona,’ which dramatises a romantic story of love and friendship. There is every ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona.’likelihood that it was an adaptation—amounting to a re-formation—of a lost ‘History of Felix and Philomena,’ which had been acted at court in 1584. The story is the same as that of ‘The Shepardess Felismena’ in the Spanish pastoral romance of ‘Diana’ by George de Montemayor. No English translation of ‘Diana’ was published before that of Bartholomew Yonge in 1598, but manuscript versions may have been accessible. Barnabe Rich's story of ‘Apollonius and Silla,’ which Shakespeare employed again in ‘Twelfth Night,’ doubtless gave him some hints. Trifling and irritating conceits abound in the ‘Two Gentlemen,’ but passages of high poetic spirit are not wanting, and the speeches of the clowns, Launce and Speed, overflow with farcical drollery. The ‘Two Gentlemen’ was not published in Shakespeare's lifetime; it first appeared in the folio of 1623, after having, in all probability, undergone some revision (cf. Fleay, Life, pp. 188 seq.).

Shakespeare next tried his hand, in the ‘Comedy of Errors’ (commonly known at the time as ‘Errors’), at boisterous farce. It may have been founded on a play, no longer extant, called ‘The Historie of Error,’ which was acted in 1576 at Hampton Court. ‘Comedy of Errors.’In subject-matter it resembles the ‘Menæchmi’ of Plautus, and treats of mistakes of identity arising from the likeness of twin-born children. The scene (act iii. sc. i.) in which Antipholus of Ephesus is shut out from his own house, while his brother and wife are at dinner within, recalls one in the ‘Amphitruo’ of Plautus. It is possible that Shakespeare had direct recourse to Plautus as well as to the old play; no English translation of Plautus was published before 1595. In the ‘Comedy of Errors’ (which was first published in 1623) allusion is made, as in ‘Love's Labour's Lost,’ to the civil war in France. France is described as ‘making war against her heir’ (act v. sc. ii. 125).

To more effective account did Shakespeare in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ (his first tragedy) turn a tragic romance of Italian origin, which was already popular in the English versions of Arthur Broke in verse (1562) and William Painter ‘Romeo and Juliet.’in prose (in his ‘Palace of Pleasure,’ 1567). Shakespeare made little change in the plot, but he impregnated it with poetic fervour, and relieved the tragic intensity by developing the humour of Mercutio, and by grafting on the story the new comic character of the Nurse (cf. Originals and Analogues, pt. i. ed. P. A. Daniel, New Shakspere Society). The fineness of insight which Shakespeare here brought to the portrayal of youthful emotion is as noticeable as the lyric beauty and exuberance of the language. If the Nurse's remark, ‘'Tis since the earthquake now eleven years’ (i. iii. 23), be taken literally, the composition of the play must be referred to 1591, for no earthquake in the sixteenth century was experienced in England after 1580. There are some parallelisms with Daniel's ‘Complainte of Rosamond,’ published in 1592, and it is probable that Shakespeare completed the piece in that year. It was first anonymously and surreptitiously printed by John Danter in 1597 from an imperfect acting copy. A second quarto of 1599 (by T. Creede for Cuthbert Burbie) was printed from an authentic version which had undergone much revision (cf. ‘Parallel Texts,’ ed. P. A. Daniel, New Shakspere Society; Fleay, Life, pp. 191 seq.).

Three other pieces of the period, of the first production of which we have direct information, reveal Shakespeare undisguisedly as an adapter of plays by other hands. On 3 March 1592 a new piece, called ‘Henry VI,’ was ‘Henry VI.’acted at the Rose Theatre by Lord Strange's men. It was no doubt the play which was subsequently known as Shakespeare's ‘1 Henry VI.’ On its first production it won a popular triumph. ‘How would it have joyed brave Talbot (the terror of the French),’ wrote Nash in his ‘Pierce Pennilesse’ (1592, licensed 8 Aug.), in reference to the striking scenes of Talbot's death (act iv. sc. vi. and vii.), ‘to thinke that after he had lyne two hundred yeares in his Tombe, hee should triumphe againe on the Stage, and have his bones newe embalmed with the teares of ten thousand spectators at least (at severall times) who, in the Tragedian that represents his person, imagine they behold him fresh bleeding!’ There is no record of the production of a second piece in continuation