« PreviousContinue »
“The story has at all times been eminently popular in all parts of Europe. A Spanish play was formed on it by Lope de Vega, entitled Los Castelvies y Monteses; and another in the same language, by Don Francisco de Roxas, under the name of Los Vandos de Verona. In Italy, as may well be supposed, it has not been neglected. The modern productions on this subject are too numerous to be specified; but, as early as 1578, Luigi Groto produced a drama upon the subject, called Hadriana, of which an analysis may be found in Mr. Walker's Memoir on Italian Tragedy. Groto has stated, in his prologue, that the story is drawn from the ancient history of Adria, his native place ;" so that Verona is not the only place that has appropriated this interesting fable.
This has been generally considered one of Shakspeare's earliest plays ;* and Schlegel has eloquently said, that "it shines with the colors of the dawn of morning; but a dawn whose purple clouds already announce the thunder of a sultry day.” Romeo and Juliet (says the same admirable critic) is a picture of love and its pitiable fate, in a world whose atmosphere is too rough for this tenderest blossom of human life. Two beings, created for each other, feel mutual love at first glance: every consideration disappears before the irresistible influence of living in one another; they join themselves secretly, under circumstances hostile in the highest degree to their union, relying merely on the protection of an invisible power. By unfriendly events following blow upon blow, their heroic constancy is exposed to all manner of trials; till, forcibly separated from each other, by a voluntary death they are united in the grave, to meet again in another world. All this is to be found in the beautiful story, which Shakspeare has not invented; and which, however simply told, will always excite a tender sympathy: but it was reserved for Shakspeare to unite purity of heart and the glow of imagination, sweetness and dignity of manners and passionate violence, in one ideal picture. By the manner in which he has handled it, it has become a glorious song of praise on that inexpressible feeling which ennobles the soul, and gives to it its highest sublimity, and which elevates even the senses themselves into soul; and at the same time is a melancholy elegy on its frailty from its own nature and external circumstances; at once the deification and the burial of love. It appears here like a heavenly spark, that, descending to the earth, is converted into a flash of lightning, by which mortal creatures are almost in the same
Malone thinks that the foundation of the play might be laid in 1591, and finished in 1596. Mr. George Chalmers places the date of its composition in the spring of 1592. And Dr. Drake, with greater probability, ascribes it to 1593. There are four early quarto editions, in 1597, 1599, 1609, and one without a date. The first edition is less ample than those which succeed. Shakspeare appears to have revised the play ; but in the succeeding impressions no fresh incidents are introduced ; the alterations are merely additions to the length of particular speeches and scenes. The principal variations are pointed out in the notes.
VOL. VII. 18
moment set on fire and consumed. Whatever is most intoxicating in the odor of a southern spring, languishing in the song of the nightingale, or voluptuous in the first opening of the rose, is to be found in this poem. But, even more rapidly than the earliest blossoms of youth and beauty decay, it hurries on from the first timidly-bold declaration of love and modest return, to the most unlimited passion, to an irrevocable union; then, amidst alternating storms of rapture and despair, to the death of the two lovers, who still appear enviable, as their love survives them, and as by their death they have obtained a triumph over every separating power. The sweetest and the bitterest, love and hatred, festivity and dark forebodings, tender embraces and sepulchres, the fulness of life and self-annihilation, are all here brought close to each other; and all these contrasts are so blended, in the harmonious and wonderful work, into a unity of impression, that the echo, which the whole leaves behind in the mind, resembles a single but endless sigh.
“ The excellent dramatic arrangement, the signification of each character in its place, the judicious selection of all the circumstances, even the most minute," have been pointed out by Schlegel in a dissertation referred to in a note at the end of the play; in which he remarks, that « there can be nothing more diffuse, more wearisome, than the rhyming history, which Shakspeare's genius, "like richest alchymy,' has changed to beauty and to worthiness." Nothing but the delight of seeing into this wonderful metamorphosis, can compensate for the laborious task of reading through more than three thousand six and seven-footed iambics, which, in respect of every thing that amuses, affects, and enraptures us in this play, are as a mere blank leaf.—Here all interest is entirely smothered under the coarse, heavy pretensions of an elaborate exposition. How much was to be cleared away, before life could be breathed into the shapeless mass! In many parts, what is here given, bears the same relation to what Shakspeare has made out of it, which any common description of a thing bears to the thing itself. Thus, out of the following hint
“ A courtier, that eche-where was highly had in pryce,
For he was courteous of his speche and pleasant of devise:
and the addition that the said Mercutio from his swathing-bands constartly had cold hands,-has arisen a splendid character decked out with the utmost profusion of wit. Not to mention a number of nicer deviations from the original, we find also some important incidents ; for instance, the meeting and the combat between Paris and Romeo at Juliet's grave.-Shakspeare knew how to transform by enchantment, letters into spirit, a workman's daub into a poetical masterpiece.
“Lessing declared Romeo and Juliet to be the only tragedy, that he knew, which Love himself had assisted to compose. I know not (says Schlegel) how to end more gracefully than with these simple words, wherein so much lies :—One may call this poem a harmonious miracle, whose component parts that heavenly power alone could so melt together. It is at the same time enchantingly sweet and sorrowful, pure and glowing, gentle and iinpetuous, full of elegiac softness, and tragically overpowering."
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, From ancient grudge, break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life ; Whose misadventured, piteous overthrows
Do, with their death, bury their parents' strife. The fearful passage of their death-marked love,
And the continuance of their parents' rage,
Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage;
Escalus, Prince of Verona.
Heads of Two Houses, at variance with each other
} Servants to Capulet.
LADY MONTAGUE, Wife to Montague.
Citizens of Verona; several Men and Women, Relations to both
Houses ; Maskers, Guards, Watchmen, and Attendants.
SCENE, during the greater part of the Play, in Verona; once, in ROMEO AND JULIET.
the Fifth Act, at Mantua.
SCENE I. A public Place.
Enter SAMPSON and GREGORY, armed with swords
and bucklers. Sampson. GREGORY, o’my word, we'll not carry coals.
Gre. No, for then we should be colliers.
Gre. Ay, while you live, draw your neck out of the collar.
Sam. I strike quickly, being moved.
Gre. To move, is—to stir ; and to be valiant, isto stand to it. Therefore, if thou art moved, thou
Sam. A dog of that house shall move me to stand; I will take the wall of any man or maid of Montague's.
Gie. That shows thee a weak slave; for the weakest goes to the wall.
Sam. True; and therefore women, being the weaker
1 To carry coals is to put up with insults, to submit to any degrałation, Anciently, in great families, the scullions, turnspits, and carriers of wood and coals, were esteeemed the very lowest of menials, the drudges of al} the rest. Such attendants upon the royal household, in progresses, were called the black-guard ; and hence the origin of that term.