« PreviousContinue »
The fact is certain — Homer sometimes nods, and Shakspeare now and then indulges in his « forty winks." Yet even in slumber the milder rays of intellect illumine their revelations; and we ought to wonder that such colossal faculties so seldom need a brief repose, rather than complain that they follow the universal law of immortality, and cannot be kept incessantly on the stretch.
It is with this feeling — surely at the least excusable - that we approach the minor Shaksperian dramas; anxious to place their merits in the most favorable position, and somewhat pertinaciously inclined to explain away defects which no amount of grateful scepticism will prevent us from perceiving. If we are told, for instance, that the Dromios, in the play before us, are chargeable with sundry woful puns and coarse allusions, the apology spontaneously suggests itself, “That is true; but then, consider the license of the age; their station in society; what a number of good things are mingled with the bad; how many of the bad may have been
foisted into the genuine text; but above all (for it is difficult to think of Shakspeare's characters other than as actual beings), consider what droll good-humored mortals these Dromios are; - a condition of blood that prevents them from withholding even the poorest comical fancy that may tickle the hearer for the moment, however it may damage their reputation as wits, when put upon paper.” In real life, amiable fellows of the brightest faculties will sometimes utter what they perfectly well know to be atrocious absurdities, critically considered, from the mere love of fun, and a generous disregard of what more prudent wags would deem their personal pretensions. Charles Lamb appears to have been a prodigal of this description; and Shakspeare doubtless was another in his private capacity, as he was occasionally too much so (let us candidly admit it) in his public one of a dramatist.
Thus much granted, it is by no means necessary to continue a notice of the present play in a tone of apology. If we cannot call it in the highest sense, what it calls itself, a “Comedy," it is certainly the nonpareil of farces; and although probably a very early production, much of the matter, both humorous and poetic, would not have been unworthy of the writer's brighter day. The opening dialogue between Ægeon and the Duke, forms an admirable introduction to the subsequent scenes of systematic confusion; it places a clue in the hand of the reader that guides him joyously through the labyrinth of cross purposes that from first to last involves and baffles the active though unconscious agents in the turmoil. These perplexities tell excellently in representation. The varieties of voice, &c., that necessarily exist between the representatives of the respective twins, render the whole plot obvious to the spectator; while moderate resemblances of person, with the assistance of similar dresses, are sufficient to make him put faith in the general mystification; it not being painfully difficult to suppose that the victims of the spell may not be quite so quicksighted as ourselves.
A nice observer will detect differences of temperament in the Dromios; and still more clearly in the superior Brothers. The female characters, also, though not of the strongest cast, are sweetly discriminated. And here we cannot but do justice to the respect that Shakspeare invariably exhibits for the higher points of morality and social feeling: the Brother exhibits not the slightest sympathy with the blandishments which the Wife seems anxious to lavish upon him, on the supposition that he is her husband. It is this wholesome reverence for substantial decency which, in despite of his occasional indecorums, has effectively co-operated even with his boundless genius to keep Shakspeare continually fresh and welcome in the hearts and eyes of his countrymen and countrywomen. And it is the want of this same soul of purity which — notwithstanding their brilliant fancies, and the galvanizing efforts of laborious commentators — has condemned so many of his contemporaries and successors to hopeless and deserved obscurity.
The “ COMEDY OF ERRORS” is doubtless founded on the “MENACHMI” of Plautus; it was first published in the original folio. LL
Comedy of Errors.
SCENE I. — A Hall in the DUKE's Palace. I Æge. Yet this my comfort ; when your words
are done, Enter DUKE, ÆGEON, Jailers, Officers, and other | My woes end likewise with the evening sun. Attendants.
Duke. Well, Syracusan, say, in brief, the cause
Why thou departedst from thy native home; Æge. Proceed, Solinus, to procure my fall, And for what cause camest thou to Ephesus. And, by the doom of death, end woes and all. Æge. A heavier task could not have been imDuke. Merchant of Syracusa, plead no more;
posed, I am not partial to infringe our laws:
Than I to speak my griefs unspeakable : The enmity and discord which of late
Yet, that the world may witness that my end Sprung from the rancorous outrage of your duke Was wrought by nature, not by vile offense, To merchants, our well-dealing countrymen, I 'll utter what my sorrow gives me leave. Who, wanting gilders to redeem their lives, In Syracusa was I born; and wed Have sealed his rigorous statutes with their Unto a woman happy but for me, bloods,
And by me too, had not our hap been bad. Excludes all pity from our threatening looks. With her I lived in joy; our wealth increased, For, since the mortal and intestine jars
By prosperous voyages I often made 'Twixt thy seditious countrymen and us, To Epidamnum, till my factor's death, It hath in solemn synods been decreed,
And the great care of goods at random left, Both by the Syracusans and ourselves,
Drew me from kind embracements of my spouse ; To admit no traffic to our adverse towns : From whom my absence was not six months old, Nay, more,
Before herself (almost at fainting under If any, born at Ephesus, be seen
The pleasing punishment that women bear) At any Syracusan marts and fairs;
Had made provision for her following me, Again, If any Syracusan born
And soon and safe arrivéd where I was. Come to the Bay of Ephesus, he dies,
There she had not been long but she became His goods confiscate to the duke's dispose; A joyful mother of two goodly sons; Unless a thousand marks be levied,
And, which was strange, the one so like the other To quit the penalty, and to ransom him.
As could not be distinguished but by names. Thy substance, valued at the highest rate, That very hour, and in the self-same inn, Cannot amount unto a hundred marks ;
A poor mean woman was delivered Therefore, by law thou art condemned to die. | Of such a burden, male twins, both alike :
Those (for their parents were exceeding poor) Which being violently borne upon,
What to delight in, what to sorrow for.
Her part, poor soul ! seeming as burdened A league from Epidamnum had we sailed With lesser weight, but not with lesser woe, Before the always-wind-obeying deep
Was carried with more speed before the wind; Gave any tragic instance of our harm :
And in our sight they three were taken up But longer did we not retain much hope; By fishermen of Corinth, as we thought. For what obscured light the heavens did grant At length another ship had seized on us, Did but convey unto our fearful minds
And, knowing whom it was their hap to save, A doubtful warrant of immediate death; Gave helpful welcome to their shipwrecked guests ; Which though myself would gladly have em- And would have reft the fishers of their prey, braced,
Had not their bark been very slow of sail, Yet the incessant weepings of my wife,
And therefore homeward did they bend their Weeping before for what she saw must come,
course. — And piteous plainings of the pretty babes, Thus have you heard me severed from my bliss; That mourned for fashion, ignorant what to fear, That by misfortunes was my life prolonged, Forced me to seek delays for them and me. To tell sad stories of my own mishaps. And this it was, — for other means was none : Duke. And, for the sake of them thou sorrowest The sailors sought for safety by our boat,
for, And left the ship, then sinking-ripe, to us : Do me the favor to dilate at full My wife, more careful for the latter-born, What hath befallen of them and thee, till now. Had fastened him unto a small spare mast,
Æge. My youngest boy, and yet my eldest care, Such as seafaring men provide for storms; At eighteen years became inquisitive To him one of the other twins was bound, After his brother; and importuned me Whilst I had been like heedful of the other. That his attendant (for his case was like; The children thus disposed, my wife and I, Reft of his brother, but retained his name Fixing our eyes on whom our care was fixed, Might bear him company in the quest of him : Fastened ourselves at either end the mast; Whom whilst I labored of a love to see, And floating straight, obedient to the stream, I hazarded the loss of whom I loved. Were carried towards Corinth, as we thought. Five summers have I spent in farthest Greece, At length the sun, gazing upon the earth, Roaming clean through the bounds of Asia, Dispersed those vapors that offended us;
And, coasting homeward, came to Ephesus, And, by the benefit of his wished light, Hopeless to find, yet loath to leave unsought The seas waxed calm, and we discoveréd
Or that or any place that harbors men. Two ships from far making amain to us;
But here must end the story of my life; Of Corinth that, of Epidarus this :
And happy were I in my timely death, But ere they came, - 0, let me say no more ! Could all my travels warrant me they live. Gather the sequel by. that went beforc.
Duke. Hapless Ægeon, whom the fates have Duke. Nay, forward, old man, do not brcak off marked so :
To bear the extremity of dire mishap ! For we may pity, though not pardon thee. Now, trust me, were it not against our laws,
Æge. O, had the gods done so, I had not now Against my crown, my oath, my dignity, Worthily termed them merciless to us!
Which princes, would they, may not disannul, For, ere the ships could meet by twice five leagues, My soul should sue as advocate for thee. We were encountered by a mighty rock; | But though thou art adjudged to the death,
And passéd sentence may not be recalled
And afterward consort you till bedtime; But to our honor's great disparagement,
My present business calls me from you now. Yet will I favor thee in what I can :
Ant. S. Farewell till then : I will go lose myTherefore, merchant, I 'll limit thee this day
self, To seek thy help by beneficial help:
And wander up and down to view the city. Try all the friends thou hast in Ephesus;
Mer. Sir, I commend you to your own content. Beg thou or borrow to make up the sum,
[Exit. And live; if not, then thou art doomed to die. - Ant. S. He that commends me to mine own Jailer, take him to thy custody.
content, Jail. I will, my lord.
Commends me to the thing I cannot get. Æge. Hopeless and helpless doth Ægeon wend, I to the world am like a drop of water, But to procrastinate his lifeless end. [E.ceunt. That in the ocean seeks another drop;
Who, falling there to find his fellow forth,
Unseen, inquisitive, confounds himself;
So I, to find a mother and a brother,
In quest of them, unhappy, lose myself. Enter ANTIPHOLUS and DROMIO of Syracuse, and a Merchant.
Enter DROMIO of Ephesus. Mer. Therefore, give out you are of Epidam- Here comes the almanack of my true date. — num,
What now? How chance thou art returned so Lest that your goods too soon be confiscate.
soon? This very day, a Syracusan merchant
Dro. E. Returned so soon! rather approached Is apprehended for arrival here;
too late : And not being able to buy out his life,
The capon burns, the pig falls from the spit ; According to the statute of the town,
The clock has strucken twelve upon the bell, Dies ere the weary sun set in the west.
My mistress made it one upon my cheek : There is your money that I had to keep. She is so hot because the meat is cold; Ant. S. Go, bear it to the Centaur, where we The meat is cold because you come not home; host,
You come not home because you have no stomach; And stay there, Dromio, till I come to thee. You have no stomach, having broke your fast; Within this hour it will be dinner-time:
But we, that know what 't is to fast and pray, Till that, I'll view the manners of the town, Are penitent for your default to-day. Peruse the traders, gaze upon the buildings, Ant. S. Stop in your wind, sir: tell me this, I And then return and sleep within mine inn;
pray; For with long travel I am stiff and weary. Where have you left the money that I gave you ? Get thee away.
Dro. E. O! sixpence, that I had o' Wednesday Dro. S. Many a man would take you at your
To pay the saddler for my mistress' crupper : And go indeed, having so good a mean. [Exit. The saddler had it, sir, I kept it not.
Ant. S. A trusty villain, sir, that very oft | Ant. S. I am not in a sportive humor now: When I am dull with care and melancholy, Tell me, and dally not, where is the money? Lightens my humor with his merry jests. What, will you walk with me about the town, So great a charge from thine own custody? And then go to my inn and dine with me?
Dro. E. I pray you, jest, sir, as you sit at dinMer. I am invited, sir, to certain merchants,
ner : Of whom I hope to make much benefit;
I from my mistress come to you in post;