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To rouse our Roman gods with invocations,
Since Rome herself in them doth stand disgrac'd, By our strong arms from forth her fair streets chas'd.
Now by the Capitol that we adore,
And by this chaste blood so unjustly stain'd,
By all our country rights in Rome maintain'd,
This said, he struck his hand upon his breast,
When they had sworn to this advised doom, They did conclude to bear dead Lucrece thence; To show her bleeding body thorough Rome,
That they will suffer these abominations, &c.] The construction is—that they will suffer these abominations to be chased, &c. MALOne.
6 And by chaste Lucrece' soul, that late COMPLAIN'D
Her wrongs to us] To complain was anciently used in an active sense, without an article subjoined to it. So, in Fairfax's translation of Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered, 1600:
"Pale death our valiant leader hath oppress'd;
"Come, wreak his loss, whom bootless ye complain." MALONE.
Who wondering at him, did his words ALLOW:] Did approve of what he said. So, in King Lear:
And so to publish Tarquin's foul offence:
8 The Romans PLAUSIBLY-] That is, with acclamations. To express the same meaning, we should now say, plausively but the other was the phraseology of Shakspeare's age. So, in Stowe's Chronicle, p. 1426, edit. 1605: This change was very plausible or well pleasing to the nobility and gentry.”
Bullokar in his English Expositor, 8vo. 1616, interprets plausible thus: "That which greatly pleaseth, or rejoiceth."
MALONE. Plausibly may mean, with expressions of applause. Plausibilis, Lat. Thus, in the Argument prefixed to this poem: wherewith the people were so moved, that with one consent, and a general acclamation, the Tarquins were all exiled."
9 To Tarquin's everlasting banishment.] In examining this and the preceding poem, we should do Shakspeare injustice, were we to try them by a comparison with more modern and polished productions, or with our present idea of poetical excellence.
It has been observed, that few authors rise much above the age in which they live. If their performances reach the standard of perfection established in their own time, or surpass somewhat the productions of their contemporaries, they seldom aim further; for if their readers are satisfied, it is not probable that they should be discontented. The poems of Venus and Adonis, and The Rape of Lucrece, whatever opinion may be now entertained of them, were certainly much admired in Shakspeare's life-time. In thirteen years after their first appearance, six impressions of each of them were printed, while in nearly the same period his Romeo and Juliet (one of his most popular plays) passed only twice through the press. They appear to me superior to any pieces of the same kind produced by Daniel or Drayton, the most celebrated writers in this species of narrative poetry that were then known. The applause bestowed on the Rosamond of the former author, which was published in 1592, gave birth, I imagine, to the present poem. The stanza is the same in both.
No compositions were in that age oftener quoted, or more honourably mentioned, than these two of Shakspeare. In the preliminary and concluding notes on Venus and Adonis, various proofs of the truth of this assertion may be found. Among others, Drayton, in the first edition of his Matilda, has pronounced the following eulogium on the preceding poem:
"Lucrece, of whom proud Rome hath boasted long,
And here arriv'd, to tell of Tarquin's wrong, "Her chaste denial, and the tyrant's rage,
Acting her passions on our stately stage,
"She is remember'd, all forgetting me,
Matilda, the Fair and Chaste Daughter of Lord Robert Fitzwater. By Michael Drayton, 4to. 1594.-If the reader should look for these lines in any edition of Matilda after the second in 1596, in octavo, he will be disappointed. It is observable that Daniel and Drayton made many alterations in their poems at every re-impression.
From Drayton's having omitted this eulogy on Shakspeare in the subsequent editions, there is reason to believe, that however friendly they might have been in 1596, at a subsequent period some coolness subsisted between them. In Drayton's works he has, I think, mentioned Shakspeare but once, and been rather niggard in his praise.
In The Times displayed in Six Sestiads, 4to. 1646, dedicated by S. Shepherd to Philip Earl of Pembroke, p. 22, sestiad vi. stanza 9, the author thus speaks of our poet :
See him, whose tragick scenes Euripides
"Doth equal, and with Sophocles we may
"He wrote of lustful Tarquin's rape, shews he
Did understand the depth of poesie."
If it should be asked, how comes it to pass that Shakspeare in his dramatick productions also, did not content himself with only doing as well as those play-wrights who had gone before him, or somewhat surpassing them; how it happened, that whilst his contemporaries on the stage crept in the most grovelling and contemptible prose, or stalked in ridiculous and bombastick blank verse, he has penetrated the inmost recesses of the human mind, and, not content with ranging through the wide field of nature, has with equal boldness and felicity often expatiated extra flammantia mania mundi, the answer, I believe, must be, that his disposition was more inclined to the drama than to the other kinds of poetry; that his genius for the one appears to have been almost a gift from heaven, his abilities for the other, of a less splendid and transcendent kind, and approaching nearer to those of other mortals.
Of these two poems Venus and Adonis appears to me entitled to superior praise. Their great defect is, the wearisome circumlocution with which the tale in each of them is told, particularly in
that before us. When the reader thinks himself almost at his journey's end, he is led through many an intricate path, and after travelling for some hours, finds his inn at a distance: nor are his wanderings always repaid, or his labour alleviated, by the fertility of the country through which he passes; by grotesqueness of scenery or variety of prospect.
Let us, however, never forget the state of poetry when these pieces appeared; and after perusing the productions of the contemporary and preceding writers, Shakspeare will have little to fear from the unprejudiced decision of his judges. In the foregoing notes we have seen almost every stanza of these poems fraught with images and expressions that occur also in his plays. To the liquid lapse of his numbers, in his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, his Sonnets, his Lovers Complaint, and in all the songs which are introduced in his dramas, I wish particularly to call the attention of the reader. In this respect he leaves all his contemporaries very far behind him.-Even the length of his two principal poems will be pardoned, when the practice of his age is adverted to. Like some advocates at the Bar, our elder poets seem to have thought it impossible to say too much on any subject. On the story of Rosamond, Daniel has written above nine hundred lines. Drayton's Legend of Rollo Duke of Normandy contains nine hundred and forty-five lines; his Matilda six hundred and seventy two; and his Legend of Pierce Gaveston seven hundred and two. On the story of Romeo and Juliet, Arthur Brooke has left a poem of above four thousand lines; and that of Troilus and Cressida, Chaucer has expanded into no less than eight thousand verses. MALONE.
I cannot by any means coincide with Mr. Malone in giving the preference to Venus and Adonis, which appears to me decidedly inferior to the Rape of Lucrece, in which we find not only that liquid lapse of numbers which Mr. Malone has pointed out, but upon some occasions an energy both of expression and sentiment which we shall not easily find surpassed by any poet of any age. It may be added, that he has in this poem been much happier in the choice of his subject, not only as affording greater variety, but in a moral point of view. We have here nothing that the wiser sort,' whom Gabriel Harvey speaks of, had any cause to reprehend; but even in early times it was thought that there was some hazard when the " younger took delight" in the other. In the Latin comedy, Cornelianum Dolium, 1638, supposed to be written by Thomas Randolph, Cornelius is displeased at finding it in the possession of his daughter:
Venerem etiam et Adonidem petulantem satis librum