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TROILUS AND CRESSIDA.
The story of Troilus and Cressida was one of the more modern fables, engrafted, during thedark ages, on “the tale of Troy divine.” Chaucer, who made it the subject of a long and somewhat dull poem, professes to have derived his facts from an author of the middle ages, called Lollius, to whom he often refers, and who he states to have written in Latin. Tyrwhitt disputes the existence of this personage, and supposes Chaucer's original to have been the Philostrato deir amorose fatiche de Troilo, a work of Boccacio. But Chaucer was never reluctant in acknowledging obligations to his contemporaries, when such really existed ; and
Mr Tyrwhitt's opinion seems to be successfully combated by Mr Godwin, in his • Life of Chaucer.” The subject, whencesoever derived, was deemed by Shakespeare worthy of the stage ; and his tragedy, of Troilus and Cressida, contains so many scenes of distinguished excellence, that it could have been wished our author had mentioned it with more ve jeration. In truth, even the partiality of an editor must admit, that, on this occasion, the modern improvements of Dryden shew to very little advantage beside the venerable structure to which they have been attached. The arrangement of the plot is, indeed, more artificially modelled ; but the preceding age, during which the infidelity of Cressida was proverbially current, could as little have endured a catastrophe turning upon the discoe very of her innocence, as one which should have exhibited Helen chaste, or Hector a coward. In Dryden's time, the prejudice against this unfortunate female was probably forgotten, as her history had become less popular. There appears, however, something too nice and fastidious in the critical rule, which exacts that the hero and heroine of the drama shall be models of virtuous perfection. In the most interesting of the ancient plays we find this limitation neglected, with great success; and it would have been more natural to have brought about the catastrophe on the plan of Shakespeare and Chaucer, than by the forced mistake in which Dryden's lovers are involved, and the stale expedient of Cressida’s killing herself, to evince her innocence. For the superior order, and regard to the unity of place, with which Dryden has newmodelled the scenes and entries, he must be allowed the full praise which he claims in the preface.
In the dialogue, considered as distinct from the plot, Dryden appears not to have availed himself fully of the treasures of his predecessor, He has pitilessly retrenched the whole scene, in the 3d act, between Ulysses and Achilles, full of the purest and most admirable moral precept, expressed in the most poetical and dignified language. * Probably this omission arose from Dryden's desire to simplify the plot, by leaving out the intrigues of the Grecian chiefs, and limiting the interest to the amours of Troilus and
I need only recal to the reader's remembrance the following beautiful passage, inculcating the unabating energy necessary to maintain, in the race of life, the ground which has been already gained.
Ulys. Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back,
as he would fly,
Cressida. But he could not be insensible to the merit of this scene, though he has supplied it by one far inferior, in which Ulysses is introduced, using gross flattery to the buffoon Thersites. In the latter part of the play, Dryden has successfully exerted his own inventive powers. The quarrelling scene between Hector and Troilus is very impressive, and no bad imitation of that betwixt Brutus and Cassius, with which Dryden seems to have been so much charmed, and which he has repeatedly striven to emulate. The parting of Hector and Andromache contains some affecting passages, some of which may be traced back to Homer; although the pathos, upon the whole, is far inferior to that of the noted scene in the lliad, and destitute of the noble simplicity of the Grecian bard.
Mr Godwin has justly remarked, that the delicacy of Chaucer's ancient tale has suffered even in the hands of Shakespeare; but in those of Dryden it has undergone a far deeper deterioration. Whatever is coarse and naked in Shakespeare, has been dilated into ribaldry by the poet laureat of Charles the Second ; and the character of Pandarus, in particular, is so grossly heightened, as to disgrace even the obliging class to whom that unfortunate procurer has bequeathed his name. So far as this play is to be considered as an alteration of Shakespeare, I fear it must be allowed, that our author has suppressed some of his finest poetry, and exaggerated some of his worst faults.
Troilus and Cressida was published in 1679.
And still it might, and yet it may again,
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
EARL OF SUNDERLAND,*
PRINCIPAL SECRETARY OF STATE, ONE OF HIS MAJESTY's
MOST HONOURABLE PRIVY-COUNCIL, &c.
MY LORD, Since I cannot promise you much of poetry in my play, it is but reasonable that I should secure you from any part of it in my dedication. And indeed I cannot better distinguish the exactness of your taste from that of other men, than by the plainness and sincerity of my address. I must keep my hyperboles in reserve for men of other understand
* This was the famous Earl of Sunderland, who, being a Tory under the reign of Charles, a Papist in that of his successor, and a Whig in that of William, was a favourite minister of all these monarchs. He was a man of eminent abilities, and our author shews a high opinion of his taste, by abstaining from the gross flattery, which was then the fashionable style of dedication.
ings. An hungry appetite after praise, and a strong digestion of it, will bear the grossness of that diet but one of so critical a judgment as your lordship, who can set the bounds of just and proper in every subject, would give me small encouragement for so bold an undertaking. I more than suspect, my lord, that you would not do common justice to yourself; and, therefore, were I to give that character of
you, which I think you truly merit, I would make my appeal from your lordship to the reader, and would justify myself from flattery by the public voice, whatever protestation you might enter to the contrary. But I find I am to take other measures with your lordship; I am to stand upon my guard with you, and to approach you as warily as Horace did Augustus :
Cui malè si palpere, recalcitrat undique tutus. An ill-timed, or an extravagant commendation, would not pass upon you; but you would keep off such a dedicator at arm's-end, and send him back with his encomiums to this lord, or that lady, who stood in need of such trifling merchandise. You see, my lord, what an awe you have upon me, when I dare not offer you that incense which would be acceptable to other patrons; but am forced to curb myself from ascribing to you those honours, which even an enemy could not deny you. Yet I must confess, I never practised that virtue of moderation (which is properly your character) with so much reluctancy as now ; for it hinders me from being true to my own knowledge, in not witnessing your worth, and deprives me of the only means which I had left, to shew the world that true honour and uninterested respect which I have always paid you. I would say somewhat, if it were possible, which might distinguish that veneration I have for you,