Obrázky na stránke



The poet Æschylus was held in the same veneration by the Athenians of after-ages, as Shakespeare is by us; and Longinus has judged, in favour of him, that he had a noble boldness of expression, and that his imaginations were lofty and heroic; but, on the other side, Quintilian affirms, that he was daring to extravagance. It is certain, that he affected pompous words, and that his sense was obscured by figures; notwithstanding these imperfections, the value of his writings after his decease was such, that his countrymen ordained an equal reward to those poets, who could alter his plays to be acted on the theatre, with those whose productions were wholly new, and of their own. The case is not the same in England; though the difficulties of altering are greater, and our reverence for Shakespeare much more just, than that of the Grecians for Æschylus. In the age of that poet, the Greek tongue was arrived to its full perfection; they had then amongst them an exact standard of writing and of speaking : the English language is not capable of such a certainty; and we are at present so far from it, that we are wanting in the very foundation of it, a perfect grammar. Yet it must be allowed to the present age, that the tongue in general is so much refined since Shakespeare's time, that many of his words, and more of his phrases, are scarce intelligible. And of those which we understand, some are ungrammatical, others coarse ; and his whole style is so pestered with figurative expressions, that it is as affected as it is obscure. It is true, that in his latter plays he had worn off somewhat of the rust; but the tragedy, which I have undertaken to correct, was in all probability one of his first endeavours on the stage.

The original story was written by one Lollius, a Lombard, in Latin verse, and translated by Chaucer into English ; intended, I suppose, a satire on the inconstancy of women : I find nothing of it among the ancients ; not so much as the name Cressida once mentioned. Shakespeare, (as I hinted) in the apprenticeship of his writing, modelled it into that play, which is now called by the name of “ Troilus and Cressida,” but so lamely is it left to us, that it is not divided into acts; which fault I ascribe to the actors who printed it after Shakespeare's death ; and that too so carelessly, that a more uncorrected copy I never saw. For the play itself, the author seems to have begun it with som fire; the characters of Pandarus and Thersites are promising enough ; but as if he grew weary of his task, after an entrance or two, he lets them fall : and the latter part of the tragedy is nothing but a confusion of drums and trumpets, excursions and alarms. The chief persons, who give name to the tragedy, are left alive; Cressida is false, and is not

punished. Yet, after all, because the play was Shakespeare's, and that there appeared in some places of it the admirable genius of the author, I undertook to remove that heap of rubbish under which many excellent thoughts lay wholly buried. Accordingly, I new modelled the plot, threw out many unnecessary persons, improved those characters which were begun and left unfinished, as Hector, Troilus, Pandarus, and Thersites, and added that of Andromache. After this, I made, with no small trouble, an order and connection of all the scenes ; removing them from the places where they were inartificially set; and, though it was impossible to keep them all unbroken, because the scene must be sometimes in the city and sometimes in the camp, yet I have so ordered them, that there is a coherence of them with one another, and a dependence on the main design ; no leaping from Troy to the Grecian tents, and thence back again, in the same act, but a due proportion of time allowed for every motion. I need not say that I have refined his language, which before was obsolete; but I am willing to acknowledge, that as I have often drawn his English nearer to our times, so I have sometimes conformed my own to his; and consequently, the language is not altogether so pure as it is significant. The scenes of Pandarus and Cressida, of Troilus and Pandarus, of Andromache with Hector and the Trojans, in the second act, are wholly new; together with that of Nestor and Ulysses with Thersites,, and that of Thersites with Ajax and Achilles. I will not weary my reader with the scenes which are added of Pandarus and the lovers, in the third, and those of Thersites, which are wholly altered; but I cannot omit the last scene in it, which is almost half the act, betwixt Troilus and Hector. The occasion of raising it was hinted to

me by Mr Betterton; the contrivance and working of it was my own. They who think to do me an injury, by saying, that it is an imitation of the scene betwixt Brutus and Cassius, do me an ho. nour, by supposing I could imitate the incomparable Shakespeare; but let me add, that if Shake, speare's scene, or that faulty copy of it in “ Amintor and Melantius," had never been, yet Euripides had furnished me with an excellent example in his

Iphigenia,” between Agamemnon and Menelaus; and from thence, indeed, the last turn of it is borrowed. The occasion which Shakespeare, Euripides, and Fletcher, have all taken, is the same-grounded upon friendship; and the quarrel of two virtuous men, raised by natural degrees to the extremity of passion, is conducted in all three, to the declination of the same passion, and concludes with a warm renewing of their friendship. But the particular ground-work which Shakespeare has taken, is in, comparably the best; because he has not only chosen two of the greatest heroes of their age, but has likewise interested the liberty of Rome, and their own honours, who were the redeemers of it, in this debate. And if he has made Brutus, who was na. turally a patient man, to fly into excess at first, let it be remembered in his defence, that, just before, he has received the news of Portia's death; whom the poet, on purpose neglecting a little chronology, supposes to have died before Brutus, only to give him an occasion of being more easily exasperated. Add to this, that the injury he had received from Cassius, had long been brooding in his mind; and that a melancholy man, upon consideration of an affront, especially from a friend, would be more ear ger in his passion, than he who had given it, though naturally more choleric. Euripides, whom I have followed, has raised the quarrel betwixt two bro.


thers, who were friends. The foundation of the scene was this: The Grecians were wind-bound at the port of Aulis, and the oracle had said, that they could not sail, unless Agamemnon delivered up his daughter to be sacrificed. He refuses his brother Menelaus urges the public safety—the father defends himself by arguments of natural affection and hereupon they quarrel. Agamemnon is at last convinced, and promises to deliver up Iphigenia; but so passionately laments his loss, that Menelaus is grieved to have been the occasion of it, and, by a return of kindness, offers to intercede for him with the Gre, cians, that his daughter might not be sacrificed. But my friend Mr Rymer has so largely, and with so much judgment, described this scene, in comparing it with that of Melantius and Amintor, that it is superfluous to say more of it; I only named the heads of it, that any reasonable man might judge it was from thence I modelled my scéne be. twixt Troilus and Hector. I will conclude my reflections on it, with a passage of Longinus, concerning Plato's imitation of Homer.

“We ought not to regard a good imitation as a theft, but as a beautiful idea of him who undertakes to imitate, by forming himself on the invention and the work of another man; for he enters into the lists like a new wrestler, to dispute the prize with the former champion. This sort of emulation, says Hesiod, is honourable,’Agaon & {pus &oti Bpórobow—when we combat for victory with a hero, and are not without glory even in our overthrow. Those great men, whom we propose to ourselves as patterns of our imitation, serve us as a torch, which is lifted up before us, to enlighten our passage, and often elevate our thoughts as high as the conception we have of our author's genius.

I have been so tedious in three acts, that I shall

« PredošláPokračovať »