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RICHARD GRANT WHITE
WITH AN INTRODUCTION
By EDWARD EVERETT HALE, JR., Ph. D.
Professor of Rhetoric in Union College
Ghe Riverside Press
HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY
Chicago : 378-388 Wabash Avenue
THERE are a number of things about every play of Shakespeare that seem to call for statement, although they do not directly aid our enjoyment of the poetry. One of them is the date of the play: The Tempest was probably written in 1610 or 1611 ; it is one of the last plays that Shakespeare wrote. Scholars have given much time to the studies necessary to determine such matters. But Dr. Furness, our greatest Shakespearean scholar, in closing his summary of the opinions on this point in the Variorum Edition of this play (p. 305), says :
Lastly, is there any really valuable end to be gained by investigation, such as is set forth in the preceding pages, into the years in which Shakespeare wrote this play? Is there any possible intellectual gain in the knowledge of the exact date? Do we thrill with pleasure in contemplating the year 1610 as that wherein The Tempest was written? Do Ariel's songs sound the sweeter for it ? Are we to be thankful to Shakespeare for having written his plays in certain years, or are we to be thankful for the plays themselves ? As a mere intellectual exercise an elaborate investigation may prove beneficial; but a second-rate drama by an insignificant poet will serve this purpose quite as well as The Tempest, while, at the same time, we shall be saved from the mortifying delusion that in pursuing such investigation as the present, we are really learning anything of lasting advantage to us in regard to the immortal plays of William Shakespeare.”
Dr. Furness is doubtless right, particularly so as to the bare fact. It is not more stimulating to the imagination to know that Shakespeare wrote The Tempest in one year than in another. But whatever be the value of the investi
gation, there is some use in the result. There is a pleasure, it would seem, in knowing that we have here a work of Shakespeare's matured genius, that the verse, the thought, the subject even, is of the later Shakespeare. If it be not a pleasure in itself, it leads us to an appreciation somewhat richer than that which, though otherwise the same, neglects it. We should hardly know the true Tempest if we read it so as to hold it a youthful work like Love's Labour's Lost. It is certainly not necessary to know who wrote a beautiful thing, but if we do know, and know something of him, we shall often do something worth while in getting closer to his idea. And that is what we want. We want to enjoy this play poetically, if possible much as Shakespeare enjoyed it himself. We shall be rather helped in such enjoyment by knowing that we have here the ripe work of the experienced man whose feeling in art and wisdom in life had grown and developed in the work of twenty years of the greatest writing ever done in England.
Another thing to which attention is often paid is the language
and the metre. Now there can be little doubt that, other things being equal, the man who understands what Shakespeare meant by the words of the play, and feels the harmony and rhythm that he puts into his verse, will enjoy the play more than one who has but a vague notion of those things. Shakespeare's language is full of words and constructions that have now gone out of use, or that are used in meanings now no longer common. Something must be done in learning about them. But it will be a mistake if this work is made so interesting that one's pleasure in the play suffers; many other authors will serve for a study of Elizabethan English. It will also be a pity if the work be made so dull, stupid, and grinding that the play seems a bore ; one can get a good deal out of it without any linguistic study at all. One must use discretion in this matter: in this edition we have generally tried to call attention to words which Shakespeare uses in a sense not now common. Obsolete words we sometimes leave unexplained ; there are not so many obsolete words as obsolete meanings. Much the same thing may be said of the metre. The blank verse of The Tempest is very characteristic. Professor Corson, a man of an insight in such things that amounts to genius, says that the second scene of the first act is “ the perfection, humanly speaking, of dramatic language shaping.” To appreciate thoroughly anything like that will call for much study. On the other hand, the most beautiful passages in the poem may be fairly read by any one with a good ear.
1 See, for instance, yarely, I. i. 3 ; brave, I. ii. 6; provision, I. ii. 28; teen, I. ii. 64; prime, I. ii. 72; trash, I. ii. 81.
Another thing about The Tempest, as about any play, is the plot. This particular plot has a certain interest because Shakespeare, contrary to his usual custom, invented it himself. Nothing has ever been found that could have furnished him with anything more than a hint here or there. He not only invented the plot, but he constructed it so as to agree very particularly with the most formal rules concerning such matters that were known to the critics of his day. The action is not absolutely single, but it has unity. The wrong done to Prospero, the punishment of the wrongdoers, the reconciliation, this is the main course of action ; there are two minor actions, the plot of Antonio and Sebastian against Alonso, and the ridiculous attack of Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban upon Prospero. But these minor actions are made a part of the main theme by the guiding management of Prospero. So the action is really one. The place is also the same, and the time but a single afternoon. The play agrees with the three unities of action, place, time, which the older critics thought they found in the Athenian drama. Such was not Shakespeare's usual way: indeed, in The Winter's Tale, which he wrote at about the same time, he pays no attention to any one of the three.
There has also been discussion as to the geographical situation of the enchanted isle. Some students are sure that it is one of the Bermudas, on which Sir George Som