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In this alteration of the “Tempest,” Dryden acknowledges his obligation to Sir William Davenant, whom he extols for his quick and piercing imagination. Sir William was the son of an innkeeper in Oxford, whose house was frequented by our immortal Shakespeare; and hence an ill-founded tradition ascribed to him a paternal interest in young Davenant: But this slander on Shakespeare's moral character has been fully refuted in the Prolegomena to Johnson and Steevens' edition of his plays. Davenant was appointed poet laureat upon the death of Ben Jonson. During the civil wars, he distinguished himself on the royal side, was lieutenant-general of ordnance to the earl of Newcastle, and was knighted by Charles at the siege of Gloucester. He was afterwards much trusted by Henrietta, the queen-dowager; and was finally made prisoner by an English man of war, in attempting to convey a colony of loyalists to Virginia. After a long captivity in the Tower, he was liberated through the intercession of the lord-keeper, Whitelocke; the wisest and most temperate of the counsellors of the ruling power. (Through his countenance, Sir William was protected, or connived at, in bringing forward certain interludes and operas, even during the rigid sway of fanaticism.) After the restoration, he became manager of a company of players, called the duke of York's servants, in distinction to the king's company, which was directed by Killigrew. He introduced upon
the stage much pomp in dress, scenery, and decoration, as if to indemnify the theatrical muses for the poor shifts to which they had been reduced during the usurpation. Sir William Davenant died in 1668, at the age of 63.
“ Gondibert,” his greatest performance, incurred, when first published, more ridicule, and in latter times more neglect, than its merits deserve. An epic poem, in elegiac stanzas, must always be tedious, because no structure of verse is more unfavourable to narration than that which almost peremptorily requires each sentence to be restricted, or protracted, to four lines. But the liveliness of Davenant's imagination, which Dryden has pointed out as his most striking attribute, has illuminated even the dull and dreary path which he has chosen; and perhaps few poems afford more instances of vigorous conceptions, and even felicity of expression, than the neglected “Gondiberts.”
# An excellent critical essay upon the beauties and defects of Davenant's epic, may be found in Aikin's Miscellanies. Those who are insensible to the
The alteration of the Tempest was Davenant's last work; and it seems to have been undertaken, chiefly, with a view to give room for scenical decoration. Few readers will think the play much improved by the introduction of the sea-language, which Davenant had acquired during the adventurous period of his life. Nevertheless, the ludicrous contest betwixt the sailors, for the dukedom and viceroyship of a barren island, gave much amusement at the time, and some of the expressions were long after proverbials. Much cannot be said for Davenant's ingenuity, in contrasting the character of a woman, who had never seen a man, with that of a man, who had never seen a woman, or in inventing a sister monster for Caliban. The majestic simplicity of Shakespeare's plan is injured by thus doubling his characters; and his wild landscape is converted into a formal parterre, where“ each alley has its brother.” In sketching characters drawn from fancy, and not from observation, the palm of genius must rest with the first inventor; others are but copyists, and a copy shews no where to such disadvantage as when placed by the original. Besides, although we are delighted with the feminine simplicity of Miranda, it becomes unmanly childishness in Hippolito; and the premature coquetry of Dorinda is disgusting, when contrasted with the maidenly purity that chastens the simplicity of Shakespeare's heroine. The latter seems to display, as it were by instinct, the innate dignity of her sex ;
the former, to shew, even in solitude, the germ of those vices, by which, in a vo ptuous age, the female character becomes degraded. The wild and savage character of Caliban is also sunk into low and vulgar buffoonery.
Dryden has not informed us of the share he had in this alteration: It was probably little more than the care of adapting it to the stage. The prologue is one of the most masterly tributes ever paid at the shrine of Shakespeare.
From the epilogue, the Tempest appears to have been acted in 1667. Although Dryden was under engagements to the king's company, this play was performed by the duke's servants, probably because written in conjunction with Davenant, their manager. It was not published until 1670.
merits of the poem, may admire the courage of the author, who wrote some part of it when he conceived himself within a week of being hanged. A tradition prevails, that his life was saved by Milton, whose life, in return, ha saved at the Restoration. Were the story true, how vast was the requital !
As, “ Peace and the But,” &c.
The writing of prefaces to plays was probably invented by some very ambitious poet, who never thought he had done enough: Perhaps by some ape of the French eloquence, which uses to make a business of a letter of gallantry, an examen of a farce; and, in short, a great pomp and ostentation of words on every trifle. This is certainly the talent of that nation, and ought not to be invaded by any other. They do that out of gaiety, which would be an imposition * upon us.
We may satisfy ourselves with surmounting them in the scene, and safely leave them those trappings of writings, and flourishes of the
with which they adorn the borders of their plays, and which are indeed no more than good landscapes to a very indifferent picture. I must proceed no farther in this argument, lest I run myself beyond my excuse for writing this. Give me leave, therefore, to tell
* A task imposed on us.
you, reader, that I do not set a value on any thing I have written in this play, but out of gratitude to the memory of Sir William Davenant, who did me the honour to join me with him in the alteration of it.
It was originally Shakespeare's; a poet for whom he had particularly a high veneration, and whom he first taught me to admire. The play itself had formerly been acted with success in the Black Friars : And our excellent Fletcher had so great a value for it, that he thought fit to make use of the same design, not much varied, a second time. Those, who have seen his “ Sea-Voyage,” may easily discern that it was a copy of Shakespeare's “Tempest:" The storm, the desert island, and the woman who had never seen a man, are all sufficient testimonies of it. But Fletcher was not the only poet who made use of Shakespeare's plot: Sir John Suckling, a professed admirer of our author, has followed his footsteps in his “Goblins;" his Regmella being an open imitation of Shakespeare's Miranda, and his spirits, though counterfeit, yet are copied from Ariel. But Sir William Davenant, as he was a man of a quick and piercing imagination, soon found that somewhat might be added to the design of Shakespeare, of which neither Fletcher nor Suckling had ever thought: And, therefore, to put the last hand to it, he designed the counter-part to Shakespeare's plot, namely, that of a man who had never seen a woman; that by this means those two characters of innocence and love might the more illustrate and commend each other. This excellent contrivance he was pleased to communicate to me, and to desire my assistance in it. I confess, that from the very first moment it so pleased me, that I never writ any thing with more delight. I
musť likewise do him that justice to acknowledge, that my writing received daily his amendments; and that is the reason why it is not so faulty, as the résť which I have done, without the help or correction of so judicious a friend. The comical parts of the sailors were also of his invention, and, for the most part, his writing, as you will easily discover by the. style. In the time I writ with him, I had the
opportunity to observe somewhat more nearly of him, than I had formerly done, when I had only a bare acquaintance with him: I found him then of so quick a fancy, that nothing was proposed to him, on which he could not suddenly produce a thought, extremely pleasant and surprising: and those first thoughts of his, contrary to the old Latin proverb, were not always the least happy. And as his fancy was quick, so likewise were the products of it remote and new. He borrowed not of any other; and his imaginations were such as could not easily enter into any other man. His corrections were sober and judicious: and he corrected his own writings much more severely than those of another man, bestowing twice the time and labour in
polishing, which he used in invention. It had perhaps been easy enough for me to have arrogated more to myself than was my due, in the writing of this play, and to have passed by his name with silence in the publication of it, with the same ingratitude which others have used to him, whose writings he hath not only corrected, as he hath done this, but has had a greater inspection over them, and sometimes added whole scenes together, which may as easily be distinguished from the rest, as true gold from counterfeit, by the weight. But, besides the unworthiness of the action, which deterred me from it, (there being nothing so base as to rob the