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An excellent conceited Tragedie of Romeo and Iuliet. As it hath been often (with great applause) plaid publiquely, by the right Honourable the L. of Hunsdon his Seruants. London, Printed by Iohn Danter. 1597. 4to. 39 leaves.
The most excellent and lamentable Tragedie, of Romeo and Iuliet. Newly corrected, augmented, and amended: As it hath bene sundry times publiquely acted, by the Right Honourable the Lord Chamberlaine his Seruants. London Printed by Thomas Creede, for Cuthbert Burby, and are to be sold at his shop neare the Exchange 1599. 4to. 46 leaves.
The most excellent and Lamentable Tragedie, of Romeo and Juliet. As it hath beene sundrie times publiquely Acted, by the Kings Maiesties Seruants at the Globe. Newly corrected, aug. mented and amended: London Printed for Iohn Smethwick, and are to be sold at his Shop in Saint Dunstanes Church-yard, in Fleetestreete vnder the Dyall. 1609. 4to. 46 leaves.
In the folio of 1623 “ The Tragedie of Romeo and Iuliet," oceupies twenty-five pages, viz. from p. 53 to p. 79, inclusive, in the division of " Tragedies." It fills the same space in the folios of 1632, 1661, and 1685.
It is certain that there was an English play upon the story of Romeo and Juliet before the year 1562; and the fact establishes that, even at that early date, our dramatists resorted to Italian novels, or translations of them, for the subjects of their productions. It is the most ancient piece of evidence of the kind yet discovered, and it is given by Arthur Brooke, who in that year published a narrative poem, called “The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet.” At the close of his address " to the Reader" he observes :—“Though I saw the same argument lately set forth on stage with more commendation than I can look for (being there much better set forth, than I have, or can do), yet the same matter, penned as it is, may serve the like good effect.” (Hist. of English Dramatic Poetry and the Stage, Vol. ii. p. 416.) Thus we see also, that the play had been received" with commendation,” and that Brooke himself, unquestionably a competent judge, admits its excellence.
We can scarcely suppose that no other drama would be founded upon the same interesting incidents between 1562 and the date when Shakespeare wrote his tragedy, a period of, probably, more than thirty years; but no hint of the kind is given in any record, and certainly no such work, either manuscript or printed, has come down to us. Of the extreme popularity of the story we have abundant proof, and of a remote date. It was included by William Paynter in the “second tome” of his “ Palace of Pleasure,” the dedication of which he dates 4th Nov. 1567; and in old writers we find frequent mention of the hero and heroine. Thomas Dalapeend gives the following brief "argument” in his “ Pleasant Fable of Hermaphroditus and Salmacis," 1565 :-"A noble mayden of the cytye of Verona, in Italye, whyche loved Romeus, eldest sonne of the Lorde Montesche, and beinge pryvelye maryed togyther, he at last poysoned hym selfe for love of her: she, for sorrowe of his deathe, slewe her selfe in the same tombe with hys dagger.” B. Rich, in his “ Dialogue betwene Mercury and a Souldier," 1574, says that "the pittifull history of Romeus and Julietta" was so well known as to be represented in tapestry. It is again alluded to in “The Gorgeous Gallery of Gallant Inventions,” 1578; and in "A Poore Knight bis Palace of Private Pleasure,” 1579. Austin Saker's “ Narbonus," 1580, contains the subsequent passage :-" Had Romeus bewrayed his mariage at the first, and manifested the intent of his meaning, he had done very wisely, and gotten license for the lives of two faithful friends.” After this date the mention of the story becomes even more frequent, and sometimes more particular; and our inference is, that it owed part of its popularity, not merely to printed narratives in prose or verse, nor to the play spoken of by Brooke in 1562, but to subsequent dramatic representations, perhaps, more or less founded upon that early drama.
How far Shakespeare might be indebted to any such production we have no means of deciding; but Malone, Steevens, and others have gone upon the supposition, that Shakespeare was only under obligations either to Brooke's poem, or to Paynter's novel; and least of all do they seem to have contemplated the possibility, that he might have obtained assistance from some foreign source.
Arthur Brooke avowed that he derived his materials from Bandello (Part II. Nov. 9), La sfortunata morte di due infelicissimi Amanti, &c.; and Paynter very literally translated Boisteau's Histoire de deux Amans, 8c., in the collection of Histoires Tragiques, published by Belleforest. Both Brooke's poem and Paynter's prose version have recently been reprinted in a work called “Shakespeare's Library," where the antiquity of the story is considered. Steevens was disposed to think that our great dramatist had obtained more from Paynter than from Brooke, while Malone supported, and, we think, established, a contrary opinion. He examined a number of minute points of resemblance; but, surely, no doubt can be entertained by those who only compare the following short passage, from a speech of Friar Laurence, with three lines from Brooke's “ Romeus and Juliet."
“ Art thou a man? Thy form cries out thou art;
The unreasonable fury of a beast.”- (Act iii. sc. 3.) This, as will be seen from what is subjoined, is almost verbally from Brooke's poem :
“ Art thou," quoth he, a man? thy shape saith so thou art;
(Shakesp. Lib. part vii. p. 43.) Shakespeare's “Romeo and Juliet” originally came out, but in an imperfect manner, in 1597, 4to. This edition is in two different types, and was probably executed in haste by two different printers. It has generally been treated as an authorised impression from an authentic manuscript: such, after the most careful examination, is not our opinion. We think that the manuscript used by the printer or printers (no bookseller's or stationer's name is placed at the bottom of the title-page) was made up, partly from portions of the play as it was acted, but unduly obtained, and partly from notes taken at the theatre during representation. Our principal ground for this notion is, that there is such great inequality in different scenes and speeches, and in some places pre