« PreviousContinue »
THIS play, throughout, is written in the very spirit of its author. And in telling this homely and simple, though agreeable, country tale,
"Our sweetest Shakspeare, fancy's child,
This was necessary to observe in mere justice to the play; as the meanness of the fable, and the extravagant conduct of it, had misled some of great name into a wrong judgment of its merit; which, as far as it regards sentiment and character, is scarce inferior to any in the whole collection. WARBURTON.
At Stationers' Hall, May 22, 1594, Edward White entered "A booke entitled A Wynter Nyght's Pastime." STEEVENS.
The story of this play is taken from The Pleasant History of Dorastus and Fawnia, written by Robert Greene. JOHNSON. In this novel, the King of Sicilia, whom Shakspeare names
Leontes, is called
Polixenes K. of Bohemia
Mamillius P. of Sicilia
Florizel P. of Bohemia
The parts of Antigonus, Paulina, and Autolycus, are of the poet's own invention; but mary circumstances of the novel are omitted in the play. STEEVENS.
Dr. Warburton, by some of great name," means Dryden and Pope. See the Essay at the end of the second Part of The Conquest of Granada: "Witness the lameness of their plots; [the plots of Shakspeare and Fletcher;] many of which, especially those which they wrote first, (for even that age refined itself in some measure,) were made up of some ridiculous incoherent story, which in one play many times took up the business of an age. I suppose I need not name, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, [and here, by-the-by, Dryden expressly names Pericles as our author's production,] nor the historical plays of Shakspeare; besides many of the rest, as The Winter's Tale, Love's Labour's Lost, Measure for Measure, which were either grounded on impossibilities, or at least so meanly written, that the comedy neither caused your mirth, nor the serious part your concernment." Mr.
Pope, in the Preface to the edition of our author's plays, pronounced the same ill-considered judgment on the play before us : "I should conjecture (says he,) of some of the others, particularly Love's Labour's Lost, The Winter's Tale, Comedy of Errors, and Titus Andronicus, that only some characters, single scenes, or perhaps a few particular passages, were of his hand."
None of our author's plays has been more censured for the breach of dramatick rules than The Winter's Tale. In confirmation of what Mr. Steevens has remarked in another place"that Shakspeare was not ignorant of these rules, but disregarded them,"-it may be observed, that the laws of the drama are clearly laid down by a writer once universally read and admired, Sir Philip Sidney, who, in his Defence of Poesy, 1595, has pointed out the very improprieties into which our author has fallen in this play. After mentioning the defects of the tragedy of Gorboduc, he adds: "But if it be so in Gorboducke, how much more in all the rest, where you shall have Asia of the one side, and Affricke of the other, and so manie other under kingdomes, that the player when he comes in, must ever begin with telling where he is, or else the tale will not be conceived.-Now of time they are much more liberal. For ordinarie it is, that two young princes fall in love, after many traverses she is got with childe, delivered of a faire boy: he is lost, groweth a man, falleth in love, and is readie to get another childe, and all this in two houres space: which how absurd it is in sence, even sence may imagine."
The Winter's Tale is sneered at by B. Jonson, in the Induction to Bartholomew Fair, 1614: "If there be never a servantmonster in the fair, who can help it, nor a nest of antiques? [i. e. anticks]. He is loth to make nature afraid in his plays, like those that beget Tales, Tempests, and such like drolleries." By the nest of antiques, the twelve satyrs who are introduced at the sheep-shearing festival, are alluded to.-In his conversation with Mr. Drummond of Hawthornden, in 1619, he has another stroke at his beloved friend: "He [Jonson] said, that Shakspeare wanted art, and sometimes sense; for in one of his plays he brought in a number of men, saying they had suffered shipwreck in Bohemia, where is no sea near by 100 miles." Drummond's Works, fol. 225, edit. 1711.
When this remark was made by Ben Jonson, The Winter's Tale was not printed. These words, therefore, are a sufficient answer to Sir T. Hanmer's supposition that Bohemia was an error of the press for Bythinia.
This play, I imagine, was written in the year 1611. See An Attempt to ascertain the Order of Shakspeare's Plays, vol. ii.
Sir Thomas Hanmer gave himself much needless concern that Shakspeare should consider Bohemia as a maritime country. He
would have us read Bythinia: but our author implicitly copied the novel before him. Dr. Grey, indeed, was apt to believe that Dorastus and Faunia might rather be borrowed from the play; but I have met with a copy of it, which was printed in 1588.Cervantes ridicules these geographical mistakes, when he makes the princess Micomicona land at Ossuna.-Corporal Trim's king of Bohemia " delighted in navigation, and had never a sea-port in his dominions;" and my Lord Herbert tells us, that De Luines, the prime minister of France, when he was embassador there, demanded, whether Bohemia was an inland country, or lay "upon the sea?"-There is a similar mistake in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, relative to that city and Milan. FARMER.
The Winter's Tale may be ranked among the historic plays of Shakspeare, though not one of his numerous criticks and commentators have discovered the drift of it. It was certainly intended (in compliment to Queen Elizabeth,) as an indirect apology for her mother, Anne Boleyn. The address of the poet appears no where to more advantage. The subject was too delicate to be exhibited on the stage without a veil; and it was too recent, and touched the Queen too nearly, for the bard to have ventured so home an allusion on any other ground than compliment. The unreasonable jealousy of Leontes, and his violent conduct in consequence, form a true portrait of Henry the Eighth, who generally made the law the engine of his boisterous passions. Not only the general plan of the story is most applicable, but several passages are so marked, that they touch the real history: nearer than the fable. Hermione on her trial says:
66 'Tis a derivative from me to mine,
"And only that I stand for."
This seems to be taken from the very letter of Anne Boleyn to the King before her execution, where she pleads for the infant Princess his daughter. Mamillius, the young Prince, an unnecessary character, dies in his infancy; but it confirms the allusion, as Queen Anne, before Elizabeth, bore a still-born son. But the most striking passage, and which had nothing to do in the tragedy, but as it pictured Elizabeth, is, where Paulina, describing the new-born Princess, and her likeness to her father, says: "She has the very trick of his frown." There is one sentence indeed so applicable, both to Elizabeth and her father, that I should suspect the poet inserted it after her death. Paulina, speaking of the child, tells the King:
"And might we lay the old proverb to your charge,
The Winter's tale was therefore in reality a second part of Henry the Eighth. WALPOLE.
I confess I am very sceptical as to these supposed allusions by