« VorigeDoorgaan »
tale to a Greek romance by Xenophon Ephesius. Luigi da Porto, of Vicenza, gave a connected form to the legend of Romeo and Juliet, in a novel, under the title of · La Giulietta,' which was published after his death in 1535. Luigi, in an epistle which is prefixed to this work, states that the story was told him by "
an archer of mine, whose name was Peregrino, a man about fifty years old, well practised in the military art, a pleasant companion, and, like almost all his countrymen of Verona, a great talker.” Bandello, in 1554, published a novel on the same subject, the ninth of his second collection. It begins, “When the Scaligers were lords of Verona," and goes on to say that these events happened “under Bartholomew Scaliger” (Bartolomeo della Scala). The various materials to be found in these sources were embodied in a French novel by Pierre Boisteau, a translation of which was published by Painter in his · Palace of Pleasure,' in 1567; and upon this French story was founded the English poem by Arthur Brooke, published in 1562, under the title of "The tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet, written first in Italian by Bandell, and nowe in Englishe by Ar. Br.' It appears highly probable that an English play upon the same subject had appeared previous to Brooke's poem; for a copy of that poem, which was in the possession of the Rev. H. White, of Lichfield, contains the following passage, in an address to the reader: “ Though I saw the same argument lately set forth on the stage with more commendation than I can look for, being there much better set foorth than I have or can dooe, yet the same matter, penned as it is, may serve to lyke good effect, if the readers do brynge with them lyke good myndes to consider it, which hath the more incouraged me to publish it, suche as it is.”
We thus see that Shakspere had materials enough to work upon. But, in addition to these sources, there is a play by Lope de Vega in which the incidents are very similar; and an Italian tragedy also by Luigi Groto, which Mr. Walker, in his historical memoir of Italian tragedy, thinks that the English bard read with profit. Mr. Walker gives us passages in support of his assertion, such as a description of a nightingale when the lovers are parting, which appear to confirm this opinion.
To attempt to show, as many have attempted, what Shakspere took from the poem of “Romeus and Juliet, and what from Painter's Palace of Pleasure'-how he was wretchedly misled in his catastrophe,” as Mr. Dunlop has it, because he had not read Luigi da Porto--and how he invented only one incident throughout the play, that of the death of Paris, and created only one character, that of Mercutio, according to the sagacious Mrs. Lenox-appears to us somewhat idle work. At any rate, we have not space to at: tempt such illustrations, beyond giving one or two examples of the old
poem in our notes.
PERIOD OF THE ACTION, AND MANNERS.
The slight foundation of historical truth which can be established in the legend of “Romeo and Juliet—that of the “civil broils” of the two rival houses of Verona--would place the period of the action about the time of Dante. But this one circumstance ought not, as it appears to us, very strictly to limit this period. The legend is so obscure, that we may be justified in carrying its date forward or backward, to the extent even of a century, if anything may be gained by such a freedom. In this case, we may venture to associate the story with the period which followed the times of Petrarch and Boccaccio—verging towards the close of the fourteenth century--a period full of rich associations. Then, the literary treasures of the ancient world had been rescued out of the dust and darkness of ages,—the language of Italy had been formed, in great part, by the marvellous · Visions of her greatest poet; painting had been revived by Giotto and Cimabue; architecture had put on a character of beauty and majesty, and the first necessities of shelter and defence had been associated with the higher demands of comfort and taste; sculpture had displayed itself in many beautiful productions, both in marble and bronze; and music had been cultivated as a science. All these were the growth of the freedom which prevailed in the Italian republics, and of the wealth which had been acquired by commercial enterprise, under the impulses of freedom. To date the period of the action of 'Romeo and Juliet before this revival of learning and the arts, would be to make its accessories out of harmony with the exceeding beauty of Shakspere's drama. Even if a slight portion of historical accuracy be sacrificed, his poetry must be surrounded with an appropriate atmosphere of grace and richness.
Of the Manners of this play we have occasionally spoken in our Illustrations. With the exception of a few English allusions, which are introduced for a particular object, they are thoroughly Italian, Mrs. Jameson has noticed the “ sunny brilliance of effect” with which the whole of this drama is lighted up; and she adds, with equal truth and elegance, “the blue sky of Italy bends over all.”
ASSUMING, as we have done, that the incidents of this tragedy took place (at least traditionally) at the commencement of the fourteenth century, the costume of the personages represented would be that exhibited to us in the paintings of Giotto and his pupils or contemporaries.
From a drawing of the former, now in the British Museum (Payne Knight's Collect.), and presumed to have been executed by him at Avignon in 1315, we give the accompanying engraving, and our readers will perceive that it interferes sadly with all popular notions of the dress of this play.
The long robes of the male personages, so magisterial or senatorial in their appearance, would, perhaps, when composed of rich materials, be not unsuitable to the gravity and station of the elder Montague and Capulet, and of the Prince, or Podesta, of Verona himself: but, for the younger and lighter characters, the love-lorn Romeo, the fiery Tybalt, the gallant gay Mercutio, &c., some very different habit would be expected by the million, and, indeed, desired by the artist. Cæsar Vecellio, in his “Habiti Antichi e Moderni,' presents us with a dress of this time, which he distinctly describes as that of a young nobleman in a love-making expedition.
“ Habito Antico di Giovani nobile ornato per far l'amore."
He assigns no particular date to it, but the pointed cowl, or hood, depending from the shoulders, the closely-set buttons down the front of the super-tunic, and up the arms of the under-garment, from the wrist to the elbow, with the peculiar lappet to the sleeve of the super-tunic, are all distinctive marks of the European costume of the early part of the fourteenth century, and to be found in any illuminated French or English MS. of the time of our Edward II., 1307-27, and still earlier, of course, in Italy, from whence the fashions travelled northward, through Paris to London.
The coverings for the head were, at this time, besides the capuchon, or cowl, here seen, caps and hats of various fantastic shapes, and the chaperon, or turban-shaped hood, began to make its appearance (vide second male figure in the engraving after Giotto). No plumes, however, adorned them till near the close of the century, when a single feather, generally ostrich, appears placed upright in front of the cap, or chaperon. The hose were richly fretted and embroidered with gold, and the toes of the shoes long and pointed.
The female costume of the same period consisted of a robe, or super-tunic, flowing in graceful folds to the feet, coming high up in the neck, where it was sometimes met by the wimple, or gorget, of white linen, giving a nun-like appearance to the wearer; the sleeves terminating at the elbow, in short lappets, like those of the men, and showing the sleeve of the under-garment (the kirtle,
which fitted the body tightly), buttoned from the wrist to the elbow also, as in the male costume.
The hair was gathered up into a sort of club behind, braided in front, and covered, wholly or partially, with a caul of golden network. Garlands of flowers, natural, or imitated in goldsmith's work, and plain filets of gold, or even ribbon, were worn by very young females. We shall say no more respecting the costume of this play, as the introduction of such a masquerade as is indispensable to the plot would be inconsistent with the dressing of the other characters correctly. Artists of every description are, in our opinion, perfectly justified in clothing the dramatis personæ of this tragedy in the habits of the time in which it was written, by which means all serious anachronisms would be avoided.