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9.-_THEATRICAL PERVERSION OF THIS PLAY.-ITS RESTORATION RECOMMENDED.-MISS HELEN FAUCIT'S JULIET.
How, then, can it have been, that the reverse of all this, as our opening pages have indicated, has come to be the established interpretation of this great dramatic poem, to the degradation of its leading personages, and the proportionate disparagement of the poet ? The space demanded from us by the primary portion of our present task, the exposition of Shakespeare's work itself, leaves us no room to pursue this secondary inquiry in the detail which it deserves; but it is indispensable to offer, at least, a few general indications on the subject, which may tend to suggest an effective and permanent remedy.
A very cursory glance over the history of our national culture, in this case as in others, will suffice to dispel the mystery. That exotic and vitiated school of taste which prevailed in our country from the time of the Stuart Restoration to that of the French Revolution, reigned peculiarly on our stage and in our theatrical criticism. Shakespeare became its greatest victim, precisely because he was the greatest genius of the truly national and vigorous age preceding. And in like manner, the greater any individual work of his happened to be, the more it was sure to suffer from theatrical or critical handling. Other of his noblest compositions, as we have recently shown in the instance of • Macbeth,' had been unsparingly corrupted and profaned by earlier, and therefore, perhaps, more excusable hands; but the piece now in question, we regret to say it, was reserved for Garrick to improve according to the critical canons and the false refinement of the eighteenth century. To these he added the overweening vanity and the meretricious taste of a mere actor, though a great one; and one of their
most signal results has come down to us in the still current Garrickization of Shakespeare's “Romeo and Juliet.'
We have shown already with what successful art Shakespeare has exalted in our imaginations the captivation of Juliet to the senses and the heart of Romeo, by making his first contact with it instantly banish from his breast a fondly cherished passion for a highly beautiful, though unsympathetic, object. The improver, therefore, most effectively commences his task of vulgarization to the level of the reigning taste, by striking Rosaline, and Romeo's unrequited passion for her, utterly out of the piece. Still, one would think, he might have left us the effect of that mutual love at first sight, shown on both parts to be so genuine, unprejudiced, and unmixed a feeling, by the fact of each being quite a stranger to the other. But no-that would not have been doing the work of improvement thoroughly enough,--and so, a previous passion for Juliet is absolutely substituted for his love to Rosaline ! -as thus:
Love, heavy lightness ! serious vanity!
Dost thou not laugh, my friend ?-Oh, Juliet, Juliet ! And so on, throughout the dialogues relating, in Shakespeare's play, to Rosaline ;-with this further improvement—that whereas Shakespeare, with his uniform delicacy and propriety, not only keeps the love of Romeo for Juliet a secret from all his male acquaintance except his confidential servant and his confessor, but causes his previous avowal regarding Rosaline to be made only to his more delicate and sympathising kinsman Benvolio,—Garrick, on the contrary, transfers the better half of Benvolio's portion in this first colloquy to Mercutio—having also the excessive stupidity to make the following bit of dialogue pass between Mercutio and Romeo, after he has made the latter tell them he is in love with Juliet :
Mer. Tell me, in sadness, who she is you love.
Rom. A right good marksman! - And she's fair I love-
And still ’tis hopeless love, and endless sorrow! Yes, good people, it is actually to cure him of “ hopeless love” for Juliet, that Garrick's Romeo is persuaded by his friends to go to Capulet's—though, indeed, he shews himself rather intractable :
Let come what may, once more I will behold
Let in our hearts dwell love and endless peace! Bravo, David Garrick !-a rare commencement !Now, to a worthy sequel, in the masking scene. There, as David's Benvolio and Mercutio are already privy to the whole affair, there is no reason why they should not lend a hand in the courting of Juliet'; and so we have the following:
Rom. Cousin Benvolio, do you mark that lady
Ben. I do.
Rom. Oh! she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
[During the dance, Romeo goes and sits by Juliet. Rom. (Leading Juliet from her chair). If I profane, with
my unworthy hand, This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this. [Kisses her hand.
Jul. Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much;
Rom. Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?
Nurse. Madam, your mother craves a word with you.
[Romeo and Juliet go up the stage.
Is she a Capulet?-
Rom. Ay, so I fear-the more is my mishap. The delicacy and propriety of all this are carried, by the improver, a degree or two further in the next scene, where the loose jesting of Shakespeare's Mercutio regarding Rosaline
I conjure thee by Rosaline’s bright eyes,
By her fine foot, straight leg, and quivering thigh, &c.is made to be associated, in the speaker's mind and in ours, with the person of Juliet! But better still is the transferring to Juliet, in like manner, in the delicate mouth of Mercutio, the “white wench's black eye notwithstanding the marked contrast which Shakespeare has indicated between the personal appearance of Rosaline and the
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear, of Juliet. And best of all is our improver's making Mercutio actually exclaim, by the like substitution, “Why that same pale, hard-hearted wench, that Juliet, torments him so, that he will sure run mad !”
Arrived at this point in “the acting play," we hardly need observe, that our friend Garrick has pretty well disenchanted us from that ideal conception of his hero, and especially of his heroine, into which that extravagant Shakespeare seeks to exalt us! It is also worth remarking that, according to this improved arrangement, Mercutio is made to seek the combat with Tybalt, knowing Romeo to be in love with Tybalt's kinswoman.
In like manner, Rosaline being put wholly out of existence, the simple, kind-hearted bantering addressed by Shakespeare's friar to Romeo, on his change of mistresses, is here improved into an Oh you sort of lecture, every syllable of which is the offspring of David's “own pure brain :" —
But tell me, son-and call thy reason home-
To cureless woes and lasting penitence ! And this is made to be addressed, by his best friend, to him whom his
tells us that “ Verona brags of” as “a virtuous and well-governed youth”! One passage like this, after our improver's previous vulgarization of the hero, is enough to fix that notion of him, simply as an imprudent young man, which possesses the common apprehension. The like notion of rash wilfulness in the heroine-after she, too, has been dragged down in the earlier scenes to the commonplace level—is favoured especially by the cutting out of the two later scenes, with her father and with Paris, those passages in which Shakespeare has most forcibly exhibited the tyrannical, capricious, and brutal unfeelingness of the former, and the coldhearted impertinence of the latter ;-while a paltry, sentimental dirge scene is substituted for the passage of humorous levity between Peter and the musicians, which we have already demonstrated Shakespeare's dramatic purpose in introducing.
But it is in his dealing with the death-scene of the lovers, that Garrick, with most perverse ingenuity, has given the finishing-stroke to his distortion and degradation of the principal subject, and the most damning evidence of his own critical incompetence and presumption. After mutilating and dislocating, in the most deplorable way, that final soliloquy of