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Min erës aken of thy drasty speche
Now swiche a rym the divel I biteche! [i.e. commend to]
And see Puttenham's Arte of English Poesie (ante 1589), "Such maner of Poesie is called in our vulgar ryme dogrell" (Arber, p. 89). The verse is a survival of the metres of the old moralities and it is used in other old plays by Shakespeare's immediate predecessors, such as Damon and Pithias (1564-5); Like will to Like (1568); Gammer Gurton's Needle (ante 1575), where it constitutes the great bulk of the dialogue; Promos and Cassandra (1578); The Three Ladies of London (1584); examples from which are quoted by Malone (see vol. 20, p. 462, of the Variorum of 1803). But Shakespeare seems to have used it in a rather free and irregular fashion. A reference to the "doggerel" passages in the play will show many trisyllabic feet, as well as differences between the halves of each verse, one being trochaic and the other iambic, or vice versa. Anapaestic feet are also not un
Further evidence of an early date appears in the frequent quibbles, the mild play upon words, and other modest quips and quaint conceits; and in certain passages suggestive of like passages in the other early plays. Examples of the latter are-II. ii. 201, where Luciana says: "If thou art changed to aught 'tis to an ass," vividly reminding us of Bottom's transformation or "translation," in the MidsummerNight's Dream; IV. i. 93, where Antipholus of Ephesus says to Dromio of Syracuse, "Why, thou peevish sheep, What ship of Epidamnum stays for me?" suggestive of Love's Labour's Lost, II. i. 219, where Maria says, " Two hot sheeps,
marry! Boyet. And wherefore not ships?" And Speed's pun in the Two Gentlemen of Verona, I. i. 72 :—
Twenty to one, then, he is shipp'd already,
And I have played the sheep in losing him.
Shakespeare was beyond doubt indebted, directly or indirectly, to the Menaechmi of Plautus for the general outline of his Errors, and, though in a much less degree, to the same Roman author's Amphitryon. Long before Shakespeare's time the favourite dramatic subject of mistaken identity had been utilised by many writers, in different European languages, in the various forms of translations, paraphrases and adaptations. But whether Shakespeare's debt to Plautus is direct or indirect is a matter somewhat difficult to determine. The question opens up the wider question of Shakespeare's knowledge of Latin, a subject which has recently been much discussed;1 but which, in its general aspects, is beyond the scope of this Introduction. He may, of course, have gone direct to the original; but my opinion is distinctly against this view. I cannot believe that Shakespeare, probably owing to his early removal from the Stratford grammar school on account of his father's pecuniary embarrassments, ever obtained anything more than a very limited training in Latin at Stratford, or that he had, when engaged in active daily work in London, either the leisure or the inclination to resort to the Latin text, and a comparatively difficult Latin text at that, for his dramatic material, when, for all practical purposes, the material lay
1 See, for example, an elaborate article by Professor Churton Collins in his Studies in Shakespeare (1904), Essay I., entitled "Shakespeare as a Classical Scholar,"
ready to his hand in older plays and translations.
on nought but the crumbs that fall from the translator's trencher," to quote Nash's gibe in his preface to Greene's Menaphon, 1589, may well have its own special significance in Shakespeare's case. A painful and laborious resort to the Latin originals would have been directly contrary to all we know of his practical methods of work in the case of other plays. He was an actor in the first place. With his "fellowship in the cry of players" he was actively concerned in the management of his company's theatre; and he was a hardworking playwright, producing on an average two plays every year. And we have evidence enough to lead us to believe that he did not neglect his social advantages. It is therefore most difficult to believe that he would have wasted time over the mere acquisition of a plot or situations from a somewhat difficult Latin original. That he had abundant dramatic material in English available for all the purposes of his Errors is evident enough. A play now lost called "The Historie of Error" was "shown at Hampton Court on New Yere's daie at night 1576, 77, enacted by the children of Powles" (i.e. Pauls: see the Variorum of 1821, vol. iii., p. 387); and from this piece, as Malone remarks, “it is extremely probable that he was furnished with the fable of the present Comedy," as well as the designation of “Surreptus or "Sereptus" appended to the name of Ant. E. in the Folio, and which is more fully referred to later on. Later, in 1582, this play recurs as the History of Ferrar (sic), in the accounts of the Revels at Court, as a drama produced at Windsor; and it may well be conjectured that this "Historie of Error" was nothing but a free rendering of the Menaechmi
of Plautus, just as Ralph Roister Doister (ante 1550) is founded, generally, on the Miles Gloriosus; and that Shakespeare drew upon the "Historie" for material for his version of The Errors. Further, a prose version was published in 1595 under the title of "Menaecmi, a pleasant and fine conceited comaedie taken out of the most excellent wittie Poet Plautus. Written in English by W. W." (This translation, which "W. W." seems to have also entitled Menechmus, will be found complete in Appendix II.) "It is simply a translation," says Professor Morley, "act by act, scene by scene, speech by speech, without any alteration of the action, of the names of characters, or even of the sense of any speech, in the free rendering that was to bring it home to English readers." "W. W." in all probability stands for William Warner (1558-1609), an Oxford man, an attorney of the Common Pleas, and the author of Albion's England (1586). The Menaecmi was entered on the books of the Stationers' Company in 1584; but, in all probability, according to the usual custom of writers of that age, existed in manuscript long before its publication, and therefore may very well have been read by Shakespeare or otherwise have become available for his purposes. At any rate, the printer of the little volume, which is a small unpaged quarto of forty pages, including the title,' in his address to "the loving readers" remarks that the writer thereof had "diverse of this Poettes comedies Englished for the use and delight of his private friends who in Plautus owne words are not able to under
1 The British Museum copy of the Quarto has been carefully consulted by the editor in the preparation of Appendix II. It is interesting to note that, at the end of the little volume, there is an entry in an old hand, “Price £o 2s. 6d." The Quarto would fetch a trifle more now-a-days.
stand them." (See this preface, in Appendix II.) I cannot help thinking that this last sentence is peculiarly appropriate to the case of Shakespeare himself, whether as a possible "private friend" of "W. W.," or, as having "small Latine," "not able to understand Plautus owne words." Possibly too, as Collier points out, the doggerel fourteeners of the Dromios favour the supposition that Shakespeare made use of an older play; and in my opinion he made use both of the older "Historie" and of Warner's version. Moreover, the supposition that Shakespeare made use of this version of the Menaecmi is supported by evidence from the Menaecmi itself, and this evidence is much stronger than is commonly supposed. A close comparison of W. W.'s version with The Errors provides us with a dozen passages or more in W. W. which may be considered with much reason to have been in Shakespeare's mind when engaged on the composition of his Errors. These are now set out at length, each followed by the corresponding passage in The Errors. It will be noticed that many of these passages come from the last and most important act of W. W.'s translation, the inference being that Shakespeare had studied it more intently than the preceding acts.
1. Menaecmi, I. ii. 19 :—
Men. We that have Loves abroad, and wives at home, are miserably hampred, yet would every man could'tame his shrewe as well as I doo mine.
Errors, II. i. 87, 88, 104:
His company must do his minions grace,