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the princes having just left their beds to sigh for the woman who had wronged greet the messenger, Diomedes. Troilus him. and Cressida part with mutual vows of The three Roman histories – Julius faith, and the smooth-tongued, bright- Cæsar, Coriolanus, and Antony and eyed young woman is carried off by Cleopatra — and the ten historical plays Diomed to the Greek camp.
The mild which are founded upon the lives of and unresulting encounter between Hec- English kings have no scheme of time tor and Ajax takes place midway be- which concerns us here. The shortest tween the walls and the camp at eleven period covered by any one of these in the forenoon (the exact hour being plays is three years, which is the time twice named, once by Achilles in of Julius Cæsar. In all of them ShakeScene 2, Act II., and once by Thersites speare selects the dramatic incidents of in Scene 3, Act III.). "An evening of a long career, and crushes these incirevelry follows, in which Hector is the dents together for his own purposes and guest of Agamemnon, and in which he after his own fashion. Occasionally the agrees to fight on the ensuing day with lapse of time is indicated, a few scenes several of the heroes, — with Achilles being closely united, and their extent especially, who, “to-night, all friends,” stated or hinted; but as a rule, and as threatens to meet him “to-morrow, fell might be supposed, the element of time as death” (Scene 5, Act IV.). The is disregarded. At the risk of saying feasting is kept up to a late hour, but what is trite and “out of my part,” I Troilus is led by the amiable Ulysses will add that all the English historito a place where he may see his Cres- cal dramas, with the exception, perhaps, sida grossly flirting with Diomedes, and of King John, are safe as well as vivid the unhappy youth stays till morning teachers both of the order and of the to pour his woe and wrath into the ear significance of the events which they of the subtle Ithacan. (Vide the speech describe ; and that no chronicle of the of Æneas, Scene 2, Act IV., ad fin.) The seething century between 1377 A. D. third day begins with Scene 3, Act V., and 1485 A. D. can be found comparaand shows much fighting, the death of ble with that contained in the ShakeHector, and the furious onslaughts of spearean octalogy which begins with Troilus upon his supplanter, Diomed. Richard 11. and ends with Richard III. Shakespeare's main idea in this closely There now remain for examination woven scheme of time is to bring out only six plays, all of which are trag. the character of Cressida in strong re
edies. In three of these, Macbeth, lief, and to emphasize the perfidy of her Timon, and King Lear, — the time of mobile and sensuous nature by separat- the action is imperfectly or obscurely ing her love scene with Diomedes from shown; in the other three, Romeo her practical wedding with Troilus by a and Juliet, Hamlet, and Othello, -it scant twenty-four hours. If the later is clearly indicated. Shakespeare is the better authority, Lo- Macbeth may perhaps be regarded as renzo, in the Merchant of Venice, was a historical play, and at all events it is mistaken in supposing that on any moon- treated as such by Shakespeare in dealshiny night Troilus
ing with the element of time. During “ mounted the Trojan walls
the first four scenes of Act I, the action And sighed his soul toward the Grecian tents is rapid, as befits a chronicle of war, but Where Cressid lay ;”
the lapse of time is not distinctly shown. or perhaps, in spite of his “twenty- In Scene 5, Act I., with Lady Macthree years,” the hero was still so im- beth's reading of her husband's letter, mature as to be capable of heaving a begins the great, the eventful day, big
with the fate of Duncan and of Scot- King Lear is, in its treatment of time, laud, of the murderers as well as of the one of the most puzzling of Shakemurdered. The succeeding scenes of speare's non-historical plays. The difAct I. and nearly the whole of Act II. ficulty with its scheme, however, is not, are included within this single day and as with that of A Midsummer Night's its night, and the end of their continu- Dream, that it displays any absolute ous action is reached in the early morn- self-inconsistency, but that, in the relaing of the next day, when Macduff goes tions of its parts, it defies the arithmeto waken Duncan, and finds his king tic of probability. From the beginning sunk in the sleep which knows no wak- of the tragedy to the close of Act III., ing. Almost all of Act III. takes place or a little later, the time seems to be within one day and evening; Banquo's distinctly marked. In Scene 1, Act I., intent to ride in company with his little Lear announces his intention of living son * this afternoon,” “as far as will fill “by monthly course" with each of his up the time" till supper, and, if his eldest daughters, “by due turn ;” and horse's pace is not of the best, to by a remark made by Goneril at the “ become a borrower of the night
close of the scene, as well as by a For a dark hour or twain,"
speech of Gloster in the next scene, we being communicated to Macbeth in the know that the King sets off for Goneril's first scene. The preparations for Ban- castle on the very night of the day in quo's assassination are made in this and which he parted his crown in two. On the following scene, and the deed is done the same day Cordelia and her royal in Scene 3, while “the west yet glim- husband depart for France. Scenes 3 mers with some streaks of day;” and in and 4 of Act I. are fitted closely tothe fourth scene, at the royal banquet to gether; Goneril, in the former, instructwhich he has been so urgently bidden, ing her steward to slight her father with he returns in awful guise most fearfully whatsoever show of “weary negligence" to plague the contriver of his death. the lackey may choose to put on, and Outside these two acts no valuable hint the King's horns are heard as he apis given as to the progress of time. It proaches from the chase, at the close is perhaps worth while to note that the
of the scene. In Scene 4, Lear enters hour at which Lady Macbeth rings the upon the “ woe that too late repents," bell that is her husband's cue for mur- and the interval between his dethroning der is two o'clock in the morning ; the himself and his humiliation at his eldest “one; two; why, then 't is time to do 't” daughter's hands is fixed in his line, of her sleep-walking scene being good “What, fifty of my followers at a clap! evidence on the point.
Within a fortnight!” Scarcely a single plain indication of His first month with Goneril has only the lapse of time is given in Timon of half expired in this scene, and Regan, Athens. The movement up to the close in Scene 4, Act II., desires that “ till of the third act is evidently rapid, for in the expiration of” his “ month” he will Scene 2, Act I., Flavius, the faithful return and sojourn with her sister. The steward of Timon, already knows the brief time spent by the King in his completeness of his master's ruin and journey toward Regan's palace is shown the nearness of the approaching crash. in Scene 2, Act II., where Kent, who The time of Timon's exile and of his has preceded his master to announce savage life within the forest until his the King's visit, has an encounter near self-inflicted death is not fixed, but the Gloster's castle with the villainous stewsequence of the scenes appears to imply ard of Goneril, and says that it is less that the whole period is brief.
than “ two days ” since he tripped up
that "brazen-faced varlet's" heels be- in charge of "the Mareschal of France, fore the King, an incident chronicled Monsieur Le Far.” Such swiftness as in Scene 4, Act I. Straight from his this would seem to be impossible even terrible interview with Goneril and in the days of steam and electricity. Regan, neither of whom he is ever again Viewing the matter in the light afforded to see alive, Lear, with wits already be- by the study of the plays already examginning to turn, rushes out into the ined, we may say that in no other of the storm and darkness. The marvelous Shakespearean dramas is there an equal story of the night of his exposure, an- difficulty in reconciling the progress in guish, and ever-deepening madness is time of parallel factors of the plot. But told in the first six scenes of Act III. the controlling idea is plain enough; In Scene 7, Act III., it is the next armies, letters, and kings may be moved morning, and Gloster, apprehended by with a speed which outrages probability, Cornwall and Regan, both for his pro- and the dramatist expects his auditors tection of Lear and for complicity with to be indifferent to the matter; but he the designs of France, and deprived of means that every one who sees the play his eyesight, has been turned loose to shall know and feel that Lear's eldest “smell his way to Dover.” At this daughter grudgingly fulfilled for a bare point, then, — at the end of Scene 1, fortnight the meagre stipulation which Act IV., no more than eighteen days she had made in exchange for half a have elapsed since the beginning of the kingdom, and that two days later the play. Afterward, though few definite royal old man who had “given” his indications are given, the action seems “ daughters all ” was opposed to "jarring to be as rapid as is physically possible winds" and driving rain, and was up to the very close of the tragedy. to hovel” him “ with swine and rogues The difficulty which was mentioned forlorn in short and musty straw.” above lies in the extraordinary swiftness In Romeo and Juliet the progress of with which the great political and mili- time is shown with exquisite precision, tary movements have been made, con- and with a scrupulous care which often temporaneously with the main action of extends to the indication of hours. Per
When but half a month has contra, because of a single unguarded passed (Scene 1, Act II.), serious dif- utterance of the Friar, there is perhaps ferences and “ likely wars” between just a little haziness about a matter of Albany and Cornwall have begun to two or three hours. But the difficulty be discussed ; and less than three days is, as in A Midsummer Night's Dream, later (Scene 1, Act III.) Kent has that of making the dramatist's scheme been informed, partly by a letter from square with his promise ; there is no Cordelia herself (vide his last speech doubt, I think, what his scheme of time in Scene 2, Act III.), that France has actually is. The action of Romeo and already sent a warlike host to England Juliet occupies portions of five consecuto avenge the wrongs of the King. The tive days. If one care to be very pregentleman then dispatched by Kent to cise, he may even go so far as to say, Dover expects to meet Cordelia there, with sure warrant of the text, that the and is bidden to show her Kent's ring whole story of the tragedy takes place as a token. By the time Scene 3, Act within a Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, IV., is reached, not only has the army Wednesday, and Thursday of the same of France landed in England, but the week. Shakespeare has also taken pains French King, drawn by the urgency to inform us that the time of the year of some state affairs, has returned to is just the middle of July, - it being, in France, and left his troops and Cordelia Scene 3, Act I., “a fortnight and odd
days " "to Lammas-tide,” which is the ing their wedding day is followed up by first day of August. Scene 1, Act I., an agreement that Romeo shall hear begins rather early in the morving, and from her 6 at the hour of nine." With when Romeo, possessed by the fancy this scene the first day ends. In Scene for Rosaline which had driven him forth 3, Act II., it is early the next morning, into the solitary woods more than and Romeo appears at the Friar's cell
an hour before the worshipped sun with his proposal for a secret marriage. Peer'd forth the golden window of the east," In Scene 4, Act II., the Nurse finds greets his friend Benvolio it has “ but Romeo. Her search has been a tedious new struck nine.” The next scene is one, and in Scene 5 the impatient Juliet on the same day, as is evident from is chafing over the “ three long hours ” Capulet's comment on the Prince's cen- that have been spent since the Nurse sure, which was to be declared to “ both departed, and which have now brought the houses” by “ afternoon.” (Vide the
"the sun upon the highmost hill Prince's long speech in the previous
Of this day's journey." scene.) Here Romeo is persuaded to When at last the old servant is coaxed attend Capulet's "ancient feast,” which into telling her news, she bids Juliet, is to take place this night," and for who has “got leave to go to shrift towhich a servant is even now about to day,” hie her hence to the Friar's cell distribute the invitations.
to be married. The wedding is celewhere the scarcely fourteen-year-old brated by Friar Laurence in Scene 6, Juliet first appears, begins late on the and the lovers part for a few hours. same afternoon, and the Nurse's garru- Scene 1, Act III., is in the afternoon of lousness prolongs the interview until the the same day, and shows the death of "guests are come, supper served up," Mercutio, Romeo's furious
and Lady Capulet "called," Juliet " asked the Prince's edict of banishment against for, the Nurse cursed in the pantry, and the slayer of Tybalt. In Scene 2, Act everything in extremity.” In Scene 4, "III., it is nearly evening. The Nurse Romeo and his party are on their way carries to Juliet the news of Tybalt’s to Capulet's, and en passant Mercutio death and Romeo's sentence, and finally discourses of dreams and Queen Mab. undertakes to go to Romeo to bear him Scene 5 is at the masked ball, and his wife's ring and message. Scene 3 shows the first meeting of Romeo and follows at the Friar's. The Nurse apJuliet. In Scene 1, Act II., directly pears, and bids Romeo come to her misafter the entertainment, Romeo gives tress, and when the scene closes “it bis merry companions the slip, and in grows very late.” In Scene 4, it is so Scene 2 he has climbed the wall of late as to be nearly morning, and Lady Capulet's garden, and stands beneath Capulet is instructed to see to it before that balcony the foundations of which she goes to bed that Juliet is informed are laid deeper in young romantic hearts of the marriage arranged for her by her than those of any other structure that parents with the “ County Paris,” and was ever reared. Juliet's foot is very that the ceremony is to be on “ Thurslight, as the observing ecclesiastic in- day next.” Morn is just breaking as forms us, but she does not purpose to the newly wedded lovers part in Scene put the grass to the trouble of growing 5, and here the third day begins. Lady under it, and her prompt suggestion of Capulet gives her message to Juliet, who “to-morrow" as a suitable date for fix.
goes in desperate haste to the Friar,
1 “ To-night" is used in Shakespeare several times in the sense of last night, but never where the tense of the verb does not make the meaning
plain. So here, Romeo says, " I dreamt a dream to-night:" with which compare Shylock's “I did dream of money-bags to-night."
after vainly seeking comfort of mother With Scene 3, Act V., the tragedy ends, and nurse.
It is now Tuesday (vide and, after the death of the principals, Capulet's speech to Paris in Scene 4, the talk is continued in a vein very Act III.), and the Friar delivers the moral and voluminous until — after the potion and his counsel upon the theory mode of progression in long scenes which that the marriage with Paris is set for was considered at the beginning of this Thursday:
article — the day is almost ready to “ Wednesday is to-morrow :
dawn. The one difficulty in this apparTo-morrow night look that thou lie alone; ently flawless scheme of time remains Take thou this phial, being then in bed, to be dealt with. When the Friar deAnd this distilled liquor drink thou off."
scribes to Juliet the modum operandi In the succeeding scene Juliet returns to of his draught, he tells her that in the her home with phrases of obedience on “ borrowed likeness of shrunk death " her lips, and her father is so much de- she shall “continue two and forty hours.” lighted that he proceeds incontinently Possibly there is no difficulty at all ; for to hurry up the marriage, and departs at the apparent discrepancy of two or three once
the end of the scene being “near hours disappears if it is assumed that night” – to inform the County that to- Juliet took the potion as late as two morrow, and not Thursday, is to be the o'clock on Wednesday morning, and woke joyful day. It thus becomes necessary from her stupor as early as eight o'clock for Juliet to anticipate the use of the on Thursday night, - a theory which “distilled liquor” by twenty-four hours, does not directly defy text. But this exand in the following scene (Scene 3, planation seems to strain a point or two, Act IV.) she takes the potent draught. especially as the Friar informs us in the The only scenes which are laid on last scene that he came to the tomb Wednesday are the two which immedi- “some minute ere the time of” Juliet's ately succeed : in these the bustle of mar- "awaking.” One eminent Shakespearriage preparation is turned into mourn- ean, in discussing the matter, says in ing, the wedding cheer to a sad burial substance that the hours are of no confeast, and the bride “in all her best ar- sequence; that Shakespeare, careless as ray” is sadly borne to church. Scene 1, usual of minutiæ of this sort, simply folAct V., is in Mantua, and opens on the lows the old tale upon which his tragedy following day, Thursday, with Romeo's is founded, and in which the period of presage of peculiar prosperity, derived the potion's effect is set down as “ forty from “the flattering truth" of his hap- hours.” And the critic adds that the py dreams; close upon which enters his groping commentators who have tried servant with the news of Juliet's death to make the matter right by reading and burial. Romeo at once orders post- “ thirty hours ” for “two and forty horses : he will “lie with Juliet” - to- bours” have thrown away their labor. night;" and in a moment more he has On the last point, certainly, I make no called out the famine-pinched Apothe issue. What is needed, if anything is cary and bought the quickly operant needed, is, on the contrary, a very litpoison. Scene 2 returns to Friar Lau- tle lengthening of the time. Juliet's rence in Verona, who now learns the draught is effectual upon her for almost miscarriage of his letter to Romeo by two days, not merely for a little more the return of his messenger, Friar John, than one. Upon this hypothesis all the after a detention of many hours. When action is explicable, and every scene fits this short scene ends it is night, or al- neatly into its place. Fortunately, as most night, and “ within three hours” often happens in like matters in Shakeof the time for "fair Juliet” to “wake,” speare, the curious are not left to weigh