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Genius, and other essays/Juliet's Runaway, Once More

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XXV

JULIET'S RUNAWAY, ONCE MORE[1]

THE ignorance that knows itself, quoth the Seigneur de Montaigne, is not an absolute ignorance, and this is my one excuse for the presumption of adding even a votive pebble to the cairn which marching hosts of commentators have heaped above the embalmed dust of Shakespeare. For I long since knew that I never was and never could be his textual scholar, in the smallest degree illustrated during the evolution from Rowe and Warburton to Furness. Grateful to those who faithfully have labored to set forth the true version, I am of the laity who read it without question, for its wisdom, passion, imagination, and inexhaustible delight.

Meanwhile I take pride in our New World scholarship, and will say, in passing, that when Mr. Gosse wrote me that we did many fine things, but that we perforce must leave English literary research to those anear the rich materials treasured in the motherland, I had a fortunate rejoinder. It was a satisfaction to declare that the two most notable works of textual verification now issuing were from the American press, and edited by American scholars. I cited Professor Child's English and Scottish Popular Ballads and Dr. H. H. Furness's New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare; and Mr. Gosse—a fair and sound expositor—handsomely doffed his cap to the citation.

It happened that my first youthful notion of what Shakespearian criticism meant, in its subtile painstaking, was derived from an article in Putnam's Monthly by one who bravely started out as "Shakespeare's Scholar"—the early signature of R. G. White. His long paper was devoted to a consideration of its title: "Who was Juliet's Runaway?" That conundrum, I believe, has haunted every one to whom it has been put. Collier forty years ago declared that far more suggestions had been made in answer than there are letters in the disputed word. I remember the sense of awe with which I pondered on Mr. White's avowal: "He who discovers the needful word for the misprint 'runawayes eyes' . . . will secure the honorable mention of his name as long as the English language is read and spoken." What erudite humility, I thought, in his faith that "to correct a single passage in Shakespeare's text is glory enough for one man!" At that time he held a brief for the suggestion as to which he afterwards learned, when a riper "scholar," that Heath and Singer had anticipated him,—all three reading "That Rumoures eyes may wincke," instead of "That run-aways eyes," etc.:—in truth, a plausible conjecture. But in 1861 Mr. White had gone back to the belief of Warburton that the word as it stands is correct, and not a misprint; that it relates to Phœbus, the Sun, the god of day.

Dr. Furness, by occupying the most conspicuous part of his Appendix (to Romeo and Juliet) with a formidable synopsis of the guesses concerning our runaway, shows that a certain respect is still due it, as perchance the yet-to-be-solved riddle of that Sphinx the earliest misprinter.

So, then, "can anything new be said" concerning Juliet's runaway: at least, anything new and with a savor of plausibility? As for the newness, and presuming that Dr. Furness's collation embraces the past suggestions worth regard, it seems improbable that my own has been made before. Its claim to likelihood may appeal somewhat to those who have the poetic ear, and who have that sense which is heightened by practice of style in verse or prose.

Turn, then, to "Marlowe's mighty line,"—to The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, a play written after his success with Tamburlaine, probably about 1588. Bear in mind that Shakespeare's first draft of Romeo and Juliet was written, it is believed, about 1591, and that there is no evidence that it appeared in its entirety in the printed text of 1597—which contains only a few lines of Juliet's soliloquy as put forth in the subsequent collections. Certainly it was composed at a period characterized, Verplanck says, by "the transition of Shakespeare's mind from a purely poetical to a dramatic cast of thought." There is evidence to any critic that Marlowe was Shakespeare's early dramatic "master," as far as the greater genius may be said to have had one for the rhythm of his formative period, and swiftly as he forged ahead. The two collaborated, and the younger borrowed some of Marlowe's phrases for his after-plays, and burlesqued others. Romeo and Juliet was sketched out in his spring-time of echoes and impressibility with respect to feeling and style.

The experience of many a writer has been that in youth—however original his conceptions may be—he will more readily fall into the cadences and syntax of the predecessor whom he knows by heart, than commit any plagiarism with or without intent. The strongest, the most subtle, proofs of influence lie in imitation of cæsura, rhythm, structure, tone. To all this I once alluded more fully, in comparison of Tennyson with the Syracusan idyllists.

Turn, as I say, to the last scene of Faustus, and to the frantic soliloquy of the magician, who realizes that he has "but one bare hour to live" and then "must be damned perpetually." Consider his opening adjuration:

Stand still, you ever-moving spheres of heaven,[2]

That time may cease, and midnight never come;
Fair Nature's eye, rise, rise again, and make
Perpetual day; or let this hour be but
A year, a month, a week, a natural day,
That Faustus may repent and save his soul!
O lente, lente currite, noctis equi!

Then read from the soliloquy of Juliet, Romeo and Juliet, iii. 2:

Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds,
Towards Phœbus' lodging: such a waggoner
As Phaethon would whip you to the West,
And bring in cloudy night immediately.—
Spread thy close curtain, love-performing night,
That runaway's eyes may wink, and Romeo
Leap to these arms, untalk'd of and unseen.—

Now, whether right or wrong in my ensuing conjecture as to "runaway's eyes" (or, as the First Folio has it, "run-awayes eyes"), I feel assured, through both instinct and analysis, that young Shakespeare had the Faustus soliloquy by heart,—that its every phrase and cadence tingled in his own fibre when he wrote the adjuration of our impassioned and free-spoken Juliet. For, look you,—over and above the rhythm and syntax, the turns of the phrases, the explicatory "That" similarly placed in both passages,—note that Juliet's demand for haste is merely the converse of Faustus's wild cry for postponement, just as her whole apostrophe betokens joy and rapturous expectation, and his—hopeless gloom, the recoil of fierce despair.

There are natural changes in the order. Translate Marlowe's O lente, lente currite, noctis equi!

O gently, gently foot it, steeds of night!

and you have the converse of

Gallop apace, you fiery- footed steeds!

But to the very point. Marlowe bids Fair Nature's eye rise again and make perpetual day: he adjures the Sun to banish fell night and its damnations. Having chanced, then, to observe the close reflection in Shakespeare's mind of the Faustus prototype—quite as close, the instinct feels, as that which connects the Garden Tower in New York with the Giralda Tower of Seville, and equally no more a plagiarism—observing this, it is borne in upon me that he made Juliet call upon night to spread her close curtain,

That Nature's eye may wink, and Romeo
Leap to these arms, untalk'd of and unseen;

that, in other words, the Sun whose steeds she bids gallop apace, the sun which Faustus calls "Fair Nature's eye," may "wincke" for the nonce, and let the lovers "doe their amorous rights."

But if any one insists upon retaining the plural "eyes," doubting that successive misprints should occur, then I would read

That Nature's eyes may wink, and Romeo—

the eyes of Nature at night being indubitably the stars, whose "winckeing" or twinkling[3] serves only to make darkness romantically visible, and bewrays lovers no more than would a mist of tropical fireflies.

Some experience of printing and script-reading fortifies me against the most obvious exception to my conjecture. For if, as so many believe, "runawayes" was a misprint, it is quite probable that the blindly-written word in the manuscript was no more like the printer's substitute than like any one of fifty others that would fill the allotted space. With Grant White, I am not troubled by the absence of a long letter in my word, to correspond with the y in "runawayes." "Rumoures eyes" is not a bad guess. One might accept it, but for the cousinship of the two soliloquies. I make no account of "rude day's," "runagate's," "enemies'," "unawares," and a dozen other far-fetched guesses of prosaic scholiasts. The one claim of several is that they begin with R. But the slightest bend of the second down-stroke in the written N (Elizabethan) transforms it into R; so that "nature's" need not be debarred on that score.

The mutual likeness of the two soliloquies crops out here and there throughout them. Its most curious vagary is the fantastic, elfish sound-echo, in Juliet's speech, of the weak lines in Faustus:

O soul, be chang'd into little water-drops,
And fall into the ocean, ne'er be found!

This reappears,—the meaning apart,—in

Give me my Romeo, and when I shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little starres, etc.

There is good warrant for our natural faith in tradition, in the correct transmission of ancient " instances"—of saws, proverbs, nursery rhymes, of classic phrases whether scriptory or conveyed from mouth to mouth. Small thanks to an audacious bookman, like Ahrens, imperiously well equipped, who not only rewrites whole verses of Theocritus but transposes their entire succession in an idyl! Despite the undeniable, even bristling, errors in the First Folio, "runaway's eyes" does not excite my absolute scepticism; for I would not, like Warburton, White, and others, deem Phœbus the runaway, but would rather think that Juliet—all woman yet all child—applied that pretty appellation to her dainty self. To an editor who by chance was a bit of a poet, that notion might not seem half so fanciful as many of the conceits in Shakespeare's deathless apotheosis of youth, with all its efflorescence of speech and passion, its happy hapless voice and deed. But my acceptance of the word which so many censors have disallowed at last has been shaken—the argument through analogy being so convincing—by a chance comparison of Juliet's speech with its model in a play by resonant Kit Marlowe.

It used to be said that every French author owed it to himself to write one naughty book. Nowadays the maxim is reversed: he writes one virtuous book, teste Zola's "Le Rêve," as a personal and tributary rite. Nevertheless, I piously believe it is not wholly in the same spirit that these surmises, respecting one word of all that Shakespeare left us, are confided to the reader.

[My one bit of Shakespearian comment: I am still just as certain of my point, as Dr. Waldstein was of the origin of the marble head in the Louvre, which did fit shoulders of an Elgin figure in the British museum.—E. C. S., 1907.]

  1. Poet-Lore, 1892. Richard G. Badger, Publisher.
  2. The italics in these passages, the Latin verse excepted, are of course my own.
  3. The latter word, etymologically, is simply the "frequentative" of the former.