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SIGISMONDA AND GUISCARDO.
This celebrated tale was probably taken by Boccacio from some ancient chronicle or traditional legend. It excited great attention among the learned of his time, and was translated into Latin by Leonardo Aretino. Francesco di Michele Accolti de Arezzo, who was accounted one of the best civilians of his
age, rendered into Italian verse the lamentation of Sigismonda over her lover's heart; and the learned Philip Beroald made a Latin poetical version of the whole fable. Translations and imitations without number have been executed in foreign languages, without mentioning the tragedies which have been founded upon it. In England, the story was translated and versified in the octave stanza by William Walter, a follower of Sir Henry Marney, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster.* A prose translation is to be found in Painter's “ Palace of Pleasure ;" and the tale being wrought into a tragedy by Robert Wilmot and others, was presented before Queen Elizabeth, at the Inner Temple, in 1568.7 Dryden will not readily be suspected of deriving much aid from his black-lettered predecessors. He made Boccacio's story his own, and told it in his own way. One gross fault he has engrafted
upon his original ; I mean the coarseness of Sigismonda's character, whose love is that of temperament, not of affection. This error, grounded upon Dryden's false view of the passion and of the female character, and perhaps arising from the depravity of the age rather than of the poet, pervades and greatly injures the effect of the tale. Yet it is more than counterbalanced by pre
• He flourished in the reign of Henry VII. ; and his work, entitled, Stately Tragedy of Guiscard and Sigismond,” is printed in 1597, probably from an earlier edition.
+ It was published by Wilmot, in 1592, under the title of “ The Tragedy of Tancred and Gismund," and occurs in the 2d volume of Dodsley's old plays.
ponderating beauties. Without repeating the praise, elsewhere given to the majesty of the poet's versification, and which this piece alone could be sufficient to justify, the reader's attention may be solicited to the colours with which Dryden has drawn a mind wrought up to the highest pitch of despair. Sigismonda is placed in that situation, in which, above all others, the human disposition seems to acquire a sort of supernatural strength or obstinacy; for although guilty of a crime, she is punished in a degree far exceeding the measure of the offence. In such a situation, that acuteness of feeling, which would otherwise waste itself influctuations betwixt shame, fear, and remorse, is willingly and eagerly turned into the channel of resistance and recrimination; and perhaps no readier mode can be discovered of hardening the human heart, even to the consistence of the nether millstone. It is in this state, that Sigismonda resolutely, and even joyfully, embraces death, in order to punish her father, and rejoin her lover. The previous arguments with Tancred, sufficiently, and, in the circumstances, naturally, intimate the tone of her mind, and are a striking instance of Dryden's power in painting passion wrought up to desperation.
The scene is laid in the middle ages, when the principality of Salerno was ruled by a dynasty of Norman princes, deriving their family from the celebrated Robert de Guiscard.
While Norman Tancred in Salerno reign’d,
This prince, of fortune's favour long possessid,
required, And all his vassals eagerly desired,
With mind averse, he rather underwent
Short were her marriage-joys; for in the prime
space Restored anew, she held a higher place; More loved, and more exalted into grace. This princess, fresh and young, and fair and wise, The worshipp'd idol of her father's eyes, Did all her sex in every grace exceed, And had more wit beside than women need. Youth, health, and ease, and most an amorous
mind, To second nuptials had her thoughts inclined, And former joys had left a secret sting behind. But, prodigal in every other grant, Her sire left unsupplied her only want; And she, betwixt her modesty and pride, Her wishes, which she could not help, would hide.
Resolved at last to lose no longer time, And yet to please herself without a crime, She cast her eyes around the court, to find A worthy subject suiting to her mind, To him in holy nuptials to be tied, A seeming widow, and a secret bride. Among the train of courtiers, one she found With all the gifts of bounteous nature crown'd; Of gentle blood, but one whose niggard fate Had set him far below her high estate: Guiscard his name was call’d, of blooming age, Now squire to Tancred, and before his page: To him, the choice of all the shining crowd, Her heart the noble Sigismonda vow'd.
Yet hitherto she kept her love conceald, And with clc e glances every day beheld