by Marcu Beza


I PASS on to what Shakespeare himself was conscious of in calling his play The Winter's Tale. A Roumanian story, The Sister of the North Wind,1 tells of a king who, in his suspicion, flings his wife into prison and orders her infant daughter to be placed in a cradle, and the cradle in the river. The waves carry her a good distance to a lonely shore where, found and cared for by a shepherd, she grows up into a beautiful girl and goes through many adventures. Once she is nearly petrified but is saved by a powerful magical being termed the Sister of the North Wind, who then takes her back to her father, disclosing also to the latter the innocence of his imprisoned wife. Thus all ends happily, as it does in Shakespeare where, just before the play is over, one listens to Paulina:

                                   I, an old turtle,
Will wing me to some wither'd bough, and there
My mate, that's never to be found again,
Lament till I am lost.

How beautifully strange the lines sound! What turtle is this with which Paulina compares herself? Whence did she fly hither? Shakespeare's commentators would send us to Rosalind that had already assisted him in the writing of As You Like It and that happens to refer to the same turtle:

A turtle sat upon a leafless tree,
Mourning her absent peer
With sad and sorry cheer. . . .

But then how did she glide her way into Rosalind? Surely, it was not Lodge's invention. There are in Roumania a number of folk-versions all singing in melancholy tune of the poor turtle that lost her mate and wished to live no more. Retouching it a little and adding some more verses, Ienakitza Văcărescu, a Roumanian poet at the end of the eighteenth century, rendered the poem symbolically expressive of his own sorrow on the loss of his wife. I give it in a free translation:

The desolate turtle-dove
When she is left forlorn,
Because her mate is dead
She grieves unceasingly.

As long as she lives she mourns,
And never mates again.
She passes mid flowers, mid fields,
She heeds and sees nothing.

She goes through the green wood,
And seeks to lose herself;
She flies till she drops down
Yet rests on no green bough.

If she rests sometimes
It is on a withered bough;
She wanders through deep forest,
She neither drinks nor eats.

Where'er she spies fresh water
She ripples it and flies on,
Where'er she sees brackish water
She ripples it and drinks.

Where'er she sees the sportsman
Thither her longing draws her
That he may see and slay her,
And so she may suffer no more.

If a poor little bird
Can be so stricken in heart
That she desires to die
To join her little mate,

Can I, a man, more sensitive
In feeling than she,
How can I be happy alone ? . . .
Oh, pain and sorrow for me!

Taming of the Shrew, Act V, Scene i

In Roumanian literature we can trace back this turtle-song to the translation I mentioned before of Fiore di Virt, where it was reproduced from the Physiologus or the Bestiary.2 One finds it also in The Life of Alexis, though the English translation of the latter in the Gesta Romanorum leaves out the turtle incident; but, should one go to that of William Caxton, one would find it there.

Might not Shakespeare as well as Lodge have taken it from one of these books? For they were once in great vogue, being read not as we are wont to read nowadays. People turned eagerly to them again and again; some for need of consolation, others for guidance in life, whilst writers used to draw incessantly on their rich pages. To them, I presume, Shakespeare was indebted for the reference to the "dreadful Sagittary," to the basilisk that kills with its eyes, to the toad which,

                       ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;3

for the Arabian "Phoenix' threne"; for the story of the snake and the lion in As You Like It; for the lines of Miranda at the appearance of Ferdinand:

                       What is 't?   A spirit?
Lord, how it looks about!   Believe me, sir,
It carries a brave form;4

for the frequent use of riddles and gnomic sentences such as those of Polonius to Laertes.

Banquet Scene in Macbeth

Fighting Scene in Macbeth

1 Basme, by I. C. Fundescu, pp. 123-30, Bucharest, 1896.
The text is given by Moses Gaster in his Studies and Texts, vol. ii, p. 1152,
   London, 1926.
As You Like It.
The Tempest.