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Parolles, in the power of exciting laughter and ludicrous enjoyment, is only secondary to Falstaff.

18. KING HENRY THE FIFTH: 1599. The chorus at the commencement of the fifth act, and the silence of Meres, too plainly point out the era of the composition of this play, to admit of any alteration depending on the bare supposition of subsequent interpolation, or on allusions too vague and general to allord any specific application.

No character has been pourtrayed more at length by our poet than that of Henry the Fifth, for we trace him acting a prominent part through three plays. In Henry the Fourth, until the battle of Shrewsbury, we behold him in all the effervescence of his madcap revelry; occasionally, it is true, affording us glimpses of the native mightiness of his mind, but first bursting upon us with heroic splendour on that celebrated field. In every situation, however, he is evidently the darling offspring of his bard, whether we attend him to the frolic orgies in Eastcheap, to his combat with the never-daunted Percy, or, as in the play before us, to the immortal plains of Agincourt.

The fire and animation which inform the soul of Henry when he rushes to arms in defence of his father's throne, are supported with unwearied vigour, with a blaze which never falters, throughout the whole of his martial achievements in France. Nor has Shakspeare been content with representing him merely in the light of a noble and chivalrous hero, he has endowed him with every regal virtue; he is magnanimous, eloquent, pious, and sincere; versed in all the arts of government, policy, and war; a lover of his country and of his people, and a strenuous protector of their liberties and rights.

Of the various instances which our author has brought forward for the exemplification of these virtues and acquirements, it may be necessary to notice two or three. Thus the detection of the treason of Cambridge, Gray, and Scroop, who had conspired to assassinate Henry previous to his embarkation, exhibits a rich display of the mental greatness and emphatic oratory of this warlike monarch. After reprobating the treachery of Cambridge and Gray, he suddenly turns upon Scroop, who had been his bosom-friend, with the following pathetic and soulharrowing appeal:

"But

What shall I say to thee, lord Scroop?

Thou, that did'st bear the key of all my counsels," &c.

Act ii. sc. 2.

Nor can we forbear distinguishing the dismissal of these traitors, as a striking example of magnanimity, and of justice tempered with dignified compassion:"God quit you in his mercy!

Touching our person, seek we no revenge;
But we our kingdom's safety must so tender," &c.

Act ii. sc. 2.

In the fourth act, what a masterly picture of the cares and solicitudes of royalty is drawn by Henry himself, in his noble soliloquy on the morning of the battle. especially towards the close, where he contrasts the gorgeous but painful ceremo nies of a crown with the profitable labour and the balmy rest of the peasant, who

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But the prayer which immediately follows is unrivalled for its power of impression, presenting us with the most lively idea of the amiability, piety, and devotional fervour of the monarch:

"O God of battles! steel my soldiers' hearts!
Not to-day, O Lord,

O not to-day, think not upon the fault
My father made in compassing the crown!" &c.

Act iv. sc. 1.

Of the picturesque force of an epithet, there is not in the records of poetry a more remarkable instance than what is here produced by the adoption of the term withered, through which the scene starts into existence with a boldness of relief that vies with the noblest creations of the pencil.

The address to Westmoreland, on his wishing for more men from England, is a fine specimen of military eloquence, possessing that high tone of enthusiasm and exhilaration, so well calculated to inflame the daring spirit of the soldier. It is in perfect keeping with the historical character of Henry, nor can we agree with Dr. Johnson in thinking that its reduction " to about half the number of lines," would have added, either to its force or weight of sentiment; so far, indeed, are we from coalescing with this decision, that we feel convinced not a clause could be withdrawn without material injury to the animation and effect of the whole.

Instances of the same impressive and energising powers of elocution, will be found in the King's exhortation to his soldiers before the gates of Harfleur act iii. sc. 1); in his description of the horrors attendant on a city taken by storm art iii. sc. 3); and in his replies to the Herald Montjoy; all of which spring naturally from, and are respectively adapted to, the circumstances of the scene.

Nor, amid all the dangers and unparalleled achievements of the Fifth Henry, do we altogether lose sight of the frank and easy gaiety which distinguished the Prince of Wales. His winning condescension in sympathising with the cares and pleasures of his soldiers, display the same kindness and affability of temper, the same love of raillery and humour, reminiscences, as it were, of his youthful days, and which, in his intercourse with Williams and Fluellen, produce the most pleasing and grateful relief.

These touches of a frolic pencil'are managed with such art and address, that they derogate nothing from the dignity of the monarch and the conqueror; what may be termed the truly comic portion of the play, being carried on apart from any immediate connection with the person of the sovereign.

As the events of warfare and the victories of Henry form the sole subjects of the serious parts of this piece, it was necessary for the sake of variety and dramatic ellect, and in order to satisfy the audience of this age, that comic characters and incidents should be interspersed; and, though we are disappointed in not seeing Falstaff, according to the poet's promise, again on the scene, we once more behold his associates, Bardolph, Pistol, and Hostess Quickly, pursuing their pleasant career with unfailing eccentricity and humour. The description of the death of Falstaff by the last of this fantastic trio, is executed with peculiar felicity, for while it excites a smile verging on risibility, it calls forth, at the same time, a sigh of pity and regret.

Of the general conduct of this play, it may be remarked, that the interest turns altogether upon the circumstances which accompany a single battle; consequently The poet has put forth all his strength in colouring and contrasting the situation of he two armies; and so admirably has he succeeded in this attempt, by opposing he full assurance of victory, on the part of the French, their boastful clamour, and mpatient levity, to the conscious danger, calm valour, and self-devotedness of the English, that we wait the issue of the combat with an almost breathless anxiety. And, in order that the heroism of Henry might not want any decoration which oetry could afford, the epic and lyric departments have been laid under contribuon, for the purpose of supplying what the very confined limits of the stage, then the infancy of its mechanism, had no means of unfolding. A preliminary chorus, herefore, is attached to each act, impressing vividly on the imagination what could ot be addressed to the senses, and adding to a subject, in itself more epic than ramatic, all the requisite grandeur and sublimity of description.

19. MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING: 1599. The allusion, in the opening scene of is comedy, to a circumstance attending the campaign of the Earl of Essex in Irend, during the summer of 1599, which was first noticed by Mr. Chalmers, and hich seems corroborated by the testimony of Camden and Moryson, has induced

us to adopt the chronology dependent on this apparent reference, the only note of time, indeed, which has hitherto been discovered in the play.

This very popular production, which appears to have originally had the title of Benedick and Beatrice, and is, in its leading incidents, to be traced to one of the tales of Bandello,* possesses, both with respect to its fable and characters, a vivacity, richness, and variety, together with a happiness of combination, which delight as much as they astonish.

The two plots are managed with uncommon skill; the first, involving the temporary disgrace and the recognition of Hero, includes a vast range of emotions, and abounds both in pathos and humour. The accusation of the innocent Hero by the man whom she loved, and at the very moment too, when she was about to be united to him for life, excites a most powerful impression; but is surpassed by the scene which restores her to happiness, where Claudio, supposing himself about to be united, in obedience to the will of Leonato, to a relation of his former beloved, and, as he concludes, deceased mistress, on unveiling the bride, beholds the features of her whom he had injured, and whom he had lamented as no more.

It is no small proof of the ingenuity of our poet, that through the means by which the iniquity practised against Hero is developed, we are furnished with a fund of the most ludicrous entertainment; the charge of Dogberry to the Watch, and the arrest and examination of Conrade and Borachio, throwing all the muscles of risibility into action.

Nor is the second plot in any respect inferior to the first; indeed, there is reason to believe, that, to the masterly delineations of Benedick and Beatrice, “the most sprightly characters that Shakspeare ever drew," and to their mutual entrapment in the meshes of love, a great part of the popularity which has ever accompanied this comedy, is in justice to be ascribed. Fault, however, has been found with the mode by which the reciprocal affection of these sworn foes to love has been secured the second contrivance," observes Mr. Steevens, "is less ingenious than the first-or, to speak more plainly, the same incident is become stale by repetition. I wish some other method had been found to entrap Beatrice, than that very one which before had been successfully practised on Benedick;" an ob jection which has been censured with some severity by Schlegel, who justly remarks, that the drollery of this twice-used artifice lies in the very symmetry of the deception." It may be added, that the conversation of the gentleman and the wit, in Shakspeare's days, may be pretty well ascertained from the part of Benedick in this play, and from that of Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet; both presenting us, after some allowance for a license of allusion too broad for the decorum of the present day, with a favourable picture of the accomplishments of polished society in the reign of Elizabeth.

20. AS YOU LIKE IT: 1600. Though this play, with the exception of the disguise and self-discovery of Rosalind, may be said to be destitute of plot, it is yet one of the most delightful of the dramas of Shakspeare. There is something inexpressibly wild and interesting both in the characters and in the scenery; the former disclosing the moral discipline and the sweets of adversity, the purest emotions of love and friendship, of gratitude and fidelity, the melancholy of genius, and the exhilaration of innocent mirth, as opposed to the desolating effects of malice, envy, and ambition; and the latter unfolding, with the richest glow of faney, landscapes to which, as objects of imitation, the united talents of Ruysdale, Claude and Salvator Rosa, could alone do justice.

From the forest of Arden, from that wild wood of oaks,

"whose boughs were moss'd with age,

And hight tops bald with dry antiquity,"

* It is most probable that Shakspeare derived his materials from a version of Belleforest, who copied Bandello. The story forms the 22d tale of the first part of Bandello, and the 18th history of the 3d volume of Belleforest.

Schlegel on Dramatic Literature, vol, ii. p. 166.

from the bosom of sequestered glens and pathless solitudes, has the poet called forth lessons of the most touching and consolatory wisdom. Airs from paradise seem to fan with refreshing gales, with a soothing consonance of sound, the interminable depth of foliage, and to breathe into the hearts of those who have sought its shelter from the world, an oblivion of their sorrows and their cares. The 1 banished Duke, the much-injured Orlando, and the melancholy Jaques, lose in meditation on the scenes which surround them, or in sportive freedom, or in grateful occupation, all corrosive sense of past affliction. Love seems the only passion which has penetrated this romantic seclusion, and the sigh of philosophic pity, or of wounded sensibility (the legacy of a deserted world), the only relique of the storm which is passed and gone.

Nothing, in fact, can blend more harmoniously with the romantic glades and magic windings of Arden, than the society which Shakspeare has placed beneath its shades. The effect of such scenery, on the lover of nature, is to take full possession of the soul, to absorb its very faculties, and, through the charmed imagination, to convert the workings of the mind into the sweetest sensations of the heart, into the joy of grief, into a thankful endurance of adversity, into the interchange of the tenderest affections; and find we not here, in the person of the Duke, the noblest philosophy of resignation; in Jaques, the humorous sadness of an amiable misanthropy; in Orlando, the mild dejection of self-accusing humility; in Rosalind and Celia, the purity of sisterly affection, whilst love in all its innocence and gaiety binds in delicious fetters, not only the younger exiles, but the pastoral natives of the forest. A day thus spent, in all the careless freedom of unsophisticated nature, seems worth an eternity of common-place existence !

The nice discrimination of Shakspeare and his profound knowlege of human nature are no where more apparent than in sketching the character of Jaques, whose social and confiding affections, originally warm and enthusiastic, and which had led him into all the excesses and credulities of thoughtless attachment, being blighted by the desertion of those on whom he had fondly relied, have suddenly subsided into a delicately blended compound of melancholy, misanthropy, and morbid sensibility, mingled with a large portion of benevolent though sarcastic humour. The selfishness and ingratitude of mankind are, consequently, the theme of all his meditations, and even tinge his recreations with the same pensive hue of moral invective. We accordingly first recognise him in a situation admirably adapted to the nurture of his peculiar feelings, laid at length

"Under an oak, whose antique root peeps out
Upon the brook that brawls along the wood,"

and assimilating the fate of an unfortunate stag, who had been wounded by the hunters, and who

"Stood on the extremest verge of the swift brook,
Augmenting it with tears,"

to the too common lot of humanity:—

"Duke. But what said Jaques ?

Did he not moralize this spectacle ?" &c.

Act ii. sc. 1.

As might be imagined, music, the food of melancholy as well as of love, is the chief consolation of Jacques; he tells Amiens, who, on finishing a song, had objected to his request of singing again, that it would make him melancholy. "I thank it. More, I pr'ythee more. I can suck melancholy out of a song, as a weasel sucks eggs: More, I pr'ythee, more ;" (act ii. sc. 5) and we can well conceive with what exquisite pleasure he listened to the subsequent song of the same nobleman :

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From this interesting and finely shaded character, the result of a false estimate of what is to be expected from human nature and society, much valuable instruction may be derived; but as a similar delineation will soon occur in the person of Timon, we shall defer what may be required upon this subject to a subsequent page.

21. MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR : 1601. It does not appear to us that Mr. Chalmers has succeeded in his endeavours to set aside the general tradition relative to this comedy, as recorded by Mr. Rowe, who says, that Queen Elizabeth "was so well pleased with the admirable character of Falstaff in The Two Parts of Henry the Fourth, that she commanded Shakspeare to continue it for one play more, and to show him in love." Rowe adopted this from Dennis, who mentions it as the tradition of his time; and has also related, that being "eager to see it acted," she ordered it "to be finished in fourteen days," and was highly grati

fied by the representation.

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A tradition of the seventeenth century thus general in its diffusion, and particular in its circumstances, cannot, and ought not, to be shaken by the mere observations that "she (the Queen) was certainly too feeble in 1601 to think of such toys," and that at this time she was in no proper mood for such fooleries;” more especially when we recollect, that at this very period she was guilty of fooleries greatly more extravagant and out of character, than that of commanding a play to be written. At a "mask at Blackfriars, on the marriage of Lord Herbert and Mrs. Russel," relates Lord Orford, on the authority of the Bacon Papers, "eight lady maskers chose eight more to dance the measures. Mrs. Fritton, who led them, went to the Queen, and wooed her to dance. Her Majesty asked, what she was? Affection,' she said. Affection!' said the Queen;- Affection is false.'-Yet her majesty rose and danced.-She was then SIXTY-EIGHT!”÷ I{, at the age of sixty-eight, she was not too feeble to dance, nor too wise to fancy herself in love, we may easily conceive, that she had both strength and inclination to attend and to enjoy a play!

Another objection of the same critic to the probability of this tradition, turns upon the extraordinary assumption, that it was not within the omnipotence of Elizabeth "to bring Falstaff to real life, after being positively as dead as nail in door;" as if Falstaff had ever possessed a real existence, and the Queen had been expected to have occasioned his bodily resurrection from the dead. In accordance with this supposed impossibility, impossible only in this strange point of view, we are further told, that "whatever a capricious Queen might have wished to have seen, the audience would not have borne to see the dead knight on the living stage; thus again confounding the dramatic death of an imaginary being, with the physical dissolution incident to material nature! Surely Shakspeare had an unlimited control over the creatures of his own imagination, and had he reproduced the fat knight in half-a-dozen plays, after the death which he had already assigned him in Henry the Fifth, who, provided he had supported the merit and consistency of the character, would have charged him with a violation of probability? When Addison killed Sir Roger de Coverley, in order, as tradition says, to prevent any one interfering with the unity of his sketch, he could only be certain of the non-resumption of his imaginary existence in the very work which had detailed his decease; for if Addison himself, or any of his contemporaries, had reproduced Sir Roger, in a subsequent periodical paper, with the same degree of skill which had accompanied the first delineation, would it have been objected as a sufficient condemnation of such a performance, that the knight had been previously dispatched?

We see no reason, therefore, for distrusting the generally received tradition, and have, accordingly, placed the Merry Wives of Windsor, with Mr. Malone, after the three plays devoted to Henry the Fourth, and Fifth.

* Epistle Dedicatory to The Gomical Gallant, 1702. Royal and Noble Authors, apud Park, vol. i. p. 82.

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