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passions. Satirical as it is, the entire feeling is goodhumour. A reader who can enter into the spirit of it, will find sufficient interest to keep his attention on the alert. As to the charge of a want of dramatic invention, where the four lovers follow each other to the same spot, where three of them read their lovesonnets, and hide themselves, by turns, among the trees, possibly that may be considered of little weight. Three of the lovers are so artificial, that each must needs pen a sonnet to his lady, not only because it. was out of his power to speak to her, but it was the fashion to pen sonnets; and each must sigh her name in a grove, because such had been, time out of mind, the lover's humour.
At any rate, the amusing discovery at the last, and Biron's eloquent poetry, make ample amends.
If Shakespeare had not assured us this young Ferdinand was King of Navarre, I could not have believed it; he is so unlike a king. He never pleads his sacred anointment, nor threatens with his royal displeasure, nor receives flattery from great men of his own making; nor can he despise Costard the clown. His wit allows him to sport a jest, his goodtemper to take one from others; and at all times he is superior to playing the monarch over his associates. Longaville, “well fitted in the arts, glorious in arms,” and the well-accomplished youth,” Dumain, are as much kings of the conversation as himself. A weariness of courtly pleasure, the fashion, the idleness of their days, give these youths a butterfly-notion of being book-worms. Scholars they will be, and learned ones, and that at the end of three years; so they are
to study hard, and “not to see a woman in that term ;" with many other strict observances touching fasting and watching,-easy to record in a schedule. Their oaths are taken; and Biron, from pure good-fellowship, joins this holy alliance. Biron, whose ascendant mind cannot but convince their common-sense, has no controul over their folly. He argues, he rallies ; but all in vain. Rousseau was not the first 6 to reason against reading ;” Biron was before him, and he speaks some things which hard spellers in a closet should con over betimes.
The “admired princess,” “a maid of grace and complete majesty,” and her three lovely companions, soon bring the gentlemen to their senses.
Then, for broad comic, what a list of unconscious drolls ! First we have a "refined traveller of Spain," a “tough signor,” a “child of fancy,” hight Armado,
“ One, whom the music of his own vain tongue
Doth ravish, like enchanting harmony;"
and he “is in love, yea, he loveth ;” and asks favour of the “sweet welkin to sigh in his face.” Holofernes stalks about with the ghost of a head; vanity was his Judith. This portentous schoolmaster was a particular satire on Florio, who gave the world a folio of hard words, miscalled a dictionary; he provoked Shakespeare by some ugly daubing, and, in return, he is here painted at full length. He “smells false Latin," and can “humour the ignorant” in bad verses; “this is a gift," quoth he, “that I have, simple, simple; a foolish, extravagant spirit,” &c.—and he is “thankful or it!” Moreover, he will play three of the worthies
himself, “ thrice worthy gentleman ;” and “will not be put out of countenance." Sir Nathaniel, “the hedge-priest,” is his toad-eater, and piously says, “ Sir, I praise the Lord for you, and so may my parishioners ;" takes out his table-book, to note “ a most singular and choice epithet; calls deer-shooting by great folks “ very reverend sport, truly; and done in the testimony of a good conscience;" and gets a dinner gratis, “ for society (saith the text) is the happiness of life.” I beg pardou of the courtly old Boyet, for placing him in such company, for “he is Cupid's grandfather, and learns news of him;" one " that kissed away his hand in courtesy,” and
“ Picks up wit, as pigeons peas ; And utters it again when God doth please.” Costard, in his rustic ignorance, looks on him as “ a swain, a most simple clown!” And Costard is cunning: he “ had rather pray a month with mutton and porridge, than fast a week with bran and water;" and has the wit to hope he shall fast on a full stomach. All these gentry, down to Costard, speak, or ape to speak, in
“ Taffata phrases, silken terms precise,
Figures pedantical." “ They have been at a great feast of languages, and stolen the scraps," as the little boy Moth tells us ; that “ handful of wit," who “ purchases his experience by his penny of observation;" not too young to relish a joke, and join with the best effect in their full-blown talk, though old enough to laugh at it; a character the poet has introduced to prove the absurdity of men's priding themselves in their deformities of language. Oh! I have forgotten the constable Dull ! “ A man of good repute, carriage, bearing, and estimation.” “ Via, goodman Dull! thou hast spoken no word all this
while. Dull. Nor understood none neither, sir.” On his other characters, those of well educated society, Shakespeare bestows his own easy-flowing, expressive language, steeped in the imagination, not begrimed in affectation. Thus was the satire directed towards the ladies and gentlemen of his time; holding forth to them a choice, either to be ranked among the silly pedants, and laughed at by children like Moth, or among their superiors.
The principal character is Biron, whose properties, by turns, are eloquence and mocking gibes ; the latter are keenly reprobated, and, in promise, corrected by Rosaline. When free from that fault, which, on the stage among fictitious persons, is harmlessly delightful, but, away from it, meets with none but “ shallow laughing hearers," and is at the painful expense of the party ridiculed, he is beyond common praise; nor is there throughout Shakespeare a strain of eloquence equal to Biron's, near the end of the fourth act, beginning with,
“ Have at you then, affection's men at arms !"
VIII. Hamlet. 1589.—My reason for assigning the above date, is founded solely on the passage from Nashe, already given. It is to be understood as re.
garding its original state, before the alterations and enlargements had taken place.
Mr. Skottowe tells us,—but on what authority I am ignorant,-“ the history of Hamlet also formed the subject of a play which was acted previous to 1589.” He then conjectures that Shakespeare was assisted by that elder play now lost.
If there exists a description of that elder play, I do not hesitate in saying it is Shakespeare's, and no other's, provided the ghost appears in it. According to the old black-letter quarto, whence the tragedy is derived, the killing of the prince's father was public; consequently no ghost was employed to reveal it to
Now the change from an open slaying, with some show of cause to a secret murder, involving the necessity of the ghost's appearance to seek revenge, is so important, so wonderful an invention for the dramatic effect of the story, that I cannot imagine it belonged to any but Shakespeare.
Should I be mistaken in this opinion, still I appeal to Nashe's authority, published in 1589, that Shakespeare's Hamlet had been then played: the word in italics, Hamlets, proving that Hamlet was then on the stage, and that it had been written by a “ Noverint," or lawyer's clerk: while the examples which I have given of Shakespeare's law.phrases, and which might be multiplied tenfold at least if sought in all his works, prove that such must have been the employment of his early days.
Nothing in the character of Hamlet has given rise to more animadversion or critical disquisition than his apparent unfeeling behaviour to Ophelia ; and actors