Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

a stronger mind, she would not have forsaken a father, though she could not esteem him; nor robbed him n; nor betrayed his confidential conversation with Tubal and with Chus to his enemies. Weakness, even in her love, may be observed; though her love was sufficiently strong to overcome every atom of gratitude to her father. When at Belmont, she speaks of him as of a person in whose company she once happened to be; the first words, “ When I was with him,” are painfully unfeeling towards those inclined to sympathize for a father whom she has robbed; but there were none such in the company, because the man was a Jew, and she knew that opinion was in her favour. With one of firmer intellect, even in those days, fashion would not have confounded wrong with right; but Jessica was born to be cajoled by fashion. She could lose “ fourscore ducats at a sitting,” and exchange a “ turquoise ring" for a monkey, as unconcernedly as she stole them from a Jew, because she could reconcile them all to the fashion of the day.

My notion of Launcelot, as I have seen him, has not been reflected from the stage. “ The patch is kind enough ;" yet he is amazingly wrapped up in self, and his soliloquies are intense on that darling subject. An obtrusive feature in his character, is the conceit in his skull that he is better than he should be. Having been called by one who did not see him “master” and “ young gentleman," he insists, over and over again, on his being “young master Launcelot,” and at last styles himself “ the young gentleman.” All this, like every thing he says, is a mixture of vanity and drollery,-on the latter he stakes his fame

as a wit.

Nature never formed a more egregious coxcomb,—he is Lord Foppington in low life, as far as his imbecility can reach. In the same strain he talks of his “manly spirit,” and of the jew's having “ done him wrong;" as if he and his master were on an equality. No doubt his solace as a servant was, that he must, sooner or later, owing to his intrinsic merit, come to excellent fortune. He spells his fate on his palm ; where, though neither coronet nor mastership offers itself to his imagination, there is something of equal value to the young animal,—“ eleven widows, and nine maids, is a simple coming-in for one man." His jokes are generally failures, but, coming from him, they are laughable. When suddenly reproached with his conduct towards the Moorish woman, his answer is,—It is much that the Moor should be more than reason; but if she be less than an honest woman, she is, indeed, more than I took her for." This elaborate nonsense, this grasp

at a
pun

without catching it, uttered in confusion, and in eagerness to shuffle out of the accusation, is as natural as it is ridiculous. It gives occasion to Lorenzo's observing“ How every fool can play upon a word !” which, together with what follows, may be mistaken for a self-condemnation, made at hazard, on the part of Shakespeare. By no means: the difficulty is to play well upon a word; besides, as Launcelot then and afterwards proves, the poverty of a jest may be enriched in a fool's mouth, owing to the complacency with which he deals it out; and because there are few things which provoke laughter more than feebleness in a great attempt at a small matter.

XIX. HENRY THE FIFTH. 1599.

XX. MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. 1600.

XXI. As YOU LIKE IT. 1600.-For pure comedy, rich in variety, interest, poetry, and a happy view of human life, As You Like It is the world's masterpiece. It has been termed a pastoral comedy, but that implies an unreal description of shepherds and shepherdesses; here we have persons of every degree, true to nature as the trees under which they walk and talk. There is a frankness and freedom in the dialogue, belonging equally to the various characters, that seem to partake of the open air in which they breathe. Never is the scene within-doors, except when something discordant is introduced to heighten, as it were, the harmony,when the usurper banishes Rosalind, and twice more, for a short while, just to give him time to threaten. These changes serve, without disturbing our calmer feelings, to increase our happiness among the pleasant exiles in the forest.

At one time I thought a lioness was out of her sphere in the forest of Arden, notwithstanding the authority of the original novel for her appearance there. But the forest of Arden is a privileged place, once famous for Merlin's magic fountains, Angelica, and the knights of Charlemagne, surrounded by enchantments, according to Boiardo and Ariosto. Shakespeare avoids following the novel in specifying a certain king of France; he mentions no country; and therefore he has a right to bring a lioness into this poetical forest, placed we know not where.

XXII. MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR. 1601. Here we have Sir John Falstaff again, not exactly himself; Justice Shallow “ holds his own” tolerably well; Nym, Bardolph, and Pistol, are not what they were; and Mrs. Quickly, the servant of Dr. Caius, is a new character, and intended for one, not bearing the remotest resemblance to mine hostess in Eastcheap, except that she is an old woman. Something like these transmutations, arising from another cause, is found in Goldoni's comedies, where Pantalone and the rest of the Carnival personages continue to appear from one comedy to another, always in the same outward form, and under the same names, but distinct in situation and character. These are not defects in the admirable and sprightly Merry Wives of Windsor, taken by itself; but the names are disappointments, and afford a lesson against writing “ by royal command," as it is said Shakespeare endured.

This is one of the plays which was, after its first appearance, retouched and enlarged by the author.

XXIII. TROILUS AND CRESSIDA. 1602.-Shakespeare seems to have made choice of this story for the purpose of displaying the military character. He shows us the several species of a soldier; the frivolous and the revolting, the admirable and the amiable. The love scenes, the women, and the comic characters, are sometimes a relief, but generally a furtherance to the main design. In his other plays his fighters are not mere soldiers : they have some cause dear to their bosoms which urges them on; they “ have their quarrel just," or they think they have, or it is a struggle for power. Here they have no excitement beyond their profession. The affair originated in an oath of gallantry, and is continued as a point of honour. It becomes a by-gone dispute. It is after a seven years' siege. No man appeals to it as he draws his sword. It served well enough for the groundwork of a declaration of war, but it grows

weaker as Helen grows older. They fight because they know not how to leave off. No one can be personally interested except Menelaus and Paris, who are like two rival monarchs, with their assembled forces, while the lady is the kingdom, whose gain or loss cannot possibly affect the crowd on either side. They combat in their calling, no matter for the cause, provided they are regularly paid. So then, these ancient heroes, these Greeks and Trojans, are exactly similar to the camp gentlemen of Shakespeare's day! Aye, and of this day too, and of a thousand years hence ; for nature and he know not the change of manners. She and he walk hand in hand through all the modifications of fashion, the same that was, and is, and ever shall be, while human pulses beat. In this play he introduces the reader, a silent and invisible spectator, to an officer's mess, where he touches them by turns with his magic wand, his Ithuriel's spear, and every faculty is laid open to its source, whether good or ill. They talk, and he furnishes the argument of the discourse, giving them golden breath. Thersytes and Pandarus stand behind their chairs, significantly pointing at whatever is ridiculous or contemptible : while Shakespeare himself, in his own sweet words, whispers in our ear the loves of the boy Troilus and the false Cressid.

« ZurückWeiter »