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Richard, in the higher' walk of villainy, resemble Falstaff in the lower region of roguery and dissipation, that it were not difficult to show, in the dialogue of the two characters, however dissimilar in situation, many passages and expressions in a style of remarkable resemblance.
Of feeling, and even of passion, both characters are very little susceptible; as Falstaff is the knave and the sensualist, so Richard is the villain of principle. Shakspeare has drawn one of passion in the person of Macbeth. Macbeth produces horror, fear, and sometimes pity; Richard, detestation and abhorrence only. The first he has led amidst the gloom of sublimity, has shown agitated by various and wavering emotions. He is sometimes more sanguinary than Richard, because he is not insensible of the weakness or the passion of revenge; whereas the cruelty of Richard is only proportionate to the object of his ambition, as the cowardice of Falstaff is proportionate to the object of his fear: but the bloody and revengeful Macbeth is yet susceptible of compassion, and subject to remorse. In contemplating Macbeth, we often regret the perversion of his nature; and even when the justice of Heaven overtakes him, we almost forget our hatred at his enormities in our pity for his misfortunes. Richard, Shakspeare has placed amidst the tangled paths of party and ambition ; has represented cunning and fierce from his, birth, untouched by the sense of humanity, hardly subject to remorse, and never to contrition;
and his fall produces that unmixed and perfect satisfaction which we feel at the death of some savage beast that had desolated the country from instinctive fierceness and natural malignity.
The weird-sisters, the gigantic deities of northern mythology, are fit agents to form Macbeth. Richard is the production of those worldly and creeping demons, who slide upon the earth their instruments of mischief to embroil and plague mankind. Falstaff is the work of Circe and he swinish associates, who, in some favoured hour of revelry and riot, moulded this compound of gross debauchery, acute discernment, admirable invention, and nimble wit, and sent him for a consort to England's madcap Prince, to stamp currency on idleness and vice, and to wave the flag of folly and dissipation over the seats of gravity, of wisdom, and of virtue.
* “ Yet, dangerous as such a delineation may appear, Shakspeare, with his usual attention to the best interests of mankind, has rendered it subservient to the most striking moral effects, both as these apply to the character of Falstaff himself, and to that of his temporary patron, the Prince of Wales; for while the virtue, energy, and good sense of the latter are placed in the most striking point of view by his firm dismissal of a most fascinating and too endeared voluptuary, the permanently degrading consequences of sensuality are exhibited in their full strength during the career, and in the fate, of the former.
“ It is very generally found that great and splendid vices are mingled with concomitant virtues, which often ultimately lead to self-accusation, and to the salutary agonies of remorse ; but he who is deeply plunged in the grovelling pursuits of appetite is too frequently lost to all sense of shame, to all feeling of integrity or conscious worth. Polluted by the meanest depravities, not only religious principle ceases to affect the mind, but every thing which contributes to honour or to grandeur in the human character is gone for ever; a catastrophe to which wit and humour, by rendering the sensualist a more self-deluded and self-satisfied being, lend the most powerful assistance.
“ Thus is it with Falstaff—10 the last he remains the same, unrepentant, unreformed; and, though shaken off by all that is valuable or good around him, dies the very sensualist he had lived !
“ We may, therefore, derive from this character as much instruction as entertainment; and, to the delight which we receive from the contemplation of a picture so rich and original, add a lesson of morality as awful and impressive as the history of human frailty can present.”—Shakspeare and his Times, vol. ii. pp. 383, 384. 1
The Lounger, No. 69, May 27, 1786.
ON THE CHARACTERS OF FALSTAFF AND HIS
When it had entered into the mind of Shakspeare to form an historical play upon certain events in the reign of Henry the Fourth of England, the character of the Prince of Wales recommended itself to his fancy, as likely to supply him with a fund of dramatic incidents; for what could invention have more happily suggested than this character, which history presented ready to his hands? a riotous disorderly young libertine, in whose nature lay hidden those seeds of heroism and ambition, which were to burst forth at once to the astonishment of the world, and to achieve the conquest of France. This prince, whose character was destined to exhibit a revolution of so brilliant a sort, was not only in himself a very tempting hero for the dramatic poet, who delights in incidents of novelty and surprise, but also offered to his imagination a train of attendant characters, in the persons of his wild comrades and associates, which would be of themselves a drama. Here was a field for invention wide enough even for the genius of Shakspeare to range in. All the humours, passions, and extravagances of human life might be brought into the composition; and when he had grouped and personified them to his taste and liking, he had a leader ready to place at the head of the train, and the truth of history to give life and interest to his drama.
With these materials ready for creation, the great artist sate down to his work; the canvas was spread before him, ample and capacious as the expanse of his own fancy; Nature put her pencil into his hand, and he began to sketch. His first concern was to give a chief or captain to this gang of rioters; this would naturally be the first outline hè drew. To fill up the drawing of this personage he conceived a voluptuary, in whose figure and character there should be an assemblage of comic qualities; in his person he should be bloated and blown up to the size of a Silenus, lazy, luxurious, in sensuality a satyr, in intemperance a bacchanalian. As he was to stand in the post of a ringleader amongst thieves and cutpurses, he made him a notorious liar, a swaggering coward, vainglorious, arbitrary, knavish, crafty, voracious of plunder, lavish of his gains, without credit, honour, or honesty, and in debt to every body about him. As he was to be the chief seducer and misleader of the heir apparent of the crown, it was incumbent on the poet to qualify him for that part in such a manner as should give probability and even a plea to the temptation : this was only to be done by the strongest touches and the highest colourings of a master; by hitting off a humour of so happy,