« PreviousContinue »
Ch. Just. He hath.
9 I fancy every reader, when he ends this play, cries out with Desdemona,
“O most lame and impotent conclusion!" As this play was not, to our knowledge, divided into Acts by the author, I could be content to conclude it with the death of Henry the Fourth:
“ In that Jerusalem shall Harry die." These scenes, which now make the fifth Act of Henry the Fourth, might then be the first of Henry the Fifth; but the truth is, that they do not unite very commodiously to either play. When these plays were represented, I believe they ended as they are now ended in the books; but Shakspeare seems to have designed that the whole series of action, from the beginning of Richard the Second, to the end of Henry the Fifth, should be con. sidered by the reader as one work, upon one plan, only broken into parts by the necessity of exhibition.
None of Shakspeare's plays are more read than the First and Second Parts of Henry the Fourth. Perhaps no author has ever, in two plays, afforded so much delight. The great events are interesting, for the fate of kingdoms depends upon them; the slighter occurrences are diverting, and, except one or two, sufficiently probable; the incidents are multiplied with wonderful fertility of invention, and the characters diversified with the utmost nicety of discernment, and the profoundest skill in the nature of man.
The Prince, who is the hero both of the comick and tragick part, is a young man of great abilities and violent passions, whose sentiments are right, though his actions are wrong; whose virtues are obscured by negligence, and whose understanding is dissipated by levity. In his idle hours he is rather loose than wicked ; and when the occasion forces out his latent qualities, he is great without effort, and brave without tumult. The trifler is roused into a hero, and the hero again reposes in the trifler. The character is great, original, and just.
Percy is a rugged soldier, cholerick and quarrelsome, and has only the soldier's virtues, generosity and courage.
But Falstaff unimitated, animitable Falstaff, how shall I describe thee? thou compound of sense and vice; of sense which may be admired, but not esteemed; of vice which may be de
spised, but hardly detested. Falstaff is a character loaded with faults, and with those faults which naturally produce contempt. He is a thief and a glutton, a coward and a boaster, always ready to cheat the weak, and prey upon the poor; to terrify the timorous, and insult the defenceless. At once obsequious and malignant, he satirizes in their absence those whom he lives by flattering. He is familiar with the prince only as an agent of vice, but of this familiarity he is so proud, as not only to be supercilious and haughty with common men, but to think his interest of importance to the Duke of Lancaster. Yet the man thus corrupt, thus despicable, makes himself necessary to the prince that despises him, by the most pleasing of all qualities, perpetual gaiety; by an unfailing power of exciting laughter, which is the more freely indulged, as his wit is not of the splendid or ambitious kind, but consists in easy scapes and sallies of levity, which make sport, but raise no envy. It must be observed, that he is stained with no enormous or sanguinary crimes, so that his licentiousness is not so offensive but that it may be borne for his mirth.
The moral to be drawn from this representation is, that no man is more dangerous than he that, with a will to corrupt, hath the power to please ; and that neither wit nor honesty ought to think themselves safe with such a companion, when they see Henry seduced by Falstaff. Johnson.
SPOKEN BY A DANCER.
FIRST, my fear ; then, my court'sy : last, my speech. My fear is, your displeasure ; my court'sy, my duty; and my speech, to beg your pardons. If you look for a good speech now, you undo me : for what I have to say, is of mine own making ; and what, indeed, I should say, will, I doubt, prove mine own marring. But to the purpose, and so to the venture.-Be it known to you, (as it is very well,) I was lately here in the end of a displeasing play, to pray your patience for it, and to promise you a better. I did mean, indeed, to pay you with this ; which, if, like an ill venture, it come unluckily home, I break, and you, my gentle creditors, lose. Here, I promised you, I would be, and here I commit my body to your mercies : bate me some, and I will pay you some, and, as most debtors do, promise you infinitely.
If my tongue cannot entreat you to acquit me, will you command me to use my legs? and yet that were but light payment to dance out of your debt. But a good conscience will make any possible satisfaction, and so will l. All the gentlewomen here have forgiven me;' if the gentlemen will not, then the gentlemen do not agree with the gentlewomen, which was never seen before in such an assembly.
" This epilogue was merely occasional, and alludes to some theatrical transaction. JOHNSON.
2 All the gentlewomen, &c.] The trick of influencing one part of the audience by the favour of the other, has been played already in the epilogue to As you like it. Johnson.
One word more, I beseech you. If you be not too much cloyed with fat meat, our humble author will continue the story, with Sir John in it, and make you merry with fair Katharine of France : where, for any thing I know, Falstaff shall die of a sweat, unless already he be killed with opinions ; for Oldcastle died a martyr, and this is not the man. My tongue is weary; when my legs are too, I will bid you good night : and so kneel down before you ;-but, indeed, to pray for the queen.
where, for any thing I know, Falstaff shall die of a sweat, unless already he be killed with your hard opinions ; for Oldcastle died a martyr, and this is not the man.) Shakspeare, I think, meant to say, that “ Falstaff may perhaps die of his debaucheries in France,”--(having mentioned Falstaff's death, he then, with his usual licence, uses the word in a metaphorical sense, adding,)“ unless he be already killed by the hard and unjust opinions of those who imagined that the knight's character (like his predecessor) was intended as a ridicule on Sir John Oldcastle, the good Lord Cobham. This our author disclaims, reminding the audience that there can be no ground for such a supposition. I call them, (says he) hard and unjust opinions, " for Sir John Oldcastle was no debauchee, but a protestant martyr, and our Falstaff is not the man;" i. e. is no representation of him, has no allusion whatsoever to him.
Shakspeare seems to have been pained by some report that his inimitable character, like the despicable buffoon of the old play of Henry V. whose dress and figure resembled that of Falstaff, was meant to throw an imputation on the memory of Lord Cobham; which, in the reign of so zealous a friend in the Protestant cause as Elizabeth, would not have been easily pardoned at court. Our author, had he been so inclined, (which we have no ground for supposing,) was much too wise to have ever directed any ridicule at the great martyr for that cause, which was so warmly espoused by his queen and patroness. The former ridiculous representations of Sir John Oldcastle on the stage were undoubtedly produced by papists, and probably often exhibited, in inferior theatres, to crouded audiences, between the years 1580 and 1590. MALONE.
to pray for the queen.] It was the custom of the old players, at the end of the performance, to pray for their patrons.