Page images
PDF
EPUB

of this lewd old fellow, it is, that though he has made him a thief, lying, cowardly, vain glorious, and in short, every way vicious, yet he has given him so much wit as to make him almost too agreeable; and I do not know whether some people have not, in remembrance of the diversion he had formerly afforded them, been sorry to see his friend Hal use him so scurvily, when he comes to the crown in the end of The Second Part of Henry the Fourth. Amongst other extravagancies, in The Merry Wives of Windsor he has made him a deer-stealer, that he might at the same time remember his Warwickshire prosecutor, under the name of Justice Shallow; he has given bim very near the same coat of arms which Dugdale, in his Antiquities of that county, describes for a family there, and makes the Welsh parson descant very pleasantly upon them. That whole play is admirable; the humours are various, and well opposed; the main design, which is to cure Ford of his unreasonable jealousy, is extremely well conducted. In Twelfth-Night there is something singularly ridiculous and pleasant in the fantastical steward Malvolio. The parasite and the vain-glorious in Parolles, in All's well that ends well, is as good as any thing of that kind in Plautus or Terence. Petruchio, in The Taming of the Shrew, is an uncommon piece of humour. The conversation of Benedick and Beatrice, in Much Ado about Nothing, and of Rosalind, in As you like it, have much wit and sprightliness all along. His clowns, without which character there was hardly any play writ in that time, are all very entertaining: and, I believe, Thersites in Troilus and Cressida, and Apemantus in Timon, will be allowed to be master-pieces of ill-nature and satirical snarling. To these I might add, that incomparable character of Shylock the Jew, in The Merchant of Venice; but, though we have seen that play received and acted as a comedy, and the part of the Jew performed by an excellent comedian, yet I cannot but think it was designed tragically by the author. There appears in it such a deadly spirit of revenge, such a savage fierceness and fellness, and such a bloody designation of cruelty and mischief, as cannot agree either with the style or characters of comedy. The play itself, take it altogether, seems to me to be one of the most finished of any of Shakspeare's. The tale, indeed, in that part relating to the caskets, and the extravagant and unusual kind of bond given by Antonio, is too much removed from the rules of probability; but taking the fact for granted, we muss allow it to be very beautifully written. There is something in the friendship of Antonio to Bassanio very great, generous, and tender. The whole of the fourth Act (supposing, as ( said, the fact to be probable) is extremely fine. But there are two passages that deserve a particular notice. The first is, what Portia says in praise of mercy, and the other on the power of music. The melancholy of Jaques, in As you like it, is as singular and odd as it is diverting. And it will be a hard task for any one to go beyond him in the description of the several degrees and ages of man's life.

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances
And one man in his time plays many parte,
His acis being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arins ;
And then, the whining school boy with his satchel,
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then, the lover
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eye-brow. Then, a soldier
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then, the Justice;
In fair round belly, with good capon linel,
With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays nis part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon;
With spectacles ou nose, and pouch on side;
His youthful hose well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again towards childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness, and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans every thing."

[merged small][ocr errors]

His images are indeed everywhere so lively, that the thing he would represent stands full before you, and you possess every part of it. I will venture to point out one more, which is, I think, as strong and as uncommon as any thing I ever saw; it is an image of Patience Speaking of a maid in love, he says,

She never told her love,
But let concealment, like a worni i'th' bud
Feed on her damask cheek; she pined in thought,
And sate like Patience on a monument,
Smiling at Grief."

an image is here given ! and what a task would it have been for the greatest masters
ece and Rome to have expressed the passions designed by this sketch of statuary
le of his comedy is, in general, natural to the characters, and easy in itself; and

e wit most commonly sprightly and pleasing, except in those places where he runs into ggrel rhymes, as in The Comedy of Errors, and some other plays. As for his jingling netimes, and playing upon words, it was the common vice of the age he lived in; and

we find it in the pulpit, made use of as an ornament to the sermons of some of the gravest divines of those times, perhaps it may not be thought too light for the stage.

But certainly the greatness of this author's genius does no where so much appear, as where he gives his imagination an entire loose, and raises his fancy to a flight above man. kind, and the limits of the visible world. Such are his attempts in The Tempest, A Midsummer-Night's Dream, Macbeth, and Hamlet. Of these, The Tempest, however it comes to be placed the first by the publishers of his works, can never have been the first written by him; it seems to me as perfect in its kind as almost any thing we have of his. One may observe, that the unities are kept here, with an exactness uncommon to the liberties of his writing; though that was what, I suppose, he valued himself least upon, since his excellencies were all of another kind. I am very sensible, that he does, in this play, depart too much from that likeness to truth which ought to be observed in these sort of writings; yet he does it so very finely, that one is easily drawn in to have more faith for his sake, than reason does well allow of. His magic has something in it very solemn and very poetical; and that extravagant character of Caliban is mighty well sustained, shews a wonderful invention in the author, who could strike out such a particular wild image, and is certainly one of the finest and most uncommon grotesques that ever was seen. The observation which, I have been informed, three very great men concurred in making upon this part, was extremely just; that Shakspeare had not only found out a new character in his Caliban, but had also devised and adapted a new manner of language for that character,

It is the same magic that raises the Fairies in A Midsummer-Night's Dream, the Witches in Macbeth, and the Ghost in Hamlet, with thoughts and language so proper to the parts they sustain, and so peculiar to the talent of this writer. But of the two last of these plays I shall have occasion to take notice, among the tragedies of Shakspeare. If one undertook to examine the greatest part of these by those rules which are established by Aristotle, and taken from the model of the Grecian stage, it would be no very hard task to find a great many faults; but as Shakspeare lived under a kind of mere light of nature, and had never beer made acquai.ited with the regularity of those written precepts, so it would be hard to judge him by a law he knew nothing of. We are to consider him as a man that lived in a state of almost universal licence and ignorance : there was no established judge, but every one took the liberty to write according to the dictates of his own fancy. When one considers, that there is not one play before him of a reputation good enough to entitle it to an appearance on the present stage, it cannot but be a matter of great wonder that he should advance dramatic poetry so far as he did. The fable is what is generally placed the first, among those that are reckoned the constituent parts of a tragic or heroic poem; not, perhaps, as it is the most difficult or beautiful, but as it is the first properly to be thought of in the contrivance and course of the whole; and with the fable ought to be considered the fit disposition, order, and conduct, of its several parts. As it is not in this province of the drama, that the strength and mastery of Shakspeare lay, so I shall not undertake the tedious and ill-natured trouble to point out the several faults he was guilty of in it. His tales were seldom invented, but rather taken either from the true history, or novels and romances : and he commonly made use of them in that order, with those incidents, and that extent of time in which he found them in the authors from whence he borrowed them. So The Winter's Talc, which is taken from an old book, called The Delectable History of Dorastus and Faunia, contains the space of sixteen or seventeen years, and the scene is sometimes laid in Bohemia, and sometimes in Sicily, according to the original order of the story. Almost all his historical plays comprehend a great length of time, and very different and distinct places : and in his Antony and Cleopatra, the scene travels over the greatest part of the Roman empire. But in recompence for his careless. ness in this point, when he comes to another part of the drama, the manners of his charac. ters, in acting or speaking what is proper for them, and fit to be shewn by the poet, he may De generally justified, and in very many places greatly commended. For those plays which he has taken from the English or Roman history, let any man compare them, and he will find the character as exact in the poet as the historian. He seems, indeed, so far from proposing to himself any one action for a subject, that the title very often tells you, it is The Life of King John, King Richard, &c. What can be more agreeable to the idea our sistorians give of Henry the Sixth, than the picture Shakspeare has drawn of him? Hio manners are everywhere exactly the same with the story; one finds him still described. with simplicity, passive sanctity, want of courage, weakness of mind, and easy submission to the governance of an imperious wife, or prevailing faction : though, at the same time, the poet does justice to his good qualities, and moves the pity of his audience for him, by shewing him pious, disinterested, a contemner of the things of this world, and wholly resigned to the severest dispensations of God's providence. There is a short scene in The Second Part of Henry the Sixth, which I cannot but think admirable in its kind. Cardinal Beaufort, who had murdered the Duke of Gloucester, is shewn in the last agonies on his death-bed, with the good king praying over him. There is so much terror in one, so muca tenderness and moving piety

in the other, as must touch any one who is capable either of fear or pity. In his Henry the Eighth, that prince is drawn with that greatness of mind, and all those good qualities which are attributed to him in any account of his reign. If his faults are not shewn in an equal degree, and the shades in this picture do not bear a just proportion to the lights, it is not that the artist wanted either colours or skill in the disposition of them; but the truth, I believe, might be, that he forbore doing it out of regard to Queen Elizabeth ; since it could have been no very great respect to the memory of his mistress, to have exposed some certain parts of her father's life upon the stage. He bas dealt much more freely with that minister of the great king; and, certainly, nothing was ever more justly written, than the character of Cardinal Wolsey. He has shewn hi insolent in his prosperity ; and yet, by a wonderful address, he makes his fall and ruin th subject of general compassion. The whole man with his vices and virtues, is finely and exactly described in the second scene of the fourth Act. The distresses, likewise, of Queen Katharine, in this play, are very movingly touched ; and, though the art of the poet has screened King Henry from any gross imputation of injustice, yet one is inclined to wish, the Queen had met with a fortune more worthy of her birth and virtue. Nor, are the manners, proper to the persons represented, less justly observed, in those characters taken from the Roman history; and of this, the fierceness and impatience of Coriolanus, his courage and disdain of the common people; the virtue and philosophical temper of Brutus; and the irregular greatness of mind in M. Antony, are beautiful proofs. For the two last especially, you find them exactly as they are described by Plutarch, from whom certainly Shakspeare copied them. He has, indeed, followed his original pretty close, and taken in several little incidents that might have been spared in a play. But, as Í hinted before, his design seems most commonly rather to describe those great men in the several fortunes and accidents of their lives, than to take any single great action, and form his work simply upon that. However, there are some of his pieces, where the fable is founded upon one action only. Such are, more especially, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet ana Othello. The design in Romeo and Juliet is plainly the punishment of their two families, for the unreasonable feuds and animosities that had been so long kept up between them, and occasioned the effusion of so much blood. In the management of this story, he has shewn something wonderfully tender and passionate in the love-part, and very pitiful in the distress. Hamlet is founded on much the same tale with the Electra of Sophocles. In each of them a young prince is engaged to revenge the death of his father, their mothers are equally guilty, are both concerned in the murder of their husbands, and are afterwards married to the murderers. There is in the first part of the Greek tragedy something very moving in the grief of Electra; but, as Mr. Dacier has observed, there is something very unnatural and schocking in the manners he has given that princess and Orestes in the latter part. Orestes imbrues his hands in the blood of his own mother. On the contrary, Hamlet is represented with the same piety towards his father, and resolution to revenge his death, as Orestes; he has the same abhorrence for his mother's guilt, which, to provoke him the more, is heightened by incest : but, it is with wonderful art and justness of judgment, that the poet restrains him from doing violence to his mother. To prevent any thing of that kind, he makes his Father's Ghost forbid that part of his vengeance, and thus distinguishes rightly between horror and terror. The latter is a proper passion of tragedy, but the former ought always to be carefully avoided. And, certainly, no dramatic writer ever succeeded better in raising terror in the minds of an audience than Shakspeare has done. The whole tragedy of Macbeth, but more especially the scene where the king is murdered, in the second Act, as well as this play, is a noble proof of that manly spirit with which he writ; and both shew how powerful he was in giving the strongest motions to our souls that they are capable of I cannot leave Hamlet without taking notice of the advan. tage with which we have seen this master-piece of Shakspeare distinguish itself upon the stage, by Mr. Betterton's fine performance of that part. A man, who, though he had no other good qualities, as he has a great many, must have made his way into the esteem of all men of letters, by this only excellency. No man is better acquainted with Shakspeare's manner of expression; and, indeed, he has studied him so well, and is so much a master of him, that whatever part of his he performs, he does it as if it had been written on purpose for him, and that the author had exactly conceived it as he plays it. I must own a particular obligation to him, for the most considerable part of the passages relating to this life, which ave here transmitted the public: his venerat for the memory Os Shakspeare having engaged him to make a journey into Warwickshire on purpose to gather up what remai zs he could, of a naine for wbich he bad so great a veu

MERRY WIVES

OF

WINDSOR.

PERSONS REPRESENTED.

Sir JOHN F.LSTAFF.

ROBIN, Page to Falstaff. FENTON.

SIMPLÉ, Servant to Slender.
SHALLOW, & Country Justice.

RUGBY, Servant to Dr. Caius.
SLENDER, Cousin to Shallow.
Mr. FORD, Two Gentlemen dwelling at Mrs. Ford.
Mr. PAGE,
Windsor.

Mrs. PAGE.
WILLIAM PAGE, a Boy, Son to Mr. Page. Mrs. ANNE Page, her Daughter, in love willa
Sir Hugh Evans, a Welsh Parson,

Fenton.
Dr. Caius, a French Physician.

Mrs. QUICKLY, Servant to Dr. Caius.
Host of the Garter Inn.
BARDOLPH,

Servants to Page, Ford, &c.
PISTOL,

Followers of Falstaff. Nym,

Scene, Windsor; and the parts adjacent.

ACT I.

agements unto you, I am of the church, and SCENE I.---Windsor. Before Page's House. will be glad to do my benevolence, to nako

atonements and compromises between you. Enter Justice SHALLOW, SLENDER, and Sir

Shal. The Council shall hear it; it is a riot. Hugh Evans.

Era. It is not meet the Council hear a riot; Shal. Sir Hugh, persuade me not; I will there is no fear of Got in a riot : the Council make a Star-chamber matter of it: if he were look you, shall desire to hear the fear of Got, twenty Sir John Falstaffs, he shall not abuse and not to hear a riot; take your vizamentot Robert Shallow, esquire.

in that. Slen. In the county of Gloster, justice of Shal. Ha! o'my life, if I were young again, peace, and coram.

the sword should end it. Shal. Ay, cousin Slender, and Cust-alorum. Eca. It is petter that friends is the sword,

Slen. Ay, and ratolorum too; and a gentle and end it: and there is also another device man born, master parson ; who writes himself in my prain, which, peradventure, prings

goot armigero ; in any bill, warrant, quittance, or discretions with it. There is Anne Page, obligation, armigero.

which is daughter to master George Page, Shal. Ay, that we do; and have done any which is pretty virginity, time these three hundred years.

Slen. Mistress Anne Page? She has brown Slen. All his successors, gone before him, hair, and speaks smallt like a woman. have done't; and all his ancestors, that come Era. It is that fery versor for all the 'orld, after him, may: they may give the dozen white as just as you will desire; and seven hundred luces in their coat.

pounds of monies, and gold, and silver, is her Shal. It is an old coat.

grandsire, upon his death's-bed, (Got 'deliver Era. The dozen white louses do become an to a joyful resurrections !) give, when she is old coat well; it agrees well, passant: it is a able to overtake seventeen years old : it were familiar beast to man, and signifies-love. a goot inotion, if we leave our pribbles and

Shal. The luce is the fresh tish; the salt fish prabbles, and desire a marriage between masis an old coat.

ter Abraham, and mistress Anne Page. Slen. I may quarter, coz?

Shal. Did her grandsire leave her seven bun Shal. You may, by marrying:

dred pound? Era. It is marring indeed, if he quarter it Eva. Ay, and her father is make her a pette Shal. Not a whit.

penny. Era. Yes, py'rt-lady; if he has a quarter of Shal. I know the young gentlewoman; she your coat, there is but three skirts for yourself, has good gifts.

my simple conjectures : but that is all one: Era. Seven hundred pounds, and possibili. If Sir John Falstaff have committed dispar- ties, is good gifts.

* A tide forcerly appropriated to chaplains
+ Custos roteir um
t By our.

† Advisement both

# Court of Star-chamber.

Shal. Well, let us see honest master Page: Slen. Ay, it is no matter. Is Falstaff there?

Pist. How now, Mephostophilus ?* Eva. Shall I tell you a lie? I do despise a Slen. Ay, it is no matter. liar, as I do despise one that is false ; or, as I Nym. Slice, I say! pauca, pauca ;t slice! that's despise one that is not true. The knight, Sir my humour. John, is there ; and, I beseech you, ba ruled Slen. Where's Simple, my man ?-can you by your well-willers. I will peat the door tell, cousin ? [knocks] for master Page. What, hoa ! Got Eva. Peace: I pray you! Now let us underpless your house here!

stand : There is three umpires in this matter

as I understand: that is master Page, fideliEnter TAGE.

cet, master Page; and there is myself, fidelicet, Page. Who's there?

m elf; and the three party is, lastly and Era. Here is Got’s plessing, and your friend. "'.wally, mine host of the Garter. and justice Shallow : and here young maste Page. We three, to hear it, and end it beSlender; that, peradventures, shall tell yoa tween them. another tale, if matters grow to your likings. Era. Fery goot: I will make a prief of it in

Puge. I am glad to see your worships well: my note-book; and we will afterwards 'ork I thank you for my venison, master Shallow, upon the cause, with as great discreetly as we

Shal. Master Page, I am glad to see you; can. Much good do it your good heart! I wished Fal. Pistol,your venison better : it was ill kill'd :-How Pist. He hears with ears. doth good mistress Page ?—and I love you Eva. The tevil and his tam! what phrase is always with my heart, la ; with my heart. this, He hears with ear? Why, it is affectations. Page. Sir, I thank you.

Fal. Pistol, did you pick master Slender's Shal. Sir, I thank you; by yea and no, I do. purse ? Page. I am glad to see you, good master Slen. Ay,'by these gloves, did he, (or I would Slender.

I might never come in mine own great chamber Slen. How does your fallow greyhound, Sir ? again else, of seven groats in mill-sixpences, I heard say, he was out-run on Cotsale.* and two Edward shovel-boards,t that cost me Page. It could not be judg'd, Sir.

two shillings and twopence a-piece of Yead Slen. You'll not confess, you'll not confess. Miller, by these gloves.

Shal. That he will not ;tis your fault, 'tis Fal. Is this true, Pistol ? your fault :-'Tis a good dog.

Eva. No; it is false, if it is a pick-purse. Page. A cur, Sir.

Pist. Ha, thou mountain-foreigner !-- Sir Shal. Sir, he's a good dog, and a fair dog; John, and master mine, Can there be more said ? he is good, and fair. I combat challenge of this latten bilbo : Is Sir John Falstaff here?

Word of denial in thy labras| here; Page. Sir, he is within ; and I would I could Word of denial; froth and scum, thou liest. do a good office between you.

Slen. By these gloves, then 'twas he. Era. It is spoke as a Christians ought to Nym. Be advised, Sir, and pass good huspeak.

mours : I will say, marry trap, with you, if Shal. He hath wrong'd me, master Page. you run the nuthook's humour on me; that is Puge. Sir, he doth in some sort confess it. the very note of it.

Shal. If it be confess'd, it is not redress'd; is Slen. By this hat, then he in the red face not that so, master Page ? He bath wrong'd had it: for though I cannot remember what me; indeed, he hath ;-at a word, he hath;- I did when you made me drunk, yet I am not believe me ;-Robert Shallow, esquire, saith, altogether an ass. he is wrong'd.

Fal. What say you, Scarlet and John ? Page. Here comes Sir John.

Bard. Why, Sir, for my part, I say, the Enter Sir John Falstaff, BARDOLPH, Nym, gentleman had drunk himself out of his five and PISTOL.

Era. It is his five senses : fie, what the ignoFal. Now, master Shallow; you'll complain rance is ! of me to the king ?

Bard. And being fap,** Şir, was, as they Shal. Knight you have beaten my men, killed say, cashier'd; and so conclusions pass'd the my deer, and broke open my lodge.

careires.ft Fal. But not kiss'd your keeper's daughter? Slen. Ay, you spake in Latin then too; but Shal. Tut, a pin! this shall be answer'd. 'tis no maiter: I'll ne'er be drunk whilst i live Fal. I will answer it straight;-I have done again, but in honest, civil, godly company, for all this :-That is now answer'd.

this trick: if I be drunk, I'll be drunk" with Shal. The Council shall know this.

those that have the fear of God, and not with Fal. "Twere better for you, if it were known drunken knaves. in counsel : you'll be laugh'd at.

Evu. So Got 'udge me, that is a virtuous Eta. Pauca verba, Sir John, good worts. mind.

Fal. Good worts !+ good cabbage.--Slender, Fal. You hear all these matters denied, genI broke your head ; What matter have you tlemen ; you hear it. against me?

Slen. Marry, Sir, I have matter in my head Enter Mistress ANNE Page with wine; Mistress against you; and against your coney-catchingi Ford and Mistress Page following. rascals, Bardolph, Nym, and Pistol. They carried' me to the tavern, and made me drunk, drink within.

Page. Nay, daughter, carry the wine in;

we'll and afterwards picked my pocket.

(Exit ANNE PAGE. Bard. You Banbury cheese!

* The name of an ugly spirit.

+ Few words.

| King Edward's shillings, used in the game of shufi. in the Cotswold in Gloucestershire.

board. Blade as thin as a lath.

Il Lips. + Worts was the ancient name of all the cabbage kind. If you say I am a thief.

** Drunk Shardera | Nothing but paring.

# The bounds of good behaviour.

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »