« AnteriorContinuar »
the wit most commonly sprightly and pleasing, except in those places where he runs into doggrel rhymes, as in The Comedy of Errors, and some other plays. As for his jingling sometimes, and playing upon words, it was the common vice of the age he lived in; and if 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 mankind, 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 been made acquainted 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 Tale, which is taken from an old book, called The Delectable History of Dorastus and Fawnia, 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 carelessness 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 be 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 historians give of Henry the Sixth, than the picture Shakspeare has drawn of him? His 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 much 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 has 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 him insolent in his prosperity; and yet, by a wonderful address, he makes his fall and ruin the 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 and 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 advantage 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 I have here transmitted to the public: his veneration for the memory of Shakspeare having engaged him to make a journey into Warwickshire on purpose to gather up what remains he could, of a name for which he had so great a veneration.
SCENE I.---Windsor. Before PAGE'S House. Enter Justice SHALLOW, SLENDER, and Sir* HUGH EVANS.
Shal. Sir Hugh, persuade me not; I will make a Star-chamber matter of it: if he were twenty Sir John Falstaffs, he shall not abuse Robert Shallow, esquire.
Slen. In the county of Gloster, justice of peace, and coram.
Shal. Ay, cousin Slender, and Cust-alorum.t Slen. Ay, and ratolorum too; and a gentleman born, master parson; who writes himself armigero; in any bill, warrant, quittance, or obligation, armigero.
Shal. Ay, that we do; and have done any time these three hundred years.
Slen. All his successors, gone before him, have done't; and all his ancestors, that come after him, may: they may give the dozen white luces in their coat.
Shal. It is an old coat.
Eva. The dozen white louses do become an old coat well; it agrees well, passant: it is a familiar beast to man, and signifies-love. Shal. The luce is the fresh fish; the salt fish is an old coat.
Slen. I may quarter, coz?
Shal. You may, by marrying.
Eva. It is marring indeed, if he quarter it. Shal, Not a whit.
Eva. Yes, py'rt-lady; if he has a quarter of your coat, there is but three skirts for yourself, in my simple conjectures: but that is all one: If Sir John Falstaff have committed dispar* A title formerly appropriated to chaplains. + Custos rotulorum. By our.
agements unto you, I am of the church, and will be glad to do my benevolence, to make atonements and compromises between you.
Shal. The Council shall hear it; it is a riot. Eva. It is not meet the Council hear a riot; there is no fear of Got in a riot: the Council, look you, shall desire to hear the fear of Got, and not to hear a riot; take your vizamentst in that.
Shal. Ha! o' my life, if I were young again, the sword should end it.
Eva. It is petter that friends is the sword, and end it: and there is also another device in my prain, which, peradventure, prings goot discretions with it: There is Anne Page, which is daughter to master George Page, which is pretty virginity.
Slen. Mistress Anne Page? She has brown hair, and speaks small like a woman.
Eva. It is that fery verson for all the 'orld, as just as you will desire; and seven hundred pounds of monies, and gold, and silver, is her grandsire, upon his death's-bed, (Got deliver to a joyful resurrections!) give, when she is able to overtake seventeen years old: it were a goot motion, if we leave our pribbles and prabbles, and desire a marriage between master Abraham, and mistress Anne Page.
Shal. Did her grandsire leave her seven hundred pound?
Era. Ay, and her father is make her a petter penny.
Shal. I know the young gentlewoman; she has good gifts.
Eva. Seven hundred pounds, and possibilities, is good gifts.
* Court of Star-chamber. + Advisement,
Page. Who's there?
Eva. Here is Got's plessing, and your friend, and justice Shallow and here young master Slender; that, peradventures, shall tell you another tale, if matters grow to your likings. Page. I am glad to see your worships well: I thank you for my venison, master Shallow. Shal. Master Page, I am glad to see you; Much good do it your good heart! I wished your venison better: it was ill kill'd:-How doth good mistress Page?-and I love you always with my heart, la; with my heart.
Page. Sir, I thank you.
Shal. Sir, I thank you; by yea and no, I do. Page. I am glad to see you, good master Slender.
Slen. How does your fallow greyhound, Sir? I heard say, he was out-run on Cotsale."
Page. It could not be judg'd, Sir.
Slen. You'll not confess, you'll not confess. Shal. That he will not ;-'tis your fault, 'tis your fault:-'Tis a good dog.
Page. A cur, Sir.
Shal. Sir, he's a good dog, and a fair dog; Can there be more said? he is good, and fair. Is Sir John Falstaff here?
Page. Sir, he is within; and I would I could do a good office between you.
Eva. It is spoke as a Christians ought to speak.
Shal. He hath wrong'd me, master Page. Page. Sir, he doth in some sort confess it. Shal. If it be confess'd, it is not redress'd; is not that so, master Page? He hath wrong'd me; indeed, he hath; at a word, he hath believe me ;-Robert Shallow, esquire, saith, he is wrong'd.
Page. Here comes Sir John. Enter Sir JOHN FALSTAFF, BARDOLPH, NYM,
Fal. Now, master Shallow; you'll complain of me to the king?
Shal. Knight you have beaten my men, killed iny deer, and broke open my lodge.
Fal. But not kiss'd your keeper's daughter? Shal. Tut, a pin! this shall be answer'd. Fal. I will answer it straight;-I have done all this-That is now answer'd.
Shal. The Council shall know this. Fal. "Twere better for you, if it were known in counsel: you'll be laugh'd at.
Eva. Pauca verba, Sir John, good worts. Fal. Good worts! good cabbage.-Slender, I broke your head; What matter have you against me?
Slen. Marry, Sir, I have matter in my head against you; and against your coney-catching+ rascals, Bardolph, Nym, and Pistol. They carried me to the tavern, and made me drunk, and afterwards picked my pocket. Bard. You Banbury cheese!
Cotswold in Gloucestershire.
+ Worts was the ancient name of all the cabbage kind. Sharpers. Nothing but paring.
Slen. Ay, it is no matter.
Nym. Slice, I say! pauca, pauca ;† slice! that's my humour.
Slen. Where's Simple, my man?-can you tell, cousin?
Eva. Peace: I pray you! Now let us understand: There is three umpires in this matter as I understand: that is-master Page, fidelicet, master Page; and there is myself, fidelicet, myself; and the three party is, lastly and finally, mine host of the Garter.
Page. We three, to hear it, and end it between them.
Eva. Fery goot: I will make a prief of it in my note-book; and we will afterwards 'ork upon the cause, with as great discreetly as we can.
Pist. He hears with ears.
Eva. The tevil and his tam! what phrase is this, He hears with ear? Why, it is affectations. Fal. Pistol, did you pick master Slender's purse?
Slen. Ay, by these gloves, did he, (or I would I might never come in mine own great chamber again else,) of seven groats in mill-sixpences, and two Edward shovel-boards, that cost me two shillings and twopence a-piece of Yead Miller, by these gloves.
Fal. Is this true, Pistol?
Eva. No; it is false, if it is a pick-purse.
I combat challenge of this latten bilbo :§
Nym. Be advised, Sir, and pass good humours: I will say, marry trap, with you, if you run the nuthook's¶ humour on me; that is the very note of it.
Slen. By this hat, then he in the red face had it: for though I cannot remember what I did when you made me drunk, yet I am not altogether an ass.
Fal. What say you, Scarlet and John? Bard. Why, Sir, for my part, I say, the gentleman had drunk himself out of his five
Slen. Ay, you spake in Latin then too; but 'tis no matter: I'll ne'er be drunk whilst I live again, but in honest, civil, godly company, for this trick: if I be drunk, I'll be drunk with those that have the fear of God, and not with drunken knaves.
Eva. So Got 'udge me, that is a virtuous mind.
Fal. You hear all these matters denied, gentlemen; you hear it.
Enter Mistress ANNE PAGE with wine; Mistress FORD and Mistress PAGE following. Page. Nay, daughter, carry the wine in; we'll drink within. [Exit ANNE PAGE
Slen. O heavens! this is mistress Anne Page. Page. How now, mistress Ford? Fal. Mistress Ford, by my troth, you are very well met: by your leave, good mistress.
[Kissing her, Page. Wife, bid these gentlemen welcome:Come, we have a hot venison pasty to dinner; come, gentlemen, I hope we shall drink down all unkindness.
[Exeunt all but SHALLOW, SLENDER, and EVANS. Slen. I had rather than forty shillings, I had my book of Songs and Sonnets here :
How now, Simple! where have you been? 1 must wait on myself, must I? You have not The Book of Riddles about you, have you? Sim. Book of Riddles! why, did you not lend it to Alice Shortcake upon Allhallowmas last, a fortnight afore Michaelmas ?*
Shal. Come, coz; come, coz; we stay for you. A word with you, coz: marry, this, coz; There is, as 'twere, a tender, a kind of tender, made afar off by Sir Hugh here ;-Do you un
Slen. Ay, Sir, you shall find me reasonable; if it be so, I shall do that that is reason. Shal. Nay, but understand me. Slen. So I do, Sir.
Era. Give ear to his motions, master Slender: 1 will description the matter to you, if you be capacity of it.
Slen. Nay, I will do as my cousin Shallow says: I pray you, pardon me; he's a justice of peace in his country, simple though I stand
Eva. But that is not the question; the question is concerning your marriage.
Shal. Ay, there's the point, Sir. Eva. Marry, is it; the very point of it; to mistress Anne Page.
Slen. Why, if it be so, I will marry her, upon any reasonable demands.
Evan. But can you affection the 'oman? Let us command to know that of your mouth, or of your lips; for divers philosophers hold, that the lips is parcel of the mouth ;-Therefore, precisely, can you carry your good will to the maid?
Shal. Cousin Abraham Slender, can you love
Slen. I hope, Sir,-I will do, as it shall become one that would do reason.
Eva. Nay, Got's lords and his ladies, you must speak possitable, if you can carry her your desires towards her.
Shal. That you must: Will you, upon good dowry, marry her?
Slen. I will do a greater thing than that, upon | your request, cousin, in any reason.
Shal. Nay, conceive me, conceive me, sweet coz; what I do, is to pleasure you, coz: Can you love the maid?
Slen. I will marry her, Sir, at your request; but if there be no great love in the beginning, yet heaven may decrease it upon better acquaintance, when we are married, and have more occasion to know one another: I hope, upon familiarity will grow more contempt: but if you say, marry her, I will marry her, that I am freely dissolved, and dissolutely.
Eva. It is a fery discretion answer; save, the faul' is in the 'ort dissolutely the 'ort is, according to our meaning, resolutely;-his meaning is good.
• An intended blunder.
Shal. Here comes fair mistress Anne:Anne! Would I were young, for your sake, mistress
Anne. The dinner is on the table; my father desires your worships' company.
Shal. I will wait on him, fair mistress Anne. Eva. Od's plessed will! I will not be absence at the grace.
[Exeunt SHALLOW and Sir H. EVANS. Anne. Will't please your worship to come in, Sir.
Slen. No, I thank you, forsooth, heartily; I am very well.
Anne. The dinner attends you, Sir.
Slen. I am not a-hungry, I thank you, forsooth: Go, sirrah, for all you are my man, go, A justice of peace sometime may be beholden wait upon my cousin Shallow: [Exit SIMPLE.] to his friend for a man :-I keep but three men and a boy yet, till my mother be dead: But what though? yet I live like a poor gentleman born.
Anne. I may not go in without your worship: they will not sit, till you come.
Slen. I'faith, I'll eat nothing; I thank you as much as though I did.
Anne. I pray you, Sir, walk in.
Slen. I had rather walk here, I thank you; bruised my shin the other day with playing at sword and dagger with a master of fence, three veneys" for a dish of stewed prunes; hot meat since. Why do your dogs bark so? and, by my troth, I cannot abide the smell of
be there bears i' the town?
Anne. I think, there are, Sir; I heard them talked of.
Slen. I love the sport well; but I shall as soon quarrel at it, as any man in England.-You are afraid, if you see the bear loose, are you not?
Anne. Ay, indeed, Sir.
Slen. That's meat and drink to me now: I have seen Sackersont loose, twenty times; and have taken him by the chain: but, I warrant you, the women have so cried and shriek'd at it, that it pass'd :‡-but women, indeed, cannot abide 'em; they are very ill-favoured rough things.
Page. Come, gentle master Slender, come; we stay for you.
Slen. I'll eat nothing; I thank you, Sir. Page. By cock and pye, you shall not choose, Sir: come, come.
Slen. Nay, pray you, lead the way.
Slen. Mistress Anne, yourself shall go first.
Anne. I pray you, Sir.
Slen. I'll rather be unmannerly than troublesome: you do yourself wrong, indeed, la. [Exeunt.
SCENE II.-The same.
Enter Sir HUGH EVANS and SIMPLE. Eva. Go your ways, and ask of Doctor Caius' house, which is the way; and there
*Three set-to's, bouts, or hits.
+ The name of a bear exhibited at Paris-Garden in Southwark. Surpassed all expression.