Abbildungen der Seite


of tragi-comedy was the common mistake of that age, and is indeed become so agreeable to the English taste, that though the severer criticks among us cannot bear it, yet the generality of our audiences seem to be better pleased with it than with an exact tragedy. The Merry Wives of Windsor, The Comedy of Errors, and The Taming of a Shrew, are all pure comedy; the rest, however they are called, have something of both kinds. It is not very easy to determine which way of writing he was most excellent in. There is certainly a great deal of entertainment in his comical humours; and though they did not then strike at all ranks of people, as the satire of the present age has taken the liberty to do, yet there is a pleasing and a well-distinguished variety in those characters which he thought fit to meddle with. Falstaff is allowed by every body to be a master-piece; the character is always well sustained, though drawn out into the length of three plays; and even the account of his death given by his old landlady Mrs. Quickly, in the first Act of Henry the self, it was given to the publick. Here is an involuntary confession that tragi-comedy is more pleasing to the audience; I would ask then, upon what ground it is condemned ?

This ideal excellence of uniformity rests upon a supposition that we are either more refined, or a higher order of beings than we really are: there is no provision made for what may be called the animal part of our minds.

Though we should acknowledge this passion for variety and contrarieties to be the vice of our nature, it is still a propensity which we all feel, and which he who undertakes to divert us must find provision for.

We are obliged, it is true, in our pursuit after science, or ex cellence in any art, to keep our minds steadily fixed for a long continuance ; it is a task we impose upon ourselves: but I do not wish to task myself in my amusements.

If the great object of the theatre is amusement, a dramatick work must possess every means to produce that effect; if it gives instruction by the by, so much its merit is the greater ; but that is not its principal object. The ground on which it stands, and which gives it a claim to the protection and encouragement of civilised society, is not because it enforces moral precepts, or gives instruction of any kind; but from the general advantage that it produces, by habituating the mind to find its amusement in intellectual pleasures ; weaning it froin sensuality, and by de. grees filing off, smoothing, and polishing, itsrugged corners.



Fifth, though it be extremely natural, is yet as diverting as any part of his life.

If there be any fault in the draught he has made of this lewd old fellow, it is, that though he has made him a thief, lying, cowardly, vainglorious, 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 deerstealer, that he might at the same time remember his Warwickshire prosecutor, under the name of Justice Shallow; he has given him 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 vainglorious 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


the same coat of arms which Dugdale, in his Antiquities of that county, describes for a family there,] There are two coats, I observe, in Dugdale, where three silver fishes are borne in the name of Lucy; and another coat to the monument of Thomas Lucy, son of Sir William Lucy, in which are quartered in four several divisions, twelve little fishes, three in each division, probably luces. This very coat, indeed, seems alluded to in Shallow's giving the dozen white luces; and in Slender's saying he may quarter. THEOBALD.

[ocr errors]

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 must allow it to be very beautifully written. There is something in the friendship of Antonio to Bassanio very great, generous, and tender. The whole fourth Act (supposing, as I 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 musick. The melancholy of Jaques, in As You Like It, is as singular and odd as it is diverting. And if, what Horace says,

“ Difficile est proprie communia dicere,” 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, though the thought be old, and common enough.

[ocr errors]

but though we have seen that play received and acted as a comedy,] In 1701 Lord Lansdown produced his alteration of The Merchant of Venice, at the theatre in Lincoln's-Inn-Fields, under the title of The Jew of Venice, and expressly calls it a comedy. Shylock was performed by Mr. Doggett. Reed.

And such was the bad taste of our ancestors that this piece continued to be a stock-play from 1701 to Feb. 14, 1741, when The Merchant of Venice was exhibited for the first time at the theatre in Drury-Lane, and Mr. Macklin made his first appearance in the character of Shylock. MALONE.

In justice to Lord Lansdown it should be mentioned, that the alterations which he made in the part of Shylock were very inconsiderable; and that therefore the misconception of this character must be imputed to the performers. Mr. Reed's censure upon him for calling it a comedy, is altogether unfounded. It is included among the comedies in the first folio, and in the early quartos it is termed The Comical Historie of The Merchant of Venice.


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 parts,
“ His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
“ Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms :
“ 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 woful 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
« Ev'n in the cannon's mouth. And then, the justice;
In fair round belly, with good capon lin'd,
With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,
66 Full of wise saws and modern instances ;
“ And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
“ Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon:
“ With spectacles on nose, and pouch on side;
“ His youthful hose, well sav'd, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank ; and his big manly voice,
Turning again tow'rd 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." His images are indeed every where 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 worm i'th' bud,
• Feed on her damask cheek: she pin'd in thought,
" And sate like Patience on a monument,

Smiling at Grief." What an image is here given ! and what a task would it have been for the greatest masters of Greece and Rome to have expressed the passions designed by this sketch of statuary! The style of his comedy is, in general, natural to the characters, and easy in itself; and the wit most commonly sprightly and pleasing, except in those places where he runs into doggrel rhymes, as in The

[ocr errors]


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 imaginanation an entire loose, and raises his fancy to a fight 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 magick has something in it very solemn and very poetical : and that extravagant character of Caliban is mighty well sustained, shows 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

- which, I have been informed, three very great men concurred in making-] Lord Falkland, Lord C. J. Vaughan, and Mr. Selden. Rowe.

Dryden was of the same opinion. “ His person (says he, speaking of Caliban,) is monstrous, as he is the product of unnatural lust, and his language is as hobgoblin as his person : in all things he is distinguished from other mortals." Preface to Troilus and Cressida. Malone.

See this notion controverted by Dr. Johnson in a note on The Tempest, vol. xv. p. 52, n. 2. Boswell.

« ZurückWeiter »