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Shakespeare: His Life, Art, And Characters, Volume I. by H. N. Hudson

Part 6 out of 9

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then, of his women simply means, I suppose, that they are women, as
they ought to be, and not men, as he meant they should not be, and as
we have cause to rejoice that they are not. He knew very well that in
this matter equality and diversity are nowise incompatible, and that
the sexes might therefore stand or sit on the same level without
standing in the same shoes or sitting in the same seats. If, indeed,
he had not known this, he could not have given _characters_ of either
sex, but only wretched and disgusting medlies and caricatures of both.

How nicely, on the one hand, Shakespeare discriminates things that
really differ, so as to present in all cases the soul of womanhood,
without a particle of effeminacy; and how perfectly, on the other
hand, he reconciles things that seem most diverse, pouring into his
women all the intellectual forces of the other sex, without in the
least impairing or obscuring their womanliness;--all this is not more
rare in poetry than it is characteristic of his workmanship. Thus
Portia is as much superior to her husband in intellect, in learning,
and accomplishment, as she is in wealth; but she is none the less
womanly for all that. Nor, which is more, does she ever on that
account take the least thought of inverting the relation between them.
In short, her mental superiority breeds no kind of social
displacement, nor any desire of it. Very few indeed of the Poet's men
are more highly charged with intellectual power. While she is acting
the lawyer in disguise, her speech and bearing seem to those about her
in the noblest style of manliness. In her judge-like gravity and
dignity of deportment; in the extent and accuracy of her legal
knowledge; in the depth and appropriateness of her moral reflections;
in the luminous order, the logical coherence, and the beautiful
transparency of her thoughts, she almost rivals our Chief Justice
Marshall. Yet to us, who are in the secret of her sex, all the
proprieties, all the inward harmonies, of her character are
exquisitely preserved; and the essential grace of womanhood seems to
irradiate and consecrate the dress in which she is disguised.

Nor is it any drawback on her strength and substantial dignity of
character, that her nature is all overflowing with romance: rather,
this it is that glorifies her, and breathes enchantment about her; it
adds that precious seeing to the eye which conducts her to such
winning beauty and sweetness of deportment, and makes her the
"rich-souled creature" that Schlegel describes her to be. Therewithal
she may be aptly quoted as a mark-worthy instance how the Poet makes
the several parts and persons of a drama cohere not only with one
another but with the general circumstances wherein they occur. For so
in Portia's character the splendour of Italian skies and scenery and
art is reproduced; their spirit lives in her imagination, and is
complicated with all she does and says.

* * * * *

If Portia is the beauty of this play, Shylock is its strength. He is a
standing marvel of power and scope in the dramatic art; at the same
time appearing so much a man of Nature's making, that we can hardly
think of him as a creation of art. In the delineation Shakespeare had
no less a task than to fill with individual life and peculiarity the
broad, strong outlines of national character in its most revolting
form. Accordingly Shylock is a true representative of his nation;
wherein we have a pride which for ages never ceased to provoke
hostility, but which no hostility could ever subdue; a thrift which
still invited rapacity, but which no rapacity could ever exhaust; and
a weakness which, while it exposed the subjects to wrong, only
deepened their hate, because it kept them without the means or the
hope of redress. Thus Shylock is a type of national sufferings,
national sympathies, national antipathies. Himself an object of bitter
insult and scorn to those about him; surrounded by enemies whom he is
at once too proud to conciliate and too weak to oppose; he can have no
life among them but money; no hold on them but interest; no feeling
towards them but hate; no indemnity out of them but revenge. Such
being the case, what wonder that the elements of national greatness
became congealed and petrified into malignity? As avarice was the
passion in which he mainly lived, the Christian virtues that thwarted
this naturally seemed to him the greatest of wrongs.

With these strong national traits are interwoven personal traits
equally strong. Thoroughly and intensely Jewish, he is not more a Jew
than he is Shylock. In his hard, icy intellectuality, and his dry,
mummy-like tenacity of purpose, with a dash now and then of biting
sarcastic humour, we see the remains of a great and noble nature, out
of which all the genial sap of humanity has been pressed by
accumulated injuries. With as much elasticity of mind as stiffness of
neck, every step he takes but the last is as firm as the earth he
treads upon. Nothing can daunt, nothing disconcert him; remonstrance
cannot move, ridicule cannot touch, obloquy cannot exasperate him:
when he has not provoked them, he has been forced to bear them; and
now that he does provoke them, he is hardened against them. In a word,
he may be broken; he cannot be bent.

Shylock is great in every scene where he appears, yet each later scene
exhibits him in a new element or aspect of greatness. For as soon as
the Poet has set forth one side or phase of his character, he
forthwith dismisses that, and proceeds to another. For example, the
Jew's cold and penetrating sagacity, as also his malignant and
remorseless guile, are finely delivered in the scene with Antonio and
Bassanio, where he is first solicited for the loan. And the strength
and vehemence of passion, which underlies these qualities, is still
better displayed, if possible, in the scene with Antonio's two
friends, Solanio and Salarino, where he first avows his purpose of
exacting the forfeiture. One passage of this scene has always seemed
to me a peculiarly idiomatic strain of eloquence, steeped in a mixture
of gall and pathos; and I the rather notice it, because of the
wholesome lesson which Christians may gather from it. Of course the
Jew is referring to Antonio:

"He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million; laughed at my
losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains,
cooled my friends, heated mine enemies; and what's his reason? I am a
Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions,
senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the
same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means,
warmed and cooled by the same Winter and Summer, as a Christian is? If
you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if
you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not
revenge? if we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.
If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? revenge: if a
Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian
example? why, revenge. The villainy you teach me, I will execute; and
it shall go hard but I will better the instruction."

I have spoken of the mixture of national and individual traits in
Shylock. It should be observed further, that these several elements of
character are so attempered and fused together, that we cannot
distinguish their respective influence. Even his avarice has a smack
of patriotism. Money is the only defence of his brethren as well as of
himself, and he craves it for their sake as well as his own; feels
indeed that wrongs are offered to them in him, and to him in them.
Antonio has scorned his religion, balked him of usurious gains,
insulted his person: therefore he hates him as a Christian, himself a
Jew; hates him as a lender of money gratis, himself a griping usurer;
hates him as Antonio, himself Shylock. Moreover, who but a Christian,
one of Antonio's faith and fellowship, has stolen away his daughter's
heart, and drawn her into revolt, loaded with his ducats and his
precious, precious jewels? Thus his religion, his patriotism, his
avarice, his affection, all concur to stimulate his enmity; and his
personal hate thus reinforced overcomes for once his greed, and he
grows generous in the prosecution of his aim. The only reason he will
vouchsafe for taking the pound of flesh is, "if it will feed nothing
else, it will feed my revenge"; a reason all the more satisfactory to
him, forasmuch as those to whom he gives it can neither allow it nor
refute it: and until they can rail the seal from off his bond, all
their railings are but a foretaste of the revenge he seeks. In his
eagerness to taste that morsel sweeter to him than all the luxuries of
Italy, his recent afflictions, the loss of his daughter, his ducats,
his jewels, and even the precious ring given him by his departed wife,
all fade from his mind. In his inexorable and imperturbable hardness
at the trial there is something that makes the blood to tingle. It is
the sublimity of malice. We feel that the yearnings of revenge have
silenced all other cares and all other thoughts. In his rapture of
hate the man has grown superhuman, and his eyes seem all aglow with
preternatural malignity. Fearful, however, as is his passion, he comes
not off without moving our pity. In the very act whereby he thinks to
avenge his own and his brethren's wrongs, the national curse overtakes
him. In standing up for the letter of the law against all the
pleadings of mercy, he has strengthened his enemies' hands, and
sharpened their weapons, against himself; and the terrible Jew sinks
at last into the poor, pitiable, heart-broken Shylock.

The inward strain and wrenching of his nature, caused by the revulsion
which comes so suddenly upon him, is all told in one brief sentence,
which may well be quoted as an apt instance how Shakespeare reaches
the heart by a few plain words, when another writer would most likely
pummel the ears with a high-strung oration. When it turns out that the
Jew's only chance of life stands in the very mercy which he has but a
moment before abjured; and when, as the condition of that mercy, he is
required to become a Christian, and also to sign a deed conveying to
his daughter and her husband all his remaining wealth; we have the
following from him:

"I pray you, give me leave to go from hence;
I am not well: send the deed after me,
And I will sign it."

Early in the play, when Shylock is bid forth to Bassanio's supper, and
Launcelot urges him to go, because "my young master doth expect your
reproach," Shylock replies, "So do I his." Of course he expects that
reproach through the bankruptcy of Antonio. This would seem to infer
that Shylock has some hand in getting up the reports of Antonio's
"losses at sea"; which reports, at least some of them, turn out false
in the end. Further than this, the Poet leaves us in the dark as to
how those reports grew into being and gained belief. Did he mean to
have it understood that the Jew exercised his cunning and malice in
plotting and preparing them? It appears, at all events, that Shylock
knew they were coming, before they came. Yet I suppose the natural
impression from the play is, that he lent the ducats and took the
bond, on a mere chance of coming at his wish. But he would hardly
grasp so eagerly at a bare possibility of revenge, without using means
to turn it into something more. This would mark him with much deeper
lines of guilt. Why, then, did not Shakespeare bring the matter
forward more prominently? Perhaps it was because the doing so would
have made Shylock appear too steep a criminal for the degree of
interest which his part was meant to carry in the play. In other
words, the health of the drama as a work of _comic_ art required his
criminality to be kept in the background. He comes very near
overshadowing the other characters too much, as it is. And Shylock's
character is _essentially tragic_; there is none of the proper timber
of comedy in him.

* * * * *

_The Merchant of Venice_ is justly distinguished among Shakespeare's
dramas, not only for the general felicity of the language, but also
for the beauty of particular scenes and passages. For descriptive
power, the opening scene of Antonio and his friends is not easily
rivalled, and can hardly fail to live in the memory of any one having
an eye for such things. Equally fine in its way is the scene of Tubal
and Shylock, where the latter is so torn with the struggle of
conflicting passions; his heart now sinking with grief at the account
of his fugitive daughter's expenses, now leaping with malignant joy at
the report of Antonio's losses. The trial-scene, with its tugging
vicissitudes of passion, and its hush of terrible expectation,--now
ringing with the Jew's sharp, spiteful snaps of malice, now made
musical with Portia's strains of eloquence, now holy with Antonio's
tender breathings of friendship, and dashed, from time to time, with
Gratiano's fierce jets of wrath, and fiercer jets of mirth,--is hardly
surpassed in tragic power anywhere; and as it forms the catastrophe
proper, so it concentrates the interest of the whole play. Scarcely
inferior in its kind is the night-scene of Lorenzo and Jessica, bathed
as it is in love, moonlight, "touches of sweet harmony," and
soul-lifting discourse, followed by the grave moral reflections of
Portia, as she approaches her home, and sees its lights, and hears its
music. The bringing in of this passage of ravishing lyrical sweetness,
so replete with the most soothing and tranquillizing effect, close
upon the intense dramatic excitement of the trial-scene, is such a
transition as we shall hardly meet with but in Shakespeare, and aptly
shows his unequalled mastery of the mind's capacities of delight. The
affair of the rings, with the harmless perplexities growing out of it,
is a well-managed device for letting the mind down from the tragic
height whereon it lately stood, to the merry conclusion which the play
requires. Critics, indeed, may easily quarrel with this sportive
after-piece; but it stands approved by the tribunal to which Criticism
itself must bow,--the spontaneous feelings of such as are willing to
be made cheerful and healthy, without beating their brains about the
_how_ and _wherefore_. It is in vain that critics tell us we ought to
"laugh by precept only, and shed tears by rule."

I ought not to close without remarking what a wide diversity of
materials this play reconciles and combines. One can hardly realize
how many things are here brought together, they are ordered in such
perfect concert and harmony. The greatness of the work is thus hidden
in its fine proportions. In many of the Poet's dramas we are surprised
at the great variety of character: here, besides this, we have a
remarkable variety of plot. And, admirable as may be the skill
displayed in the characters individually considered, the interweaving
of so many several plots, without the least confusion or
embarrassment, evinces a still higher mastership. For, many and
various as are the forms and aspects of life here shown, they all
emphatically live together, as if they all had but one vital


The Merry Wives of Windsor, as we have it, was first printed in the
folio of 1623. The play, however, was registered at the Stationers',
January 18, 1602, as "an excellent and pleasant-conceited comedy of
Sir John Falstaff and the Merry Wives of Windsor." In pursuance of
this entry, an imperfect and probably fraudulent edition was published
in the course of the same year, and was reprinted in 1619. In this
quarto edition, the play is but about half as long as in the authentic
copy of 1623, and some of the prose parts are printed so as to look
like verse. It is in doubt whether the issue of 1602 was a fair
reproduction of the play as originally written, or whether it was
printed from a defective and mutilated transcript stealthily taken
down by unskilful reporters at the theatre. On the former supposal, of
course the play must have been rewritten and greatly improved,--a
thing known to have been repeatedly done by the Poet; so that it is
nowise unlikely in this case. But, as the question hardly has interest
enough to pay the time and labour of discussing it, I shall dismiss it
without further remark.

It is to be presumed that every reader of Shakespeare is familiar with
the tradition which makes this comedy to have been written at the
instance of Queen Elizabeth; who, upon witnessing the performance of
_King Henry the Fourth_, was so taken with Falstaff, that she
requested the Poet to continue the character through another play, and
to represent him in love. This tradition is first heard of in 1702,
eighty-six years after the Poet's death; but it was accepted by the
candid and careful Rowe; Pope, also, Theobald, and others, made no
scruple of receiving it,--men who would not be very apt to let such a
matter pass unsifted, or help to give it currency, unless they thought
there was good ground for it. Besides, the thing is not at all
incredible in itself, either from the alleged circumstances of the
case, or from the character of the Queen; and there are some points in
the play that speak not a little in its support. One item of the story
is, that the author, hastening to comply with her Majesty's request,
wrote the play in the brief space of fourteen days. This has been
taken by some as quite discrediting the whole story; but, taking the
play as it stands in the copy of 1602, it does not seem to me that
fourteen days is too brief a time for Shakespeare to have done the
work in, especially with such a motive to quicken him.

This matter has a direct bearing in reference to the date of the
writing. _King Henry the Fourth_, the First Part certainly, and
probably the Second Part also, was on the stage before 1598. And in
the title-page to the first quarto copy of _The Merry Wives_, we have
the words, "As it hath been divers times acted by the Right Honourable
my Lord Chamberlain's Servants, both before her Majesty and
elsewhere." This would naturally infer the play to have been on the
stage a considerable time before the date of that issue. And all the
_clear_ internal evidences of the play itself draw in support of the
belief, that the Falstaff of Windsor memory was a continuation from
the Falstaff of Eastcheap celebrity. And the whole course of
blundering and exposure which Sir John here goes through is such, that
I can hardly conceive how the Poet should have framed it, but that he
was prompted to do so by some motive external to his own mind. That
the free impulse of his genius, without suggestion or inducement from
any other source, could have led him to put Falstaff through such a
series of uncharacteristic delusions and collapses, is to me wellnigh
incredible. So that I can only account for the thing by supposing the
man as here exhibited to have been an after-thought sprung in some way
from the manner in which an earlier and fairer exhibition of the man
had been received.

All which brings the original composition of the play to a point of
time somewhere between 1598 and 1601. On the other hand, the play, as
we have it, contains at least one passage, inferring, apparently, that
the work of revisal must have been done some time after the accession
of King James, which was in March, 1603. That passage is the odd
reason Mrs. Page gives Mrs. Ford for declining to share the honour of
knighthood with Sir John: "These knights will _hack_; and so thou
shouldst not alter the article of thy gentry"; which can scarce bear
any other sense than as referring to the prodigality with which the
King dispensed those honours in the first year of his English reign;
knighthood being thereby in a way to grow so _hackneyed_, that it
would rather be an honour not to have been dubbed. As for the reasons
urged by Knight and Halliwell for dating the first writing as far back
as 1593, they seem to me quite too far-fetched and fanciful to be
worthy of notice; certainly not worth the cost of sifting, nor even of

* * * * *

Much question has been made as to the particular period of his life in
which Sir John prosecuted his adventures at Windsor, whether before or
after the incidents of _King Henry the Fourth_, or at some
intermediate time. And some perplexity appears to have arisen from
confounding the order in which the several plays were written with the
order of the events described in them. Now, at the close of the
History, Falstaff and his companions are banished the neighborhood of
the Court, and put under strong bonds of good behaviour. So that the
action of the Comedy cannot well be referred to any point of time
after that proceeding. Moreover we have Page speaking of Fenton as
having "kept company with the wild Prince and Pointz." Then too, after
Falstaff's experiences in the buck-basket and while disguised as "the
wise woman of Brentford," we have him speaking of the matter as
follows: "If it should come to the ear of the Court, how I have been
transformed, and how my transformation hath been washed and cudgelled,
they would melt me out of my fat drop by drop, and liquor fishermen's
boots with me: I warrant they would whip me with their fine wits till
I were as crestfallen as a dried pear." From which it would seem that
he still enjoys at Court the odour of his putative heroism in killing
Hotspur at the battle of Shrewsbury, with which the First Part of the
History closes. The Second Part of the History covers a period of
nearly ten years, from July, 1403, to March, 1413; in which time
Falstaff may be supposed to have found leisure for the exploits at

So that the action of the Comedy might well enough have taken place in
one of Sir John's intervals of rest from the toils of war during the
time occupied by the Second Part of the History. And this placing of
the action is further sustained by the presence of Pistol in the
Comedy; who is not heard of at all in the First Part of the History,
but spreads himself with characteristic splendour in the Second.
Falstaff's boy, Robin, also, is the same, apparently, who figures as
his Page in the Second Part of the History. As for the Mrs. Quickly of
Windsor, we can hardly identify her in any way with the Hostess of
Eastcheap. For, as Gervinus acutely remarks, "not only are her outward
circumstances different, but her character also is essentially
diverse; similar in natural simplicity indeed, but at the same time
docile and skilful, as the credulous wife and widow of Eastcheap never
appears." To go no further, the Windsor Quickly is described as a
_maid_; which should suffice of itself to mark her off as distinct
from the Quickly of Boar's-head Tavern.

In truth, however, I suspect the Poet was not very attentive to the
point of making the events of the several plays fadge together. The
task of representing Sir John in love was so very different from that
of representing him in wit and war, that he might well fall into some
discrepancies in the process. And if he had been asked whereabouts in
the order of Falstaff's varied exploits he meant those at Windsor to
be placed, most likely he would have been himself somewhat puzzled to
answer the question.

For the plot and matter of the Comedy, Shakespeare was apparently
little indebted to any thing but his own invention. _The Two Lovers of
Pisa_, a tale borrowed from the novels of Straparola, and published in
Tarlton's _News out of Purgatory_, 1590, is thought to have suggested
some of the incidents; and the notion seems probable. In that tale a
young gallant falls in love with a jealous old doctor's wife, who is
also young, and really encourages the illicit passion. The gallant,
not knowing the doctor, takes him for confidant and adviser in the
prosecution of his suit, and is thus thwarted in all his plans. The
naughty wife conceals her lover, first in a basket of feathers, then
between some partitions of the house, and again in a box of deeds and
valuable papers. If the Poet had any other obligations, they have not
been traced clearly enough to be worth noting.

* * * * *

As a specimen of pure comedy, _The Merry Wives of Windsor_ by general
concession stands unrivalled. I say _pure_ comedy, for it has no such
interminglings of high poetry and serious passion as mark the Poet's
best comedies, and give them a semi-tragic cast. This play is not only
full of ludicrous situations and predicaments, but is also rich and
varied in comic characterization. Even Falstaff apart, who is an
inexhaustible storehouse of laughter-moving preparations, there is
comic matter enough in the characters and doings of the other persons
to make the play a perpetual diversion. Though historically connected
with the reign of Henry the Fourth, the manners and humours of the
scene are those of the Poet's own time; and in this respect we need
but compare it with Ben Jonson's _Every Man in his Humour_, to see
"how much easier it was to vanquish the rest of Europe than to contend
with Shakespeare."

The action of the piece proceeds throughout by intrigue; that is, a
complication of cross-purposes wherein the several persons strive to
outwit and circumvent one another. And the stratagems all have the
appropriate merit of causing a pleasant surprise, and a perplexity
that is grateful, because it stops short of confusion; while the
awkward and grotesque predicaments, into which the persons are thrown
by their mutual crossing and tripping, hold attention on the alert,
and keep the spirits in a frolic. Yet the laughable proceedings of the
scene are all easy and free; that is, the comic situations are
ingenious without being at all forced; the ingenuity being hidden in
the naturalness with which every thing comes to pass. The play well
illustrates, too, though in its own peculiar sort, the general order
and method of Shakespeare's art; the surrounding parts falling in with
the central one, and the subordinate plots drawing, as by a secret
impulse, into harmony with the leading plot. For instance, while
Falstaff undergoes repeated collapses from a hero into a butt, that
others may laugh at his expense; the Welsh Parson and the French
Doctor are also baulked of their revenge, just as they are getting
over the preliminary pains and vexations; and, while pluming
themselves with anticipated honours, are suddenly deplumed into
"vlouting-stogs": Page, too, and his wife no sooner begin to exult in
their success than they are taken down by the thrift of a counter
stratagem, and left to the double shame of ignobly failing in an
ignoble undertaking: and Ford's jealousy, again, is made to scourge
himself with the very whip he has twisted for the scourging of its
object. Thus all the more prominent persons have to chew the ashes of
disappointment in turn; their plans being thwarted, and themselves
made ridiculous, just as they are on the point of grasping their
several fruitions. Falstaff, indeed, is the only one of them that
rises by falling, and extracts grace out of his disgraces. For in him
the grotesque and ludicrous is evermore laughing and chuckling over
itself: he makes comedies extempore out of his own shames and
infirmities; and is himself the most delighted spectator of the scenes
in which he figures as chief actor.

This observation and enjoyment of the comical as displayed in
himself, which forms one of Sir John's leading traits, and explains
much in him that were else inexplicable, is here seen however
labouring under something of an eclipse. The truth is, he is plainly
out of his sphere; and he shows a strange lapse from his wanted
sagacity in getting where he is: the good sense so conspicuous in his
behaviour on other occasions ought to have kept him from supposing for
a moment that he could inspire the passion of love in such a place;
nor, as before observed, does it seem likely that the Poet would have
shown him thus, but that he were moved thereto by something outside of
his own mind. For of love in any right or even decent sense Sir John
is essentially incapable. And Shakespeare evidently so regarded him:
he therefore had no alternative but either to commit a gross breach of
decorum or else to make the hero unsuccessful,--an alternative in
which the moral sanity of his genius left him no choice. So that in
undertaking the part of a lover the man must needs be a mark of
interest chiefly for what is practised upon him. For, if we may
believe Hazlitt, "wits and philosophers seldom shine in that
character"; and, whether this be true or not, it is certain that "Sir
John by no means comes off with flying colours." In fact, he is here
the dupe and victim of his own heroism, and provokes laughter much
more by what he suffers than by what he does.

But Falstaff, notwithstanding all these drawbacks, is still so far
himself, that "nought but himself can be his conqueror." If he be
overmatched, it is not so much by the strength or skill of his
antagonists as from his being persuaded, seemingly against his
judgment and for the pleasure of others, into a line of adventure
where he is not qualified to shine, and where genius, wit, and
understanding are commonly distanced by a full purse and a handsome
person. His incomparable art in turning adversities into commodities;
the good-humoured strategy whereby he manages to divert off all
unpleasant feeling of his vices and frailties; the marvellous agility
and aptness of wit which, with a vesture of odd and whimsical
constructions, at once hides the offensive and discovers the comical
features of his conduct; the same towering impudence and effrontery
which so lift him aloft in his more congenial exploits; and the
overpowering eloquence of exaggeration with which he delights to set
off and heighten whatever is most ludicrous in his own person or
situation;--all these qualities, though not in their full bloom and
vigour, are here seen in triumphant exercise.

On the whole, this bringing-forth of Sir John rather for exposure than
for exhibition is not altogether grateful to those whom he has so
often made to "laugh and grow fat." Though he still gives us wholesome
shakings, we feel that it costs him too much: the rare exhilaration he
affords us elsewhere, and even here, invests him with a sort of
humorous reverence; insomuch that we can scarce help pitying even
while we approve his merited, yet hardly merited, shames and failures.
Especially it touches us something hard that one so wit-proud as Sir
John should be thus dejected, and put to the mortification of owning
that "ignorance itself is a plummet o'er me"; of having to "stand at
the taunt of one that makes fritters of English"; and of asking, "Have
I laid my brain in the sun, and dried it, that it wants matter to
prevent so gross o'er-reaching as this?" and we would fain make out
some excuse for him on the score of these slips having occurred at a
time in his life when experience had not yet disciplined away the
natural vanity which may sometimes lead a man of genius to fancy
himself an object of the tender passion. And we are the more disposed
to judge leniently of Falstaff, inasmuch as his merry persecutors are
but a sort of decorous, respectable, commonplace people, who borrow
their chief importance from the victim of their mischievous sport; and
if they are not so bad as to make us wish him success, neither are
they so good that we like to see them thrive at his expense. On this
point Mr. Verplanck, it seems to me, has spoken just about the right
thing: "Our choler would rise, despite of us, against Cleopatra
herself, should she presume to make a dupe and tool of regal old Jack,
the natural lord and master of all about him; and, though not so
atrociously immoral as to wish he had succeeded with the Windsor
gypsies, we plead guilty to the minor turpitude of sympathy, when he
tells his persecutors, with brightening visage and exultant twinkle of
eye, 'I am glad, though you have ta'en a special stand to strike at
me, that your arrow hath glanced.'"

There is, however, another and perhaps a more instructive view to be
taken of Sir John as here represented. I shall have occasion hereafter
to note how, all through the period of _King Henry the Fourth_, he
keeps growing worse and worse, while the Prince is daily growing
better. Out of their sport-seeking intercourse he picks whatever is
bad, whereas the other gathers nothing but the good. As represented in
the Comedy he seems to be in the swiftest part of this worsening
process. At the close of the First Part of the History, the Prince
freely yields up to him the honour of Hotspur's fall; thus carrying
home to him such an example of self-renouncing generosity as it would
seem impossible for the most hardened sinner to resist. And the Prince
appears to have done this partly in the hope that it might prove a
seed of truth and grace in Falstaff, and start him in a better course
of life. But the effect upon him is quite the reverse. Honour is
nothing to him but as it may help him in the matter of sensual and
heart-steeling self-indulgence. And the surreptitious fame thus
acquired, instead of working in him for good, merely serves to procure
him larger means and larger license for pampering his gross animal
selfishness. His thoughts dwell not at all on the Prince's act of
magnanimity, which would shame his egotism and soften his heart, but
only on his own ingenuity and success in the stratagem that led to
that act. So that the effect is just to puff him up more than ever
with vanity and conceit of wit, and thus to give a looser rein and a
sharper stimulus to his greed and lust; for there is probably nothing
that will send a man faster to the Devil than that sort of conceit.
The result is, that Falstaff soon proceeds to throw off whatever of
restraint may have hitherto held his vices in check, and to wanton in
the arrogance of utter impunity. As he then unscrupulously
appropriated the credit of another's heroism; so he now makes no
scruple of sacrificing the virtue, the honour, the happiness of others
to his own mean and selfish pleasure.

But this total subjection of the mental to the animal nature cannot
long proceed without betraying the succours of reason. When the bands
of morality are thus spurned, a man rapidly sins his understanding
into lameness; as its better forces must needs be quickly rotted in
such a vapour-bath of sensuality. In this way an overweening pride of
wit often results in causing a man to be deserted by his wits; this
too in matters where he feels surest of them and has most need of
them. In refusing to see what is right, he loses the power of seeing
what is prudent and safe. He who persists in such a course will
inevitably be drawn into signal lapses of judgment, however richly
nature may have endowed him with that faculty: he will stumble over
his own self-love; his very assurance will be tripping him when he
least expects it. And so Falstaff's conceit and egotism, working
together, as they do, with his greed and lust, have the effect of
stuffing him with the most childish gullibility, at once laying him
open to the arts of bamboozling, and inviting others to practise them
upon him. He has grown to look with contempt upon honesty as a cheap
and vulgar thing, and is well punished in that honest simplicity
easily outwits him: nay, more; his fancied skill in sensual intrigue
brings him to a pass where ignorance itself is a clean overmatch for
him, and fairly earns the privilege of flouting at him.

Falstaff is fair-spoken when he chooses to be, can talk with judgment
and good sense, and has at command the arts of a gentlemanly and
dignified bearing. The two Windsor wives, meeting him at a social
dinner, and seeing him in his best suit of language and manners, think
him honourable as well as pleasant, and are won to some notes of
respect and affability towards him: "he would not swear; praised
women's modesty; and gave such orderly and well-behaved reproof of all
uncomeliness," that they would have sworn his disposition was at one
with the truth of his words. And because they meet his fair deportment
with some gentle returns of politeness, therefore he, in his conceit
of wit, of rank, and of fame, thinks they are smitten with a passion
for him. Fancying that they are hotly in love with him, he resolves on
making love to them; not that he is at all touched with the passion,
but with the cool intent of feigning a responsive flame for other and
more selfish ends. Their husbands are known to be rich, and they are
said to have the free use of their husbands' wealth. So his conclusion
is, that they are "a region in Guiana, all gold and bounty: they shall
be my East and West Indies, and I will trade to them both." In his
spendthrift self-indulgence, notwithstanding all the supplies which
his purse-taking habits and his late imputed service bring in, he has
come to be hard-up for cash, insomuch that his rascal followers are
for deserting him and turning to other resources. By driving a
love-intrigue with the women, he expects to work the keys to the full
coffers which they have at such command, and thus to replenish his
low-ebbing means.

Thus we here have Sir John in the process of complacently feeding his
glutton fancies with matter raked from the foulest gutters of
baseness. The women, burning with anger and shame, knock their wits
together for revenge; and the answer which they, in their
shrewdly-concerted plan, return to his advances is to him a pledge of
entire success: he is so transported, that he leaps clean out of his
senses forthwith, and the giddiness of his newly-fired conceit fairly
puts out the eyes of his understanding. His vanity is now quite
omnivorous: once possessed with the monstrous idea of having become
an object of love in such a place, nothing is too gross for him to
swallow. The raw and unspiced stuffings of Master Brook convey to him
no hint of mistrust: he drinks them in with unfaltering confidence;
and opens his breast to this total stranger as freely as if he were
his sworn and long-tried counsellor; the offered bribe of the man's
money so falling in with the other baits of greed as to swamp his
discretion utterly. After being cheated through the adventures of the
buck-basket, where he was "stopped in with stinking clothes that
fretted in their own grease," he appears indeed to have some smell of
the gross trickery played upon him; and vows to himself that, if he be
served such another trick, he will have his brains taken out, and
buttered, and given to a dog for a new-year's gift. But still his
vanity and thirst of money are too much for his startled prudence:
upon the offer of a second device, that too of a very flimsy texture,
and very thinly disguised, his paralysis of wit returns, and his
suspicions sink afresh into their dreamless nap. In the hard blows and
buffets there experienced, he has stronger arguments than before of
the game practised on him; still the deep spell on his judgment
continues unbroken: and now the very shame and grief of his past
failures and punishments seem to co-operate with his palsy of reason
in preparing him for a third hoax even more gross and palpable than
the former two.

When at length the untrussed hero is made to see how matters have been
carried with him, and to feel the chagrin of being so egregiously
fooled, he is indeed cast down to the lowest notes of self-contempt;
and though he so far rallies at last as to cover his retreat with
marked skill, yet he leaves the path behind him strewn thick with the
sweat-drops of his mortification. In his pride of wit and cleverness,
he had looked with scorn upon plain common people as no better than
blockheads; and had only thought to use them, and even his own powers
of mind, for compassing the means of animal gratification. But he now
stands thoroughly degraded in his own sight, and this too in the very
points where he had built his conceit of superiority. He finds that
all his wit and craft were not enough to prevent even Sir Hugh, the
simple-minded Welsh parson, from making him a laughing-stock. We too,
whose moral judgment may have been seduced from the right by the
fascinations of his intellectual playing, are brought to estimate more
justly the natural honours and safeguards of downright integrity and
innocence; and to see that the deepest shrewdness stands in not
thinking to be shrewd at all. Thus our judgment of the man is set
right in the very point where it was most liable to be drawn astray.
Gervinus regards this idea as being the soul of the piece. He thinks
the Poet's leading purpose here was to teach that plain-thoughted,
guileless honesty is a natural overmatch for studied cunning; and to
show how self-seeking craft and intricacy are apt to be caught in the
snares they have laid for others, while unselfish truth and simplicity
are protected against them by those instinctive moral warnings of
nature which crafty men despise. And he rightly observes that the play
illustrates the point in repeated instances. Thus the policy and sharp
practice of the Host to catch gain, of Ford to detect and expose the
imagined sins of his wife, and of Mr. and Mrs. Page to mismatch their
daughter, only bring to confusion the parties themselves; their crafty
devices, like Falstaff's, being outwitted and cheated by the "_honest_
knaveries" of their intended victims. Thus the several cases concur to
enforce the moral, that "an egotist like Falstaff can suffer no
severer defeat than from the honesty which he believes not, and from
the simplicity which he esteems not."

I refrain from attempting a full analysis of Sir John's character,
till I encounter him at the noontide of his glory, stealing, drinking,
lying, recruiting, warring, and discoursing of wine, wit, valour, and
honour, with Prince Hal at hand to wrestle forth the prodigies of his
big-teeming brain.

Sir John's followers are here under a cloud along with him, being
little more than the shadows of what they appear when their master is
fully himself and in his proper element. Bardolph and Pistol are
indeed the same men, or rather things, as in the History; but the
redundant fatness of their several peculiarities is here not a little
curtailed: the fire in Bardolph's nose waxes dim for lack of fuel; the
strut is much dried out of Pistol's tongue from want of drink to
generate loftiness: the low state of their master's purse, and the
discords thence growing between him and them, have rather soured their
tempers, and that sourness rusts and clogs the wheels of their inner
man. Corporal Nym is not visibly met with in _King Henry the Fourth_,
though the atmosphere smells at times as if he had been there; but we
have him again in _King Henry the Fifth_, where he carries to a
somewhat higher pitch the character of "a fellow that frights humour
out of its wits."

* * * * *

I have before observed that the Mrs. Quickly of this play is plainly
another individual than the Hostess of Eastcheap: the latter has known
Sir John "these twenty-nine years, come peascod time," whereas to the
former his person is quite unknown till she goes to him with a message
from the Windsor wives. But she seems no very remote kin of the
Hostess aforesaid: though clearly discriminated in character, yet they
have a strong family likeness. Her chief action is in the capacity of
a matchmaker and go-between; and her perfect impartiality towards all
of Anne Page's suitors, both in the service she renders and the return
she accepts, well exemplifies the indefatigable benevolence of that
class of worthies towards themselves, and is so true to the life of a
certain perpetual sort of people as almost to make one believe in the
transmigration of souls.

* * * * *

"Mine Host of the Garter" is indeed a model of a host; up to any
thing, and brimful of fun, so that it runs out at the ends of his
fingers; and nothing delights him more than to uncork the wit-holders
of his guests, unless, peradventure, it be to uncork his wine-holders
for them. His exhilarating conceit of practical shrewdness, serving as
oil to make the wheels of his mind run smooth and glib, is choicely
characteristic both of himself individually and of the class he
represents.--Sir Hugh Evans is an odd marriage of the ludicrous and
the honourable. In his officious simplicity he moralizes the play much
better, no doubt, than a wiser man would. The scene where, in
expectation of the fight with Doctor Caius, he is full of "cholers,"
and "trempling of mind," and "melancholies," and has "a great
dispositions to cry," and strikes up a lullaby to the palpitations of
his heart without seeming to know it, while those palpitations in turn
scatter his memory, and discompose his singing, is replete with a
quiet delicacy of humour hardly to be surpassed. It is thought by some
that both he and Caius may be delineations, slightly caricatured, of
what the Poet had seen and conversed with; there being a certain
portrait-like reality and effect about them, with just enough of the
ideal to lift them into the region of art.

* * * * *

Hazlitt boldly pronounces Shakespeare "the only writer who was as
great in describing weakness as strength." However this may be, I am
pretty sure that, after Falstaff, there is not a greater piece of work
in the play than Master Abraham Slender, cousin to Robert Shallow,
Esquire,--a dainty sprout, or rather sapling, of provincial gentry,
who, once seen, is never to be forgotten. In his consequential
verdancy, his aristocratic boobyism, and his lack-brain originality,
this pithless hereditary squireling is quite inimitable and
irresistible;--a tall though slender specimen of most effective
imbecility, whose manners and character must needs all be from within,
because he lacks force of nature to shape or dress himself by any
model. Mr. Hallam, whose judgment in such things is not often at
fault, thinks Slender was intended as "a satire on the brilliant
youth of the provinces," such as they were "before the introduction
of newspapers and turnpike roads; awkward and boobyish among civil
people, but at home in rude sports, and proud of exploits at which the
town would laugh, yet perhaps with more courage and good-nature than
the laughers."

* * * * *

Ford's jealousy is managed with great skill so as to help on the plot,
bringing on a series of the richest incidents, and drawing the most
savoury issues from the mellow, juicy old sinner upon whom he is
practising. The means whereby he labours to justify his passion,
spreading temptations and then concerting surprises, are quite as
wicked as any thing Falstaff does, and have, besides, the further
crime of exceeding meanness; but both their meanness and their
wickedness are of the kind that rarely fail to be their own
punishment. The way in which his passion is made to sting and lash him
into reason, and the happy mischievousness of his wife in glutting his
disease, and thereby making an opportunity to show him what sort of
stuff it lives on, are admirable instances of the wisdom with which
the Poet underpins his most fantastic creations.

The counter-plottings, also, of Page and his wife, to sell their
daughter against her better sense, are about as far from virtue as the
worst purposes of Sir John; though, to be sure, their sins are of a
more respectable kind than to expose them to ridicule. But we are the
more willing to forget their unhandsome practices therein, because of
their good-natured efforts at last to make Falstaff forget his sad
miscarriages, and to compose, in a well-crowned cup of social
merriment, whatever vexations and disquietudes still remain.--Anne
Page is but an average specimen of discreet, placid, innocent
mediocrity, yet with a mind of her own, in whom we can feel no such
interest as a rich father causes to be felt by those about her. In her
and Fenton a slight dash of romance is given to the play; their love
forming a barely audible undertone of poetry in the chorus of
comicalities, as if on purpose that while the sides are shaken the
heart may not be left altogether untouched.


Much Ado about Nothing, together with _As You Like It, King Henry the
Fifth_, and Ben Jonson's _Every Man in his Humour_, was registered in
the Stationers' books August 4, 1600; all with a caveat "to be
stayed." Why the plays were thus locked up from the press by an
injunction, does not appear; perhaps to keep the right of publishing
them in the hands of those who made the entry. _Much Ado about
Nothing_ was entered again on the 23d of the same month, and was
issued in quarto in the course of that year, with "as it hath been
sundry times publicly acted" in the title-page; which would naturally
infer the play to have been written in 1599, or in the early part of
1600. All the internal marks of style and temper bear in favour of the
same date; as in these respects it is hardly distinguishable from _As
You Like It_. It has also been ascertained from Vertue's manuscripts,
that in May, 1613, John Heminge the actor, and the Poet's friend,
received L40, besides a gratuity of L20 from the King, for presenting
six plays at Hampton Court, _Much Ado about Nothing_ being one of

After the one quarto of 1600, the play is not met with again till it
reappeared in the folio of 1623. Some question has been made whether
the folio was a reprint of the quarto, or from another manuscript.
Considerable might be urged on either side; but the arguments would
hardly pay the stating; the differences of the two copies being so few
and slight as to make the question a thing of little consequence. The
best editors generally agree in thinking the quarto the better
authority of the two. Remains but to add that, with the two original
copies, the text of the play is so clear and well-settled as almost
to foreclose controversy.

* * * * *

As with many of the author's plays, a part of the plot and story of
_Much Ado about Nothing_ was borrowed. But the same matter had been so
often borrowed before, and run into so many variations, that we cannot
affirm with certainty to what source Shakespeare was immediately
indebted. Mrs. Lenox, an uncommonly deep person, instructs us that the
Poet here "borrowed just enough to show his poverty of invention, and
added enough to prove his want of judgment"; a piece of criticism so
choice and happy, that it ought by all means to be kept alive; though
it is indeed just possible that the Poet can better afford to have
such things said of him than the sayer can to have them repeated.

So much of the story as relates to Hero, Claudio, and John, bears a
strong resemblance to the tale of Ariodante and Ginevra in Ariosto's
_Orlando Furioso_. The Princess Ginevra, the heroine of the tale,
rejects the love-suit of Duke Polinesso, and pledges her hand to
Ariodante. Thereupon Polinesso engages her attendant Dalinda to
personate the Princess on a balcony by moonlight, while he ascends to
her chamber by a ladder of ropes; Ariodante being by previous
arrangement stationed near the spot, so as to witness the supposed
infidelity of his betrothed. This brings on a false charge against
Ginevra, who is doomed to die unless within a month a true knight
comes to do battle for her honour. Ariodante betakes himself to
flight, and is reported to have perished. Polinesso now appears secure
in his treachery. But Dalinda, seized with remorse for her part in the
affair, and flying from her guilty paramour, meets with Rinaldo, and
declares to him the truth. Then comes on the fight, in which Polinesso
is slain by the champion of innocence; which done, the lover
reappears, to be made happy with his Princess.

Here, of course, the wicked Duke answers to the John of the play. But
there is this important difference, that the motive of the former in
vilifying the lady is to drive away her lover, that he may have her to
himself; whereas the latter acts from a spontaneous malignity of
temper, that takes a sort of disinterested pleasure in blasting the
happiness of others.

A translation, by Peter Beverly, of that part of Ariosto's poem which
contains this tale, was licensed for the press in 1565; and Warton
says it was reprinted in 1600. And an English version of the whole
poem, by Sir John Harrington, came out in 1591; but the play discovers
no special marks of borrowing from this source. And indeed the fixing
of any obligations in this quarter is the more difficult, inasmuch as
the matter seems to have been borrowed by Ariosto himself. For the
story of a lady betrayed to peril and disgrace by the personation of
her waiting-woman was an old European tradition; it has been traced to
Spain; and Ariosto interwove it with the adventures of Rinaldo, as
yielding an apt occasion for his chivalrous heroism. Neither does the
play show any traces of obligation to Spenser, who wrought the same
tale into the variegated structure of his great poem. The story of
Phedon, relating the treachery of his false friend Philemon, is in
Book ii. canto 4 of _The Faerie Queene_; which Book was first
published in 1590.

The connection between the play and one of Bandello's novels is much
more evident, from the close similarity both of incidents and of
names. Fenicia, the daughter of Lionato, a gentleman of Messina, is
betrothed to Timbreo de Cardona, a friend of Piero d'Aragona. Girondo,
a disappointed lover of the lady, goes to work to prevent the
marriage. He insinuates to Timbreo that she is disloyal, and then to
make good the charge arranges to have his own hired servant in the
dress of a gentleman ascend a ladder and enter the house of Lionato at
night, Timbreo being placed so as to witness the proceeding. The next
morning Timbreo accuses the lady to her father, and rejects the
alliance. Fenicia sinks down in a swoon; a dangerous illness follows;
and, to prevent the shame of her alleged trespass, Lionato has it
given out that she is dead, and a public funeral is held in
confirmation of that report. Thereupon Girondo becomes so harrowed
with remorse, that he confesses his villainy to Timbreo, and they both
throw themselves on the mercy of the lady's family. Timbreo is easily
forgiven, and the reconciliation is soon followed by the discovery
that the lady is still alive, and by the marriage of the parties. Here
the only particular wherein the play differs from the novel, and
agrees with Ariosto's plan of the story, is, that the lady's
waiting-woman personates her mistress when the villain scales her

It does not well appear how the Poet could have come to a knowledge of
Bandello's novel, unless through the original; no translation of that
time having been preserved. But the Italian was then the most
generally-studied language in Europe; educated Englishmen were
probably quite as apt to be familiar with it as they are with the
French in our day; Shakespeare, at the time of writing this play, was
thirty-five years old; and we have many indications that he knew
enough of Italian to be able to read such a story as Bandello's in
that language.

The foregoing account may serve to show, what is equally plain in many
other cases, that Shakespeare preferred, for the material of his
plots, such stories as were most commonly known, that he might have
some tie of popular association and interest to work in aid of his
purpose. It is to be observed, further, that the parts of Benedick and
Beatrice, of Dogberry and Verges, and of several other persons, are
altogether original with him; so that he stands responsible for all
the wit and humour, and for nearly all the character, of the play.
Then too, as is usual with him, the added portions are so made to knit
in with the borrowed matter by mutual participation and interaction as
to give a new life and meaning to the whole.

So that in this case, as in others, we have the soul of originality
consisting in something far deeper and more essential than any mere
sorting or linking of incidents so as to form an attractive story. The
vital workings of nature in the development of individual
character,--it is on these, and not on any thing so superficial or
mechanical as a mere frame-work of incident, that, the real life of
the piece depends. On this point I probably cannot do better than by
quoting the following remarks from Coleridge:

"The interest in the plot is on account of the characters, not _vice
versa_, as in almost all other writers: the plot is a mere canvas, and
no more. Take away from _Much Ado about Nothing_ all that is not
indispensable to the plot, either as having little to do with it, or,
like Dogberry and his comrades, forced into the service, when any
other less ingeniously-absurd watchmen and night-constables would have
answered the mere necessities of the action; take away Benedick,
Beatrice, Dogberry, and the reaction of the former on the character of
Hero,--and what will remain? In other writers the main agent of the
plot is always the prominent character: John is the main-spring of the
plot in this play; but he is merely shown, and then withdrawn."

* * * * *

The style and diction of this play has little that calls for special
remark. In this respect the workmanship, as before noted, is of about
the same cast and grain with that of _As You Like It_; sustained and
equal; easy, natural, and modest in dress and bearing; everywhere
alive indeed with the exhilarations of wit or humour or poetry, but
without the laboured smoothness of the Poet's earlier plays, or the
penetrating energy and quick, sinewy movement of his later ones.
Compared with some of its predecessors, the play shows a decided
growth in what may be termed virility of mind: a wider scope, a higher
reach, a firmer grasp, have been attained: the Poet has come to read
Nature less through "the spectacles of books," and does not hesitate
to meet her face to face, and to trust and try himself alone with her.
The result of all which appears in a greater freshness and reality of
delineation. Here the persons have nothing of a dim, equivocal hearsay
air about them, such as marks in some measure his earlier efforts in
comedy. The characters indeed are not pitched in so high a key, nor
conceived in so much breadth and vigour, as in several of the plays
written at earlier dates: the plan of the work did not require this,
or even admit of it; nevertheless the workmanship on the whole
discovers more ripeness of art and faculty than even in _The Merchant
of Venice_.

* * * * *

One of the Poet's methods was, apparently, first to mark out or else
to adopt a given course of action, and then to conceive and work out
his characters accordingly, making them such as would naturally cohere
with and sustain the action, so that we feel an inward, vital, and
essential relation between what they are and what they do. Thus there
is nothing arbitrary or mechanical in the sorting together of persons
and actions: the two stand together under a living law of human
transpiration, instead of being gathered into a mere formal and
outward juxtaposition. That is, in short, the persons act so because
they _are_ so, and not because the author _willed_ to put them through
such a course of action: what comes from them is truly rooted in them,
and is _generated_ vitally out of the nature within them; so that
their deeds are the veritable pulsations of their hearts. And so it is
in this play. The course of action, as we have seen, was partly
borrowed. But there was no borrowing in the characteristic matter. The
personal figures in the old tale are in themselves unmeaning and
characterless. The actions ascribed to them have no ground or reason
in any thing that they are: what they do, or rather _seem_ to do,--for
there is no real doing in the case,--proceeds not at all from their
own natures or wills, but purely because the author chose to have it
so. So that the persons and incidents are to all intents and purposes
put together arbitrarily, and not under any vital law of human nature.
Any other set of actions might just as well be tacked on to the same
persons; any other persons might just as well be put through the same
course of action. This merely outward and formal connection between
the incidents and characters holds generally in the old tales from
which Shakespeare borrowed his plots; while in his workmanship the
connection becomes inherent and essential; there being indeed no
difference in this respect, whether he first conceives the characters,
and then draws out their actions, or whether he first plans a course
of action, and then shapes the character from which it is to proceed.

* * * * *

_Much Ado about Nothing_ has a large variety of interest, now running
into grotesque drollery, now bordering upon the sphere of tragic
elevation, now revelling in the most sparkling brilliancy. The play
indeed is rightly named: we have several nothings, each in its turn
occasioning a deal of stir and perturbation: yet there is so much of
real flavour and spirit stirred out into effect, that the littleness
of the occasions is scarcely felt or observed; the thoughts being far
more drawn to the persons who make the much ado than to the nothing
about which the much ado is made. The excellences, however, both of
plot and character, are rather of the striking sort, involving little
of the hidden or retiring beauty which shows just enough on the
surface to invite a diligent search, and then enriches the seeker with
generous returns. Accordingly the play has always been very effective
on the stage; the points and situations being so shaped and ordered
that, with fair acting, they tell at once upon an average audience;
while at the same time there is enough of solid substance beneath to
justify and support the first impression; so that the stage-effect is
withal legitimate and sound as well as quick and taking.

The characters of Hero and Claudio, though reasonably engaging in
their simplicity and uprightness, offer no very salient points, and
are indeed nowise extraordinary. It cannot quite be said that one
"sees no more in them than in the ordinary of Nature's sale-work";
nevertheless they derive their interest mainly from the events that
befall them; the reverse of which is generally true in Shakespeare's
delineations. Perhaps we may justly say that, had the course of love
run smooth with them, its voice, even if audible, had been hardly
worth the hearing.

Hero is indeed kind, amiable, and discreet in her behaviour and
temper: she has just that air, nay, rather just that soul of bland and
modest quietness which makes the unobtrusive but enduring charm of
home, such as I have seen in many a priestess of the domestic shrine;
and this fitly marks her out as the centre of silent or unemphatic
interest in her father's household. She is always thoughtful, never
voluble; and when she speaks, there is no sting or sharpness in her
tongue: she is even proud of her brilliant cousin, yet not at all
emulous of her brilliancy; keenly relishes her popping and sometimes
caustic wit, but covets no such gift for herself, and even shrinks
from the laughing attention it wins. As Hero is altogether gentle and
womanly in her ways, so she offers a sweet and inviting nestling-place
for the fireside affections. The soft down of her disposition makes an
admirable contrast to the bristling and emphatic yet genuine plumage
of Beatrice; and there is something very pathetic and touching in her
situation when she is stricken down in mute agony by the tongue of
slander; while the "blushing apparitions" in her face, and the
lightning in her eyes, tell us that her stillness of tongue proceeds
from any thing but weakness of nature, or want of spirit. Her
well-governed intelligence is aptly displayed in the part she bears in
the stratagem for taming Beatrice to the gentler pace of love, and in
the considerate forbearance which abstains from teasing words after
the stratagem has done its work.

Claudio is both a lighter-timbered and a looser-built vessel than
Hero; rather credulous, unstable, inconstant, and very much the sport
of slight and trivial occasions. A very small matter suffices to upset
him, though, to be sure, he is apt enough to be set right again. All
this, no doubt, is partly owing to his youth and inexperience; but in
truth his character is mainly that of a brave and clever upstart,
somewhat intoxicated with sudden success, and not a little puffed with
vanity of the Prince's favour. Notwithstanding John's ingrained,
habitual, and well-known malice, he is ready to go it blind whenever
John sees fit to try his art upon him; and even after he has been
duped into one strain of petulant folly by his trick, and has found
out the falsehood of it, he is still just as open to a second and
worse duping. All this may indeed pass as indicating no more in his
case than the levity of a rather pampered and over-sensitive
self-love. In his unreflective and headlong techiness, he fires up at
the least hint that but seems to touch his honour, without pausing, or
deigning to observe the plainest conditions of a fair and prudent

But, after all the allowance that can be made on this score, it is
still no little impeachment of his temper, or his understanding, that
he should lend his ear to the poisonous breathings of one whose
spirits are so well known to "toil in frame of villainies." As to his
rash and overwrought scheme of revenge for Hero's imputed sin, his
best excuse therein is, that the light-minded Prince, who is indeed
such another, goes along with him; while it is somewhat doubtful
whether the patron or the favourite is more at fault in thus suffering
artful malice to "pull the wool over his eyes." Claudio's finical and
foppish attention to dress, so amusingly ridiculed by Benedick, is a
well-conceived trait of his character; as it naturally hints that his
quest of the lady grows more from his seeing the advantage of the
match than from any deep heart-interest in her person. And his being
sprung into such an unreasonable fit of jealousy towards the Prince at
the masquerade is another good instance of the Poet's skill and care
in small matters. It makes an apt preparation for the far more serious
blunder upon which the main part of the action turns. A piece of
conduct which the circumstances do not explain is at once explained by
thus disclosing a certain irritable levity in the subject. On much
the same ground we can also account very well for his sudden running
into a match which at the best looks more like a freak of fancy than a
resolution of love, while the same suddenness on the side of the more
calm, discreet, and patient Hero is accounted for by the strong
solicitation of the Prince and the prompt concurrence of her father.
But even if Claudio's faults and blunders were greater than they are,
still his behaviour at the last were enough to prove a real and sound
basis of manhood in him. The clean taking-down of his vanity and
self-love, by the exposure of the poor cheats which had so easily
caught him, brings out the true staple of his character. When he is
made to feel that on himself alone falls the blame and the guilt which
he had been so eager to revenge on others, then his sense of honour
acts in a right noble style, prompting him to avenge sternly on
himself the wrong and the injury he has done to the gentle Hero and
her kindred.

* * * * *

Critics have unnecessarily found fault with the Poet for the character
of John, as if it lay without the proper circumference of truth and
nature. They would prefer, apparently, the more commonplace character
of a disappointed rival in love, whose guilt might be explained away
into a pressure of violent motives. But Shakespeare saw deeper into
human nature. And perhaps his wisest departure from the old story is
in making John a morose, sullen, ill-conditioned rascal, whose innate
malice renders the joy of others a pain, and the pain of others a joy,
to him. The wanton and unprovoked doing of mischief is the natural
luxury and pastime of such envious spirits as he is. To be sure, he
assigns as his reason for plotting to blast Claudio's happiness, that
the "young start-up hath all the glory of my overthrow"; but then he
also adds, "If I can cross him any way, I bless myself every way";
which shows his true motive-spring to be a kind of envy-sickness. For
this cause, any thing that will serve as a platform "to build
mischief on" is grateful to him. He thus exemplifies in a small
figure the same spontaneous malice which towers to such a stupendous
height of wickedness in Iago. We may well reluct to believe in the
reality of such characters; but, unhappily, human life discovers too
many plots and doings that cannot be otherwise accounted for; nor need
we go far to learn that men may "spin motives out of their own
bowels." In pursuance of this idea, the Poet takes care to let us know
that, in John's account, the having his sour and spiteful temper tied
up under a pledge of fair and kindly behaviour is to be "trusted with
a muzzle, and enfranchised with a clog"; that is, he thinks himself
robbed of freedom when he is not allowed to bite.

* * * * *

Ulrici, regarding the play as setting forth the contrast between life
as it is in itself and as it seems to those engaged in its struggles,
looks upon Dogberry as embodying the whole idea of the piece. And,
sure enough, the impressive insignificance of this man's action to the
lookers-on is only equalled by its stuffed importance to himself: when
he is really most absurd and ridiculous, then it is precisely that he
feels most confident and grand; the irony that is rarefied into wit
and poetry in others being thus condensed into broad humour and
drollery in him. The German critic is not quite right however in
thinking that his blundering garrulity brings to light the infernal
plot; as it rather operates to keep that plot in the dark: he is too
fond of hearing himself talk to make known what he has to say, in time
to prevent the evil; and amidst his tumblings of conceit the truth
leaks out at last rather in spite of him than in consequence of any
thing he does. Dogberry and his "neighbour Verges" are caricatures;
but such caricatures as Shakespeare alone of English writers has had a
heart to conceive and a hand to delineate; though perhaps Sir Walter
comes near enough to him in that line to be named in the same
sentence. And how bland, how benignant, now genial, how human-hearted,
these caricatures are! as if the Poet felt the persons, with all
their grotesque oddities, to be his own veritable flesh-and-blood
kindred. There is no contempt, no mockery here; nothing that ministers
an atom of food to any unbenevolent emotion: the subjects are made
delicious as well as laughable; and delicious withal through the best
and kindliest feelings of our nature. The Poet's sporting with them is
the free, loving, whole-hearted play of a truly great, generous,
simple, child-like soul. Compared to these genuine offspring of
undeflowered genius, the ill-natured and cynical caricatures in which
Dickens, for example, so often and so tediously indulges, seem the
workmanship of quite another species of being. The part of Dogberry
was often attempted to be imitated by other dramatists of
Shakespeare's time; which shows it to have been a decided hit on the
stage. And indeed there is no resisting the delectable humour of it:
but then the thing is utterly inimitable; Shakespeare being no less
unapproachable in this vein than in such delineations as Shylock and
Lear and Cleopatra.

* * * * *

Benedick and Beatrice are much the most telling feature of the play.
They have been justly ranked among the stronger and deeper of
Shakespeare's minor characters. They are just about the right staple
for the higher order of comic delineation; whereas several of the
leading persons in what are called the Poet's comedies draw decidedly
into the region of the Tragic. The delineation, however, of Benedick
and Beatrice stays at all points within the proper sphere of Comedy.
Both are gifted with a very piercing, pungent, and voluble wit; and
pride of wit is with both a specially-prominent trait; in fact, it
appears to be on all ordinary occasions their main actuating
principle. The rare entertainment which others have from their
displays in this kind has naturally made them quite conscious of their
gift; and this consciousness has not less naturally led them to make
it a matter of some pride. They study it and rely on it a good deal as
their title or passport to approval and favour. Hence a _habit_ of
flouting and raillery has somewhat usurped the outside of their
characters, insomuch as to keep their better qualities rather in the
background, and even to obstruct seriously the outcome of what is best
in them.

Whether for force of understanding or for solid worth of character,
Benedick is vastly superior both to Claudio and to the Prince. He is
really a very wise and noble fellow; of a healthy and penetrating
intelligence, and with a sound underpinning of earnest and true
feeling; as appears when the course of the action surprises or
inspires him out of his pride of brilliancy. When a grave occasion
comes, his superficial habit of jesting is at once postponed, and the
choicer parts of manhood promptly assert themselves in clear and
handsome action. We are thus given to know that, however the witty and
waggish companion or make-sport may have got the ascendency in him,
still he is of an inward composition to forget it as soon as the cause
of wronged and suffering virtue or innocence gives him a manly and
generous part to perform. And when the blameless and gentle Hero is
smitten down with cruel falsehood, and even her father is convinced of
her guilt, he is the first to suspect that "the practice of it lies in
John the bastard." With his just faith in the honour of the Prince and
of Claudio, his quick judgment and native sagacity forthwith hit upon
the right clew to the mystery. Much the same, all through, is to be
said of Beatrice; who approves herself a thoroughly brave and generous
character. The swiftness and brilliancy of wit upon which she so much
prides herself are at once forgotten in resentment and vindication of
her injured kinswoman. She becomes somewhat furious indeed, but it is
a noble and righteous fury,--the fury of kindled strength too, and not
of mere irritability, or of a passionate temper.

As pride of wit bears a main part in shaping the ordinary conduct of
these persons; so the Poet aptly represents them as being specially
piqued at what pinches or touches them in that point. Thus, in their
wit-skirmish at the masquerade, what sticks most in Benedick is the
being described as "the Prince's jester," and the hearing it said
that, if his jests are "not marked, or not laughed at," it "strikes
him into melancholy"; while, on the other side, Beatrice is equally
stung at being told that "she had her good wit out of _The Hundred
Merry Tales_." Their keen sensitiveness to whatever implies any
depreciation or contempt of their faculty in this kind is exceedingly
well conceived. Withal it shows, I think, that jesting, after all, is
more a matter of art with them than of character.

As might be expected, the good repute of Benedick and Beatrice has
been not a little perilled, not to say damaged, by their redundancy of
wit. But it is the ordinary lot of persons so witty as they to suffer
under the misconstructions of prejudice or partial acquaintance. Their
very sparkling seems to augment the difficulty of coming to a true
knowledge of them. How dangerous it is to be so gifted that way, may
be seen by the impression these persons have had the ill luck to make
on one whose good opinion is so desirable as Campbell's. "During one
half of the play," says he, "we have a disagreeable female character
in Beatrice. Her portrait, I may be told, is deeply drawn and minutely
finished. It is; and so is that of Benedick, who is entirely her
counterpart, except that he is less disagreeable." And again he speaks
of Beatrice as an "odious woman." I am right sorry that so tasteful
and genial a critic should have such hard thoughts of the lady. In
support of his opinion he quotes Hero's speech, "Disdain and scorn
ride sparkling in her eyes," &c.; but he seems to forget that these
words are spoken with the intent that Beatrice shall hear them, and at
the same time think she overhears them; that is, not as being true,
but as being suited to a certain end, and as having just enough of
truth to be effective for that end. And the effect which the speech
has on Beatrice proves that it is not true as regards her character,
however good it may be for the speaker's purpose. To the same end,
the Prince, Claudio, and Leonato speak as much the other way, when
they know Benedick is overhearing them; and what is there said in her
favour is just a fair offset to what was before said against her. But
indeed it is plain enough that any thing thus spoken really for the
ear of the subject, yet seemingly in confidence to another person,
ought not to be received in evidence against her.

But the critic's disparaging thoughts in this case are well accounted
for in what himself had unhappily witnessed. "I once knew such a
pair," says he; "the lady was a perfect Beatrice: she railed
hypocritically at wedlock before her marriage, and with bitter
sincerity after it. She and her Benedick now live apart, but with
entire reciprocity of sentiments; each devoutly wishing that the other
may soon pass into a better world." So that the writer's strong
dislike of Beatrice is a most pregnant testimony to the Poet's truth
of delineation; inasmuch as it shows how our views of his characters,
as of those in real life, depend less perhaps on what they are in
themselves than on our own peculiar associations. Nature's and
Shakespeare's men and women seem very differently to different
persons, and even to the same persons at different times. Regarded,
therefore, in this light, the censure of the lady infers such a
tribute to the Poet, that I half suspect the author meant it as such.
In reference to the subject, however, my judgment goes much rather
with that of other critics: That in the unamiable passages of their
deportment Benedick and Beatrice are playing a part; that their
playing is rather to conceal than to disclose their real feelings;
that it is the very strength of their feelings which puts them upon
this mode of disguise; and that the pointing of their raillery so much
against each other is itself proof of a deep and growing mutual
interest: though it must be confessed that the ability to play so
well, and in that kind, is a great temptation to carry it to excess,
or to use it where it may cause something else than mirth. This it is
that justifies the repetition of the stratagem for drawing on a match
between them; the same process being needed in both cases in order
"to get rid of their reciprocal disguises, and make them
straightforward and in earnest." And so the effect of the stratagem is
to begin the unmasking which is so thoroughly completed by the wrongs
and sufferings of Hero: they are thus disciplined out of their
playing, and made to show themselves as they are: before we saw their
art; now we see their virtue,--the real backbone of their characters;
and it becomes manifest enough that, with all their superficial levity
and caustic sportiveness, they yet have hearts rightly framed for the
serious duties and interests of life.

It is very considerable, also, how their peculiar cast of self-love
and their pride of wit are adroitly worked upon in the execution of
the scheme for bringing them together. Both are deeply mortified at
overhearing how they are blamed for their addiction to flouting, and
at the same time both are highly flattered in being made each to
believe that the other is secretly dying of love, and that the other
is kept from showing the truth by dread of mocks and gibes. As they
are both professed heretics on the score of love and marriage, so both
are tamed out of their heresy in the glad persuasion that they have
each proved too much for the other's pride of wit, and have each
converted the other to the true faith. But indeed that heresy was all
along feigned as a refuge from merry persecutions; and the virtue of
the thing is, that in the belief that they have each conquered the
other's assumed fastidiousness, they each lay aside their own. The
case involves a highly curious interplay of various motives on either
side; and it is not easy to say whether vanity or generosity, the
self-regarding or the self-forgetting emotions, are uppermost in the

The wit of these two persons, though seeming at first view much the
same, is very nicely discriminated. Beatrice, intelligent as she is,
has little of reflection in her wit; but throws it off in rapid
flashes whenever any object ministers a spark to her fancy. Though of
the most piercing keenness and the most exquisite aptness, there is
no ill-nature about it; it stings indeed, but does not poison. The
offspring merely of the moment and the occasion, it catches the
apprehension, but quickly slides from the memory. Its agility is
infinite; wherever it may be, the instant one goes to put his hand
upon it, he is sure to find it or feel it somewhere else. The wit of
Benedick, on the other hand, springs more from reflection, and grows
with the growth of thought. With all the pungency, and nearly all the
pleasantry of hers, it has less of spontaneous volubility. Hence in
their skirmishes she always gets the better of him; hitting him so
swiftly, and in so many spots, as to bewilder his aim. But he makes
ample amends when out of her presence, trundling off jests in whole
paragraphs. In short, if his wit be slower, it is also stronger than
hers: not so agile of movement, more weighty in matter, it shines
less, but burns more; and as it springs much less out of the occasion,
so it bears repeating much better. The effect of the serious events in
bringing these persons to an armistice of wit is a happy stroke of
art; and perhaps some such thing was necessary, to prevent the
impression of their being jesters by trade. It proves at least that
Beatrice is a witty woman, and not a mere female wit. To be sure, she
is rather spicy than sweet; but then there is a kind of sweetness in
spice,--especially such spice as hers.

* * * * *

I have already referred to the apt naming of this play. The general
view of life which it presents answers well to the title. The persons
do indeed make or have _much ado_; but all the while to us who are in
the secret, and ultimately to them also, all this much ado is plainly
_about nothing_. Which is but a common difference in the aspect of
things as they appear to the spectators and the partakers; it needs
but an average experience to discover that real life is full of just
such passages: what troubled and worried us yesterday made others
laugh then, and makes us laugh to-day: what we fret or grieve at in
the progress, we still smile and make merry over in the result.


The Comedy of As You Like It was registered at the Stationers', in
London, on the 4th of August, 1600. Two other of Shakespeare's plays,
and one of Ben Jonson's, were entered at the same time; all of them
under an injunction, "to be stayed." In regard to the other two of
Shakespeare's plays, the stay appears to have been soon removed, as
both of them were entered again in the course of the same month, and
published before the end of that year. In the case of _As You Like
It_, the stay seems to have been kept up; perhaps because its
continued success on the stage made the theatrical company unwilling
to part with their interest in it.

This is the only contemporary notice of the play that has been
discovered. As it was not mentioned in the list given by Francis Meres
in 1598, we are probably warranted in presuming it had not been heard
of at that time. The play has a line, "Who ever lov'd, that lov'd not
at first sight?" apparently quoted from Marlowe's version of _Hero and
Leander_, which was published in 1598. So that we may safely conclude
the play to have been written some time between that date and the date
of the forecited entry at the Stationers'; that is, when the Poet was
in his thirty-sixth or thirty-seventh year. The play was never
printed, that we know of, till in the folio of 1623, where it stands
the tenth in the division of Comedies. The text is there presented in
a very satisfactory state, with but few serious errors, and none that
can fairly be called impracticable.

Before passing from this branch of the subject, perhaps I ought to
cite a curious piece of tradition, clearly pointing to the play in
hand. Gilbert Shakespeare, a brother of William, lived till after the
Restoration, which occurred in 1660; and Oldys tells us of "the faint,
general, and almost lost ideas" which the old man had, of having once
seen the Poet act a part in one of his own comedies; "wherein, being
to personate a decrepit old man, he wore a long beard, and appeared so
weak and drooping, that he was forced to be carried by another person
to a table, at which he was seated among some company who were eating,
and one of them sung a song." This could have been none other than the
"goold old man" Adam, in and about whom we have so much noble thought;
and we thus learn that his character, beautiful in itself, yet more so
for this circumstance, was sustained by the Poet himself.

In regard to the originals of this play, two sources have been pointed
out,--_The Cook's Tale of Gamelyn_, sometime attributed to Chaucer,
but upon better advice excluded from his works; and a novel by Thomas
Lodge entitled _Rosalynd; Euphues' Golden Legacy_. As the _Tale of
Gamelyn_ was not printed till more than a century later, it has been
questioned whether Shakespeare ever saw it. Nor indeed can much be
alleged as indicating that he ever did: one point there is, however,
that may have some weight that way. An old knight, Sir John of
Boundis, being about to die, calls in his wise friends to advise him
touching the distribution of his property among his three sons. They
advise him to settle all his lands on the eldest, and leave the
youngest without any thing. Gamelyn, the youngest, being his favourite
son, he rejects their advice, and bestows the largest portion upon
him. The Poet goes much more according to their advice; Orlando, who
answers to Gamelyn, having no share in the bulk of his father's
estate. A few other resemblances, also, may be traced, wherein the
play differs from Lodge's novel; though none of them are so strong as
to force the inference that Shakespeare must have consulted the
_Tale_. Nor, in truth, is the matter of much consequence, save as
bearing upon the question whether the Poet was of a mind to be
unsatisfied with such printed books as lay in his way. I would not
exactly affirm him to have been "a hunter of manuscripts"; but
indications are not wanting, that he sometimes had access to them: nor
is it at all unlikely that one so greedy of intellectual food, so
eager and so apt to make the most of all the means within his reach,
should have gone beyond the printed resources of his time. Besides,
there can be no question that Lodge was very familiar with the _Tale
of Gamelyn_: he follows it so closely in a large part of his novel as
to leave scarce any doubt that he wrote with the manuscript before
him; and if he, who was also sometime a player, availed himself of
such sources, why may not Shakespeare have done the same?

The practical use of such inquiries is, that they exhibit the Poet in
the character where I like especially to view him, namely, as an
earnest and diligent seeker after knowledge, and as building himself
up in intelligence and power by much the same means as are found to
serve in the case of other men. He himself tells us that "ignorance is
the curse of God, knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to Heaven."
Assuredly he was a great student as well as a great genius; as full of
aptness to learn as of force to create. If he had great faculties to
work with, he was also a greater worker in the use of them. Nor is it
best for us to think of him as being raised by natural gifts above the
common methods and processes of high intellectual achievement.

Lodge's _Rosalynd_ was first printed in 1590; and its popularity
appears in that it was reprinted in 1592, and again in 1598. Steevens
pronounced it a "worthless original"; but this sweeping sentence is so
unjust as to breed some doubt whether he had read it. Compared with
the general run of popular literature then in vogue, the novel has no
little merit; and is very well entitled to the honour of having
contributed to one of the most delightful poems ever written. A rather
ambitious attempt indeed at fine writing; pedantic in style, not a
little blemished with the elaborate euphemism of the time, and
occasionally running into absurdity and indecorum; nevertheless, upon
the whole, it is a varied and pleasing narrative, with passages of
great force and beauty, and many touches of noble sentiment, and
sometimes informed with a pastoral sweetness and simplicity quite

To make a full sketch of the novel, in so far as the Poet borrowed
from it, would occupy too much space. Still it seems desirable to
indicate, somewhat, the extent of the Poet's obligations in this case;
which can be best done, I apprehend, by stating, as compactly as may
be, a portion of the story.

Sir John of Bordeaux, being at the point of death, called in his three
sons, Saladyne, Fernandine, and Rosader, and divided his wealth among
them, giving nearly a third to Rosader the youngest. After a short
period of hypocritical mourning for his father, Saladyne went to
studying how he might defraud his brothers, and ravish their legacies.
He put Fernandine to school at Paris, and kept Rosader as his
foot-boy. Rosader bore this patiently for three years, and then his
spirit rose against it. While he was deep in meditation on the point,
Saladyne came along and began to jerk him with rough speeches. After
some interchange of angry and insulting words, Rosader "seized a great
rake, and let drive at him," and soon brought him to terms. Saladyne,
feigning sorrow for what he had done, then drew the youth, who was of
a free and generous nature, into a reconciliation, till he might
devise how to finish him out of the way.

Now, Gerismond, the rightful King of France, had been driven into
exile, and his crown usurped, by Torismond, his younger brother. To
amuse the people, and keep them from thinking of the banished King,
the usurper appointed a day of wrestling and tournament; when a
Norman, of great strength and stature, who had wrestled down as many
as undertook with him, was to stand against all comers. Saladyne went
to the Norman secretly, and engaged him with rich rewards to despatch
Rosader, in case Rosader should come within his grasp. He then pricked
his brother on to the wrestling, telling him how much honour it would
bring him, and that he was the only one to uphold the renown of the
family. The youth, full of heroic thoughts, was glad of such an
opportunity. When the time came, Torismond went to preside over the
games, taking with him the Twelve Peers of France, his daughter
Alinda, his niece Rosalynd, and all the most famous beauties of the
Court. Rosalynd, "upon whose cheeks there seemed a battle between the
graces," was the centre of attraction, "and made the cavaliers crack
their lances with more courage." The tournament being over, the Norman
offered himself as general challenger at wrestling. While he is in the
full career of success, Rosader alights from his horse, and presents
himself for a trial. He quickly puts an end to the Norman's wrestling;
though not till his eyes and thoughts have got badly entangled with
the graces of Rosalynd. On the other side, she is equally smitten with
his handsome person and heroic bearing, insomuch that, the spectacle
being over, she takes from her neck a jewel, and sends it to him by a
page, as an assurance of her favour.

This outline, as far as it goes, almost describes, word for word, the
course and order of events in the play. And so it is, in a great
measure, through the other parts and incidents of the plot; such as
the usurper's banishment of his niece, and the escape of his daughter
along with her; their arrival in the Forest of Arden, where Rosalynd's
father has taken refuge; their encounter with the shepherds, their
purchase of the cottage, and their adventures in the pastoral life.
So, too, in the flight of Rosader to the same Forest, taking along
with him the old servant, who is called Adam Spencer, his carving of
love-verses in the bark of trees, his meeting with the disguised
Rosalynd, and the wooing and marrying that enrich the forest scenes.

Thus much may suffice to show that the Poet has here borrowed a good
deal of excellent matter. With what judgment and art the borrowed
matter was used by him can only be understood on a careful study of
his workmanship. In no one of his comedies indeed has he drawn more
freely from others; nor, I may add, is there any one wherein he has
enriched his drawings more liberally from the glory of his own genius.
To appreciate his wisdom as shown in what he left unused, one must
read the whole of Lodge's novel. In that work we find no traces of
Jaques, or Touchstone, or Audrey; nothing, indeed, that could yield
the slightest hint towards either of those characters. It scarce need
be said that these superaddings are enough of themselves to transform
the whole into another nature; pouring through all its veins a free
and lively circulation of the most original wit and humour and poetry.
And by a judicious indefiniteness as to persons and places, the Poet
has greatly idealized the work, throwing it at a romantic distance,
and weaving about it all the witchery of poetical perspective; while
the whole falls in so smoothly with the laws of the imagination, that
the breaches of geographical order are never noticed save by such as
cannot understand poetry without a map.

No one at all competent to judge in the matter will suppose that
Shakespeare could have been really indebted to Lodge, or to whomsoever
else, for any of the _characters_ in _As You Like It_. He merely
borrowed certain names and incidents for the bodying-forth of
conceptions purely his own. The resemblance is all in the drapery and
circumstances of the representation, not in the individuals. For
instance, we can easily imagine Rosalind in an hundred scenes not here
represented; for she is a substantive personal being, such as we may
detach and consider apart from the particular order wherein she
stands: but we can discover in her no likeness to Lodge's Rosalynd,
save that of name and situation: take away the similarity here, and
there is nothing to indicate any sort of relationship between the
heroines of the play and the novel. And it is considerable that,
though the Poet here borrows so freely, still there is no sign of any
borrowing in the work itself: we can detect no foreign influences, no
second-hand touches, nothing to suggest that any part of the thing had
ever been thought of before; what he took being so thoroughly
assimilated with what he gave, that the whole seems to have come
fresh from Nature and his own mind: so that, had the originals been
lost, we should never have suspected there were any.

Shakespeare generally preferred to make up his plots and stories out
of such materials as were most familiar to his audience. Of this we
have many examples; but the fact is too well known to need dwelling
upon. Though surpassingly rich in fertility and force of invention, he
was notwithstanding singularly economical and sparing in the use of
it. Which aptly shows how free he was from every thing like a
sensational spirit or habit of mind. Nature was every thing to him,
novelty nothing, or next to nothing. The true, not the new, was always
the soul of his purpose; than which nothing could better approve the
moral healthiness of his genius. Hence, in great part, his noble
superiority to the intellectual and literary fashions of his time. He
understood these perfectly; but he deliberately rejected them, or
rather struck quite above or beyond them. We rarely meet with any
thing that savours of _modishness_ in his workmanship. Probably the
best judgment ever pronounced upon him is Ben Jonson's, "He was not of
an age, but for all time." For even so it is with the permanences of
our intellectual and imaginative being that he deals, and not with any
transiencies of popular or fashionable excitement or pursuit. And as
he cared little for the new, so he was all the stronger in that which
does not grow old, and which lives on from age to age in the
perennial, unwithering freshness of Truth and Nature. For the being
carried hither and thither by the shifting mental epidemics of the
day, what is it, after all, but a tacit confession of weakness or
disease? proving, at the least, that one has not strength of mind
enough to "feel the soul of Nature," or to live at peace with the
solidities of reason. And because the attractions of mere novelty had
no force with Shakespeare; because his mind dwelt far above the
currents of intellectual fashion and convention; therefore his dramas
stand "exempt from the wrongs of time"; and the study of them is,
with but a single exception, just our best discipline in those forms
and sources of interest which underlie and outlast all the flitting
specialties of mode and custom,--

"Truths that wake, to perish never;
Which neither listlessness nor mad endeavour,
Nor Man nor Boy,
Nor all that is at enmity with joy,
Can utterly abolish or destroy."

_As You Like It_ is exceedingly rich and varied in character. The
several persons stand out round and clear in themselves, yet their
distinctive traits in a remarkable degree sink quietly into the
feelings without reporting themselves in the understanding; for which
cause the clumsy methods of criticism are little able to give them
expression. Subtile indeed must be the analysis that should reproduce
them to the intellect without help from the Dramatic Art.

Properly speaking, the play has no hero; for, though Orlando occupies
the foreground, the characters are mainly co-ordinate; the design of
the work precluding any subordination among them. Diverted by fortune
from all their cherished plans and purposes, they pass before us in
just that moral and intellectual dishabille which best reveals their
indwelling graces of mind and heart. Schlegel remarks that "the Poet
seems to have aimed, throughout, at showing that nothing is wanting,
to call forth the poetry that has its dwelling in Nature and the human
mind, but to throw off all artificial restraint, and restore both to
their native liberty." This is well said; but it should be observed
withal that the persons have already been "purified by suffering"; and
that it was under the discipline of social restraint that they
developed the virtues which make them go right without such restraint,
as indeed they do, while we are conversing with them. Because they
have not hitherto been altogether free to do as they would, therefore
it is that they are good and beautiful in doing as they have a mind
to now. Let us beware of attributing to Nature, as we call it, that
goodness which proceeds from _habits_ generated under Gospel culture
and the laws of Christian society. After all, the ordinary conditions
of social and domestic life give us far more than they take away. It
requires a long schooling in the _prescriptions_ of order and
rectitude, to fit us for being left to ourselves. In some sense indeed
it is a great enlargement of liberty to be rid of all the loves and
duties and reverences which the Past may have woven about us; and many
there are who seem to place freedom of mind in having nothing to look
up to, nothing to respect outside of themselves. But human virtue does
not grow in this way; and the stream must soon run dry if cut off from
the spring. And I have no sympathy with those who would thus crush all
tender and precious memories out of us, and then give the name of
_freedom_ to the void thus created in our souls. The liberty that goes
by unknitting the bands of reverence and dissolving the ties that draw
and hold men together in the charities of a common life, is not the
liberty for me, nor is it the liberty that Shakespeare teaches. I am
much rather minded to say, with a lawyer-poet of our time,

"If we lose
All else, we will preserve our household laws;
Nor let the license of these fickle times
Subvert the holy shelter which command
Of fathers, and undoubting faith of sons,
Rear'd for our shivering virtues."

It is true, however, that in this play the better transpirations of
character are mainly conducted in the eye of Nature, where the
passions and vanities that so much disfigure human life find little to
stir them into act. In the freedom of their woodland resort, and with
the native inspirations of the place to kindle and gladden them, the
persons have but to live out the handsome thoughts which they have
elsewhere acquired. Man's tyranny has indeed driven them into
banishment; but their virtues are much more the growth of the place
they are banished from than of the place they are banished to.

* * * * *

Orlando is altogether such a piece of young-manhood as it does one
good to be with. He has no special occasion for heroism, yet we feel
that there is plenty of heroic stuff in him. Brave, gentle, modest,
and magnanimous; never thinking of his high birth but to avoid
dishonouring it; in his noble-heartedness, forgetting, and causing
others to forget, his nobility of rank; he is every way just such a
man as all true men would choose for their best friend. His
persecuting brother, talking to himself, describes him as "never
school'd, and yet learned; full of noble device; of all sorts
enchantingly beloved; and indeed so much in the heart of the world,
and especially of my own people, who best know him, that I am
altogether misprised"; and this description is amply justified by his
behaviour. The whole intercourse between him and his faithful old
servant Adam is replete on both sides with that full-souled generosity
in whose eye the nobilities of Nature are always sure of recognition.

Shakespeare evidently delighted in a certain natural harmony of
character wherein virtue is free and spontaneous, like the breathing
of perfect health. And such is Orlando. He is therefore good without
effort; nay, it would require some effort for him to be otherwise; his
soul gravitating towards goodness as of its own accord: "In his proper
motion he ascends; descent and fall to him is adverse." And perhaps
the nearest he comes to being aware of his virtue is when his virtue
triumphs over a mighty temptation; that is, when he sees his unnatural
brother in extreme peril;

"But kindness, nobler ever than revenge,
And nature, stronger than his just occasion,"

made him risk his own life to save him; and even in this case the
divine art of overcoming evil with good seems more an instinct than a
conscious purpose with him. This is one of the many instances wherein
the Poet delivers the highest results of Christian discipline as
drawing so deeply and so creatively into the heart, as to work out
with the freedom and felicity of native, original impulse.

I must dismiss Orlando with a part of his tilt of wit with Jaques, as
that very well illustrates the composition of the man:

"_Jaq_. I thank you for your company; but, good faith, I had as
lief have been myself alone.

_Orlan_. And so had I; but yet, for fashion's sake, I thank you
too for your society.

_Jaq_. God b' wi' you: let's meet as little as we can.

_Orlan_. I do desire we may be better strangers.

_Jaq_. I pray you, mar no more trees with writing love-songs in
their barks.

_Orlan_. I pray you, mar no more of my verses with reading them

_Jaq_. Rosalind is your love's name?

_Orlan_. Yes, just.

_Jaq_. I do not like her name.

_Orlan_. There was no thought of pleasing you when she was

_Jaq_. What stature is she of?

_Orlan_. Just as high as my heart.

_Jaq_. You have a nimble wit: I think it was made of Atalanta's
heels. Will you sit down with me? and we two will rail against
our mistress the world and all our misery.

_Orlan_. I will chide no breather in the world but myself,
against whom I know most faults."

The banished Duke exemplifies the best sense of nature as thoroughly
informed and built up with Christian discipline and religious
efficacy; so that the asperities of life do but make his thoughts run
the smoother. How sweet, yet how considerative and firm, is every
thing about his temper and moral frame! He sees all that is seen by
the most keen-eyed satirist, yet is never moved to be satirical,
because he looks with wiser and therefore kindlier eyes. The enmity of
Fortune is fairly disarmed by his patience; her shots are all wasted
against his breast, garrisoned as it is with the forces of charity and
peace: his soul is made storm-proof by gentleness and truth: exile,
penury, the ingratitude of men, the malice of the elements, what are
they to him? he has the grace to sweeten away their venom, and to
smile the sting out of them. He loves to stay himself upon the
compensations of life, and to feed his gentler affections by dwelling
upon the good which adversity opens to him, or the evil from which it
withdraws him; and so he rejoices in finding "these woods more free
from peril than the envious Court." In his philosophy, so bland,
benignant, and contemplative, the mind tastes the very luxury of rest,
and has an antepast of measureless content.

* * * * *

Touchstone, though he nowhere strikes so deep a chord within us as the
poor Fool in _King Lear_, is, I think, the most entertaining of
Shakespeare's privileged characters. And he is indeed a mighty
delectable fellow! wise too, and full of the most insinuative counsel.
How choicely does his grave, acute nonsense moralize the scenes
wherein he moves! Professed clown though he be, and as such ever
hammering away with artful awkwardness at a jest, a strange kind of
humorous respect still waits upon him notwithstanding. It is curious
to observe how the Poet takes care to let us know from the first, that
beneath the affectations of his calling some precious sentiments have
been kept alive; that far within the Fool there is laid up a secret
reserve of the man, ready to leap forth and combine with better
influences as soon as the incrustations of art are thawed and broken
up. This is partly done in the scene where Rosalind and Celia arrange
for their flight from the usurper's Court. Rosalind proposes,--

"But, cousin, what if we assay'd to steal
The clownish Fool out of your father's Court?
Would he not be a comfort to our travel?"

And Celia replies,--

"He'll go along o'er the wide world with me:
Leave me alone to woo him."

Where we learn that some remnants, at least, of a manly heart in him
have asserted their force in the shape of unselfish regards, strong as
life, for whatever is purest and loveliest in the characters about
him. He would rather starve or freeze, with Celia near him, than feed
high and lie warm where his eye cannot find her. If, with this fact in
view, our honest esteem does not go out towards him, then we, I think,
are fools in a worse sense than he is.

So much for the substantial manhood of Touchstone, and for the Poet's
human-heartedness in thus putting us in communication with it. As for
the other points of his character, I scarce know how to draw a reader
into them by any turn of analysis. Used to a life cut off from human
sympathies; stripped of the common responsibilities of the social
state; living for no end but to make aristocratic idlers laugh; one
therefore whom nobody heeds enough to resent or be angry at any thing
he says;--of course his habit is to speak all for effect, nothing for
truth: instead of reflecting the natural force and image of things,
his vocation is to wrest and transshape them from their true form and
pressure. Thus a strange wilfulness and whimsicality has wrought
itself into the substance of his mind. He takes nothing for what it is
in itself, but only for the odd quirks of thought he can twist out of
it. Yet his nature is not so "subdued to what it works in" but that,
amidst the scenes and inspirations of the Forest, the Fool quickly
slides into the man; the supervenings of the place so running into and
athwart what he brings with him, that his character comes to be as
dappled and motley as his dress. Even the new passion which there
overtakes him has a touch of his wilfulness in it: when he falls in
love, as he really does, nothing seems to inspire and draw him more
than the unloveliness of the object; thus approving that even so much
of nature as survives in him is not content to run in natural

* * * * *

Jaques is, I believe, an universal favourite, as indeed he well may
be, for he is certainly one of the Poet's happiest conceptions.
Without being at all unnatural, he has an amazing fund of peculiarity.
Enraptured out of his senses at the voice of a song; thrown into a
paroxysm of laughter at sight of the motley-clad and motley-witted
Fool; and shedding the twilight of his merry-sad spirit over all the
darker spots of human life and character; he represents the abstract
and sum-total of an utterly useless yet perfectly harmless man,
seeking wisdom by abjuring its first principle. An odd choice mixture
of reality and affectation, he does nothing but think, yet avowedly
thinks to no purpose; or rather thinking is with him its own end. On
the whole, if in Touchstone there is much of the philosopher in the
Fool, in Jaques there is not less of the fool in the philosopher; so
that the German critic, Ulrici, is not so wide of the mark in calling
them "two fools."

Jaques is equally wilful, too, with Touchstone, in his turn of thought
and speech, though not so conscious of it; and as he plays his part
more to please himself so he is proportionably less open to the
healing and renovating influences of Nature. We cannot justly affirm,
indeed, that "the soft blue sky did never melt into his heart," as
Wordsworth says of his Peter Bell; but he shows more of resistance
than all the other persons to the poetries and eloquences of the
place. Tears are a great luxury to him: he sips the cup of woe with
all the gust of an epicure. Still his temper is by no means sour: fond
of solitude, he is nevertheless far from being unsocial. The society
of good men, provided they be in adversity, has great charms for him.
He likes to be with those who, though deserving the best, still have
the worst: virtue wronged, buffeted, oppressed, is his special
delight; because such moral discrepancies offer the most salient
points to his cherished meditations. He himself enumerates nearly all
the forms of melancholy except his own, which I take to be the
melancholy of self-love. And its effect in his case is not unlike that
of Touchstone's art; inasmuch as he greatly delights to see things
otherwise than as they really are, and to make them speak out some
meaning that is not in them; that is, their plain and obvious sense is
not to his taste. Nevertheless his melancholy is grateful, because
free from any dash of malignity. His morbid habit of mind seems to
spring from an excess of generative virtue. And how racy and original
is everything that comes from him! as if it bubbled up from the centre
of his being; while his perennial fulness of matter makes his company
always delightful. The Duke loves especially to meet him in his
"sullen fits," because he then overflows with his most idiomatic
humour. After all, the worst that can be said of Jaques is, that the
presence of men who are at once fortunate and deserving corks him up;
which may be only another way of saying that he cannot open out and
run over, save where things are going wrong.

* * * * *

It is something uncertain whether Jaques or Rosalind be the greater
attraction: there is enough in either to make the play a continual
feast; though her charms are less liable to be staled by use, because
they result from health of mind and symmetry of character; so that in
her presence the head and the heart draw together perfectly. I mean
that she never starts any moral or emotional reluctances in our
converse with her: all our sympathies go along with her freely,
because she never jars upon them, or touches them against the grain.

For wit, this strange, queer, lovely being is fully equal to Beatrice,
yet nowise resembling her. A soft, subtile, nimble essence, consisting
in one knows not what, and springing up one can hardly tell how, her
wit neither stings nor burns, but plays briskly and airily over all
things within its reach, enriching and adorning them; insomuch that
one could ask no greater pleasure than to be the continual theme of
it. In its irrepressible vivacity it waits not for occasion, but runs
on for ever, and we wish it to run on for ever: we have a sort of
faith that her dreams are made up of cunning, quirkish, graceful
fancies; her wits being in a frolic even when she is asleep. And her
heart seems a perennial spring of affectionate cheerfulness: no trial
can break, no sorrow chill, her flow of spirits; even her sighs are
breathed forth in a wrappage of innocent mirth; an arch, roguish smile
irradiates her saddest tears. No sort of unhappiness can live in her
company: it is a joy even to stand her chiding; for, "faster than her
tongue doth make offence, her eye doth heal it up."

So much for her choice idiom of wit. But I must not pass from this
part of the theme without noting also how aptly she illustrates the
Poet's peculiar use of humour. For I suppose the difference of wit and
humour is too well understood to need any special exposition. But the
two often go together; though there is a form of wit, much more
common, that burns and dries the juices all out of the mind, and turns
it into a kind of sharp, stinging wire. Now Rosalind's sweet
establishment is thoroughly saturated with humour, and this too of the
freshest and wholesomest quality. And the effect of her humour is, as
it were, to _lubricate_ all her faculties, and make her thoughts run
brisk and glib even when grief has possession of her heart. Through
this interfusive power, her organs of play are held in perfect concert
with her springs of serious thought. Hence she is outwardly merry and
inwardly sad at the same time. We may justly say that she laughs out
her sadness, or plays out her seriousness: the sorrow that is swelling
her breast puts her wits and spirits into a frolic; and in the mirth
that overflows through her tongue we have a relish of the grief with
which her heart is charged. And our sympathy with her inward state is
the more divinely moved, forasmuch as she thus, with indescribable
delicacy, touches it through a masquerade of playfulness. Yet, beneath
all her frolicsomeness, we feel that there is a firm basis of thought
and womanly dignity; so that she never laughs away our respect.

It is quite remarkable how, in respect of her disguise, Rosalind just
reverses the conduct of Viola, yet with much the same effect. For,
though she seems as much at home in her male attire as if she had
always worn it, this never strikes us otherwise than as an exercise of
skill for the perfecting of her masquerade. And on the same principle
her occasional freedoms of speech serve to deepen our sense of her
innate delicacy; they being manifestly intended as a part of her
disguise, and springing from the feeling that it is far less
indelicate to go a little out of her character, in order to prevent
any suspicion of her sex, than it would be to hazard such a suspicion
by keeping strictly within her character. In other words, her free
talk bears much the same relation to her character as her dress does
to her person, and is therefore becoming to her even on the score of
feminine modesty.--Celia appears well worthy of a place beside her
whose love she shares and repays. Instinct with the soul of moral
beauty and female tenderness, the friendship of these more-than-sisters
"mounts to the seat of grace within the mind."

"We still have slept together;
Rose at an instant, learn'd, play'd, eat together;
And wheresoe'er we went, like Juno's swans,
Still we went coupled and inseparable."

The general drift and temper, or, as some of the German critics would
say, the ground-idea of this play, is aptly hinted by the title. As
for the beginnings of what is here represented, these do not greatly
concern us; most of them lie back out of our view, and the rest are
soon lost sight of in what grows out of them; but the issues, of which
there are many, are all exactly to our mind; we feel them to be just
about right, and would not have them otherwise. For example, touching
Frederick and Oliver, our wish is that they should repent, and repair
the wrong they have done, in brief, that they should become good;
which is precisely what takes place; and as soon as they do this, they
naturally love those who were good before. Jaques, too, is so fitted
to moralize the discrepancies of human life, so happy and at home, and
withal so agreeable, in that exercise, that we would not he should
follow the good Duke when in his case those discrepancies are
composed. The same might easily be shown in respect of the other
issues. Indeed I dare ask any genial, considerate reader, Does not
every thing turn out just _as you like it_? Moreover there is an
indefinable something about the play that puts us in a receptive frame
of mind; that opens the heart, soothes away all querulousness and
fault-finding, and makes us easy and apt to be pleased. Thus the Poet
here disposes us to like things as they come, and at the same time
takes care that they shall come as we like. The whole play indeed is
_as you like it_.

Much has been said by one critic and another about the improbabilities
in this play. I confess they have never troubled me; and, as I have
had no trouble here to get out of, I do not well know how to help
others out. Wherefore, if any one be still annoyed by these things, I
will turn him over to the elegant criticism of the poet Campbell:
"Before I say more of this dramatic treasure, I must absolve myself by
a confession as to some of its improbabilities. Rosalind asks her
cousin Celia, 'Whither shall we go?' and Celia answers, 'To seek my
uncle in the Forest of Arden.' But, arrived there, and having
purchased a cottage and sheep-farm, neither the daughter nor niece of
the banished Duke seem to trouble themselves much to inquire about
either father or uncle. The lively and natural-hearted Rosalind
discovers no impatience to embrace her sire, until she has finished
her masked courtship with Orlando. But Rosalind was in love, as I have
been with the comedy these forty years; and love is blind; for until a
late period my eyes were never couched so as to see this objection.
The truth however is, that love is _wilfully_ blind; and now that my
eyes are opened, I shut them against the fault. Away with your
best-proved improbabilities, when the heart has been touched and the
fancy fascinated."

As a fitting pendent to this, I may further observe that the bringing
of lions, serpents, palm-trees, rustic shepherds, and banished
noblemen together in the Forest of Arden, is a strange piece of
geographical license, which certain critics have not failed to make
merry withal. Perhaps they did not see that the very grossness of the
thing proves it to have been designed. The Poet keeps his geography
true enough whenever he has cause to do so. He knew, at all events,
that lions did not roam at large in France. By this irregular
combination of actual things, he informs the whole with ideal effect,
giving to this charming issue of his brain "a local habitation and a
name," that it may link-in with our flesh-and-blood sympathies, and at
the same time turning it into a wild, wonderful, remote, fairy-land
region, where all sorts of poetical things may take place without the
slightest difficulty. Of course Shakespeare would not have done thus,
but that he saw quite through the grand critical humbug which makes
the proper effect of a work of art depend upon our belief in the
actual occurrence of the thing represented. But your "critic grave and
cool," I suppose, is one who, like Wordsworth's "model of a child,"

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