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that part in such a manner as should give probability and even a plea to the temptation; this was only to be done by the strongeft touches and the highest colourings of a master; by þitting off a humour of so happy, so facetious and so alluring a cast, as should tempt even royalty to forget itself and virtue to turn reveller in his company. His lies, his vanity and his cowardice, too gross to deceive, were to be so ingenious as to give delight; his cunning evasions, his witty resources, his mock folemnity, his vapouring self-consequence, were to furnish a continual feast of laughter to his royal companion ; he was not only to be witty himself, but the cause of wit in other people; a whetstone for raillery; a buffoon, whose very person was a jest: Compounded of these humours, Shakespear produced the character of Sir John Falstaff; a character, which neither ancient nor modern comedy has ever equalled, which was so much the favourite of its author as to be introduced in three several plays, and which is likely to be the idol of the English stage, as long as it shall speak the language of Shakespear.
This character almost fingly supports the whole comic plot of the first part of Henry the fourth; the poet has indeed thrown in some auxiliary humours in the persons of Gadshill,
Peto, Peto, Bardolph, and Hostess Quickly; the two first serve for little else except to fill up the action, but Bardolph as a butt to Falstaff's raillery, and the hostess in her wrangling scene with him, when his pockets had been emptied as he was asleep in the tavern, give occafion to scenes of infinite pleasantry: Poins is contrafted from the rest of the gang, and as he is made the companion of the prince, is very properly represented as a man of better qualities and morals than Falstaff's more immediate hangers-on and dependants.
The humour of Falstaff opens into full display upon his very first introduction with the prince ; the incident of the robbery on the highway, the scene in Eastcheap in consequence of that ridiculous encounter, and the whole of his conduct during the action with Percy, are so exquisitely pleasant, that upon the renovation of his dramatic life in the second part of Henry the fourth, I question if the humour does not in part evaporate by continuation, at least I am persuaded that it Aattens a little in the outset, and though his wit may not Aow less copiously, yet it comes with more labour and is farther fetcht. The poet seems to have been sensible how difficult it was to preserve the vein as rich as at first, and has therefore strengthened his comic plot in the
fecond play with several new recruits, who may take a share with Falftaff, to whom he no longer entrusts the whole burthen of the humour. In the front of these auxiliaries stands Pistol, a character so new, whimsical and extravagant, that if it were not for a commentator now living, whose very extraordinary researches, amongst our old authors, have supplied us with passages to illuininate the strange rhapsodies which Shakespear has put into his mouth, I should for one have thought Ancient Pistol as wild and imaginary a being as Caliban ; but I now perceive, by the help of these discoveries, that the character is made up in great part of abfurd and fuftian passages from many plays, in which Shakespear was versed and perhaps had been a performer : Pistol's dialogue is a tissue of old tags of bombast, like the middle comedy of the Greeks, which dealt in parody. I abate of my astonishment at the invention and originality of the poet, but it does not lefsen my respect for his ingenuity. Shakespear founded his bully in parody, Jonson copied his from nature, and the palm seems due to Bobadil upon a comparison with Piftol; Congreve copied a very happy likenefs from Jonson, and by the fairest and moft laudable imitation produced his Noll Bluff, one of the pleasanteft humourists on the comic stage. 9
Shallow and Silence are two very strong auxiliaries to this second part of Falstaff's humours, and though they do not absolutely belong to his family, they are nevertheless near of kin, and derivatives from his stock: Surely two pleasanter fellows never trode the stage; they not only contrast and play upon each other, but Silence sober and Silence tipsey make the most comical reverse in nature; never was drunkenness so well introduced or so happily employed in any drama: The dialogue between Shallow and Falstaff, and the description given by the latter of Shallow's youthful frolicks, are as true nature and as true comedy as man's invention ever produced: The recruits are also in the literal sense the recruits of the drama. These personages have the further merit of throwing Falstaff's character into a new cast, and giving it the seasonable relief of variety.
Dame Quickly also in this second part resumes her rôle with great comic spirit, but with some variation of character for the purpose of introducing a new member into the troop in the person of Doll Tearsheet, the common trull of the times. Though this part is very strongly coloured, and though the scene with her and Fal. staff is of a loose as well as ludicrous nature, yet if we compare Shakespear's conduct of this in
cident with that of the dramatic writers of his time, and even since his time, we must confess he has mar ged it with more than common care, and exhibited his comic hero in a very ridiculous light, without any of those gross indecencies which the poets of his age indulged themselves in without restraint.
The humour of the Prince of Wales is not fo free and unconstrained as in the first part ; though he still demeans himself in the course of his revels, yet it is with frequent marks of repugnance and self-confideration, as becomes the conqueror of Percy, and we see his character approaching fast towards a thorough reformation ; but though we are thus prepared for the change that is to happen, when this young hero throws off the reveller and affumes the king, yet we are not fortified against the weakness of pity; when the disappointment and banishment of Falstaff takes place, and the poet executes justice upon his inimitable delinquent, . with all the rigour of an unrelenting moralist. The reader or spectator, who has accompanied Falstaff through his dramatic story, is in debt to him for so many pleasant moments, that all his failings, which should have raised contempt, have only provoked laughter, and he begins to think they are not natural to his character, but