صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني
[ocr errors]

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 flattens a little in the outset, and though his wit may not flow less copiously, yet it comes with more labour and is farther fetcht. The poet seeins 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 second play with several new recruits, who may take a share with Falstaff, 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 illuminate the strange rhapsodies which Shakespear has put into his mouth, I fhould for one have thought Antient Pistol


[ocr errors]

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 absurd and fuffian pasages 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 aftonishment at the invention and originality of the poet, but it does not lessen my respect for his ingenuity. Shakespear founded his bully in parody, Jonson copied his from nature, and the palm feems due to Bobadil upon a comparison with Pistol ; Congreve copied a very happy likeness from Jonson, and by the fairest and most laudable imitation produced his Noll Bluff, one of the pleasantest humourists on the comic stage.

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 tipsy 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 refumes 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 Itrongly coloured, and though the scene with her and Falstaff is of a loose as well as ludicrous nature, yet if we compare Shakespear's conduct of this incident with that of the dramatic writers of his time, and even since his time, we must confess he has managed 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 assumes 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 afsuined

[ocr errors]

for his amusement. With these impressions we see him delivered over to mortification and disgrace, and bewail his punishment with a sensibility, that is only due to the sufferings of the virtuous.

As it is impossible to ascertain the limits of Shakespear's genius, I will not prefume to say he could not have supported his humour, had he chosen to have prolonged his existence thro' the succeeding drama of Henry the Fifth; we may conclude, that no ready expedient presented itself to his fancy, and he was not apt to spend much pains in fearching for fuch : He therefore put him to death, by which he fairly placed him out of the reach of his contemporaries, and got rid of the trouble and difficulty of keeping him up to his original pitch, if he had attempted to carry him through a third drama, after he had removed the Prince of Wales out of his company, and feated him on the throne. I cannot doubt but there were resources in Shakespear's genius, and a latitude of humour in the character of Falstaff, which might have furnished scenes of admirable comedy by exhibiting him in his disgrace, and both Shallow and Silence would have been accessaries to his pleasan

try :


« السابقةمتابعة »