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The subject of this comedy has no reference whatever to its title of “ Twelfth Night."--Ancient manbers, and old fashioned improbabilities, form the character of this drama; whilst some exquisite poetry, and some interesting events are its ornaments.
Those readers, who can receive entertainment from a fictitious, or from a real fool, will find much humorous amusement in the parts of both the Clown, and Sir Andrew; and they will possibly, also, enjoy the ridicule which arises from an imposition that is practised upon a presumptuous upper servant of a woman of quality. But the dramatis personæ of higher interest are those, with whom Viola is concerned in the serious, more than in the comic occurrences, which befall her; for, with them, she speaks a language that enchants both the ear and the understanding ; and produces a happy contrast to the less refined dialogue.
It is said that King Charles the First, whose admiration of Shakspeare was a crime with the Puritans, gave this play the title of “ Malvolio." Had His Majesty seen Mrs. Jordan perform in it, he, no doubt, would have called it “ Viola." The former character is, however, suited to former times.
For in times past it was a custom with the facetious in high life, and to this day it continues so with the witty vulgar, to derive infinite merriment, from gross deceit, such as is here employed to ensnare Malvolio. If a man was observed to incline to one overruling passion, all his neighbours, in bold defiance of christian charity, and kind compassion, formed a conspiracy to increase his predominant vice; and, without reverence for his unsuspicious nature, or shame for their own treachery, no sooner was their scheme accomplished, than they openly contemned their dupe, for his trust in their words and protestations.
Independent of the immoral tendency of this conduct, those incidents which arise from such despicable artifice, is beneath the ingenuity of the drama. Yet, as an author has an undoubted right to show the fashions of the
represents ; so, on that account alone, he has here, perhaps laudably, added to his natural fool, and his counterfeit fool-a made fool.
It might, nevertheless, be asked, by a partizan of Malvolio's, whether this credulous steward was much deceived, in imputing a degraded taste, in the sentiments of love, to his fair Lady Olivia? as she actually did fall in love with a domestic; and one, who, from his extreme youth, was, perhaps, a greater reproach to her discretion, than had she cast a tender regard upon her old and faithful servant.
The imprudence of women, in placing their affections, their happiness, on men younger than themselves, cannot be better described, nor the sex more powerfully warned against such propensity, than, by the Duke Orsino, in this very play.
-Let still the woman take "An elder than herself; so wears she to him, “ So sways she level in her husband's heart, &c.
Although the mirth, which is excited at the expense of Malvolio, is impeded by the ungenerous stratagem, through which he has been deceived; yet it is gratifying to observe the skill, by which he is made, as soon as his vanity is caught, to interpret every event that occurs, every word that is uttered, to the purpose, on which his wishes are bent.-Other gratifications, of a more exalted kind, will be derived from the more exalted characters. The meeting of the brother and sister will produce a sympathy, that every reader will sensibly feel ;-and the following lines, delivered by Fabian, in the original edition, ought to mollify criticism upon some of the most extraordinary incidents contained in this work : for in these lines Shakspeare alludes, perhaps, to other extravagant circumstances in “Twelfth Night” as well as to that, exhibited in the scene where they are spoken; and meant thus indirectly, to plead guilty.
Fabian. “ If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction."
Sır ANDREW AGUE-} Mr. Suett.
Bartley Mr. Curties.
Mrs. H. Johnston.
Sailors, OFFICERS, and other ATTENDANTS.