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I shall illustrate this particular circumstance in one other instance, not only because it is in itself curious; but as it tends to elucidate what may, without impropriety, be termed the catastrophè. Falstaff having imposed upon Shallow, borrows from him a thousand pounds. He has imposed upon him, by making him believe that his influence with the Prince, now King Henry; was all-powerful. Here the poet's good sense, his sense of propriety, his judgment, and invention, are indeed remarkable. It was not for a person so sensual, so cowardly, so arrogant, and so selfish, as Falstaff, to triumph in his deceitful arts.But his punishment must be suitable. He is not a criminal like Richard; and his recompence must be different.
Detection, disappointment in his fraudulent purposes, and the downfal of assumed importance, will satisfy poetical justice : and for such retribution, even from his earliest appearance, we see due preparation. The punishment is to be the result of his conduct, and to be accomplished by a regular progress*.
-Falstaff, who was studious of imposing on others, imposes upon himself. He becomes the dupe of his own artifice. Confident in his versatility, command of temper, presence of mind, and unabashed invention ; encouraged too by the notice of the Prince, and thus flattering himself that he shall have some sway in lis counsels, he lays the foundation of his own disappointment. Though the flatterer and parasite of Prince Henry, he does not deceive him. The Prince is thoroughly acquainted with his character, and is aware of his views. Yet in his wit, humour, and invention, he finds amusement.
-Parasites, in the works of other poets, are the flatterers of weak men, and impress them with a belief of their merit or attachment. But Falstaff is the parasite of a person distinguished for ability or understanding. The Prince sees him in his real colours; yet, for the sake of present pastime, he suffers bimself to seem deceived ; and allows the parasite to flatter hiinself that his arts are not unsuccessful. The real state of his sentiments and feelings is finely described, when, at the battle of Shrewsbury, seeing
Falstaff lying among some dead bodies, he
supposes him dead.
What ! old acquaintance ! could not all this flesh keep in a little life ? Poor Jack, farewell. I could have better spared a better man : 0 I should have a heavy miss of thee, if I were much in love with vanity.
But Prince Henry is not much in love with vanity. By his accession to the throne he feels himself under new obligations ; and under the necessity of relinquishing improper pursuits. As he forms his resolution considerately, he adheres to it strictly. He does not hesitate, nor tamper with inclination. He does not gradually loosen, but bursts his fetters.
16 He casts " no longing lingering look behind." He forsakes every mean pursuit, and discards every worthless dependent. But he discards them with humanity: it is to avoid their influence; for all wise men avoid temptation: it is not to punish, but to correct their vices.
I banish thee, on pain of death
That lack of means enforce you not to evil:
Thus in the self-deceit of Falstaff, and in the discernment of Henry, held out to us on all occasions, we have a natural foundation for the catastrophè. The incidents too, by which it is accomplished, are judiciously managed. None of them are foreign or external; but grow, as it were, out of the characters.
Falstaff brings Shallow to London, to see and profit by his influence at court. He places himself in King Henry's way, as he returns from the coronation. He addresses him with familiarity; is neglected; persists, and is repulsed with sternness. are unexpectedly baffled: his vanity blasted : he sees his importance with those whom he had deceived completely ruined: he is for a moment unmasked: he views himself as he believes he appears to them: he sees himself in the mirror of their conception : he runs over the consequences of his humiliation : he translates their thoughts and
His hopes their opinions concerning him: he speaks to them in the tone of the sentiments which he attributes to them; and in the language which he thinks they would hold, “ Master “ Shallow, I owe you a thousand pounds.' It is not that in his abasement he feels a transient return of virtue: it is rather that he sees himself for a moment helpless: he sees his assumed importance destroyed; and, among
consequences, that restitution of the sum he had borrowed will be required. This alarms him; and Shallow's answer gives him small consolation. He is roused from his sudden amazement: looks about for resources ; and immediately finds them. His ingenuity comes instantly to his aid; and he tells Shallow, with great readiness and plausibility of invention,
Do not you grieve at this. I shall be sent for in private to him : look you, he must seem thus to the world.Fear not your advancement. I will be the man yét that shall make you great, &c. This that you heard was but a colour, &c. Go with me to dinner. Come, lieutenant Pistol ; come, Bardolph ; I shall be sent for soon at night.
Thus Shakespeare, whose morality is no - less sublime than his skill in the display of