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the brave Orlando; the melancholy Orsino; and all the rest. They are in search of one another in that land of mystery and glamour; for, as one of these Comedies says,
“the course of true love never did run smooth”. Too often they love the wrong people. Jack is sighing for Jill, but Jill is sighing not for him, but for James or Peter, who in his turn is sighing not for her, but for someone else. Hence the weary pursuit; hence a hundred disappointments. Yet everything comes right in the end, and true love has its reward.
Sometimes it is crabbed experience which, having outlived its own illusions, tries to keep youthful hearts apart; but these generally manage to elude the Argus-eyes and get their own way. A brilliant example is that of sweet Anne Page in The Merry Wives of W'indsor. When the night of her marriage arrived, her father intended her to marry the stupid and tongue-tied Slender, and her mother thought she was safe in the hands of the rich Dr. Caius; but she gave them all the slip and appeared as a married woman under the escort of the handsome Fenton.
The most astonishing wooer of all is Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew. The heroine Kate seems untameable as a wildcat; she bites her own sister and makes every man fly from her frowning looks and blistering tongue. But Petruchio, having taken her in hand, so completely eclipses the most extra
vagant flights of her ill-temper by waywardness of his own that she follows him first in bewildered astonishment and ultimately in genuine submission. It is not a pleasing piece; and we are glad to learn that it was not of Shakspeare's invention-he merely worked
an old play—yet at the bottom of its extravagance there is a true idea—that temper and selfishness may be cured by seeing themselves in another. Kate was impenitent as long as she was shut up in herself; but, when she saw the visage of her own ill-humour in the mirror of her husband's madness, she learned how absurd had been her own conduct and became a reasonable member of society.
In married love the only thing that Shakspeare laughs at is jealousy. This he does in The Comedy of Errors, where, however, the satire directed against Adriana, the jealous wife, is lacking in lightness of touch. In The Merry Wives of Windsor the treatment is much more successful; and Ford, the jealous husband, is converted to the most unbounded confidence in his wife and to a much more healthy estimate of the world.
A few words may here be said of Shakspeare's treatment of illicit love. It is too well known how this subject has monopolized the stage. There have been periods when it has been almost the sole theme, the plot of every drama hovering round some indecent incident. Too often marriage was made a mock of;
the wronged husband was jeered at; and the bold seducer and the gay but unfaithful wife were the hero and heroine. In some quarters to this day these are the staple situations on the stage. Now, if anything of the kind were to be found in Shakspeare, it would be in his Gayer Comedies; but nothing of the sort exists there. In these plays there is a certain amount of coarseness. In the by-play of conversation the interlocutors take liberties which belong to a state of manners that has happily passed away; and the changes are rung with wearisome iteration on a few words and phrases of a dubious character. Even to the women, such as Rosalind, in As You Like It, there is attributed a licence which is anything but womanly, and is no doubt to be accounted for partly by the fact that in Shakspeare's time the female parts were played by men, women not being permitted to appear on the stage. But, in studying these Comedies closely, I have been impressed by the fact that indecency never enters into the substance of the plot : in some degree it may adhere to minor details, but it never is the pivot on which the action turns.
The only one of these ten dramas in which illicit love has a prominent place is The Merry Wives of Windsor, where Sir John Falstaff assails the virtue of Mrs. Page and Mrs. Ford; but the gay knight is represented as at that stage of his career when his fortunes are not only on the decline, but verging
towards desperation. Even his ancient hangers-on, Pistol, Nym and the rest, are quitting his service, as rats forsake a sinking ship. It is less under the impulse of passion that he goes a-wooing than under the constraint of impecuniosity: as he confesses himself, he makes love to Ford's wife, “because, the report goes, she hath all the rule of her husband's purse, and he hath a legion of angels"-an angel being a coin of the period. Mrs. Ford and her gossip, Mrs. Page, are merry wives, but as honest as they are merry. Falstaff has insulted them by sending to both an identical love-letter at the same time. But each, in her innocence, tells the other; and then they concoct together a scheme of revenge. Under pretence of encouraging him, they bring him to the house of Mrs. Ford, but only in time to be terrified by her husband, bursting-in to search for him with the town at his heels; so that Sir John, to save his skin, is glad to creep into a clothes-basket and be carried away out of the house as dirty linen. By which, says he, “I suffered the pangs of three several deaths : first, an intolerable fright, to be detected by the jealous husband; next to be compassed, like a good bilbo, in the circumference of a peck, hilt to point, heel to head; and then, to be stopped in, like a strong distillation, with stinking clothes, that fretted in their own grease. Think of that a man of my kidney-think of that,
that am as subject to heat as butter-a man of continual dissolution and thaw-it was a miracle to escape suffocation. And in the height of this bath, when I was more than half stewed in grease, like a Dutch dish, to be thrown into the Thames, and cooled, glowing hot, in that surge, like a horse-shoe." One lesson was not enough for the hoary sinner; but the merry wives gave him as many as he required, being assisted in the final stages by their husbands, to whom they had communicated their secret; till at last, the fat knight was so thoroughly punished and humiliated that, as he himself affirmed, “it was enough to be the decay of lust and late walking through the realm”.
Another source of comedy of a dubious nature is Drunkenness; and the bacchanalian poetry of such an author as Burns shows what rollicking fun can be made out of it. Of this there is not much in Shakspeare's Comedies, though there is a good deal in the comic scenes of the Historical Plays. The Taming of the Shrew opens with what is called an Induction, in which Christopher Sly, a tinker, is discovered deaddrunk on a bench in front of an alehouse, by a hunting lord, who chances to be passing that way. The lord is in a merry mood, and has him carried into the best room of the house, where he is surrounded with eyery luxury and, when he awakes, is greeted by a host of servants, as if he were a lord. They inform him that he has just recovered from an illness, in which he