« AnteriorContinuar »
Lost there are many faint sketches of some of his vigorous portraits in after life-as for example, in particular, of Benedict and Beatrice.-COLERIDGE, Lectures on Shakspere.
A PLAY OF CONTRASTS
We are dealing with a play of antitheta, a "Venus" and a "Lucrece," a "L'Allegro and an Il Penseroso," a plea for mirth and for seriousness, for action and for contemplation, a display of almost all topics set in almost all lights, of opinions, therefore, that are no more final than are the considerations of mere vocabulary and language. We are aware, however, that in his first essay this great genius condemns the falsehood of extremes, recognizes the essentials among the accidents, the follies of our existence, puts philosophy above dogma, and common sense in its due season above both; and plucks from the tree of knowl-. edge the fruit which hangs so high that few may reach it— the fruit of perfect charity. Hereby at the very outset you may know Shakespeare-perhaps from all his contemporaries except Spenser, Hooker, and Bacon.-LUCE, Handbook to Shakespeare's Works.
A CARICATURE OF THE PERIOD
Armado's bombast may probably be accepted as a not too extravagant caricature of the bombast of the period. Certain it is that the schoolmaster Rombus, in Sir Philip Sidney's Lady of the May, addresses the Queen in a strain no whit less ridiculous than that of Holofernes. But what avails the justice of a parody if, in spite of the art and care lavished upon it, it remains as tedious as the mannerism it ridicules! And this is unfortunately the case in the pres ent instance. Shakespeare had not yet attained the ma turity and detachment of mind which could enable him to rise above the follies he attacks, and to sweep them asid with full authority. He buries himself in them, circum stantially demonstrates their absurdities, and is still too in
OL experienced to realize how he thereby inflicts upon the spectator and the reader the full burden of their tediousness. It is very characteristic of Elizabeth's taste that, even in 1598, she could still take pleasure in the play. All this fencing with words appealed to her quick intelligence; while, with the unabashed sensuousness characteristic of the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, she found entertainment in the playwright's freedom of speech, even, no doubt, in the equivocal badinage between Boyet and Maria (IV, i).-BRANDES, William Shakespeare.
Of all the plays of Shakespeare, Love's Labor's Lost is perhaps that which bears most appearance of being a definite satire on his contemporaries. Some traces of individual satire (Florio has been thought to be satirized as Holofernes) have been challenged, but not more than have seemed traceable in other plays; it is in the agreement in general color, and in detailed manners of the follies exhibited, with those which were rife under Elizabeth, that we trace "the form and pressure" of her time. In truth, there seems, to a reader at the present day, to be the essential weakness in the execution of the play, that it contains too much of the very faults it would expose; he becomes weary of the quaint verbalism, the strained affectation of phraseological acuteness, the slowness of the action, either retarded by distinctions and divisions of refinement entirely, or when it should become most lively and excited, losing itself in the crosspaths and byeways of indirect and sophisticated contrivance the sacrifice of plainness and simplicity, not unfrequently involving loss of true sensitive consideration for the claims and feelings of others.
The mirror, I suspect, reflects the age too truthfully,—at least a certain class of its faults; and the social exaggerations in language and demeanor, true as they are to general human nature, are still not at present so abundant in these forms, as to prepare us to relish a still more concentrated version on the stage. It seems supererogatory for the dramatist to set such whims and motives in action, and to
conduct them elaborately to their catastrophe, when we turn away from them at the first instance with disgust, and cannot have patience to sympathize with them so strongly as is requisite, if we would completely understand them. It was otherwise, no doubt, in the days of yore.—LLOYD, Critical Essays.
THE PITH OF THE PLAY
Clearly, the pith of the play lies in the pleasant exposure of these affectations of Elizabethan culture. It is a "comedy of humors,"-Shakespeare's one experiment in the genre which a decade later Jonson made his own. Shakespeare, like Jonson after him, has his fling at the "vainglorious knight," "the profane jester," "the affected courtier"; but the animus of their satire is not altogether the same. Jonson assails these affectations with the downright scholar's scorn for shams; Shakespeare laughs at the "lost labor" of those who, in one or other of these ways, insist (in Biron's phrase) on "climbing over the house to unlock the little gate." But his laughter is not all in the same key. Holofernes and Armado are purely comic figures, commended to us by no single sympathetic touch, and sent off the stage sadder, but in no degree wiser than they entered it. Armado serves for the "quick creation" of Navarre and his bookmen. But Shakespeare has not a whit more respect for their own projected Academy of study, fasting and seclusion, and mercilessly derides it through the lips of Biron. But when they "of mere necessity" forswear their asceticism, and the "lost labors of love" actually begin, the satiric note becomes more equivocal. In the finest scene of the drama,—one of the finest comic scenes in all the early dramas,—where their perjury is discovered (IV, iii), the ridiculous situation of the perjured students contrasts strangely with the lyric beauty of the love-strains put into their mouths. The King's has a burlesque touch or two, but Dumain's is full of charm, and Longaville's is hardly distinguishable in tone
from the most ardent of Shakespeare's sonnets. If Shakespeare was here, as has been said, lashing the "Petrarcan sonneteers" of his time, it was with the mild stroke that became one who was himself to be so great a master in this form of love-labor. And as with the love-lyrics, so it is with the "taffeta phrases and silken terms" which Biron likewise renounces at Rosaline's feet. They were not for him, like Holofernes' Latinisms and Armado's firenew terms, things wholly alien and apart; they were symbols of a phase of culture and refinement through which he was himself passing, of which he recognized the limits, but had not overcome the charm. We may surely recognize something of Shakespeare himself in the curious ambiguities in the fine character of Biron, who, after renouncing his silken terms precise, leaves his sickness by degrees, and has yet a trick of the old rage; and who is by turns a Romeo and a Mercutio in his view of love.-HERFORD, The Eversley Shakespeare.
If we were to part with any of the author's comedies, it should be this. Yet we should be loth to part with Don Adriano de Armado, that mighty potentate of nonsense, or his page, that handful of wit; with Nathaniel the curate, or Holofernes the school-master, and their dispute after dinner on "the golden cadences of poesy"; with Costard the clown, or Dull the constable. Biron is too accom
plished a character to be lost to the world, and yet he could not appear without his fellow courtiers and the king: and if we were to leave out the ladies, the gentlemen would have no mistresses. So that we believe we may let the whole play stand as it is, and we shall hardly venture to "set a mark of reprobation on it." Still we have some objections to the style, which we think savors more of the pedantic spirit of Shakespear's time than of his own genius; more of controversial divinity, and the logic of Peter Lombard, than of the inspiration of the Muse. It transports us quite as much to the manners of the court, and the quirks of courts of law, as to the scenes of nature
or the fairy-land of his own imagination. Shakespear has set himself to imitate the tone of polite conversation then prevailing among the fair, the witty, and the learned, and he has imitated it but too faithfully. It is as if the hand of Titian had been employed to give grace to the curls of a full-bottomed periwig, or Raphael had attempted to give expression to the tapestry figures in the House of Lords. Shakespear has put an excellent description of this fashionable jargon into the mouth of the critical Holofernes "as too picked, too spruce, too affected, too odd, as it were, too peregrinate, as I may call it"; and nothing can be more marked than the difference when he breaks loose from the trammels he had imposed on himself, “as light as bird from brake," and speaks in his own person.-HAZLITT, Characters of Shakespear's Plays.
THE LESSON OF THE PLAY
The inner and ideal center upon which this graceful piece turns in the light, playful movement of its humor is the significant contrast between the fresh reality of life which ever renews its youth, and the abstract, dry and dead, study of philosophy. This contrast, when, in absolute strictness, it completely separates the two sides that belong to one another, at once contains an untruth which equally affects both sides, deprives both of their claim of right, and leads them into folly and into contradiction with themselves. That philosophy which disregards all reality and seeks to bury itself within itself, either succeeds in entombing itself in the barren sand of a shallow, absurd and pedantic learning, or else overcome by the fascinations of youthful life-it becomes untrue to itself, turns into its opposite, and is justly derided as mere affectation and empty pretense. One of these results is exhibited here in the case of the learned Curate Sir Nathaniel, and the Schoolmaster Holofernes, two starched representatives of the retailers of learned trifles, and in the pompous, bombastic Spanish Knight, a very Don