« AnteriorContinuar »
Although this reason may appear sufficient, we might adduce many others in justification of Johnson's opinion. They must not, however, be sought for in chronology. It would be an impracticable work to endeavor to harmonize the different chronological data which Shakspeare is pleased to establish, often in the same piece; and it is as impossible to find, chronologically, the place of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” between "Henry IV.” and “Henry V.," as between the two parts of “Henry IV.” But, adopting this last supposition, the interview between Shallow and Falstaff in the Second Part of “Henry IV.," the pleasure which Shallow feels at seeing Falstaff again, after so long a separation, and the respect which he professes for him, and which he carries so far as to lend him a thousand pounds, become shocking improbabilities ; for, after the comedy of “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” Shallow can not be caught by Falstaff. Nym, whom we find in “Henry V.” is not numbered among Shakspeare's followers in the Second Part of “Henry IV.” With either supposition, it would be somewhat difficult to account for the personage Quickly, if we did not suppose that it referred to another Quickly-a name which Shakspeare found it convenient to render common to all procuresses. The Quickly of “Henry IV.” is married, and her name is therefore not that of a girl; but the Quickly of “The Merry Wives of Windsor" is not married.
After all, it would be superfluous to seek to establish in. a very accurate manner the historical order of these three dramas; Shakspeare himself did not bestow a thought upon the matter. We may, however, believe that, from the uncertainty in which he has left the whole affair, he was at least desirous that it should not be altogether impossible to make “ The Merry Wives of Windsor” the con
tinuation of " Henry IV.” Hurried, as it would appear, by the orders of Elizabeth, he at first produced only a kind of sketch of this comedy, which was nevertheless acted for a considerable period, as we find it printed in the first editions of his works; and it was not until several years afterward that he arranged it in the form in which we now possess it. In this early play, Falstaff, at the moment when he is in the forest, alarmed by the noises which he hears on every side, inquires if it is not “the mad Prince of Wales stealing his father's deer." This supposition is suppressed in the revised copy of the comedy, in which the poet apparently wished to endeavor to indicate a rather more probable order of facts.
In the piece as we now possess it, Page reproaches Fenton with “having been of the company' of the Prince of Wales and of Poins. At all events, he no longer belongs to it; and we may suppose that the name of "wild prince” was still retained to show what the Prince of Wales had been, and what Henry V. no longer was. However this may be, although “ The Merry Wives of Windsor” may present a less exalted kind of comicality than the First Part of “ Henry IV.," it is, nevertheless, one of the most diverting productions of that gayety of mind which Shakspeare has displayed in several of his comedies.
A number of novels may contest the honor of having furnished Shakspeare with the substance of the adventure upon which he has based the plot of the “Merry Wives of Windsor.” It was probably from the same sources that Molière borrowed the idea of his " Ecole des Femmes." Shakspeare's own invention consists in having made the same intrigue serve to punish both the jealous husband and the insolent lover. He has thus imparted to the drama, with the exception of the license of a few expres
sions, a much more moral tone than that of the novels from which he may have derived his subject, and in which the husband always ends by being duped, while the lover is made happy.
This comedy appears to have been composed in 1601,
6 WHETHER this be or be not, I'll not swear,” says old Gonzalo, at the conclusion of the “ Tempest,” when utterly confounded by the marvels which have surrounded him ever since his arrival on the island. It seems as though, through the mouth of the honest man of the drama, Shakspeare desired to express the general effect of this charming and singular work. As brilliant, light, and transparent as the aerial beings with which it is filled, it scarcely allows itself to be apprehended by reflection; and hardly, through its changeful and diaphanous features, can we feel certain that we perceive a subject, a dramatic contexture, and real adventures, feelings, and personages. Nevertheless, it contains all these, and all these are revealed in it; and, in rapid succession, each object in its turn moves the imagination, occupies the attention, and disappears, leaving no trace behind but a confused emotion of pleasure and an impression of truth, to which we dare not either refuse or grant our belief.
“ This drama,” says Warburton," is one of the noblest efforts of that sublime and amazing imagination, peculiar to Shakspeare, which soars above the bounds of nature, without forsaking sense ; or, more properly, carries nature along with him beyond her established limits." Every thing is, in this picture, at once fantastic and true. As if he were the creator of the work, as if he were the true enchanter, surrounded by all the illusions of his art, Prospero, manifesting himself to us, seems the only opaque and solid body in the midst of a populace of airy phantoms clothed with the forms of life, but unpossessed of the appearances of duration. A few minutes scarcely elapse before the amiable Ariel, lighter even than when he comes with the quickness of thought, escapes from the contact of the magic wand, and, freed from the forms which are prescribed to him-free, in fact, from all sensible form, dissolves into thin air, in which his individual existence, as far as we are concerned, vanishes away. Is not that halfintelligence, which seems to glimmer in the monster Caliban, an effect of magic ? and does it not seem that, on setting foot out of the disenchanted isle in which he is about to be left to himself, we shall see him relapse into his natural state of an inert mass, assimilating itself by degrees to the earth, from which it is scarcely distinct ? When far from our view, what will become of that Antonio and that Sebastian, who were so ready to conceive plans of crime, and of that Alonzo, who was so easily and frivolously accessible to feelings of every kind? What will become of the young lovers, so quickly and so completely enamored of each other, and who, in our view, seem to have been created only that they might love, and to have no other object in life than to disclose to our view the delightful pictures of love and innocence ? Each of these personages displays to us only that portion of his existence which concerns his present position; none of them reveals to us in himself those abysses of nature, or those deep sources of thought into which Shakspeare descends so frequently and so thoroughly; but they manifest before our