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This on a Bad Jest
O jest unseen, inscrutable, invisible,
on a steeple.
This on Sorrow
Everyone can master a grief but he that has it.
This on the same
For there was never yet philosopher
However they have writ the style of gods.
Sweet are the uses of adversity,
This on Travel —
Home-keeping youths have ever homely wits.
This on Time
Time is the nurse and breeder of all good.
This on Blarney
That man that hath a tongue, I say, is no man
This on Gossip
What great ones do, the less will prattle of.
This on Mutability
And so from hour to hour we ripe and ripe,
Like all Shakspeare's plays, these Comedies contain passages, scattered not too sparsely here and there, in which the poet's genius rises to its full height, and the beholder is struck dumb with admiration of its gigantic proportions. Such is the well-known discourse on the Seven Ages in As You Like It, from the lips of the melancholy Jacques —
All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players : They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages.
At first the infant, Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms. And then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel And shining morning face, creeping like snail Unwillingly to school. And then the lover, Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier, Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard, Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel, Seeking the bubble reputation Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice, In fair round belly, with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
In strong contrast to this bright, realistic picture is the astonishing outburst on the power of imagination in A Midsummer-Night's Dream :
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
As has been already hinted, there is less of Shakspeare to be found in these Comedies than in the rest of his work. They display the toil of the playwright fully more than the inspiration of the poet. Some of them appear to have been written in haste, and the different parts do not hang well together. In the plots there is no great inventiveness; a few tricks of the playwright's art, such as mistaken identity and the assumption by women of male attire, are repeated to satiety; and some of the incidents, thus motived, are far from convincing. In one or two cases Shakspeare appears only to have touched up the work of older dramatists. Many pages of the dialogue in several of the plays are hopelessly obsolete, and the ! wit in them is as stale as exploded soap-bubbles. In the Comedies, in short, are to be found most of the withered leaves in the garland of Shakspeare's fame.
Yet there is at least one of these dramas which reaches a point of perfection attained by only three or four other plays in the poet's entire repertory. In The Merchant of Venice the execution is, as has been already hinted, as perfect as that of Julius Cæsar among the Historical Plays or Macbeth among the Tragedies.
This drama is founded, indeed, on several stories, which played their part in the literature of different countries before Shakspeare took possession of them; but he has twisted the various strands into a single thread with initimable deftness, leaving no loose ends. It is as if the subject had found the genius of the author in its happiest mood and excited his powers to their fullest exercise; accordingly, from beginning to end, everything moves with the lightness and grace of a bird on the wing; and there is nothing out of date; the colours are like those of the great Renaissance paintings—as fresh as if they had been laid on the canvas yesterday.
The theory has recently been started that the motive of this play was merely to fall in with the fury of the multitude against the Jewish race. A Jewish doctor, it seems, was executed in London for a plot against the life of the Queen shortly before its production; and, in such circumstances, any picture exhibiting a Jew in a hateful or ludicrous light was certain of popularity. The gods in the gallery would simply howl with delight at Shylock rushing through the streets shrieking:
My daughter! Oh my ducats! O my daughter !