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The prince will, in the perfectness of time,
Cast off his followers, etc. The history is, still more,imerely a frame to the portrait of Falstaff, with his impecuniosity, his lying, boasting, cowardice, his skill in getting out of difficulties, his shrewdness, his knack of coining epithets. Prince Henry is very lovable; see the contrasted estimates of his character, by his father and the Earl of Warwick, in the fourth Scene of the fourth Act. Shallow in the country, gloating over the revels of his youth in the city, is proud to entertain Sir John.
THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR. About 1598. Class B. Said to have been written at the command of Queen Elizabeth, who desired to see Falstaff in love. The subject is, that women may be merry and yet honest; see it expressed in the second Scene of the fourth Act :
We'll leave a proof, by that which we will do,
merry, and yet honest too. The execution is effective in a superlative degree; the play is fuller of “go” than anything else of Shakspeare's. Though living in very abject rascaldom, Sir John has a kind of greatness; even at the end he is asked to supper !
HENRY THE FIFTH. About 1599. Class A. The theme is the Prodigal Come Home. King Henry
is Shakspeare's greatest favourite; see the picture of him in the Chorus at the end of the third Act. He is afraid of the responsibilities of war yet, when in it, a lion-heart, eager for honour. The execution is in the highest regal style, yet with fringes of the comic. Falstaff's friends are the dregs of a warlike period, floated home from the French Wars. Even in death Falstaff is endowed with a kind of grace.
20. MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. About 1599. Class C. The subject is perhaps the Power of Hymen. Claudio is so obvious a victim that he allows another to do his courting, and, when Hero disappears, he consents at once to marry her cousin; Benedick is stubborn, yet has to yield. There is some capital writing, especially in the fourth Act; but, as a whole, the plot is not well developed. Don John's work is unmotived; so is Don Pedro's wooing on Claudio's behalf. Claudio is a hero who is not worthy of the wife he gets, his appearances in the last Act being specially unbecoming. Benedick and Beatrice are the real hero and heroine, but their half of the play is but loosely connected with the other half—that of Claudio and Hero. Many characters and incidents in this play occur elsewhere: compare Benedick with Biron in Love's Labour's Lost, Friar Francis with Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet, the deception of Benedick with the Malvolio scenes in Twelfth Night, Hero's restor
ation with Hermione's. The title is anything but lucid; and the attempts to explain it are themselves much ado with no result. If the above guess at the subject be right, the title may simply mean that the obstacles to Hymen's course are of no use.
21. As YOU LIKE IT. About 1599. Class B. The subject is Town and Country Life; see it expressed at the commencement of the first Scene of the second Act :
Are not these woods More free from peril than the envious court? And this our life, exempt from public haunt, Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, Sermons in stones, and good in everything : I would not change it.
The court is a scene of wrong and evil passions; but even the Duke and Oliver are transmuted as soon as they approach the forest. The first two acts are strong, promising something which does not come; for in the subsequent acts we pass into dreamland, and there is a great deal of padding. Rosalind is very well developed, but Orlando, after beginning well, turns into a cypher. The melancholy Jaques is a roué, who has tried everything and is always on the outlook for new sensations, but is always dissatisfied with his actual condition. Charles Knight is ex
tremely happy in characterizing Touchstone, his idea being that, released from the artificiality of court-life and restored to the healthful influences of nature, he ceases to be a fool and becomes a man, falling genuinely in love; so that in future, instead of being a loose, irresponsible hanger-on, he will be a married man, occupying a place of his own in the system of things. Several passages like “There be three things” in the Book of Proverbs. Great passage on the Seven Ages in the last Scene of the second Act.
22. TWELFTH NIGHT. About 1600. Class B. But Mr. Masefield considers this the best English comedy. Twelfth Night or Bean-king's Festival twelfth day after Christmas: to whomsoever falls a bean, hidden in a cake, he becomes king of the revels and, choosing a queen, establishes a burlesque kingdom, in which all kinds of fun and frolic, including games of chance, are carried on. Reason why this name given to play not very clear; perhaps the subject is a Burlesque World, out of which all are at last released. Ulrici thinks the subject is the fantastical choice of partners practised on Twelfth Night. There are two sets of personages and scenes. Those around Olivia, among whom the pompous Malvolio is central, are very amusing. Viola is bright; but the “little villain ” Maria is the gem. Sir Toby a very modern character. The Duke is a lover of music and speaks of it in an accent of his
Puritanism satirised in Malvolio. The whole is a comedy of errors, and perhaps there is no further design than the unravelling of these—“Thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges” (near the end of last Act), and deposits all the characters in their own places. Sir Sidney Lee considers this and the two preceeding plays Shakspeare's “three most perfect essays in comedy”.
23. JULIUS CÆSAR. About 1601.
About 1601. Class A. The subject is the Portraiture of a Man, this being, however, not Cæsar, but Brutus; see it expressed at the very end of the play :
His life was gentle; and the elements
say to all the world, “This was a man!”
Like Prince Hal, Brutus is one of Shakspeare's prime favourites, sincere, truthful, unsuspicious, placable; see his motives for the murder of Cæsar in the first Scene of the second Act. The execution is as perfect
as that of the Sistine Madonna : not a morsel of superCassifluity; e.g., Cassius' discourse on where the sun rises
is an indication of the pedant, who does not sleep o'nights, and the rushing-in of the poet, in the third Scene of the fourth Act, to give his advice, hints the kind of elements which have found their way into the army of the enthusiasts. Brutus' revolt was the work