Imagens das páginas

laboured under the hallucination that he was a tinker ; but, being now happily restored to his senses, they urge him to realise his true position. One of the entertainments they provide for him is to witness the performance of a play; which turns out to be The Taming of the Shrew. This Induction is capitally written, and the fun is well kept up. In Twelfth Night there are some very hilarious drinking scenes, the principal hero of which is Sir Toby Belch, who makes the hours spin-by with singing of songs and drinking of healths. His apology for his conduct is, that he is drinking the health of the lady his niece, under whose protection he lives; and, says he, “I'll drink to her as long as there is a passage in my throat and drink in Illyria; he is a coward and a coistrel that will not drink to my niece till his brains turn o' the toe like a parish-top”.

One more dubious subject of Comedy is Religion. Against it laughter may be directed ; and it has not infrequently been. The temptation to do so was strong in Shakspeare's days, because Puritanism, which was coming into prominence, was not without certain peculiarities which invited ridicule. In Twelfth Night the house-steward Malvolio is called a Puritan; and he is unmercifully made a fool of by Sir Toby Belch and Maria, his sharp-witted coadjutrix. It is against him that Sir Toby's fam


i Paltry fellow,

ous witticism is levelled: “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?" But Malvolio's Puritanism is only mentioned incidentally; the pomposity of his manner and the ambition of his desires, against which the ridicule is directed, have nothing religious about them; and there is in this play no sneering at the habits of a religious life or attempt to prove-as was so common among playwriters of a later date-that a profession of religion is identical with hypocrisy.

I have enumerated the principal subjects from which the mirth of these Gayer Comedies is evoked; but such an enumeration is far from suggesting all the variety of material, of situation and character embraced. While laughter is their primary object, much matter of a serious and even tragic character is introduced. Thus in the Two Gentlemen of Verona we have a contest between the forces of friendship and those of love; in As You Like It a most suggestive account of the comparative virtues of town and country life; and it would scarcely be too much to characterize A Midsummer Night's Dream as a great poetic discourse on the powers of the imagination. As the dramatist matures in the practice of his art, the development of character becomes more prominent and mere incident less conspicuous; thus the Comedy of

Errors, an early piece, is little better than a farce, while As You Like It, written eight years later, abounds with the subtlest analysis of character and at every step suggests meanings which do not lie upon the surface.

It would be easy, anywhere in these plays, to lift up handfuls of sayings wise, witty and perfectly expressed. Take a few collected almost at random :This on Book-learning

Small have continual plodders ever won

Save base authority from others' books.
These earthly godfathers of heaven's lights

That give a name to every fixed star
Have no more profit of their shining nights
Than those that walk and wot not what

they are. This on Word-mongers

They have been at a great feast of languages

and stolen the scraps. This on Old Fools

The blood of youth burns not with such excess

As gravity's revolt to wantonness.
This on a Jest-

A jest's prosperity lies in the ear
Of him that hears it, never in the tongue
Of him that makes it.

This on a Bad Jest

O jest unseen, inscrutable, invisible,
As a nose on a man's face, or a weathercock

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
That could endure the toothache patiently,

However they have writ the style of gods.
This again on the same-

Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venemous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head.

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

If with his tongue he cannot win a woman. 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,
And then from hour to hour we rot and rot.

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,

« AnteriorContinuar »