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We have scotch'd the snake, not kill'd it:
Better be with the dead,
Can touch him further. Again when the servant announces that the English forces are upon him, Macbeth is seized with an access of sentiment - a vision of lost happiness. Servant. The English force, so please you. MACBETH. Take thy face hence.
Seyton! - I am sick at heart,
Seyton! To no other dramatist but Shakespeare did nature reveal these climaxes of antiphonal feeling - a devil rushing in where a god is caled, or vice versa.
In the days when the Germans were marching on Paris, and from time to time thereafter, whenever there seemed to be a chance that the Germans might win the war, I was haunted by momentary visions of the past, – that part of the past whose spirit was threatened, — the spirit of joy, relaxation, and dreamy happiness. I saw, as in a flash, Falstaff sitting on the tavern bench in the sun and unbuttoning his belt after dinner, Toby Belch going to burn more sack and swearing it was not late yet. I heard Bottom calling for an almanac, and boasting that he would do it in 'Ercles' vein, Audrey asking Touchstone, “What is honest? Is it a good thing?" and Grumio describing his master's wedding-journey with the Shrew.
Such scenes from Shakespeare, and fragmentary memories of the man himself and of his age, would pass by in my mind as if they were the thing attacked by this whole German onslaught: and, indeed, they were the citadel; they, to the German mind, were the enemy that must be razed out of the world's life if Kaiserdom were to exist at all. There was, of course, always a possibility that the Germans would win, and that an era of darkness and violence would follow which should make the little English paradise of freedom, out of which Shakespeare's comedies had risen, seem even more of a miracle than it had seemed before. This war-experience gave me a new clue to English literature. A sense of personal safety is one of the elements that is felt all through English letters. It is the climate in which the English genius, which is the genius for happiness, developed. How similar in spirit is all the joyous part of English fiction, from Chaucer to Surtees's sporting books! There is the same glow in “Twelfth Night” that there is in “Pickwick Papers.” The rapture of mere existence is in all this work. It has been made without intention. Intention is a damage to it, as we see often in Dickens, and always in George Eliot; and the substratum of it is common life, good-humor, observation, courage, an indeterminate way of living, and an abundance of force. The English write as they live - in the moment.
The earlier British humorists set the pace for the later ones; and, as it happened, the social system of England changed so little during eight centuries, and so much of the Middle Ages survived in it, that the types and situations, the high life and the low life of the land, the nobles and the ostlers, the Hotspurs, Dogberrys, grooms, murderers, and Sam Wellers have afforded a continuous family of picturesque characters and grotesque contrasts, which have been reflected in the humorous fiction of each new age, under the guidance of tradition, and by the light of the great masters of the earlier times.
Ever since Shakespeare's day, his hand is to be seen everywhere in the fiction and humor of England. It is in Fielding, in Smollett and Scott; in Dickens, Thackeray, and Trollope. They are gay people, the English, and except when they try to be clever, are the cleverest people in the world. Ebulliency, enthusiasm, and the absence of literary pose are the great features of English literature. If you cast your eye over the whole panorama, the low life in it appears to be better done than the high life. The reason of this may be that great writers are almost always men of the people; and, as they thoroughly know the people, they describe them to the life; but they make guesses as to the aristocracy.
In Shakespeare, both the high life and the low life are equally convincing when we read the plays to ourselves; but on the modern stage a very strange thing happens: the low comedy is apt to be heavy and conscientious. It may be that the Puritan Revolution made such a break in the old Gothic horse-play and comic tradition, that the art of it was lost. These thoughts occurred to me while watching a rather second-rate performance of "Twelfth Night” in French. It was an absurd exhibition in some ways. The costumes were burlesque; Malvolio was schematized, understood and presented as a serious type, the part being acted so conscientiously that Malvolio became a bore. On the other hand the buffoonery was gay. I was su "prised to see gay buffoonery in a Shakespearean performance; and quite suddenly it occurred to me that this was right, this was the way that Shakespeare's droll parts should be played. There is a technique about buffoonery, and the clowns of Molière, in whose antics the old mediæval tomfoolery has come down to us, throw light on Shakespeare's low comedy,
As for high comedy, Garrick used to say that in tragedy he could always bring down the house, no matter in what mood he stepped upon the boards, whether he had a headache or felt sick or indifferent. “But comedy - comedy is a serious business!” This is no doubt a universal experience with actors; and Shakespeare's comedies, each of which is so different in spirit, in tempo, in coloring from the rest, are probably the most difficult of all comedies to act well. “As You Like It," for instance, is a water-color sketch — there is little drama in it. Rosalind's repartees cannot be gilded. Touchstone's soliloquies will not bear a frame. The set speeches in "As You Like It" — as for instance, “Now, my co-mates and brothers-in-exile," or Oliver's two long speeches describing how he was rescued by his brothers from the sucked and hungry lioness - cannot be informed with passion; and yet they must be beautiful. They say that Mozart's music is the most difficult of all music to play - it is so perfect and yet so delicate. You must live yourself back into the world as it was before the French Revolution if you would play Mozart correctly. No one has the time to do this, and therefore Mozart cannot be played. In like manner, “As You Like It” is apt to drag. We have all become heavy-fisted nowadays, and we pound our texts. Where poetry, foolery, and philosophy meet, as they do in these sylvan scenes, — all of them tinged with a world that has long ago disappeared, - we are like burglars dancing a minuet. Perhaps, instead of bewailing the vanishment of the old English stage, we ought rather to wonder at the genius of Shakespeare, which has so long kept alive the art of imaginative, happy badinage, during a century whose social life