Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

is his ground of faith that all who look on him love him." Her quaint stratagem of the letter has and is meant to have the effect of disclosing to others what her keener insight has long since discovered; and its working lifts her into a model of arch, roguish mischievousness, with wit to plan and art to execute whatsoever falls within the scope of such a character. Her native sagacity has taught her how to touch him in just the right spots to bring out the reserved or latent notes of his character. Her diagnosis of his inward state is indeed perfect; and when she makes the letter instruct him, — " Be opposite with a kinsman, surly with servants; let thy tongue tang arguments of State; put thyself into the trick of singularity," — her arrows are so aimed as to cleave the pin of his most characteristic predispositions.

The scenes where the waggish troop, headed by this "noble gull-catcher" and "most excellent devil of wit," bewitch Malvolio into "a contemplative idiot," practising upon his vanity and conceit till he seems ready to burst with an ecstasy of self-consequence, and they " laugh themselves into stitches" over him, are almost painfully diverting. It is indeed sport 'to see him "jet under his advanced plumes "; and during this part of the operation our hearts freely keep time with theirs who are tickling out his buds into full-blown thoughts: at length, however, when he is under treatment as a madman, our delight in his exposure passes over into commiseration of his distress, and we feel a degree of resentment towards his ingenious persecutors. The Poet, no doubt, meant to push the joke upon him so far as to throw our sympathies over on his side, and make us take his part. For his character is such that perhaps nothing but excessive reprisals on his vanity and conceit could make us do justice to his real worth.

The shrewd, mirth-loving Fabian, who in greedy silence devours up fun, tasting it too far down towards his knees to give any audible sign of the satisfaction it yields him, is an

VOL. i. 16

apt and willing agent in putting the stratagem through. If he does nothing towards inventing or cooking up the repast, he is at least a happy and genial partaker of the banquet that others have prepared. — Feste, the jester, completes this illustrious group of laughing and laughtermoving personages. Though not, perhaps, quite so wise a fellow as Touchstone, of As-You-Like-It memory, nor endowed with so fluent and racy a fund of humour, he nevertheless has enough of both to meet all the demands of his situation. If, on the one hand, he never launches the ball of fun, neither, on the other, does he ever fail to do his part towards keeping it rolling. On the whole, he has a sufficiently facile and apposite gift at jesting out philosophy, and moralizing the scenes where he moves; and whatever he has in that line is perfectly original with him. It strikes me, withal, as a rather note-worthy circumstance that both the comedy and the romance of the play meet together in him, as in their natural home. He is indeed a right jolly fellow; no note of mirth springs up but he has answering susceptibilities for it to light upon; but he also has at the same time a delicate vein of tender pathos in him; as appears by the touchingly-plaintive song he sings, which, by the way, is one of

"The very sweetest Fancy culls or frames,
Where tenderness of heart is strong and deep."

I am not supposing this to be the measure of his lyrical invention, for the song probably is not of his making; but the selection marks at least the setting of his taste, or rather the tuning of his soul, and thus discovers a choice reserve of feeling laid up in his breast.

Such are the scenes, such the characters that enliven Olivia's mansion during the play: Olivia herself, calm, cheerful, of "smooth, discreet, and stable bearing," hovering about them; sometimes unbending, never losing her dignity among them; often checking, oftener enjoying their

Tht society delineated in this play is singularly varied and composite; the names of the persons being a mixture of Spanish, Italian, and English. Though the scene is laid in Illyria, the period of the action is undefined, and the manners and costumes are left in the freedom of whatever time we may choose antecedent to that of the composition, provided we do not exceed the proper limits of imaginative reason.

This variety in the grouping of the persons, whether so intended or not, very well accords with the spirit in which, or the occasion for which, the title indicates the play to have been written. Twelfth Day, anciently so called as being the twelfth after Christmas, is the day whereon the Church has always kept the feast of "The Epiphany, or the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles." So that, in preparing a Twelfth-Night entertainment, the idea of fitness might aptly suggest, that national lines and distinctions should be lost in the paramount ties of a common Religion; and that people the most diverse in kindred and tongue should draw together in the sentiment of " one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism "; their social mirth thus relishing of universal Brotherhood.

The general scope and plan of Twelfth Night, as a work of art, is hinted in its second title; all the comic elements being, as it were, thrown out simultaneously, and held in a sort of equipoise; so that the readers are left to fix the preponderance where it best suits their several bent or state of mind, and each, within certain limits and conditions, may take the work in what sense he will. For, where no special prominence is given to any one thing, there is the wider scope for individual aptitude or preference, and the greater freedom for each to select for virtual prominence such parts as will best knit in with what is uppermost in his thoughts.

The significance of the title is further traceable in a peculiar spontaneousness running through the play. Replete as it is with humours and oddities, they all seem to spring up of their own accord; the comic characters being free alike from disguises and pretensions, and seeking merely to let off their inward redundancy; caring nothing at all whether everybody or nobody sees them, so they may have their whim out, and giving utterance to folly and nonsense simply because they cannot help it.. Thus their very deformities have a certain grace, since they are genuine and of Nature's planting: absurdity and whimsicality are indigenous to the soil, and shoot up in free, happy luxuriance, from the life that is in them. And by thus setting the characters out in their happiest aspects, the Poet contrives to make them simply ludicrous and diverting, instead of putting upon them the constructions of wit or spleen, and thereby making them ridiculous or contemptible. Hence it is that we so readily enter into a sort of fellowship with them; their foibles and follies being shown up in such a spirit of good-humour, that the subjects themselves would rather join with us in laughing than be angered or hurt at the exhibition. Moreover the high and the low are here seen moving in free and familiar intercourse, without any apparent consciousness of their respective ranks: the humours and comicalities of the play keep running and frisking in among the serious parts, to their mutual advantage; the connection between them being of a kind to be felt, not described.

Thus the piece overflows with the genial, free-and-easy spirit of a merry Twelfth Night. Chance, caprice, and intrigue, it is true, are brought together in about equal portions; and their meeting and crossing and mutual tripping cause a deal of perplexity and confusion, defeating the hopes of some, suspending those of others: yet here, as is often the case in actual life, from this conflict of opposites order and happiness spring up as the final result: if what we call accident thwart one cherished purpose, it draws on something better, blighting a full-blown expectation now, to help the blossoming of a nobler one hereafter: and it so happens in the end that all the persons but two either have

what they will, or else grow willing to have what comes to their hands.

Such, I believe, as nearly as I know how to deliver it, is the impression I hold of this charming play; an impression that has survived, rather say, has kept growing deeper and deeper through many years of study, and after many, many an hour spent in quiet communion with its scenes and characters. In no one of his dramas, to my sense, does the Poet appear to have been in a healthier or happier frame of mind, more free from the fascination of the darker problems of humanity, more at peace with himself and all the world, or with Nature playing more kindly and genially at his heart, and from thence diffusing her benedictions through his whole establishment. So that, judging from this transpiration of his inner poetic life, I should conclude him to have had abundant cause for saying, —

"Eternal blessings on the Muse,
And her divine employment; —
The blameless Muse who trains her sons
For hope and calm enjoyment."

ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS "WELL.

All's Well That Ends Well was first published in the folio of 1623, and is among the worst-printed plays in that volume. In many places the text, as there given, is in a most unsatisfactory state; and in not a few I fear it must be pronounced incurably at fault. A vast deal of study and labour has been spent in trying to rectify the numerous errors ; nearly all the editors and commentators, from Rowe downwards, have strained their faculties upon the work: many instances of corruption have indeed yielded to critical ingenuity and perseverance, and it is to be hoped .|hat still others may; but yet there are several passages _ »;which give little hope of success, and seem indeed too hard for any efforts of corrective sagacity and skill. This is not the place for citing examples of textual difficulty: so I must

« ZurückWeiter »