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LOVE'S LABOUR LOST.
MR. EDITOR.-Why this should be Shakspeare's labour lost is more than our love for the poet can answer. Inquire among his boasting admirers, ask the first ten you meet, if they have bestowed a second reading on this comedy, and if more than one assure you they have really gone through it twice, note it down as a curious fact. The English, with irreverence be it spoken, only admire acting plays; and presume to yield up, as an uncontested point, that Shakspeare could write bad ones. How sickening is the phrase of "it ranks among his inferior productions," and from those who crowd to see a favourite actor in Richard the Third," and who have every speech at their tongues' end! Richard is not to be spoken of slightingly; nor is it, when we say that tragedy possesses less of the poet's soul than any other of his undisputed plays. But it works well on the stage, as it contains one all-absorbing character, and is full of changes and bustle. Uncommon actors and common audiences always delight in it, that is, assisted by Cibber's legerdemain; for Avon's bard must be played tricks with, or he is not amusing. Shakspeare's plays lose on the stage, like Apollo tricked out by a tailor; others gain, like apprentices in their Sunday-clothes. To represent some of his works is avowedly beyond the power of the scene; and many, of quiet beauty, are cut down into operas, skeletons with shreds of nerve and sinew, stalking forward to take the silly town by the ears.
Did Shakspeare sometimes write to please himself, careless of the favour of a theatre? This is scarcely probable: he commenced writing for bread, and continued it for a competence in his age; he considered his plays as matters of profit, not of fame; for, in his Sonnets, he laments that Fortune had not provided for him better "than public means which public manners breed." Or was it that our ancestors at the Globe Theatre could feast on wit and poesy, in every varied shape, in the mirth, the whim of life, the witchery of fancy, and the passionate eloquence of the heart, and on these, and these alone, without a meretricious aid? Modern play-goers are one half for the show; and the remainder are spectators as much as auditors. Painters, dressmakers, and mechanists attempt to leave nothing to the imagination. Success or failure equally lays that faculty dormant; for who thinks of any thing but whether their labours are well or ill executed? Then comes the poet; and he must avoid all gentle feeling, as it will not "awake the snorting citizens;" nothing remains for him but the fiercest passions, as those who rejoice in a spectacle must rejoice in a noise. Whereas the audience at the Globe, aware they were to expect little more than mental enjoyment, went prepared to increase it. They were compelled to paint to themselves imaginary scenes; and that exertion of the fancy rendered them more capable of poetic feeling. The "Tempest," and "Midsummer Night's Dream," could then be heard unweariedly. The chorus to "Henry the Fifth" is omitted, with great propriety, on our modern stage, for who could obey his directions?
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts:
Into a thousand parts divide one man,
And make imaginary puissance:
Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth:
For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
We are not accustomed to such a call, and would refuse to listen to it. Instead of piecing out imperfections, the audience-the spectators I mean-find it more agreeable to criticise the costume of a crowd representing an army, the docility and evolutions of real horses, the profusion of costly robes, and the scene-painter's merits. If Shakspeare does not give a procession, the actors must, or the house will be thinly attended. Henry the Fifth shows his Coronation, Prospero his Triumph of Amphitrite, Juliet her Funeral, Titania gives us an Embassy from the "farthest steep of India," Antony and Cleopatra appear in the very thick of the battle of Actium, and the Two Gentlemen of Verona play their frolics in the Carnival. No, we need not be astonished at several of Shakspeare's plays being unfit for the stage. A melodrame, "full of sound and fury," signifies every thing for the town. "Love's Labour Lost" is as perfect, in its kind, as 66 Hamlet." The purpose of the comedy is to ridicule artificial manners, the affectation of students, the forced pedantry of conversation, and the serious folly of striving against nature: and is not this done to the utmost? These are faults scarcely deserving of the lash, and the poet is generally content to place them in situations where they must inevitably expose them. selves. The scene is ever out of doors, as if more effectually to confront them with nature. A good-humoured laugh is in every page, and we join in it throughout. Nothing disturbs the mild humanity of the poet. All the characters, men and women, courtly or clownish, are such as, in our best fellow-feelings, we long to take by the hand,— were it not from the dread of being forced to offer our drab-coloured discourse in exchange for their sparkling partycoloured wit. Here Majesty itself is a companionable gentleman; and we mix in the elegant groups of lords and ladies, or with Costard and Holofernes, and find ourselves always at home. We are carried back to the days of Elizabeth, when chivalrous knights began to understand that poetry was at least on a par with a tournament, and that a philosopher was not so dull as a day of state; when they first fell in love with the alphabet, and, in compliment to their modern Dulcinea, were ever careful not to open their mouths without due evidence of their having "fed of the dainties that are bred in a book."
Objections are made to the poverty of the fable, and to the want of skill in the contrivance. But this is a comedy of conversation, and the author would have destroyed his own purpose, had he admitted an intricacy of plot, or placed his characters in situations to call forth the wilder passions. A reader, who can enter into the spirit of the work, will find sufficient interest to keep his attention on the alert. As to the charge of a want of dramatic invention, where the four lovers follow each other to the same spot, and where three of them read their love-sonnets, and hide themselves, by turns, among the trees, possibly that may be considered of little weight. Three of the lovers are so artificial, that nothing could be more natural than for each to pen` a sonnet to his lady, not only because it was out of his power to speak to her, but because it was the fashion to pen sonnets. Then again, each must sigh her name in a grove, because such had been, time out of
mind, the lover's humour. Besides, the pleasant discovery at the last, and Biron's eloquent poetry, make ample amends.
If Shakspeare had not assured us this young Ferdinand was King of Navarre, I could not have believed it. He is so unlike a king or a Ferdinand. He never once pleads his sacred anointment, nor threatens with his royal displeasure, nor receives flattery from great men of his own making, nor can he despise Costard the clown. His wit allows him to sport a jest, and his good temper to take one from others; and at all times he is superior to playing the monarch over his associates. Longaville, "well fitted in the arts, glorious in arms," and the "well accomplished youth," Dumain, are as much kings of the conversation as himself. A weariness of courtly pleasures, and the fashion and the idleness of the day, give these youths a butterfly-notion of being bookworms. Scholars they will be, and learned ones, and that at the end of three years; so they are to study very hard, and "not to see a woman in that term," with other strict observances touching fasting and watching,-easy to "record in a schedule." Their oaths are taken, and Biron, from pure good fellowship, joins the "Holy Alliance." Biron, whose ascendant mind cannot but convince their common sense, has no control over their folly. He argues, he rallies, but all in vain. Rousseau was not the first to " reason against reading;" Shakspeare's Biron was before him; and your hard spellers in a closet ought to con over the following passages betimes:
"Study is like the Heaven's glorious sun,
That will not be deep search'd with saucy looks;
"So study evermore is overshot:
While it doth study to have what it would,
The "admired princess," "a maid of grace and complete majesty," with her three lovely girls, soon bring the gentlemen to their senses. Then, for broad comic, what a list of unconscious drolls! We have a "refined traveller of Spain," a "tough Signor," "this child of fancy, that Armado hight."
"One, whom the music of his own vain tongue
Doth ravish like enchanting harmony;
A man of compliments."
And he "is in love, yea, he loveth ;" and asks favour of the "sweet welkin to sigh in his face." Holofernes stalks about with the ghost of a head; vanity was his Judith. This portentous schoolmaster was a satire on Florio, who gave the world a huge volume of hard words, miscalled a dictionary; he provoked Shakspeare by some ugly daubing, and Shakspeare, in return, painted him at full length. He "smells false Latin," and can "humour the ignorant" in bad verses," a gift," quoth he, "that I have, simple, simple! a foolish extravagant spirit, &c." and he is "thankful for it." Moreover he will play three of the worthies for his own share, "thrice worthy gentleman!" and "will not be put out of countenance." Sir Nathaniel," the hedge-priest," is his
toad-eater, and piously says, "Sir, I praise the Lord for you, and so may my parishioners;" takes out his table-book to note a most singular and choice epithet;" calls deer-shooting "very reverend sport, truly; and done in the testimony of a good conscience;" and gets a dinner gratis, "for society (saith the text) is the happiness of life." Some one says Shakspeare's characters are eternal,-God forbid! I beg pardon of the old courtier, Boyet, for placing him in such company, as "he is Cupid's grandfather, and learns news of him," one "that kissed away his hand in courtesy," and
* "Pecks up wit, as pigeons peas; And utters it again when God doth please."
Costard, in his rusticity, looks on him as a swain, a most simple clown!" and Costard is cunning,-he "had rather pray a month with mutton and porridge, than fast a week with bran and water," and has the capacity to hope he shall "fast on a full stomach." All these gentry speak, or ape to speak in
"Taffata phrases, silken terms precise,
Three-pil'd hyperboles, spruce affectation,
They have been at a great feast of languages, and stolen the scraps," as the little boy, Moth, tells us, that "handful of wit, who purchases his experience by his penny of observation," not too young to join, for the joke's sake, and with the best effect, in their full-blown talk, though old enough to laugh at it,-a character the poet has introduced to prove the absurdity of men priding themselves on the deformity of language. Oh! I have forgotten Dull the constable! "a man of good repute, carriage, bearing, and estimation."-" Via, goodman Dull! thou hast spoken no word all this while.
"Dull. Nor understood none neither, sir."
Thanks to these inverted commas, I have made a brilliant paragraph, and hope it will teach my readers to read "Love's Labour Lost." In the mean time let me refresh them with those often quoted lines, the character of Biron :
"A merrier man,
And now, almost a novelty I believe, for it is to be feared the passage is little known, here is a long strain of Shakspeare's best poetry. It is put in the mouth of Biron, at the conclusion of the scene, after the discovery in the grove. Never was so true and so beautiful a compliment paid to women.
"Have at you then, affection's men at arms:
Say, can you fast? your stomachs are too young,
And where that you have vow'd to study, lords,
The nimble spirits in the arteries;
Still climbing trees in the Hesperides?
Subtle as sphinx; as sweet, and musical,
As bright Apollo's lute, strung with his hair;
And when love speaks, the voice of all the gods