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1599, the year when Essex was Lord Lieutenant in Ireland, and when a new Spanish Armada was expected. The printed copies were advertised by the London booksellers in 1600; under the simple title of “As you Like yt, a booke.' And a further indication of the date has been ingeniously traced in the allusion to the 'weeping Dian' in the fountain (Act iv. Sc. I). For, according to an early edition of Stowe's Chronicle, we find that a fountain of this pattern was set up in Cheapside in the year 1596, while a later edition (1603) tells us that by this time the water did not flow any longer in the fountain, and that the figure was gone to ruin. The assumed date falls midway between these periods; and it assigns the composition of 'As you Like it to a period which may be called that of Shakspere's highest genius. He was then thirty-five years old, having been born in 1564; his powers of thought were maturing, and his language was pure, manly, and simple in the highest degree. Moreover, he was preparing for the highest flights of his genius. For between this time and his death in 16161 were produced all his greatest tragedies, with the exception of Romeo and Juliet; Hamlet having been acted in 1602, King Lear in 1604, Macbeth in 1606, Othello in 1611.
1 See in Carlyle's Life of Cromwell (vol. i. p. 60) some curious comparisons of dates at this time.
In the case of this Play, as frequently, there is much interest in studying the source from which Shakspere derived his plot. This was a kind of romance by Thomas Lodge, published in 1560, and entitled 'Rosalynde. Euphues Golden Legacie, found after his death in his cell at Silexedra;' which appears in its turn to have been based upon an older English original. In this tale the deceased Sir John of Bordeaux has three sons, Saladine, Fernandine, and Rosader—the banished Duke is Gerismond, King of France. Celia is Alinda, and afterwards Aliena. Corin and Silvius appear as Coridon and Montanus—the shepherdess Phoebe under the same name. The faithful servant is Adam Spencer, that is Adam the steward (le despenseur). But Touchstone, the melancholy Jaques, and Audrey, are free conceptions added to the dramatis personæ' by Shakspere; and all the other characters, particularly the banished Duke and Rosalind, become refined and glorified under his master-hand. Large extracts from Lodge's work are given in the introduction to “As you Like it' in Delius' Shakspere, a perusal of which will shew clearly how the poet surrounds a rather heavy and commonplace tale with an atmosphere of grace and romance. To him alone belong the charming conception of outlawed forest life, the pure rusticity of the lower characters, the serene magnanimity of the banished Duke, the inexhaustible sprightliness of Rosalind, the knavish fool-wisdom of Touchstone, and the superficial and worldly cavilling of Jaques; all stamped with the unmistakeable impress of his master-hand, and combining, in the most singular way, to give the play a most distinct and important moral bearing, as well as the animation and grace which has made it the delight of all readers, young and old.
In the Introduction to Hamlet an attempt has been made to shew how a tendency to melancholy sprang naturally out of the very circumstances of Shakspere's time; and how the noble spirits of that day occupied themselves in battling against it. The same truths, which are so strongly impressed upon us by Hamlet's losing battle against sadness, over-reflection, and want of practical force, are in this play touched with a light and genial hand. It seems written to shew how the most depressing circumstances, even if continued year after year, may utterly fail to sink a generous heart into despondency. Orlando has been ill-treated in every way by his tyrannical elder brother; but his good qualities come out only the more by this perpetual bruising. He never loses the elasticity of mind and generosity of impulse which is to carry him through all. One fortunate stroke of audacity, by enabling him to defeat the professional athlete, seems likely to open to him a path leading to honour and rank such as his birth entitles him to hold. But the hope is dashed, as soon as it is conceived, by the dark jealousy of the usurping Duke against the family beloved by his banished brother. Then ORLANDO fails for a moment in courage and hopefulness; he considers himself 'a rotten tree,' that will yield no fruit for any pruning. Yet the sad words have hardly passed his lips, when he is already anticipating some settled low content:' and, in the next scenes, when we find him in the company of the banished Duke, he has cast all gloom aside, -has nothing to say against'any breather in the world'except himself, against whom he knows more evil than against any one else; and is contented to proclaim his love for Rosalind to any one who will listen to him, without any desponding thoughts as to the hardness of his destiny. As volatile as one of Alfred de Musset's heroes, he has, in all and through all, a firm ground of healthy English sense and truthfulness, which entitles him to serve as a type of those gallant youths, who from so many a creek and inlet of Devonshire and Cornwall went forth in Shakspere's day to war against the Spaniard.