網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

ton. Starvation is scarcely a hardship to him. He has no flesh and blood requiring nutriment.

Don Quixote and Sir John Falstaff equally excite our mirth, but the one is not only the cause of wit in others, but he is witty himself and relishes a joke. Whereas the other never smiles. Nothing but his wit and good humour save the English Knight from absolute contempt, and nothing saves the Spaniard but his virtue and valour. We as often laugh with Falstaff as at him, but Quixote never shares the joke. He gives it up to us entirely. The humour of the Spanish romance, with a characteristic national bias, depends chiefly on the solemn gravity of the Knight and the simplicity and phlegm of the Squire. The more grave and austere is Quixote, the more the reader gives way to his inextinguishable laughter*. It adds a peculiar zest to the humour of the scene in which poor Sancho is tossed in the blanket, when the author tells us, that as the round-bodied squire rose and fell in the air, he is clearly of opinion, that even the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance himself, if it had not been for his extreme indignation, would have laughed outright. Falstaff exhibits gaiety and ease in the most trying circumstances, while Quixote is grave and solemn under the most exhilarating.

But though there is more wit than humour in Falstaff, and no wit and infinite humour in the character of the lean Knight of La Mancha, we must not speak too profanely of the attributes of Shakespeare. Gifford, in his edition of Massinger, has dared to assert that it is in wit, and in no other quality, that Shakespeare is unsurpassed by other writers.

This is poor praise indeed, for the greatest of all dramatists, ancient or modern. A mere writer

Some of the incidents in the romance are so filthy, that they would turn our stomach if they did not shake our sides. If Don Quixote and Sancho had themselves laughed when they vomited upon each other, the reader's feeling would have been that of pure disgust. But their extreme gravity and distress provoke our mirth.

or utterer of witticisms, does not stand particularly high in the scale of intellectual excellence.

Wit is infinitely below humour, because it may be possessed by a coarse and limited capacity, and by one who, with a certain kind of ready talent, has no pretension to genius. But true hu. mour is generally associated with a fine intellect, great delicacy of observation, and a feeling for the pathetic and sublime both in art and nature. Wit includes puns and conundrums, and may take its independent place in Joe Miller Collections or newspaper “ Varieties ;” but humour has reference to individuals, and is employed in the illustration of points of character. There is as much humour in the delineation of Falstaff as in that of Don Quixote, with the addition of a lavish display of wit.

Cervantes, in the character and achievements of Don Quixote, has contrived with matchless art to give an air of reality to the most hyperbolical descriptions and the most extravagant adventures ; and while he ridicules the fantastic follies that have been committed under the banners of Chivalry, he never lets us cease for a moment to love and esteem all that is amiable and noble in connection with it. Shakespeare with kindred skill has compelled us to love what is really loveable in the fat Knight of the Castle, notwithstanding his gluttony, and cowardice, and falsehood.

We must proceed to give a few illustrations of the character of Falstaff. Nothing can be richer in comic flavour than the scene in which he acts the part of the King, and praises himself at the expense of the prince.

Fulstuff.—There is a virtuous man, whom I have noted in thy company, but I know not his name. P. Henry.—What manner of man, an it like your Majesty ?

Falstaff.--A good portly man, i’faith, and a corpulent; of a cheerful Jook, a pleasing eye and a most noble carriage ; and, as I think, his age some fifty, or, by'r-lady, inclining to three score ; and now I remember me, his name is Falstaff: if that man should be lewdly given, he deceiveth me; for Harry, I see virtue in his looks.”

VOL. II. 2 F

There is no point of Falstaff's character more delightful than his surprising readiness and self-possession, which make us for. give or extenuate the lies and rogueries which call upon him so frequently for the utmost exertions of his wit and ingenuity. In the celebrated scene in which “ eleven men of buckram grow out of two,” when he is called upon to explain how he could distine guish the men in Kendal-green when it was so dark, according to his own account, that he could not see his hand, the reader or auditor is surprised and delighted with the happy equivocation.

Poins.--Come, your reason, Jack, your reason.

Falstaff-What, upon compulsion ? No; were I at the strappado, or all the racks in the world, I would not tell you on compulsion. Give you a reason on compulsion! if reasons were as plenty as black berries, I would give no man a reason on compulsion."

When the Prince after all the Knight's boasting convicts him of cowardice, and reminds him how he ran and roared for mercy, and inquires--" What trick, what device, what starting hole, canst thou now find out, to hide thee from this open and

apparent shame?” he throws his querist quite out again with a most felicitous excuse.

Falstaff.- I knew ye as well as he that made ye. Why, hear ye, my masters: was it for me to kill the heir apparent ?"

A similar instance of his instinctive skill in getting out of a scrape, is in the scene in which the hostess in her anger betrays him to the Prince, who, according to Falstaff's assertion, owed him a thousand pounds.

P. Henry.Thou sayst true, hostess; and he slanders thee most grossly.

Hostess. So he doth you, my Lord; and said this other day, you ought him a thousand pound.

P. Henry.-Sirrah, do I owe you a thousand pound ?

Falstaff.-A thousand pound, Hal ? a million : thy love is worth a million ; thou owest me thy love.

Hostess. ---Nay, my Lord, he called you Jack, and said he would cudgel you.

« Falstaff.Did I, Bardolph?
Bard.Indeed, Sir John, you said so.
Falstaff.— Yea; if he said, my ring was copper.

P. Henry.I say, 'tis copper : darest thou be as good as thy word now?

Falstaff-Why, Hal, thou knowest, as thou art man, I dare ; but, as thou art Prince, I fear thee, as I fear the roaring of the lion's whelp."

When the Prince convicts him of speaking ill of him, he excuses himself by saying that he dishonored him before the wicked that the wicked might not fall in love with him.

Another remarkable and most amusing point in Falstaff's character, is the manner in which, with a consciousness of its absurdity, he accuses others of those particular sins and imperfections which are his own most prominent characteristics.

Thus after his affair at Gadshill, he accuses the Prince and others of cowardice—"A plague of all cowards, I say, and a vengeance too! marry and amen !" So when he joins in the attack upon the travellers he calls them gorbellied knaves, fat chuffs, bacons ; and with a reference to his own youth, he exclaims, “ What knaves ? young men must live !" In reply to the reproofs of the Chief Justice, he has the laughable impudence to say, “ You that are old, consider not the capacity of us that are young.When asked, if his broken voice amongst other infirmities was not a sufficient indication of old age, he pleasantly surprises us with asserting that he lost it with " singing of anthems."

In the same spirit he utters self-complaints and accuses himself of a melancholy disposition. "A plague," he exclaims, "of sighing and grief ! it blows a man up like a bladder !” as if he forgot or wished others to forget, that his size was to be attributed to a very different cause.

Dr. Johnson accuses Falstaff of a malignant disposition, but this appears to be one of the few vices which cannot fairly be laid to his charge. He speaks satirically of others in a style in which idle and witty braggarts generally indulge themselves ;

but his perpetual merriment and good humour is inconsistent with so sullen and gloomy a feeling as malignity, which is too nearly allied to spleen and hypochondriasis, for so jorial and sociable a personage as old Jack Falstaff. If he were malignant, he would not be so great a favorite. A malignant man is not fond of joking upon his own foibles and personal appearance, and inviting others to share in the laugh. In truth, he is too fat and indolent to care much for any one. He divides his fellow. creatures into two classes, those who can contribute to his pleasure as boon-companions, and those who not being fond of a good sherris sack are unworthy of a thought.

He is really harmless : and is guilty of no very atrocious or revolting crimes, at least none incited by ill-will or hatred towards his fellow. creatures. Amidst all his hostile jokes on the prince, it is clear that he loved him. He swears that the prince must have given him some medicine or love-potion to call up his affections.

Falstaff's exuberance of animal enjoyment and huge rotundity of form are brought into striking contrast with Justice Shallow, who is like a man made after supper with a cheese-paring; and who when he was naked, was for all the world like a forked radish with a head fantastically carved upon it with a knife." The Knight has a still more exquisite foil in Silence, who “ had been merry twice and once ere now.”

There is, as we have already observed, as fine a contrast between Sir John Falstaff and Don Quixote, as if they had been drawn by one master-hand. There is also a congeniality of conception in the characters of Falstaff and Sancho Panza, who like Falstaff is of the earth earthy, and who has considerable natural sagacity and vulgar knowledge, though less wit and understanding than the Englishman. They both take a literal view of life and its enjoyments, both are harmless liars, and are both in too good condition to be heroes. Cervantes describing an inn-keeper

« 上一頁繼續 »