« 上一頁繼續 »
us, has left the question pretty much where and 'Richard II.'). It is only an historical he found it. He has, however, taken a right | picture, the various circumstances of which view of what our poet did for the character have no relation amongst themselves. There of Henry: "Shakspere seemed to struggle is no personage who predominates over the against believing the current stories of mis- others, so as to fix the attention of the audiconduct as much as he could, that he might ence. It is the anarchy of the Scene. What, not let the prince down to their level.” however, renders it worthy an attentive examination is its division into a tragic and a comic portion. The two species are here very distinct. The tragic portion is cold, disjointed, undecided; but the comic, although absolutely foreign to the shadow of the action which makes the subject of the piece, merits sometimes to be placed by the side of the better passages of the Regnards, and even of the Molières." This is pretty decided for a blockhead; and, indeed, the decision with which he speaks could only proceed from a blockhead par excellence. Had this Frenchman not been supremely dull and conceited, he would have had some glimmerings of the truth, though he might not have seen the whole truth. Our own Johnson had too strong a sympathy with the marvellous talent which runs through the scenes of the 'Henry IV.' not to speak of these plays with more than common enthusiasm. The great events, he says, are interesting; the slighter occurrences diverting; the characters diversified with the profoundest skill; Falstaff is the unimitated, unimitable. But now comes the qualification-the result of Johnson looking at the parts instead of the whole:-“ I fancy every reader, when he ends this play, cries out with Desdemona, 'O most lame and impotent conclusion!' As this play was not, to our knowledge, divided into acts by the author, I could be content to conclude it with the death of Henry the Fourth." Let us endeavour, in going through the scenes of these plays, with the help of the great guiding principle that Shakspere “worked in the spirit of nature by evolving the germ from within, by the imaginative power according to an idea; "-let us endeavour to prove—not, indeed, that these plays do not want action and interest, and that the tragic parts are not cold, disjointed, and undecided | —but that all the circumstances have relation amongst themselves, and that the comic Coleridge's Literary Remains,' vol. i. p. 104.
"In the Shaksperean drama there is a vitality which grows and evolves itself from within-a key-note which guides and controls the harmonies throughout."* It is under the direction of a deep and absolute conviction of the truth of this principlenot only as applied to the masterpieces of Shakspere, the Lear,' the 'Macbeth,' the 'Othello,' but to all his works without exception-that we can alone presume to understand any single drama of this poet-much less to attempt to lead the judgment of others. Until by long and patient thought we believe that we have traced the roots, and seen the branches and buddings, of that "vitality"until by frequent listening to those "harwe hear, or fancy we hear, that "key-note' —we hold ourselves to be utterly unfitted even to call attention to a solitary poetical beauty, or to develope the peculiarities of a single character. Shakspere is not to be taken up like an ordinary writer of fiction, whose excellence may be tested by a brilliant dialogue here, or a striking situation there. The proper object of criticism upon Shakspere is to show the dependence of the parts upon the whole; for by that principle alone can we come to a due appreciation even of the separate parts. Dull critics, and brilliant critics, equally blunder about Shakspere, when they reject this safe guide to the comprehension of his works. We have a Frenchman before us-M. Paul Duport-who gives us an 'Analyse Raisonnée' of our poet, which is perfectly guiltless of any imaginative power to hide or adorn the dry bones of the Analysist. Mark the confidence with which this gentleman speaks of the two plays before us! Of the first part he says, "This piece has still less of action and interest than those which preceded it—(‘John,'
*Coleridge's Literary Remains,' vol. i. p. 104.
Essais Littéraires sur Shakspeare,' 2 tom. Paris, 1828.
parts, so far from being absolutely foreign to the action, entirely depend upon it, and, to a certain extent, direct it. If we succeed in our attempt, we shall show that, from the preliminary and connecting lines in 'Richard II.,'—
"Can no man tell of my unthrifty son?"to "the most lame and impotent conclusion" which Johnson would suppress, nothing can be spared-nothing can be altered;-that Dame Quickly and Justice Silence are as essential to the progress of the action as Hotspur and the King;-that the Prince could not advance without Falstaff, nor Falstaff without the Prince;-that the poetry and the wit are co-dependent and inseparable ;—and, above all, that the minute shades of character generally, and especially the extraordinary fusion of many contrary qualities in the character of Falstaff, are to be completely explained and reconciled only by reference to their connexion with the dramatic action-"the key-note which guides and controls the harmonies throughout."
Some seventy lines from the commencement of this play (we shall find it convenient to speak of the two parts as forming one drama), the "key-note" is struck. The King communicates to his friends "the smooth and welcome news" of the battle of Holmedon. His exultation is unbounded:
Who is sweet Fortune's minion, and her pride:
Of my young Harry. Oh, that it could be proved,
That some night-tripping fairy had exchanged In cradle-clothes our children where they lay, And call'd mine Percy, his Plantagenet! Then would I have his Harry, and he mine. But let him from my thoughts."
The King forces his "young Harry" from his thoughts, and talks of "young Percy's pride." But the real action of the drama has commenced, in this irrepressible disclosure of the King's habitual feelings. It is for the poet to carry on the exhibition of the "riot and dishonour,"-their course, their ebbings and flowings, the circumstances which control, and modify, and subdue them. The events which determine the career of the Prince finally conquer the habits by which he was originally surrounded; and it is in the entire disclosure of these habits-as not incompatible with their growing modification and ultimate overthrow by those events which constitute what is called the tragic action of the drama-that every incident and every character becomes an integral part of the whole-a branch, or a leaf, or a bud, or a flower, of the one "vitality."
We have seen in what spirit the Prince of the old play which preceded Shakspere was conceived. We have seen, also, the character of the associates by whom he was surrounded. We feel that the whole of such a representation must be untrue. The depraved and unfeeling blackguard of that play could never have become the hero of Agincourt. There was no unity of character between the Prince of the beginning and of the end of that play; and therefore there could have been
no unity of action. Perhaps no mind but Shakspere's could have reconciled the apparent contradiction which appears to lie upon the surface both of the events by which the Prince was moulded, and the characters by which he was surrounded. It was for him alone to exhibit a species of profligacy not only capable of being conquered by the higher energy which made the Prince chivalrously brave and daring, but absolutely akin
to that higher energy.
that ever was written, except, perhaps, a passage or two in Cervantes, can at all approach. The players, however, are consistent. Their intolerance of poetry and of wit are equal. Not a line do they keep of the matchless first scene of the third act, than which Shak"Daff'd the world aside, and let it pass," spere never wrote anything more spirited, never ceased to feel, in the depths of his more individualised, more harmonious. But nobler nature, “thus we play the fools with we are digressing. Falstaff, then, we see, in the time; and the spirits of the wise sit in the rude general conception of his character, the clouds and mock us," so he never could is fat, cowardly, and somewhat witty. The have been surrounded by the "Ned" and players always double and quadruple the au"Tom" of the old play, who must have ex- thor's notion of his fat and his cowardice; tinguished all thoughts of "the wise," and and they kindly allow us a modicum of his have produced irredeemable "dishonour." wit. To be fat and to be cowardly, and even Falstaff, the "unimitated, unimitable Fal- to have some wit, would go far to make an staff," was the poetical creation that was excellent butt for a wild young prince; but absolutely necessary to the conduct of the they would not make a Falstaff. These qualigreat dramatic action, the natural trans- ties would be, to such a prince as Shakspere formation of "the madcap Prince of Wales" has conceived, little better than Bardolph's into King Henry V. So, indeed, were all the nose, or the Drawer's "Anon, anon, sir." To satellites which revolve round Falstaff, understand Falstaff, however, we must take sharing and reflecting his light. It is the him scene by scene, and incident by incident; perfect characterization of this drama we must study his character in its developwhich makes the incidents consistent: the cha- ment by the incidents. "Thou art so fatracters cannot live apart from the incident; witted, with drinking of old sack, and unbutthe incidents cannot move on without the toning thee after supper, and sleeping upon characters. If we attempt to unravel the benches after noon." Here is the sensualist characters, and the complicated character of introduced to us. We have here a vista of Falstaff especially, without reference to the "the halfpennyworth of bread to the intoleincidents, we are speedily in a labyrinth. rable deal of sack." But, if we look closely, The vulgar notion of Falstaff, for example, we shall see that the Prince is exaggerating; is the stage notion. Mrs. Inchbald truly and that Falstaff humours the exaggeration. remarks, "To many spectators, all Falstaff's It is Falstaff's cue to heighten all his own humour is comprised in his unwieldy per- infirmities and frailties. "Men of all sorts," son." But the same lady adopts an equally he says, "take a pride to gird at me." But vulgar stage generalization, and calls him he has himself a pride in the pride which the "cowardly Falstaff." The "wit" of Fal- they take:—“The brain of this foolish-comstaff, though slightly received into the stage pounded clay, man, is not able to invent conception of the character, is a very vague anything that tends to laughter, more than notion compared with the bulk and the I invent, or is invented on me: I am not cowardice of Falstaff. Mrs. Inchbald (we are only witty in myself, but the cause that wit quoting from her prefaces to the acted plays) is in other men.' How immediately Falstaff says, "The reader who is too refined to laugh | turns the prince from bantering to a position at the wit of Sir John must yet enjoy Hot-in which he has to deal with an antagonist. spur's picture of a coxcomb." The refinement of the players is even more sensitive; for they altogether leave out in the representation the scene where Falstaff and the Prince alternately stand for the King and Harry-a scene to which nothing of comic
The thrusts of wit are exchanged like the bouts of a fencing-match. The sensualist, we see, has a prodigious activity of intellect; and he at once passes out of the slough of vulgar sensuality. But the man of wit is also a man of action. He is ready for "purse
taking;”—'t is his "vocation." Is not this again meant to be an exaggeration? The "night's exploit on Gadshill” was the single violence, as far as we know, of Falstaff as well as of the Prince. His "vocation" was that of a soldier. It is as a soldier that we for the most part see him throughout this drama-a soldier having charge and authority. But in the days of Henry IV., and long after, the "vocation" of a soldier was that of a plunderer, and "purse-taking" was an object not altogether unfamiliar to Falstaff's professional vision. That Shakspere ever meant to paint him as an habitual thief, or a companion of thieves, is, in our view, one of those absurdities which has grown up out of stage exaggeration. The Prince and Poins are equally obnoxious to the charge. And yet, although Poins, the intimate of the Prince, proposes to them, "My lads, my lads, to-morrow morning, by four o'clock early at Gadshill,” the Prince refuses to go till Poins shows him that he hath "a jest to execute." The Prince, in the soliloquy which is intended to keep him right with those who look forward to the future king, does not talk of Falstaff and Poins as of utterly base companions :
"I know you all, and will awhile uphold
The unyoked humour of your idleness." He saw, in Falstaff and Poins, the same "idleness" which was in himself-the idleness of preferring the passing pleasure, whether of sensual gratification, or of mental excitement without an adequate end -which led him to their society. His resolution to forsake the "idleness" was a very feeble one. He would for "awhile uphold" it.
The Prince is looking forward to the "virtue of the jest" that will follow the adventure on Gadshill. The once proud allies, but now haughty rivals, of his father, are, at the same time, bearding that father in his palace. Worcester is dismissed, for his "presence is too bold and peremptory." Hotspur defends the denial of his prisoners, in that most characteristic speech which reveals his rough and passionate spirit. All the strength of his nature,-the elevation
without refinement, the force of will rising into poetry even by its own chafings,—are fully brought out in the rapid movement of this scene. Never was the sublimity of an over-mastering passion more consummately displayed. No disjointed ravings, no callings upon the gods, no clenchings of the fist or tearings of the hair, no threats without a | purpose,—none of the commonplaces which make up the staple of ordinary tragedy; but the uncontrollable rush of an energetic mind, abandoning itself from a sense of injury to impulses impossible to be guided by will or circumstance, and which finally sweeps into its own torrent all the feeble barriers of prudence which inferior natures would oppose to it. It runs its course like a mad blood horse; and every attempt to put on the bridle produces a new impatience. Exhaustion at last comes, and then how complete is the exhaustion!" I have done in sooth ;"—a word or two of question, a word or two of assent, to the calm proposals of Worcester;—and the passion of talk is ready to become the passion of action. We may now understand what Shakspere meant by approximating the ages of Hotspur and Henry of Monmouth. Let us make Hotspur forty-five years of age, and Henry sixteen, as the literalists would have it, and the whole dramatic structure crumbles into dust. Under the poet's hand we see that Hotspur is the good destiny of the young Henry; that his higher qualities are to fire the Prince's ambition; that his rashness is to lead to the Prince's triumph. Eastcheap is Hal's holiday scene; but the field of Shrewsbury will be Harry's working-place.
All the minor characters and situations of this` drama are wonderfully wrought up. The inn-yard at Rochester is one of those little pictures which live for ever in the memory, because they are thoroughly true to nature. Who that has read this scene, and has looked out upon the darkness of a winter morning, has not thought of "Charles' wain over the new chimney?" Who has not speculated upon the grief of the man with one idea, of Robin ostler, who " never joyed since the price of oats rose ?" We see not the "franklin from the wild of Kent,
who hath brought three hundred marks with him in gold ;" but we form a notion of that sturdy and portly English yeoman. The "eggs and butter" which the travellers have at breakfast even interest us. This is the art by which a fiction becomes a reality, -the art of a Defoe, as well as of a Shakspere. But all this is but a preparation for the exploit of Gadshill. We hardly know what limits there are to the comedy of humour, but it seems impossible to go beyond this.
Practical wit is here carried as far as it can well go. There are other scenes in this play where the sense of the comic is brought from a deeper region of the heart; -but there are none more laughter-provoking. The helplessness of Falstaff, without his horse, is in itself a humorous situation; but how doubly rich does the humour become by the contrast of his nimbleness of mind with his heaviness of body! His soliloquies are always rich, but they are especially so in connexion with the odd situations out of which they grow. Here his own sense of the ludicrousness of his position carries off the ill humour which he feels at those who have placed him in it. "Have you any levers to lift me up again, being down?” And then how characteristic is his abuse of his tormentors!" An I have not ballads made upon you all, and sung to filthy tunes, let a cup of sack be my poison." In the very act of the robbery, Falstaff's habit of laughing at himself is as predominant as when he is making fun for the prince: "Hang ye, gorbellied knaves; are ye undone? No, ye fat chuffs; I would your store were here! On, bacons, on! What, ye knaves, young men must live." The robbery is complete. "The thieves have bound the true men." The Prince and Poins rob the thieves :
"Each takes his fellow for an officer."
The question here arises whether Falstaff, thus discomfited, was meant by Shakspere for a coward. A long essay, and a very able one, has been written to prove that Falstaff was not a coward*. This essay, which was originally published in 1777, is, considering
*An Essay on the Dramatic Character of Sir John Falstaff. By Maurice Morgann, Esq.
the time at which it appeared, a remarkable specimen of genial criticism upon Shakspere. The author then stood almost alone in the endeavour to understand the poet in his admiration of him. It would be beside our purpose to furnish any analysis of this essay; and indeed this one disputed point of Falstaff's character is made to assume a disproportionate importance by being the subject of an elaborate defence. Mackenzie, in 'The Lounger,' appears to us to have put the point very neatly: "Though I will not go so far as a paradoxical critic has done, and ascribe valour to Falstaff; yet, if his cowardice is fairly examined, it will be found to be not so much a weakness as a principle. In his very cowardice there is much of the sagacity I have remarked in him; he has the sense of danger, but not the discomposure of fear."
The interval between the double robbery and the fun which is to result from it carries us back to Hotspur. We are admitted to a glimpse of the dangers which begin to surround him; the falling off of friends,— the confidence that rises over difficulties, even to the point of rashness. But we have a new interest in Hotspur. He has a wife, -one of those women that Shakspere only has painted ;-timid, restless, affectionate, playful, submissive, - a lovely woodbine hanging on the mighty oak. The indifference of Hotspur to every thought but the one dominant idea is beautifully wrought out in this little scene; and the whole carries on the action unobtrusively, but decidedly: it has the combined beauty of repose and movement. To those who cannot see the connexion of the action, in Hotspur and his wife at Warkworth, and the Prince and Falstaff at Eastcheap, we would commend M. Paul Duport.
Shakspere has opened to us a secret, in the scene between the Prince and the Drawer. "This scene," says Johnson, "helped by the distraction of the Drawer and the grimaces of the Prince, may entertain upon the stage, but affords not much delight to the reader. The author has judiciously made it short." The scene, as we apprehend, was introduced by Shakspere to show the quality of the