Imatges de pÓgina

young Hero, full of gaiety and spirit, who, if he had once fallen into the fociety of fo pleasant a companion, could have the severity to discard him, or would not say, as the Prince does,

He could better spare a better man.

How skilfully does our author follow the tradition of the Prince's having been engaged in a robbery, yet make his part in it a mere frolic to play on the cowardly and braggart temper of Falstaffe! The whole conduct of that incident is very artful: he rejects the propofal of the Robbery, and only com'plies with the playing a trick on the Robbers; and care is taken to inform you, that the money is returned to its owners.There is great propriety likewise in the behaviour of Prince Henry, when he fupposes Falstaffe to lie dead before him to have expreffed no concern, would have appeared unfeeling; to have lamented fuch a companion too seriously, ungraceful: with a fuitable mixture of tenderness and contempt he thus addreffes the body;

[blocks in formation]

What! old acquaintance! could not all this flesh
Keep in a little life? poor Jack! farewell!
I could have better spared a better man.

The Prince seems always diverted, rather than feduced by Falstaffe; he defpifes his Vices while he is entertained by his Humour: and though Falstaffe is for a while a stain upon his character, yet it is of a kind with thofe colours, which are used for a disguise in fport, being of fuch a nature as are easily washed out, without leaving any bad tincture. And we see Henry, as foon as he is called to the high and ferious duties of a King, come forth at once with unblemished majesty. The difpofition of the Hero is made to pierce through the idle frolics of the Boy, throughout the whole piece; for his reformation is not effected in the last scene of the laft act, as is usual in our Comedies, but is prepared from the very beginning of the play. The scene between the Prince and Francis, is low and ridiculous, and feems one of the greatest indecorums of the piece; at the fame time the attentive Spectator will find the purpose of it is to shew him, that Henry


was studying human nature, in all her variety of tempers and faculties. I am now, fays he, acquainted with all humours, (meaning difpofitions) fince the days of good man Adam to the present hour. In the play of Henry V. you are told, that in his youth he had been fedulously observing mankind; and from an apprehenfion, perhaps, how difficult it was to acquire an intimate knowledge of men, whilst he kept up the forms his rank prescribed, he waved the ceremonies and decorums of his fituation, and familiarly conversed with all orders of fociety. The jealoufy his father had conceived of him would probably have been increased, if he had affected such a fort of popularity as would have gained the esteem, as well as love of the multitude.

Whether Henry, in the early part of his life, was indulging a humour that inclined him to low and wild company, or endeavouring to acquire a deeper and more extenfive knowledge of human nature, by a general acquaintance with mankind, is the bufi


nefs of his hiftorians to determine. But a critic must surely applaud the dexterity of Shakefpear for throwing this colour over that part of his conduct; whether he seized on fome intimations historians had given of that sort, or, of himself imagined fo refpectable a motive for the Prince's deviations from the dignity of his birth. This piece must have delighted the people at the time it was written, as the Follies of their favourite character were fo managed, that they rather feemed foils to fet off its Virtues, than ftains which obfcured them.

Whether we confider the character of Falstaffe as adapted to encourage and excufe the extravagancies of the Prince, or by itself, we must certainly admire it, and own it to be perfectly original.

The profeffed Wit, either in life or on the stage, is usually fevere and satirical. But Mirth is the fource of Falftaffe's Wit. He seems rather to invite you to partake of his merriment, than to attend to his jeft

a man

a man must be ill-natured, as well as dull, who does not join in the mirth of this jovial companion, the best calculated in all refpects, to raise Laughter of any that ever appeared on a stage,

He joins the finesse of Wit to the drollery of Humour. Humour is a kind of grotesque Wit, shaped and coloured by the difpofition of the person in whom it refides, or by the subject to which it is applied. It is oftenest found in odd and irregular minds: but this peculiar turn diftorts wit, and though it gives it a burlefque air, which excites momentary mirth, renders it lefs juft, and confequently lefs agreeable to our judgments. Gluttony, corpulency, and cowardice, are the peculiarities of Falstaffe's compofition: they render him ridiculous without folly, throw an air of jest and festivity about him, and make his manners suit with his fentiments, without giving to his understanding any particular bias. As the contempt attendant on these vices and defects is the best antidote against any infec


« AnteriorContinua »