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TAMING OF THE SHREW.
Of this play the two plots are so well united, that they can hardly be called two without injury to the art with which they are interwoven. The attention is entertained with all the variety of a double plot, yet is not distracted by unconnected incidents.
The part between Katharine and Petruchio is eminently sprightly and diverting. At the marriage of Bianca, the arrival of the real father, perhaps, produces more perplexity than pleasure. The whole play is very popular and diverting.
ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL.
This play has many delightful scenes, though not sufficiently probable, and some happy characters though not new, nor produced by any deep knowledge of human nature. Parolles is a boaster and a coward, such as has always been the sport of the stage, but perhaps never raised more laughter or contempt than in the hands of Shakespeare.
I cannot reconcile my heart to Bertram ; a man noble without generosity, and young without truth ; who marries Helen as a coward, and leaves her as a profligate: when she is dead by his unkindness, sneaks home to a second marriage, is accused by a woman whom he has wronged, defends himself by falsehood, and is dismissed to happiness.
The story of Bertram and Diana had been told before of Mariana and Angelo, and, to confess the truth, scarcely merited to be heard a second time.
This play is in the graver part elegant and easy, and in some of the lighter scenes exquisitely humorous. Ague-cheek is drawn with great propriety, but his character is, in a great measure, that of natural fatuity, and is therefore not the proper prey of a satirist. The soliloquy of Malvolio is truly comick; he is betrayed to ridicule merely by his pride. The marriage of Olivia, and the succeeding perplexity, though well enough contrived to divert on the stage, wants credibility, and fails to produce the proper instruction required in the drama, as it exhibits no just picture of life.
WINTER'S TALE. The story of this play is taken from sant History of Dorastus and Fawnia," written by Robert Greene.
This play, as Dr. Warburton justly observes, is, with all its absurdities, very entertaining. The character of Autolycus is very naturally conceived, and strongly represented.
This play is deservedly celebrated for the propriety of its fictions, and solemnity, grandeur, and variety of its action, but it has no nice discriminations of character; the events are too great to admit the influence of particular dispositions, and the course of the action necessarily determines the conduct of the agents.
The danger of ambition is well described : and I
know not whether it may not be said, in defence of some parts which now seem improbable, that, in Shakespeare's time it was necessary to warn credulity against vain and illusive predictions.
The passions are directed to their true end. Lady Macbeth is merely detested; and though the courage of Macbeth preserves some esteem, yet every reader rejoices at his fall.
The tragedy of “ King John,” though not written with the utmost power of Shakespeare, is varied with a very pleasing interchange of incidents and characters. The lady's grief is very affecting; and the character of the bastard contains that mixture of greatness and levity which this author delighted to exhibit.
KING RICHARD II.
This play is extracted from the Chronicle of Holinshed, in which many passages may be found which Shakespeare has, with very little alteration, transplanted into his scenes; particularly a speech of the Bishop of Carlisle in defence of king Richard's unalienable right, and immunity from human jurisdiction.
Jonson, who, in his “ Catiline and Sejanus,” has inserted many speeches from the Roman historians, was perhaps induced to that practice by the example of Shakespeare, who had condescended sometimes to copy more ignoble writers. But Shakespeare had more of his own than Jonson, and if he sometimes was willing to spare his labour, shewed by what he
performed at other times, that his extracts were made by choice or idleness rather than necessity.
This play is one of those which Shakespeare has apparently revised; but as success in works of invention is not always proportionate to labour, it is not finished at last with the happy force of some other of his tragedies, nor can be said much to affect the passions, or enlarge the understanding.
KING HENRY IV. PART II. 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.
In that Jerusalem shall Harry die. These scenes, which now make the fifth act of
Henry the Fourth,” might then be the first of Henry the Fifth ;" but the truth is, that they do unite very commodiously to either play. When these plays were represented, I believe they ended as they are now ended in the books; but Shakespeare seems to have designed that the whole series of action from the beginning of “ Richard the Second,“ to the end of “ Henry the Fifth,” should be considered by the reader as one work, upon one plan, only broken into parts by the necessity of exhibition.
None of Shakespeare's plays are more read than the “ First and Second Parts of Henry the Fourth.” Perhaps no author has ever in two plays afforded so much delight. The great events are interesting, for the fate of kingdoms depend upon them; the slighter occurrences are diverting, and, except one or two, sufficiently probable; the incidents are multiplied with wonderful fertility of invention, and the characters diversified with the utmost nicety of discernment, and the profoundest skill in the nature of
The prince, who is the hero both of the comick and tragick part, is a young man of great abilities and violent passions, whose sentiments are right, though his actions are wrong; whose virtues are obscured by negligence, and whose understanding is dissipated by levity. In his idle hours he is rather loose than wicked; and when the occasion forces out his latent qualities, he is great without effort, and brave without tumult. The trifler is roused into a hero, and the hero again reposes in the trifler. This character is great, original, and just.
Percy is a rugged soldier, cholerick, and quarrelsome, and has only the soldier's virtues, generosity
But Falstaff, unimitated, unimitable Falstaff, how shall I describe thee? Thou compound of sense and vice: of sense which may be admired, but not esteemed; of vice which may be despised, but hardly detested. Falstaff is a character loaded with faults, and with those faults which naturally produce contempt. He is a thief and a glutton, a coward and a boaster, always ready to cheat the weak, and prey upon the poor ; to terrify the timorous, and insult the defenceless. At once obsequious and malignant, he satirizes in their absence those whom he lives by flattering. He is familiar with the prince only as an agent of vice, but of this familiarity he