« НазадПродовжити »
ture gave the latter, was more than a balance for what books had given the former; and the judgment of a great man upon this occasion was, I think, very just and proper. In a conversation between Sir John Suckling, Sir William D'Avenant, Endymion Porter, Mr. Hales of Eton, and Ben Jonson ; Sir John Suckling, who was a professed admirer of Shakespeare, had undertaken his defence against Ben Jonson with some warmth ; Mr. Hales, who had sat still for some time, told them, That if Mr. Shakespeare had not reod the ancients, he had likewise not stolen any thing from them; and that if he would produce any one topic finely treated by any one of them, he would undertake to shew something upon the same subject at least as well written by Shakespeare.
The latter part of his life was spent, as all men of good sense will wish theirs may be, in case, retirement, and the conversation of his friends. He had the good fortune to gather an estate equal to his occasion, and, in that, to his wish ; and is said to have spent some years before his death at his native Stratford. His pleasurable wit and good nature engaged him in the acquaintance, and entitled him to the friendship, of the gentlemen of the neighbourhood. Amongst them, it is a story almost still remembered in that country, that he had a particular intimacy with Mr. Combe, an old gentleman noted thereabouts for his wealth and usury: it happened, that in a pleasant conversation among their common friends, Mr. Combe told Shakespeare in a laughing manner, that he fancied he intended to write his epitaph, if he happened to outlive him; and since he could not know what might be said of him when he was dead, he desired it might be done immediately: upon which Shakespeare gave him these four verses:
Tesi in the hundred lies here ingrav'd;
But the sharpness of the satire is said to have stung the man so severely, that he never forgave it.
He died in the 53d year of his age,* and was buried on * He died on his birth-day, April 23, 161€, and Irad exactly complcier liis fifty-second year,
the north side of the chancel, in the great church at Stratford, where a monument is placed in the wall. On his grave-stone underneath is,
Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear
He had three daughters, of which two lived to be married; Judith, the elder, to one Mr. Thomas Quiney, by whom she had three sons, who all died without children; and Susanna, who was his favourite, to Dr. John Hall, a physician of good reputation in that country. She left one child only, a daughter, who was married, first, to Thomas Nashe, Esq. and afterwards to Sir John Barnard of Abington, but died likewise without issue.
This is what I could learn of any note, either relating to himself or family: the character of the man is best seen in his writings. But since Ben Jonson has made a sort of an essay towards it in his Discoveries, I will give it in his words : “ I remember the players have often mentioned it as
honour to Shakespeare, that in writing (whatsoever he penned) he never blotted out a line. My answer hath “ been, Would he had blotted a thousand! which they thought " a malevolent speech. I had not told posterity this, but * for their ignorance, who chose that circumstance to com" mend their friend by, wherein he most faulted : and to so justify mine own candour, for I loved the man, and do 5 honour his memory, on this side idolatry, as much as any. “ He was, indeed, honest, and of an open and free nature, + had an excellent fancy, brave notions, and gentle expres“ sions ; wherein he flowed with that facility, that some“ times it was necessary he should be stopped: Sufflam“ inandus erat, as Augustus said of Haterius. His wit was s in his own power; would the rule of it had been so “ too! Many times he fell into those things which could “ not escape laughter; as when he said in the person of * Cæsar, one speaking to him,
“ Cæsar, thou dost me wrong." * He replied:
56 Cæsar did never wrong, but with just cause ;*
" and such like, which were ridiculous. But he redeemed “ his vices with his virtues : there was ever more in him "to be praised than to be pardoned."
As for the passage which he mentions out of Shakespeare, there is somewhat like it in Julius Cæsar, but without the absurdity ; nor did I ever meet with it in any edition that I have seen, as quoted by Mr. Jonson. Besides his plays in this edition, there are two or three ascribed to him by Mr. Langbaine, which I have neyer seen, and know nothing of. He writ likewise Venus and Adonis, and Tarquin and Lucrece, in stanzas, which have been printed in a late collection of poems. As to the character given of him by Ben Jonson, there is a good deal true in it: but I believe it may be as well expressed by what Horace says of the first Romans, who wrote tragedy upon the Greek models, (or indeed translated them,) in his epistle to Augustus.
-naturâ sublimis et acer:
As I have not proposed to myself to enter into a large and complete criticism upon Shakespeare's works, so I will only take the liberty, with all due submission to the judg. ment of others, to observe some of those things I have been pleased with in looking him over.
His plays are properly to be distinguished only into comedies and tragedies. Those which are called histories. and even some of his comedies, are really tragedies, with a run or mixture of comedy amongst them. That
* If ever there was such a line written by Shakespeare, I should fancy it might have its place, vol. 6. Julius Cæsar, act 3, Scene 2, thus :
Cæsar has had great wrong. 3 Pleb. Cæsar had never wrong, but with just cause; and very humorously in the character of a Plebeian.--One might believe Bea Joyson's remark was made upon no better credit than some blunder of an actor in speaking that verse near ihe begioning of the third act:
Know, Cæsar doth not wrong; nor without cause
Will he be satisfied. But the verse, a3 cited by Ben Jonson, does not connect with will he be satisfied. Perhaps this play was never printed in Ben Jonson's time, and so he had nothing to judge by but as the actor pleased to speak it.
tragi-comedy was the common mistake of that age ; and is indeed become so agreeable to the English taste, that though the severer critics among us cannot bear it, yet the generality of our audiences seem to be better pleased with it than with an exact tragedy. The Merry Wives of Hindsor, The Comedy of Errors, and The Taming of the Shrew, are all pure comedy ; the rest, however they are called, have something of both kinds. It is not very easy to determine which way of writing he was most excellent in. There is certainly a great deal of entertainment in his comical humours; and though they did not then strike at all ranks of people, as the satire of the present age has taken the liberty to do, yet there is a pleasing and a well-distinguished variety in those characters which he thought fit to meddle with. Falstaff is allowed by every body to be a master-piece. The character is always well sustained, though drawn out into the length of three plays : and even the account of his death, given by his old landlady, Mrs Quickly, in the first act of Henry the Fifth, though it be extremely natural, is yet as diverting as any part of his life. If there be any fault in the draught he has made of this lewd old fellow, it is, that though he has made him a thief, lying, cowardly, vain-glorious, and in short every way vicious, yet he has given him so much wit as to render him almost too agreeable ; and I do not know whether some people have not, in remembrance of the diversion he had formerly afforded them, been sorry to see his friend Hai use him so scurvily when he comes to the crown in the end of The Second Part of Henry the Fourth. Amongst other extravagances, in The Merry Wives of Windsor, he has made him a deer-stealer, that he might, at the same time, remember his Warwickshire prosecutor, under the name of Justice Shallow; he has given him very near the same coat of arms, which Duguale, in his Antiquities of that county, describes for a family there, and makes the Welsh parson descant very pleasantly upon them. That whole play is admirable ; the humours are various and well opposed; the main design, which is to cure Ford of his unreasonable jealousy, is extremely well conducted. The Twelfth Night there is something singularly ridiculous and pleasant in the fantastical steward Malvolio. The parasite and the vain-glorious in Parolles, in All's well that ends cell, is as good as any thing of that kind in Plautus or Terence. Petruchio, in The Taming of the Shrew, is an un. common piece of humour. The conversation of Benedick and Beatrice, in Much Ado about Nothing, and of Rosalind, in As you like it, have much wit and sprightliness all along. His clowns, without which character there was hardly any play writ in that time, are all very entertaining ; and, I believe, Thersites in Troilus and Cressida, and Apemantus in Timon, will be allowed to be master-pieces of ill-nature and satirical snarling. To these I might add, that incomparable character of Shylock the Jew, in The Merchant of Venice : but though we have seen that play received and acted as a comedy, and the part of the Jew performed by an excellent comedian, yet I cannot but think it was designed tragically by the author. There appears in it such a deadly spirit of revenge, such a savage fierceness and fellness, and such a bloody designation of cruelty and mischief, as cannot agree either with the style or characters of comedy. The play itself, take it altogether, seems to me to be one of the most finished of any of Shakespeare's. The tale indeed, in that part relating to the caskets, and the extravagant and unusual kind of bond giren by Antonio, is too much removed from the rules of probability; but, taking the fact for granted, we must alLow it to be very beautifully written. There is something in the friendship of Antonio to Bassanio very great, generous, and tender.
The whole fourth act (supposing, as I said, the fact to be probable) is extremely fine. But there are two passages that deserve a particular notice. The first is, what Portia says in praise of mercy, and the other on the power of music. The melancholy of Jacques, in As you like it, is as singular and odd as it is diverting. And, if what Horace says,
Difficile est proprie communia dicere,
it will be a hard task for any one to go beyond him in the description of the several degrees and ages of man's life, though the thought be old, and common enough.
All the world's a stage,