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thoroughly degraded in his own sight, and this too in the very points where he had built his conceit of superiority. He finds that all his wit and craft were not enough to prevent even Sir Hugh, the simple-minded Welsh parson, from making him a laughing-stock. We too, whose moral judg
have been seduced from the right by the fascinations of his intellectual playing, are brought to estimate more justly the natural honours and safeguards of downright integrity and innocence; and to see that the deepest shrewdness stands in not thinking to be shrewd at all. Thus our judgment of the man is set right in the very point where it was most liable to be drawn astray. Gervinus regards this idea as being the soul of the piece. He thinks the Poet's leading purpose here was to teach that plain-thoughted, guileless honesty is a natural overmatch for studied cunning; and to show how self-seeking craft and intricacy are apt to be caught in the snares they have laid for others, while unselfish truth and simplicity are protected against them by those instinctive moral warnings of nature which crafty men despise. And he rightly observes that the play illustrates the point in repeated instances. Thus the policy and sharp practice of the Host to catch gain, of Ford to detect and expose the imagined sins of his wife, and of Mr. and Mrs. Page to mismatch their daughter, only bring to confusion the parties themselves; their crafty devices, like Falstaff's, being outwitted and cheated by the “honest knaveries” of their intended victims. Thus the several cases concur to enforce the moral, that “an egotist like Falstaff can suffer no severer defeat than from the honesty which he believes not, and from the simplicity which he esteems not.”
I refrain from attempting a full analysis of Sir John's character, till I encounter him at the noontide of his glory, stealing, drinking, lying, recruiting, warring, and discoursing of wine, wit, valour, and honour, with Prince Hal at hand to wrestle forth the prodigies of his big-teeming brain.
Sir John's followers are here under a cloud along with him, being little more than the shadows of what they appear when their master is fully himself and in his proper element. Bardolph and Pistol are indeed the same men, or rather things, as in the History; but the redundant fatness of their several peculiarities is here not a little curtailed: the fire in Bardolph's nose waxes dim for lack of fuel; the strut is much dried out of Pistol's tongue from want of drink to generate loftiness: the low state of their master's purse, and the discords thence growing between him and them, have rather soured their tempers, and that sourness rusts and clogs the wheels of their inner man. Corporal Nym is not visibly met with in King Henry the Fourth, though the atmosphere smells at times as if he had been there; but we have him again in King Henry the Fifth, where he carries to a somewhat higher pitch the character of “ a fellow that frights humour out of its wits."
I have before observed that the Mrs. Quickly of this play is plainly another individual than the Hostess of Eastcheap: the latter has known Sir John these twenty-nine years, come peascod time,” whereas to the former his person is quite unknown till she goes to him with a message from the Windsor wives. But she seems no very remote kin of the Hostess aforesaid : though clearly discriminated in character, yet they have a strong family likeness. Her chief action is in the capacity of a matchmaker and go-between; and her perfect impartiality towards all of Anne Page's suitors, both in the service she renders and the return she accepts, well exemplifies the indefatigable benevolence of that class of worthies towards themselves, and is so true to the life of a certain perpetual sort of people as almost to make one believe in the transmigration of souls.
“Mine Host of the Garter” is indeed a model of a host; up to any thing, and brimful of fun, so that it runs out at the ends of his fingers; and nothing delights him more than to uncork the wit-holders of his guests, unless, peradventure, it be to uncork his wine-holders for them. His exhilarating conceit of practical shrewdness, serving as oil to make the wheels of his mind run smooth and glib, is choicely characteristic both of himself individually and of the class he represents. Sir Hugh Evans is an odd marriage of the ludicrous and the honourable. In his officious simplicity he moralizes the play much better, no doubt, than a wiser man would. The scene where, in expectation of the fight with Doctor Caius, he is full of “ cholers,” and “ trempling of mind,” and “ melancholies," and has a great dispositions to cry,” and strikes up a lullaby to the palpitations of his heart without seeming to know it, while those palpitations in turn scatter his memory, and discompose his singing, is replete with a quiet delicacy of humour hardly to be surpassed. It is thought by some that both he and Caius may be delineations, slightly caricatured, of what the Poet had seen and conversed with ; there being a certain portrait-like reality and effect about them, with just enough of the ideal to lift them into the region of art.
Hazlitt boldly pronounces Shakespeare “ the only writer who was as great in describing weakness as strength.” However this may be, I am pretty sure that, after Falstaff, there is not a greater piece of work in the play than Master Abraham Slender, cousin to Robert Shallow, Esquire, dainty sprout, or rather sapling, of provincial gentry, who, once seen, is never to be forgotten. In his consequential verdancy, his aristocratic boobyism, and his lack-brain originality, this pithless hereditary squireling is quite inimitable and irresistible; - a tall though slender specimen of most effective imbecility, whose manners and character must needs all be from within, because he lacks force of nature to shape or dress himself by any model. Mr. Hal lam, whose judgment in such things is not often at fault, thinks Slender was intended as a satire on the brilliant
youth of the provinces, such as they were “ before the introduction of newspapers and turnpike roads; awkward and boobyish among civil people, but at home in rude sports, and proud of exploits at which the town would laugh, yet perhaps with more courage and good-nature than the laughers.”
Ford's jealousy is managed with great skill so as to help on the plot, bringing on a series of the richest incidents, and drawing the most savoury issues from the mellow, juicy old sinner upon whom he is practising. The means whereby he labours to justify his passion, spreading temptations and then concerting surprises, are quite as wicked as any thing Falstaff does, and have, besides, the further crime of exceeding meanness; but both their meanness and their wickedness are of the kind that rarely fail to be their own punishment. The way in which his passion is made to sting and lash him into reason, and the happy mischievousness of his wife in glutting his disease, and thereby making an opportunity to show him what sort of stuff it lives on, are admirable instances of the wisdom with which the Poet underpins his most fantastic creations.
The counter-plottings, also, of Page and his wife, to sell their daughter against her better sense, are about as far from virtue as the worst purposes of Sir John; though, to be sure, their sins are of a more respectable kind than to expose them to ridicule. But we are the more willing to forget their unhandsome practices therein, because of their good-natured efforts at last to make Falstaff forget his sad miscarriages, and to compose, in a well-crowned cup of social merriment, whatever vexations and disquietudes still remain. — Anne Page is but an average specimen of discreet, placid, innocent mediocrity, yet with a mind of her own, in whom we can feel no such interest as a rich father causes to be felt by those about her. In her and Fenton a slight dash of romance is given to the play; their love forming a barely audible undertone of poetry in the chorus of comicalities, as if on purpose that while the sides are shaken the heart may not be left altogether untouched.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.
Much ADO ABOUT NOTHING, together with As You Like It, King Henry the Fifth, and Ben Jonson's Every Man in his Humour, was registered in the Stationers' books August 4, 1600; all with a caveat “to be stayed.” Why the plays were thus locked up from the press by an injunction, does not appear; perhaps to keep the right of publishing them in the hands of those who made the entry. Much Ado about Nothing was entered again on the 23d of the same month, and was issued in quarto in the course of that year, with " as it hath been sundry times publicly acted” in the title-page; which would naturally infer the play to have been written in 1599, or in the early part of 1600. All the internal marks of style and temper bear in favour of the same date; as in these respects it is hardly distinguishable from As You Like It. It has also been ascertained from Vertue's manuscripts, that in May, 1613, John Heminge the actor, and the Poet's friend, received £40, besides a gratuity of £20 from the King, for presenting six plays at Hampton Court, Much Ado about Nothing being one of them.
After the one quarto of 1600, the play is not met with again till it reappeared in the folio of 1623. Some question has been made whether the folio was a reprint of the quarto, or from another manuscript. Considerable might be urged on either side; but the arguments would hardly pay the stating; the differences of the two copies being so few and slight as to make the question a thing of little consequence. The best editors generally agree in thinking the quarto the better authority of the two. Remains but to add that, with the two original copies, the text of the play