페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

visitings,” is no stranger to moral fear, and is only rallied by the hope of a good purse at Gadshill. We even mark a sinking of the mind, the prince sees through him, and he confesses the paramount influence of Poins. He tries to recover himself by haughty airs, and even the drawers in Eastcheap call him “a proud Jack.” Falsehood is becoming habitual to him. When he returns from his own robbery of his stolen spoil, he affects a lofty heroism. An old grammarian says, “Non posse ferrum nominari in Comædia, ne transeat in Tragædiam ;” but he would have revoked his rule, if he had ever looked on Falstaff 's sword, - hacked like a handsaw.” The whole scene, with the supposed interview of the king and the heir-apparent doubly represented, is exquisite in every comic point. I must pass his awkward squad, for he is not the last who has “misused the king's press.' Many have thought too on “honour” very much like himself. In his holster has many a brave man, also, hid a flask. He can still toy with death, and gains, though rather cheaply, a fame before which Colville afterwards shrinks and yields. We next see him shaken by many diseases, all but arrested for the heavy score at the Boar's Head, cowering beneath the bitter reproofs of Gascoigne, abandoning himself to the lowest debauchery, engaged in quarrel in the lowest purlieus of infamy, accepting bribes from recruits to exempt them from service; when called out himself, reaching the battle-field when the heat is over, and just saved from the menace of the gallows by presenting a captive who surrendered himself,—then all at once denounced by the Crowned Henry amidst his ministers, justiciaries, and guards, a denunciation promptly confirmed by his being cast into prison. How did this author intend to cover vice, or to palliate it, in Falstaff? Is it a conception of character favourable to virtue or immorality ?

We rest not on the deformity which all perceive when profligacy accompanies age.

66 How ill white hairs become a fool and jester !” How much worse when they shame a course which no inexperience, no youth, can extenuate ! Whatever the ready retort, the quick ingenuity, the genius, the evil genius, of Falstaff, there is no one who does not, from the very first,

wane.

deplore the wreck of his powers and their prostitution, and necessarily despise him !

But with amazing fitness does Shakspeare delineate the downward tendency of depraved habits. And I may take, so to speak, Falstaff's sword, once bright with honour, a knightly blade, flashing from its scabbard only for the enemy,—then drawn for rapine, brandished in riot, serrated with dissimulation, -Ecce signum.

Three indications are given us of this tendency, or of its wretched concomitants. The first is, the gradual occultation of his intellect. It is the unfailing effect of sensual indulgence. He is constantly losing his influence, and tries in vain to account for every man having a “gird at him” by the contagion of his own wit. Thus he attempts to uphold his self-esteem, but we observe the misgiving. It must be seen by all that his vivacity, his repartee, his good nature, his earlier gentlemanly bearing,

What is he in the second part of Henry IV., compared with himself in the first? It is a fading taper, glaring in the socket,—it is a ruin, though fragments of well-carved workmanship be there.

The second fact we mark is, the agony of his distempered conscience. He inly falters in his wild career, and ever and anon he cannot repress his guilty perturbations. The first word Poins addresses to him is, “What says Monsieur Remorse?” With all his levity we see through the window in his breast. “I must give over this life, and I will give it over.”

- Well, I will repent and that suddenly, while I am in some liking; I shall be out of heart shortly, and then I shall have no strength to repent.” Having said that he had forgotten “the inside of a church,” he repeats himself : “ The inside of a church !" A holy, pensive, memory, for the moment fills him. He then sighs, and almost chuckles,-so fitful is all such sentimental repentance !-"Company, villainous company, hath been the spoil of me !” Even when most profane, and when he conjures up the terrors of future retribution, it is but that anomalous state of mind which tries to make light of what it cannot cease to remember and to dread. When infamy is in his lap, he cries

לל

Very well

to her, “Peace, do not speak like a death`s-head: do not bid me remember mine end."

“Last stage of all,” let us look upon his death-bed. That the separation of Henry V. from his former ill-chosen companions was as much praised as noted, may be inferred from the comparison of Fluellen between Monmouth and Macedon, and between Alexander and Henry. “ As Alexander is kill his friend Clytus, being in his ales and his cups ; so also Harry Monmouth, being in his right wits and goot judgments is turn away the fat knight with the great pelly-doublet; he was full of jests, and gypes, and knaveries, and mocks.” And where find we the wretched Falstaff now? We first saw him in the palace, but though his royal master has not suffered him to want, has given him “ competence of life,” and “

provided for him,"—he is not now a lodger even in the well-known Tavern, but, the victim of sharpers and wantons, he is infatuated to follow Quickly, who had been dragged to prison and afterwards liberated to her new abode. She has married Pistol. They keep a den of the lowest vice. She has no concern for him. She would have arrested him when purseless. She only barbours him now, because of the royal allowance. Not even her pity has he retained. There the knight finds his only refuge, an outcast from every other roof, the prey and scoff of wickedness run to its very dregs. He has never recovered from his sovereign's rebuff: when his hostess first hears of his sickness, she says, The king hath killed his heart.” Undermined in health and racked in conscience, before that blow he fell. Of his death we have only a narrative, in which we find much suppressed or but accidentally supplied. Yet it opens to us a chamber haunted with guilt, and echoing with groans. There lies the consciencestricken wretch. The hag-procuress tells her tale in a manner suited to her audience, and worthy of herself. She endeavours to make it an easy and quiet departure. She reports it in the tone of ignorance the most extreme. She speaks of him as “ shaked with the tertian” ague and fever, and yet as dying in a way little congruous with that complaint. Was not mental torture at work? From that, imbecility, at his period of life

even

and of such a life, might easily arise, “playing with flowers, and smiling upon his fingers' ends.” But that was only the physical harbinger of death. His spirit had not passed away. Awakened by her voice, he thrice calls upon God, after she has bid him be of “good cheer.” In that impassioned invocation, something so terrible of accent and agony is heard, that ev she is appalled ; and easily distinguishing the appeal from any of pain or lightness, she tries to comfort and soothe him by urging him not to “think of God” as “she hoped that there was no need to trouble himself with any such thoughts yet.” And there the harridan would have left his pall. But Nym and Bardolph, more honest than she, bear witness to his selfupbraidings for his intemperance and libidinousness; and when the last occasion of his frantic despair is denied, the honest boy asserts that it is true, that the dying libertine inveighed against the harlot as an “incarnate fiend,” spoke of his certain devotedness to vengeance as though its minister were standing by, and, in hideous consistency with a frequent jest, expired as if seeing a lost soul suffering its doom! Falstaff is an object of degradation from the first. He sinks lower and lower. And he who now, in a green old age, might have been the prince's mentor and the nation's idol,—while the one is in full sail to Harfleur, and the other is in ecstacy for its monarch's reformation and chivalry,—dies despised, neglected, amidst the lowest and most abject of the species, in the vilest stews. The death of Beaufort does not so make the blood run cold as the parting from this life of poor Jack Falstaff !

Thus is Shakspeare vindicated in a moral treatment of this character, the most uniform, and the most retributive. He does not attempt to charm by wit at the expense of virtue, nor will he suffer a galaxy of the brightest points to redeem what is defective in principle, or pernicious in example !

It may be demanded,-after this analysis of his genius, this discrimination of his works, whether did the Bard surpass in the graver or the lighter drama ? Is his characterization more properly the tragic or the comic ? It will be difficult to argue the question on any common ground. Should we direct our judgment by the stronger or the weaker adherence of such respective images to the memory, and their more easy or more difficult appropriation by the fancy,—this will vary with every degree of intellectual habitude and conformation. If we suspend the judgment on the measure of self-identification with which he enters into his characters and assimilates his productions,—his full heart beats in all. He is eminently amiable. He throws himself as much into the joys of innocence and peace as into the distractions of guilt and the visitations of vengeance. Both of these elements were in the essence of his mind.

With one exception, he will not compose exclusively in either style. Comedy enlivens his tragedy: tragedy saddens his comedy. He has scarcely to turn alternately to each, they are simultaneous. He holds the mastery of both. His harp is pleasant and solemn in its sound. They are not two things which he can, at will, associate and combine : they are a twin-birth. Only could that dual of an oriental dialect* represent them which expresses any pair of things, any natural fellows, like eyes, and hands, and feet. According to modern discovery in the system of the heavens, he may be compared to the double star. His humour has a serious tinge: his sternness a gentle yielding. The philosophy of such a mind consists in the vividness of its perceptions. A certain equality belongs to its greatness. He toils not in one or the other department. There is an ease of perfect versatility. If he smile, that smile is full of sentiment, -it covers not dissimulation nor turns into a sneer. When his countenance gathers paleness, and shrouds itself into darker expressions, there is nothing saturnine. His soul but takes the hue of all around him, and reflects its variegations. Let us, indeed, look into any noble mind. It is capable of great conceptions. It gracefully aspires to the elevated and transcendental. It feels deep interest in the workings of passion, and in the evolution of all corresponding event. So far it seems kindred to the more serious moods. But it would always be subject to quick transitions. Its gaiety would follow, simple and unforced. It would be stupified without this relief. It would be wanting

Syriac.

« 이전계속 »