« PreviousContinue »
TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA.
This is little more than the first outlines of a comedy loosely sketched in. It is the story of a novel dramatised with very little labor or pretension ; yet there are passages of high poetical spirit, and of inimitable quaintness of humor, which are un. doubtedly Shakspeare's, and there is throughout the conduct of the fable, a careless grace and felicity which marks it for his. One of the editors (we believe Mr. Pope) remarks in a marginal note to the Two GENTLEMEN OF VERONA—"It is observable (I know not for what cause) that the style of this comedy is less figurative, and more natural and unaffected than the greater part of this author's, though supposed to be one of the first he wrote.” Yet so little does the editor appear to have made up his mind upon this subject, that we find the following note to the very next (the second) scene. “ This whole scene, like many others in these plays (some of which I believe were written by Shakspeare, and others interpolated by the players) is composed of the lowest and most trifling conceits, to be accounted for only by the gross taste of the age he lived in: Populo ut placerent. I wish I had authority to leave them out, but I have done all I could, set a mark of reprobation upon them, throughout this edition.” It is strange that our fastidious critic should fall so soon from praising to reprobating. The style of the familiar parts of this comedy is indeed made up of conceits-low they may be for what we know, but then they are not poor, but rich ones. The scene of Launce with his dog (not that in the second, but that in the fourth act) is a perfect treat in the way of farcical drollery and invention ; nor do we think Speed's man. ner of proving his master to be in love deficient in wit or sense, though the style may be criticised as not simple enough for the modern taste.
« VALENTINE. Why, how know you that I am in love?
SPEED. Marry, by these special marks : first, you have learned, like Sir Protheus, to wreathe your arms like a malcontent, to relish a love-song like a robin-red-breast, to walk alone like one that had the pestilence, to sigh like a school-boy that had lost his A B C, to weep like a young wench that had lost her grundam, to fast like one that takes diet, to watch like one that fears robbing, to speak puling like a beggar at Hallowmas. You were wont, when you laughed, to crow like a cock; when you walked, to walk like one of the lions; when you fasted, it was presently after dinner; when you looked sadly, it was for want of money; and now you are metamor. phosed with a mistress that when I look on you, I can hardly think you my master."
The tender scenes in this play, though not so highly wrought as in some others, have often much sweetness of sentiment and expression. There is something pretty and playful in the con versation of Julia with her maid, when she shows such a dispo sition to coquetry about receiving the letter from Protheus ; and her behavior afterwards and her disappointment, when she finds him faithless to his vows, remind us at a distance of Imogen's tender constancy. Her answer to Lucetta, who advises her against following her lover in disguise, is a beautiful piece of poetry.
bago "LUCETTA. I do not seek to quench your love's hot fire,
But qualify the fire's extremest rage,
JULIA. The more thou dammist it up, the more it burns;
The current that with gentle murmur glides,
But when his fair course is not hindered,
He overtaketh in his pilgrimage.
Then let me go, and hinder not my course
And make a pastime of each weary step,
If Shakspeare indeed had written only this and other passages in the Two GENTLEMEN OF VERONA, he would almost have de. served Milton's praise of him—
And sweetest Shakspeare, Fancy's child,
But as it is, he deserves rather more praise than this.
THE MERCHANT OF VENICE.
This is a play that in spite of the change of manners and of prejudices still holds undisputed possession of the stage. Shak. speare's malignant has outlived Mr. Cumberland's benevolent Jew. In proportion as Shylock has ceased to be a popular bug. bear, “ baited with the rabble's curse," he becomes a half-favor. ite with the philosophical part of the audience, who are dispos. ed to think that Jewish revenge is at least as good as Christian injuries. Shylock is a good hater ; "a man no less sinned against than sinning." If he carries his revenge too far, yet he has strong grounds for “ the lodged hate he bears Anthonio, which he explains with equal force of eloquence and reason. He seems the depositary of the vengeance of his race; and though the long habit of brooding over daily insults and injuries has crusted over his temper with inveterate misanthropy, and hardened him against the contempt of mankind, this adds but little to the triumphant pretensions of his enemies. There is a strong, quick, and deep sense of justice mixed up with the gall and bitterness of his resentment. The constant apprehension of being burnt alive, plundered, banished, reviled and trampled on, might be supposed to sour the most forbearing nature, and to take something from that " milk of human kindness," with which his persocutors contemplated his indignities. The desire of revenge is almost inseparable from the sense of wrong; and we can hardly help sympathizing with the proud spirit, hid beneath his " Jewish gaberdine," stung to madness by repeated undeserved provocations, and laboring to throw off the load of obloquy and oppression heaped upon him and all his tribe by
one desperate act of " lawful” revenge, till the ferociousness of the means by which he is to execute his purpose, and the pertinacity with which he adheres to it, turn us against him; but even at last, when disappointed of the sanguinary revenge with which he had glutted his hopes, and exposed to beggary and contempt by the letter of the law on which he had insisted with so little remorse, we pity him and think him hardly dealt with by his judges. In all his answers and retorts upon his adversa. ries, he has the best not only of the argument but of the question, reasoning on their own principles and practice. They are so far from allowing of any measure of equal dealing, of common justice or humanity between themselves and the Jew, that even when they come to ask a favor of him, and Shylock reminds them that “on such a day they spit upon him, another spurned him, another called him dog, and for these courtesies request he'll lend them so much monies"-Anthonio, his old enemy, instead of any acknowledgment of the shrewdness and justice of his remonstrance, which would have been preposterous in a respectable Catholic merchant in those times, threat. ens him with a repetition of the same treatment
“ I am as like to call thee so again,
After this, the appeal to the Jew's mercy, as if there were any common principle of right and wrong between them, is the rankest hypocrisy, or the blindest prejudice; and the Jew's answer to one of Anthonio's friends, who asks him what his pound of forfeit flesh is good for, is irresistible
"To bait fish withal; if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. He hath disgrac'd me, and hindered me of half a million, laugh'd at my losses, mock'd at my gains, scorn'd my nation, thwarted my bargains, cool'd my friends, heated mine enemies; and what's his reason? I am a Jen. Hath not a Jew eyes; hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions ; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer that a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh ? If you poison us, do we not die ? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If