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character. And man as we commonly see him is a fantastic being, who passes in one moment from tears to laughter.
We have often thought that it would be well for us, if we had sometimes the old fool or jester at our side, to make us see ourselves as others see us, whose privileged tongue would tell us the truth without offence—one that could laugh at folly and fashion and make it ridiculous—who could revile and jeer at anybody, even the greatest persons by the privilege of his place, for “ there is no slander in an allowed fool.” Our Momus of literature, “Punch," is the nearest resemblance in our own time to the old jester. Jaques longed to wear motley that he might tell the truth in the face of day.
“I am ambitious for a motley coat,
otley, give me leave
If they will patiently receive my medicine.” The fool and the jester have passed away, but are men the merrier or the wiser? “ The more the pity,” says • Touchstone, " that fools may not speak wisely when wise do foolishly."
Our forefathers had a great relish for broad fun. Look at the names of some of the characters in our old dramas—Sir Amorous La Foole, Sir Politic Would-be, Sir Tunbelly Clumsy,Little Pickle Lingo, Crabtree, Nipperkin, and a host of others, the like of which
,” he writes,
are not found in the drama of any other nation. The French cannot comprehend the broad humour of Shakspeare; to this day they call him vulgar, as they did in Voltaire's time. That eminent Frenchman was one of the first of his countrymen to become acquainted with our national poet, and he made good use of his acquaintance by transferring as many of his beauties as he could to his own writings. Voltaire looked down upon Shakspeare; and patronised him as a poet, of course, very much beneath himself. He was very well among a nation of barbarians who had no Moliére or Racine. In his old age, when the plays of Shakspeare were translated or attempted in French, Voltaire's wrath knew no bounds.
“ Have you seen,' speaking of Letourneur's version, “his abominable trash ? Will you endure the affront put upon France by it? There are no epithets bad enough, nor fools' caps, nor pillories enough, in all France for such a scoundrel. The blood tingles in my old veins in speaking of him. What is the most dreadful part of the affair is, the monster has his party in France; and to add to my shame and consternation, it was I who first sounded the praises of this Shakspeare; I who first showed the pearls, picked here and there, from his overgrown dung-heap. Little did I anticipate that I was helping to trample under foot at some future day, the laurels of Racine and Corneille to adorn the brows of a barbarous player—this drunkard of a Shakspeare." For Voltaire to have recognised Shakspeare as a great poet, it would have been necessary for our dramatist to have worn a court dress, shaved his beard close, adorned himself with a powdered wig, touched his cheeks with a little rouge, and smoothed himself into a flatterer and a liar, courting the muses in the shape of maids of honour or royal mistresses.
Byron in a splenetic humour once said to Tom Moore, that he
thought“Shakspeare was something of a humbug,” but Voltaire, strutting about in the borrowed plumes of Shakspeare and crowing over him, looks, to our thinking, very much like one. And he reminds us of an anecdote related of Professor Agassiz when some of his students once tried very hard to puzzle him in entomology. Having procured a beetle (which in America is called a bug), they tore off its wings and legs, which were supplied from two or three other insects. They put this nondescript specimen upon the Professor's desk before one of his lectures. Agassiz took it up and examined it with the cool air of a philosopher, and, addressing his audience, said: “This, gentlemen, is a thing which is found in every part of the world. Gentlemen, this thing is a humbug." Shakspeare was the product of his age and country; he was English in the same way as Goethe was German and Voltaire French. Perhaps it was not Voltaire's fault that he could not understand our great poet, for he could not comprehend our national character.
Shakspeare had strange sympathies with an outcast and vagrant life — with odd men and women of the vagabond species.
“ All picturesque varieties of man,
All oddities of being, starting out
His humanity made them human; and he did not stop to moralise whether they were good or bad. Nothing was too low, or too high for him. His large-heartedness was equal to his tolerance. “Of all men," said Dryden," he had the largest and most comprehensive soul." The low characters, the fools, clowns, &c., in most other dramatists, only excite our disgust; and are hardly introduced as human beings at all, but more a puppets to obey the showman :
“They scold and squeak and crack each other's crowns,
As if by twitches moved from wires we see not” They have no more relation to real life than a clock has to a human being. Shakspeare's lowest human types have the attributes of humanity. They are linked in some way to our common nature, and are never outside our sympathy, because, in our own imperfect nature are to be found the elements of all the good and bad qualities which are seen in them.
Shakspeare saw deeper into human nature than any mortal had ever seen before. As the dervish in the “ Arabian Nights" saw buried in the earth rubies and emeralds which the ordinary eye could not see, so Shakspeare could find even in the most degraded of our species, as in the depth and darkness of the earth, the most precious jewels which were concealed from common view.
There is a certain fascination among Englishmen for a wandering and wayward life. The returned prodigal, tanned with the sun of every clime, we clasp to our bosom, and whatever may have been his follies and excesses, we forgive the sinner while we hate his sin. There is a restless devil in our blood, and Professor Tyndall hints, though rather in a guarded way, that the law of hereditary transmission has something to do with it, and points to the time “when wild in woods the noble savage ran."
No other dramatist has given us so much of out-door life, or brought us into direct communion with Nature at all seasons, as Shakspeare has done ; his world is bounded by neither sea nor land. He gives us glimpses into fairy land, dream land, ghost land, and that debatable land which lies between fairy land and
the working day world. What a spell of enchantment is upon us as we touch Prospero's isle, which is “full of noises, sounds, and airs which give delight and hurt not:" where Ariel shoots through the air like a falling star. We turn into the forest of Arden, where we may find rest and seclusion from the world in the glorious ideal of a poet's brain. Here the sun ever shines. We can make holiday and “fleet the time carelessly as they did in the golden world,” not like Virgil's stupid clown, with the only resource of sleep, to forget our cares. boughs, blest by leisure, we may think all joyous and pleasant thoughts, and grow wiser without any books. In this romantic forest, “ under the canopy with the choughs and crows," we see nothing but pleasant wonders. The trees are carved with lovers' names and odes, and ballads hang like fruit upon the branches. We see the contemplative Jaques reclining under an oak moralizing with his banished friends, or entering into a ready combat of wit with that strange fellow in motley—the inimitable Touchstone. Jaques' surprise at meeting this fool in the forest seemed to be as great, as it would have been in former times to have met a wise man at Court.
It is of this fool and some of his motley tribe, especially those whom Shakspeare has delineated, we take for our study. It is because we think, that some of the fools' texts may make good sermons, we have chosen for our subject these eccentric characters. It is well for us, if we do not scorn to learn wisdom even from the lips of the poor jester. What says the old couplet
“ Did you ever learn yet
That a fool may teach a wise man wit.” As there are infinite varieties of folly, so there are many kinds of fools. There is Solomon's fool, who despises wisdom, and the