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WITH THE STAGE BUSINESS, CAST OF CHARACTERS,
COSTUMES, RELATIVE POSITIONS, ETC.
NEW YORK :
WILLIAM TAYLOR & COMPANY,
18 ANN STREET.
iste days whez “ merrie England" was a term of meaning, and aptly
To this discriminative knowledge of our great poet, we perhaps one the
In the days when" merrie England" was a term of meaning, and aptly illustrated the festive spirit common among the people at their periodical sports and festivals, which they indulge in with a heartiness and a zest unknown to us modern utilitarians, Shakspeare flourished and was the delight of his age. Many of his plays were written to meet the wishes, or to foster the tastes, of his audiences; for he was a Player as well as Author, and possessed that knowledge of the predilections of the public which the professional artist or dramatist has, or should have, to render him a successful caterer of public amusement.
To this discriminative knowledge of our great poet, we perhaps owe the delightful Comedy of “ Twelfth Night." The closing of the great festival of Christmas, was, as it were, the climax of the revelries which, in the olden time, marked the twelve days appropriated for keeping this, the most joyous of the high festivals of the Christian Church. In the period antecedent to the foundation of the English National Drama. " The Mysteries and Moralities,”' with all their accessories of barbarous, but quaint and expressive imagery, were the delight alike of the learned, the noble, and the conimous of the land. To these rude foreshadowings of the regular drama, succeeded pageants, masques, and allegorical devices, all imbued with a high imaginative spirit, that endeared them to the tastes and feelings of the multitude. Shakspeare, whose fertile ginius led him into the regions of fancy and imagination, there to revel and create a world of his own, presents us in this delightful comedy, a complete epitome of all that rendered the revelry of “ Christmas tide'' so delightful to the populace ;and, to add to the charm, and, as it were, as a fitting prologue to his merry tale, he designates his labors by the expressive title of “ Twelfth Night, or, What you will."
And truly has he performed his task-for, in the exquisite combination of joyous, langh-creating personages, with the delicate fancies and poetical beauty of his sentimental characters, he has concentrated into one frame all the pictures which are dispersed through the antic pageants and gro. tesque masques then in vogue, enriching all with the glowing colors of his own exhaustless fancy, and his truthful analysis of nature.
And yet, Twelfth Night is ther a picture of the poetry of life, than a faithful transcript of natural realities. We are willing to subscribe to the opinions of a cotemporary, and say :
“ It cannot, indeed, be said that the characters of this piece are not drawn from nature,---for when was Shakspeare unnatural ? but it may be affirmed that it is nature as exhibited in vision. The love, the folly, the passion, the humor, all are fancy, all are the results of the nighest poctical imagination. Nothing is shown as it really is, but as a youthful mind would picture it to be in the days of inexperience."
Such, perhaps, is the true character of this exquisite comedy. It is, perhaps, no “just picture of life :" we may object to the improbabilities surrounding Viola ; but who does not feel that she is the impersonation of a poetical ideal in woman? The fatuity of Sir Andrew Ague-Cheek may be overcharged; but his prototype, in a modified form, may be found in the phases of the human heart. The moral and comic effect of Mulvolio's character is overwrought ; and yet how true to nature is the ludicrous con: ceit and dominant vanity of this richly-drawn character. Sir Toby Belch is the jolly roysterer of the Elizabethan period and the Clown is the Vice of the ancient morality, the Jester, or Fool of the age, common and familiar to every spectator of those times. The Duke, Olivia, and Sebastian, are poetical creations, endowed with all the richness of the poet's teeming fancy ; and Maria is the queen of waiting maids, the model of a class.
Commentators have been puzzled to assign the precise origin and date of this play. It was formerly the opinion, that it was among the latest, if not the last, of Shakspeare's productions, but the indefatigable research of Mr. Collier has settled the latter question. This vigilant Shaksperian critic has found in the British Museum, the Diary of one Manningham, a Barrig. ter, who was an eye-witness to the representation of Twelfth Night on the on the celebration of the Readers’ Feast, at the Middle Temple on Februa"y 2, 1602. The memorandum runs as follows: