Page images
PDF
EPUB

King. My lord chief justice, speak to that vain man. Ch., Just. Have you your wits? know you what 'tis

you speak? Fal. My king! my Jove!? I speak to thee, my heart!

King.. I know thee not, old man: Fall to thy prayers; How ill white hairs become a fool, and jester! I have long dream'd of such a kind of man, So surfeit-swell’d, so old, and so profane;8 But, being awake, I do despise my dream. Make less thy body; hence, and more thy grace; Leave gormandizing; know, the grave doth gape For thee thrice wider than for other men:Reply not to me with a fool-born jest;? Presume not, that I am the thing I was : For heaven doth know, so shall the world perceive,

[ocr errors]

9

1

7 My king! my Fove! ] It appears, from many passages both in our author's plays and poems, that he had diligently read the earlier pieces of Daniel. When he wrote the speech before us, he perhaps remembered these lines in Daniel's Complaint of Rosamond, 1594 :

óc Doost thou not see, how that thy king, thy Fove,
“ Lightens forth glory on thy dark estate?" Malone.

profane ;] In our author it often signifies love of talk, without the particular idea now given it. So, in Othello: “ Is he not a profane and very liberal counsellor?” Johnson. hence,] i. e. henceforward, from this time, in the future.

Steevens. know, the grave

doth gape For thee thrice wider than for other meni

Reply not to me with a fool-born jest ;) Natūre is highly touched in this passage.' The King having shaken off his vanities, schools his old companion for his follies with great severity: he assumes the air of a preacher, bids him fall to his prayers, seek grace, and leave gormandizing. But that word unluckily presenting him with a pleasant idea, he cannot forbear pursuing it. Know, the grave doth gape for thee thrice wider &c. and is just falling back into Hal, by an humorous allusion to Falstaff's bulk; but he perceives it immediately, and fearing Sir John should take the advantage of it, checks both himself and the knight, with

Reply not to me with a fool-born jest ; and so resumes the thread of his discourse, and goes moralizing on to the end of the chapter. Thus the poet copies nature with great skill, and shows us how apt men are to fall back into their old customs, when the change is not made by degrees, and brought into a habit, but determined of at once, on the motives of honour, interest, or reason. Warburton.

That I have turn’d away my former self;
So will I those that kept me company.
When thou dost hear I am as I have been,
Approach me; and thou shalt be as thou wast,
The tutor and the feeder of my riots :
Till then, I banish thee, on pain of death,
As I have done the rest of my misleaders,
Not to come near our person by ten mile.?

2 Not to come near our person by ten mile.] Mr. Rowe observes, that many readers lament to see Falstaff so hardly used by his old friend. But if it be considered, that the fat knight has never uttered one sentiment of generosity, and with all his power of exciting mirth, has nothing in him that can be esteemed, no great pain will be suffered from the reflection that he is compelled to live honestly, and maintained by the King, with a promise of ad. vancement when he shall deserve it.

I think the poet more blameable for Poins, who is always represented as joining some virtues with his vices, and is therefore treated by the Prince with apparent distinction, yet he does nothing in the time of action; and though after the bustle is over he is again a favourite, at last vanishes without notice. Shak. speare certainly lost him by heedlessness, in the multiplicity of his characters, the variety of his action, and his eagerness to end the play. Johnson.

The dismission of Falstaff was founded on an historical fact. Stowe says, that “ King Henry, after his coronation, called unto him all those young lords and gentlemen that were the followers of his young acts, to every one of whom he gave rich gifts; and then commanded, that as many as would change their manners, as he intended to do, should abide with him in his court; and to all that would persevere in their former like conversation, he gave express commandment, upon pain of their heads, never after that day'to come in his presence.” Steevens.

This circumstance was originally mentioned by Hall, and is thus recorded by Holinshed, who was certainly Shakspeare's historian: “Immediately after that he was invested kyng, and had receyved the crowne, he determined with himselfe to putte upon him the shape of a new man, turning insolence and wildness into gravitie and sobernesse: and whereas he had passed his youth in wanton pastime and riotous misorder, with a sorte of misgoverned mates, and unthriftie playfeers, he now banished them from his presence, (not unrewarded nor yet unpreferred) inhibiting them upon a great payne, not once to approche, lodge or sojourne within ten miles of his courte or mansion : and in their places he elected and chose men of gravitie, witte, and hygh-policie, by whose wise counsell he might at all times rule to his honoure; – whereas if he should have reteined the other lustie companions aboute him, he doubted least they might have allured him unto

For competence of life, I will allow you;
That lack of means enforce you not to evil:
And, as we hear you do reform yourselves,
We will, according to your strength, and qualities,-
Give
you

advancement.-Be it your charge, my lord, To see perform’d the tenor of our word. Set on.

[Exeunt King, and his Train. Fal. Master Shallow, I owe you a thousand pound.

Shal. Ay, marry, sir John; which I beseech you to let me have home with me.

Fal. That can hardly be, master Shallow. Do not you grieve at this; I shall be sent for in private to him: look you, he must seem thus to the world. Fear not your advancement; I will be the man yet, that shall make you great.

Shal. I cannot perceive how; unless you give me your do et, and stuff me out with straw. I beseech you, good sir John, let me have five hundred of my thousand.

Fal. Sir, I will be as good as my word: this that you heard, was but a colour.

Shal. A colour, I fear, that you will die in, sir John.

Fal. Fear no colours; go with me to dinner. Come, lieutenant Pistol ;-come, Bardolph :-I shall be sent for soon at night. Re-enter Prince John, the Chief Justice, Officers, &c.

Ch. Just. Go, carry sir John Falstaff to the Fleet; 3

such lewde and lighte partes, as with them before' tyme he had youthfully used.” –Our author might have found the same circumstance in the anonymous play of King Henry V :

your former life grieves me, “ And makes me to abandon and abolish your company

for ever:
“ And therefore not upon pain of death to approche my

presence,
“ By ten miles' space; then, if I heare well of you,
“ It may be I will doe somewhat for you ;
“ Otherwise looke for no more favour at my hands,
“ Than at any other man's.Malone.

to the Fleet;] I do not see why Falstaff is carried to the Fleet. We have never lost sight of him since his dismission from the King; he has committed no new fault, and therefore incurred no punishment; but the different agitations of fear,

3

Take all his company along with him.

Fal. My lord, my lord,

Ch. Just. I cannot now speak: I will hear you soon. Take them away. Pist. Si fortuna me tormenta, spero me contenta.

[Exeunt Fal. SHAL. Pist. BARD. Page,

and Officers.
P. John. I like this fair proceeding of the king's :
He hath intent, his wonted followers
Shall all be very well provided for;
But all are banish'd, till their conversations
Appear more wise and modest to the world.

Ch. Just. And so they are.
P. John. The king hath call'd his parliament, my lord.
Ch. Just. He hath.

P. John. I will lay odds,—that, ere this year expire,
We bear our civil swords, and native fire,
As far as France: I heard a bird so sing,
Whose musick, to my thinking, pleas'd the king.
Come, will you hence?

[Exeunt. 5

4

'anger, and surprize in him and his company, made a good scene to the eye; and our author, who wanted them no longer on the stage, was glad to find this method of sweeping them away.

Johnson. I heard a bird so sing,] This phrase, which I suppose to be proverbial, occurs in the ancient ballad of The Rising in the North:

I heare a bird sing in mine eare,

“ That I must either fight or flee.” Steevens. 5 I fancy every reader, when he ends this play, cries out with Desdemona, “O most lame and impotent conclusion!” As this play was not, to our knowledge, divided into Acts by the author, I could be content to conclude it with the death of Henry the Fourth:

“ In that Jerusalem shall Harry die." These scenes, which now make the fifth Act of Henry the Fourth, might then be the first of Henry the Fifth; but the truth is, that they do not unite very commodiously to either play. When these plays were represented, I believe they ended as they are now ended in the books; but Shakspeare seems to have designed that the whole series of action, from the beginning of Richard the Second, to the end of Henry the Fifth, should be considered by the reader as one work, upon one plan, only broken into parts by the necessity of exhibition.

None of Shakspeare's plays are more read than the First and Second Parts of Henry the Fourth. Perhaps no author has ever, in two plays, afforded so much delight. The great events are interesting, for the fate of kingdoms depends upon them; the slighter occurrences are diverting, and, except one or two, sufficiently probable; the incidents are multiplied with wonderful fertility of invention, and the characters diversified with the ut. most nicety of discernment, and the profoundest skill in the na. ture of man.

The Prince, who is the hero both of the comick and tragick part, is a young man of great abilities and violent passions, whose sentiments are right, though his actions are wrong; whose vir. tues are obscured by negligence, and whose understanding is dissipated by levity. In his idle hours he is rather loose than wicked; and when the occasion forces out his latent qualities, he is great without effort, and brave without tumult. The trifler is roused into a hero, and the hero again reposes in the trifler. The character is great, original, and just.

Percy is a rugged soldier, cholerick and quarrelsome, and has only the soldier's virtues, generosity and courage,

But Falstaff unimitated, unimitable Falstaff, how shall I de. scribe thee? thou compound of sense and vice; of sense which may be admired, but not esteemed; of vice which may be despised, but hardly detested. Falstaff is a character loaded with faults, and with those faults which naturally produce contempt. He is a thief and a glutton, a coward and a boaster, always ready to cheat the weak, and prey upon the poor; to terrify the timorous, and insult the defenceless. At once obsequious and malignant, he satirizes in their absence those whom he lives by flattering. He is familiar with the prince 'only as an agent of vice, but of this familiarity he is so proud, as not only to be superci. lious and haughty with common men, but to think his interest of importance to the Duke of Lancaster. Yet the man thus corrupt, thus despicable, makes himself necessary to the prince that despises him, by the most pleasing of all qualities, perpetual gaiety; by an unfailing power of exciting laughter, which is the more freely indulged, as his wit is not of the splendid or ambitious kind, but consists in easy scapes and sallies of levity which make sport, but raise no envy. It must be observed, that he is stained with no enormous or sanguinary crimes, so that his licentiousness is not so offensive but that it may be borne for his mirth.

The moral to be drawn from this representation is, that no man is more dangerous than he that, with a will to corrupt, hath the power to please; and that neither wit nor honesty ought to think themselves safe with such a companion, when they see Henry seduced by Falstaff. Johnson.

Dr. Johnson objects, with good reason, I think, to the “ lame and impotent conclusion” of this play. Our author seems to have been as careless in the conclusion of the following plays as in that before us. In The Tempest the concluding words are:

please you draw near." In Much Ado about Nothing :

Strike up pipers."

« PreviousContinue »