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church at Stratford, where a monument is placed in
“ Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear
“ And curst be he that moves my bones."
This is what I could learn of any note, either relating to himself or family: the character of the man is best seen in his writings. But since Ben Jonson has made a sort of an essay towards it in his Discoveries, I will give it in his words :
“ I remember the players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakspeare, that in writing (what“ soever he penned) he never blotted out a line. My “ answer hath been, Would he had blotted a thousand ! “ which they thought a malevolent speech. I had “ not told posterity this, but for their ignorance, who « chose that circumstance to commend their friend
" by, wherein he most faulted: and to justify mine
own candour, for I loved the man, and do honour “ his memory, on this side idolatry, as much as any. “ He was, indeed, honest, and of an open and free
nature, had an excellent fancy, brave notions, and “gentle expressions; wherein he flowed with that “ facility, that sometimes it was necessary he should “ be stopped : Sufflaminandus erat, as Augustus said " of Haterius. His wit was in his own power ; " would the rule of it had been so too! Many times " he fell into those things which could not escape “ laughter; as when he said in the person of Cæsar, " one speaking to him,
“ Cæsar, thou dost me wrong. " He replied:
“ Cæsar did never wrong, but with just cause. " and such like, which were ridiculous. But he re“ deemed his vices with his virtues : there was ever “ more in him to be praised than to be pardoned."
As for the passage which he mentions out of Shak. speare, there is somewhat like it in Julius Cæsar, but without the absurdity; nor did I ever meet with it in any edition that I have seen, as quoted by Mr. Jonson.
Besides his plays in this edition, there are two or three ascribed to him by Mr. Langbaine, which I have never seen, and know nothing of. He writ likewise Venus and Adonis, and Tarquin and Lucrece, in stanzas which have been printed in a late collection of poems. As to the character given of him by Ben Jonson, there is a good deal true in it: but I believe it may be as well expressed by what Horace says of the first Romans who wrote tragedy upon the Greek models, (or indeed translated them,) in his epistle to Augustus:
naturâ sublimis & acer:
“ Sed turpem putat in chartis metuitque lituram.” As I have not proposed to myself to enter into a large and complete criticism upon Shakspeare's works, so I will only take the liberty, with all due submission to the judgment of others, to observe some of those things I have been pleased with in looking him over.
His plays are properly to be distinguished only into comedies and tragedies. Those which are called histories, and even some of his comedies, are really tragedies, with a run or mixture of comedy amongst them. That way of tragi-comedy was the common mistake of that age, and is indeed become so agreeable to the English taste, that though the severer critics among us cannot bear it, yet the generality of our audiences seem to be better pleased with it than with an exact tragedy. The Merry Wives of Windsor, The
Comedy of Errors, and The Taming of a Shrew, are all pure comedy; the rest, however they are called, have something of both kinds. It is not very easy to determine which way of writing he was most excellent in. There is certainly a great deal of entertainment in his comical humours; and though they did not then strike at all ranks of people, as the satire of the present age has taken the liberty to do, yet there is a pleasing and a well-distinguished variety in those characters which he thought fit to meddle with. Falstaff is allowed by every body to be a masterpiece; the character is always well sustained, though drawn out into the length of three plays; and even the account of his death, given by his old landlady Mrs. Quickly, in the first act of Henry the Fifth, though it be extremely natural, is yet as diverting as any part of his life. If there be any fault in the draught he has made of this lewd old fellow, it is, that though he has made him a thief, lying, cowardly, vain-glorious, and in short every way vicious, yet he has given him so much wit as to make him almost too agreeable; and I do not know whether some people have not, in remembrance of the diversion he had formerly afforded them, been sorry to see his friend Hal use him so scurvily, when he comes to the crown in the end of The Second Part of Henry the Fourth. Amongst other extravagancies, in The
Merry Wives of Windsor, he has made him a deerstealer, that he might at the same time remember his Warwickshire prosecutor, under the name of Justice Shallow; he has given him very near the same coat of arms which Dugdale, in his Antiquities of that county, describes for a family there, and makes the Welsh parson descant very pleasantly upon them. That whole play is admirable; the humours are various and well opposed; the main design, which is to cure Ford of his unreasonable jealousy, is extremely well conducted. In Twelfth-Night there is something singularly ridiculous and pleasant in the fantastical steward Malvolio. The parasite and the vainglorious in Parolles, in All's Well that Ends Well, is as good as any thing of that kind in Plautus or Terence. Petruchio, in The Taming of the Shrew, is an uncommon piece of humour. The conversation of Benedick and Beatrice, in Much Ado about Nothing, and of Rosalind, in As you like it, have much wit and sprightliness all along. His clowns, without which character there was hardly any play writ in that time, are all very entertaining: and, I believe, Thersites in Troilus and Cressida, and Apemantus in Timon, will be allowed to be master-pieces of ill nature, and satirical snarling. To these I might add, that incomparable character of Shylock the Jew, in The Merchant of Venice ; but though we have seen that play re