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Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them
admirable night-piece, are intended to keep the spectators constantly in mind, that the peculiar grandeur of the actions described cannot be developed on a narrow stage, and that they must, therefore, supply, from their own imaginations, the deficiencies of the representation. As the matter was not properly dramatic, Shakspeare chose to wander in the form also beyond the bounds of the species, and to sing, as a poetical herald, what he could not represent to the eye, rather than to cripple the progress of the action by putting long descriptions in the mouths of the dramatic personages. The confession of the poet that “four or five most vile and ragged foils, right ill-disposed, can only disgrace the name of Agincourt,” (a scruple which he has overlooked in the occasion of many other great battles, and among others of that of Philippi,) brings us here naturally to the question how far, generally speaking, it may be suitable and advisable to represent wars and battles on the stage. The Greeks have uniformly renounced them: as in the whole of their theatrical system they proceeded on ideas of grandeur and dignity, a feeble and petty imitation of the unattainable would have appeared insupportable in their eyes. With them, consequently, all fighting was merely recounted. The principle of the romantic dramatists was altogether different: their wonderful pietures were infinitely larger than their theatrical means of visible execution ; they were everywhere obliged to count on the willing imagination of the spectators, and consequently they also relied on them in this point. It is certainly laughable enough that a handful of awkward warriors in mock armour, by means of two or three swords, with which we clearly see they take especial care not to do the slightest injury to one another, should decide the fate of mighty kingdoms. But the opposite extreme is still much worse. If we in reality succeed in exhibiting the tumult of a great battle, the storming of a fort, and the like, in a manner any way calculated to deceive the eye, the power of these sensible impressions is so great that they render the spectator incapable of bestowing that attention which a poetical work of art demands; and thus the essential is sacrificed to the accessory. We have learned from experience, that whenever cavalry combats are introduced, the men soon become secondary personages beside the four-footed players. Fortunately, in Shakspeare's time, the art of converting the yielding boards of the theatre into a riding course had not yet been invented. He tells the spectators in the first prologie in Heary the Fifth :
Printing their proud hoofs in the receiving earth. When Richard the Third utters the famous exclamation,
A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse ! it is no doubt inconsistent to see him both before and afterwards constantly fighting on foot. It is however better, perhaps, that the poet and player should by overpowering impressions dispose us to forget this, than by literal exactness to expose themselves to external interruptions. With all the disadvantages which I have mentioned, Shakspeare and several Spanish poets have contrived to derive such great beauties from the immediate representation of war, that I cannot bring myself to wish they had abstained from it. A theatrical manager of the present day will have a middle course to follow : his art must, in an especial manner, be directed to make what he shows us appear only as separate groups of an immense picture, which cannot be taken in at once by the eye; he must convince the spectators that the main action takes place behind the stage; and for this purpose he has easy means at his command in the nearer or more remote sound of warlike music and the din of arms.
However much Shakspeare celebrates the French conquest of Henry, still he has not omitted to hint after his way, the secret springs of this undertaking. Henry was in want of foreign war to secure himself on the throne; the clergy also wished to keep him employed abroad, and made an offer of rich contributions to prevent the passing of a law which would have deprived them of the half of their revenues. His learned bishops consequently are as ready to prove to him his indisputable right to the crown of France, as he is to allow his conscience to be tranquillized by them. They prove that the Salic law is not, and never was, applicable to France; and the matter is treated in a more succinct and convincing manner than such subjects usually are in manifestoes. After his renowned battles, Henry wished to secure his conquests by marriage with a French princess ; all that has reference to this is intended for irony in the play. The fruit of this union, from which two nations promised to themselves such happiness in future, was the weak and feeble Henry VI., under whom every thing was so miserably lost. It must not, therefore, be imagined that it was without the knowledge and will of the poet that a heroic drama turns out a comedy in his hands, and ends in the manner of Comedy with a marriage of convenience."--SCHLEGEL.
This charming dramatic pastoral was first printed, it is believed, in the folio, 1623. On the Stationers' Registers, however, is an entry, conjectured, with good reason, to belong to the year 1600, which may induce a different conclusion. It runs thus :
“4 Augusti. “As you like yt, a book. Henry the ffift, a book. Every Man in his humor, a book. The Commedie of
Much Adoo about Nothinge, a book. To be staied." The object of the “stay,” as Mr. Collier supposes, was no doubt to prevent the publication of these plays by any other booksellers than Wise and Apsley; and as the three other “books” were issued by them in a quarto form, probabilities are in favour of the fourth having been so published also. At all events, there are sufficient grounds for hope that a quarto edition may some day come to light. “As You Like It" is founded on Lodge's novel, entitled “Rosalynde, Euphues Golden Legacy,” &c., 1590; which in turn was derived from the “ Coke's Tale of Gamelyn," attributed to Chaucer, and sometimes printed in his works, though now very generally believed to be the work of another and much inferior hand. The quotation, in Act. III. Sc. 5, from Marlowe's poem of “Hero and Leander,”—
“ Who ever lov'd, that lov'd not at first sight ?”— which appeared in 1598; the circumstance of its not being included in the list by Meres; and the memorandum above mentioned in the Stationers' Registers, have led Malone and others, we think rightly, to assign the composition of “As You Like It” to the year 1599.
In connexion with this comedy there is a tradition too pleasing to be forgotten. It is related, on the authority of the poet's brother Gilbert, who survived till after the Restoration of Charles II, that Shakespeare himself personated the faithful old Adam on the Stage. “ One of Shakespeare's younger brothers,” Oldys relates, “who lived to a good old age, even years, as I compute, after the restoration of King Charles II, would in his younger days come to London to visit his brother Will, as he called him, and be a spectator of him as an actor in some of his own plays. This custom, as his brother's fame enlarged, and his dramatick entertainments grew the greatest support of our principal, if not of all our theatres, he continued, it seems, so long after his brother's death as even to the latter end of his own life. The curiosity at this time of the most noted actors to learn something from him of his brother, &c. they justly held him in the highest veneration. And it may be well believed, as there was besides a kinsman and descendant of the family, who was then a celebrated actor among them, this opportunity made them grecdily inquisitive into every little circumstance, more especially in his dramatick character, which his brother could relate of him. But he, it seems, was so stricken in years, and possibly his memory so weakened with infirmities, which might make him the easier pass for a man of weak intellects, that he could give them but little light into their enquiries; and all that could be recollected from him of his brother Will in that station was the faint, general, and almost lost ideas he had of having once seen him “ act a part in one of his own comedies, wherein, being to personate a decrepit old man, he wore a long beard, and appeared so weak and drooping, and unable to walk, that he was forced to be supported and carried by another person to a table, at which he was seated among some company, who were eating, and one of them sung a song.'”
This description accords in all essential particulars with the introduction of Adam to the banished duke and his followers, at their sylvan banquet, in Act II. Sc. 7.
SCENE,-First, (and in Act II. Sc. 3.) near OLIVER’: House ; intermediately and afterwards, partly in
the usurper's Court, and partly in the Forest of Arden.