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Piercy is a rugged soldier, cholerick, and quarrelsome, and has only the soldier's virtues, generosity
But Falstaff unimitated, unimitable Falstaff, how shall I describe 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 satirises 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 supercilious 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 escapes 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
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
THE LIFE OF KING HENRY V. PROLOGUE. (CHORUS 3–4.)
A Kingdom for a stage, Princes to act,
And Monarchs to bebold the swelling scene !
May we cram
caskes That did affright the air, at Agincourt ? Nothing shews more evidently the power of custom over language, than that the frequent use of calling a circle an Ő could so much hide the meanness of the metaphor from Shakespeare, that he has used it many times where he makes his most eager attempts at dignity of stile. PROLOGUE. (CHORUS 18.) Imaginary forces.
Imaginary for imaginative, or your powers of fancy. Active and passive words are by this authour frequently confounded. PROLOGUE. (CHORUS 25.) And make imaginary puissance.
This passage shews that Shakespeare was fully sensible of the absurdity of shewing battles on the theatre, which indeed is never done but tragedy becomes farce. Nothing can be represented to the eye but by something like it, and within a wooden O nothing very like a battle can be exhibited. Act I. Scene i. (1. i. 38.)
Hear him but reason in divinity. This scene was added after King James's accession to the crown, so that we have no way of avoiding its being esteemed a compliment to bim.-WARBURTON.
Why these lines should be divided from the rest of the speech and applied to king James, I am not able to conceive; nor why an opportunity should be so eagerly snatched to treat with contempt that part of his character which was least contemptible. King James's theological knowledge was not inconsiderable. To preside at disputations is not very suitable to a king, but to understand the questions is surely laudable. The poet, if he had James in his thoughts, was no skilful encomiast ; for the mention of Harry's skill in war, forced upon the remembrance of his audience the great deficiency of their present king; who yet with all his faults, and many faults he had, was such that Sir Robert Cotton says, he ould be content that England should never have a better, provided that it should never have a worse.
Act I. SCENE i. (1. i. 47–8.)
W ben be speaks, Tbe air, a charter'd libertine, is still. This line is exquisitely beautiful.
Act II. SCENE Üï. (11. ii. 126-7.)
The sweetness of affiance. Shakespeare urges this aggravation of the guilt of treachery with great judgment. One of the worst consequences of breach of trust is the diminution of that confidence which makes the happiness of life, and the dissemination of suspicion, which is the poison of society.
Act II. SCENE üi. (11. ü. 165.)
GREY. My fault, but not any body, pardon, Sovereign. One of the conspirators against Queen Elizabeth, I think Parry, concludes his letter to her with these words, a culpa, but not a pana ; absolve me most dear Lady. This letter was much read at that time, and the authour doubtless copied it. Act II. SCENE iv. (11. üi. 27–8.) Cold as any stone.
Such is the end of Falstaff, from whom Shakespeare had promised us in his epilogue to Henry IV. that we should receive more entertainment. It happened to Shakespeare as to other writers, to have his imagination crowded with a tumultuary confusion of images, which, while they were yet unsorted and unexamined, seemed sufficient to furnish a long train of incidents, and a new variety of merriment, but which, when he was to produce them to view, shrunk suddenly from him, or could not be accommodated to his general design. That he once designed to have brought Falstaff on the scene again, we know from himself; but whether he could contrive no train of adventures suitable to his character, or could match him with no companions likely to quicken his humour, or could open no new vein of pleasantry, and was afraid to continue the same strain lest it should not find the same reception, he has here for ever discarded him, and made haste to dispatch him, perhaps for the same reason for which Addison killed Sir Roger, that no other hand might attempt to exhibit him.
Let meaner authours learn from this example, that it is dangerous to sell the bear which is yet not hunted, to promise to the publick what they have not written.
This disappointment probably inclined Queen Elizabeth to command the poet to produce him once again, and to shew him in love or courtship. This was indeed a new source of humour, and produced a new play from the former characters.
I forgot to note in the proper place, and therefore note here, that Falstaff's courtship, or The Merry Wives
of Windsor, should be read between Henry IV. and
It were to be wished that the poor merriment of this dialogue [between Macmorris and Captain Jamy] had not been purchased with so much profaneness. Act III. SCENE V. (111. iv.)
CATHERINE. Alice, tu as esté en Angleterre, &c. This scene is indeed mean enough, when it is read, but the grimaces of two French women, and the odd accent with which they uttered the English, made it divert upon the stage. It may be observed, that there is in it not only the French language, but the French spirit. Alice compliments the princess upon her knowledge of four words, and tells her that she pronounces like the English themselves. The princess suspects no deficiency in her instructress, nor the instructress in herself. Throughout the whole scene there may be found French servility, and French vanity. Act III. SCENE vi. (111. v. 40 foll.)
Charles Delabreb, bigb constable of France, &c.
Rush on bis bost, as doth the melted snow
The Alps dotb spit and void bis rheum upon.