Page images



In Five Acts,




To which are added,



As now performed at the



By Mr WHITE, from a Drawing by Mr. R. CRUIKSBANK.



5 Jan 21 km

REMARKS When the Roman satirist laid down his rules for dramatic poetry, he could never have anticipated that in after ages there shonli arise $0 splendid an exception to them in the genius of Shakspeare. The ancients had no idea of tragi comedy; hence the question of Horace

" Suppose a painter to a human head

Should join a horse's neck, and wildly spread
The various plumage of the feather'd kind
O’er limbs of different beasts, absurdly join'd:

Would you not laugh such pictures to behold ?”
Voltaire, of whom it would be difficult to say whether he ranks more
contemptible as a critic or a philosopher, has, with one sweeping
censure, condemned the tragi-comedies of Shakspeare. But Voltaire
was a Frenchman, imbrued in no ordinary degree with the fustian
and frippery of the French school : he was a literary coxcomb, who,
with infinite complacency,

“ Gave his little senate laws,

And sat attentive to his own applause;" proud to rank amongst his worshippers a motley group of kings, princes, statesmen, fiddlers, atheists, and buffoons.

Leaving, therefore, “ the brilliant Frenchmau” to enjoy the merit of censuring what he possessed neither the candoor nor ability to appreciate, we have the authority of the best critics, at the head of whoin we place Dr. Warburton, for pronouncing the First Part of Henry IV. to be equal in excellence to the most admired dramas of Shakspegra for, though it be not distinguished for those sublimer attributes of tragedy which shine so pre-eminently in Hamlet, Macbeth, and Lear, it possesses an heroic spirit and a dignity of senti. ment, that elevate it in a very high degree. If to these we add its accurate delineation of character, its dramatic incident, and exquisite comic humour, where shall we find a drama in which these peculiar excellences are so admirably combined 3

Dryden considered “ The Spanish Fryer" as the happiest of all his productions, from its skilful union of two distinct plots, and its natural transition from tragedy to comedy : but if Gomez be comical, what is Falstaff?

The action of this play commences at an interesting period of English hi tory. Henry IV., declining into the vale of years, broken with sickness, and agitated with remorse, resolves to expiate the murder of his sovereign by a crusade to the Holy Land. From this resolution lie is, however, diverted, by the sudden incursion of the Welsh under Owen Glendower, and the revolt of some of his principal nobility, particularly the powerful honse of Northumberland, at the head of whom is Harry Percy, the renowned Hotspur. From these events arise all the tragic incidents of the drama; while to “ the nimble-footed mad-cap Prince of Wales" we are indebted for our introduction to those joyous companions of the Boar's Head, those minions of the moon, Poins, Peto, Gadshill, Bardolph, and the inimitable Falstaff.

The characters of the King and the Prince of Wales possess all that merit of historical truth. In the first scene we are presented with a faithful picture of King's Henry's mind, in his reply to the Earl of Westmoreland :

“ Yea, there thou mak'st me sad, and mak'st me sin

In envy that my Lord Northumberland
Should be the father of so bless'd a son ;
Whilst I, by looking ou the praise of him,
See riot and dishonour stain the brow

Of my young Harry." But what a noble contrast does the first scene in the third act present, where the prince, having shaken off his dissolute habits, like " dew-drops from the lion's mane," propitiates his father by a vow of filial duty and obedience! There is no part in the writings of Shakspeare wbere the language is more flowing and majestic, the sentiments more dignified and appropriate, and the characters represented with more masterly effect.

Hotspur is indebted for some of his most entertaining qualities to the imagination of Shakspeare ; for, to his acknowledged lofty, heroic, and generous spirit, the poet has added a ludicrous impatience, a petulant and caustic humour, which vary the character, and render it highly dramatic and entertaining. Mark his reply to Wor cester :

« He said he would not ransom Mortimer,

Forbad my tongue to speak of Mortimer ;
But I will find him when he lies asleep,
And in his ear I'll holloa-Mortimer! Nay,
I'll have a starling shall be taught to speak
Nothing but Mortimer, and give it him,

To keep his anger still in motion." We remember the late Mr. Kemble's performance of Hotspur, a few nights previous to his retirement from the stage; and, if there was any one part of it that pleased us more than another, it was the way in which he pronounced this speech. When he came to the word “ Nay,he suddenly dropped his voice, and, as it were, catching his breath, gave the remainder in an under tone with the utmost rapidity of utterance. Those who are acquainted with the peculiar manner of that great actor will immediately know what we

A similar instance occurred in Leontes, in the Winter's Tale: * Is whtspring nothing ?" Those who are not, must be content to imagine it.

The character of Falstaff is sp rich a compound of various humours, that to take the whole length and breadth of him would require an essay of itself.

His many glaring and positive vices are so softened down and rendered neutral by his abundant agreeable qualities, that wę lose sight of them in the merriment they provoke ; and, instead of turning from him as the voluptuary, the profane jester, the coward, and braggadocio, “we are ready to hug him, guts, lies, and all, as an inexhaustible fund of pleasantry and humour.” The compound. ing of this extraordinary character required all the art and address of Shakspeare. To excite mirth from such dangerous materials as lying, drunkenness, and sensuality, was an attempt hazardous in the extreme; and, with any other genius but Shakspeare, would have been hardly justified by its success. The Tucca of Ben Jonson, and the Cacofogo of Fletcher, are disgusting representations of mere cowardice and brutality; but the wit of Falstaff is so delightfully re


dundant-his foke and repartée so racy and inexhaustible, that we go even further than Prince Hal when he says,

“I could have better spar'd a better man." We would rather spare the whole dramatis personæ than abate one tittle of this sweet creature of bombast,—this immortal būffoon!

With all the fat rogue's inordinate love of sack, he is never exhibited in a state of inebriation, but is always made more than a match for the prince and Poins; and, when seemingly driven to his wit's end, and at an absolute stand for invention, after the adventure at Gadshill, he fairly gets rid of his opponents by that sort of ready wit aud ingenuity which Johnson attributed to Foote :- That when you had driven him into a corner, and thought you bad him, he made his escape by runniug between your legs, or leaping over your head. The companions of Falstaff are admirably well calculated to illustrate their great original, and draw forth his humours. We have that bombastical coward, ancient Pistol ; the taciturn Corporal Nym; the swaggering Poins; and the knight of the burning lamp, Master Bardolph, his " memento mori” and cup-bearer ; indeed, we bear an inherent veneration for a flaming proboscis, out of pure regard for the fiery trigon. Nor is the household of the Boar's Head less characteristic and entertaining,—the " puny Drawer,” Francis; and “ Dame Partlet, the hen," Hostess Quickly. Can comedy go further than the scene in which Falstaff complains of his pocket having been picked; not of his bill of fare—“sack, two gallons, 5s. 8d. ; anchovies and sack after supper, 2s. 6d. ; bread, a halfpenny !"_bat of mure valuable spoil, “Three or four bonds of forty pound a piece ; and a seal ring of his grandfather's !” This accusation produces some recrimination on the part of the hostess ; who reproaches Falstaff with having run in her debt four and twenty pounds" for diet, bydrinkings, and money lent;" to say nothing of "a dozen shirts bought to his back," --not “filthy dowlas,” but “holland of eight shillings an_ell." The intervention of Prince Hal sets matters to rights, and Falstaff, with that ludicrous effrontery which forms the drollest part of his character, exclaims-“Go make ready my break. fast, love thy husband, look to thy servants, cherish thy guests : thou shalt find me tractable to any honest reason ;" and dismisses ber with a kiss.

The original Falstaff was the celebrated Lowin, a contemporary of Shakspeare ; who, when treason and fanaticism desolated the land, retired to the “ Three Pigeons" at Brentford, which he kept as a house of entertainment, in conjunction with Taylor, the original Hamlet, and there earned a precarious livelihood. The character, after the Restoration, was played by Cartwright, and then by Lacy, a favourite actor of Charles II. Betterton, in his declining years, relinquished the fiery Hotspur, to represent this mountain of mirth, which he did with the happiest effect. Booth, by the comraand of Queen Anne, played it for one night. Quiv’s excellence in Falstaff

* Quin, for many years after he had retired fjom the stage, made it a point of coming annually to town, to play Falstaff for his friend Ryan's benefit. Having, in the year 1754, lost his two front teeth, he wrote the following laconic epistle :

“ My dear Friend, There's no person on earth whom I would sooner serve than Ryan ; but, by GM, I will whistle Falstaff for no man P

« PreviousContinue »