Page images

own remuneration; and in the simplicity of his affection, he renders his good-will ridiculous, He sees the king, while he grants forgiveness, bestow a gratuity; and thinks that he also, while he forgives, must be munificent.

Fluellen. By this day and this light, the fellow has mettle enough in his pelly. Hold, there is twelve-pence for you; and I pray you to serve Got, and keep you out of prawls, and prabbles, and quarrels, and dissentiuns, and I warrant you, it is the better for you.

Williams. I will none of your money.
Fluellen. It is with a goot will : I can tell you

it will serve you to mend your shoes : come, wherefore should you be so pashful ?


shoes is not so goot: it is a goot silling I warrant you, or I will change it.

In most of the particulars by which Shakespeare has illustrated the national character of the Welch in the

of Fluellen, the representation is ludicrous or ridiculous: and in general, most of those writers, who have distinguished themselves in this department, have aimed at the same effect. But persons appearing ridiculous, or placed in ludicrous circumstances, are usually reckoned of inferior merit, and are


treated with disregard. Here, however, we have to remark in Shakespeare, a nice, and almost a humane distinction. · Though Fluellen amuses us so as to excite laughter at the simplicity, and sometimes absurdity of his inexperience, yet he is not to be despised. Valiant and considerate, he is a person of amiable and unequivocal virtue. The true light in which he is to be viewed is

sug: gested by the description given of him by the king: for it is to be remarked, as we find exemplified in Timon of Athens, though not usually observed, that Shakespeare, when he thinks that any doubt may arise concerning his intentions respecting the character he delineates, expresses his purpose clearly and unambiguously, though indirectly, in words delivered by some of the other speakers in the drama. Apemantus gives the character of Timon; and King Henry intimates to us, that though we may be diverted with Fluellen, we are not to mistake or undervalue his merits. He describes him as not only valiant, but as possessed of such good sense and intelligence, as dictate suitable consideration : for so in

[ocr errors]

the passage, we are to understand the word care.

Tho' it appear a little out of fashion,
There is much care, and valour in this Welchman.

The distinction now mentioned is so much the more remarkable, that it is seldom observed by inferior writers; for with them, and in general with ignorant persons, every thing that we laughed at is to be accounted despicable or even unworthy. It is only with writers of superior genius, that we have such judicious discrimination as we find illustrated in the Fluellen of Shakespeare; in the Jew, and Colin Macleod, of Cumberland. The representation of national manners in this, and indeed in most instances, is comic. Yet upon some occasions, it is serious, or with a good intermixture of seriousness.

When the view is intended to be serious, and to produce those grave emotions that are connected with compassion and indignation, the diction corresponds ; so that we have no such faulty pronunciation, foreign idiom, or misapplication of terms, as would excite

[ocr errors]

ridicule. This is illustrated in the character of Shylock; and also in Othello, if Othello be intended to represent not only the colour, but the constitution and manners of an African.

As no example of the drainatic or poetical representation of national manners is more happily executed than that of Fluellen, I would ask, whether any such ample illustration occurs in any work, or in any language, prior to that of Shakespeare ? Is any thing of the same kind to be met with in the languages of Greece or of Rome? It is bold to assert, as it is difficult to prove, a negative; yet I know not that any such delineation is exemplified by Aristophanes, Lucian, Plautus, Terence, Horace, or any other humourous and witty poet, or writer in antient times. Yet the peculiarities of the Baotian, Spartan, Ionian, and Egyptian characters, might have afforded exercise, at least to Athenian invention, and as much amusement to an Athenian audience, as the ludicrous imitation of a philosopher. Though a Lacedæmonian appears in one of Aristophanes' comedies, I have not been able to discern any thing so peculiar in his manners, as to convince ine, that his national character was intended to be displayed. He is exhibited indeed, as delivering himself with great coarseness both of thought and expression; but this is not represented as more appropriate to him, than to other characters in the performance. Still further, he is presented, towards the end of the play, in a view so different from what we conceive of Spartan manners, or perhaps, with such violation of Spartan manners, as to satisfy us fully, that no representation of national character, otherwise than by a slight difference of dialect, was really intended. For this Lacedæmonian envoy, departing so far, not only from diplomatic reserve, but from Laconic conciseness or curtness of

expres. sion, indulges in poetical declamation, though poetry was never accounted a Lacedæmonian accomplishment, and panegyrizes the military exploits, not only of Leonidas, but of the Athenians. In due form he invokes Mnemosyne to instruct his muse in the deeds of those illustrious warriors who resisted the Persians, whom he states, with

« PreviousContinue »