Page images

Wild and fantastical as this play is, all the parts, in their various modes, are well written, and give the kind of pleasure which the author designed. Fairies in his time were much in fashion; common tradition

had made them familiar, and Spenser's poem had made them great.


JOHNSON's concluding observations on this play are not conceived with his usual judgment. There is no analogy or resemblance between the fairies of Spenser and those of Shakspeare. The fairies of Spenser,

as appears from his description of them in the second book of the Faerie

Queene, canto x., were a race of mortals created by Prometheus, of the human size, shape, and affections, and subject to death. But those of

Shakspeare, and of common tradition, as Johnson calls them, were a diminutive race of sportful beings, endowed with immortality and supernatural powers, totally different from those of Spenser.




The novel upon which this comedy was founded has hitherto eluded the research of the commentators. Mr. Douce thinks it will prove to be of French extraction. “ The Dramatis Personæ in a great measure demonstrate this, as well as a palpable Gallicism in Act iv. Sc. 1: viz. the terming a letter a capon.

This is one of Shakspeare's early plays, and the author's youth is certainly perceivable, not only in the style and manner of the versification, but in the lavish superfluity displayed in the execution--the uninterrupted succession of quibbles, equivoques, and sallies of every description. “ The sparks of wit fly about in such profusion that they form complete fireworks, and the dialogue for the most part resembles the bustling collision and banter of passing masks at a carnival.”* The scene in which the king and his companions detect each other's breach of their mutual vow, is capitally contrived. The discovery of Biron's love-letter while rallying his friends, and the manner in which he extricates himself, by ridiculing the folly of the vow, are admirable.

The grotesque characters, don Adrian de Armado, Nathaniel the curate, and Holofernes, that prince of pedants, with the humors of Costard the clown, are well contrasted with the sprightly wit of the principal characters in the play. It has been observed that “ Biron and Rosaline suffer much in comparison with Benedick and Beatrice," and it must be confessed that there is some justice in the observation. Yet Biron, “that merry mad-cap lord,” is not overrated in Rosaline's admirable character of him—

66 A merrier man,
Within the limit of becoming mirth,
I never spent an hour's talk witha) :
His eye begets occasion for his wit;
For every object that the one doth catch,
The other turns to a mirth-moving jest ;-

So sweet and voluble is his discourse." Shakspeare has only shown the inexhaustible powers of his mind, in improving on the admirable originals of his own creation, in a more ma

ture age.

Malone placed the composition of this play first in 1591, afterwards in 1594. Dr. Drake thinks we may safely assign it to the earlier periode The first edition was printed in 1598.

* Schlegel.


FERDINAND, King of Navarre.
LONGAVILLE, Lords, attending on the King.

[ocr errors]

Don ADRIANO DE ARMADO, a fantastical Spaniard.
HOLOFERNES, a Schoolmaster.
Dull, a Constable.
COSTARD, a Clown.
Moth, Page to Armado.
A Forester.

Princess of France.
MARIA, Ladies, attending on the Princess.
JAQUENETTA, a Country Wench.


Officers and Others, Attendants on the King and Princess.



This enumeration of Persons was made by Rowe.

1 Berowne in all the old editions.



SCENE I. Navarre. A Park with a Palace in it.

Enter the King, Biron, Longaville, and Dumain.

King. Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives, Live registered upon our brazen tombs, And then grace us in the disgrace of death ; When, spite of cormorant, devouring time, The endeavor of this present breath may buy That honor, which shall bate his scythe's keen edge, And make us heirs of all eternity. Therefore, brave conquerors !—for so you are, That war against your own affections, And the huge army of the world's desires,Our late edíct shall strongly stand in force. Navarre shall be the wonder of the world; Our court shall be a little Academe, Still and contemplative in living art. You three, Birón, Dumain, and Longaville, Have sworn for three years' term to live with me, , My fellow-scholars, and to keep those statutes, That are recorded in this schedule here. Your oaths are past, and now subscribe your names; That his own hand may strike his honor down, That violates the smallest branch herein. If you are armed to do, as sworn to do, Subscribe to your deep oath, and keep it too.

Long. I am resolved. 'Tis but a three years' fast; The mind shall banquet, though the body pine.

Fat paunches have lean pates; and dainty bits
Make rich the ribs, but bank’rout quite the wits.

Dum. My loving lord, Dumain is mortified;
The grosser manner of these world's delights
He throws upon the gross world's baser slaves.
To love, to wealth, to pomp, I pine and die ;
With all these living in philosophy.

Biron. I can but say their protestation over, So much, dear liege, I have already sworn, That is, to live and study here three years. But there are other strict observances; As, not to see a woman in that term ; Which, I hope well, is not enrolled there ;And one day in a week to touch no food, And but one meal on every day beside; The which, I hope, is not enrolled there ;And then, to sleep but three hours in the night, And not be seen to wink of all the day; (When I was wont to think no harm all night, Ànd make a dark night too of half the day;) Which, I hope well, is not enrolled there. 0, these are barren tasks, too hard to keep; Not to see ladies-study-fast-not sleep. King. Your oath is passed to pass away from

these. Biron. Let me say no, my liege, an if you please. I only swore, to study with your grace, And stay here in your court for three years' space.

Long. You swore to that, Birón, and to the rest.

Biron. By yea and nay, sir, then I swore in jest. What is the end of study? Let me know. King. Why, that to know, which eise we should

not know. Biron. Things hid and barred, you mean, from

common sense?
King. Ay, that is study's godlike recornpense.

Biron. Come on then; I will swear to study so,
To know the thing I am forbid to know.
As thus-To study where I well may dine,

When I to feast expressly am forbid;

« PreviousContinue »