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a striking example of magnanimity, and of justice tempered with dignified compassion :
In the fourth act, what a masterly picture of the cares and solicitudes of royalty is drawn by Henry himself, in his noble soliloquy on the morning of the battle, especially towards the close, where he contrasts the gorgeous but painful ceremonies of a crown with the profitable labour and the balmy rest of the peasant, who
66 from the rise to set, Sweats in the eye of Phoebus, and all night Sleeps in Elysium !”
But the prayer which immediately follows is unrivalled for its power of impression, presenting us with the most lively idea of the amiability, piety, and devotional fervour of the monarch:
- O God of battles ! steel my soldiers' hearts !
Not to-day, O Lord,
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. xii. pp. 341, 342. Act ii. sc. 2. t + Ibid. vol. xii. pp. 438—441. Act iv. sc. 1.
Of the picturesque force of an epithet, there is not in the records of poetry a more remarkable instance than what is here produced by the adoption of the term withered, through which the scene starts into existence with a boldness of relief that vies with the noblest creations of the pencil.
The address to Westmoreland, on his wishing for more men from England, is a fine specimen of military eloquence, possessing that high tone of enthusiasm and exhilaration, so well calculated to inflame the daring spirit of the soldier. It is in perfect keeping with the historical character of Henry, nor can we agree with Dr. Johnson in thinking that its reduction “ to about half the number of lines,” would have added, either to its force or weight of sentiment * ; so far, indeed, are we from coalescing with this decision, that we feel convinced not a clause could be withdrawn without material injury to the animation and effect of the whole.
Instances of the same impressive and energising powers of elocution, will be found in the King's exhortation to his soldiers before the gates of Harfleur t; in his description of the horrors attendant on a city taken by storm $; and in his replies to the Herald Montjoy S; all of which spring naturally from, and are respectively adapted to the circumstances of the scene.
Nor, amid all the dangers and unparalleled achievements of the Fifth Henry, do we altogether lose sight of the frank and easy gaiety which distinguished the Prince of Wales. His winning condescension in sympathising with the cares and pleasures of his soldiers, display the same kindness and affability of temper, the same love of raillery and humour, reminiscences, as it were, of his youthful days, and which, in his intercourse with Williams and Fluellin, produce the most pleasing and grateful relief.
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. xii. p. 456. note 5. + Ibid. p. 366. et seq. Act iii. sc. 1. 1
Ibid. p. 378, Act iii. sc. 3. § Ibid. p. 404, et seq. 459. et seq.
These touches of a frolic pencil are managed with such art and address, that they derogate nothing from the dignity of the monarch and the conqueror ;
be termed the truly comic portion of the play, being carried on apart from'any immediate connection with the person
of the sovereign. As the events of warfare and the victories of Henry form the sole subjects of the serious parts of this piece, it was necessary for the sake of variety and dramatic effect, and in order to satisfy the audience of this age, that comic characters and incidents should be interspersed ; and, though we are disappointed in not seeing Falstaff, according to the poet's promise, again on the scene, we once more behold his associates, Bardolph, Pistol, and Hostess Quickly, pursuing their pleasant career with unfailing eccentricity and humour. The description of the death of Falstaff by the last of this fantastic trio, is executed with peculiar felicity, for while it excites a smile verging on risibility, it calls forth, at the same time, a sigh of pity
Of the general conduct of this play, it may be remarked, that the interest turns altogether upon the circumstances which accompany a single battle ; consequently the poet has put forth all his strength in colouring and contrasting the situation of the two armies; and so admirably has he succeeded in this attempt, by opposing the full assurance of victory, on the part of the French, their boastful clamour, and impatient levity, to the conscious danger, calm valour, and self-devotedness of the English, that we wait the issue of the combat with an almost breathless anxiety.
And, in order that the heroism of Henry might not want any decoration which poetry could afford, the epic and lyric departments have been laid under contribution, for the purpose of supplying what the
very confined limits of the stage, then in the infancy of its mechanism, had no means of unfolding. A preliminary chorus, therefore, is attached to each act, impressing vividly on the imagination what could not be addressed to the senses, and adding to a subject, in itself more epic than dramatic, all the requisite grandeur and sublimity of description.
19. Much ADO ABOUT NOTHING: 1599. The allusion, in the opening scene of this comedy, to a circumstance attending the campaign of the Earl of Essex in Ireland, during the summer of 1599, which was first noticed by Mr. Chalmers, and which seems corroborated by the testimony of Camden and Moryson *, has induced us to adopt the chronology dependent on this apparent reference, the only note of time, indeed, which has hitherto been discovered in the play.
This very popular production which appears to have originally had the title of Benedick and Beatrice t, and is, in its leading incidents, to be traced to one of the tales of Bandello †, possesses, both with respect to its fable and characters, a vivacity, richness, and variety, together with a happiness of combination, which delight as much as they astonish.
The two plots are managed with uncommon skill; the first, involving the temporary disgrace and the recognition of Hero, includes a vast range of emotions, and abounds both in pathos and humour. The accusation of the innocent Hero by the man whom she loved, and at the very moment too, when she was about to be united to him for life, excites a most powerful impression ; but is surpassed by the scene which restores her to happiness, where Claudio, supposing himself about to be united, in obedience to the will of Leonato, to a relation of his former beloved, and, as he concludes, deceased mistress, on unveiling the bride, beholds the features of her whom he had injured, and whom he had lamented as no more.
It is no small proof of the ingenuity of our poet, that through the means by which the iniquity practised against Hero is developed,
Supplemental Apology, p. 381.
+ Reed's Shakspeare, vol. vi. p. 185. | It is most probable that Shakspeare derived his materials from a version of Belleforest, who copied Bandello. The story forms the 22d tale of the first part of Bandello, and the 18th history of the 3d volume of Belleforest.
we are furnished with a fund of the most ludicrous entertainment; the charge of Dogberry to the Watch, and the arrest and examination of Conrade and Borachio, throwing all the muscles of risibility into action.
Nor is the second plot in any respect inferior to the first ; indeed, there is reason to believe, that, to the masterly delineations of Benedick and Beatrice, “ the most sprightly characters that Shakspeare ever drew,” and to their mutual entrapment in the meshes of love, a great part of the popularity which has ever accompanied this comedy, is in justice to be ascribed. Fault, however, has been found with the mode by which the reciprocal affection of these sworn foes to love has been secured : “ the second contrivance,” observes Mr. Steevens, “ is less ingenious than the first :- or, to speak more plainly, the same incident is become stale by repetition. I wish some other method had been found to entrap Beatrice, than that very one which before had been successfully practised on Benedick *;" an objection which has been censured with some severity by Schlegel, who justly remarks, that the drollery of this twice-used artifice “ lies in the very symmetry of the deception.” † It may be added, that
” the conversation of the gentleman and the wit, in Shakspeare's days, may be pretty well ascertained from the part of Benedick in this play, and from that of Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet ; both presenting us, after some allowance for a licence of allusion too broad for the decorum of the present day, with a favourable picture of the accomplishments of polished society in the reign of Elizabeth. 20. As You Like It: 1600. Though this play, with the
exception of the disguise and self-discovery of Rosalind, may be said to be destitute of plot, it is yet one of the most delightful of the dramas of Shakspeare. There is something inexpressibly wild and interesting both in the characters and in the scenery; the former disclosing the moral discipline and the sweets of adversity, the purest emotions
• Reed's Shakspeare, vol. vi. p. 182.