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which he seems to have laboured to embody in his last works, in order to shake it off from his own bosom. Not only is the general character of the “Timon of Athens” in favour of this view, but it is further confirmed by its satirical and cutting allusions to a cheap and superficial style of art, to the caprices of a momentary taste, but still more so by its flattery of King James; contained, however covertly, in Timon's words at the end of the fourth act:
“ I do proclaime
By the steward, pronounced a Stewart, as Tieck remarks, the King is clearly intended. Such extravagant flattery, without some subordinate view, were in itself unworthy of Shakspeare. It can have had but one object, so far as we may presume to judge (and other circumstances tend to confirm the conjecture); James, though as a king he was weak and little worthy of praise, was opposed to the growing decline of a fine and correct taste in art and poetry, and in spite of all hostile and defamatory attacks had shewn himself invariably well disposed to our poet.
But what need we of external cause and circumstance to account for that peculiar tone of feeling in Shakspeare, which alone could have given birth to the Timon? I have álready alluded to the fact, that a certain dissatisfaction with their past labours, and indeed with themselves as well as with the whole of human nature—a distaste for the present and a longing for a higher and better existence, in short, a heavenly-home-sickness—usually besets great artistic genius at the evening of life more strongly even than the rest of mankind. But, in such a case, it is preeminently that phase of art which not only raises its head freely into heaven, in order to quicken some vague presentiment or meagre notion of its own infinite grandeur, but also, with the inspired eye of fancy, pierces into the heavenly recesses, to snatch from them the most lively images and similitudes, as well as also the most ardent aspirations.
The Comedies of Shakspeare may, as already remarked, be arranged in two grand divisions; which, however, are by no means absolutely distinct from each other. Among all his pieces we do not meet with one pure comedy of fancy, nor one of pure intrigue. These two characteristics—the fantastic or capricious, and the intriguing or intentional--are but the leading elements of the self-same idea of comedy; not two essentially different forms of art, but merely two aspects of one and the same. Accordingly, it is possible that comedies may exist in which the two elements are combined together in such equal proportions, that neither decidedly predominates. This epicene species will properly form, therefore, at once the mean and the transition between the two ordinary species. Accordingly, I shall begin with a Comedy of this mixed kind, and then proceed first to those of a more fantastic character, and conclude with those in which intrigue predominates.
1. TWELFTH NIGHT, OR WHAT YOU WILL.
It is necessary, in the first place, to remind our readers, that, as we have already shewn, the essence of the Comedy of Fancy does not merely consist in giving a wonderful shape to external nature, repugnant to the ordinary reality, but also in an intrinsic fancifulness, which consists essentially in the dominion of a pure contingency, subjective and objective, and therefore in an ideal humourousness, an intrinsic causelessness and aimlessness, whether resting ultimately in the play of chance, or in the caprices, mistakes, the folly, or perversity of men. Keeping this in mind we shall readily discern the fantastic colouring of “What You Will." There is nothing in the outward circumstances of the fable inconsistent with ordinary experience; for even the great resemblance of the twins, Viola and Sebastian, is nothing singular; the inner world, on the contrary, with its influence on the outer world, exhibits the most wonderful combination of rare freaks and complicated incidents. Here we at once recognize the fanciful element in the whimsical resolve of Viola to play the man, in the Duke's absurd passion for Olivia, and the no less capricious and sudden liking of the latter for the disguised Viola, and in the sudden change in the humour of both which leads to the marriage of Viola with the Duke, and of her brother Sebastian with Olivia; not less of caprice is there in the foolish freak of Sir Andrew Ague-cheek to become a suitor to Olivia : on the other hand, the complications brought about by mere chance, and the accidental delivery of Sebastian, and his finding Viola in Illyria, and meetings with Olivia, Sir Toby, and the rest. On the other hand, the intriguing portion of this play is easily recognized in the deliberateness with which Viola acts throughout, and with which she assumes her disguise and attempts to woo Olivia, and to cure her of her aversion for the Duke; but, above all, in the merry tricks which Maria, with the aid of Sir Toby and Fabian, play upon Sir Andrew and Malvolio.
The slighest consideration of the structure of this piece suffices to discover all the usual springs and motives of comedy in full action. Subjective caprice, folly, error, and perversity, are associated with objective contingency and chance; the oddest freaks and humours, as well as the most deliberate intrigue, cross and re-cross each other, so as to form altogether a lively and diversified web. All the principal elements of the comic view are here combined; subjective caprice paralyses and is paralysed by objective chance; the well-laid intrigue is frustrated by chance, as in the duel between Viola and Sir Andrew, while in the relation of Viola and her brother to Olivia the results of accident are obviated by intrigue. Thus wonderfully does the dialectic of Shakspeare's irony maintain itself, dissolving perversity and folly, wilfulness and accident, as well as the mutual conflict of intrigues, into their proper worthlessness, so as to produce in the end universal harmony, and to give the victory to that which is just and rational.
But the more pregnantly, as it thus appears, the general comic view of things is expressed in the “Twelfth Night,” the more difficult is it to ascertain the special modification which forms the ground-work of this particular comedy. In vain does the attentive reader search amid this combined mass of all the separate elements of the comic view of things for the slightest indication to guide him to discover where the preponderance lies. At the first glance it might almost be thought that the end in view was a comic exhibition of love, which, indeed, may well be the subject of Comedy, in so far as it forms an essential principle of human existence, and as life, when considered from it, assumes a peculiar aspect. But it is not the real, and in this sense so influential passion of love, that we have to do with in this piece. Love here is rather a mere humour of fancy—a chameleon-like play of the feelings, a motley garb which the soul puts on and off with the changing fashion of the hour. The Duke's passion for Olivia bursts out into flame for Viola as suddenly as love for him was kindled in her heart; Olivia's liking for Viola is easily satisfied with the substitution of her brother, who, on his part, has no scruple to be put in his sister's place, and Malvolio's and Sir Andrew's tenderness for Viola is, after all, but a bubble. And even Antonio's friendship for Sebastian possesses the same characters of caprice and groundlessness. Thus does the motley capriciousness of love appear the chief impulse in the merry game of life, which is here laid open to our sight, and we cannot for a moment recognize any more serious view of it in the ground-work of this piece.
In fact, we do not hesitate to declare our conviction, that Shakspeare designedly abstained from giving to it any paramount idea for its basis. The comic view of things in general was to form the platform of the piece, which in so far is to be regarded a normal comedy in Shakspeare's style. On this account, he has allowed all the principal elements of the comic view of things to play their part in unison, and he has with wonderful ability placed them all in such balance that no one can claim the preponderance over the rest. With the same view, he has carefully avoided all allusion to any special modification of the general view, which could only have led the reader astray. It was his design to exhibit life exactly in the light that it appears to the comic apprehension of things, as a curiously inwrought but suggestive arabesque, as a realm of contradictions and semblance, and a fantastic, chaotic medley of accident and caprice, of error and perversity, which nothing but the dialectic of irony which rules in Comedy can ever reduce to order.
With great propriety, it is only in the title that the author gives the slightest hint or information how the whole is to be taken. “Twelfth Night” was, in ancient times, the prelude to the merry season of shrovetide, and this day was set apart for convivial games and festivities of every kind. In the evening a king was usually elected from the assembled company, by the lot of the bean baked in the cake, who thereupon had to select a queen, and constitute a mimic court, who are to pay punctual obedience to the behests of their fortuitous sovereign, and sustain with wit and humour their several characters. Games of chance were peculiar favourites on this festive evening, and Tieck justly remarks, that Sebastian, Viola, and Maria, (we may add the Duke also, and Olivia, to the number), win great and important prizes in the lottery of life, and Malvolio alone, who thinks he holds the highest prize safe in his hands, draws a blank. The title, therefore, corresponds entirely to the spirit and essence of the piece, which sets forth life itself, like the Feast of the Three Kings, as a merry and fantastic lottery. The second title, “What You Will,” is still more clear and significant. It refers, no doubt, to the relation between the public and the piece, but not in the inadmissible sense in which some have understood it, as if poesy could take any meaning and signification that the spectator might choose to assign to it. For such is never the case; for poesy
has other law of its creations than its own will, and whatever it presents, is, by an intrinsic necessity, even such as she offers it. But because the groundwork of the piece is the general comic view itself, and because it does not here assume any modification, but all its motives and elements are put forth at once, it is left to the spectator to select at pleasure from them all, and to give to the whole the special signification and reference that may
suit him, and to apply it according to his own personal humour and circumstances.
A closer consideration of the leading characters of the piece would, if it were necessary, still more clearly establish the interpretation we have just given of the groundwork of the piece. The dreamy, rapturous, and music-loving Duke, the charming