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AS YOU LIKE IT.
Ros. It is not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue; but it is no more unhandsome, than to see the lord the prologue. If it be true, that good wine needs no bush,1 'tis true that a good play needs no epilogue : yet to good wine they do use good bushes; and good plays prove the better by the help of good epilogues. What a case am I in, then, that am neither a good epilogue, nor cannot insinuate with you in the behalf of a good play? I am not furnished like a beggar; therefore to beg will not become me. My way is, to conjure you; and I'll begin with the women. I charge you, O women, for the love you bear to men, to like as much of this play as please you :3 and I charge you, O men, for the love you bear to women, (as I perceive, by your simpering, none of you hate them,) that between you and the women the play may please. If I were a woman, I would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased me, complexions that liked me, and breaths that I defied not; and I am sure, as many as have good beards, or good faces, or sweet breaths, will, for my kind offer, when I make courtesy, bid me farewell.
1 It was formerly the general custom in England, as it is still in France and the Netherlands, to hang a bush of ivy at the door of a vintner. 2 Furnished, dressed.
3 This is the reading of the old copy, which has been altered to "as much of this play as please them," but surely without necessity. It is only the omission of the s at the end of please, which gives it a quaint appearance; but it was the practice of the Poet's age.
4 The parts of women were performed by men or boys in Shakspeare's time.
5 i. e. that I liked.
Or this play the fable is wild and pleasing. I know not how the ladies will approve the facility with which both Rosalind and Celia give away their hearts. To Celia much may be forgiven for the heroism of her friendship. The character of Jaques is natural and well preserved. The comic dialogue is very sprightly, with less mixture of low buffoonery than in some other plays; and the graver part is elegant and harmonious. By hastening to the end of this work, Shakspeare suppressed the dialogue between the usurper and the hermit, and lost an opportunity of exhibiting a moral lesson, in which he might have found matter worthy of his highest powers.
ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL.
THE fable of All's Well that Ends Well is derived from the story of Gilletta of Narbonne in the Decamerone of Boccaccio. It came to Shakspeare through the medium of Painter's Palace of Pleasure, and is to be found in the first volume, which was printed as early as 1566. The comic parts of the plot, and the characters of the Countess, Lafeu, &c. are of the Poet's own creation, and in the conduct of the fable he has found it expedient to depart from his original more than it is his usual custom to do. The character of Helena is beautifully drawn; she is a heroic and patient sufferer of adverse fortune like Griselda, and placed in circumstances of almost equal difficulty. Her romantic passion for Bertram, with whom she had been brought up as a sister; her grief at his departure for the court, which she expresses in some exquisitely impassioned lines; and the retiring, anxious modesty with which she confides her passion to the Countess, are in the Poet's sweetest style of writing. Nor are the succeeding parts of her conduct touched with a less delicate and masterly hand. Placed in extraordinary and embarrassing circumstances, there is a propriety and delicacy in all her actions, which is consistent with the guileless innocence of her heart.
The King is properly made an instrument in the denouement of the plot of the play, and this a most striking and judicious deviation from the novel. His gratitude and esteem for Helen are consistent and honorable to him as a man and a monarch.
Johnson has expressed his dislike of the character of Bertram, and most fair readers have manifested their abhorrence of him, and have thought, with Johnson, that he ought not to have gone unpunished, for the sake not only of poetical but of moral justice. Schlegel has remarked that" Shakspeare never attempts to mitigate the impression of his unfeeling pride and giddy dissipation. He intended merely to give us a military portrait; and paints the true way of the world, according to which the injustice of men towards women is not considered in a very serious light, if they only maintain what is called the honor of the family." The fact is, that the construction of his plot prevented him. Helen was to be rewarded for her heroic and persevering affection, and any more serious punishment than the temporary shame and remorse that await Bertram would have been inconsistent with comedy. It should also be remembered, that he was constrained to marry Helen against his will. Shakspeare was a good-natured moralist; and, like his own creation, old Lafeu, though he was delighted to strip off the mask of pretension, he thought that punishment might be carried too far. Who, that has been diverted with the truly comic scenes in which Parolles is made to appear in his true character, could have wished him to have been otherwise dismissed?
"Though you are a fool and a knave, you shall eat."
It has been remarked, that "the style of the whole play is more conspicuous for sententiousness than imagery;" and that "the glowing colors of fancy could not have been introduced into such a subject." May not the period of life at which it was produced have something to do with this? Malone places the date of its composition in 1606, and observes that a beautiful speech of the sick king has much the air of that moral and judicious reflection that accompanies an advanced period of life:-
let me not live
After my flame lacks oil, to be the snuff
Of younger spirits, whose apprehensive senses
All but new things disdain; whose judgments are
Mere fathers of their garments; whose constancies
It appears probable that the original title of this play was "Love's Labors Wonne:" at least a piece under that title is mentioned by Meres ir his "Wit's Treasurie," in 1598; but if this was the play referred to, what becomes of Malone's hypothesis relating to the date of its composition?