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an actor to whom the prologue is committed, to prevent misunderstanding on the part of the public, and to tell them: “Do not take too seriously what you are about to hear: I am amusing myself. My brain, being full of fancies, desired to array them, and here they are. Palaces, distant landscapes, transparent clouds which blot in the morning the horizon with their grey mists, the red and glorious flames into which the evening sun descends, white cloisters in endless vista through the ambient air, grottos, cottages, the fantastic pageant of all human passions, the irregular sport of unlooked-for adventures, this is the medley of forms, colours, sentiments, which I let become entangled and confused in my presence, a many-tinted skein of glistening silks, a slender arabesque, whose sinuous curves, crossing and mingled, bewilder the mind by the whimsical variety of their infinite complications. Don't regard it as a picture. Don't look for a precise composition, a sole and increasing interest, the skillful management of a well-ordered and congruous plot. I have tales and novels before me which I am cutting up into scenes. Never mind the finis, I am amusing myself on the road. It is not the end of the journey which pleases me, but the journey itself. Is there any need in going so straight and quick ? Do you only care to know whether the poor merchant of Venice will escape Shylock's knife? Here are two happy lovers, seated under the palace walls on a calm night; wouldn't you like to listen to the peaceful reverie which rises like a perfume from the bottom of their hearts ?
“How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here will we sit and let the sounds of music
Jessica. I am never merry when I hear sweet music.” 1
“ Have I not the right, when I see the big laughing face of a clownish servant, to stop near him, see him gesticulate, frolic, gossip, go through his hundred pranks and his hundred grimaces, and treat myself to the comedy of his spirit and gaiety? Two fine gentlemen pass by. I hear the rolling fire of their metaphors, and I follow their skirmish of wit. Here in a corner is the artless arch face of a young wench. Do you forbid me to linger by her, to watch her smiles, her sudden blushes, the childish pout of her rosy lips, the coquetry of her pretty motions ? You are in a great hurry if the prattle of this fresh and musical voice can't stop you.
Is it no pleasure to view this succession of sentiments and faces ? Is your fancy so dull that you must have the mighty mechanism of a geometrical plot to shake it ? My sixteenth century playgoers were easier to move.
A sunbeam that had lost its way on an old wall, a foolish song thrown into the middle of a drama, occupied their mind as well as the blackest of catastrophes. After the horrible scene in which Shylock brandished his butcher's knife before Antonio's bare breast, they saw just as willingly the petty household wrangle, and the amusing bit of raillery which ends the piece. Like soft moving water, their soul rose and sank in an instant to the level of the poet's emotion, and their sentiments readily flowed in the bed he had prepared for them. They let him stray here and there on his journey, and did not forbid him to make two voyages at once. They allowed several plots in one. If but the slightest thread united them it was sufficient. Lorenzo eloped with Jessica, Shylock was frustrated in his revenge, Portia's suitors failed in the test imposed upon them; Portia, disguised as a doctor of laws, took from her husband the ring which he had promised never to part with; these three or four comedies, disunited, mingled, were shuffled and unfolded together, like an unknotted skein in which threads of a hundred colors are entwined. Together with diversity, my spectators allowed improbability. Comedy is a slight winged creature, which flutters from dream to dream, whose wings you would break if you held it captive in the narrow prison of common sense. Do not press its fictions too hard; do not probe their contents. Let them float before your eyes like a
1 Merchant of Venice, v. I.
charming swift dream. Let the fleeting apparition plunge back into the bright misty land from whence it came. For an instant it deluded you; let it suffice. It is sweet to leave the world of realities behind you; the mind rests amidst impossibilities. We are happy when delivered from the rough chains of logic, to wander amongst strange adventures, to live in sheer romance, and know that we are living there. I do not try to deceive you, and make you believe in the world where I take you. A man must disbelieve it in order to enjoy it. We must give ourselves up to illusion, and feel that we are giving ourselves up to it. We must smile as we listen. We smile in The Winter's Tale when Hermione descends from her pedestal, and when Leontes discovers his wife in the statue, having believed her to be dead. We smile in Cymbeline when we see the lone cavern in which the young princes have lived like savage hunters. Improbability deprives emotions of their sting. The events interest or touch us without making us suffer. At the very moment when sympathy is too intense, we remind ourselves that it is all a fancy. They become like distant objects, whose distance softens their outline, and wraps them in a luminous veil of blue air. Your true comedy is an opera.
We listen to sentiments without thinking too much of plot.
We follow the tender or gay melodies without reflecting that they interrupt the action. We dream elsewhere on hearing music; here I bid you dream on hearing verse.”
Then the speaker of the prologue retires, and the actors come
As you Like it is a caprice. Action there is none;
interest barely ; likelihood still less. And the whole is charming. Two cousins, princes' daughters, come to a forest with a court clown, Celia disguised as a shepherdess, Rosalind as a boy. They find here the old duke, Rosalind's father, who, driven out of his duchy, lives with his friends like a philosopher and a hunter. They find amorous shepherds, who with songs and prayers pursue intractable shepherdesses. They discover or they meet with lovers who become their husbands. Suddenly it is announced that the wicked Duke Frederick, who had usurped the crown, has just retired to a cloister, and restored the throne to the old
1 In English, a word is wanting to express the French fantaisie used by M. Taine, in describing this scene: what in music is called a capriccio. Tennyson calls the Princess a medley, but it is ambiguous.—TR.
exiled duke. Every one gets married, every one dances, everything ends with a "rustic revelry.” Where is the pleasantness of these puerilities? First, the fact of its being puerile; the absence of the serious is refreshing. There are no events, and there is no plot. We gently follow the easy current of graceful or melancholy emotions, which takes us away and moves us about without wearying. The place adds to the illusion and charm. It is an autumn forest, in which the sultry rays permeate the blushing oak leaves, or the half-stripped ashes tremble and smile to the feeble breath of evening. The lovers wander by brooks that “ brawl" under antique roots. As you listen to them you see the slim birches, whose cloak of lace grows glossy under the slant rays of the sun that gilds them, and the thoughts wander down the mossy vistas in which their footsteps are not heard. What better place could be chosen for the comedy of sentiment and the play of heart-fancies ? Is not this a fit spot in which to listen to love-talk? Some one has seen Orlando, Rosalind's lover, in this glade; she hears it and blushes. “ Alas the day!... What did he, when thou sawest him? What said he? How looked he? Wherein went he? What makes he here? Did he ask for me? Where remains he? How parted he with thee? and when shalt thou see him again ?” Then, with a lower voice, somewhat hesitating: “Looks he as freshly as he did the day he wrestled?” She is not yet exhausted: “Do you not know I am a woman ? When I think, I must speak. Sweet, say on.” 1 One question follows another, she closes the mouth of her friend, who is ready to answer. At every word she jests, but agitated, blushing, with a forced gaiety; her bosom heaves, and her heart beats. Nevertheless she is calmer when Orlando comes; bandies words with him; sheltered under her disguise, she makes him confess that he loves Rosalind. Then she plagues him, like the frolic, the wag, the coquette she is. “Why, how now, Orlando, where have you been all this while ? You a lover?” Orlando repeats that he loves Rosalind, and she pleases herself by making him repeat it more than once. She sparkles with wit, jests, mischievous pranks; pretty fits of anger, feigned sulks, bursts of laughter, deafening babble, engaging caprices. “Come, woo me, woo me; for now I am in a holiday humour, and like enough to consent. What would you say to me now, an I were
1 As you Like it, îi. 2.
your very very Rosalind ? " And every now and then she repeats with an arch smile, “And I am your Rosalind; am I not your Rosalind?”1 Orlando protests that he would die. Die! Who ever thought of dying for love! Leander ? He took one bath
in the Hellespont; so poets have said he died for love. Troilus? A Greek broke his head with a club; so poets have said he died for love. Come, come, Rosalind will be softer. And then she plays at marriage with him, and makes Celia pronounce the solemn words. She irritates and torments her pretended husband; tells him all the whims she means to indulge in, all the pranks she will play, all the teasing he will have to endure. The retorts come one after another like fireworks. At every phrase we follow the looks of these sparkling eyes, the curves of this laughing mouth, the quick movements of this supple figure. It is a bird's pétulance and volubility. “O coz, coz, coz, my pretty little
COZ, that thou didst know how many fathom deep I am in love.” Then she provokes her cousin Celia, sports with her hair, calls her by every woman's name. Antitheses without end, words all a-jumble, quibbles, pretty exaggerations, wordracket; as you listen, you fancy it is the warbling of a nightingale. The trill of repeated metaphors, the melodious roll of the poetical gamut, the summer-warbling rustling under the foliage, change the piece into a veritable opera. The three lovers end by chanting a sort of trio. The first throws out a fancy, the others take it
up. Four times this strophe is renewed; and the symmetry of ideas, added to the jingle of the rhymes, makes of a dialogue a concerto of love :
“Phebe. Good Shepherd, tell this youth what 'tis to love.
Silvius. It is to be all made of sighs and tears;
P. And I for Ganymede.
S. It is to be all made of fantasy,
P. And so am I for Ganymede.
1 As you Like it, iv. 1.
2 Ibid. v. 2.