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The necessity of singing is so urgent that a minute later songs break out of themselves. The prose and the conversation end in lyric poetry. We pass straight on into these odes. We do not find ourselves in a new country. We feel the emotion and foolish gaiety as if it were a holiday. We see the graceful couple whom the song of the two pages brings before us, passing in the misty light“o'er the green corn-field,” amid the hum of sportive insects, on the finest day of the flowering spring-time. Unlikelihood grows natural, and we are not astonished when we see Hymen leading the two brides by the hand to give them to their husbands.
Whilst the young folk sing, the old folk talk. Their life also is a novel, but a sad one. Shakespeare's delicate soul, bruised by the shocks of social life, took refuge in contemplations of solitary life. To forget the strife and annoyances of the world, he must bury himself in a wide silent forest, and
“Under the shade of melancholy boughs,
Loose and neglect the creeping hours of time.”i We look at the bright images which the sun carves on the white beech-boles, the shade of trembling leaves flickering on the thick moss, the long waves of the summit of the trees; then the sharp sting of care is blunted; we suffer no more, simply remembering that we suffered once; we feel nothing but a gentle misanthropy, and being renewed, we are the better for it. The old duke is happy in his exile. Solitude has given him rest, delivered him from flattery, reconciled him to nature. He pities the stags which he is obliged to hunt for food:
“Come, shall we go and kill us venison ?
And yet it irks me the poor dappled fools,
Have their round haunches gored.” %
“ Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
As man's ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Although thy breath be rude.
Then, heigh-ho, the holly !
This life is most jolly.” Amongst these lords is found a soul that suffers more, Jacques the melancholy, one of Shakespeare's best-loved characters, a transparent mask behind which we perceive the face of the poet. He is sad because he is tender; he feels the contact of things too keenly, and what leaves others indifferent, makes him weep.? He does not scold, he is sad; he does not reason, he is moved; he has not the combative spirit of a reforming moralist; his soul is sick and weary of life. Impassioned imagination leads quickly to disgust. Like opium, it excites and shatters. It leads man to the loftiest philosophy, then lets him down to the whims of a child. Jacques leaves other men abruptly, and goes to the quiet nooks to be alone. He loves his sadness, and would not exchange it for joy. Meeting Orlando, he says:
“Rosalind is your love's name?
Orlando. Yes, just.
Jacques. I do not like her name. He has the fancies of a nervous woman. He is scandalized because Orlando writes sonnets on the forest trees. He is eccentric, and finds subjects of grief and gaiety where others would see nothing of the sort :
“A fool, a fool! I met a fool i' the forest,
In good set terms and yet a motley fool. Jacques hearing him moralize in such a manner begins to laugh sans intermission” that a fool could be so meditative:
O noble fool; A worthy fool! Motley's the only wear.
1 As you Like it, ii. 7.
2 Compare Jacques with the Alceste of Molière. It is the contrast between a misanthrope through reasoning and one through imagination. 3 As you Like it, iii. 2.
4 As you Like it, ii. 7.
The next minute he returns to his melancholy dissertations, bright
“* All the world's a stage,
As you Like it is a half dream. Midsummer Night's Dream is a complete one.
The scene, buried in the far-off mist of fabulous antiquity, carries us back to Theseus, Duke of Athens, who is preparing his palace for his marriage with the beautiful queen of the Ama
The style, loaded with contorted images, fills the mind with strange and splendid visions, and the airy elf-world divert the comedy into the fairy-land from whence it sprung.
Love is still the theme: of all sentiments, is it not the greatest fancy-weaver? But love is not heard here in the charming prattle of Rosalind; it is glaring, like the season of the year. It does not brim over in slight conversations, in supple and
1 As you Like it, ii. 7.
skipping prose; it breaks forth into big rhyming odes, dressed
“ Lysander. To-morrow night when Phæbe doth behold
Hermia. And in the wood, where often you and I
There my Lysander and myself shall meet.” 1
eyes of the stars, now wet with tears, now bright with rapture. They have the abandonment of true love, not the grossness of sensual love. Nothing causes us to fall from the ideal world in which Shakespeare conducts us. Dazzled by beauty, they adore it, and the spectacle of their happiness, their emotion, and their tenderness, is a kind of enchantment.
Above these two couples flutters and hums the swarm of elves and fairies. They also love. Titania, their queen, has a young boy for her favorite, son of an Indian king, of whom Oberon, her husband, wishes to deprive her. They quarrel, so that the
1 Midsummer Night's Dream, i. I.
elves creep for fear into the acorn cups, in the golden primroses. Oberon, by way of vengeance, touches Titania's sleeping eyes with the magic flower, and thus on waking the nimblest and most charming of the fairies finds herself enamored of a stupid blockhead with an ass's head. She kneels before him ; she sets on his “hairy temples a coronet of fresh and fragrant flowers :"
“And that same dew, which sometime on the buds
Like tears that did their own disgrace bewail.” 1
“ Be kind and courteous to this gentleman;
Tie up my love's tongue, bring him silently." 2 It was necessary, for her love brayed horribly, and to all the offers of Titania, replied with a petition for hay. What can be sadder and sweeter than this irony of Shakespeare? What raillery against love, and what tenderness for love! The sentiment is divine; its object unworthy. The heart is ravished, the
It is a golden butterfly, fluttering in the mud; and Shakespeare, whilst painting its misery, preserves all its beauty :
“Come, sit thee down upon this flowery bed,
1 Midsummer Night's Dream, iv. I.
2 Ibid. iii. 1.
3 Ibid. iv. I.