Imágenes de páginas

equal force. He has little real resolution; his persistence in his suit for Olivia's hand is the obstinacy of a spoilt child which has set its heart on a particular toy-not because another would not do equally well, but because it wants to have its own way. So Orsino languishes for Olivia, and feeds his passion with choice airs, and talks beautifully of the desperate vehemence of his devotion with graceful self-commiseration. But he has not the faintest intention of allowing his life to be blighted by an unrequited attachment; he too has begun to feel that he would like some new game to play at; and when Olivia's marriage is capped by the discovery that he is himself beloved by a particularly charming girl, who is, moreover, a skilled musician, the frantic passion for his former love gives place, without a sign of effort, to an affection which Orsino no doubt afterwards felt to be highly magnanimous and creditable. There is a peculiar and delightful irony about the way in which the unconscious count lectures his supposed page on the comparative constancy of men and women, declaring, within the compass of a single scene, that men are much the more fickle and that women are incapable of such intense devotion as his.

With Sebastian and Antonio the list of serious characters concludes; and they call for little remark. Sebastian is so young that his smooth face can


be mistaken for his sister's; but he is a man in manners, and ready to play a man's part with his tongue or his fist, as circumstances may require; while Antonio is a Antonio. warm-hearted, hot-headed sailor, ready to take

an enemy's life in fair fight or to lose his own on his friend's behalf, loyal, daring to recklessness; the type of sea-dog with which all England was familiar in the days of Drake and Hawkins.

Turning to the characters in the underplot, Fabian and Maria may be dismissed in a few words. The Maria. former in fact is superfluous, his only real function

being to act as a slightly restraining influence on his boister

ous companions. Maria is a smart waiting-maid, of a type not usually given so much prominence by Shakespeare, but fitted to the company in which she finds herself—a clever, quick-witted damsel, with an eye to the main chance and a very keen enjoyment of a joke, practical or otherwise; a young woman who plays her cards with marked success, secures the downfall of her enemy Malvolio, and captures an admiring spouse in the person of Sir Toby; wholly without the refined attractiveness of a Nerissa, but decidedly a lively and entertaining companion.

Sir Andrew.

Sir Andrew is an ideal butt. He is perhaps the most perfectly foolish personage ever presented on the stage; not so much a developed Slender as an embryo Justice Shallow. A complete ignoramus, utterly incapable of grasping a witticism, he is anxious to pass as a man of parts, and tumbles into every word-trap that his hero Sir Toby or the Clown lays for him. A perfect and entire coward, he is fain to believe himself a perfect fire-eater. An obvious. lout, he swallows compliments on his personal appearance without the dimmest suspicion that he is a general laughingstock, though he has a naïf consciousness that "there be many do call me fool". He is a source of endless enjoyment and profit to Sir Toby and to Feste--the former gulling him into an uneasy conviction that he may yet compass a marriage with Olivia, while his crowns are flowing in a steady stream from his own pockets into those of Sir Toby.

The Clown.

Feste is a much less original creation than Touchstone. He is a clever jester, quick of retort, singularly audacious, and with a special aptitude for introducing sudden and disconcerting turns in conversation which enable him to leave the field with all the honours of victory just when he seems to have been driven into a corner from which there is no escape. But he never gives us those gems of worldly wisdom decked out with motley which render Touchstone supreme among jesters; nor does he display that benign tenderness of heart which makes the Clown in As You Like It so lovable a cynic. Ingenious critics have indeed found in the closing song an epitome of life's

philosophy; yet to the ordinary intelligence the words of that ditty do not convey any exceptionally deep thought. Feste is a mirthful being, and a pleasant songster; but even his wit is at best of the second order, and he has no hidden depth of character.

Sir Toby

The leader of the roystering crew is Sir Toby Belch: and in him there is a faint reminiscence of Falstaff, though he never approaches the supremacy of the fat knight. The resemblance in fact lies in little more than their common possession of a shrewd wit, an ample good nature, a taste for canary, and a plentiful lack of conscience. Falstaff consumes vast quantities of liquor, but he is never drunk; Sir Toby is never at any time really sober. Falstaff does perpetual battle with the quick wits of Prince Hal; Sir Toby is chiefly occupied in 'drawing' the foolish Sir Andrew. He has an immense and genial appreciation of the humours of a situation, a natural skill in talking intentional nonsense, and an aptitude for more or less appropriate punning; but these qualities will not for a moment bear comparison with the supreme imperturbability of Falstaff, his power of wriggling out of an impasse, his irresistible audacity, his unfailing ingenuity.


The one character in the play about whom there is something of a controversy is Malvolio. To some readers he appears to be a solemn prig, a kind of puritanical Sir Andrew, and nothing more. At the opposite extreme are those who find in his misfortunes a cause of tears rather than laughter. Malvolio appears to me to be one of those characters who have been studied and analysed till criticism has become somewhat mazed. On the one hand, it ought to be quite obvious that he is not merely a solemn prig. He has the complete confidence of Olivia, is clearly held in high esteem by her, and is known to be so by Orsino. His mistress declares that she would not have him miscarry for the half of her dowry, and there is a general desire at the end of the play to soothe him back into good humour. It is impossible not to recognize that he is most conscientious and trustworthy; but these excellent qualities are marred by an

overweening vanity and a perfect lack of humour. Now there is much solace to be derived from the exposure and punishment of villainy; we feel a glow of conscious virtue when the heavy hand of justice falls upon the evil-doer. But this is not to be compared with the abundant satisfaction of seeing a vain man made into a mock. For the vain man is a perpetual source of irritation; it is an annoyance to feel that he looks down upon us; his prosperity is a kind of slight to those admirable qualities of our own which are patent to the shrewd observer though we make no parade of them. And, therefore, when the vain man is brought low, when the pompous man is rendered ridiculous, when the superior person is exposed in an act of manifest folly, human nature rejoices greatly. Because he is ‘sick of self-love', pompous, a prig, the downfall of Malvolio appeals to our instincts as exceedingly right and proper; but because he is a worthy soul at bottom, we are fully satisfied by his one disaster; the balance being redressed, so that he can never more parade his superiority, we have no wish for any farther vengeance; and we are no less pleased that he is to be 'entreated to a peace' than we were to see him toppled from his high estate.

Of Malvolio as a typical puritan I have spoken at length in a note at the end of this volume. It will suffice to remark here that his puritanism is not of the militant theological order, but belongs only to the region of manners and morals. He is an example not of its vices but of its follies; a person to be looked upon not with scorn or hate, but with amusement tempered with respect, and even with pity. For, however overweening his pretensions to virtue, however preposterous his dreams may be, the virtues are really there, and it is a hard thing to have one's dreams shattered. Malvolio deserves to be smitten for his vanity; but he deserves, too, to be respected for his underlying worth.

It has been found impossible to retain the Globe numbering of the lines in this edition; but it is retained in all refer

ences to other plays. The Globe text, being now generally recognized as the standard, has been adhered

to unless for some exceptionally strong reason,

The present


though in the notes a preference is occasionally expressed for some other version.

« AnteriorContinuar »