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Tais is little more than the first outlines of a comedy loosely sketched in. It is the story of a novel dramatised with very little labour or pretension; yet there are passages of high poetical spirit, and of inimitable quaintness of humour, which are undoubtedly Shakspeare's, and there is throughout the conduct of the fable, a careless grace and felicity which marks it for his. One of the editors (we believe, Mr. Pope) remarks in a marginal note to the Two GENTLEMEN OF VERONA—" It is observable (I know not for what cause) that the style of this comedy is less figurative, and more natural and unaffected than the greater part of this author's, though supposed to be one of the first he wrote." Yet so little does the editor
appear to have made up his mind upon this subject, that we find the following note to the very next (the second) scene.
“ This whole scene, like many others in these plays (some of which I believe were written by Shakspeare, and others inter
polated by the players) is composed of the lowest and most trifling conceits, to be accounted for only by the gross taste of the age he lived in: Populo ut placerent. I wish I had authority to leave them out, but I have done all I could, set a mark of reprobation upon them, throughout this edition." It is strange that our fastidious critick should fall so soon from praising to reprobating. The style of the familiar parts of this comedy is indeed made up of conceits----low they may be for what we know, but then they are not poor, but 'rich ones. The scene of Launce with his dog (not that in the second, but that in the fourth act) is a perfect treat in the way of farcical drollery and invention; nor do we think Speed's manner of proving his master to be in love deficient in wit or sense, though the style may be criticised as not simple enough for the modern taste.
“ Valentine. Why, how know you that I am in love
Speed. Marry, by these special marks : first, you have learned, like Sir Protheus, to wreathe your arms like a mal-content, to relish a love-song like a robin-red-breast, to walk alone like one that had the pestilence, to sigh like a schoolboy that had lost his A B C, to weep like a young wench that had lost her grandam, to fast like one that takes diet, to watch like one that fears robbing, to speak puling like a beggar at Hallowmas. You were wont, when you laughed, to crow like a cock; when you walked, to walk like one of the lions ; when you fasted, it was presently after dioper; when you looked sadly, it was for want of money; and now you are metamorphosed with a mistress, that when I look on you, I can hardly think you my master."
The tender scenes in this play, though not so highly wrought as in some others, have often much sweetness of sentiment and expression. There is some
thing pretty and playful in the conversation of Julia with her maid, when she shews such a disposition to coquetry about receiving the letter from Protbeus; and her behaviour afterwards and her disappointmeot, when she finds him faithless to his vows, remind us at a distance of Imogen's tender constancy. Her answer to Lucetta, who advises her against following her lover in disguise, is a beautiful piece of poetry.
“ Lucetta. I do not seek to quench your love's hot fire.
Julia. The more thou damm’st it up, the more it burns ;
If Shakspeare indeed had written only this and other passages in the Two GENTLEMEN OF VERONA, he would almost have deserved Milton's praise of him
“And sweetest Shakspeare, Fancy's child,
But as it is, he deserves rather more praise than this.
* The river wanders at its own sweet will.
MERCHANT OF VENICE.
This is a play that, in spite of the change of manners, and of prejudices, still holds undisputed possession of the stage. Shakspeare's malignant has outlived Mr. Cumberland's benevolent Jew. In proportion as Shylock has ceased to be a popular bugbear, “baited with the rabble's curse,” he becomes a half-favourite with the philosophical part of the audience, who are disposed to think that Jewish revenge is at least as good as Christian injuries. Shylock is a good hater ; a man no less sinned against than sinning." If he carries his revenge too far, yet he has strong grounds for “ the lodged hate he bears Anthonio," which he explains with equal force of eloquence and reason. He seems the depositary of the vengeance of his race; and though the long habit of brooding over daily insults and injuries has crusted over his temper with inveterate misanthropy, and hardened him against the contempt of mankind, tbis adds but little to the triumphant
pretensions of his enemies. There is a strong, quick, and deep sense of justice mixed up with the gall and bitterness of his resentment. The constant apprehension of being burnt alive, plundered, banished, reviled, and trampled on, might be supposed to sour the most forbearing nature, and to take something from that “milk of human kindness," with which bis persecutors contemplated his indignities. The desire of revenge is almost inseparable from the sense of wrong; and we hardly help sympathizing with the proud spirit, hid beneath his “ Jewish gaberdine," stung to madness by repeated undeserved provocations, and labouring to throw off the load of obloquy and oppression heaped upon him and all his tribe, by one desperate act of " lawful” revenge, till the ferociousness of the means by whieh he is to execute his purpose, and the pertinacity with which he adheres to it, turn us against him, but even at last, when disappointed of the sanguinary revenge with which he had glutted his hopes, and exposed to beggary and contempt by the letter of the law on which he had insisted with so little remorse, we pity him, and think him hardly dealt with by his judges. In all his answers and retorts upon his adversaries, he has the best not only of the argument but of the question, reasoning on their own principles and practice. They are so far from allowing of any measure of equal dealing, of common justice or humanity between themselves and the Jew, that even when they come to ask a favour of him, and Shylock reminds them that “ on such a day they spit upon him, another spurned him, another called bim dog,