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Puck. If we shadows have offended,
* i. e. if we have better fortune than we have deserved. ° i.e. hisses. * Clap your hands, give us your applause.
Wild and fantastical as this play is, all the parts in their various modes are well written, and give the kind of pleasure which the author designed. Fairies in his time were much in fashion; common tradition had made them familiar, and Spenser's poem had made them great. JoHNSON.
Johnson's concluding observations on this play are not conceived with his usual judgment. There is no analogy or resemblance between the Fairies of Spenser and those of Shakspeare. The Fairies of Spenser, as appears from his description of them in the second book of the Faerie Queene, canto x. were a race of mortals created by Prometheus, of the human size, shape, and affections, and subject to death. But those of Shakspeare and of common tradition, as Johnson calls them, were a diminutive race of sportful beings, endowed with immortality and supernatural powers, totally different from those of Spenser. M. MAsoN,
The novel upon which this comedy was founded has hitherto eluded the research of the commentators. Mr. Douce thinks it will prove to be of French extraction. ‘The Dramatis Personae in a great measure demonstrate this, as well as a palpable Gallicism in Act iv. Sc. 1: viz. the terming a letter a capon.’ This is one of Shakspeare's early plays, and the author's youth is certainly perceivable, not only in the style and manner of the versification, but in the lavish superfluity displayed in the execution: the uninterrupted succession of quibbles, equivoques, and sallies of every description. ‘The sparks of wit fly about in such profusion that they form complete fireworks, and the dialogue for the most part resembles the bustling collision and banter of passing masks at a carnival *.' The scene in which the king and his companions detect each other's breach of their mutual vow, is capitally contrived. The discovery of Biron's love letter while rallying his friends, and the manner in which he extricates himself, by ridiculing the folly of the vow, are admirable. The grotesque characters, Don Adrian de Armado, Nathaniel the curate, and Holofernes that prince of pedants, with the humours of Costard the clown, are well contrasted with the sprightly wit of the principal characters in the play. It has been observed that “Biron and Rosaline suffer much in comparison with Benedick and Beatrice,’ and it must be confessed that there is some justice in the observation. Yet Biron, “that merry mad-cap Lord,' is not overrated in Rosaline's admirable character of him— ——“A merrier man, Within the limit of becoming mirth, I never spent an hour's talk withal : His eye begets occasion for his wit; For every object that the one doth catch The other turns to a mirth-moving jest;So sweet and voluble is his discourse.’
Shakspeare has only shown the inexhaustible powers of his mind in improving on the admirable originals of his own creation in a more mature age. Malone placed the composition of this play first in 1591, afterwards in 1594. Dr. Drake thinks we may safely assign it to the earlier period. The first edition was printed in 1598.
FERDINAND, King of Navarre.
BiroN *, -
o, } Lords, attending on the Princess of France.
DULL, a Constable.
Costard, a Clown.
Moth, Page to Armado.
Princess of France.
MARIA, }~ attending on the Princess.
JAQUENETTA, a country Wench.
Officers and others, attendants on the King and
This enumeration of Persons was made by Rowe.
* Berowne in all the old editions.