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laugh-provoking images and incidents, he generally selected such scenes of action and periods of time as might be associated with legendary and romantic recollections, instead of painting the men and women of his country and times in their every-day costume.
In separately analyzing his comedies, it is very perceptible how, in each new effort, the work became more peculiarly conformed to that pervading idea of poetic comedy, while the execution became more perfect in itself, and more free from whatever he had imbibed merely from the taste of the age or the writings of contemporaries. In his first comedies, we find the humour verging to farce, and contrasted chiefly with the dialogue of artificial though often sparkling wit; and when these are relieved, as they so frequently are, by purer poetry, these beauties are rather those of the masque, the sonnet, or the pastoral, then belonging to dramatic personation of life.
These characteristics, as well as the rhyming dialogues, were thrown aside more and more in the Poet's progress, while a graver and, at times, a more didactic morality gradually mingled itself with the luxuriant sweetness of his verse, and the revelling jollity of his prose scenes; and at the same time his wider intercourse with varied society is attested by the boldness and freedom with which he marks and individualizes the personages who throng with such infinite variety through his crowded and living scenes.
To the close of this progressive creation of the peculiarly Shakespearian, or poetic and romantic comedy, during the brilliant summer of the author's youth, and to the era of the perfection of his style, AS YOU LIKE IT belongs― a period of the author's intellectual history which was soon to end with the TWELFTH NIGHT; after which graver thoughts took fuller possession of his mind, and he turned away from the more brilliant aspect of the world and the playful exposure of its follies and frailties, to deal with man's sufferings and crimes, his darker and sterner emotions-mox in reluctantes dracones.
The language, the cast of thought, the familiar mastery of the flexible dramatic blank verse, which the Poet had gradually substituted to the rhymes and metrical regularity of his first comedies, had concurred, with other circumstances, to lead the older critics to assign this play to this period, though the external evidence of its date was not so clear as it has since been made. It first appeared in print in the folio of 1623. But Mr. Collier has since shown that, in the registers of the Stationers' Company, As You LIKE IT is entered for publication on the same day (August 4) with HENRY V., MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, and Ben Jonson's “Every Man in his Humour." The date of this entry, to which is added a memorandum "to be staid," refers clearly to the year 1600, in the memorandum immediately preceding. HENRY V. and MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING were both printed in 1600, having been re-entered August 14, and August 23, 1600. On the other hand, this comedy is not in Meares's list of 1598, and besides it contains the “saw of might,” quoted by Phebe, (act iii. scene 2 :)—
Who ever lov'd, that lov'd not at first sight? This is a quotation from Marlowe, whom all his surviving contemporaries delighted to honour as the muses' darling," and it is contained in his "Hero and Leander," first printed in 1598, after his death. We have thus satisfactory indications that AS YOU LIKE IT must have been produced in 1598, 1599, or 1600.
The prevailing characteristic of this comedy has been noted by Mr. Hallam, with his usual philosophical discrimination; and it corresponds well with the period of the author's rapidly evolving genius, as marked by other evidence. "In no other play do we find the bright imagination and fascinating grace of Shakespeare's youth so mingled with the thoughtfulness of his maturer age.* But in a subsequent part of the same admirable work. ("History of the Literature of Europe,") Mr. Hallam again refers to this play, as affording another indication of the history of the Poet's mind. In this we cannot entirely concur:-"There seems to have been a period of his life, when his heart was ill at ease and ill-content with the world, or with his own conscience: the memory of hours misspent, the pangs of affection misplaced or unrequited, the experience of man's worser nature, which intercourse with ill-chosen associates, by choice or circumstance, peculiarly teaches-these, as they sank down into the depths of his great mind, seem not only to have infused into it the conception of LEAR and TIMON, but that of one primary character, the censurer of mankind. This type is first seen in the philosophic melancholy of Jaques, gazing with an undiminished serenity and with a gayety of fancy, though not of manners, on the follies of the world. It assumes a graver cast in the exiled Duke of the same play, and next one rather more severe in the Duke of MEASURE FOR MEASURE. In all these, however, it is merely contemplative philosophy. In HAMLET this is mingled with the impulses of a perturbed heart, under the pressure of extraordinary circumstances; it shines no longer, as in the former characters, with a steady light, but plays in fitful corruscations amid feigned gayety and extravagance. In LEAR it is the flash of sudden inspiration across the incongruous imagery of madness. In TIMON it is obscured by the exaggerations of misanthropy. These plays all belong to nearly the same period. In the later plays of Shakespeare, especially in MACBETH and the TEMPEST, much of moral speculation will be found; but he never returned to this type of character in his personages."
Mr. Hallam has here pointed out what every student of Shakespeare must have felt, the change from the predominant tone of youthful buoyancy and exuberant spirits to a sadder-it may sometimes be called a more bitter cast of sentiment; and those darker views of life (he might have added) were remarkably accompanied by a corresponding change in the language, becoming more oppressed with the weight of thought, and often obscure from a labouring fulness of sense. Whether this transition arose from the personal calamities and mental sufferings of the author, as intimated by Mr. Hallam, or was the natural result of sadder scenes observed and graver themes become familiar to contemplation, as the illusion of youth faded away, must be but matter of conjecture. But, to my judgment, this play does not mark the commencement of that change, which would seem to have occurred at some time between the date of the joyous and brilliant TWELFTH NIGHT and the revision of HAMLET, or not long
before Shakespeare's fortieth year. Neither Jaques nor the exiled Duke seem to me to breathe that spirit, so accurately described by Mr. Hallam, which indicates the suppressed passion, the wounded feeling of one whose scorn of the world, and loathing of the evils of man's nature, were prompted by the sense of personal injury or past sorrows. The moralized melancholy of As You LIKE IT is more calmly and didactically poetic; and though it be melancholy, it is of that not unpleasing sadness with which a placid experience may contemplate the passing follies of the world, and has no tinge of the bitter loathing and disgust of one who himself groaned under the load of "a weary life." The difference between the Poet's tone of moral contemplation here and in the preceding dramas, and that which he breathes in HAMLET and LEAR, as well as in the language which that difference prompted, is as wide as that between the two great Greek dramatists, and not a little resembling it. In this comedy, in the MERCHANT OF VENICE, etc., the scholar will often be reminded of the moral beauties and sweetness of the contemplative Euripides; while it is in his later works that Shakespeare may be recognized as the rival and parallel of Eschylus.
But on whatever side of this remarkable epoch in the Poet's intellectual and moral life this comedy is to be arranged, it is conceded by all to be one of his most delightful and popular works—at least to the reader-for it is said by the chroniclers of the acted drama that its success on the stage has always depended on the personal ability of Rosalind to give effect to the lively wit and the woodland poetry. Equally original in its poetical character with the MIDSUMMER-NIGHT'S DREAM and the TEMPEST, it differs from both in this-that they are founded on the fanciful mingling of the supernatural with the natural, while here all is human and natural, and yet throughout it is idealized truth. The time and place, and manners are thrown out of the definite into the undefined time and region, where and when the heroes and ladies of chivalric poetry were wont to "fleet the time carelessly as they did in the golden world." Charles Lamb used to call LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST the "Comedy of Leisure," because its personages not only "led purely ornamental lives" but were well content to do so, and, having nothing to do, did it agreeably. He might have given the title in a higher sense to As You LIKE IT, where the pervading feeling is that of a refined and tasteful, yet simple and unaffected throwing off the stiff "lendings" of artificial society; and this is done by those who had worn those trappings with ease and grace. The humour too is toned down to suit the general impression, being odd, fanciful, gay, and whimsical, without much connection with the more substantial absurdities of the real "work-day world." AS YOU LIKE IT is less magnificent than the MERCHANT OF VENICE, which had not long preceded it, and less exhilarating than the TWELFTH NIGHT, which soon followed it: and yet it keeps up and leaves a more uniformly pleasurable impression than either.
SOURCE OF THE PLOT.
In retaining the name of Rosalind for his most captivating character, Shakespeare has frankly, though by implication, confessed his obligation to the novel or tale of "Rosalynde," by his ingenious contemporary, Thomas Lodge. Lodge was a character in his way, conspicuous even in that day of odd individuality. He claims, in his "Rosalynde," to be a "scholar and a soldier;" he had been educated at Oxford, appears to have been in the army, and besides made several voyages and expeditions by sea. He afterwards appears to have belonged to the MiddleTemple, as in some way connected with the law, or a student of it. He was besides an actor, and a dramatic author, and finally added the honours of a medical doctorate at Avignon to all the rest. Shakespeare used his materials very freely as to incident, but raised the whole into a higher mood of feeling and fancy, and connected it with pleasantry, besides adding to Lodge's personages Jaques with Touchstone and his bride. Lodge's style is pedantic and over-ornate, and yet sometimes coarse; but he had a prolific and gorgeous fancy, and his story is worthy of the honours it received from his great contemporary. Lodge, however, was not nearly as original in the construction of his novel as Shakespeare was in that of his drama; for it is evidently borrowed, or rather paraphrased, with large additions, from "The Coke's Tale of Gamelyn”—an old English poem, of the age of Chaucer. formerly ascribed to him, as one of his "Canterbury Tales," and was printed as such in one of the editions of his works. It is, however, conceded not to be his, but the work of some unknown poet, of the age of Edward III. I think it not improbable that the research into the older literature of the continent, which has lately been awakened in France, may carry back the origin of this story still further; for "Gamelyn" has not a little the air of a translation, or imitation, of some older Norman or Provençal romance.
As the Old-English "Sir Gamelyn" was preserved only in manuscript, in Shakespeare's time, (not being printed until a century afterwards,) it is not probable that he had any knowledge of it; though there are two or three circumstances and expressions in which he comes nearer to the old poem then to his contemporary's novel.
Rosalynde" has been lately reprinted, in Collier's "Shakespeare's Library."
SCENE I.-An Orchard, near OLIVER'S House. Enter ORLANDO and ADAM.
Orl. As I remember, Adam, it was upon this fashion bequeathed me by will, but poor a thousand crowns; and, as thou say'st, charged my brother on his blessing to breed me well: and there begins my sadness. My brother Jaques he keeps at school, and report speaks goldenly of his profit: for my part, he keeps me rustically at home, or, to speak more properly, stays me here at home unkept; for call you that keeping for a gentleman of my birth, that differs not from the stalling of an ox? His horses are bred better; for, besides that they are
fair with their feeding, they are taught their manage, and to that end riders dearly hired: but I, his brother, gain nothing under him but growth, for the which his animals on his dunghills are as much bound to him as I. Besides this nothing that he so plentifully gives me, the something that nature gave me, his countenance seems to take from me: he lets me feed with his hinds, bars me the place of a brother, and, as much as in him lies, mines my gentility with my education. This is it, Adam, that grieves me; and the spirit of my father, which I think is within me, begins to mutiny against this servitude. I will no longer endure it, though yet I know no wise remedy how to avoid it.
education: you have trained me like a peasant, obscuring and hiding from me all gentleman-like qualities: the spirit of my father grows strong in me, and I will no longer endure it; therefore, allow me such exercises as may become a gentleman, or give me the poor allottery my father left me by testament: with that I will go buy my fortunes.
Oli. And what wilt thou do? beg, when that is spent? Well, sir, get you in: I will not long be troubled with you; you shall have some part of your will. I pray you, leave me.
Orl. I will no further offend you, than becomes me for my good.
Oli. Get you with him, you old dog. Adam. Is old dog my reward? Most true, I have lost my teeth in your service.-God be with my old master! he would not have spoke such a word. [Exeunt ORLANDO and ADAM. Oli. Is it even so? begin you to grow upon me? I will physic your rankness, and yet give no thousand crowns neither. Hola, Dennis!
Den. Calls your worship?
Oli. Was not Charles, the duke's wrestler, here to speak with me?