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stain upon his character, yet it is of a kind with those colours, which are used for a disguise in sport, being of such a nature as are easily washed out, without leaving any bad tincture. And we see Henry, as soon as he is called to the high and serious duties of a king, come forth at once with unblemished majesty. The disposition of the hero is made to pierce through the idle frolics of the boy, throughout the whole piece; for his reformation is not effected in the last scene of the last act, as is usual in our comedies, but is prepared from the very beginning of the play. The scene between the Prince and Francis, is low and ridiculous, and seems one of the greatest indecorums of the piece; at the same time the attentive spectator will find the purpose of it is to shew him, that Henry was studying human nature, in all her variety of tempers and faculties. I am now, says he, acquainted with all humours, (meaning dispositions) since the days of good man Adanı to the present hour. In the play of Henry V. you are told, that in his youth he had
been sedulously observing mankind; and from an apprehension, perhaps, how dif ficult it was to acquire an intimate knowledge of men, whilst he kept up the forms his rank prescribed, he waved the ceremonies and decorums of his situation, and familiarly conversed with all orders of society. The jealousy his father had conceived of him would probably have been increased, if he had affected such a sort of popularity as would have gained the esteem as well as love of the multitude.
Whether Henry, in the early part of his life, was indulging a humour that inclined him to low and wild company, or endeavouring to acquire a deeper and more extensive knowledge of human nature, by a general acquaintance with mankind, is the business of his historians to determine. But a critic must surely applaud the dexterity of Shakspeare for throwing this colour over that part of his conduct; whether he seized on some intimations historians had given of that sort, or, of himself, imagined so respec
table a motive for the Prince's deviations
from the dignity of his birth. This piece must have delighted the people at the time it was written, as the follies of their favourite character were so managed, that they rather seemed foils to set off its virtues, than stains which obscured them.
Whether we consider the character of Falstaffe as adapted to encourage and excuse the extravagances of the Prince, or by itself, we must certainly admire it, and own it to be perfectly original.
The professed wit, either in life or on the stage, is usually severe and satirical. But mirth is the source of Falstaffe's wit. He seems rather to invite you to partake of his merriment, than to attend to his jest: a man must be ill-natured, as well as dull, who does not join in the mirth of this jovial companion, the best calculated, in all respects, to raise laughter of any that ever appeared on a stage.
He joins the finesse of wit to the drollery of humour. Humour is a kind of grotesque wit, shaped and coloured by the disposition of the person in whom it resides, or by the subject to which it is applied. It is oftenest found in odd and irregular minds: but this peculiar turn distorts wit, and though it gives it a burlesque air, which excites momentary mirth, renders it less just, and consequently less agreeable to our judgments. Gluttony, corpulency, and cowardice, are the peculiarities of Falstaffe's composition: they render him ridiculous without folly, throw an air of jest and festivity about him, and make his manners suit with his sentiments, without giving to his understanding any particular bias. As the contempt attendant on these vices and defects is the best antidote against any infection that might be caught in his society; so it was very skilful to make him as ridiculous as witty, and as contemptible as entertaining. The admirable speech upon
honour would have been both indecent and dangerous
dangerous from any other person. We must allow his wit is every where just, his humour genuine, his character perfectly original, and sustained through every scene, in every play, in which it appears.
As Falstaffe, whom the author certainly intended to be perfectly witty, is less addicted to quibble and play on words, than any of his comic characters, I think we may fairly conclude, our author was sensible that it was but a false kind of wit, which he practised from the hard necessity of the times: for in that age, the professor quibbled in his chair, the judge quibbled on the bench, the prelate quibbled in the pulpit, the statesman quibbled at the council-board; nay, even majesty quibbled on the throne.