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SHAKSPEARE's comedies, as already said in our last volume, may be divided into two main groups or species, which, however, must not be regarded as altogether distinct from one another. Not any one of Shakspeare's comedies can be called purely a comedy of fancy, none purely a comedy of intrigue or of character. Both species, in fact, represent merely the two chief elements of the same idea of the comic; they are not two essentially different forms of art, but simply the two sides of the same artistic form. Both species rather represent the same play of manifold accidents which thwart the intentions, the plans and the actions of men,
and lead to a happy result through discord and quarrels, perplexities and disappointments; the comedy of fancy under the form of what is unusual, strange and wonderful, the comedy of intrigue under the form of what is usual and ordinary in life. In the first case the designs and actions of men are apparently affected by higher powers directing, averting or perplexing, but in reality they but represent the unaccountable sway and the effectual power of aocident; in the latter case, it is the caprices and the desires, the emotions and the passions, the aims and the
resolves of men themselves, that come accidentally in collision, perplexing and paralysing one another, and finally ending in general satisfaction. All of Shakspeare's comedies, therefore, in reality represent the same view of life, the dependence of human life and destiny upon those external circumstances and relations into which men are thrown by accident, whim or caprice, intention or intrigue, and which are ravelled and unravelled by the same agents. And the special character of the several comedies is determined merely by the fact that the poet sets the play of accident and intrigue into motion from different points, derives it from different motives, and causes it to be played out by characters of differently constituted minds. The general view of life is thereby variously modified and receives a formally different setting, but remains, in reality, essentially the same.
For this reason, I place at the head of my discussion, a comedy in which the two sides of the comic (as conceived by Shakspeare) are almost equally blended, and which may accordingly bé regarded as the prototype of the Shakspearian conception of comedy. I shall then proceed to the series which is more fantastic in character, and after. wards examine the comedies of intrigue
TWELFTH NIGHT; OR, What You WILL. The fantastic is expressed not only by giving the external form of life a wonderful shape contrary to common reality, but man himself can be fantastic, can think and act fantastically, by yielding completely to his whims, caprices and illusions, or by allowing himself to be led by the play of chance without having any plan or intention of his own. If we bear this in mind we shall readily discover the fantastic colouring in • What You Will. The external form of life here described is exactly such as is usually met with in common reality; there is nothing forced or un natural in the great likeness between the twins, Viola and Sebastian, although it may be a circumstance of rare occurrence. But almost all the dramatic characters are fantastic, and therefore the inner life, in its connection with the outer world, manifests the most wonderful phenomenastrange freaks and equally strange matters of chance, incidents and complications. The fantastic element reveals itself 1 on the one hand, in Viola’s whimsical freak to play the man, in the Duke's wilful, half capricious love for Olivia, in the latter's capricious and sudden liking for the disguised Viola, and in the final conversion of both, when the Duke marries Viola, and Olivia the latter's brother. It is no less revealed in the mad freak of Sir Andrew Ague-Cheek becoming a suitor to Olivia. On the other hand, we find it also in the complications occasioned by a number of strange accidents ; in the arcidental deliverance of Sebastian, in his accidental meeting with Viola in Illyria, in the accidental meetings of Olivia, Sir Andrew, Sir Toby, and the rest. The element of intrigue, however, receives its appointed place in the drama by the deliberateness with which Viola, in her disguise, woos Olivia, in order that the laiter may be made to repent of her cruelty to the Duke, and still more by the pranks played by Maria, Sir Toby and Fabian, upon the braggart Malvolio and the foolish Sir Andrew.
Accordingly, from the very fundamental plan of the play, it is evident that all the manifold motives and levers at the disposal of the comic poet, are here set in motion. Not only have we freaks and whims, mistakes, folly and perversity, quaint notions and resolves, but we see external accidents also, and well-considered intrigues encountering one another and forming a diversified whole. But the question now is, where is the centre of this whole, the point of unity in the composition, which connects the threads of the confused web of many figures and colours, and unites and arranges the manifold forms, actions and incidents into one harmonious whole? What is the reason that the drama, as such, in spite of the confused play of caprice and accident (which forms its substance) does nevertheless not bear within itself the impress of accident or of a conglomeration of caprices, but that, on the contrary, it makes the impression of an harmonious and well ordered whole? However difficult this question may be to answer in the case of Shakspeare's tragedies, and still more so in his comedies, yet it is nevertheless the main and fundamental question, the decision of which essentially determines the estimate we are to form of his dramas, as of every work of art.
At the first glance it might seem as if in What You Will,' the end in view was a comic exhibition of love, which of itself can as well form the substance of a comedy as the fundamental theme of a tragedy. However, we have here nothing to do with the real and, in this sense, the significant passion of love. Love here, appears rather as 'a mere freak of the imagination, a mere glittering kaleidoscope of sentiment, a gay dress in which the soul envelopes itself and which it changes with the various
The Duke's passion for Olivia bursts out into flame as suddenly for Viola, as her heart is kindled with love for him; Olivia's fondness for Viola is quite satisfied with the substitution of the brother, who, on his part, inakes no objection about being put in his sister's place, und Malvolio's, and Sir Andrew's affection for Olivia is