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The Elizabethan Legacy page 2


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But this, it may be said, is tragedy. Yes, but it is also comedy. It is the play of contradictories; the discord that can never be resolved-here below, at all events-and in this is the very essence of humour. So the wonderful, the gorgeous, the transcendent old rogue, Falstaff, lies dying, and is touched by the terror of the Last Things, and cries out, "God, God, God!" And Mrs. Quickly, to comfort him, tells him not to think of God. "I hoped there was no need to trouble himself with any such thoughts yet."

Falstaff is, I believe, the greatest of Shakespeare's creations. I dare to say that he is greater, more complete, and more consistent than Hamlet; and he is the first instance and the father of our finer English humour. Scott was beholden to him, and so was Dickens; inheritors both, not according to the letter, but the spirit. Oddly enough, W. W. Jacobs, that Little Master of humour, derives rather from Cervantes than Shakespeare. It will be found, I think, that in many of his best tales the characters move in dreams of their own creation, and we laugh at their awakening. But the best humour of Scott and of Dickens is of the true Falstaffian vintage. Before Shakespeare men would have found no comedy in the Fat Knight. To the fifteenth century he would have seemed simply false, recreant, cowardly; and if the fifteenth century could have stretched out its arm and captured Mr. Micawber, it would have whipped him and set him in the stocks.

Here, then, is another rich store of inheritance from the Elizabethan age: a fine and delicate humour, latent, but ready to be expressed as an essential oil from the whole body of human life; present in things foul as well as fair; present, as Dickens has shown us, in a thriftless, unscrupulous runagate such as Micawber, in that drunken ghoul who is Mrs. Gamp, in Quilp, the malignant monster, in such devilish attorneys as Sampson Brass and Uriah Heep.

So we owe to the Elizabethans two great recipes for encountering the ills of life. On the one hand we can turn them all into music:

Converting all our sounds of woe
Into Hey nonny, nonny;

or, in another mood, thank Heaven that there is some soul of humour in things evil.

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GATEWAY ELIZABETH ONCE ENTERED
GATEWAY ELIZABETH ONCE ENTERED >>>>
GREAT TANGLEY MANOR, BUILT WHEN ELIZABETH WAS QUEEN
GREAT TANGLEY MANOR, BUILT WHEN ELIZABETH WAS QUEEN >>>>

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