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History of English Humour, Vol. 1 (of 2) eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 248 pages of information about History of English Humour, Vol. 1 (of 2).
observation of seamen, ’That if a single meteor or fire-ball falls on their mast, it portends ill-luck; but if two come together (which they count Castor and Pollux) they presage good success.’  But sure in a family it bodeth most bad when two fire balls (husband’s and wife’s anger) both come together.”  In speaking of good parents, he says, “A father that whipt his son for swearing, and swore at him while he whipt him, did more harm by his example than good by his correction.”

CHAPTER VI.

Shakespeare—­Ben Jonson—­Beaumont and Fletcher—­The Wise Men of Gotham.

Greene, in his admonition to his brother sinners of the stage, tells them that “there is an vpstart crow beautified with our feathers an absolute Johannes factotum, in his own conceyt the onely Shake-scene in a countrey,” and in truth these olden writers are principally interesting as having laid the foundations upon which Shakespeare built some of his earliest plays.  The genius of our great dramatist was essentially poetic, and some of his plays, which we now call comedies, were originally entitled “histories.”  How seldom do we hear any of his humorous passages quoted, or find them reckoned among our household words!  From some of his observations we might think he was altogether averse from jocosity.  Henry V. says

     “How ill gray hairs become a fool—­a jester!”

In “Much ado about Nothing,” Beatrice speaks as follows—­

“Why, he is the Prince’s jester; a very dull fool, only his gift is in devising unprofitable slanders; none but libertines delight in him, and the commendation is not in his wit, but in his villany, for he both pleases men and angers them, and then they laugh at him and beat him.”

But notwithstanding all this condemnation Beatrice is herself the liveliest character in Shakespeare, and her lady’s wit is some of the best he shows—­

Beatrice. For hear me, Hero; wooing, wedding, and repenting is as a Scotch jig, a measure and a cinque-pace; the first suit is hot and hasty, like a Scotch jig, and full as fantastical; the wedding mannerly-modest, as a measure full of state and ancientry; and then comes repentance, and with his bad legs, falls into the cinque-pace faster and faster, till he sinks into his grave.

     Leonato. Cousin, you apprehend shrewdly.

     Beat. I have a good eye, uncle; I can see a church, by daylight.

In the “Merchant of Venice” Lorenzo thus answers Launcelot—­

     “How every fool can play upon the word.  I think the best grace of
     wit will shortly turn into silence, and discourse grow commendable
     in none but parrots.”

Again Lorenzo—­

  “Oh, dear discretion, how his words are suited,
   The fool hath planted in his memory
   An army of good words:  And I do know
   A many fools that stand in better place
   Garnished like him, that for a tricksie word
   Defie the matter.”

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