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skill, will be more and more felt the more closely the structure of the play and the distinctive qualities of the actors in it are studied.
I think, indeed, this play should rank, in point of dramatic construction and development of character, with the best of Shakespeare's works. It has the further distinction, that whatever is most valuable in the plot is due solely to his own invention. In this respect it differs signally from "As You Like It." In "The Tale of Gamelyn," and more particularly in Lodge's "Rosalynde," Shakespeare found ready to his hand the main plot of that play, and suggestions for several of the characters. With his usual wonderful aptitude, he assimilated everything that could be turned to dramatic account. Yet his debt was, after all, of no great amount. He had to discard far more than he adopted. The story with the actors in it became a new creation; and by infusing into a pretty but tedious pastoral and some very unreal characters a purpose and a life which were exclusively his own, he transmuted mere pebbles into gems. But neither for plot nor character was he indebted to any one in "Much Ado About Nothing." It is, no doubt, true that in Ariosto and Bandello, and in our own Spenser, he found the incident of an innocent lady brought under cruellest suspicion by the base device of which Hero is the victim. Here, however, his obligation ends; and but for the skill with which this incident is interwoven with others, and a number of characters brought upon the scene, which are wholly of his own creating, it would be of little value for dramatic purposes.
time proving to her, what she was previ ously quite prepared to "believe better than reportingly," that he was of a truly "noble strain," and that she might safely intrust her happiness to his hands! Viewed in this light, the play seems to me to be a masterpiece of construction, developed with consummate skill, and held together by the unflagging interest which we feel in Beatrice and Benedick, and in the progress of the amusing plot by which they arrive at a knowledge of their own hearts.
I was called upon very early in my career to impersonate Beatrice, but I must frankly admit that, while, as I have said, I could not but admire her, she had not taken hold of my heart as my other heroines had done. Indeed there is nothing of the heroine about her, nothing of romance or of poetic suggestion in the circumstances of her life - nothing, in short, to captivate the imagination of a very young girl, such as I then was. It was no small surprise to me when Mr. Charles Kemble, who was playing a series of farewell performances at Covent Garden, where I had made my début on the stage but a few months before, singled me out to play Beatrice to his Benedick, on the night when he bade adieu to his profession. That I, who had hitherto acted only the young tragic heroines, was to be thus transported out of my natural sphere into the strange world of high comedy, was a surprise indeed. To consent seemed to me nothing short of presumption. I urged upon Mr. Kemble how utterly unqualified I was for such a venture. His answer was, "I have watched you in the second act of Julia in The Hunchback,' and I know that you will by
How happy was the introduction of such men as Dogberry dear, delightful Dogand-by be able to act Shakespeare's comberry! and his band, "the shallow fools who brought to light" the flimsy villany by which Don Pedro and Claudio had allowed themselves to be egregiously befooled! How true to the irony of life was the accident, due also to Shakespeare's invention, of Leonato's being too much bored by their tedious prate, and too busy with the thought of his daughter's approaching marriage, to listen to them, and thus not hearing what would have prevented the all but tragic scene in which that marriage is broken off! And how much happier than all is the way in which the wrong done to Hero is the means of bringing into view the fine and generous elements of Beatrice's nature, of show ing Benedick how much more there was in her than he had thought, and at the same
edy. I do not mean 'now,' because more years, greater practice, greater confidence in yourself, must come before you will have sufficient ease. But do not be afraid. I am too much your friend to ask you to do anything that would be likely to prove a failure." This he followed up by offering to teach me "the business" of the scene. What could I do? He had, from my earliest rehearsals, been uniformly kind, helpful, and encouraging - how could I say him nay? My friends too, who of course acted for me, as I was under age, considered that I must consent. I was amazed at some of the odd things I had to say, not at all from knowing their meaning, but simply because I did not even surmise it. My dear home instructor, of whom I have often
spoken in these letters, said, "My child, | Beatrice all in tears! What shall I do to you will do this very well. Only give way to natural joyousness. Have no fear. Let yourself go free; you cannot be vulgar, if you tried ever so hard."
And so the performance came, and went off more easily than I had imagined, as so many dreaded events of our lives do pass away, without any of the terrible things happening which we have torment ed ourselves by anticipating. The night was one not readily to be forgotten. The excitement of having to act a character so different from any I had hitherto at tempted, and the anxiety natural to the effort, filled my mind entirely. I had no idea of the scene which was to follow the close of the comedy, so that it came upon me quite unexpectedly.
comfort her! What can I give her in remembrance of her first Benedick?" I sobbed out, "Give me the book you studied Benedick from." He answered, “You shall have it, and many others!" He kept his word, and I have still two small volumes in which are collected many of the plays in which he acted, and also some in which his daughter, Fanny Kemble, who was then married and living in America, had acted. These came with a charming letter on the title-page addressed to his "dear little friend."
He also told my mother to bring me to him, if at any time she thought his advice might be valuable; and on several occasions afterwards he took the trouble of reading over new parts with me, and giving me his advice and help. One thing which he impressed upon me I never forgot. It was, on no account to give prominence to the physical aspect of any painful emotion. Let the expression be genuine, earnest, but not ugly. He pointed out to me how easy it was to simulate distortions, · to writhe, for example, from the supposed effect of poison, to gasp, to roll the eyes, etc. These were melodramatic effects. But if pain or death had to be simulated, or any sudden or violent shock, let them be shown, he said, in their mental rather than in their physical signs. The picture presented might be as sombre as the darkest Rembrandt; but it must be noble in its outlines, truthful, picturesque, but never repulsive, mean, or commonplace. It must suggest the heroic, the divine in human nature, and not the mere everyday struggles or tortures of this life, whether in joy or sorrow, despair or hopeless grief. Under every circumstance the graceful, the ideal, the beautiful, should be given side by side with the real.
The "farewell" of a great actor to the arena of his triumphs was something my imagination had never pictured, and all at once it was brought most impressively before me, touching a deep, sad minor chord in my young life. It moved me deeply. As I write, the exciting scene comes vividly before me, - the crowded stage, the pressing forward of all who had been Mr. Kemble's comrades and contemporaries, -the good wishes, the farewells given, the tearful voices, the wet eyes, the curtain raised again and again. Ah, how can any one support such a trial? I determined in that moment that, when my time came to leave the stage, I would not leave it in this way. My heart could never have borne such a strain. I need not say that this resolve has remained unchanged. I could not have expected such a demonstrative farewell; but, whatever it might have been, the certainty that it is the last time one does anything is, I think, well kept from us. I see now the actors in the play asking for a remembrance of the night, gloves, handkerchiefs, feathers, one by one taken from the hat, then the I have always felt what a happy cir hat itself, all, in short, that could be cumstance it was for a shy and sensi ve severed from the dress. I, whose claim temperament like mine, that my first steps was as nothing compared to that of oth- in my art should have been guided and ers, stood aside, greatly moved and sor- encouraged by a nature so generous and rowful, weeping on my mother's shoulder, sympathetic as Mr. Kemble's. He made when, as the exciting scene was at last me feel that I was in the right road to drawing to a close, Mr. Kemble saw me, success, and gave me courage by speakand exclaimed, "What! My Lady baby *ing warmly of my natural gifts of voice,
I must explain that "baby" was the pet name by
which Mr. Kemble always called me. cannot tell why, unless it were because of the contrast he found between his own wide knowledge of the world and of art, and my innocent ignorance and youth. Delicate health had kept me in a quiet home, which I only left at intervals for a quieter life by the seaside, so that I knew far less of the world and its ways than even most girls of my age.
etc., and praising my desire to study and improve, and my readiness in seizing his meaning and profiting by his suggestions. How different it was when, shortly afterwards, I came under Mr. Macready's influence! Equally great in their art, nature had cast the men in entirely different moulds. Each helped me, but by proc
esses wholly unlike. The one, while pointing out what was wrong, brought the balm of encouragement and hope; the other, like the surgeon who "cuts beyond the wound to make the cure more certain," was merciless to the feelings, where he thought a fault or a defect might so best be pruned away. Both were my true friends, and were most kind to me, each in his own way of showing kindness. Yet it was well for my self-distrustful nature that the gentler kindness came first.
so slightly, her good friend the noble lion! *
Mr. Kemble seemed to my eyes before everything pre-eminently a gentleman. And this told, as it always must tell, when he enacted ideal characters. There was a natural grace and dignity in his bearing, a courtesy and unstudied deference of manner in approaching and addressing women, whether in private society or on the stage, which I have scarcely seen equalled. Perhaps it was not quite as Mr. Kemble never lost an opportunity rare in his day as it is now. What a lover of making you happy. When Joanna he must have made! What a Romeo! Baillie's play, "The Separation," was pro- What an Orlando! I got glimpses of duced within two months of my first ap. what these must have been in the readpearance, I had, in the heroine Margaret, ings which Mr. Kemble gave after he left a very difficult part quite unlike any I the stage, and which I attended diligenthad previously acted or even studied. ly, with heart and brain awake to profit by The story turns upon a wife's hearing that what I heard. How fine was his Mercubefore their marriage her husband had tio! What brilliancy, what ease, what murdered her brother. The play opens spontaneous flow of fancy in the Queen with the wife learning the terrible truth, Mab speech! The very start of it was just as the tidings reach her that her hus- suggestive "Oh, then, I see Queen band has returned safely from battle, and Mab" (with an emphasis on "Mab") is close at hand. Of course "the separa- "hath been with you!" How exquisite tion" ensues. It must have been a great was the play of it all, image rising up after trouble to Mr. Kemble, who played Gar-image, and crowding one upon another, cio, the husband, to study a new part at that period of his career, and I wonder that he undertook it. You may imagine how nervous and anxious I was at attempt ing the leading character in a play never before acted, and one, moreover, with which I had little sympathy. During the first performance Mr. Kemble also appeared very nervous, and at times seemed at a loss for his words. He was deaf, too, not very deaf, but sufficiently so to make the prompter's voice of no use to him. Happily I was able on several occasions, being close to him, to whisper the words. How I knew them I can hardly tell, because we had not copies of the play to study from, but only our own manuscript parts. But I had heard him repeat them at rehearsal, and they had fixed themselves in my memory. Naturally I thought nothing of this at the time. The next morning, when we met upon the stage to make some little changes in the play, Mr. Kemble spoke openly of the help I had been to him, making very much more of it than it deserved, and, above all, marvelling at the self-command of the little novice, coming with so much readiness to support an old actor, who should have been on the lookout to do that office for her. I was much ashamed to be praised for so small a thing. But how quietly glad was the little mouse when she found that she had helped ever
each new one more fanciful than the last! "Thou talk'st of nothing," says Romeo; but oh, what nothings! As picture after picture was brought before you by Mr. Kemble's skill, with the just emphasis thrown on every word, yet all spoken "trippingly on the tongue," what objects that one might see or touch could be more real? I was disappointed in his reading of Juliet, Desdemona, etc. His heroines were spiritless, tearful creatures, too merely tender, without distinction or individuality, all except Lady Macbeth, into whom I could not help thinking some of the spirit of his great sister, Mrs. Siddons, was transfused. But, in truth, I cannot think it possible for any man's nature to simulate a woman's, or vice
I shall never forget my surprise, when one day, during the run of "Separation," on going into the Soho Bazaar, and coming to the doll-stall-a not-forgotten of interest for me I saw myself in a doll, labelled Miss Helen Faucit as the Lady Margaret in 'Separation." Such things were very unusual then, and I dress was exactly minefelt just a little not proud, but happy. The doll's copied most accurately. I am sure, had I not thought it vain, I should have liked to buy my doll-self. But again, perhaps my funds might not have allowed it, and I felt too shy to ask the price: it was a grandly got up lady, and although my salary was the largest ever given in those days, I was, as a minor, only allowed by my friends a slight increase to the pocket money which had been mine before. Happily for me, both then and since, money has ever been a matter of slight importance in my regard. cess in my art, and the preservation of the freshness and freedom of spirit which are essential to true distinction, were always my first thought.
versa. Therefore it is that I have never cared very much to listen to "readings" of entire plays by any single person. I have sometimes given them myself; but only, like Beatrice, "upon great persuasion."
vies with each in trying to outflank the other by jest and repartee; and as is fitting, the victory is generally with the lady, whose adroitness in “tacking about, and taking advantage of all winds," gives her the advantage even against an adversary so formidable as Benedick.
That Beatrice is beautiful, Shakespeare is at pains to indicate. If what Wordsworth says was ever true of any one, assuredly it was true of her, that
vital feelings of delight
Had reared her form to stately height.
Accordingly we picture her as tall, and with the lithe, elastic grace of motion which should come of a fine figure and high health. We are very early made to see that she is the sunshine of her uncle
Pardon this digression. It was so much my way to live with the characters I represented, that when I sit down to write, my mind naturally wanders off into things which happened to me in connection with the representation of them. It was some time before I again performed Beatrice, and then I had for my Benedick Mr. James Wallack. He was at that time past the meridian of his life; but he threw a spirit and grace into the part, which, added to his fine figure and gallant bearing, made him, next to Mr. Charles Kemble, although far beneath him, the best Leonato's house. He delights in her Benedick whom I have ever seen. Oh, for something of the fire, the undying youthfulness of spirit, now so rare, the fine courtesy of bearing, which made the acting with actors of this type delightful! By this time I had made a greater study of the play; moved more freely in my art, and was therefore able to throw myself into the character of Beatrice more completely than in the days of my novitiate. The oftener I played it the more the character grew upon me. The view I had taken of it seemed also to find favor with my audiences. I well remember the pleasure I felt, when some chance critic wrote of my Beatrice, that she was "a creature overflowing with joyousness, — raillery itself being in her nothing more than an excess of animal spirits, tempered by pass ing through a soul of goodness." That she had a soul, brave and generous as well as good, it was always my aim to show. All this was easy work to me on the stage. To do it with my pen is a far harder task; but I must try.
It may be a mere fancy, but I cannot help thinking that Shakespeare found peculiar pleasure in the delineation of Beatrice, and more especially in devising the encounters between her and Benedick. You remember what old Fuller says of the wit combats between Ben Jonson and Shakespeare, in which he likens Jonson to a Spanish galleon, "built high, solid, but slow; and Shakespeare to an English man-of-war, “lesser in bulk, but lighter in sailing, tacking about, and taking advantage of all winds by the quickness of his wit and invention." It is just this quickness of wit and invention which is the special characteristic of both Benedick and Beatrice. In their skirmishes, each
quaint, daring way of looking at things; he is proud of her, too, for with all her sportive and somewhat domineering ways, she is every inch the noble lady, bearing herself in a manner worthy of her high blood and courtly breeding. He knows how good and sound she is in heart no less than in head, one of those strong natures which can be counted on to rise up in answer to a call upon their courage and fertility of resource in any time of diffi culty or trouble. Her shrewd, sharp sayings have only a pleasant piquancy for him. Indeed, however much weak, colorless natures might stand in awe of eyes so quick to detect a flaw, and a wit so prompt to cover it with ridicule, there must have been a charm for him and for all manly natures in the very peril of com. ing under the fire of her raillery. A young, beautiful, graceful woman, flashing out brilliant sayings, charged with no real malice, but with just enough of a sting in them to pique the self-esteem of those at whom they are aimed, must always, I fancy, have a peculiar fascination for men of spirit. And so we see at the very outset it was with Beatrice. Not only her uncle, but also Don Pedro, and the Count Claudio, have the highest admiration of her. That she was either a vixen or a shrew was the last idea that would have entered their minds. "By my troth, a pleasant-spirited lady!" says Don Pedro; and the words express what was obviously the general impression of all who knew her best.
How long Benedick and Beatrice have known each other before the play begins is not indicated. I think we may fairly infer that their acquaintance is of some standing. It certainly did not begin when
Don Pedro, Prince of Arragon, in passing through Messina, on the way probably to attack the Turks, with whom Spain, Austria, and Venice were at war about the period to which we may reasonably assign the action of the play, picked Benedick up, and attached him to his suite. They were obviously intimate before this. At all events, there had been time for an antagonism to spring up between them, which was natural where both were witty, and both accustomed to lord it somewhat, as witty people are apt to do, over their respective circles. Benedick could scarcely have failed to have drawn the fire of Beatrice by his avowed and contemptuous indifference to her sex, if by nothing else. To be evermore proclaiming, as we may be sure he did, just as much before he went to the wars as he did after his return, that he rated all women cheaply, was an offence which Beatrice, ready enough although she might be herself to make epigrams on the failings of her sex, was certain to resent. Was it to be borne that he should set himself up as "a professed tyrant to her whole sex," and boast his freedom from the vassalage to "love, the lord of all"? And this, too, when he had the effrontery to tell herself, "It is certain I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted."
and, in short, has more of the qualities to win the heart of a woman of spirit, than any of the gallants who have come about her. She, on the other hand, has the attraction for him of being as clever as she is handsome, the person of all his circle who puts him most upon his mettle, and who pays him the compliment of replying upon his sharp sayings with repartees, the brilliancy of which he cannot but ac knowledge, even while he smarts under them. He is, besides, far from insensible to her beauty, as we see by what he says of her to Claudio when contrasting her with Hero. "There is her cousin, an she were not possessed with a fury, exceeds her as much in beauty as the first of May doth the last of December." No wonder, therefore, that, as we see, they have often come into contact, creating no small amusement to their friends, and to none more than to Leonato. When Beatrice, in the opening scene of the play, says so many biting things about Benedick, Leonato, anxious that the messenger shall not carry away a false opinion of him, says: "You must not, sir, mistake my niece; there is a kind of merry war between Signor Benedick and her; they never meet but there's a skirmish of wit between them." Life, perhaps, has not been so amusing to Leonato since Signor Benedick went away. It is conceivable that Beatrice herself may have missed him, if for nothing else than for the jibes and sarcasm which had called her own exuber
It is true that Beatrice, when she is pressed upon the point, has much the same pronounced notions about the male sex, and the bondage of marriage. But she does not, like Benedick, go about pro-ance of wit into play. claiming them to all comers; neither does We shall not, I believe, do her justice she denounce the whole male sex for the unless we form some idea, such as I have faults or vices of the few. Besides, there indicated, of the relations that have subhas clearly been about Benedick, in these sisted between her and Benedick before early days, an air of confident self-asser- the play opens. It would be impossible tion, a tendency to talk people down, otherwise to understand why he should be which have irritated Beatrice. The name, uppermost in her thoughts, when she hears Signor Montanto," borrowed from the of the successful issue of Don Pedro's language of the Italian fencing-school, by expedition, so that her first question to which she asks after him in the first sen- the messenger who brings the tidings is tence she utters, and her announcement whether Benedick has come back with the that she had promised "to eat all of his rest. Finding that he has, unscathed killing," seem to point to the first of these" and as pleasant as ever he was," she faults. And may we not take, as an indication of the other, her first remark to himself, "I wonder you will still be talking, Signor Benedick; nobody marks you: and also the sarcasm in her description of him to her uncle, as "too like my lady's eldest son, evermore tattling"? What piques Beatrice is the undeniable fact that Benedick is a handsome, gallant young fellow, a general favorite, who makes his points with trenchant effect in the give and take of their wit-combats,
proceeds to show him under no very flat. tering aspect. Her uncle, knowing how very different Benedick is from the man she describes, tries to stop her by saying, "
Faith, niece, you tax Signor Benedick too much; but he'll be meet with you, I doubt not." This only stimulates her to such further travesty of his character, that the messenger observes, "I see, lady, the gentleman is not in your books." sheer enjoyment of her own humor, she rejoins, "No: an he were, I would burn