From Shakespeare's Pathos by J. F. Pyre. In Shakespeare Studies. Madison: University of Wisconsin.
Towards old age, which, in an opposite way to childhood, walks near the gates of life, Shakespeare
is less uniformly tender. He is no less disposed to laugh than weep over the fatuity of years that
bring the philosophizing mind, but no true grasp of life. One thinks of Polonius, Falstaff, and
Shallow and of such doddering old lords as Montague and Capulet, and as Leonato and his brother
Antonio in Much Ado. It may be surprising to
find Falstaff in this list; but I suppose, notwithstanding his creator's and our delight in him, Falstaff, as a philosopher, stands confuted; his duel
with time is a drawn battle, won by the latter through sheer waiting. There are numerous examples of solitary and garrulous age in the plays
totally unconnected with their motivation, but introduced for picturesque or choric effect, detached and wandering fragments of humanity that
drift across the scene and shake their feeble heads.
At least two old men, Duncan in Macbeth and
Adam in As You Like It, seem to have been specifically drawn for pathetic contrast. There are
touches of the same quality in Titus Andronicus, a first sketch of Lear, and in Cymbeline. In the
historical plays, the subject matter, since times succeed to times, naturally led to numerous portraits of men past their powers: "Old John of
Gaunt" and York in Richard II, Gloucester in Henry VI, and, for the women, the Duchess of
York in Richard III and the Duchess of Gloucester in Richard II are early examples of old age full of
sorrows and bitter memories.
But none of these are precisely pathetic; they are too much in monotone, and they appear more or less at random
in the scheme of emotional values. The character of Henry IV is more fully wrought and the failure
of life in him is consistently drawn out to a specifically pathetic result. The dramatist's growing
deftness in the handling of pathos is particularly shown in the king's occasional flashes of his old
"efficiency." It remained for Shakespeare, in midst of other woe, to bring home, once and supremely, the pathos of age, in Lear.
How to cite this article:
Pyre, J. F. Shakespeare's Pathos. In Shakespeare Studies. Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1916. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2011. (date when you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/biography/shakespearepathos2.html >.