Flipping through my Kindle version of the plays this weekend I tripped over this description of Twelfth Night (found here via Google Books):
This is justly considered as one of the most delightful of Shakespeare’s comedies. It is full of sweetness and pleasantry. It is perhaps too good-natured for comedy. It has little satire and no spleen. It aims at the ludicrous rather than the ridiculous. It makes us laugh at the follies of mankind not despise them and still less bear any ill will towards them.
This comes from William Hazlitt, in the early 1800’s (the Google copy is dated 1845, and I note with a smile that it is dedicated to Charles Lamb, of Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare).
Am I misunderstanding something, or has our understanding of Twelfth Night done something of a one-eighty? I’ve seen it described as the dark and twistiest of the comedies. Here, Hazlitt claims it has no spleen.
What’s going on? Somebody fill us in on this Hazlitt fellow.
UPDATE: From the Wikipedia page, I think I would have quite liked this guy:
His approach was something new. There had been critics of Shakespeare before, but either they were not comprehensive or they were not aimed at the general reading public. As Ralph Wardle put it, before Hazlitt wrote this book, “no one had ever attempted a comprehensive study of all of Shakespeare, play by play, that readers could read and reread with pleasure as a guide to their understanding and appreciation”. Somewhat loosely organized, and even rambling, the studies offer personal appreciations of the plays that are unashamedly enthusiastic. Hazlitt does not present a measured account of the plays’ strengths and weaknesses, as did Dr. Johnson, or view them in terms of a “mystical” theory, as Hazlitt thought his contemporary A.W. Schlegel did (though he approves of many of Schlegel’s judgements and quotes him liberally). Without apology, he addresses his readers as fellow lovers of Shakespeare and shares with them the beauties of what he thought the finest passages of the plays he liked best.
Emphasis mine. But yes, yes, yes.