The idea that the 'gentle' Shakespeare wrote satire of any sort may be distasteful even to those most familiar with his plays. Yet much of the great dramatist's work which has puzzled generations of critics becomes clear only when seen to be based upon that middle ground between comedy and tragedy long occupied by satire. It is true that Shakespeare could not serve as a model for a portrait of your typical satirist, for he never feels the fierce indignation of a Juvenal, nor does he pursue his characters with Ben Jonson's whip of steel. Indeed, he seldom pronounces direct judgment upon his men and women, but prefers to let them all act and speak as they must, without restraint or disapproval from their creator. In this sense Shakespeare's intense interest in life seems to have been disinterested.
However this does not mean that Shakespeare held altogether aloof from his dramatic creations. He was a poet who set every aspect of his world to dancing in the sunlight of his incomparable imagination. His artistic vitality floods the acts and speeches of all his characters. Even his fools and knaves are full of his zest for life. It would be strange indeed if such a dramatist were to display the zeal of a reformer or the laughter of a jealous God.
Shakespeare's view of life was thus expansive rather than critical. Yet everyone knows that he manages to make us. laugh at many sorts of folly and stupidity. In the first part of his career his derision was always good-natured. For the absurd in humankind he feels no scorn and displays no re-