All we then want is to proclaim a truce with reason, and to be pleased with as little expense of thought or pretension to wisdom as possible. This licensed fooling is carried to its very utmost length in Shakespeare, and in some other of our elder dramatists, without perhaps sufficient warrant or the same excuse. Nothing can justify this extreme relaxation but extreme tension. Shakespeare’s trifling does indeed tread upon the very borders of vacancy; his meaning often hangs by the very slenderest threads. For this he might be blamed if it did not take away our breath to follow his eagle flights, or if he did not at other times make the cordage of our hearts crack.

By William Hazlitt (1778–1830) via bartleby.com

Above sentences are extracted from William Hazlitt's prose. You can click the link above to read the whole passage.

I have no idea when reading the phrase of "Shakespeare’s trifling does indeed tread upon the very borders of vacancy";

I try to understand it as: when Shakespeare talked (or wrote) in a jesting, he did all his best, and used all his energy to make it more funny.

Is my understanding correct? Anyone has different opinions?

  • 1
    The literal sense of the sentence seems to be something like this: "Shakespeare's fooling around [with wordplay, presumably, or even with giving space to comic characters who, superficially at least, signify nothing] sometimes approaches mere verbiage—speeches that lack any meaningful content." – Sven Yargs Jan 3 '18 at 7:17
  • @SvenYargs Are you saying Hazlitt’s opinion of Shakespeare’s works are merely tales, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing? – Dan Bron Jan 3 '18 at 13:17
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    @DanBron: Hazlitt's critique is saved by his consciousness of Shakespeare' "eagle flights." My own favorite character in Shakespeare is Jaques—a man of wit, deep feeling, and extraordinary, almost absurd humors who is attracted and repelled in equal measure by the human condition and who finds release from one of his frequent spells of ponderous gravity through delighted laughter at the wisdom and folly of a pontificating fool. In short, a character very much like that of a brilliant playwright. – Sven Yargs Jan 3 '18 at 18:49
  • SvenYargs. Great comments and thanks for sharing your idea. @DanBron with due respect, I guess you should say "...Hazlitt’s opinion of Shakespeare’s works is merely tales..." as the subject of the sentence is Hazlitt's opinion, instead of Shakespeare's works. – Dave Hwang Jan 4 '18 at 3:31

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