In Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, how can Mr. Collins be described as a creature of the highest and most Shakespearean comedy, as Saintsbury describes?
Mr. Collins is a character that is representative of the highest Shakespearean comedy in as much as he can be seen as a Shakespearean clown. Shakespearean clowns are characteristically working class, like Mr. Collins, and are known to be laughed at for being ridiculous, but are also known for making profound remarks. Shakespeare's clowns or fools are often the wisest characters, making insightful remarks related to themes.
Mr. Collins is an example of a ridiculous character because he has no mind of his own. Everything he does, he does because Lady Catherine de Bourgh has condescended to advise it. He chose to marry because Lady Catherine told him he should marry as quickly as possible (Ch. 14, Vol. 1). The only things he can say are in praise of Lady Catherine condescension. His character is an odd ironic dichotomy of traits. He is full of praise over Lady Catherine and yet he is very vain about his own accomplishments, particularly of gaining the living on Lady Catherine's estate and of his accomplishments as a clergyman. He is very servile towards Lady Catherine and yet he is very prideful. He is very humble towards Lady Catherine, and yet he also feels he is important as a clergyman (Ch. 15, Vol. 1). The irony in his personality makes him a very humorous character, like a Shakespearean clown.
Also like a Shakespearean clown, Mr. Collins shows a great deal of wisdom when he writes to Mr. Bennet after learning that Lydia has run off with Wickham. This letter is also full of irony in that it is full of empathetic condolences and then ends with remarks stating that the family is to be blamed and that there is no hope for them. He also agrees with Lady Catherine that no respectable person should associate with them, and yet he takes the time to write them a letter. However, he very wisely understands that Lydia's behavior stems from Mr. Bennet's indulgence. He is also wise to say that Lydia's behavior has ruined the chances for the other daughters to marry well (Ch. 6, Vol. 3). Both of these remarks relate to the books theme concerning impropriety.
Hence, all of the irony associated with his character and his wisdom make him comparable to the highest of Shakespearean comedy, the Shakespearean clown.