ページの画像
PDF
ePub

it is by no means easy to describe in what its peculiarity consists. It is not, for the most part, a lofty or sonorous style,-nor can it be said generally to be finical or affected, or strained, quaint, or pedantic:-But it is, at the same time, a style full of turn and contrivance,with some little degree of constraint and involution.-very often characterised by a studied briefness and simplicity of diction, yet relieved by a certain indirect and figurative cast of expression,-and almost always coloured with a modest tinge of ingenuity, and fashioned, rather too visibly, upon a particular model of elegance and purity. In scenes of powerful passion, this sort of artificial prettiness is commonly shaken off; and, in Shakespeare, it disappears under all his forms of animation: But it sticks closer to most of his contemporaries. In Massinger (who has no passion), it is almost always discernable; and, in the author before us, it gives a peculiar tone to almost all the estimable parts of his productions.-It is now time, however, and more than time, that we should turn to this author.

His biography will not detain us long; for very little is known about him. He was born in Devonshire, in 1586; and entered as a student in the Middle Temple; where he began to publish poetry, and probably to write plays, soon after his twenty-first year. He did not publish any of his dramatic works, however, till 1629; and though he is supposed to have written fourteen or fifteen pieces for the theatres, only nine appear to have been printed, or to have found their way down to the present times. He is known to have written in conjunction with Rowley and Dekkar, and is supposed to have died about 1640; and this is the whole that the industry of Mr. Weber, assisted by the researches of Steevens and Malone, has been able to discover of this author.

It would be useless, and worse than useless, to give our readers an abstract of the fable and management of each of the nine plays contained in the volumes before us. A very few brief remarks upon their general character, will form a sufficient introduction to the extracts, by which we propose to let our readers judge for themselves of the merits of their execution. The comic parts are all utterly bad. With none of the richness of Shakespeare's humour, the extravagant merriment of Beaumont and Fletcher, or the strong colouring of Ben Johnson, they are as heavy and as indecent as those of Massinger, and not more witty, though a little more varied, than the buffooneries of Wycherley or Dryden. Fortunately, however, the author's merry vein is not displayed in very many parts of his performances. His plots are not very cunningly digested; nor developed, for the most part, by a train of probable incidents. His characters are drawn rather with occasional felicity, than with general sagacity and judgment. Like those of Massinger, they are very apt to startle the reader with sudden and unexpected transformations, and to turn out, in the latter half of the play, very differently

from what they promised to do in the beginning. This kind of surprise has been reprosented by some as a master-stroke of art in the author, and a great merit in the performance. We have no doubt at all, however, that it is to be ascribed merely to the writer's carelessness, or change of purpose; and have never failed to feel it a great blemish in every serious piece where it occurs.

The author has not much of the oratorical stateliness and imposing flow of Massinger: nor a great deal of the smooth and flexible diction, the wandering fancy, and romantic sweetness of Beaumont and Fletcher; and yet he comes nearer to these qualites than to any of the distinguishing characteristics of Jonson or Shakespeare. He excels most in representing the pride and gallantry, and high-toned honour of youth, and the enchanting softness, or the mild and graceful magnanimity of female character. There is a certain melancholy air about his most striking representations; and, in the tender and afflicting pathetic, he appears to us occasionally to be second only to him who has never yet had an equal. The greater part of every play, however, is bad; and there is not one which does not contain faults sufficient to justify the derision even of those who are incapable of comprehending its contrasted beauties.

The diction we think for the most part beautiful, and worthy of the inspired age which produced it. That we may not be suspected of misleading our readers by partial and selected quotations, we shall lay before them the very first sentence of the play which stands first in this collection. The subject is somewhat revolting; though managed with great spirit, and, in the more dangerous parts, with considerable dignity. A brother and sister fall mutually in love with each other, and abandon themselves, with a sort of splendid and perverted devotedness, to their incestuous passion. The sister is afterwards married, and their criminal intercourse detected by her husband,-when the brother, perceiving their destruction inevitable, first kills her, and then throws himself upon the sword of her injured husband. The play opens with his attempting to justify his passion to a holy friar, his tutor-who thus addresses him.

"Friar. Dispute no more in this; for know, young man, These are no school points; Nice philosophy Mav tolerate unlikely arguments, On wit too much, by striving how to prove But heaven admits no jest. Wits that presum'd There was no God, with foolish grounds of art, Discover'd first the nearest way to hell, And filled the world with dev'lish atheism. To bless the sun, than reason why it shines Such questions, youth, are fond for better 'tis

Yet he thou talk'st of is above the sun.

No more! I may not hear it.

Gio.

Gentle father, To you I have unclasp'd my burden'd soul, Emptied the storehouse of my thoughts and heart, Made myself poor of secrets; have not left All what I ever durst, or think, or know; Another word untold, which hath not spoke. And yet is here the comfort I shall have? Must I not do what all men else may,-love?

No, father in your eyes I see the change
Of pity and compassion; from your age,
As from a sacred oracle, distils

The life of counsel. Tell me, holy man,
What cure shall give me ease in these extremes ?
Friar. Repentance, son, and sorrow for this sin:
For thou hast mov'd a majesty above
With thy unranged, almost, blasphemy.

Gio. O do not speak of that, dear confessor.
Friar. Then I have done, and in thy wilful flames
Already see thy ruin; Heaven is just.
Yet hear my counsel!

Gio.

As a voice of life.

Friar. Hie to thy father's house; there lock thee Alone within thy chamber; then fall down [fast On both thy knees, and grovel on the ground; Cry to thy heart; wash every word thou utter'st In tears (and if 't be possible) of blood: Beg Heaven to cleanse the leprosy of love That rots thy soul; weep, sigh, pray Three times a day, and three times every night: For seven days' space do this; then, if thou find'st No change in thy desires, return to me; I'll think on remedy. Pray for thyself At home, whilst I pray for thee here. Away! My blessing with thee! We have need to pray." Vol. i. pp. 9--12.

In a subsequent scene with the sister, the same holy person maintains the dignity of his style.

Friar. I am glad to see this penance; for, believe You have unripp'd a soul so foul and guilty, [me As I must tell you true, I marvel how The earth hath borne you up; but weep, weep on, These tears may do you good; weep faster yet, Whilst I do read a lecture.

Ann.

Wretched creature!

[ed,

Friar. Ay, you are wretched, miserably wretchAlmost condemned alive. There is a place, List, daughter,) in a black and hollow vault, Where day is never seen; there shines no sun, But flaming horror of consuming fires; A lightless sulphur, chok'd with smoky fogs Of an infected darkness; in this place Dwell many thousand thousand sundry sorts Of never-dying deaths. There damned souls Roar without pity; there are gluttons fed With toads and adders; there is burning oil Pour'd down the drunkard's throat; the usurer Is forc'd to sup whole draughts of molten gold; There is the murderer for ever stabb'd, Yet can he never die; there lies the wanton On racks of burning steel, whilst in his soul He feels the torment of his raging lust.

Ann. Mercy! oh mercy! [things, Friar. There stand these wretched Who have dream'd out whole years in lawless sheets And secret incests, cursing one another," &c. Vol. i. pp. 63, 64.

The most striking scene of the play, however, is that which contains the catastrophe of the lady's fate. Her husband, after shutting her up for some time in gloomy privacy, invites her brother, and all his family, to a solemn banquet; and even introduces him, before it is served up, into her private chamber, where he finds her sitting on her marriage-bed, in splendid attire, but filled with boding terrors and agonising anxiety. He, though equally aware of the fate that was prepared for them, addresses her at first with a kind of wild and desperate gaiety, to which she tries for a while to answer with sober and earnest warnings, and at last exclaims impatiently,

Ann. O let's not waste These precious hours in vain and useless speech,

Alas, these gay attires were not put on
But to some end; this sudden solemn feast
Was not ordain'd to riot in expense;

I that have now been chamber'd here alone,
Barr'd of my guardian, or of any else,
Am not for nothing at an instant freed
To fresh access. Be not deceiv'd, my brother;
This banquet is an harbinger of Death
To you and me! resolve yourself it is,
And be prepar'd to welcome it.

[face?

Gio. Look up, look here; what see you in my Ann. Distraction and a troubled countenance. Gio. Death and a swift repining wrath!-Yet What see you in mine eyes? [look, Methinks you weep.

Ann.

Gio. I do indeed. These are the funeral tears
Shed on your grave! These furrow'd up my cheeks
When first I lov'd and knew not how to woo.
Fair Annabella! should I here repeat
The story of my life, we might lose time!
Be record, all the spirits of the air,

And all things else that are, that day and night,
Early and late, the tribute which my heart
Hath paid to Annabella's sacred love [now!
Hath been these tears,-which are her mourners
Never till now did nature do her best
To show a matchless beauty to the world,
Which in an instant, ere it scarce was seen,

The jealous destinies require again.
Pray, Annabella, pray! since we must part,
Go thou, white in thy soul, to fill a throne
Pray, pray, my sister.
Of innocence and sanctity in heaven.

Ann. Then I see your drift; Ye blessed angels, guard me! Gio. So say I. Kiss me! If ever after-times should hear Of our fast-knit affections, though perhaps The laws of conscience and of civil use May justly blame us, yet when they but know Our loves, that love will wipe away that rigour, Which would in other incests be abhorr'd. Give me your hand. How sweetly life doth run In these well-colour'd veins! how constantly These palms do promise health! but I could chide With nature for this cunning flattery.

Kiss me again!-forgive me!

With my heart.

Ann.

Will you be gone? Gio. Be dark, bright sun, And make this mid-day night, that thy gilt rays May not behold a deed will turn their splendour More sooty than the poets feign their Styx! One other kiss, my sister!

Ann.

Gio. Farewell.

Ann.
What means this?
Gio. To save thy fame, and kill thee in a kiss!
Thus die! and die by me, and by my hand!
[Stabs her.
Ann. Oh brother, by your hand!
Gio.
When thou art dead

I'll give my reasons for't; for to dispute
Would make me stagger to perform this act
With thee, even in thy death, most lovely beauty,
Which I most glory in.

Ann. Forgive him, Heaven-and me my sins!
Farewell.

Brother unkind, unkind,―mercy, great Heaven.-
oh-oh.
[Dies.
In all her best, bore her alive and dead.
Gio. She's dead, alas, good soul! This marriage
[bed,
Soranzo, thou hast miss'd thy aim in this;
I have prevented now thy reaching plots,
And kill'd a love, for whose each drop of blood
I would have pawn'd my heart. Fair Annabella,
How over-glorious art thou in thy wounds,
Shrink not, courageous hand; stand up, my heart,
Triumphing over infamy and hate!
And boldly act my last, and greater part!"
-Vol. i. pp. 98-101.
[Exit with the body.
There are few things finer than this in
Shakespeare. It bears an obvious resemblance

indeed to the death of Desdemona; and, taking it as a detached scene, we think it rather the more beautiful of the two. The sweetness of the diction-the natural tone of tenderness and passion-the strange perversion of kind and magnanimous natures, and the horrid catastrophe by which their guilt is at once consummated and avenged, have not often been rivalled, in the pages either of the modern or the ancient drama.

The play entitled "The Broken Heart," is in our author's best manner; and would supply more beautiful quotations than we have left room for inserting. The story is a little complicated; but the following slight sketch of it will make our extracts sufficiently intelligible. Penthea, a noble lady of Sparta, was betrothed, with her father's approbation and her own full consent, to Orgilus; but being solicited, at the same time, by Bassanes, a person of more splendid fortune, was, after her father's death, in a manner compelled by her brother Ithocles to violate her first engagement, and yield him her hand. In this ill-sorted alliance, though living a life of unimpeachable purity, she was harassed and degraded by the perpetual jealousies of her unworthy husband; and pined away, like her deserted lover, in sad and bitter recollections of the happy promise of their youth. Ithocles, in the meantime, had pursued the course of ambition with a bold and commanding spirit, and had obtained the highest honours of his country; but too much occupied in the pursuit to think of the misery to which he had condemned the sister who was left to his protection: At last, however, in the midst of his proud career, he is seized with a sudden passion for Calantha, the heiress of the sovereign; and, after many struggles, is reduced to ask the intercession and advice of his unhappy sister, who was much in favour with the princess. The following is the scene in which he makes this request;-and to those who have learned, from the preceding passages, the lofty and unbending temper of the suppliant, and the rooted and bitter anguish of her whom he addresses, it cannot fail to appear one of the most striking in the whole compass of dramatic composition.*

"Ith. Sit nearer, sister, to me!-nearer yet! We had one father; in one womb took life;" Were brought up twins together;-Yet have liv'd At distance, like two strangers! I could wish That the first pillow, whereon I was cradled, Had proved to me a grave! Pen. You had been happy! Then had you never known that sin of life Which blots all following glories with a vengeance, For forfeiting the last will of the dead, From whom you had your being. Ith. Sad Penthea! Thou canst not be too cruel; my rash spleen Hath with a violent hand pluck'd from thy bosom A love-blest heart, to grind it into dustFor which mine's now a-breaking.

*I have often fancied what a splendid effect Mrs. Siddons and John Kemble would have given to the opening of this scene, in actual representation! with the deep throb of their low voices, their pathetic pauses, and majestic attitudes and move

-

ments!

Pen.

Not yet, heaven, I do beseech thee! first, let some wild fires Scorch, not consume it! may the heat be cherish'd With desires infinite, but hopes impossible! Ith. Wrong'd soul, thy prayers are heard. Pen. Here, lo, I breathe,

A miserable creature, led to ruin By an unnatural brother! 1th.

I consume

Yet cannot die.
Pen.

In languishing affections of that trespass;
The handmaid to the wages,
The untroubled but of country toil, drinks streams
With leaping kids and with the bleating lambs,
And so allays her thirst secure; whilst I
Quench my hot sighs with fleetings of my tears.
Ith. The labourer doth eat his coarsest bread,
Earn'd with his sweat, and lies him down to sleep;
Whilst every bit I touch turns in digestion
To gall, as bitter as Penthea's curse.
Put me to any penance for my tyranny
And I will call thee merciful.
Rid me from living with a jealous husband,
Pray kill me!
Then we will join in friendship, be again
Brother and sister.-Kill me, pray! nay, will ye?
1th. Thou shalt stand

Pen.

A deity, my sister, and be worshipp'd
For thy resolved martyrdom: wrong'd maids
And married wives shall to thy hallow'd shrine
Pure turtles, crown'd with myrtle, if thy pity
Unto a yielding brother's pressure, tend
One finger but, to ease it.

Offer their orisons, and sacrifice

Pen. Who is the saint you serve? [daughter! 1th. Calantha 'tis!-the princess! the king's Do I now love thee? Sole heir of Sparta.-Me, most miserable!For my injuries Revenge yself with bravery, and gossip My treasons to the king's ears! Do!-Calantha Knows it not yet; nor Prophilus, my nearest. We are reconcil'd!

Pen.

Alas, sir, being children, but two branches
Of one stock, 'tis not fit we should divide:

Have comfort; you may find it.

Ith.

Yes, in thee;

Only in thee, Penthea mine!
Pen.

If sorrows

Have not too much dull'd my infected brain,
I'll cheer invention for an active strain.

Ith. Mad man! why have I wrong'd a maid so excellent?" Vol. i. pp. 273-277. We cannot resist the temptation of adding a part of the scene in which this sad ambassadress acquits herself of the task she had undertaken. There is a tone of heart-struck sorrow and female gentleness and purity about it that is singularly engaging, and contrasts strangely with the atrocious indecencies with which the author has polluted his paper in other parts of the same play.-The princess says,

[blocks in formation]
[blocks in formation]

There are passages of equal power and beauty in the plays called "Love's Sacrifice," "The Lover's Melancholy," and in "Fancies Chaste and Noble." In Perkin Warbeck, there is a more uniform and sustained elevation of style. But we pass all those over, to give our readers a word or two from "The Witch of Edmonton," a drama founded upon the recent execution of a miserable old woman for that fashionable offence; and in which the devil, in the shape of a black dog, is a principal performer! The greater part of the play, in which Ford was assisted by Dekkar and Rowley, is of course utterly absurd and contemptiblethough not without its value as a memorial of the strange superstition of the age; but it contains some scenes of great interest and beauty, though written in a lower and more familiar tone than most of those we have already exhibited. As a specimen of the range of the author's talents, we shall present our readers with one of these. Frank Thorney had privately married a woman of inferior rank; and is afterwards strongly urged by his father, and his own inclination, to take a second wife, in the person of a rich yeoman's daughter whose affections were fixed upon

[blocks in formation]

Come; in nothing. Sus. I know I do: knew I as well in what, You should not long be sullen. Pr'ythee, love, If I have been immodest or too bold," Speak't in a frown; if peevishly too nice, Shew't in a smile. Thy liking is a glass By which I'll habit my behaviour. Frank.

Dost weep now?

Sus.

Wherefore

1

You, sweet, have the power To make me passionate as an April day. Now smile, then weep; now pale, then crimson red. You are the powerful moon of my blood's sea, To make it ebb or flow into my face, As your looks change. Frank. Change thy conceit, I pr'ythee: Thou'rt all perfection: Diana herself Swells in thy thoughts and moderates thy beauty. Within thy clear eye amorous Cupid sits In thy chaste breast. Feathering love-shafts, whose golden heads he dips

Sus. Come, come: these golden strings of flattery Shall not tie up my speech, sir; I must know The ground of your disturbance.

Frank.

Then look here;

For here, here is the fen in which this hydra
Of discontent grows rank.
Sus.
Heaven shield it! Where?
Frank. In mine own bosom! here the cause has
root;

The poisoned leeches twist about my heart,
And will, I hope, confound me.

Sus.

You speak riddles." Vol. ii. pp. 437-440. The unfortunate bigamist afterwards resolves to desert this innocent creature; but, in the act of their parting, is moved by the devil, who rubs against him in the shape of a

dog! to murder her. We are tempted to
give the greater part of this scene, just to
show how much beauty of diction and natu-
ral expression of character may be com-
bined with the most revolting and degrading
absurdities. The unhappy bridegroom says—

"Why would you delay? we have no other
business
[time?

Now, but to part.
Sus. And will not that, sweet-heart, ask a long
Methinks it is the hardest piece of work
That e'er I took in hand.

Frank.
Fie, fie! why look,
I'll make it plain and easy to you. Farewell.
[Kisses her.

Sus. Ah, 'las! I'm not half perfect in it yet.
1 must have it thus read an hundred times.
Pray you take some pains, I confess my dulness.
Frank. Come! again and again, farewell. [Kisses
her.] Yet wilt return?
All questions of my journey, my stay, employment,
And revisitation, fully I have answered all.
There's nothing now behind but-

Sus.

But this request-
[more,

Frank. What is't?
Sus. That I may bring you thro' one pasture
Up to yon knot of trees: amongst those shadows
I'll vanish from you; they shall teach me how.
Frank. Why 'tis granted: come, walk then.
Sus.
Nay, not too fast :
They say, slow things have best perfection;
The gentle show'r wets to fertility,
The churlish storm makes mischief with his bounty.
Frank. Now, your request

Is out yet will you leave me?

Sus.
You'll make me stay for ever,
Rather than part with such a sound from you.
Frank. Why, you almost anger me.-'Pray you
You have no company, and 'tis very early; [begone.
Some hurt may betide you homewards.

Tush! I fear none

What? so churlishly

ore

We cannot afford any more space for Mr. Ford; and what we have said, and what we have shown of him, will probably be thought enough, both by those who are disposed to scoff, and those who are inclined to admire. It is but fair, however, to intimate, that a thorough perusal of his works will afford exercise to the former disposition than to the latter. His faults are glaring and abundant; but we have not thought it necessary to produce any specimens of them, because they are exactly the sort of faults which every one acquainted with the drama of that age reckons upon finding. No body doubts of the existence of such faults: But there are many who doubt of the existence of any counterbalancing beauties; and therefore it seemed worth while to say a word or two in their explanation. There is a great treasure of poetry, we think, still to be brought to light in the neglected writers of the age to which this author belongs; and poetry of a kind which, if purified and improved, as the happier specimens show that it is capable of being, would be far more delightful to the generality of English readers

Here the dog rubs against him; and, after than any other species of poetry. We shall some more talk, he stabs her!

readily be excused for our tediousness by those who are of this opinion; and should not have been forgiven, even if we had not been tedious, by those who look upon it as a heresy.

Sus.
To leave you is the greatest I can suffer.
Frank. So! I shall have more trouble."

"Sus.
Why then I thank you;
You have done lovingly, leaving yourself,
That you would thus bestow me on another.

It may be thought that enough had been said of our early dramatists, in the immediately preceding article; and it probably is so. But I could not resist the temptation of thus renewing, in my own name, that vow of allegiance, which I had so often taken anonymously, to the only true and lawful King of our English Poetry and now venture, therefore, fondly to replace this slight and perish able wreath on his august and undecaying shrine: with no farther apology than that it presumes to direct attention but to one, and that, as I think, a comparatively neglected, aspect of his universal

gemus.

Thou art my husband, Death! I embrace thee
With all the love I have. Forget the stain
Of my unwitting sin: and then I come
Shall, with bold wings, ascend the doors of mercy;
A crystal virgin to thee. My soul's purity
For innocence is ever her companion.

Frank. Not yet mortal? I would not linger you,
Or leave you a tongue to blab. [Stabs her again.
Sus. Now heaven reward you ne'er the worse for
I did not think that death had been so sweet, [me!
Nor I so apt to love him. I could ne'er die better,
Had I stay'd forty years for preparation:
For I'm in charity with all the world.
Let me for once be thine example, heaven;
Do to this man as I, forgive him freely,
And may he better die, and sweeter live. [Dies'
Vol. ii. pp. 452—445.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

(August, 1817.)

Characters of Shakespeare's Plays. By WILLIAM HAZLITT. 8vo. pp. 352. London: 1817.*

THIS is not a book of black-letter learning, or historical elucidation ;—neither is it a metaphysical dissertation, full of wise perplexities and elaborate reconcilements. It is, in

truth, rather an encomium on Shakespeare, than a commentary or critique on him—and is written, more to show extraordinary love, than extraordinary knowledge of his productions. Nevertheless, it is a very pleasing book--and, we do not hesitate to say, a book of very considerable originality and genius. The author is not merely an admirer of our great dramatist, but an Idolater of him; and openly professes his idolatry. We have ourselves too great a leaning to the same superstition, to blame him very much for his error: and though we think, of course, that our own admiration is, on the whole, more discriminating and judicious, there are not many points which, especially after reading his eloquent

on

« 前へ次へ »