Imatges de pÓgina

periority to any signs of shame or scruples of conscience from a recollection of what is due to herself or others, are well described, and the lady is true to herself in her repentance, which is owing to nothing but the accidental impulse and whim of the moment. The deliberate, voluntary disregard of all moral ties and all pretence to virtue, in the structure of the fable, is nearly unaccountable. Amintor (who is meant to be the hero of the piece) is a feeble, irresolute character: his slavish, recanting loyalty to his prince, who has betrayed and dishonoured him, is of a piece with the tyranny and insolence of which he is made the sport; and even his tardy revenge is snatched from his hands, and he kills his former betrothed and beloved mistress, instead of executing vengeance on the man who has destroyed his peace of mind and unsettled her intellects. The king, however, meets his fate from the penitent fury of Evadne; and on this account, the 'Maid's Tragedy' was forbidden to be acted in the reign of Charles II., as countenancing the doctrine of regicide. Aspatia is a beautiful sketch of resigned and heart-broken melancholy, and Calianax, a blunt, satirical courtier, is a character of much humour and novelty. There are striking passages here and there, but fewer than in almost any of their plays. Amintor's speech to Evadne, when she makes confession of her unlookedfor remorse, is, I think, the finest :

"Do not mock me:

Though I am tame, and bred up with my wrongs,
Which are my foster-brothers, I may leap,
Like a hand-wolf, into my natural wildness,

And do an outrage. Prithee, do not mock me!"

'King and No King,' which is on a strangely chosen subject. as strangely treated, is very superior in power and effect. There is an unexpected reservation in the plot, which, in some measure, relieves the painfulness of the impression. Arbaces is painted in gorgeous, but not alluring colours. His vain-glorious pretensions and impatience of contradiction are admirably displayed, and are so managed as to produce an involuntary comic effect to temper the lofty tone of tragedy, particularly in the scenes in which he affects to treat his vanquished enemy with such con

descending kindness; and perhaps this display of upstart pride was meant by the authors as an oblique satire on his low origin, which is afterwards discovered. His pride of self will and fierce impetuosity are the same in war and in love. The haughty voluptuousness and pampered effeminacy of his character admit neither respect for his misfortunes, nor pity for his errors. His ambition is a fever in the blood; and his love is a sudden transport of ungovernable caprice that brooks no restraint, and is intoxicated with the lust of power, even in the lap of pleasure, and the sanctuary of the affections. The passion of Panthea is, as it were, a reflection from, and lighted at the shrine of her lover's flagrant vanity. In the elevation of his rank, and in the consciousness of his personal accomplishments, he seems firmly persuaded (and by sympathy to persuade others) that there is nothing in the world which can be an object of liking or admiration but himself. The first birth and declaration of this perverted sentiment to himself, when he meets with Panthea after his return from conquest, fostered by his presumptuous infatuation and the heat of his inflammable passions, and the fierce and lordly tone in which he repels the suggestion of the natural obstacles to his sudden phrenzy, are in Beaumont and Fletcher's most daring manner; but the rest is not equal. What may be called the love scenes are equally gross and common-place; and instead of any thing like delicacy or a struggle of different feelings, have all the indecency and familiarity of a brothel. Bessus, a comic character in this play, is a swaggering coward, something between Parolles and Falstaff.


The False One' is an indirect imitation of Antony and Cleopatra. We have Septimius for Enobarbus, and Cæsar for Antony. Cleopatra herself is represented in her girlish state, but she is made divine in

"Youth that opens like perpetual spring,"

and promises the rich harvest of love and pleasure that succeeds it. Her first presenting herself before Cæsar, when she is brought in by Sceva, and the impression she makes upon him, like a vision dropped from the clouds, or

"Like some celestial sweetness, the treasure of soft love,"

are exquisitely conceived. Photinus is an accomplished villain, well-read in crooked policy and quirks of state; and the description of Pompey has a solemnity and grandeur worthy of his unfortunate end. Septimius says, bringing in his lifeless head,

""Tis here, 'tis done! Behold, you fearful viewers,
Shake, and behold the model of the world here,
The pride and strength! Look, look again, 'tis finished!
That that whole armies, nay, whole nations,
Many and mighty kings, have been struck blind at,
And fled before, wing'd with their fears and terrors,
That steel War waited on, and fortune courted,
That high-plum'd Honour built up for her own;
Behold that mightiness. behold that fierceness,
Behold that child of war, with all his glories,
By this poor hand made breathless!"

And again Cæsar says of him, who was his mortal enemy (it was not held in the fashion in those days, nor will it be held so in time to come, to lampoon those whom you have vanquished)—

"Oh, thou conqueror,

Thou glory of the world once, now the pity,

Thou awe of nations, wherefore didst thou fall thus ?
What poor fate followed thee, and plucked thee on
To trust thy sacred life to an Egyptian?
The life and light of Rome to a blind stranger,
That honourable war ne'er taught a nobleness,
Nor worthy circumstance show'd what a man was?
That never heard thy name sung but in banquets,
And loose lascivious pleasures ?-to a boy,
That had no faith to comprehend thy greatness,
No study of thy life to know thy goodness?
Egyptians, do you think your highest pyramids,
Built to outdure the sun, as you suppose,
Where your unworthy kings lie raked in ashes,
Are monuments fit for him! No, brood of Nilus,
Nothing can cover his high fame but heaven;

No pyramids set off his memories,

But the eternal substance of his greatness,
To which I leave him."

It is something worth living for, to write or even read such poetry as this is, or to know that it has been written, or that there have been subjects on which to write it !-This, of all Beaumont

and Fletcher's plays, comes the nearest in style and manner to Shakspeare, not excepting the first act of the Two Noble Kinsmen,' which has been sometimes attributed to him.

The Faithful Shepherdess,' by Fletcher alone, is "a perpetual feast of nectar'd sweets, where no crude surfeit reigns." The author has in it given a loose to his fancy, and his fancy was his most delightful and genial quality, where, to use his own words,

"He takes most ease, and grows ambitious

Thro' his own wanton fire and pride delicious.”

The songs and lyrical descriptions throughout are luxuriant and delicate in a high degree. He came near to Spenser in a certain tender and voluptuous sense of natural beauty; he came near to Shakspeare in the playful and fantastic expression of it. The whole composition is an exquisite union of dramatic and pastoral poetry; where the local descriptions receive a tincture from the sentiments and purposes of the speaker, and each character, cradled in the lap of nature, paints "her virgin fancies wild" with romantic grace and classic elegance.

The place and its employments are thus described by Chloe to Thenot:

"Here be woods as green

As any, air likewise as fresh and sweet
As where smooth Zephyrus plays on the fleet
Face of the curled stream, with flow'rs as many
As the young spring gives, and as choice as any;
Here be all new delights, cool streams and wells,
Arbours o'ergrown with woodbine; caves, and dells;
Chuse where thou wilt, while I sit by and sing,

Or gather rushes, to make many a ring

For thy long fingers; tell thee tales of love,

How the pale Phoebe, hunting in a grove,

First saw the boy Endymion, from whose eyes
She took eternal fire that never dies;

How she conveyed him softly in a sleep,

His temples bound with poppy, to the steep

Head of old Latmos, where she stoops each night,
Gilding the mountain with her brother's light,
To kiss her sweetest."

There are few things that can surpass in truth and beauty of allegorical description the invocation of Amaryllis to the God of Shepherds, Pan, to save her from the violence of the Sullen Shepherd, for Syrinx's sake:

"For her dear sake,

That loves the rivers' brinks, and still doth shake

In cold remembrance of thy quick pursuit !"

Or again, the friendly Satyr promises Clorin

"Brightest, if there be remaining

Any service, without feigning
I will do it; were I set

To catch the nimble wind, or get
Shadows gliding on the green."

It would be a task no less difficult than this, to follow the flight of the poet's Muse, or catch her fleeting graces, fluttering her golden wings, and singing in notes angelical of youth, of love, and joy!

There is only one affected and ridiculous character in this drama, that of Thenot in love with Clorin. He is attached to her for her inviolable fidelity to her buried husband, and wishes her not to grant his suit, lest it should put an end to his passion. Thus he pleads to her against himself :—

"If you yield, I die

To all affection; 'tis that loyalty

You tie unto this grave I so admire;

And yet there's something else I would desire,

If you would hear me, but withal deny.

Oh Pan, what an uncertain destiny

Hangs over all my hopes! I will retire;
For if I longer stay, this double fire
Will lick my life up."

This is paltry quibbling. It is spurious logic, not genuine feeling. A pedant may hang his affections on the point of a dilemma in this manner; but nature does not sophisticate; or when she does, it is to gain her ends, not to defeat them.

The Sullen Shepherd turns out too dark a character in the

« AnteriorContinua »