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which is quite compatible with an unhumorous disposition. To pronounce judgment on such a writer, so far above the moral vices, yet so amenable to the literary faults of his age, is abnormally difficult; and the greatest critics of Elizabethan drama have withheld or qualified their sentence. It is enough to say that in Massinger's work, so much of it written in the reign of Charles I, and amid the general decay of Elizabethan vitality, the light which shines from every page of Shakespeare still burns, with a feeble gleam, indeed, but with something of its old purity.
$ 11. When the forgotten dramatists were revived in the first half of the nineteenth century, special attention was given to JOHN FORD, and, since then, he has never been without his admirers. He was born at Ilsington, on
(born 1586). the south-eastern slopes of Dartmoor, and entered the Middle Temple in 1602. His first play was a comedy, called An Ill Beginning has a Good End (1613); and it is known that during these years he worked with other dramatists. Part of The Witch of Edmonton is due to him ; and it would be interesting to see the play he wrote in partnership with Webster, bearing the grisly title of A Late Murder of the Son upon the Mother (1624). All his comedies have, perhaps fortunately, perished, owing to the good offices of Warburton's cook, and, with the exception of The Sun's Darling, a masque written with Dekker (1624), the first piece of Ford's that we possess is The Lover's Melancholy (1628). In 1633 were published the three great plays on which his reputation rests, the terrible tragedy of Giovanni and Annabella, The Broken Heart, and Love's Sacrifice. Perkin Warbeck belongs to 1634, and two very slight pieces, The Fancies, Chaste and Noble, and The Lady's Trial, to 1638. At this point Ford vanishes into private life, and nothing more is heard of him.
Ford was a great poet, and his tragic power is undeniable. He is Webster's only rival in the peculiar kind of tragedy which they both affected; but his style has nothing of Webster's roughness and rude strength, nor do his of Ford with
Comparison phrases strike us with so convincing a force. No Webster and reader, however casual, can fail to detect Webster's
Massinger. curious, sudden gift of phrase-the articulate sentence which now and then comes in between stammerings. On the other hand, the reader whose ear is not keen to the manifold variety of sound may skim over Ford's easy lines and condemn him as another Massinger. Ford never stammered, but his fluency was not the mechanical ease of Massinger. As a dramatist Massinger is the better of the two; but Ford is the greater poet. Of all the phalanx of dramatists, he Artistic alone is the perfect artist in words. Looking through Ford's work. The Lover's Melancholy, which, as a play, is indescribably weak, it is hard to find an imperfect line. The use of hendecasyllabic lines, which, with Fletcher and Massinger,
leads to a dreadful monotony, is carefully restrained ; where an extra foot occurs in the line, it does not break the rhythm, but varies it. There is no doubt that the structure is artificial, but the result is exquisite. The autumnal character of his style is more than symbolical of everything else about him. He comes at the very end of the procession of dramatists. The energies
of the drama were well-nigh exhausted, and, as the quiet autumn afternoon decayed into winter, the
whole scene was suddenly lit up into a sad bla of gold by Ford's melancholy genius. Ford's mind was coloured with an unhealthy tinge; he was not precisely in love with the artificial, but he was persistently enamoured of the unnatural. This curious moral twist is far more characteristic of decadence than any mere theatrical and unreal love of effect. Ford is, we have said, abnormally characteristic of one side of his period. In his choice and treatment of subject, his judgment always seems warped. His most famous tragedy is founded upon a very horrible and disagreeable theme. Ford, however, seems to have thought it quite the reverse, and beckons to us to mourn over the loves of Giovanni and Annabella as though they were Romeo and Juliet. To compare this tale with any similar tragedy-The Duchess of Malf or Women Beware Women, for example—is to realise the morality of Webster and Middleton, and their indignation at wrong. Ford condones wrong which Webster would have shuddered at. One may suspect that he himself had no very acute sense of the distinction between good and evil, and that he chose the least pleasant manifestations of passion for the sake of a curious delight in studying their anatomy. His plays are, in the very first place, thoughtful and suggestive ; his poetry has a meditative air of self-communion ; his action is never hurried, nor do we follow it with breathless interest. His aim is to plunge us, by the use of extraordinary artifice, deeper and deeper into a gulf of sorrow, and his success, with any moderately impressionable reader, is marvellous. However, once or twice he has overshot the mark. The famous scene in The Broken Heart, in which Calantha, amid reiterated tidings of death, preserves her gaiety at the dance, spoils a play that would otherwise be excellent. A writer of this stamp, devoted to the abnormal, can hardly be expected to give reality to his distorted creations. And, in the end, it cannot be said that we see Ford's personages clearly-they are dim figures shadowed through a vague mist of graceful poetry, something we seem, in his own words, to “remember a great while since, a long, long time ago.”
$ 12. The last and youngest of the great dramatists was a ver. satile person whose position in literature is more important than
his actual plays. JAMES SHIRLEY was born in the JAMES City of London, and was educated at Merchant (1596-1666). Taylors' School, from which he proceeded to
St. John's College, Oxford. Laud, who was then
Master, objected to Shirley's intention of taking Orders, owing to the presence of a mole on the poet's left cheek. It may have been this which sent Shirley from Oxford to Cambridge, where he spent some time at Catharine Hall, and, having taken his degree, entered into Holy Orders. In 1623 he became master at St. Albans Grammar School, and apparently held a living near the town, which, after his conversion to the Roman faith a little later, he resigned. His schoolmaster days ended about 1625, when he had commenced as dramatist. Already, in 1618, he had published his Echo, or the Infortunate Lovers, probably the first version of the poem eventually known as Narcissus (1646), a venture in that soft and luxurious manner which most of the dramatists cultivated in their youth. But his first comedy, The School of Compliment, did not appear until 1625, when it was known as Love Tricks with Compliments. In 1626 he followed this up with a pair of plays—The Maid's Revenge and The Brothers--the first of which was a gentle essay in the Tragedy of Blood, the second a comedy. His next important play is a comedy, acted in 1628, The Witty Fair One. For the next few years his pen was occupied with play after play. In 1629 we have The Grateful Servant ; in 1631 1 he Traitor, a tragedy borrowed loosely from the story of Lorenzino de' Medici, and reminding us of Tourneur's famous adaptation of the same tale. In 1632 he produced The Changes, or Love in a Maze, the excellent comedy of Hyde Park, and The Ball, in which he was aided, as we have mentioned before, by the veteran George Chapman. From 1633 to 1635 he was very productive. To the last year belong The Tragedy of Chabot, Admiral of France, in which Shirley and Chapman again worked together; and one of his best comedies, The Lady of Pleasure. It is known that, somewhere about this time, Shirley went over to Ireland and wrote for Ogilby's theatre in Dublin. This, Mr. Gosse thinks, was from 1636 to 1640; and, during this interval, he brought out, or at least wrote, The Royal Master; The Doubtful Heir; The Constant Maid; and the curious extravaganza called St. Patrick for Ireland. In 1640 he returned to England, and wrote as untiringly as ever. Among his last works we need mention only. The Cardinal, in which Shirley made use of The Duchess of Malfi
, just as, in The Traitor, he had made use of The Revenger's Tragedy. But, in 1642, with the closing of the play-houses, Shirley's occupation went; and, during the Great Rebellion, we have it on Anthony Wood's authority that, after Marston Moor, he went abroad with his patron, the Earl of Newcastle, to whom he had dedicated The Traitor. A year or two later, he came back quietly to England, and again became a schoolmaster in Whitefriars. He lived till 1666, but wrote no more plays, his only publication being his Poems of 1646. At the Restoration his plays were produced again, but the taste of the time had altered, and his style was obsolete. The Great
Fire of 1666 caused his death. He and his wife (he was married twice) had to leave their house in Fleet Street and escape from the flames to some place of refuge in St. Giles', where they both died on the same day of pure fright and the cold October air. They were buried, like Chapman, in St. Giles' churchyard.
Shirley's work is never quite first-rate ; on the other hand, he is always readable. It is usual to cite him, because he lived
and wrote later than any of the other dramatists, as
the regular example of the decadence. But he is really of Shirley.
less decadent than either Ford or Massinger : he
makes less demand on the artificial emotions than Massinger : the morality of his plays is not their strongest point, but it is not the twisted, unnatural plant which Ford cultivates so assiduously. He does not endeavour to paint black white, but leaves the question of black and white for the most part alone. At first sight, the reader of his best tragedy, The Traitor, or his best comedy, The Lady of Pleasure, putting aside any question of date, is inclined to recognise in them the admirable work of a dramatist writing somewhat in the manner of Beaumont and Fletcher, but with half their force. In fact, the link which connects Shirley with the decadence is not any obvious tendency to artificial methods, but a weakness and a slight inability to achieve the natural. If we reckon The Traitor and The Cardinal as Tragedies of Blood, we must confess that they are very mild attempts; we read them comfortably, without horror or tears, or any undue emotion, Of the comedies, it may be said that they are very charming reading, and leave an impression of excellent dialogue and thoroughly spontaneous poetry. But, although they contain many beautiful ladies, these
tender and fragile portraits combine in the memory Transitional into one delicate type which stands for all : we may character of
discriminate by names, but not by character. This
fixes Shirley's position. In style he may and does approximate to Fletcher; in his method of portraiture he brings us to the age of Congreve. His Violetta and Celestina stand before us, not with the clearness of Fletcher's Rosalura and Lillia Bianca, but with the dim prominence of Vanbrugh's Amanda and Congreve's Angelica—we do not say Millamant, for Millamant is something better than this. In a word, Shirley, with the poetry of the old romantic comedy, stands upon the threshold of the comedy of manners.
It is by his comedy that Shirley is to be judged, not by his tragedy, whose methods are simply ancient traditions in an
exhausted state. But we are likely to remember His lyric
him more gratefully as a lyric poet. He was a poetry.
favourite at Court, and his plays and numerous masques were often performed before Charles I. His masques are full of exquisite lyrics, and it is not too much to say that, among the dramatists, he stands as a lyric poet not much below
Shakespeare, beside Jonson, and a little above Heywood and Fletcher. Everyone knows “The glories of our blood and state," which, for sheer lyric enthusiasm, for the marshalling and movement of solemn words in regular order, and for a certain graceful austerity and self-control, is in the forefront of English poems of the kind.
If one is sometimes tempted to accuse Shirley of frigidity and the less execrable mannerisms of the Restoration period, this poem and others—“Victorious men of earth,” for instance-rise up to witness against us. In Shirley the Elizabethan drama died hard, succumbing to external circumstances rather than to any sudden decay of talent. The decay was there, and some startling Superiority, examples of it are included in the following Notes Elizabethan and Illustrations; but, presiding over the destinies of dramatists the theatre, arresting its glory from utter extinction, were men not wholly unworthy of the mantle of Shakespeare. Were our drama of the great period represented by these alone, we should still turn from Wycherley, Otway, Congreve, and even Dryden, to praise the genius of the preceding age, and lament its extinction.
NOTES AND ILLUSTRATIONS.
The dramatists of the Elizabethan | ander Brome, who may or may not age are almost innumerable ; and, in have been a relation. These, with addition to the plays of known five more, formed the reprint of his authorship, there are a great num- works in 1873. Brome's chief sucber which can be attributed to cesses are his semi-farcical plays, The nobody in particular. We have Northern Lass and A Jovial Crew ; already treated in detail the work but, as a dramatist, he is the type of those playwrights, from Mar- of a respectable mediocrity. His lowe to Shirley, who have left their idea of comedy, and that of his names firmly printed in the history friends, show how Fletcher's brilliant of English literature ; and now it comedy of intrigue altered the stanremains to notice briefly some other dard of all such dramatic work, and members of this great company in prepared for the transition, through their alphabetical order.
Shirley, to the Restoration comedy RICHARD BROME (d. 1652?) be- of manners. longed, during his later years, to the WILLIAM CARTWRIGHT (1611group of poets and wits known as 1643), student of Christ Church and "the Tribe of Ben," which found Precentor of Salisbury, was another its polestar in Ben Jonson. Brome of the Tribe of Ben, and his work had been Jonson's servant, and re- was highly esteemed by Jonson. His mained devotedly attached to him. chief comedy is The Ordinary. Ten plays by Brome, all comedies of HENRY CHETTLE (d. 1607?) bedifferent kinds, were published in longs to an earlier period. He was 1653 and 1659 by a certain Alex an industrious publisher and mis.