Page images
PDF
EPUB

exceptionableness of the subject is that which constitutes the chief merit of the play. The repulsiveness of the story is what gives it its critical interest; for it is a studiously prosaic statement of facts, and naked declaration of passions. It was not the least of Shakespear's praise, that he never tampered with unfair subjects. His genius was above it; his taste kept aloof from it. I do not deny the power of simple painting and polished style in this tragedy in general, and of a great deal more in some few of the scenes, particularly in the quarrel between Annabella and her husband, which is wrouglat up to a pitch of demoniac scorn and phrensy with consummate art and knowledge ; but I do not find much other power in the author (generally speaking) than that of playing with edged tools, and knowing the use of poisoned weapons. And what confirms me in this opinion is the comparative inefficiency of his other plays. Except the last scene of the Broken Heart (which I think extravagant drinking, as peremptory as Sir Giles himself.-Marrall is another instance of confived comic humour, whose ideas never wander beyond the ambition of being the implicit drudge of another's knavery or good fortune. He sticks to his stewardship, and resists the favour of a salute from a fine lady as not entered in his accounts. The humour of this character is less striking in the play than in Munden's personification of it. The other characters do not require any particular analysis. They are very insipid, good sort of people."

<

others

may think it sublime, and be right) they are merely exercises of style and effusions of wire-drawn sentiment. Where they have not the sting of illicit passion, they are quite pointless, and seem painted on gauze, or spun of cobwebs. The affected brevity and division of some of the lines into hemistichs, &c. so as to make in one case a mathematical stair-case of the words and answers given to different speakers*, is an instance of frigid and ridiculous pedantry. An artificial elaborateness is the general characteristic of Ford's style. In this respect his plays resemble Miss Baillie's more than any others I am acquainted with, and are quite distinct from the exuberance and unstudied force which characterised his immediate predecessors. There is too much of scholastic subtlety, an innate perversity of understanding or predominance of will, which either seeks the irritation of inadmissible subjects, or to stimulate its own faculties by taking the most barren, and making something out of nothing, in a spirit of contradiction. He

* Ithocles. Soft peace enrich this room.
Orgilus.

How fares the lady?
Philema. Dead !
Christalla. Dead !
Philema.

Starv'd!
Christalla.

Starv'd!
Ithocles.

Me miserable!"

}

does not draw along with the reader: he does not work upon our sympathy, but on our antipathy or our indifference; and there is as little of the social or gregarious principle in his productions as there appears to have been in his personal habits, if we are to believe Sir John Suckling, who says of him in the Sessions of the Poets

“ In the dumps John Ford alone by himself sat

With folded arms and melancholy hat."

I do not remember without considerable effort the plot or persons of most of his plays—Perkin Warbeck, The Lover's Melancholy, Love's Sacrifice, and the rest. There is little character, except of the most evanescent or extravagant kind (to which last class we may refer that of the sister of Calantha in the Broken Heart). little imagery or fancy, and no action. It is but fair however to give a scene or two, in illustra-, tion of these remarks (or in confutation of them, if they are wrong) and I shall take the concluding one of the Broken Heart, which is held up as the author's master-piece.

“ Scene-A Room in the Palace.

Loud Music.- Enter Euphranea, led by Groneas and He

mophil: Prophilus, led by Christalla and Philema: Nearchus supporting Calantha, Crotolon, and Amelus.-(Music ceases).

Cal. We miss our servants, Ithocles and Orgilus; on

whom attend they?
Crot. My son, gracious princess,
Whisper'd some new device, to which these revels
Should be but usher: wherein I conceive
Lord Ithocles and he himself are actors.

Cal. A fair excuse for absence. As for Bassanes,
Delights to him are troublesome. Armostes
Is with the king ?
Cret.

He is.
Cal.

On to the dance !
Dear cousin, hand you the bride: the bridegroom must be
Entrusted to my courtship. Be not jealous,
Euphranea ; I shall scarcely prove a temptress.
Fall to our dance !

(They dance the first change, during which enter

Arinostes).
Arm. (In a whisper to Calantha). The king your father's

dead.
Cal. To the other change.
Arm.

Is't possible ?

[ocr errors]

Another Dance.- Enter Bassanes.

Bass. (In a whisper to Calantha). Oh! Madain, Penthea, poor Penthea's starv'd.

Cal. Beshrew thee! Lead to the next!

Bass. Amazement dulls my senses.

Another Dance.- Enter Orgilus.

Org. Brave Ithocles is murder'd, murder'd cruelly.

(Aside to Calantha). Cal. How dull this music sounds! Strike up more sprightly:

[ocr errors]

Our footings are not active like our heart",
Which treads the nimbler ineasure.
Org. I am thunderstruck.

The last Change.-Music ceases.
Cal. So; let us breathe awhile. Hath not this motion
Rais'd fresher colours on our cheek?

Near. Sweet princess,
A perfect purity of blood enamels
The beauty of your white.

Cal. We all look cheerfully:
And, cousin, 'tis methinks a rare presumption
In any who prefers our lawful pleasures
Before their own sour censure, to interrupt
The custom of this ceremony bluntly.

Near. None dares, lady.

Cal. Yes, yes; some hollow voice deliver'd to me How that the king was dead.

Arm. The king is dead," &c. &c.

This, I confess, appears to me to be tragedy in masquerade. Nor is it, I think, accounted for, though it may be in part redeemed by her solemn address at the altar to the dead body of her husband.

Cal. Forgive me. Now I turn to thee, thou shadow
Of my contracted lord ! Bear witness all,
I put my mother's wedding-ring upon
His finger; 'twas my father's last bequest:

(Places a ring on the finger of Ithocles). Thus I new marry him, whose wife I am: Death shall not separate us. Oh, my lords,

High as our heart." — See passage from the Malcontent.

« PreviousContinue »