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Preston, in sad and sober earnest. In “the division of the partes” there are thirty-eight dramatis personae which are to be layed by eight men. e have Venus and Small-habilitie— uff and Murder—Ruff and Commons-cry—Execution, and Cupid; besides other equally delectable personages. In the course of the piece, which is not divided into acts, Cambises orders a judge to be flayed alive; and to shew a faithful counsellor, who had warned him against the vice of drunkenness, that he could in that state act with judgement and discretion, he gets drunk, has his counsellor's son tied up, sends an arrow into his breast, and then has the body opened, to shew what an accurate aim he has taken at the heart. He subsequently murders his brother, and next his wife for reproving his cruelty, and . runs his own sword into his side as he is getting on horseback. What a delightful bloody treat was this for an English audience, if it were ever presented to one—a Roman amphitheatre was nothing to it—it was a feast for a vampire. But it is charitable to suppose this Master Preston meant no great harm; for we find, from the stage directions, that the judge is only to be smitten on the neck with a sword, to ji, his death, and afterwards is to be flayed with a false skin; and when the king's brother is to be slain, a little bladder of vinegar is to be spilled, instead of his heart's blood. It may farther be proper to inform the reader, that the greater part of this or is brought about by Ambidexter the Vice. The piece is written in long alexandrines. One quotation will be enough to shew the reader the style in which it is written, which was not uncommon at that time.
“King. My queen, parpend, what I pronounce
A wunder great it was to see
That freendship in a whelp.
The lion did convince;
Did glad the hart of prince.
[At this tale tolde, let the Queene weep."*
The tragedy of Ferrex and Porrex, acted before Queen Elizabeth in 1561, a spurious copy of which originally appeared under the title of Gorboduc, is generally considered as the first tragedy which appeared in the English language. It was the joint production of Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville, afterwards Lord Buckhurst; the three first acts being ascribed to the former, and the remainder to the latter. This play has been much lauded, and we think far, very far, beyond its intrinsic merit; but it nevertheless possesses the extrinsic value of being the first piece which, in plot, incident, and character, is entitled to the name of an English tragedy. Sir Philip Sidney says, it is " full of stately speeches and well-sounding phrases, climbing to the height of Seneca his style, and as full of notable morality, which it doth most delightfully teach." Rymer thinks it might have been a better direction to Shakspeare and Jonson, than any guide they had the luck to follow; and Pope praises it for the propriety of the sentiments and the perspicuity of the style.—It is written in blank verse, and divided into five acts, each of which is preceded by a dumbshow, typical of the ensuing act, and, except the last, concluded with a chorus. The incidents are described in the argument of the tragedy. ■
"Gorboduc, King of Britain, divided his realm in his life-time to his sons, Ferrex and Porrex: the sons fell to dissention: the younger killed the elder: the mother, that more dearly loved the elder, for revenge killed the younger: the people, moved with the cruelty of the fact, rose in rebellion, and slew both father and mother: the nobility assembled, and most terribly destroyed the rebels: and afterwards, for want of issue of the prince whereby the succession of the crown became uncertain, they fell to civil war, in which both they and many of their issues were slain, and the land for a long time almost desolate and miserably wasted."
• This is supposed to be alluded to by Shakspeare when he introduces Falstaff, saying, " Give me a cup of sack to make my eyes look red, that it may be thought I have wept; for I must speak in passion, and I will do it in King Cambises' vein."—Hen. 4, 1st part.
Of the nature of the dumb show, our readers will judge from that prefixed to the third act, which, as the shortest, we shall extract. ■'
"First the musick of flutes began to play, during which came in upon the stage a company of mourners all clad in black, betokening death and sorrow to ensue upon the ill-advised misgovernment and dissention of brethren, as befell upon the murder of Ferre.x by his younger brother. After the mourners had passed thrice about the rtage, they departed, and then the musick ceased."
This play is purely of a political character, and is filled with speeches on the advantages of union and the evils of civil dissention, of an immeasurable length, written undoubtedly with clearness and precision, but as dry and uninteresting as can well be conceived. There is no poetry that we can find, and but one burst of genuine passion in the whole play, and this is in the part attributed to Sackville.
"Marcella. O, where is ruth? or where is pity now?
Gorboduc. Madam, alas, what means your woful tale?
Marcella. 0, silly woman I; why to this hour
His heart stab'd in with knife is reft of life.
* • * • * *
Arostus. O, damned deed.
Arostus. Never did age bring forth so vile a fact!
Marcella. O hard and cruel hap, that thus assigned Unto so worthy wight so wretched end: But most hard cruel heart, that could consent To lend the hateful destinies that hand, By which, alas, so heinous crime was wrought O, queen of adamant! O, marble breast! If not the favour of his comely face, If not his princely cheer and countenance, His valiant active arms, his manly breast, If not his fair and seemly personage, His noble limbs, in such proportion cast As would have warpt a silly woman's thought; If this mought not have mov'd thy bloody heart, And that most cruel hand, the wretched weapon Ev'n to let fall, and kiss him in the face, With tears for ruth to reave such one by death: Should nature yet consent to slay her son? O mother, thou to murder thus thy child! Ev'n Jove with justice must with lightning flames From heaven, send down some strange revenge on thee, Ah, noble prince, how oft have I beheld
Thee mounted on thy fierce and trampling steed,
This passage is given in Mr. Charles Lamb's excellent book of dramatic specimens, and, on that account, we should not have extracted it, had we really been able to find any thing else of equal merit as a specimen of this far-famed tragedy. It is matter of doubt whether such dull declamation as this play is filled with, or the extravagance and tumour of its immediate successors, are most tolerable.
About the same period, Mr. Richard Edwards produced his comedy of Damon and Pithias.” It is not divided into acts, and is written in rhymed couplets of different lengths, some of the lines extending to twenty-one syllables. It might have been reasonably expected, that the story would have elicited some touches of pathos, that the lofty devotedness of its heroes would have awakened some feeling of the beauty and grandeur of a friendship, which has stood like a rock in the flux of ages. But the author has produced a mere petrifaction. His attempts at humour are equally cold and hard. Several of our earliest dramatic writers, conscious of the feelings which certain situations ought to call forth, but without the power of passionate expression, were contented to make their characters express the propriety of their being very sorrowful or very angry, and their intention to be so, without exhibiting passion or feeling in the dialogue. The following quotation will illustrate our meaning. Pithias, being informed that Damon has been put in prison and condemned to die, exclaims,
“Pithias. Ah, wofull Pithias' sith now I am alone, What way shall I first beginne to make my mone? What wordes shall I fynde apt for my complaint? Damon, my friend, my joy, my lyfe, is in perrill, of force I must no faint. But oh musick, as in joyfull tunes thy mery notes I did borrow, So now lend mee thy yernfull tunes, to utter my sorrow.
This play, without any very heinous defects, is sufficiently
* Acted before 1566. WOL. II. PART I. G