« ПредишнаНапред »
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 now
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.
VOL. II. PART I,
dull. The author also wrote a comedy in two parts, called Palemon and Arcite, which was acted in Christ-church Hall, Oxford, in 1566, before Queen Elizabeth, who sent for the author, and promised to reward him for his pains.* Wood informs us, that this play was rehearsed before the queen's arrival, in the presence of certain courtiers, who thought it much superior to Damon and Pithias, and some of them went so far as to say, that if the author wrote any more plays, he would certainly run mad.- We have never seen this play, which does not appear to have been printed, but, judging from the one we have been noticing, we should think Mr. Edwards the last person in the world to fall into this extremity. We see no symptoms of such sensitive feelings-nothing of “ the poet's eye in a fine frenzy rolling.” We learn, from the same authority, that the cry of hounds was so admirably performed, as to deceive the young schollars in the remoter parts of the stage, who imagined there was a real chase, to the great admiration of the queen. Puttenham describes him as eminent for comedy and interlude, and it appears, from the prologue to Damon and Pithias, that he had written things of a less grave description. Some of his poems, probably those alluded to, were published after his death in the Paradise of Dainty Devises.
In the British Museum is “ A new tragicall comedie of Apius and Virginia, wherein is lively expressed a rare example of the virtue of chastie by Virginia's constancy, in wishing rather to be slaine at her owne father's hands, then to be deflowred of the wicked Judge Apius. By R. B. imprinted at London by William How, for Richard Jhones, 1575.” b). letter.
It will be sufficient to quote from this old drama the speech of Haphazard to Apius.
“ Well then, this is my counsel, thus standeth the case,
The Promos and Casandra of George Whetstone, printed in 1578, contains the rough sketch of the plot of Shakspeare's Measure for Measure, borrowed from an Italian novel. It deserves mention on no other account.
Robert Greene, the next dramatic author we shall notice, was born probably about 1560—he was educated at Cambridge,
* Edwards died the same year.
and “ travelled early,” says Oldys,“ with some wild company, to Italy and Spain” he took his degree of Master of Arts in 1583, and was, in the following year, presented to a vicarage in Essex, which he shortly afterwards resigned. It is conjectured, that about this time he married. His wife, an amiable woman, by whom he had an only son, he deserted for the embraces of a prostitute, and lived, for several years in London, a debauched and irregular life. By his licentious and expensive habits, his property was dissipated, and he was reduced to the necessity of writing for a subsistence. He is said to have been the first author who wrote for bread. It is but justice to mention, that Wood says "he wrote to maintain his wife,” adding however," and that high and loose course of living which poets generally follow.” A full measure of obloquy has been heaped upon the head of Greene, partly derived from his own works, and much from the representations of his inveterate enemy, Gabriel Harvey, whom, in his character of an almanack-maker, he had ridiculed. Wood describes Harvey to have brutally trampled upon the dead body of this unfortunate poet, in the grave. His works are very voluminous, and several of a penitential and warning character; for, having learned from his former associates the various arts of cosenage, then termed cony-catching, he was enabled to expose them with effect in his works. We extract from our author's “ Groats-worth of wit, bought with a million of repentance,” his address to his cotemporaries and friends, Marlowe, Lodge, and Peele; as it is a curious passage and illustrative of our present object.
“ To those gentlemen, his quondam acquaintance, that spend their wits in making plays, R. G. wisheth a better exercise, and wisedome to prevent his extremities.
“Wonder not, for with thee* will I first beginne, thou famous grace of tragedians, that Greene, who hath said with thee (like the fool) in his heart, “There is no God,' should now give glory unto his greatnesse: for penetrating is his power, his hand lies heavy upon me. Why should thy excellent wit, his gift, be so blinded that thou shouldest give no glory to the Giver ? O swinish folly! what are his rules but mere confused mockeries, able to extirpate, in small time, the generation of mankinde. I know the least of my demerits merit this miserable death; but wilfull striving against knowne truth, exceedeth all the terrors of my soule. Defuse not (with me) till this last poynt of extremity; for little knowest thou, how in the end thou shalt be visited.
“ With thee I joyne young Juvenal, that biting satyrist,t that lastly with mee together writ a comedy. Sweet boy, might I advise
thee, be advised, and get not many enemies by bitter words. Inveigh against vaine men, for thou canst doe it, no man better; no man so well: thou hast a liberty to reprove all; and name none : for one being spoken to, all are offended; none being blamed, no man is injured. Stop shallow water, still running, it will rage; tread on a worme, and it will turne: then blame not schollers who are vexed with sharpe and bitter lines, if they reprove thy too much liberty of reproofe.
** And thou* no lesse deserving than the other two; in some things rarer, in nothing inferiour; driven (as my selfe) to extreme shifts, a little have I to say to thee: and were it not an idolatrous oath, I would swear by sweet St. George, thou art unworthy better hap, sith thou dependest on so meane a stay. Base-minded men, all three of you, if by my misery yee bee not warned: for unto none of you (like me) sought those burs to cleave; those puppets (I mean) that speak from our mouths; those anticks, garnisht in our colours. Is it not strange that I, to whom they all have been beholding; is it not like that you, to whom they all have been beholding, shall (were ye in that case that I am now) be both of them at once forsaken? Yes, trust them not : for there is an upstart crow beautified with our feathers, that with his tyger's heart, wrapt in a player's hyde, supposes he is as wel able to bombast out a blank verse, as the best of you; and being an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scenet in a country.
“ But now returne I againe to you three, knowing my misery is to you no newes: and let me heartily entreat you to be warned by my harmes. Delight not (as I have done) in irreligious oaths, despise drunkenness, Alie lust, abhor those epicures, whose loose life hath made religion loathsome to your eares; and when they sooth you with termes of mastership, remember Robert Greene (whom they have often flattered) perishes for want of comfort. Remember, gentlemen, your lives are like so many light tapers, that are with care delivered to all of you to maintaine : these, with wind-puft wrath may be extinguished, with drunkenness put out, with negligence let fall. The fire of my light is now at the last snuffe. My hand is tyred, and I am forced to leave where I would begin. Desirous that you should live, though himself be dying;
This appears to have been written by Greene, when his heart was steeped in sorrow. The parting letter to his wife, also, indicates a deep feeling of contrition and remorse.
“ The remembrance of many wrongs offered thee, and thy unreproved virtues, add greater sorrow to my miserable state than I can utter, or thou conceive; neither is it lessened by consideration of thy absence, (tho' shame would let me hardly behold thy face) but exceed
* Geo. Peele.
ingly aggravated, for that I cannot as I ought to thy ownself reconcile myself, that thou might'st witness my inward woe at this instant, that hath made thee a woful wife for so long a time. But equal heaven has denied that comfort, giving at my last need, like succour as I have sought all my life, being in this extremity as void of help, as thou hast been of hope. Reason would, that after so long waste, I should not send thee a child to bring thee charge; but consider he is the fruit of thy womb, in whose face regard not the father, so much as thy own perfections: he is yet green, and may grow strait, if he be carefully tended, otherwise apt enough to follow his father's folly. That I have offended thee highly, I know; that thou canst forget my injuries, I hardly believe; yet I perswade myself, that if thou sawest my wretched estate, thou couldst not but lament it, nay certainly I know, thou wouldst. All thy wrongs muster themselves about me, and every evil at once plagues me; for my contempt of God, I am contemned of men; for my swearing and forswearing, no man will believe me; for my gluttony, I suffer hunger; for my drunkenness, thirst; for my adultery, ulcerous sores. Thus God hath cast me down that I might be humbled, and punished for example of others; and though he suffers me in this world to perish without succour, yet I trust in the world to come, to find mercy by the merits of my Saviour, to whom I commend thee, and commit my soul.
Thy repentant husband,
Robert Greene."* He is said to have died of a surfeit in 1592, a death conformable with the riotous indulgence of his life. Harvey, whose enmity ceased not with the death of our author, wrote the following epitaph on him.
“ Ille ego, cui risus, rumores, festa, puellæ,
Vana libellorum scriptio, vita fuit:
Autumno, atque hyemi, cum cane dico vale.
Ecquse not misero plangat avena tono ? Poor Greene! whilst we lament his errors, we may be allowed to sympathise with his sufferings and penitence, and drop a tear over the aberration of genius, which, like “ certain stars, shoots madly from its sphere.” We confess we have always felt a deep interest in his unfortunate story—we have sighed to see the glory of intellect thus dimmed and obscured. But to return to the more immediate object of this article.
* This is said, by Nash, to be a forgery.