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THE UNHAPPY MARRIAGE.
Qui pelago credit, magno se fænore tollit;
PETRON, ARB, SATYRIC. CAP. 83.
The peculiarity as well as excellence of Otway's genius, appears with striking effect in this tragedy, which may justly rank among the most admirable productions of the English drama. Withdrawn at length from the sublime regions of fancy and romance, the allurements of rhyme, and the near contagion of fashionable insipidity, and restored to truth and nature, Otway seems to have imbibed the spirit of Shakespeare, our great dramatic exemplar; and expresses here more pure and impassioned eloquence, than we find in the inflexible stateliness of Raciŋe, or the heroic flights of Dryden. This play, from it's merit and reputation, which have diffused the fame of it's author in other countries, and awakened the satiric malignity of Voltaire, deserves a more detailed examination than it has hitherto obtained.
We may pronounce the “Orphan" tolerably exact in the observance of the unities. With regard to time, indeed, it slightly encroaches upon those rigid laws inposed by critics upon the draina, but which are neglected by many of our most eminent poets, often with impunity, and sometimes with applause. Provided the action be continuous, the unities of time and place are now seldom enforced with severity. If the senses of the audience are not shocked by any obvious violation of probability, it seems unnecessary to invent restraints
which give less pleasure to the spectator, than perplexity to the writer. The fable is borrowed from a novel, called “ English Adventures," and is briefly as follows:
A young lady deprived of her parents, is received into the hospitable mansion of a family in which are two sons, to whom she becomes equally the object of ardent attachment. Castalio, the eldest, upon whom her affections are fixed, is involved by conflicting motives of love and friendship in much dissimulation and duplicity of conduct. He conceals his love, and attempts to vanquish the hopeless passion of his brother, by little artifices, and by affecting on bis own part a careless indifference for his success. He at length privately marries Monimia: their conversation is overheard by Polydore, who, loosely imagining their assignation to be a criminal one, resolves to impose himself upon Monimia for his brother. This he is enabled to accomplish by his own dexterity, the artifices of a page, and the silence and secrecy which the delicate situation of the lovers required. The consequences of this act produce great horror and distress; and the catastrophe ensues : the injured husband is constrained to inflict the penalty of the offence upon his own brother, by the contrivance of the criminal hin self.
It has been objected, that the principal event is improbable. But besides the alledged truth of this part of the story", the imposture is supported by every cir
* This is not of much weight alone:-
cumstance which could assist and favour the delusion; and where, as in this instance, deceit is thought impracticable, suspicion is easily laid asleep, or absorbed in expectation.
The characters are drawn with skill and judgment. Acasto, a nobleman dignified and hospitable; preserving his loyalty amidst neglect, seorn, and ingratitude. His sons, twins by birth, and congenial in babits, pursuits, and amusements; both “plagued by one unhappy love,” which happily developes, and forcibly discriminates their characters. Movimia, the victim of a passion which her charms had innocently excited, claims a plentiful tribute of pity. Her virtue, beauty, and misfortunes, conspire to render her one of the most interesting personages in tragedy. Chamont, her brother, whose character is somewhat too boisterous, and often breaks with too much violence the melancholy tenor of the dialogue, is distinguished by an excessive jealousy of honour, and impatience of affront, which, if not required, are, at least, excused by his profession of a soldier".
The sentiments are generally appropriate. The plot being of a domestic kind, and the persons not of a very exalted rank, great comprehension of thought, or philosophical dignity of sentiment, cannot reasonably be expected. The passions, and their modes of exhi
* Voltaire indulges himself in ridiculing the character of Chamont. He thus describes his quarrel with Acasto: “ Cham. Je veux que vous lui appreniez a vivre, ou je mettrai le feu à la maison. - Acast. Hé, bien, hé bien, je vous rendrai justice."