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"Tis hard to write on such a subject more,
But human frailty, nicely to unfold,
By painful steps at last we labour up
And with just pride behold the rest below.
To be the utmost stretch of human sense;
But what, alas! avails it, poor mankind,
trical representation-the regular introduction of actresses, or female players, and the use of moveable scenery and appropriate decorations. Females had performed on the stage previous to the Restoration, and considerable splendour and variety of scenery had been exhibited in the Court Masques and Revels. Neither, however, had been familiar to the public, and they now formed a great attraction to the two patent theatres. Unfortunately, these powerful auxiliaries were not brought in aid of the good old dramas of the age of Elizabeth and James. Instead of adding grace and splendour to the creations of Shakspeare and Jonson, they were lavished to support a new and degenerate dramatic taste, which Charles II. had brought with him from the continent. Rhyming or heroic plays had long been fashionable in France, and were dignified by the genius of Corneille and Racine. They had little truth of colouring or natural passion, but dealt exclusively with personages in high life and of transcendent virtue or ambition; with fierce combats and splendid processions; with superhuman love and beauty; and with long dialogues alternately formed of metaphysical subtlety and the most extravagant and bombastic expression. 'Blank verse,' says Dryden, is acknowledged to be too low for a poem, nay more, for a paper of verses; but if too low for an ordinary sonnet, how much more for tragedy! Accordingly, the heroic plays were all in rhyme, set off not only with superb dresses and decorations, but with the richest and most ornate kind of verse, and the farthest removed from ordinary colloquial diction.' The comedies were degenerate in a different way. They were framed after the model of the Spanish stage, and adapted to the taste of the king, as exhibiting a variety of complicated intrigues, successful disguises, and constantly-shifting scenes and adventures. The old native English virtues of sincerity, conjugal fidelity, and prudence, were held up to constant ridicule, as if amusement could only be obtained by obliterating the moral feelings. Dryden ascribes the licentiousness of the stage to the example of the king. Part, however, must be assigned to the earlier comedies of Beaumont and Fletcher, and part to the ascetic puritanism and denial of all public amusements during the time of the commonwealth. If the Puritans had contented themselves with regulating and purifying the theatres, they would have conferred a benefit on the nation; but, by shutting them up entirely, and denouncing all public recreations, they provoked a counteraction in the taste and manners of the people. The over-austerity of one period led naturally to the shameless degeneracy of the succeeding period; and deeply is it to be deplored, that the great talents of Dryden were the most instrumental in extending and prolonging this depravation of the national taste.
The operas and comedies of Sir William Davenant were the first pieces brought out on the stage after the Restoration. He wrote twenty-five in all; but, notwithstanding the partial revival of the old dramatists, none of Davenant's productions have been reprinted. His last work,' says Southey, was his worst; it was an alteration of the Tempest, executed in conjunction with Dryden; and marvellous indeed it is, that two men of such great and indu
At the restoration of the monarchy the drama was also restored, and with new lustre, though less decency. Two theatres were licensed in the metropolis, one under the direction of Sir William Dave-bitable genius should have combined to debase, and nant, who, as already mentioned, had been permitted vulgarise, and pollute such a poem as the Tempest.' to act plays even during the general proscription of The marvel is enhanced when we consider that the drama, and whose performers were now (in com- Dryden writes of their joint labour with evident pliment to the Duke of York) named the Duke's complacency, at the same time that his prologue Company. The other establishment was managed to the adapted play contains the following just and by Thomas Killigrew, a well-known wit and courtier, beautiful character of his great predecessor :whose company took the name of the King's Servants. As when a tree's cut down, the secret root Davenant effected two great improvements in thea-Lives under ground, and thence new branches shoot;
So, from old Shakspeare's honour'd dust, this day
If they have since outwrit all other men,
'Tis with the drops which fell from Shakspeare's pen.
formed, like all his other plays, by scenes of spu rious and licentious comedy, it contains passages that approach closely to Shakspeare. The quarrel and reconciliation of Sebastian and Dorax is a masterly copy from the similar scene between Brutus and Cassius. In the altercation between Ventidius and Antony in All for Love,' he has also challenged comparison with the great poet, and seems to have been inspired to new vigour by the competition. This latter triumph in the genius of Dryden was completed by his Ode to St Cecilia' and the 'Fables,' published together in the spring of 1700, a few weeks before his death-thus realising a saying of his own Sebastian
Dryden was in the full tide of his theatrical popularity when Davenant died, in 1688. The great poet commenced writing for the stage in 1662, when he produced his Wild Gallant, which was followed next year by the Rival Ladies, the serious parts of which are in rhyme. He then joined Sir Robert Howard in composing the Indian Queen, a rhyming heroic play, brought cut in 1664, with a splendour never before seen in England upon a public stage. A continuation of this piece was shortly afterwards written by Dryden, entitled the Indian Emperor, and both were received with great applause. All the defects of his style, and many of the choicest specimens of his smooth and easy versification, are to be found in these inflated tragedies. In 1667 was represented his Maiden Queen, a tragi-comedy; and shortly afterwards the Tempest. These were followed by two comedies copied from the French of Moliere and Corneille; by the Royal Martyr, another furious tragedy, and by his Conquest of Granada, in two parts, in which he concentrated the wild magnificence, incongruous splendour, and absurd fable that run through all his heroic plays, mixed up with occasional gleams of true genius. The extravagance and unbounded popularity of the heroic drama, now at its height, prompted the Duke of Buckingham to compose a lively and amusing farce, in ridicule of Dryden and the prevailing taste of the public, which was produced in 1671, under the title of the Rehearsal. The success of the 'Rehearsal' was unbounded; the very popularity of the plays ridiculed aiding,' as Sir Walter Scott has remarked, the effect of the satire, since everybody had in their recollection the originals of the passages parodied.' There is little genuine wit or dramatic art in the 'Rehearsal,' but it is a clever travesty, and it was well-timed. A fatal blow was struck at the rhyming plays, and at the rant and fustian to which they gave birth. Dryden now resorted to comedy, and produced Marriage a-laMode, and the Assignation. In 1673 he constructed a dramatic poem, the State of Innocence, or the Fall of Man, out of the great epic of Milton, destroying, of course, nearly all that is sublime, simple, and pure, in the original. His next play, Aureng-Zebe (1675), was also 'heroic,' stilted, and unnatural; but this was the last great literary sin of Dryden. He was now engaged in his immortal satires and fables, and he abandoned henceforward the false and glittering taste which had so long deluded him. His All for Love, and Troilus and Cressida, are able adaptations from Shakspeare in blank verse. The Spanish Friar is a good comedy, remarkable for its happy union of two plots, and its delineation of comic character. His principal remaining plays are Don Sebastian (1690), Amphitryon (1690), Cleomenes(1692), and Love Triumphant (1694). Don Sebastian' is his highest effort in dramatic composition, and though de
A setting sun
Should leave a track of glory in the skies. Dryden's plays have fallen completely into oblivion. command of rich stores of language, information, He could reason powerfully in verse, and had the and imagery. Strong energetic characters and passions he could portray with considerable success, but he had not art or judgment to construct an interesting or consistent drama, or to preserve himself from extravagance and absurdity. The female chabeyond his reach. His love is always licentiousness racter and softer passions seem to have been entirely
his tenderness a mere trick of the stage. Like Voltaire, he probably never drew a tear from reader or spectator. His merit consists in a sort of Eastern magnificence of style, and in the richness of his versification. The bowl and dagger-glory, ambition, lust, and crime are the staple materials of his tragedy, and lead occasionally to poetical grandeur and brilliancy of fancy. His comedy is, with scarce an exception, false to nature, improbable and illarranged, and subversive equally of taste and morality.
Before presenting a scene from Dryden, we shall string together a few of those similes or detached sentiments which relieve the great mass of his turgid dramatic verse:
Love is that madness which all lovers have;
By all the heavenly nations she is blest,
Ibid. Part I.
Love various minds does variously inspire:
A fire which every windy passion blows;
No man has more contempt than I of breath;
[Love and Beauty.]
A change so swift what heart did ever feel!
All things are hush'd, as Nature's self lay dead;
They break the truce, and sally out by night.
The next a swarm of base ungrateful thoughts
[Fear of Death.]
BERENICE. SAINT CATHERINE.
Ber. Now death draws near, a strange perplexity
Ber. As some faint pilgrim, standing on the shore,
Both heavenly faith and human fear obey;
Ber. My carthy part,
Which is my tyrant's right, death will remove.
[Love Anticipated after Death.]
Por. You either this divorce must seek, or die.
[Adam after the Fall.]
ADAM. RAPHAEL. EVE.
Adam. Heaven is all mercy; labour I would choose;
Adam. The deaths thou show'st are forced and full
Cast headlong from the precipice of life.
Raph. There is—but rarely shall that path be trod,
Adam. So noiseless would I live, such death to find,
Eve. Thus daily changing, with a duller taste
State of Innocence.
[Scene between Mark Antony and Ventidius, his general.] [Dryden says he preferred this scene to anything which he had written of that kind. It occurs in the first act of All for Love,' a tragedy founded on the story of Antony and Cleopatra, and avowedly written in imitation of Shakspeare. All for Love' was the only play Dryden ever wrote for himself; the rest, he says, were given to the people. It will be observed that
this scene, as also that between Dorax and Sebastian, is copied from the quarrel between Brutus and Cassius in Julius Cæsar.']
Ant. They tell me 'tis my birth-day, and I'll keep it With double pomp of sadness.
"Tis what the day deserves, which gave me breath.
Hung in the skies, and blazing as I travell'd,
Vent. [Aside] On my soul
'Tis mournful, wondrous mournful!
Ant. Count thy gains,
Now, Antony: wouldst thou be born for this?
Vent. [Aside.] How sorrow shakes him!
Live in a shady forest's sylvan scene;
Where have you learn'd that answer? Who am I?
Ant. All that's wretched.
To say I would not: but I dare not leave you;
Ant. Now thou hast seen me, art thou satisfied?
Vent. Look, emperor, this is no common dew;
Ant. By heav'n, he weeps! poor good old man, he
The big round drops course one another down
Vent. I'll do my best.
Ant. Sure there's contagion in the tears of friends;
Ant. Emperor! Why that's the style of victory.
Ant. [Having thrown himself down.] Lie there, thou
The place thou pressest on thy mother earth
Lie still and peaceful there. I'll think no more on't. For Julius fought it out, and lost it fairly;
"Tis somewhat to my humour. Stay, I fancy
Vent. I warrant you.
Ant. Actium, Actium! Oh
Vent. It sits too near you.
Ant. Here, here it lies; a lump of lead by day; And in my short, distracted, nightly slumbers, The hag that rides my dreams
Vent. Out with it; give it vent.
Ant. Urge not my shame
I lost a battle.
Vent. So has Julius done.
Ant. Thou favour'st me, and speak'st not half thou think'st;
Vent. Nay, stop not.
(Well, thou wilt have it), like a coward, fled,
I know thou cam'st prepared to rail.
Vent. I did.
Ant. I'll help thee-I have been a man, Ventidius.
Ant. I know thy meaning. But I have lost my reason, have disgrac'd The name of soldier with inglorious ease; In the full vintage of my flowing honours Sat still, and saw it press'd by other hands, Fortune came smiling to my youth, and woo'd it. And purple greatness met my ripen'd years. When first I came to empire, I was borne On tides of people, crowding to my triumphs. The wish of nations, and the willing world, Receiv'd me as its pledge of future peace. I was so great, so happy, so belov'd, Fate could not ruin me; till I took pains, And work'd against my fortune, chid her from me, And turn'd her loose: yet still she came again. My careless days and my luxurious nights At length have wearied her, and now she's gone; Gone, gone, divorc'd for ever. Help me, soldier, To curse this madman, this industrious fool, Who labour'd to be wretched. Pr'ythee curse me. Vent. No.
Vent. You are too sensible already
Of what you've done; too conscious of your failings.
I would bring balm, and pour it in your wounds,
Vent. I will.
Ant. Ha, ha, ha, ha!
Vent. You laugh.
Ant. I do, to see officious love
Give cordials to the dead.
Vent. You would be lost, then?
Ant. I am.
Vent. I say you are not. Try your fortune.
Without just cause? No; when I found all lost
Vent. Cæsar thinks not so:
He'll thank you for the gift he could not take.
Ant. No, I can kill myself; and so resolve.
Vent. They petition
You would make haste to head 'em.
Vent. There's but one way shut up.
Vent. They would perhaps desire A better reason.
Ant. I have never us'd
My soldiers to demand a reason of
My actions. Why did they refuse to march ?
Vent. They said they would not fight for Cleopatra.
Ant. Ventidius, I allow your tongue free license
How came I [hither?
Vent. Behold, you pow'rs,
To whom you have intrusted humankind;
And all weigh'd down by one light worthless woman!
I think the gods are Antonies, and give,
Like prodigals, this nether world away
To none but wasteful hands.
Ant. You grow presumptuous.
Vent. I take the privilege of plain love to speak. Ant. Plain love! plain arrogance, plain insolence! Thy men are cowards, thou an envious traitor; Who, under seeming honesty, hath vented The burden of thy rank o'erflowing gall. Oh, that thou wert my equal; great in arms As the first Cæsar was, that I might kill thee Without stain to my honour!
Vent. You may kill me.
You have done more already-call'd me traitor. Ant. Art thou not one?
Ant. Forgive me, soldier;
I've been too passionate.
Vent. For showing you yourself, Which none else durst have done. But had I been That name which I disdain to speak again, I needed not have sought your abject fortunes, Come to partake your fate, to die with you. What hinder'd me to 've led my conqu'ring eagles To fill Octavius' bands? I could have been A traitor then, a glorious happy traitor, And not have been so call'd.
Vent. You thought me false;
Thought my old age betray'd you. Kill me, sir; Pray, kill me; yet you need not; your unkindness Has left your sword no work.
Ant. I did not think so;
Vent. No prince but you Could merit that sincerity I us'd;
I said it in my rage; pr'ythee forgive me. Why didst thou tempt my anger, by discovery Of what I would not hear?
Nor durst another man have ventur'd it;
Go on; for I can bear it now,
Vent. No more.
Ant. Thou dar'st not trust my passion; but thou may'st;
Thou only lov'st, the rest have flatter'd me.
Vent. Heaven's blessing on your heart for that kind
May I believe you love me? Speak again.