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of Antony's character breathes out of his parting spirit:—
"The miserable change now at my end, Lament nor sorrow at: but please your
thoughts, In feeding them with those my former fortunes
Wherein I liv'd, the greatest prince o' the
The noblest: and do now not basely die,
CHAPTER I. THE DRAMATISTS OF SHAKSPERE'S THIRD PERIOD.
In the Address to the Reader prefixed to the first edition, published in 1612, of 'The White Devil, or Vittoria Corombona,' of John Webster, is the following passage:— "Detraction is the sworn friend to ignorance: for mine own part, I have ever truly cherished my good opinions of other men's worthy labours, especially of that full and heightened style of Master Chapman; the laboured and understanding works of Master Jonson ; the no less worthy composures of the both worthily excellent Master Beaumont and Master Fletcher; and lastly (without wrong last to be named), the right happy and copious industry of Master Shakespeare, Master Dekker, and Master Hey wood, wishing what I write may be read by their light; protesting that, in the strength of mine own judgment, I know them so worthy, that though I rest silent in my own work, yet to most of theirs I dare (without flattery) fix that of Martial:—
'Non norunt haec monnmenta mori.'"
Webster was formed upon Shakspere. He had no pretensions to the inexhaustible wit, the all-penetrating humour of his master; but he had the power of approaching the terrible energy of his passion, and the profoundness of his pathos, in characters which he took out of the great muster-roll of humanity,
and placed in fearful situations, and sometimes with revolting imaginings almost beyond humanity. Those who talk of the carelessness of Shakspere may bo surprised to find that his praise is that of a "right happy and copious industry." It is clear what dramatic writers were the objects of Webster's love. He did not aspire to the "full and heightened style of Master Chapman," nor would his genius be shackled by the examples of "the laboured and understanding works of Master Jonson." He belonged to the school of the romantic dramatists. Master Beaumont and Master Fletcher are "worthily excellent;" but his aspiration was to imitate "the right happy and copious industry of Master Shakespeare, Master Dekker, and Master Hey wood, wishing what I write may be read by their light." There were crities at that time who regarded the romantic drama as a diversion for the multitude only; and Webster thinks it necessary to apologize for this deliberate choice—"Willingly, and not ignorantly, in this kind have I faulted." He says—" If it be objected this is no true dramatic poem, I shall easily confess it, non poles in nugas dicere plura meas, ipse ego quam dixi; willingly, and not ignorantly, in this kind have I faulted: for should a man present, to such an auditory, the most sententious
tragedy that was ever written, observing all the critical laws, as height of style, and gravity of person, enrich it with the sententious Chorus, and, as it were, 'liven death, in the passionate and weighty Nuntias ; yet, after all this divine rapture, O dura messorum ilia, the breath that conses from the uncapable multitude is able to poison it; and, ere it be acted, let the author resolve to fix to every scene this of Horace—
'Hsec porcis hodie comedenda relinques.'"
As early as 1602, Webster was a writer for Henslow's theatre, in conjunction with Dekker, Drayton, Middleton, Chettle, Heywood, and Wentworth Smith. At a later period he was more directly associated with Dekker alone. His great tragedies of 'The White Devil' and 'The Duchess of Malfi' were produced at the period when Shakspere had almost ceased to write; and it is probably to this circumstance we owe these original and unaided efforts of Webster's genius. There was a void to be filled up, and it was filled up worthily.
Webster has placed his coadjutor Dekker next to Shakspere. He looked upon the world with an observant eye; and of him it has been said, that his " pamphlets and plays alone would furnish a more complete view of the habits and customs of his contemporaries in vulgar and middle life than could easily be collected from all the grave annals of the times."* He was confident in his powers; and claimed to be a satirist by as indefeasible a title as that of his greater rival Jonson:—"I am snake-proof; and though, with Hannibal, you bring whole hogsheads of vinegar-railings, it is impossible for you to quench or come over my Alpine resolution. I will sail boldly and desperately alongst the shores of the isle of Gulls; and in defiance of those terrible block-houses, their loggerheads, make a true discovery of their wild yet habitable country ."t Thomas Dekker is certainly one of those who gather humours from all men ; but his wit is not of the highest or the most delicate character. He knows the town, and he makes the most of
his knowledge. Though he is a "high flyer in wit," as Edward Phillips calls him, yet is he a poet. As he advanced in years, he was wielding greater powers, and dealing with nobler things, than belonged to the satirist. In his higher walk he is of the school of nature and simplicity. Hazlitt speaks of one of his plays, perhaps the best, with true artistic.il feeling:—" The rest of the character is answerable to the beginning. The execution is, throughout, as exact as the conception is new and masterly. There is the least colour possible used; the pencil drags; the canvas is almost seen through: but then, what precision of outline, what truth and purity of tone, what firmness of
hand, what marking of character!
It is as if there were some fine art to chisel thought, and to embody the inmost movements of the mind in every-day actions and familiar speech."* Dekker acquired some of his satirical propensities, but the tenderness of his heart was also called forth, in the crooked ways and dark places of misfortune. Almost the first record of his life is a memorandum by Henslow of the loan of forty shillings, "to discharge Mr. Dicker out of the Counter in the Poultry." Oldys, in his manuscript notes upon Langbaine, affirms that he was in the King's Bench Prison from 1613 to 1616. His own calamities furnish a commentary to the tenderness of many such passages as the following, in which a father is told of the miseries of his erring daughter:—
"I'm glad you are wax, not marble; you are
made Of man's best temper; there are now good
That all these heaps of ice about .your heart,
from your eyes:
We are ne'er like angels till our passion dies.
The praise of industry belongs to Dekker, though its fruits were poverty. He lived to a considerable age, and he laboured to the last at play or pamphlet. But the amount of his productions becomes almost insignificant when compared with the more than "copious industry" of Thomas Hey Wood. He was a scholar, having been educated at Cambridge—at Peterhouse, it is said; but he became an actor as early as 1598, being then a sharer in Henslow's company. In 1633 he claimed for himself the authorship, entirely or in part, of two hundred and twenty dramas. Many of his two hundred and twenty dramas were probably such short pieces as 'The Yorkshire Tragedy.' Heywood had the power of stirring the affections, of moving pity and terror by true representations of the course of crime and misery in real life. Charles Lamb has summed up the character of his writings in three lines:— "Heywood is a sort of prose Shakspeare. His scenes are to the full as natural and affecting. But we miss the poet, that which in Shakspeare always appears out and above the surface of the nature." Winstanley, not a very trustworthy authority, speaking of Heywood's wonderful fertility, says—" He not only acted himself almost every day, but also wrote each day a sheet; and that he might lose no time, many of his plays were composed in the tavern, on the back side of tavern bills; which may be an occasion that so many of them are lost."
* • Quarterly Review.' t • Gull's Hornbook.'
* 'Dramatic Literature of the Arc of Elizabeth.'
Francis Beaumont was a boy at the period to which our slight notice of his great coadjutor Fletcher belongs*. The poetical union of Beaumont and Fletcher has given birth to stories, such as Aubrey delights in telling, that their friendship extended even to a community of lodging and clothes, with others matters in common that are held to belong to the perfection of the social system. We neither believe these things entirely, nor do we quite receive the assertion of Dr. Earle, that Beaumont's "main business was to correct the overflowings of Mr. Fletcher's wit." Edward Phillips repeats this assertion. They first came before the world in the association of a title-page in 1607. The junior always preceded the elder poet in such announcements of their works; and this was probably determined by the alphabetical arrangement. We have many
indications that Beaumont was regarded by his contemporaries as a man of great and original power. It was not with the exaggeration of a brother's love that Sir John Beaumont wrote his affecting epitaph upon the death of Francis:—
"Thou shouldst have follow'd me, but death
Miscounted years, and measur'd age by fame." He was buried by the side of Chaucer and Spenser, in the hallowed earth where it was wished that Shakspere should have been laid :—
"Renowned Spenser, lie a thought more nigh
To lodge all four in one bed make a shift,
When Shakspere's company performed at Wilton, in December, 1603, it is more than probable that there was a young man present at those performances, whose course of life might have been determined by the impulses of those festive hours. Philip Massinger, who in 1603 was nineteen years of age, was the son of a gentleman filling a service of trust in the household of the Earls of Pembroke. At this period Philip was a commoner of St. Alban Hall, Oxford. "Being sufficiently famed for several specimens of wit, he betook himself to making plays." This is Anthony Wood's account of the dedication of Massinger to a pursuit which brought him little but hopeless poverty. Amongst Henslow's papers was found an undated letter, addressed to him by Nathaniel Field, with postscripts signed by Robert Daborne and Philip Massinger. Malone conjectures that the letter was written between 1612 and 1615, Henslow having died in January, 1616. The letter, which is a melancholy illustration of the oft-told tale of the misfortunes of genius, was first given in the additions to Malone's 'Historical Account of the English Stage :'—
* Book vi. chap. I. page 264.
* ' Elegy on Shakespear, by W. Baue.
"To our moat loving friend, Mr. Philip Hinchlow,
Eaquire, These. "Mr. Hinchlow,
"You understand our unfortunate extremity, and I do not think you Bo void of Christianity but that you would throw Bo much money into the Thames as we request now of you, rather than endanger so many innocent lives. You know there is xZ. more at least to be received of you for the play. We desire you to lend us \l. of that; which shall be allowed to you; without which we cannot be bailed, nor I play any more till this be dispatched. It will lose you xxZ. ere the end of the next week, besides the hinderance of the next new play. Pray, Sir, consider onr cases with humanity, and now give us cause to acknowledge you our true friend in time of need. We have entreated Mr. Davison to deliver this note, as well to witness your love as our promises, and always acknowledgment to be ever
"Your most thankful and loving friends,
"The money shall be abated out of the money remains for the play of Mr. Fletcher and ours. "Rgbert Daboiine.
"I have ever found you a true loving friend to me, and in so small a suit, it being honest, I hope you will not fail us.
By an indorsement on the letter it is shown that Henslow made the advance which these unfortunate men required. But how was it that Massinger, who was brought up under the patronage of a family distinguished for their encouragement of genius, was doomed to struggle with abject penury?* Gilford conjectures that he became a Roman Catholic early in life, and thus gave offence to the noble family with whom his father had been so intimately connected. In 1623 Massinger published his 'Bondman,' dedicating it to the second of the Herberts, Philip, Earl of Montgomery. The dedication shows that he had been an alien from the house in the service of which his father lived
and died: "However I could never arrive at the happiness to be made known to your Lordship, yet a desire, born with me, to make a tender of all duties and service to the noble family of the Herberts descended to me as an inheritance from my dead father, Arthur Massiuger. Many years he happily spent in the service of your honourable house, and died a servant to it." There is something unintelligible in all this; though we may well believe with Gifford that, "whatever might be the unfortunate circumstance which deprived the author of the patronage and protection of the elder branch of the Herberts, he did not imagine it to be of a disgraceful nature; or he would not, in the face of the public, have appealed to his connexions with the family."* It is difficult to trace the course of Massinger's poetical life. 'The Virgin Martyr,' in which he was assisted by Dekker, was the first printed of his plays; and that did not appear till 1622. But there can be little doubt that it belongs to an earlier period; for in 1620 a fee was paid to the Master of the Bevels on the occasion of "New reforming The Virgin Martyr." The 'Bondman' was printed within a year after it was produced upon the stage; and from that period till the time of his death several of his plays were published, but at very irregular intervals. It would appear that during the early portion of his career Massinger was chieny associated with other writers. To the later period belong his great works, such as 'The Duke of Milan,' 'The City Madam,' and the 'New Way to pay Old Debts.' Taken altogether, Massinger was perhaps the worthiest successor of Shakspere ; and this indeed is praise enough.
Nat. Field, the writer of the letter to Henslow, was a player, as we learn by that letter. The same document shows that he was a player in the service of Heuslow. But he is mentioned in the first folio edition of Shakspere's plays, as one of the principal actors in them. The best evidence of the genius of Field is his association with Massinger in the noble play of 'The Fatal Dowry.' He probably was not connected with Shakspere's company during Shakspere's life; but he is named in a patent to the actors at the Blackfriars and Globe in 1620. Robert Daborne, who was associated with Field and Massinger in their "extremity," was either at this period, or subsequently, in holy orders.
* In Mr. Collier's ' Memoirs of Actors' the fact of Massinger's buria1 at St. Saviour's church, in IM'.i. being recorded as that of 'Philip Mosengcr, stranger,' is not regarded as any indication of his poverty and loneliness: "Every person, there interred, who did not belong to the parish, was called a stranger." The payment of 2f. for expenses would show "that Massinger was interred with peculiar cost and ceremony."
* Introduction to the Works of Massinger.
Thomas Middleton was a contemporary of Shakspere. We find him early associated with other writers, and in 1602 was published his comedy of 'Blurt Master-Constable.' Edward Phillips describes him as "a copious writer for the English stage, contemporary with Jonson and Fletcher, though not of equal repute, and yet on the other side not altogether contemptible." He continued to write on till the suppression of the theatres,
and the opinion of Phillips was the impression as to his powers at the period of the Restoration. Ford,—who has truly been called "of the first order of poets"—Rowley, Wilson. 1 Hathway, Porter, Houghton, Day, Toumeur, Taylor, arose as the day-star of Shakspere was setting. Each might have been remarkable in an age of mediocrity, some are still illustrious. The great dramatic literature of England was the creation of half a century only; and in that short space was heaped up such a prodigality of riches that we regard this wondrous accumulation with something too much of indifference to the lesser gems, dazzled by the lustre of the
"One entire and perfect chrysolite."
CHAPTER II. THE TWO NOBLE KINSMEN.
The title-page of the original edition of 'The Two Noble Kinsmen' sets forth that it was "written by the memorable worthies of their time, Mr. John Fletcher and Mr. William Shakspearc." This was printed in 1634, nine years after the death of Fletcher, and eighteen years after the death of Shakspere. The play was not printed in the first collected edition of Beaumont and Fletcher's works, in 1647, for the reason assigned in the 'Stationers' Address.' "Some plays, you know, written by these authors, were heretofore printed: I thought not convenient to mix them with this volume, which of itself is entirely new." The title-page of the quarto of 1634 is, therefore, the only direct external evidence we possess as to Shakspere's participation in this play. Nor have we to offer any contemporary notice of 'The Two Noble Kinsmen' which refers to this question of the co-authorship. The very prologue and epilogue of the play itself are silent upon this point. They arc, except in a passage or two, unimportant in themselves; have no poetical merit ; and present some of those loose allusions which, as we approach the days when principles of morality came
into violent conflict, rendered the stage so justly obnoxious to the Puritans. The prologue, speaking of the play, says—
"It has a noble breeder, and a pure,
And it then adds:—
"If we let fell the nobleness of this, And the first sound this child hear be a hiss, How will it shake the bones of that good
man, And make him cry from under-ground, 'Oh,
From me the witless chaff of mdi a writer That blasts my bays, and my famed works
makes lighter Than Robin Hood!'"
The expression "such a writer" is almost evidence against the double authorship. It implies, too, that, if Fletcher were the author, the play was presented before his death ; for if the players had produced the drama after his death, they would have probably spoken of him (he being its sole author) in the terms