Page images

of eulogy with which they accompanied the performance of ' The Loyal Subject:'—

"We need not, noble gentlemen, to invite
Attention, pro-instruct you who did write
This worthy story, being confident
The mirth join'd with grave matter and


To yield the hearers profit with delight,
Will speak the maker: And to do him right
Would ask a genius like to his; the age
Mourning his loss, and our now-widow'd stage
In rain lamenting."

The inferences, therefore, to be deduced from the prologue to ' The Two Noble Kinsmen' (supposing Fletcher to be concerned in this drama),—that it was acted during his life-time, and that he either claimed the sole authorship, or suppressed all mention of the joint-authorship,—are to be weighed against the assertion of the title-page, that it was "written by the two memorable worthies of their time." We are thrown upon the examination of the internal evidence, then, without any material bias from the publication of the play, or its stage representation.

Before the first builders-up of that wondrous edifice, the English drama, lay the whole world of classical and romantic fable, '' where to choose." One of the earliest, and consequently least skilful, of those workmen, Richard Edwards, went to the ancient stores for his 'Damon and Pythias,' and to Chaucer for his ' Palamon and Arcyte.' We leam from Wood's MSS. that when Elizabeth visited Oxford, in 1566, "at night the Queen heard the first part of an English play, named ' Palaemon, or Palamon Arcyte,' made by Mr. Richard Edwards, a gentleman of her chapel, acted with very great applause in Christ Church Hall." An accident happened at the beginning of the play by the falling of a stage, through which three persons were killed—a scholar of St. Mary's Hall, and two who were probably more missed, a college brewer and a cook. The mirth, however, went on, and "afterwards the actors performed their parts so well, that the Queen laughed heartily thereat, and gave the author of the play great thanks for

his pains."* It is clear that the fable of Chaucer must have been treated in a different manner by Edwards than we find it treated in 'The Two Noble Kinsmen,' We have another record of a play on a similar subject. In Henslow's 'Diary' we have an entry, under the date of September 1594, of 'Palamon and Arsett' being acted four times. It is impossible to imagine that 'The Two Noble Kinsmen' is the same play. Here, then, was a subject adapted to a writer who worked in the spirit in which Shakspere almost uniformly worked. It was familiar to the people in their popular poetry; it was familiar to the stage. To arrive at a right judgment regarding the authorship of 'The Two Noble Kinsmen,' we must examine the play line by line in its relation to 'The Knight's Tale' of Chaucer.

'The Knight's Tale' opens with the return to Athens of the "duke that highte Theseus" after he had

"conquer'd all the regne of Feminie, That whilom was yclcped Scythia, And wedded the freshe queen Hypolita, And brought her home with him to his coun


With mucbel glory and great solempnitie,
And eke her youngf sister Emelie."

'The Two Noble Kinsmen' opens with Theseus at Athens, in the company of Hippolyta and her sister, proceeding to the celebration of his marriage with the "dreaded Amazonian." Their bridal procession is interrupted by the

"three queens whose sovereigns fell before The wrath of cruel Creon."

In Chaucer the suppliants are a more numerous company. As Theseus was approaching Athens,

"He was 'ware, as he cast his eye aside,
Where that there kneeled in the highe" way
A company of hulics tway and tway,
Each after other, in clothes black;
But such a cry and such a woe they make,
That in thid world n'is creature living
That ever heard such another waimenting."

Briefly they tell their tale of woe, and as rapidly does the chivalrous duke resolve to avenge their wrongs:—

* Nichols's * Progresses of Queen Elizabeth,' vol. i. pp. 310,211.

"And right anon, withouten more abode, His banner he display'd, and forth he rode To Thebes ward, and all his host beside."

The Queen and her sister remained at Athens. Out of this rapid narration, which occupies little more than a hundred lines in Chaucer, has the first scene of 'The Two Noble Kinsmen' been constructed. Assuredly, the reader who opens that scene for the first time will feel that he has lighted upon a work of no ordinary power. The mere interruption of the bridal procession by the widowed queens—the contrast of their black garments and their stained veils with the white robes and wheateu chaplets and hymeneal songs with which the play opens— is a noble dramatic conception; but the poet, whoever he be, possesses that command of appropriate language which realizes all that the imagination can paint of a dramatic situation and movement; there is nothing shadowy or indistinct, no vague explanations, no trivial epithets. When the First Queen say1—

"Oh, pity, duke!

Thou purger of (he earth, draw thy fear'd sword

That does good tnma to the world; give us the bones

Of our dead kings, that we may chapel them!"

we know that the thoughts which belong to her condition are embodied in words of no common significancy. When the Second Queen, addressing Hippolyta, "the soldieress," says,— "Speak't in a woman's key, like such a woman

As any of us three; weep ere you fail;

Lend us a knee;

But touch the ground for us no longer time

Than a dare's motion, when the head's pluck'd off!"

we feel that the poet not only wields his harmonious language with the decision of a practised artist, but exhibits the nicer touches which attest his knowledge of natural feelings, and employs images which, however strange and unfamiliar, are so true that we wonder they never occurred to us before,

but at the same time so original that they appear to defy copying or imitation. The whole scene is full of the same remarkable word-painting. There is another quality which it exhibits, which is also peculiar to the highest order of minds—the ability to set us thinking—to excite that just and appropriate reflection which might arise of itself out of the exhibition of deep passions and painful struggles and resolute selfdenials, but which the true poet breathes into us without an effort, so as to give the key to our thoughts, but utterly avoiding those sententious moralizings which are sometimes deemed to be the province of tragedy. When the Queens commend the surrender which Theseus makes of his affections to a sense of duty, the poet gives us the philosophy of such heroism in a dozen words spoken by Theseus :—

"As we are men,

Thus should we do; being sensually subdued,
We lose our humane title."

The first appearance, in Chaucer, of Palamon and Arcite is when they lie wounded on the battle-field of Thebes. In 'The Two Noble Kinsmen' the necessary conduct of the story, as a drama, requires that the principal personages should be exhibited to us before they become absorbed in the main action. It is on such occasions as these that a dramatist of the highest order makes his characters reveal themselves, naturally and without an effort ; and yet so distinctly that their individual identity is impressed upon the mind, so as to combine with the subsequent movement of the plot. The second scene of ' The Two Noble Kinsmen' appears to us somewhat deficient in this power. It is written with great energy; but the two friends are energetic alike: we do not precisely see which is the more excitable, the more daring, the more resolved, the more generous. We could change the names of the speakers without any material injury to the propriety of what they speak. Take, as an opposite example, Hermia and Helena, in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream,' where the differences of character scarcely required to be so nicely defined. And yet in description the author of 'The Two Noble Kinsmen' makes Palamon and Arcite essentially different :—

"Arcite is gently visaged: yet his eye
Is like an engine bent, or a sharp weapon
In a soft sheath; mercy and manly courage
Are bedfellows in his visage. Palamon
Has a most menacing aspect; his brow
Is graved, and seems to bury what it frowns


Yet sometimes 't is not so, but alters to
The quality of his thoughts; long time his


Will dwell upon his object; melancholy
Becomes him nobly; Bo does Arcite's mirth;
But Palamon's sadness is a kind of mirth,
So mingled, as if mirth did make him sad,
And sadness, merry; those darker humours,


Stick misbecomingly on others, on him
Live in fair dwelling."

This is noble writing; and it is quite sufficient to enable the stage representation of the two characters to be well defined. Omit it, and omit the recollections of it in the reading, and we doubt greatly whether the characters themselves realize this description: they are not self-evolved and manifested. The third scene, also, is a dramatic addition to the tale of Chaucer. It keeps the interest concentrated upon Eippolyta, and, especially, Emilia; it is not essential to the action, but it is a graceful addition to it. It has the merit, too, of developing the character of Emilia, and so to reconcile us to the apparent coldness with which she is subsequently content to receive the triumphant rival, whichever he be, as her husband. The Queen and her sister talk of the friendship of Theseus and Perithous. Emilia tells the story of her own friendship, to prove "That the true love 'tween maid and maid

may be More than in sex dividual."

This, in some sort, modifies the subsequent position of Emilia, "bride-habited, but maiden-hearted." Her description of her early friendship has been compared to the celebrated passage in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream:'— "Is all the counsel that we two have shared,"&c.

Seward, the editor of Beaumont and Fletcher, makes this comparison, and prefers the description in 'The Two Noble Kinsmen.' Weber assents to this preference. We have no hesitation in believing the passage in the play before us to be an imitation of the passage in ' A Midsummer Night's Dream,' and therefore inferior in quality; we do not think that Shakspere would thus have repeated himself. Our readers shall judge:—

"Emi. I was acquainted

Once with a time, when I enjoy'd a playfellow; You were at wars when she the grave en

rich'd, Who made too proud the bed, took leave o'

th' moon, (Which then look'd pale at parting), when our


Was each eleven.
Hip. 'Twas Flavina.

Emi. Yes.

You talk of Perithous' and Theseus' love; Theirs has more ground, is more maturely

season'd, More buckled with strong judgment, and

their needs

The one of th' other may be said to water
Their intertangled roots of love; but I
And she (I sigh and spoke of) were things


Loved for we did, and like the elements
That know not what, nor why, yet do effect
Rare issues by their operance; our souls
Did so to one another: what she liked
Was then of me approved; what not, con-

demn'd, No more arraignment; the flower that I

would pluck And put between my breasts (oh, then but


To swell about the blossom), she would long
Till she had such another, and commit it
To the like innocent cradle, where phoenix-

They died in perfume: on my head no toy
But was her pattern; her affections (pretty,
Though happily her careless wear) I follow' d
For my most serious decking; had mine ear
Stol'n some new air, or at adventure humm'd

one From musical coinage, why, it was a note Whereon her spirits would sojourn (rather

dwell on),

And sing it in her slumbers: this rehearsal, Which, every innocent wots well, comes in Like old importment's bastard, has this end, That the true love 'tween maid and maid

may be More than in sex dividual.

Hip. You're out of breath;

And this high speeded pace is but to say, That you shall never, like the maid Flavina, Love any that's call'd man.

Emi. I am sure I shall not."

In Chaucer, Theseus makes swift work with Creon and with Thebes:—

"With Croon, which that was of Thebfe king,
He fought, and slew him manly as a knight
In plain bataille, and put his folk to flight;
And by assault he won the city after,
And rent adown both wall, and spar, and


And to the ladies he restored again
The bodies of their husbands that were slain,
To do th' obsequies, as was then the guise."

It is in the battle-field that Palamon and
Arcite are discovered wounded:—

"Not fully quick ne fully dead they were, But by their cote-armure and by their gear The heralds knew them well in special."

The incident is literally followed in the play, where the herald says, in answer to the question of Theseus, "They are not dead:"—

"Nor in a state of life: had they been taken "When their last hurts were given, 't was possible They might have been recover'd; yet they

breathe, And have the name of men."

In Chaucer, Theseus is to the heroic friends a merciless conqueror :—

"He full soon them sent To Athenes, for to dwcllen in prison Perpetual, he n'oldf no ranson."

But in 'The Two Noble Kinsmen' he would appear to exhibit himself as a generous foe, who, having accomplished the purposes of his expedition, has no enmity with the honest defenders of their country:—

"The very lees of such, millions of rates Exceed the wine of others; all our surgeons Convent in their behoof; our richest balms, Bather than niggard, waste ! their lives concern us Much more than Thebes is worth."

The fifth scene of 'The Two Noble Kinsmen' is a scenic expansion of a short passage in Chaucer:—

"But it were all too long for to devise
The great£ clamour and the waimenting,
Which that the ladies made at the brenning
Of the bodies."

The epigrammatic ending of the scene is perhaps familiar to many:—

"The world's a city full of straying streets; And death's the market-place, where each one meets."

Pursuing the plan with which we set out, of following the course of Chaucer's story, we pass over all those scenes and parts of scenes which may be called the underplot. Such in the second act is the beginning of Scene I. In Chaucer we learn that—

"In a 11iv, "r, in anguish and in woe, Dwellen this Palamon and eke Arcite For evermore, there may no gold them quite."

The old romantic poet reserves his dialogue for the real business of the story, when the two friends, each seeing Emilia from the prison-window, become upon the instant defying rivals for her love. This incident is not managed with more preparation by the dramatist; but the prelude to it exhibits the two young men consoling each other under their adverse fortune, and making resolutions of eternal friendship. It is in an attentive perusal of this dialogue that we begin to discover that portions even of the great incidents of the drama have been written by different persons; or that, if written by one and the same person, they have been composed upon different principles of art. In 18153 appeared a little work of great ability, entitled,' A Letter on Shakspeare's Authorship of The Two Noble Kimmen.' The writer of that letter is understood to be the accomplished professor of logic and rhetoric in the University of St. Andrews, William Spalding, Esq.; and, although we have reason to believe that his opinions on this particular question have undergone some change or modification, it would be unjust, not only to the author, but to our readers, not to notice with more than common respect the opinions of a writer who, although then a very young man, displayed a power of analysis and discrimination which marked him as belonging to a high school of criticism. Mr. Spalding assumes that a considerable portion of this drama was unquestionably the production of Shakspere; that the under-plot was entirely by a different hand ; but that the same hand, which was that of Fletcher, was also engaged in producing some of the higher scenes of the main action. The whole of the first act, according to the traditional opinion, he holds to have been written by Shakspere. The dialogue before us in the first scene of the second act, and the subsequent contest for the love of Emilia, he assigns to Fletcher. Our readers will not regret the length of our extract:—

"Pal. How do you, noble cousin J

Arc. How do you, sir!

Pal. Why, strong enough to laugh at

misery, And bear the chance of war yet. We are

prisoners I fear for ever, cousin.

A re. I believe it;

And to that destiny have patiently
Laid up my hour to come.

Pal. Oh, cousin Arcite,

Where is Thebes now? where is our noble

country 1 Where are our friends, and kindreds 1 Never


Must we behold those comforts; never see The hardy youths strive for the games of


Hung with the painted favours of their ladies, Like tall ships under sail; then start amongst


I'", as an east wind, leave 'em all behind us Like lazy clouds, whilst Palamon and Arcite, Even in the wagging of a wanton leg, Outstripped the people's praises, won the garlands, Ere they have time to wish 'em ours. Oh, never

Shall we two exercise, like twins of honour,
Our arms again, and feel our fiery horses
Like proud seas under us! Our good swords


(Better the red-eyed god of war ne'er wore,) Ravish'd our sides, like age, must run to rust, And deck the temples of those gods that hate

us; , These hands shall never draw them out like


To blast whole armies more! • Arc. No, Palamon,

Those hopes are prisoners with us: here we

are, And here the graces of our youths must

. wither, Like a too-timely spring; here age must find


And, which is heaviest, Palamon, unmarried;
The sweet embraces of a loving wife,
Loadeu with kisses, arm'd with thousand


Shall never clasp our necks ! no issue know us;
No figures of ourselves shall we e'er see,
To glad our age, and like young eagles teach


Boldly to gaze against bright arms, and my, Bemember what your fathers were, and con


The fair-eyed maids shall weep our banishments,

And in their songs curse ever blinded Fortune, Till she for shame see what a wrong she has


To youth and nature: this is all our world; We shall know nothing here, but one another; Hear nothing, but the clock that tells our


The vine shall grow, but we shall never see it;

Summer shall come, and with her all delights,

But dead cold winter must inhabit hero still!

Pal. 'Tis too true, Arcite! To our Theban


That shook the- aged forest with their echoes, No more now must we halloo) no more shake Our pointed javelins, whilst the angry swine Flies like a Parthian quiver frqm our rages, Struck with our well-stecl'd darts! All valiant uses

(The food and nourishment of noble minds) In us two here shall perish; we shall die, (Which is the curse of honour !) lastly, Children of grief and ignorance.

« PreviousContinue »