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ship; but it was soon dissolved : and it is not easy to mark any decisive change of literary character in the works which were certainly Fletcher's, and written after he had been left alone. It is too certain, however, that the looseness of fancy which de formed all those dramas from the beginning, degenerated afterwards into confirmed and deliberate licentiousness : and it is a circumstance not to be overlooked, that the moral badness which was common to all works of the kind then written, is nowhere so glaring as in these, which were the most finely and delicately imaginative dramas of their day, and are poetically superior to everything of the sort in our language except the works of Shakspeare. There may be quoted from them many short
passages, and some entire scenes, as delightful as anything in the range
of poetry ; sometimes pleasing by their rich imagery, sometimes by their profound pathos, and not infrequently by their elevation and purity of thought and feeling. But there are very few of the plays whose stories could be wholly told without offence; and there is none that should be read entirely by a young person.*
* FRANCIS BEAUMONT AND JOHN FLETCHER. The Prince's description of his Page Bellario, in the play of “Philaster.”
Hunting the buck,
Seeing such pretty helpless innocence
b. 1574. d. 1637.
12. In Beaumont and Fletcher's works, those irregularities of plan, which are often made a reproach to the English drama, reach their utmost height. On the other hand, the regular classical model was approached, as closely as English tastes and habits
would allow, in not a few of the writings, both tragic and
comic, of Ben Jonson. This celebrated man deserves immortality for other reasons, besides his comparative purity of moral sentiment. He was the one man of his time, besides Shakspeare, who deserves to be called a reflective artist; the one man of his time, besides Shakspeare, who perceived principles of art and worked in obedience to them. His tragedies are stately, eloquent, and poetical; his comedies are more faithful poetic portraits of contemporary English life than those of any other dramatist of his
age, the one great poet being excepted. His vigour in the conception of character has been generally allowed, and perhaps overvalued. Less justice has been rendered to the union of poetical vigour and delicacy, which pervades almost everything that he wrote. He is poetical, though not richly imaginative, not in his pastoral of The Sad Shepherd only, or in his masques, or in his beautiful lyrics. His poetry is perceptible even among the comic scenes of Every Man in His Humour, or through the half-heroic perplexities of the Alchymist and the Fox. *
* BEN JONSON.
From the Comedy of the "New Inn."
gave me first my breeding, I acknowledge;
13. Jonson might be held to have written chiefly for men sense and knowledge, Fletcher and his friend for men of facon and the world. A similar audience to that of Jonson
have been aimed at in the stately, epical tragedies of Chapman. The other class of auditors, or one a step lower, would have relished better such plays as those of Middleton and Webster : the former of whom is chiefly remarkable for a few striking ideas imperfectly wrought out; while the latter, in several of his tragic dramas, is singularly successful in depicting events of deep horror.
Along with these men wrote others who, clinging to the older forms and ideas, may be regarded as having been in the main the dramatists of the commonalty. The chief of these was Thomas Heywood, an author of extraordinary industry, who boasted of having in his long life had a share in more than two hundred plays. In some of his best works there iš a natural and quiet sweetness, which makes him not undeserving of the title a critic has given him, " the prose Shakspeare ;" and he is one of the most moral playwriters of his time. To the same class belonged Dekker, also a voluminous pamphleteer, and known as having co-operated in several plays which appear among the works of more celebrated men, especially Massinger.
14. The name which has last been read, introduces us to that which
be treated as the closing age of the Old English Drama. As its representatives may be taken Massinger, Ford, d. 1884. and Shirley. Massinger is by some critics ranked next d. 1640. after Shakspeare. Assuredly, his skill in the representation of character is superior to that of any of the secondary dramatists except Jonson, and his poetical beauty not much less than Fletcher's; while, further, he has a quaint grace of language not known to either. Of pure comedy he gives us hardly anything; and for pure tragedy he wants depth of pathos. But his vigour of portraiture, the chivalrous turn of his stories, the inventive novelty which distinguishes many of his situations and incidents, and the melancholy dignity of his imagery and sentiment, make his finest pieces interesting in the extreme. The theatres have
That open-handed sit upon the clouds,
retained, unaltered, his New Way to Pay Old Debts, for the sake of its sketch from life in Sir Giles Overreach : and his Fatal Dowry also has been preserved, in Rowe's plagiarism from it in The Fair Penitent. But these are hardly his best works : others, at any rate, exhibit his characteristic peculiarities more strikingly. Such are The Unnatural Combat, an extravagant tragedy, in which a son avenges by parricide the murder of his mother; and The Duke of Milan, full of variety, and ending in a catastrophe of wildly conceived horror. Such also are The Bondman, spirited and rough ; The Picture, fanciful and romantic; and The City Madam, remarkable for the richness of the poetry with which it invests contemporary life, and still more for the energy with which, in the person of Luke, the dramatist depicts the changes caused by circumstances in a character uniting meanness with ambition.*
It is instructive to note how the low moral tone, if not of the nation, yet at least of those for whom plays were written, is indicated by all these works. With Massinger the most heroic sentiments, rising sometimes, as in his Virgin Martyr, into religious rapture, prevail through whole scenes, along with which come others of the grossest ribaldry. By Ford, on the other hand, incidents of the most revolting kind are laid down as the foundation of his plots; and in the representation of these he wastes a pathos and tenderness, which, though lyrical rather than dramatic, are yet deeper than anything elsewhere to be found in our drama.*
* PHILIP MASSINGER.
From the Tragedy of “ The Fatal Dovory."
How like a silent stream shaded with night,
Of all that ever thou hast done good to,
* JOHN FORD.
From the Play of “ The Lover': Melancholy."
A sound of music touch'd mine cars, or rather