Minor Elizabethan Dramatists

IN the present paper we propose to consider six dramatists who were more immediately the contemporaries of Shakespeare and Jonson, and who have the precedence in time, and three of them, if we may believe some critics, not altogether without claim to the precedence in merit, of Beaumont and Fletcher, Massinger, and Ford. These are Heywood, Middleton, Marston, Dekkar, Webster, and Chapman.

They belong to the school of dramatists of which Shakespeare was the head, and which is distinguished from the school of Jonson by essential differences of principle. Jonson constructed his plays on definite external rules, and could appeal confidently to the critical understanding, in case the regularity of his plot and the keeping of his characters were called in question. Shakespeare constructed his, not according to any rules which could be drawn from the practice of other dramatists, but according to those interior laws which the mind, in its creative action, instinctively divines and spontaneously obeys. In his case, the appeal is not to the understanding alone, but to the feelings and faculties which were concerned in producing the work itself; and the symmetry of the whole is felt by hundreds who could not frame an argument to sustain it. The laws to which his genius submitted were different from those to which other dramatists had submitted, because the time, the circumstances, the materials, the purpose aimed at, were different. The time demanded a drama which should represent human life in all its diversity, and in which the tragic and comic, the high and the low, should be in juxtaposition, if not in combination. The dramatists of whom we are about to speak represented them in juxtaposition, and rarely succeeded in vitally combining them so as to produce symmetrical works. Their comedy and tragedy, their humor and passion, move in parallel rather than in converging lines. They have diversity ; but as their diversity neither springs irom, nor tends to, a central principle of organization or of order, the result is often a splendid anarchy of detached scenes, more effective as detached than as related. Shakespeare alone had the comprehensive energy of impassioned imagination to fuse into unity the almost unmanageable materials of his drama, to organize this anarchy into a new and most complex order, and to make a world-wide variety of character and incident consistent with oneness of impression. Jonson, not pretending to give his work this organic form, put forth his whole strength to give it mechanical regularity; every line in his solidest plays costing him, as the wits said, “a cup of sack.” But the force implied in a Shakespearian drama, a force that crushes and dissolves the resisting materials into their elements, and recombines or fuses them into a new substance, is a force so different in kind from Jonson’s, that it would of course be idle to attempt an estimate of its superiority in degree. And in regard to those minor dramatists who will be the subjects of the present paper, if they fall below Jonson in general ability, they nearly all afford scenes and passages superior to his best in depth of passion, vigor of imagination. and audacious self-committal to the primitive instincts of the heart.

The most profuse, but perhaps the least poetic of these dramatists, was Thomas Heywood, of whom little is known, except that he was one of the most prolific writers the world has ever seen. In 1598 he became an actor, or, as Henslowe, who employed him, phrases it, “came and hired himself to me as a covenanted servant for two years.” The date of his first published drama is 1601 ; that of his last published work, a “ General History of Women,” is 1657. As early as 1633 he represents himself as having had an “entire hand, or at least a main finger,” in two hundred and twenty plays, of which only twentythree were printed. “True it is,” he says, “that my plays are not exposed to the world in volumes, to bear the title of Works, as others : one reason is, that many of them, by shifting and change of companies, have been negligently lost ; others of them are still retained in the hands of some actors, who think it against their peculiar profit to have them come in print; and a third, that it was never any great ambition in me to be in this kind voluminously read.” It was said of him, by a contemporary, that he “ not only acted every day, but also obliged himself to write a sheet every day for several years ; but many of his plays being composed loosely in taverns, occasions them to be so mean.” Besides his labors as a playwright, he worked as translator, versifier, and general maker of books. Late in life he conceived the design of writing the lives of all the poets of the world, including his contemporaries. Had this project been carried out, we should have known something about the external life of Shakespeare ; for Heywood must have carried in his brain many of those facts which we of this age are most curious to know.

Heywood’s best plays evince large observation, considerable dramatic skill, a sweet and humane spirit, and an easy command of language. His style, indeed, is singularly simple, pure, clear, and straightforward ; but it conveys the impression of a mind so diffused as almost to be characterless, and incapable of flashing its thoughts through the images of imaginative passion. He is more prosaic, closer to ordinary life and character, than his contemporaries. Two of his plays, and the best of them all, “ A Woman killed with Kindness,” and “The English Traveller,” are thoroughly domestic dramas, the first, and not the worst, of their class. The plot of “ The English Traveller” is specially good ; and in reading few works of fiction do we receive a greater shock of surprise than in Geraldine’s discovery of the infidelity of Wincott’s wife, whom he loves with a Platonic devotion. It is as unanticipated as the discovery, in Jonson’s “ Silent Woman,” that Epicæne is no woman at all, while at the same time it has less the appearance of artifice, and is more the result of natural causes.

With less fluency of diction, less skill in fastening the reader’s interest to his fable, harsher in versification, and generally clumsier in construction, the best plays of Thomas Middleton are still superior to Heywood’s in force of imagination, depth of passion, and fulness of matter. It must, however, be admitted that the sentiments which direct his powers are not so fine as Heywood’s. He depresses the mind, rather than invigorates it. The eye he cast on human life was not the eye of a sympathizing poet, but rather that of a sagacious cynic. His observation, though sharp, close, and vigilant, is somewhat ironic and unfeeling. His penetrating, incisive intellect cuts its way to the heart of a character as with a knife; and if he lays bare its throbs of guilt and weakness, and lets you into the secrets of its organization, he conceives his whole work is performed. This criticism applies even to his tragedy of “Women beware Women,” a drama which shows a deep study of the sources of human frailty, considerable skill in exhibiting the passions in their consecutive, if not in their conflicting action, and a firm hold upon character; but it lacks pathos, tenderness, and humanity ; its power is out of all proportion to its geniality ; the characters, while they stand definitely out to the eye, are seen through no visionary medium of sentiment and fancy ; and the reader feels the force of Leantio’s own agonizing complaint, that his affliction is

“ Of greater weight than youth was made to bear,
As if a punishment of after-life
Were fall’n upon man here, so new it is
To flesh and blood, so strange, so insupportable.”

There is, indeed, no atmosphere to Middleton’s mind : and the hard, bald caustic peculiarity of his genius, which is unpleasingly felt in reading any one of his plays, becomes a source of painful weariness as we plod doggedly through the five thick volumes of his works. Like the incantations of his own witches, it “ casts a thick scurf over life.” It is most powerfully felt in his tragedy of “ The Changeling,” at once the most oppressive and impressive effort of his genius. The character of De Flores in this play has in it a strangeness of iniquity, such as we think is hardly paralleled in the whole range of the Elizabethan drama. The passions of this brute imp are not human. They are such as might be conceived of as springing from the union of animal with fiendish impulses, in a nature which knew no law outside of its own lust, and was as incapable of a scruple as of a sympathy.

But of all the dramatists of the time, the most disagreeable in disposition, though by no means the least powerful in mind, was John Marston. The time of his birth is not known; his name is entangled in contemporary records with that of another John Marston ; and we may be sure that his mischief-loving spirit would have been delighted could he have anticipated that the antiquaries, a century after his death, would be driven to despair by the difficulty of discriminating one from the other. It is more than probable, however, that he was the John Marston who was of a respectable family in Shropshire; who took his bachelor’s degree at Oxford in 1592; and who was afterwards married to a daughter of the chaplain of James the First. Whatever may have been Marston’s antecedents, they were such as to gratify his tastes as a cynical observer of the crimes and follies of men, — an observer whose hatred of evil sprang from no love of good, but to whom the sight of depravity and baseness was welcome, inasmuch as it afforded him the occasion to wreak his own scorn and pride. His ambition was to be the English Juvenal; and it must be conceded that he had the true Iago-like disposition “to spy out abuses.” Accordingly, in 1598, he published a series of venomous satires called “ The Scourge of Villanie,” rough in versification, condensed in thought, tainted in matter, evincing a cankered more than a caustic spirit, and producing an effect at once indecent and inhuman. To prove that this scourging of villany, which would have put Mephistopheles to the blush, was inspired by no respect for virtue, he soon followed it up with a poem so licentious that, before it was circulated to any extent, it was suppressed by order of Archbishop Whitgift, and nearly all the copies destroyed. A writer could not be thus dishonored without being brought prominently into notice, and old Henslowe, the manager, was after him at once to secure his libellous ability for the Rose. Accordingly, we learn from Henslowe’s diary, under date of September 28, 1599, that he had lent to William Borne "to lend unto John Mastone,” “the new poete,” “the sum of forty shillings,” in earnest of some work not named. There is an undated letter of Marston to Henslowe, written probably in reference to this matter, which is characteristic in its disdainfully confident tone. Thus it runs : —

“MR. HENSLOWE, at the Rose on the Bankside.

“ If you like my playe of Columbus, it is verie well, and you shall give me noe more than twentie pouhdes for it, but If nott, lett me have it by the Bearer againe. as I know the kinges men will freelie give me as much for it, and the profitts of the third daye moreover.

“ Soe I rest yours,


He seems not to have been popular among the band of dramatists he now joined, and it is probable that his insulting manners were not sustained by corresponding courage. Ben Jonson had many quarrels with him, both literary and personal, and mentions one occasion on which he beat him, and took away his pistol. His temper was Italian rather than English, and one would conceive of him as quicker with the stiletto than the fist. His connection with the stage ceased in 1613, after he had produced a number of dramas, of which nine have been preserved. He died about twenty years afterwards, in 1634, seemingly in comfortable circumstances.

Marston’s plays, whether comedies or tragedies, all bear the mark of his bitter and misanthropic spirit, — a spirit that seemed cursed by the companionship of its own thoughts, and forced them out through a well-grounded fear that they would fester if left within. His comedies of “ The Malcontent,” “ The Fawn,” and “What You Will,” have no genuine mirth, though an abundance of scornful wit, — of wit which, in his own words, “stings, blisters, galls off the skin, with the acrimony of its sharp quickness.” The baser its objects, the brighter its gleam. It is stimulated by the desire to give pain, rather than the wish to communicate pleasure. Marston is not without sprightliness, but his sprightliness is never the sprightliness of the kid, though it is sometimes that of the hyena, and sometimes that of the polecat. In his Malcontent he probably drew a flattering likeness of his inner self: yet the most compassionate reader of the play would experience little pity in seeing the Malcontent hanged. So much, indeed, of Marston’s satire is directed at depravity, that Ben jonson used to say that “ Marston wrote his father-in-law’s preachings, and his father-in-law his comedies.” It is to be hoped, however, that the spirit of the chaplain’s tirades against sins was not, like his son-in-law’s, worse than the sins themselves.

If Marston’s comic vein is thus, to use one of Dekkar’s phrases, that of “a thorny-toothed rascal,” it may be supposed that his tragic is a still fiercer libel on humanity. His tragedies, indeed, though not without a gloomy power, are extravagant and horrible in conception and conduct. Even when he copies, he makes the thing his own by caricaturing it Thus the plot of “ Antonio’s Revenge ” is plainly taken from “Hamlet,” but it is “Hamlet” passed through Marston’s intellect and imagination, and so debased as to look original. Still, the intellect in Marston’s tragedies strikes the reader as forcible in itself, and as capable of achieving excellence, if it could only be divorced from the bad disposition and deformed conscience which direct its exercise. He has fancy, and he frequently stutters into imagination ; but the imp that controls his heart corrupts his taste and taints his sense of beauty, and the result is that he has a malicious satisfaction in deliberately choosing words whose uncouthness finds no extenuation in their expressiveness, and in forging elaborate metaphors which disgust rather than delight. His description of a storm at sea is among the least unfavorable specimens of this perversion of his poetical powers: —

“ The sea grew mad;
Strait swarthy darkness popt out Phoebus’ eye,
And blurred the jocund face of fcright-cheek’d day ;
Whilst cruddled fogs masked even darkness’ brow ;
Heaven bade’s good night, and the rocks groaned
At the intestine uproar of the main.”

It must be allowed that both his tragedies and comedies are full of strong and striking thoughts, which show a searching inquisition into the worst parts of human nature. Occasionally he expresses a general truth with great felicity, as when he says,

“ Pygmy cares
Can shelter under patience’ shield : but giant griefs
Will burst all covert.”

His imagination is sometimes stimulated into unusual power in expressing the fiercer and darker passions ; as, for example, in this image : —

“ O, my soul’s enthroned
In the triumphant chariot of revenge ! ”

And in this : —

“ Ghastly amazement, with upstarted hair,
Shall hurry on before, and usher us,
Whilst trumpets clamor with a sound of death.”

He has three descriptions of morning, which seem to have been written in emulation of Shakespeare’s in “ Hamlet ” ; two of them being found in the tragedy which “ Hamlet” suggested.

“Is not yon gleam the shuddering morn that flakes
With silver tincture the east verge of heaven?
For see the dapple-gray coursers of the morn
Beat up the light with their bright silver hoofs,
And chase it through the sky.
Darkness is fled ; look, infant mom hath drawn
Bright silver curtains ’bout the couch of night;
And now Aurora’s horse trots azure rings,
Breathing fair light about the firmament.”

These last two lines appear feeble enough as contrasted with the beautiful intensity of imagination in Emerson’s picturing of the same scene : -—

“ O, tenderly the haughty Day
Fills his blue urn with fire.”

The most beautiful passage in Marston’s plays is the lament of a father over the dead body of his son, who has been defamed. It is so apart from his usual style, as to breed the suspicion that the worthy chaplain’s daughter, whom he made Mrs. Marston, must have given it to him from her purer imagination : —

“ Look on those lips,
Those now lawn pillows, on whose tender softness
Chaste modest speech, stealing from out his breast,
Had wont to rest itself, as loath to post
From, out so fair an inn : look, look, they seem
To stir,
And breathe defiance to black obloquy.”

If among the dramatists of the period any person could be selected who in disposition was the opposite of Marston, it would be Thomas Dekkar, — a man whose inborn sweetness and gleefulness of soul carried him through vexations and miseries which would have crushed a spirit less hopeful, cheerful, and humane. He was probably born about the year 1575 ; commenced his career as player and playwright before 1598 ; and for forty years was an author by profession, that is, was occupied in fighting famine with his pen. The first intelligence we have of him is characteristic of his whole life. It is from Henslowe’s Diary, under date of February, 1598 : “Lent unto the company, to discharge Mr. Decker out of the counter in the powltry, the sum of 40 shillings.” Oldys tells us that “ he was in King’s Bench Prison from 1613 to 1616”; and the antiquary adds ominously, “ how much longer I know not.” Indeed, Dr. Johnson’s celebrated condensation of the scholar’s life would stand for a biography of Dekkar : —

“ Toil, envy, want, the patron, and the jail.”

This forced familiarity with poverty and distress does not seem to have imbittered his feelings or weakened the force and elasticity of his mind. He turned his calamities into commodities. If indigence threw him into the society of the ignorant, the wretched, and the depraved, he made the knowledge of low life he thus obtained serve his purpose as dramatist or pamphleteer. Whatever may have been the effect of his vagabond habits on his principles, they did not stain the sweetness and purity of his sentiments. There is an innocency in his very coarseness, and a brisk, bright good-nature chirps in his very scurrility. In the midst of distresses of all kinds, he still seems, like his own Fortunatus, “all felicity up to the brims”; but that his content with Fortune is not owing to an unthinking ignorance of her caprice and injustice is proved by the words he puts into her mouth : —

“ This world is Fortune’s ball wherewith she sports.
Sometimes I strike it up into the air,
And then create I emperors and kings ;
Sometimes I spurn it, at which spurn crawls out
The wild beast multitude : curse on, you fools,
’T is I that tumble princes from their thrones,
And gild false brows with glittering diadems ;
’T is I that tread on necks of conquerors,
And when like semi-gods they have been drawn
In ivory chariots to the Capitol,
Circled about with wonder of all eyes,
The shouts of every tongue, love of all hearts,
Being swoln with their own greatness, I have pricked
The bladder of their pride, and made them die
As water-bubbles (without memory) :
I thrust base cowards into honor’s chair,
Whilst the truc-spiritccl soldier stands by
Bareheaded, and all bare, whilst at his scars
They scoff, that ne’er durst view the face of wars.
I set an idiot’s cap on virtue’s head,
Turn learning out of doors, clothe wit in rags,
And paint ten thousand images of loam
In gaudy silken colors : on the backs
Of mules and asses I make asses ride,
Only for sport to see the apish world
Worship such beasts with sound idolatry.
This Fortune does ; and when all this is done,
She sits and smiles to hear some curse her name,
And some with adoration crown her fame,”

The boundless beneficence of Dekkar’s heart is specially embodied in the character of the opulent lord, Jacomo Gentili, in his play of “The Wonder of a Kingdom.” When Gentili’s steward brings him the book in which the amount of his charities is recorded, he exclaims impatiently : —

“ Thou vain vainglorious fool, go burn that book ;
No herald needs to blazon charity’s arms.
I launch not forth a ship, with drums and guns
And trumpets, to proclaim my gallantry ;
He that will read the wasting of my gold
Shall find it writ in ashes, which the wind
Will scatter ere he spells it.”

He will have neither wife nor children. When, he says,

“ I shall have one hand in heaven,
To write my happiness in leaves of stars,
A wife would pluck me by the other down.
This bark has thus long sailed about the world,
My soul the pilot, and yet never listened
To such a mermaid’s song.
My heirs shall be poor children fed on alms ;
Soldiers that want limbs ; scholars poor and scorned ;
And these will be a sure inheritance
Not to decay ; manors and towns will fall,
Lordships and parks, pastures and woods, be sold ;
But this kind still continues to the lord :
No tricks of law can me beguile of this.
But of the beggar’s dish, I shall drink healths
To last forever ; whilst I live, my roof
Shall cover naked wretches ; when I die,
’T is dedicated to St. Charity.”

We should not do justice to Dekkar’s disposition, even after these quotations, did we omit that enumeration of positives and negatives which, in his view, make up the character of the happy man : —

“ He that in the sun is neither beam nor moat,
He that’s not mad after a petticoat.
He for whom poor men’s curses dig no grave,
He that is neither lord’s nor lawyer’s slave,
He that makes This his sea and That his shore,
He that in’s coffin is richer than before,
He that counts Youth his sword and Age his staff,
He whose right hand carves his own epitaph,
He that upon his death-bed is a swan.
And dead no crow, — he is a Happy Man.”

As Dekkar wrote under the constant goad of necessity, be seems to have been indifferent to the requirements of art. That “ wet-eyed wench, Care,” was as absent from his ink as from his soul. Even his best plays. “Old Fortunatus,” “ The Wonder of a Kingdom,” and another whose title cannot be mentioned, are good in particular scenes and characters rather than good as wholes. Occasionally, as in the character of Signior Orlando Friscobaldo, he strikes off a fresh, original, and masterly creation, consistently sustained throughout, and charming us by its lovableness, as well as thrilling us by its power; but generally his sentiment and imagination break upon us in unexpected felicities, strangely better than what surrounds them. These have been culled by the affectionate admiration of Lamb, Hunt, and Hazlitt, and made familiar to all English readers. To prove how much finer, in its essence, his genius was than the genius of so eminent a dramatist as Massinger, we only need to compare Massinger’s portions of the play of “ The Virgin Martyr” with Dekkar’s. The scene between Dorothea and Angelo, in which she recounts her first meeting with him as a “sweet-faced beggarboy,” and the scene in which Angelo brings to Theophilus the basket of fruits and flowers which Dorothea has plucked in Paradise, are inexpressibly beautiful in their exquisite subtlety of imagination and artless elevation of sentiment. It is difficult to understand how a writer capable of such refinements as these should have left no drama which is a part of the classical literature of his country.

One of these scenes — that between Dorothea, the Virgin Martyr, and Angelo, an angel who waits upon her in the disguise of a page—we cannot refrain from quoting, familiar as it must be to many readers : —

Dor. My book and taper.
“ Ang. Here, most holy mistress.
“ Dor. Thy voice sends forth such music, that I never
Was ravished with a more celestial sound.
Were every servant in the world like thee,
So full of goodness, angels would come down
To dwell with us : thy name is Angelo,
And like that name thou art. Get thee to rest ;
Thy youth with too much watching is oppressed.
Ang. No, my dear lady ; I could weary stars,
And force the wakeful moon to lose her eyes,
By my late watching, but to wait on you.
When at your prayers you kneel before the altar,
Methinks I’m singing with some quire in heaven,
So blest I hold me in your company.
Therefore, my most loved mistress, do not bid
Your boy, so serviceable, to get hence,
For then you break his heart. “ Dor, Be nigh me still then.
In golden letters down I 'll set that day
Which gave thee to me. Little did I hope
To meet such worlds of comfort in thyself,
This little pretty body, when I, coming
Forth of the temple, heard my beggar-boy,
My sweet-faced, godly beggar-boy, crave an alms,
Which with glad hand I gave, — with lucky hand 1
And when I took thee home, my most chaste bosom
Methought was filled with no hot wanton fire,
But with a holy flame, mounting since higher,
On wings of cherubim, than it did before,
Ang. Proud am I that my lady’s modest eye
So likes so poor a servant.
Dor. I have offered
Handfuls of gold but to behold thy parents.
I would leave kingdoms, were I queen, of some,
To dwell with thy good father. ....
Show me thy parents ;
Be not ashamed.
Angelo. I am not : I did never
Know who my mother was ; but by yon palace,
Filled with bright heavenly courtiers, I dare assure you,
And pawn these eyes upon it, and this hand,
My father is in heaven ; and, pretty mistress,
If your illustrious hour-glass spend his sand,
No worse than yet it does, upon my life,
You and I both shall meet my father there,
And he shall bid you welcome.
Dor. O blessed day !
We all long to be there, but lose the way.”

But the passage in all Dekkar’s works which will be most likely to immortalize his name is that often-quoted one, taken from a play whose very name is unmentionable to prudish ears : —

“ Patience, my lord ! why, ’t is the soul of peace ;
Of all the virtues, ’t is nearest kin to heaven ;
It makes men look like gods. —The best of men
That e'er wore earth about him was a Sufferer,
A soft, meek, patient, humble, tranquil spirit;
The first true gentleman that ever breathed.”

A more sombre genius than Dekkar, though a genius more than once associated with his own in composition, was John Webster, of whose biography nothing is certainly known, except that he was a member of the Merchant Tailors’ Company. His works have been thrice republished within thirty years ; but the perusal of the whole does not add to the impression left on the mind by his two great tragedies. His comic talent was small; and for all the mirth in his comedies of “Westward Hoe ” and “Northward Hoe ” we are probably indebted to his associate, Dekkar. His play of “ Appius and Virginia” is far from being an adequate rendering of one of the most beautiful and affecting fables that ever crept into history. “ The Devil’s Law Case,” a tragi-comedy, has not sufficient power to atone for the want of probability in the plot and want of nature in the characters. The historical play of “ Sir Thomas Wyatt ” can only be fitly described by using the favorite word in which Ben Jonson was wont to condense his critical opinions, — “ It' is naught.” But “The White Devil ” and “ The Duchess of Malfy ” are tragedies which even so rich and varied a literature as the English could not lose without a sensible diminution of its treasures.

Webster was one of those writers whose genius consists in the expression of special moods, and who, outside of those moods, cannot force their creative faculties into vigorous action. His mind by instinctive sentiment was directed to the contemplation of the darker aspect’s of life. He brooded over crime and misery until his imagination was enveloped in their atmosphere, found a fearful joy in probing their sources and tracing their consequences, became strangely familiar with their physiognomy and psychology, and felt a shuddering sympathy with their ‘-deep groans and terrible ghastly looks.” There was hardly a remote corner of the soul, which hid a feeling capable of giving mental pain, into which this artist in agony had not curiously peered ; and his meditations on the mysterious disorder produced in the human consciousness by the rebound of thoughtless or criminal deeds might have found fit expression in the lines of the great poet of our own times : —

“ Action is momentary, —
The motion of a muscle, this way or that.
Suffering is long, obscure, and infinite,”

With this proclivity of his imagination, Webster’s power as a dramatist consists in confining the domain of his tragedy within definite limits, in excluding all variety of incident and character which could interfere with his main design of awaking terror and pity, and in the intensity with which he arrests, and the tenacity with which he holds the attention, as he drags the mind along the pathway which begins in misfortune or guilt, and ends in death. He is such a spendthrift of his stimulants, and accumulates horror on horror, and crime on crime, with such fatal facility, that he would render the mind callous to his terrors, were it not that what is acted is still less than what is suggested, and that the souls of his characters are greater than their sufferings or more terrible than their deeds. The crimes and the criminals belong to Italy as it was in the sixteenth century, when poisoning and assassination were almost in the fashion ; the feelings with which they are regarded are English ; and the result of the combination is to make the poisoners and assassins more fiendishly malignant in spirit than they actually were. Thus Ferdinand, in “The Duchess of Malfy,” is the conception formed by an honest, deep-thoughted Englishman of an Italian duke and politician, who had been educated in those maxims of policy which were generalized by Machiavelli. Webster makes him a devil, but a devil with a soul to be damned. The Duchess, his sister, is discovered to be secretly married to her steward ; and in connection with his brother, the Cardinal, the Duke not only resolves on her death, but devises a series of preliminary mental torments to madden and break down her proud spirit. The first is an exhibition of wax figures, representing her husband and children as they appeared in death. Then comes a dance of madmen, with dismal howls and songs and speeches. Then a tomb-maker whose talk is of the charnel-house, and who taunts her with her mortality. She interrupts his insulting homily with the exclamation, “Am I not thy Duchess? ” “Thou art,” he scornfully replies, “ some great woman sure, for riot begins to sit on thy forehead (clad in gray hairs) twenty years sooner than on a merry milkmaid’s. Thou sleepest worse than if a mouse should be forced to take up her lodging in a cat’s ear; a little infant that breeds its teeth, should it lie with thee, would cry out, as if thou wert the more unquiet bedfellow.” This mockery only brings from her firm spirit the proud assertion, “ I am Duchess of Malfy still.” Indeed, her mind becomes clearer and calmer as the tortures proceed. At first she had imprecated curses on her brothers, and cried,

“ Plagues that make lanes through largest families,
Consume them ! ”

But now, when the executioners appear, when her dirge is sung, containing those tremendous lines,

“ Of what is’t fools make such vain keeping ?
Sin their conception, their birth weeping,
Their life a general mist of error,
Their death a hideous storm of terror,” —

when all that malice could suggest for her torment has been expended, and the ruffians who have been sent to murder her approach to do their office, her attitude is that of quiet dignity, forgetful of her own sufferings, solicitous for others. Her attendant, Cariola, screams out:

“ Hence, villains, tyrants, murderers : alas !
What will yon do with my lady? Call for help.
Duchess. To whom, — to our next neighbors?
They are mad folks.
Bosola. Remove that noise.
Duchess, Farewell, Cariola.
In my last will I have not much to give :
A many hungry guests have fed upon me ;
Thine will be a poor reversion.
Cariola. I will die with her.
Duchess. I pray thee, look thou giv’st my little boy
Some syrup for his cold, and let the girl
Say her prayers ere she sleep. Now what you please:
What death?
Bosola. Strangling ; here are your executioners.
Duchess. Pull, and pull strongly, for your able strength
Must pull down heaven upon me :
Yet stav, heaven-gates are not so highly arched
As princes’ palaces ; they that enter there
Must go upon their knees. Come, violent death,
Serve for mandragora to make me sleep.
Go, tell my brothers ; when I am laid out,
They then may feed in quiet.”

The strange, unearthly stupor which precedes the remorse of Ferdinand for her murder is true to nature, and especially his nature. Bosola, pointing to the dead body of the Duchess, says :

“ Fix your eye here.

“Ferd, Constantly.
Bosola. Do you not weep ?
Other sins only speak; murther shrieks out:
The element of water moistens the earth,
But blood flies upwards and bedews the heavens.
Ferd. Cover her face ; mine eyes dazzle :
She died young.
Bosola. I think not so ; her infelicity
Seemed to have years too many.
Ferd. She and I were twins ;
And should I die this instant, I had lived
Her time to a minute.”

We have said that Webster’s peculiarity is the tenacity of his hold on the mental and moral constitution of his characters. We know of their appetites and passions only by their effects on their souls. He has properly no sensuousness. Thus in “The White Devil,” his other great tragedy, the events proceed from the passion of Brachiano for Vittoria Corombona, — a passion so intense as to lead one to order the murder of his wife, and the other the murder of her husband. If either Fletcher or Ford had attempted the subject, the sensual and emotional motives to the crime would have been represented with overpowering force, and expressed in the most alluring images, so that wickedness would have been almost resolved into weakness; but Webster lifts the wickedness at once from the senses into the region of the soul, exhibits its results in spiritual depravity, and shows the satanic energy of purpose which may spring from the ruins of the moral will. There is nothing lovable in Vittoria. She seems, indeed; almost without sensations ; and the affection between her and Brachiano is simply the magnetic attraction which one evil spirit has for another evil spirit. Francisco, the brother of Brachiano’s wife, says to him :

“Thou hast a wife, our sister ; would I had given:
Both her white hands to death, bound and locked fast
In her last winding-sheet, when I gave thee
But one,”

This is the language of the intensest passion, but as applied to the adulterous lover of Vittoria it seems little more than the utterance of reasonable regret; for devil can only truly mate with devil, and Vittoria is Brachiano’s real “ affinity.”

The moral confusion they produce by their deeds is traced with more than Webster’s usual steadiness of nerve and clearness of vision. The evil they inflict is a cause of evil in others ; the passion which leads to murder rouses the fiercer passion which aches for vengeance ; and at last, when the avengers of crime have become morally as bad as the criminals, they are all involved in a common destruction. Vittoria is probably Webster’s most powerful delineation. Bold, bad, proud, glittering in her baleful beauty, strong in that evil courage which shrinks from crime as little as from danger, she meets her murderers with the same self-reliant scorn with which she met her judges. “ Kill her attendant first,” exclaimed one of them.

Vittoria. You shall not kill her first; behold
my breast :
I will be waited on in death ; my servant
Shall never go before me.
Gasparo. Are you so brave 1
“ Vittoria. Yes, I shall welcome death,
As princes do some great ambassadors ;
I ’ll meet thy weapon half-way.
Lodovico, Strike, strike,
With a joint motion.
Vittoria, ’T was a manly blow ;
The next thou giv’st, murder some sucking infant,
And then thou wilt be famous.”

Webster tells us, in the Preface to “The White Devil,” that he does not “ write with a goose-quill winged with two feathers”; and also hints that the play failed in representation through its being acted in winter in “an open and black theatre,” and because it wanted “a full and understanding auditory.” “Since that time,” he sagely adds, “ I have noted most of the people that come to the playhouse resemble those ignorant asses who, visiting stationers’ shops, their use is not to inquire for good books, but new books.” And then comes the ever-recurring wail of the playwright, Elizabethan as well as Georgian, respecting the taste of audiences. “ Should a man,” he says, “ present to such an auditory the most sententious tragedy that ever was written, observing all the critical laws, as height of style, and gravity of person, enrich it with the sententious chorus, and, as it were, enliven death in the passionate and weighty Nuntius; yet after all this divine rapture, O dura messorum ilia, the breath that comes from the uncapable multitude is able to poison it.”

Of all the contemporaries of Shakespeare, Webster is the most Shakespearian. His genius was not only influenced by its contact with one side of Shakespeare’s many-sided mind, but the tragedies we have been considering abound in expressions and situations either suggested by or directly copied from the tragedies of him he took for his model. Yet he seems to have had no conception of the superiority of Shakespeare to all other dramatists; and in his Preface to “The White Devil,” after speaking of the “full and heightened style of Master Chapman, the labored and understanding works of Master Jonson, the no less worthy composures of the both worthily excellent Master Beaumont and Master Fietcher,” he adds his approval, “without wrong last to be named,” of “the right happy and copious industry of Master Shakespeare, Master Dekkar, and Master Hey wood.” This is not half so felicitous a classification as would be made by a critic of our century, who should speak of the “ right happy and copious industry ” of Master Goethe, Master Dickens, and Master G. P. R. James.

Webster’s reference, however, to “ the full and heightened style of Master Chapman ” is more appropriate ; for no writer of that age impresses us more by a certain rude heroic height of character than George Chapman. Born in 1559, and educated at the University of Oxford, he seems, on his first entrance into London life, to have acquired the patronage of the noble, and the friendship of all who valued geuius and scholarship. He was among the few men whom Ben Jonson said he loved. His greatest performance, and it was a gigantic one, was his translation of Homer, which, in spite of obvious faults, excels all other translations in the power to rouse and lift and inflame the mind. Some eminent painter, we believe Barry, said that, when he went into the street after reading it, men seemed ten feet high. Pope averred that the translation of the Iliad might be supposed to have been written by Homer before he arrived at years of discretion ; and Coleridge declares the version of the Odyssey to be as truly an original poem as the Faery Queen. Chapman himself evidently thought that he was the first translator who had been admitted into intimate relations with Homer’s soul, and caught by direct contact the sacred fury of his inspiration. He says finely of those who had attempted his work in other languages :

“They failed to search his deep and treasurous heart.
The cause was, since they wanted the fit key
Of Nature, in their downright strength of art,
With Poesy to open Poesy.”

Chapman was also a voluminous dramatist, and of his many comedies and tragedies some sixteen were printed. It is to be feared that the last twenty years of his long and honorable life were passed in a desperate struggle for the means of subsistence. But his ideas of the dignity of his art were so inwoven into his character that he probably met calamity bravely. Poesy he early professed to prefer above all worldly wisdom, being composed, in his own words, of the “ sinews and souls of all learning, wisdom,and truth.” “We have example sacred enough,” he said, “that true Poesy’s humility, poverty, and contempt are badges of divinity, not vanity. Bray then, and bark against it, ye wolf-faced worldlings, that nothing but riches, honors, and magistracy” can content. “ I (for my part) shall ever esteem it much more manly and sacred, in this harmless and pious study, to sit until I sink into my grave, than shine in your vainglorious bubbles and impieties ; all your poor policies, wisdoms, and their trappings, at no more valuing than a musty nut.” These sentiments were probably fresh in his heart when, in 1634., friendless and poor, at the age of seventy-five, he died. Anthony Wood describes him as “ a person of most reverend aspect, religious and temperate; qualities’” he spitefully adds, “rarely meeting in a poet.”

Chapman was a man with great elements in his nature, which were so imperfectly harmonized that what he was found but a stuttering expression in what he wrote and did. There were gaps in his mind ; or, to use Victor Hugo’s image, “his intellect was a book with some leaves torn out.” His force, great as it was, was that of an Ajax, rather than that of an Achilles. Few dramatists of the time afford nobler passages of description and reflection. Few are wiser, deeper, manlier in their strain of thinking. But when we turn to the dramas from which these grand things have been detached, we find extravagance, confusion, huge thoughts lying in helpless heaps, sublimity in parts conducing to no general effect of sublimity, the movement lagging and unwieldy, and the plot urged on to the catastrophe by incoherent expedients. His imagination partook of the incompleteness of his intellect. Strong enough to clothe the ideas and emotions of a common poet, it was plainly inadequate to embody the vast, half-formed conceptions which gasped for expression in his soul in its moments of poetic exaltation. Often we feel his meaning, rather than apprehend it. The imagery has the indefiniteness of distant objects seen by moonlight. There are whole passages in his works in which he seems engaged in expressing Chapman to Chapman, like the deaf egotist who only placed his trumpet to his ear when he himself talked.

This criticism applies more particularly to his tragedies, and to his expression of great sentiments and passions. His comedies, though over - informed with thought, reveal him to us as a singularly sharp, shrewd, and somewhat cynical observer, sparkling with worldly wisdom, and not deficient in airiness any more than wit. Hazlitt, we believe, was the first to notice that Monsieur D’Olive, in the comedy of that name, is “the undoubted prototype of that light, flippant, gay, and infinitely delightful class of character, of the professed men of wit and pleasure about town, which we have in such perfection in Wycherly and Congreve, such as Sparkish, Witwond, Petulant, &c., both in the sentiments and the style of writing” ; and Tharsalio in “ The Widow’s Tears,” and Ludovico in “ May-Day,” have the hard impudence and cynical distrust of virtue, the arrogant and glorying self-unrighteousness, that distinguish another class of characters which the dramatists of the age of Charles and Anne were unwearied in providing with insolence and repartees. Ocasionally we have a jest which Falstaff would not disown. Thus in “ MayDay,” when Cuthbert, a barber, approaches Quintiliano, to get, if possible, “ certain odd crowns ” the latter owes him, Quintiliano says, “ I think thou ’rt newly married ? ” “I am indeed, sir,” is the reply. “ I thought so ; keep on thy hat, man, ’t will be the less perceived.” Chapman, in his comedies generally, shows a kind of philosophical contempt for woman, as a frailer and flimsier, if fairer, creature than man, and he sustains his bad judgment with.infinite ingenuity of wilful wit and penetration of ungracious analysis. In “ The Widow’s Tears ” this unpoetic infidelity to the sex pervades the whole plot and incidents, as well as gives edge to many an incisive sarcasm. My sense, says Tharsalio, “tells me how short-lived widows’ tears are, that their weeping is in truth but laughing under a mask, that they mourn in their gowns and laugh in their sleeves ; all of which I believe as a Delphian oracle, and am resolved to burn in that faith.” “ He,” says Lodovico, in “ May-Day,” — he “ that holds religious and sacred thought of a woman, he that holds so reverend a respect to her that he will not touch her but with a kist hand and a timorous heart, he that adores her like his goddess, let him be sure she will shun him like her slave. .... Whereas nature made ” women “ but half fools, we make ’em all fool: and this is our palpable flattery of them, where they had rather have plain dealing.” In all Chapman’s comic writing there is something of Ben Jonson’s mental self - assertion and disdainful glee in his own superiority to the weakness he satirizes.

In passing from a comedy like “ MayDay ” to a tragedy like “ Bussy D’Ambois,” we find some difficulty in recognizing the features of the same nature. “Bussy D'Ambois" represents a mind not so much in creation as in eruption, belching forth smoke, ashes, and stones, no less than flame. Pope speaks of it as full of fustian ; but fustian is rant in the words when there is no corresponding rant in the soul; whilst Chapman’s tragedy, like Marlowe’s “ Tamburlaine,” indicates a greater swell in the thoughts and passions of his characters than in their expression. The poetry is to Shakespeare’s what gold ore is to gold. Veins and lumps of the precious metal gleam on the eye from the duller substance in which it is imbedded. Here are specimens : —

“Man is torch borne in the wind; a dream
But of a shadow, summed with all his substance ;
And as great seamen, using all their wealth
And skills in Neptune’s deep invisible paths,
In tall ships richly built and ribbed with brass,
To put a girdle round about the world.
When they have done it (coming near their haven)
Are fain to give a warning piece, and call
A poor stayed fisherman, that never past
His country’s sight, to waft and guide them in :
So when we wander furthest through the waves
Of glassy glory and the gulfs of state,
Topped with all titles, spreading all our reaches,
As if each private arm would sphere the earth,
We must to Virtue for her guide resort,
Or we shall shipwreck in our safest port,”
“ In a king
All places are contained. His words and looks
Are like the flashes and the bolts of Jove ;
His deeds inimitable, like the sea
That shuts still as it opes, and leaves no tracks,
Nor prints ofprecedent for mean tnetfs acts.”
“ His great heart will not down : ’t is like the sea
That partly by his own internal heat,
Partly the stars’ daily and nightly motion,
Their heat and light, and partly of the place
The divers frames, but chiefly by the moon
Bristled with surges, never will be won,
(No, not when th’ hearts of all those powers are burst,)
To make retreat into his settled home,
Till he be crowned with his own quiet foam.”
Now, all ye peaceful regents of the night,
Silently gliding exhalations,
Languishingwinds, and murmuring falls of waters,
Sadness of heart, and ominous secureness,
Enchantments, dead sleeps, all the friends of rest
That ever wrought upon the life of man,
Extend your utmost strengths ; and this charmed hour
Fix like the centre.”
“ There is One
That wakes above, whose eye no sleep can bind :
He sees through doors and darkness and our thoughts.”
“ O, the dangerous siege
Sin lays about us ! and the tyranny
He exercises when he hath expugned :
Like to the horror of a winter’s thunder,
Mixed with a gushing storm, that suffer nothing
To stir abroad on earth but their own rages,
Is sin, when it hath gathered head above us,”
“ Terror of darkness ! O thou king of flames !
That with thy music-footed horse doth strike
The clear light out of crystal, on dark earth,
And hurl’st instinctive fire about the world,
Wake, wake, the drowsy' and enchanted night,
That sleeps with dead eyes in this heavy riddle:
O thou great prince of shades, where never sun
Sticks his far-darted beams, whose eyes are made
To shine in darkness, and see ever best
Where men are blindest ! open now the heart
Of thy abashed oracle, that for fear
Of some ill it includes would feign lie hid,
And rise thou with it in thy greater light”

It is hardly possible to read Chapman’s serious verse without feeling that he had in him the elements of a great nature, and that he was a magnificent specimen of what is called “irregular genius.” And one of his poems, the dedication of his translation of the Iliad to Prince Henry, is of so noble a strain, and from so high a mood, that, while borne along with its rapture, we are tempted to place him in the first rank of poets and of men. You can feel and hear the throbs of the grand old poet’s heart in such lines as these : —

“ O, ’t is wondrous much,
Though nothing prized, that the right virtuous touch
Of a well-written soul to virtue moves ;
Nor have we souls to purpose, if their loves
Of fitting objects be not so inflamed.
How much were then this kingdoms main soul maimed,
To want this great inflamer of all powers
That move in human souls.
Through all the pomp of kingdoms still he shines,
And graceth all his gracers.
A prince’s statue, or in marble carved,
Or steel, or gold, and shrined, to be preserved,
Aloft on pillars and pyramides,
Time into lowest ruins may depress ;
But drawn with all his virtues in learned verse,
Fame shall resound them on oblivions hearse,
Till graves gasp with their blasts, and dead men rise.”