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Into the entrails of yon laboring cloud;
The scene from which this is taken has seldom been surpassed in interest, passion, and pathos; and though superstition no longer gives its horrors the literal force they are meant to convey, its picture of the worth and indestructibility of the soul, as shown by its capacity for suffering, still holds color.
Cotemporary with Shakespeare, and his fellow-worker in the cultivation of England's early dramatic literature, is Ben Jonson, who was born in 1574, ten years after the bard of Avon, and in his twentieth year appeared as a writer for the stage.
Jonson's early life was full of vicissitudes. His father, a Scottish clergyman, died before the poet's birth. His mother gave her boy a bricklayer for his stepfather, and he was brought home from Westminster School and put to the same uninteresting employment . Ben escaped from this distasteful occupation by enlisting as a soldier. He is said to have reverted in after-life with pride to his conduct as a soldier, — having killed an enemy in single combat in full view of both armies, and otherwise distinguished himself for youthful bravery.
Returning to England, he entered St. John's College, Cambridge, where his stay is supposed to have been shortened on account of straitened circumstances.
At the age of twenty, we find him married, and an actor in London.
At the same time he was engaged in writing for the stage, either by himself, or conjointly with others.
As an actor he is said to have completely failed. In 1596 Jonson produced his play, "Every Man in his Humor." It was brought out at the Globe Theatre, and Shakespeare was one of the performers in the play. Queen Elizabeth patronized the new poet, and ever afterward it is said that he was "a man of mark and likelihood."
In 1C19 Jonson was appointed poet laureate; that is, a poet attached to the king's household, whose business is to compose annually an ode for the king's birthday, and for the New Year. This title was first given in the time of Edward IV. Jonson's compensation was a pension of a hundred marks. In early life he contracted habits of intemperance which never left him; he is said to have prided himself immoderately on his classical acquirements, and to have slighted and contemned his less literary associates. Capable of a generous warmth of friendship, and just in his discrimination of genius and character, with a love of conviviality and high colloquial powers, Jonson became the centre of that band of wits called the Mermaid Club, founded by Sir Walter Raleigh, where Shakespeare, Beaumont and Fletcher, Herrick and other poets are said to have '' exercised themselves with wit combats more bright and genial than their wine."
Jonson died in 1637, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. A square stone, marking the spot, was long afterward shown, inscribed only with the words, "O rave Ben Jonson!" His works, all together, consist of about fifty dramatic pieces. By far the greater part of them are masques and interludes. His principal comedies are "Every Man in his Humor," "Volpone," "The Silent Woman," and " The Alchemist." The strong delineation of character is the most striking feature in them.
His comic portraits are often coarse and repulsive, and so exaggerated as to appear like caricatures or libels on humanity; and it has been observed that " his humor will be most relished by those who are most amused by dancing bears, and shows of that class."
Mis Roman tragedies are considered literal impersonations of classic antiquity. Craik observes that " the effect produced by the most arresting passages in them is the most uudramatic that can be; namely, a greater sympuihy with the performance as a work of ait than anything else."
Both comedies and tragedies exhibit an acute and vigorous intellect, the labor of an artist, possessing rich resources, great knowledge of life down to its lowest descents, coarse wit, lofty declamation, and a power of dramatizing his knowledge and observation with singular skill and effect. He was the founder of a style of regular English comedy, massive, well compacted, and fitted to endure, yet not very attractive in its materials.
"Jonson," it has been remarked, "presents us with two natures, —one hard, rugged, gross, and sarcastic, the other, airy, fanciful, and graceful as if its possessor had never combated with the world and its bad passions, but nursed his understanding and his fancy in poetical seclusion and contemplation." In his lyrics he turns to us this finer side of his nature, as in the well-known song to Celia, — " Drink to me only with thine eyes." Jonson's lines on the portrait of Shakespeare, opposite the frontispiece to the first edition of his works, 1623, are happily conceived, and are interesting as attesting the fidelity of the first engraved likeness of the poet.
"This figure that tli.ui here seest put,
lli.s face, the print would then surpass
In Jonson's best vein are these lines on the "True worth of Life": —
"It is not growing like a tree
To this period belongs the drama of Beaumont and Fletcher, of whom it has been said that if they were not great dramatists, they would still be great poets.
The two names must be regarded as indicating one poet rather than two, since it is impossible to make out their respective shares in the plays published in their conjoint names.
John Fletcher was born in 1576, and was ten years older than his friend Francis Beaumont . They lived together ten years, writing in union a series of dramas, passionate, romantic, and comic, blending thus their genius and fame.
The drama of Beaumont and Fletcher, though not in so high a style as Shakespeare's, is poetical and imaginative. They are fertile in the invention of plot and incident; and for keeping the attention of an audience awake, and their expectation suspended throughout the whole course of the action, they approach Shakespeare (who, however, had higher ends and purposes); for this reason, in the great days of the stage, and so long as the public manners tolerated their license and grossness, their plays were much greater favorites in the theatres than his. Dryden tells us that two of theirs were acted in his time for one of Shakespeare. The lyrical pieces scattered throughout their plays are among the sweetest in the language; and after Shakespeare, they have left us the richest drama we have. This " To Sleep," from " Valentinian," is one of the most elevated specimens of their verse, and less quoted than their lyrics.
* Care-charming Sleep, thou easer of all woes,
The most noted of Shakespeare's successors are Chapman, Dekker, Webster, Middleton, Marston, Taylor, Rowley, Massinger, Ford, Heywood, and Shirley. Among these, Massinger is pre-eminent as a tragic poet . He was born about the year 1584. His life was spent in obscurity and poverty; and one morning in March, 1640, he was found dead in his bed, dying almost unknown, and buried with no other inscription than the melancholy note in the parish register: "Philip Massinger, a stranger."
He wrote a great number of pieces, of which eighteen have been preserved. "The Virgin Martyr," "The Bondman," "The Fatal Dowry," "The City Madam," and "The New Way to pay Old Debts," are his bestknown productions. The last-mentioned play has kept possession of the stage chiefly on account of the effective