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and original character of Sir Giles Overreach, — a character which the genius of Kean has made immortal.
Massinger has greater power as a tragic poet than any writer of the time of James. His tragedies have a calm, proud seriousness that impresses the imagination. His genius was more eloquent and descriptive than impassioned or inventive. His pictures, rather than his sentiments, touch the heart. His versification was smooth and mellifluous. In his comedy he has the same rugged strength that characterizes Ben Jonson. Genuine humor and sprightliness he had none; and his dialogue, like Jonson's, is often coarse and indecent. His characters are often too depraved to be real. He is not a quotable dramatist, having less sentiment than portrayal of character to commend him. Here is a short but striking passage from "The New Way to pay Old Debts": —
"Some undone widow sits upon mine arm,
Ford, Massinger's cotemporary, was born 1586, and died 1639. He is characterized by a tone of pensive tenderness, and a peculiarly soft and musical style of blank verse. His morbid, diseased imagination led him to devote some of his best effort to the description of incestuous passion. The scenes in his "Brother and Sister," describing the criminal loves of Arabella and Giovanni, contain his finest poetry and expression. Charles Lamb ranks Ford with the first order of poets. More impartial critics have admitted his sway over the tender passions and the occasional beauty of his language, but have found him wanting in the elevation of great genius. His Cotemporary, Thomas Heywood, the date of whose birth is unknown, but who wrote for the stage as late as 1640, and "had an entire hand," as he tells us, "or at least a main finger," in two hundred and twenty plays, besides attending to his business as an actor, as a dramatist has poetical fancy and an abundance of classic imagery; but as his business was to cater to the play-goer's craving for novelty, scenes of low buffoonery, "merry accidents, intermixed with apt and witty jests," deform his pieces.
Of his twenty-three plays that have come down to us, the best are, "A Woman Killed with Kindness," "A Challenge for Beauty," "The English Traveller," " The Royal King and Loyal Subject," "The Lancashire Witches," "The Rape of Lucrece," and "Love's Mistress." It has been remarked that " there is a natural repose in Heywood's scenes which is in pleasant contrast with the excitement that prevails in those of most of his cotemporaries." The songs scattered through his now neglected plays are often easy and flowing. He informs us in one of his Prologues that —
"To give content to this most curious age,
Heywood impresses one rather as a plaj'wright than a poet; but when we think of his " finger in the pie " of two hundred and twenty plays, and the "several prose works" that he wrote, we must at least praise his industry.
John Marston, writing from 1600 to 1634, some of whose miscellaneous poetry was ordered to be burned for its licentiousness, is the author of "Malcontent," a comedy, "Antonio and Mellida," a tragedy, "The Insatiate Countess," "What you Will," and other plays. Marston was a rough and vigorous writer. "His forte," says Hazlitt, "was not sympathy either with the stronger or softer emotions, but an impatient scorn and bitter indignation against the vices and follies of men, which vented itself either in comic irony or lofty invective." This humorous sketch of a scholar and his dog is not unworthy of Shakespeare: —
"I was a scholar; seven useful springs
Stnfft noting books; and still my spaniel slept.
Thomas Middleton was a popular dramatic writer, and the author of about twenty plays. The date of his birth is not given. He was writing for the stage as late as 1624. He died in 1627. A conjecture that an old neglected drama of his, entitled " The Witch," supplied the witchcraft scenery, and part of the lyrical incantations of "Macbeth," has kept alive the name of this poet. It is now, however, thought more probable that the inferior author is the borrower, and it has been aptly said that "the dim, mysterious, unearthly beings that accost Macbeth on the blasted heath, only Shakespeare could have evoked." Middleton's witches, like Shakespeare's, dance about their caldron; and their charm-song is worded not unlike his, but it falls flat in the singing. It is not in the least blood-curdling, but rather suggests "Mother Goose." The witches' moonlight flight is better done. In parts it approaches Shakespeare, but never reaches him. Middleton's witches have no originality. They are of the old common-place type, — a mixture of the ludicrous and uncanny. They are funny, but not awful,—scarcely horrible.
Middleton would seem to have been well known as a dramatic writer, for when in 1617 the Cockpit Theatre was demolished, an old ballad describing the circumstance states, —
"Books old and yoting on heap they flung,
And burnt them in the blazes, —
John Webster, whom Hazlitt has called "the nobleminded," was united with Dekker in the conjunct authorship then so common. The two dramatists are placed between 1601 and 1641. His plays abound in passages of intense feeling; his subjects are managed with delicacy; and his moral tone is higher than is to be found in most of his cotemporaries, though he could not resist the prevailing appetite for " supernumerary horrors," in which his tragedies abound. His " White Devil," and " Duchess of Malfy" are almost equally admired by critics. The last scenes in the latter play are finely conceived, and in a spirit which students of our elder dramatic literature have admired as belonging peculiarly to Webster.
The Duchess is in prison; Bosola, her captor, enters disguised as a bellman, — usually sent to condemned persons the night before they suffer. In their conversation occurs this fine and often-quoted passage, —
"Glories, like glow-worms, afar off shine bright;
After a coffin, cords, and a bell have been produced, Bosola sings this dirge : —
"Hark! now everything is still;