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poses the squirearchy to ridicule, effaces the shams of etiquette and caste. It brings the extremes of society, those who in their several stations risk the most and suffer most from the encroachments of the intermediate classes, into fellowship. Meanwhile, in England, the law-abiding instinct has been ever hitherto respected, in legend no less than in fact. Prince Hal and Bluff Harry go to prison for their scapegrace tricks, and bear the Justice no ill-will. We might, perhaps, attribute something in the failure of the Stuarts to their non-recognition of this English idiosyncrasy. and something also in the popularity of the present royal family to their perception of the same. Be this as it may, the dramatists of the great epoch, with their keen sense of national characteristics, seized upon the point, and left us a gallery of pictures in the style I have attempted to describe.
In order to complete this study, it would have been admissible to catalogue those plays which glorify the several guilds, trades, and popular crafts of England to show how the City and Corporation, the King's Jesters, prominent Clowns like Tarlton, the Prentices of London, the Shoemakers, Thieves, and Jolly Beggars, all of them representing English life under one or more distinctive aspects, received due meed of dramatic celebration. To carry out such analysis in detail might be curious, but hardly interesting. Opportunity, moreover, will be offered for resuming these points in the course of further inquiries.
1. Induction to a ‘Warning for Fair Women’-Peculiar Qualities of the
Domestic Tragedy-Its Realism-Its Early Popularity-List of Plays of this Description—Their Sources.-II. Five Plays selected for Examination-Questions of disputed Authorship-Shakspere's suggested part in Three of these—The different Aspects of Realism in them.-I11.‘A Warning for Fair Women'—The Story–Use of Dumb Show-Bye-Scenes--Handling of the Prose-Tale-Critique of the Style and Character-Drawing of this Play-Its deliberate Moral Intention. -IV. 'A Yorkshire Tragedy'—The Crime of Walter Calverley-His Character in the Drama-Demoniacal Possession.-V. 'Arden of Feversham’-Difficulty of dealing with it-Its Unmitigated HorrorFidelity to Holinshed's Chronicle-Intense Nature of its Imaginative Realism-Character of Arden-Character of Mosbie-A Gallery of Scoundrels—Two Types of Murderers-Michael's Terror-Alice Arden-Her Relation to some Women of Shakspere-Development of her Murderous Intention-Quarrel with Mosbie—The Crescendo of her Passion-Redeeming Points in her Character-Incidents and Episodes. -VI. ‘A Woman Killed with Kindness ’– The Gentleness of this Tragedy-The Plot--- Italian Underplot adapted to English Life-Character of Mr. Frankford- The Scene in the Bedchamber—Character of Mrs. Frankford-Wendoll --Question regarding the Moral Tone of the Last Act-Religious Sentiment.–VII. “Witch of Edmonton'Its Joint-Authorship— The Story-Female Parts—Two Plays patched together-- Mother Sawyer—The Realistic Picture of an English Witch -Humane Treatment of Witchcraft in this Play.
N.B. Of the Tragedies discussed in this chapter, the text of ‘A Warning to Fair Women’ will be found in Simpson's 'School of Shakspere,' vol. ii. ; that of 'A Yorkshire Tragedy,' in Tauchnitz's edition of ‘Six Doubtful Plays of William Shakespeare;' that of ' Arden of Feversham' in Delius' “ Pseudo-Shakspere’sche Dramen ;' that of ' A Woman Killed with Kindness,' in Collier's 'Dodsley,' vol. vii.; that of The Witch of Edmonton’in Gifford's 'Ford,' vol. ii.
The Induction to a play, first published, without name of author, in 1599, is a dialogue between History, Tragedy, and Comedy, the three species at that epoch recognised in English Drama. History enters at one door of the stage, bearing a banner and beating on a drum. Tragedy issues from the opposite door, carrying a whip in one hand, and in the other a knife. While these august rivals dispute the theatre, Comedy advances from the back, rasping a fiddle's strings. Tragedy calls on both her sisters to have done : This brawling sheepskin is intolerable !
I'll cut your fiddle strings,
I must have passions that must move the soul ;
History, feeling perchance her own affinity to 'Tragedy, is not unwilling to retire. But Comedy replies with taunts :
How some damned tyrant to obtain a crown
Like smoke out of a tobacco pije, or a boy's squib.
Tragedy is not to be daunted with sneers or criticisms. She lays about her roundly with her whip, while History, who plays the part of mediator, calls attention to the hangings of the theatre :
Look, Comedy! I marked it not till now !
This is the Induction to‘A Warning for Fair Women, the second extant example of a peculiar species, which may best be described as Domestic Tragedies. The plays of this class were all founded upon recent tragical events in real life. Tales of thrilling horror, like those which De Quincey narrated in his appendix to the essay on · Murder considered as a Fine Art, supplied the dramatists with themes for sombre realistic treatment. As in the History Play they followed English Chronicles with patient fidelity; so in the Domestic Tragedy they adhered to the minutest details of some well-known crime. Fancy found but little scope, and poetical ornament was rigidly excluded. The imagination exercised itself in giving life to character, in analysing passion, laying bare the springs of hateful impulses, and yielding the most faithful picture of bare fact upon the stage. The result is that these grim and naked tragedies are doubly valuable, first for their portraiture of manners, and secondly as powerful life-studies in dramatic art. The auxiliary fascination of romance,
the charm of myth, the pathos of virtue in distress, the glamour of distant lands and old heroic histories, are lacking here. The playwright stands face to face with sordid appetites and prosaic brutalities, the common stuff of violence and bloodshed, lust and covetousness. Yet such is his method of treatment in the best works of this species which have been preserved to us, that we learn from these domestic tragedies better perhaps than from any other essays of the earlier period what great dramatic gifts were common in that age.
That plays founded on these subjects of contemporary crime were popular throughout the flourishing age of the Drama, is abundantly proved by their dates and titles, preserved in several records. All classes of society seem to have enjoyed them; for among the earliest of which we have any mention are “Murderous Michael' and · The Cruelty of a Stepmother,' performed at Court in 1578. In 1592, the first domestic tragedy, which exists in print, was published. This was called “The lamentable and true tragedy of Master Arden of Feversham in Kent, who was most wickedly murdered by the means of his disloyal and wanton wife, who for the love she bare to one Mosbie, hired two desperate ruffians, Black Will and Shagbag, to kill him. In 1598, appeared · Black Bateman of the North,' a narrative in two parts, enacted by Chettle, Wilson, Drayton, and Dekker. The next year, 1599, was fertile in plays of this description. Dekker and Chettle worked together upon a 'Stepmother's Tragedy; 'Day and Haughton on. The Tragedy of Merry' and Cox of Collumpton ;' Jonson and Dekker on the murder of Page of Plymouth ;' while “Beech's