« ZurückWeiter »
Told them the times when they might fitly meet,
To which Gonzago replies, in a strain of exulting dotage:
May one have the sight of such a fellow for nothing? Doth there breathe such an egregious ass? Is there such a foolish animal in rerum natura? How is it possible such a simplicity can exist? Let us not lose our laughing at him, for God's sake; let folly's sceptre light upon him, and to the ship of fools with him instantly.
Dondolo. Of all these follies I arrest your grace.”
Moliere has built a play on nearly the same foundation, which is not much superior to the present. Marston, among other topics of satire, has a fling at the pseudo-critics and philosophers of his time, who were “ full of wise saws and modern instances.” Thus he freights his Ship of Fools:
" Dondolo. Yes, yes; but they got a supersedeas; all of them proved themselves either knaves or madmen, and so were let go: there's none left now in our ship but a few citizens that let their wives keep their shop-books, some philosophers, and a few critics; one of which critics has lost his flesh with fishing at the measure of Plautus' verses; another has vowed to get the consumption of the lungs, or to leave to posterity the true orthography and pronunciation of laughing.
Hercules. But what philosophers ha’ye ?
Dondolo. Oh very strange fellows; one knows nothing, dares not aver he lives, goes, sees, feels.
Nymphadoro. A most insensible philosopher.
Dondolo. Another, that there is no present time; and that one man to-day and to-morrow, is not the same man; so that he that yesterday owed money, to-day owes none; because he is not the same man.
Herod. Would that philosophy hold good in law ?
Hercules. But why has the Duke thus laboured to have all the fools shipped out of his dominions ?
Dondolo. Marry, because he would play the fool alone without
Moliere has enlarged upon the same topic in his Mariage Forcé, but not with more point or effect. Nymphadoro's reasons for devoting himself to the sex generally, and Hercules's description of the different qualifications of different men, will also be found to contain excellent specimens, both of style and matter.—The disguise of Hercules as the Fawn, is assumed voluntarily, and he is comparatively a calm and dispassionate observer of the times. Malevole's disguise in the Malcontent has been forced upon him by usurpation and injustice, and his invectives are accordingly more impassioned and virulent. His satire does not “ like a wild goose fly, unclaimed of any man,” but has a bitter and personal application. Take him in the words of the usurping Duke's account of him.
“ This Malevole is one of the most prodigious affections that
ever conversed with Nature; a man, or rather a monster, more discontent than Lucifer when he was thrust out, of the presence. His appetite is unsatiable as the grave, as
far from any content as from heaven. His highest delight is
procure others vexation, and therein he thinks he truly serves Heaven; for 'tis bis position, whosoever in this earth can be contented, is a slave, and damned; therefore does he amict all, in that to which they are most affected. The elements struggle with him; his own soul is at variance with herself; his speech is halter-worthy at all hours.. I like him, faith; he gives good intelligence to my spirit, makes me understand those weaknesses which others' flattery palliates. Hark! they sing.
Enter Malevole, after the Song. Pietro Jacomo. See he comes! Now shall you hear the extremity of a Malcontent; he is as free as air; he blows over every man. And-Sir, whence come you now?
Malevole. From the public place of much dissimulation, the church.
Pietro Jacomo. What didst there?
Pietro Jacomo. And what dost think makes most infidels now?
Malevole. Sects, sects. I am weary: would I were one of the Duke's hounds.
Pietro Jacomo. But what's the common news abroad? Thou dogg'st rumour still. Malevole. Common news? Why, common words are, God ye, fare
ye well: common actions, flattery and coženage: common things, women and cuckolds.” Act I. Scene 3.
In reading all this, one is somehow reminded perpetually of Mr. Kean's acting: in Shakespear we do not often think of him, except in those
parts which he constantly acts, and in those one cannot forget him. I might observe on the above passage, in excuse for some bluntnesses of style, that the ideal barrier between names and things seems to have been greater then than now. Words have become instruments of more importance than formerly. To mention certain actions, is almost to participate in them, as if consciousness were the same as guilt. The standard of delicacy varies at different periods, as it does in different countries, and is not a general test of superiority. The French, who pique themselves (and justly, in some particulars) on their quickness of tact and refinement of breeding, say and do things which we, a plainer and coarser people, could not think of without a blush. What would seem gross allusions to us at present, were without offence to our ancestors, and many things passed for jests with them, or matters of indifference, which would not now be endured. Refinement of language, however, does not keep pace with simplicity of manners. The severity of criticism exercised in our theatres towards some unfortunate straggling phrases in the old comedies, is but an ambiguous compliment to the immaculate purity of modern times. Marston's style was by no means more guarded than that of his contemporaries. He was also much more of a free-thinker than Marlowe, and there is a frequent, and not unfavourable allusion in his works, to later sceptical opinions.
- In the play of the Malcontent we meet with an occasional mixture of comic gaiety, to relieve the more serious and painful business of the scene, as in the easy loquacious effrontery of the old intriguante Maquerella, and in the ludicrous facility with which the idle courtiers avoid or seek the notice of Malevole, as he is in or out of favour; but the general tone and import of the piece is severe and moral. The plot is somewhat too intricate and too often changed (like' the shifting of a scene), so as to break and fritter away the interest at the end; but the part of Aurelia, the Duchess of Pietro Jacomo, a dissolute and proud-spirited woman, is the highest strain of Marston's pen. The scene in particular, in which she receives and exults in the supposed news of her husband's death, is nearly unequalled in boldness of conception and in the unrestrained force of passion, taking away not only the con sciousness of guilt, but overcoming the sense o shame *
Next to Marston, I must put Chapman, whose name is better known as the translator of Homer than as a dramatic writer. He is, like Marston, a philosophic observer', a didactic reasoner: but
* See the conclusion of Lecture IV.