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THIS Comedy first appeared in the folio collection printed in 1647, and the Prologue is a sufficient voucher for its being the work of Fletcher alone. Its testimony is confirmed by Gardiner, in his metrical encomium on these plays. That the play met with a favourable reception may be easily imagined, as it has continued to be a stock-play till this present day, which has been the fortune of very few of Beaumont and Fletcher's dramas, During the Commonwealth, Kirkman extracted some of the low scenes, which he acted at fairs under the title of The Landlady. The celebrated Duke of Buckingham, dissatisfied with the two last acts, completely re-wrote them; and it must be confessed, that he has very greatly improved the interest of the plot, and particularly of the catastrophe, though the language of his alteration, which is prose, is greatly inferior to that of the original poet. By making the character of the second Constantia more important, and heightening the confusion arising from mistaking her for her chaste namesake, he has produced far more stage effect than the original possesses. But his Grace at the same time introduced a new stock of licentiousness, in addition to that which the original already sufficiently furnishes. This induced Garrick to make some further alterations, and to use his pruning-knife with considerable freedom, by which a great part of the humour is lost; but the taste of the age, as well as decency and good morals, required such an operation. The Duke of Buckingham's alteration, thus amended, was acted at DruryLane, and printed in 1773; and in this state the comedy continues to amuse the present public,
The original play is certainly one of the most lively and amusing comedies in the language, exhibiting a rare fund of sterling humour, both in the language and the incidents. Fletcher is often celebrated for his pictures of easy gentlemen of high rank and of high honour, though undoubtedly exhibiting more licentiousness than the heroes of modern sentimental comedy, whom the present age persists in enduring, to the exclusion of powerful and natural character, and although it is hardly pretended that
they are to be found elsewhere than on the stage. Of the fine gentlemen of Fletcher and of nature, Don John is an admirable portraiture he is well contrasted with his friend and comrade Don Frederic, a man of equal honour, though not possessing the same degree of spirit and impetuosity. To these is added the angry Antonio, another character which Fletcher is peculiarly fond of introducing. The scene in which he orders the naval ballad of John Dory to be sung before the surgeon opens his wounds, is very happily imagined. Nor should the Landlady be passed over without mention: Though grossly tinctured with indelicacy, the scenes in which Don John overcomes her scruples of conscience, with respect to receiving the child of Constantia, are replete with humour of the first rank. At the same time, this comedy cannot claim unqualified praise. The frequent pruriency of expression may be charged to the manners of the age; but Fletcher cannot plead the same excuse for the ill-contrived plot. The comedy might be closed, with little alteration, at least so far as regards the principal characters, at the end of the third act the remainder, in the original as well as in the Duke of Buckingham's alteration, is filled up with new difficulties, for which we do not come sufficiently prepared, and characters are introduced, (such as the musician Francisco, and the pretended conjuror,) to whom we are wholly strangers. And finally, the concluding conjuring scene, though it might have been relished by Fletcher's contemporaries (whose belief in supernatural agency had been countenanced by King James, and was kept alive by continual treatises on astrology and witchcraft,) can never reconcile us to the implicit confidence, and strange credulity, exhibited by the accomplished Duke of Ferrara, and the sensible Governor of Bologna.
It is observable, that some of the best plays produced by Fletcher are founded on the excellent novels of the matchless author of Don Quixote.* The plot of The Chances is taken, with no very considerable variation, from La Sennora Cornelia, one of the Novelas Exemplares. The following abstract may enable the reader to compare the novel with the comedy, and decide upon their respective merits with respect to incident; for, as to the language, he must be referred to the original Spanish, as the style of Cervantes defies the efforts of any translator.
"Don Antonio de Ysunca, and Don Juan de Gamboa, two gentlemen of high rank, and of the same age, had left Salamanca to distinguish themselves in the wars of the Netherlands, but by the earnest persuasion of their parents they proceeded to Bologna, where they resumed their studies, and where their accomplish
The Chances, Rule a Wife and Have a Wife, Love's Pilgrimage, and The Fair Maid of the Ing.
ments ensured them a good reception. The lady most celebrated in the city, for her beauty, was Cornelia Bentivoglio, and it was a favourite object with the two companions to obtain a sight of her, which her retired life rendered a matter of great difficulty. Don Juan one night declared his intention to his friend of going his usual rounds, and, notwithstanding the offers of his friend, would not suffer him to accompany him. When Don Juan was about to return home, he heard a door opened, and a voice asking him, whether he was Fabio? Upon answering in the affirmative, a bundle was given to him, which he found so heavy that he was forced to employ both his hands. The door was shut, and while he was ruminating how to act, he heard the crying of an infant in the bundle. He resolved to carry it to an old woman who served him and his companions, whom he ordered to procure a nurse, and instead of the valuable clothes in which it was wrapped, to dress it in others more humble, in order to prevent discovery. He then returned to the house where he had received it, and on his approach heard the clashing of swords, and found a single man oppressed by a number of opponents. He immediately flew to his succour, but at the same time the man was struck to the ground. Don Juan assaulted his enemies furiously, and the neighbours collecting to succour him, they were forced to fly. In the battle he had lost his own bonnet, and finding another, he put it on without considering whether it was his own or not. He inquired of the fallen man whether he had been wounded; he answered that God and a good breast-plate had preserved him. At the same time eight friends of the assaulted gentleman appeared, who then begged Don Juan, after inquiring his name, to leave him. Missing his bonnet, and finding that his preserver wore it, he insisted upon his retaining it as a mark whereby he should recognise his benefactor. Don Juan returning, met his friend Antonio, who informed him, that he had gone in search of him, and encountered a female who had requested his protection, and whom he had conveyed to their lodgings. She fainted, and on opening her veil to revive her, he discovered a face of extreme beauty. Upon her recovery she prayed him to return to the street where he had met her, and if he found any one assaulted by enemies, to succour him. Don Juan then related his own adventures, and they returned, Antonio informing his friend that the lady had prayed that no one but himself might behold her. When they entered the house, they found the bonnet which Juan had acquired to be a most superb one, ornamented with a diamond of great value. Antonio entered the chamber of the lady, and his friend could not restrain his curiosity from peeping in. The lady seeing the glitter of the diamond, addressed him by the title of Duke, and informed Antonio that she knew the Duke of Ferrara by his hat. Don Juan, at her re
quest, entered, and related the manner how he had obtained the hat. During her narration the old woman passed by the room with the infant, which induced the lady to inquire after it, and upon beholding it, found it to be her own. At the request of the two friends she related her history to them, informing them that she was Cornelia, the sister of Lorenzo Bentivoglio, by whom she had been carefully educated; that she had accidentally beheld Alfonso de Este, Duke of Ferrara, and that a mutual attachment was the result of the meeting. The duke at last succeeded in procuring an interview, and upon the promise of marriage he succeeded in obtaining his desires, excusing the immediate accomplishment of his promises by several difficulties which stood in the way. She soon discovered the effects of their intercourse, and acquainted the duke with the danger of her situation. He promised to convey her privately to Ferrara, and there to espouse her publicly. The escape was ready to be accomplished; but on the very night fixed for the purpose she perceived her brother, and some others, in full armour, which, as she guessed the reason, threw her into dismay, and brought on a premature delivery. She then caused the child to be given to a faithful servant, and afterwards she herself escaped from the house. Having finished the relation, she threw herself on the bed in despair, but was at last comforted by the assurances of protection and service from the two Spaniards.
"In the morning they visited the lady, when one of their pages entered with the news that Lorenzo Bentivoglio was below, inquiring for Don Juan. Upon this the lady, in great distress, renewed her request of protection and secrecy, and received the strongest assurances from Juan. He and his friend armed themselves, and the three pages were also furnished with weapons. Don Juan found Lorenzo below, who requested him to accompany him to an opposite church, where he informed him that his sister had been seduced and taken away by the Duke of Ferrara, under promise of marriage, which the superior riches of the duke induced him to believe he would never perform. He then requested Juan to accompany him to Ferrara, believing that the company of one Spaniard was equal to his being guarded by the whole army of Xerxes. The reason why he chose a stranger, was to prevent the intercession and anxiety of friends. Don Juan immediately accepted the proposal, and requested permission to acquaint his companion with the purpose, to which Lorenzo consented. He then returned to his lodgings, where he acquainted Cornelia and Antonio with the result, and quieted the fears of the former, pointing out to her the necessity of learning the real intentions of the duke.
"Having recommended Cornelia to the care of the old woman, Don Juan joined Lorenzo, and they began their journey to Fer
rara. Antonio resolved to follow them in disguise, to succour his friend in any difficulty. He had scarcely left Cornelia when the old dame entered, and filled her mind with apprehensions of her brother having purposely drawn off her protectors, in order to seize her. She persuaded her to go with her to the curate of a neighbouring village, whom she had formerly served, and whose secrecy and fidelity could be depended upon.
"Meanwhile Lorenzo and Don Juan were proceeding to Ferrara, but heard by the way that the duke was still at Bologna, upon which they left the bye-paths, on which they had travelled hitherto, and proceeded to the high road, in expectation of meeting him on his return to Ferrara. They soon beheld a company on horseback, and Lorenzo requested Don Juan to await their arrival, and discover whether the duke was among them, while be himself rode apart. When the troop came up, the duke recognised his preserver by his hat, and they descended from their horses. Lorenzo imagining that his second was attacked, rode up, but found him in the embraces of the duke. The latter recognised the brother of his mistress, and went apart with Don Juan, who asked his intentions with respect to Cornelia. The Duke answered, that he intended to have taken her to Ferrara, there publicly to espouse her, but that both she and the child had disappeared, which frustrated his intentions, and perplexed him the more, as his mother intended, on his return, to marry him to the daughter of the Duke of Mantua. Juan then beckoned to Lorenzo, whom the duke embraced and saluted with the name of brother. Don Juan informed him of the honourable intentions of the duke, upon which he fell at his feet, and thanked him for the honour of the intended alliance. The two reconciled friends then resolved to search for Cornelia and her child; when Antonio came up, and having been made known to the duke, informed him, at the desire of his comrade, that Cornelia and her child were safely lodged in their house.
"They then resolved to return to Bologna, and Antonio went before to apprise Cornelia of the reconciliation, and the arrival of her brother and the duke; but to his astonishment he was informed that she, as well as the old dame, were missing. When the others came up with the joyful expectation of beholding the objects of their affection, they found Antonio in the utmost despair. Suddenly one of the pages came in, and informed them that his fellow, Santistevan, had a lady locked up in his chamber. Antonio flew up to the chamber, which he found locked. He knocked, and called upon Cornelia to open the door, as her brother and her husband were reconciled and arrived. But a strange voice answered, Why do you jeer me? I am truly not so ugly that dukes and counts might not look for me, but I deserve this treatment for being the companion of pages.' Upon this