Lapas attēli
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

2

and affection. Their talent, as well as that of Massinger, Jonson, and the second-rate poets of the time, was not, like his, boundless, but confined to the delineation of particular descriptions of character. Fletcher's easy gentlemen have always been allowed to exceed those of all other poets; his education, and the society he lived in, were, in this respect, of peculiar advantage to him. Had he been of low birth, and forced to struggle with adversity, like most of the writers for the stage at the time, we should, perhaps, not have found such perfect delineations of young men of spirit and fashion as Don John in The Chances, Mirabel in The Wild-Goose Chace, or Cleremont in The Little French Lawyer. There is great variety displayed in Fletcher's gallants; the steady honour of Don Jamie' and De Garde, the sprightly Piniero3 and Leandro,* are equally portraits of nature with the madcap pranks of Monsieur Thomas, and of Wildbrain, in the Night-Walker, and the profligacy of Valentines and the younger Loveless." Fletcher is likewise peculiarly happy in delineating the passions of a lover; and, among many instances, Demetrius in The Humorous Lieutenant, Ar

2

2

Spanish Curate. Wild-Goose Chace. 3 Island Princess. * Spanish Curate. 5 Wit Without Money. Scornful Lady.

musia in The Island Princess, and Francisco in Monsieur Thomas, may be adduced. The cha racter of Amintor in The Maid's Tragedy is a strong proof of Beaumont's talents in the same line. And here the vast superiority of the elder drama over that of the eighteenth century may be justly asserted. In the former, the lovers are as ardent as in the latter; they frequently sink under the vehemence of their affections, but they are not weakened by the false delicacy and sentimentality of the gallants with which the dramas of our own days abound. The power of love in overcoming habits, which apparently extinguish and set the passions at defiance, is most admirably exemplified in The Elder Brother, and in Love's Cure. In both plays, and particularly in the former, the gradual progress of the passion is delineated with the true hand of a master, without overstepping the modesty of nature.Philaster affords an instance of a lover distracted by jealousy, and weighed down by misfortune; his character is highly finished, and reflects great credit on Beaumont, who appears to have had the principal share in that drama. He has been called a Hamlet, racked with jealousy; but, though he certainly bears some distant resemblance to that character, he

is a perfect original. Virolet, in The Double Marriage, bears a much more striking likeness to Hamlet; and for that very reason, though the passions of his mind are in many scenes drawn with great truth and delicacy, suffers by the comparison. Our poets have left us an admirable portrait of an honest man reduced to extremity by misfortune, but still borne up by a high sense of honour, and an untainted conscience, in the character of Montague, in The Honest Man's Fortune.

In the delineation of heroic characters, our authors yield to few dramatists. The pure spirit of valour is most happily exemplified, in Caractacus; the bluntness of an old soldier in Penius and Melantius; heroism, combined with the most ardent loyalty, in Arcas' and Aëcius; and bravery, tainted by ambition, in Maximus.3 Hengo* is indisputably superior not only to Shakspeare's Arthur, but to any generous heroic boy who has ever been exhibited.

Another description of character which Fletcher is peculiarly fond of introducing, and generally with the happiest success, is that of the

7 Bonduca.

* Loyal Subject. • Bonduca.

8 Ibid.

9 Maid's Tragedy.

• Valentinian.

3 Ibid.

blunt sturdy Englishman, an enemy to foppery and affectation of all kinds, and gifted with a high sense of honour, without making any parade about the matter. Of this description are Rutilio in The Custom of the Country, Tibalt in the Sea Voyage, De Vitry in Thierry and Theodoret, and Norandine in The Knight of Malta. To a kindred class the celebrated character of Leon, and that of Jacomo in The Captain, belong. The unexpected opening of Leon's true character, after the simplicity he had assumed to obtain his ends with Margarita, produces the most happy dramatic effect. Jacomo is a less interesting character, and even repulsive, but he bears the true semblance of nature.

Old men, agitated by violent anger, are also the peculiar forte of Fletcher. Cassibelane in the Laws of Candy, Alberto and Baptista in The Fair Maid of the Inn, and Champernel in The Little French Lawyer, are instances of that species of characters, when they retain a sufficient degree of dignity to command respect; while Antonio in The Chances, and Alphonso in The Pilgrim, illustrate the ludicrous effects of violent rage carried to excess, without any adequate means of making itself respected or feared,

5 Rule a Wife and have a Wife.

In the delineation of villainy, our poets are not entitled to the same degree of praise. We do not meet with such characters in their plays as Lago, Richard III., Sir Giles Overreach, or Luke. They generally content themselves with investing their bad men with every mark of downright depravity, without those different shades with which Shakspeare so happily discriminated his characters of the kind. Perhaps the most finished villain in their dramatic performances is Septimius, in The False One; but I suspect that Massinger had a hand in that play, and perhaps furnished that character. If our poets did not succeed in their delineations of tyrants, sycophants, and murderers, they are, perhaps, still less happy when they wish to present their audience with vicious women. Hippolyta in The Custom of the Country, Lelia in The Captain, and, above all, Brunhalt in Thierry and Theodoret, have, no doubt, their prototypes in nature, but they are too vicious for the stage. Some of their lowest female characters also are disgusting beyond endurance; and the error of judgment, or rather complacency to the taste of the audience, which could defile their dramas with such women as the Priestess in The Mad Lover, Megra in Philaster, and Panura in The Island Princess, cannot be sufficiently reprobated.

« iepriekšējāTurpināt »