Lapas attēli

But, in delineating the brighter side of the female character, as has been before observed, our poets not only exceeded all their contemporaries, not excepting Shakspeare, but all their successors. Amongst such a profusion of admirable portraits, it is difficult to select examples. The meekness and patience of Aspatia," the saintlike purity and devotion of Ordella," the ardour of affection of Euphrasia, the burning love and resignation of Juliana,' the firmness and heroism of Edith,' and the tenderness of Evanthe,* furnish specimens of every virtue estimable in the female character, which these authors, particularly Fletcher, must have studied with peculiar success in every shade and variation. They are no less happy in the sprightly girls and jolly widows, who so frequently occur in their plays, and who form a most striking contrast to the pale and sickly heroines of our sentimental comedies. The Widow in Wit Without Money, The Scornful Lady, Alinda in The Pilgrim, Frank in The Captain, and the Niece in Wit at Several Weapons, may be referred to as proving this assertion. Estifania is a well-known character of a different description, but delineated in

"Maid's Tragedy. 7 Thierry and Theodoret. Philaster. 9 Double Marriage. Rollo. Wife for a Month.


[ocr errors]


the most happy manner, and with the truest colouring.

With respect to the comic characters of our poets, they may be obviously classed under two heads. In the comedies written by Beaumont and Fletcher conjointly, as well as in some of the earlier unassisted productions of the latter, they chiefly attached themselves to the school of Ben Jonson, which was almost exclusively confined to the delineation of the different humours, then the fashionable term for any peculiar predominant passion, acquired habit, or studied affectation. While this gave constant opportunity for the display of extreme drollery, and a peculiar dry and harsh, but often very piquante and highseasoned, species of character, it too frequently led the poet into extravagance, at least to our conceptions, though we have reason to believe that the metropolis furnished real examples of some humours which appear to us far beyond the bounds of probability. In this walk of comedy, our authors yield the palm to none of the poets who attached themselves to this school, with the exception of Ben Jonson; and, in many instances, they approach to the excellence of the latter very nearly. The characters of La Writ,3

3 The Little French Lawyer.

Lazarillo, Bessus," the Humorous Lieutenant, and Lapet, are only inferior to a few of the most distinguished humours of Jonson. In some instances, our poets applied this peculiar description of composition, which is certainly most proper for comedy, to comparatively serious purposes; as in the characters of Arbaces," Memnon, Shamoni,' the Passionate Lord,' and Gondarino; but, while they gave undoubted proofs of the versatility of their talents, they certainly exceeded the bounds of nature in an additional degree. The influence of any particular passion, sufficiently strong to constitute what our ancestors called a humour, has a very comic effect; but it will always fail to excite any high degree of interest for a serious character.

The comic characters which are more peculiar to Fletcher's style, and which chiefly occur in those plays which he produced after the death of Beaumont, combine, with an equal portion of drollery and comic effect as those of Ben Jonson's school, more nature and reality, the humour being principally produced by the innate qualities of their minds, influenced by their re

4 The Woman-Hater.
"King and no King.
1 Ibid.

5 King and no King.

Mad Lover.

2 The Woman-Hater.

Nice Valour.

9 Nice Valour.


lative situations of life. The peevish temper of Calianax, the pedantry of Sir Roger the chaplain, the admirable characters of the fortune-hunter Michael Perez,' and the avaricious, purse-proud, and gluttonous Cacafogo, are specimens of real humour, not transgressing the bounds of nature, and equally applicable to every age and country. The characters of Bartolus, Lopez, and Diego, in The Spanish Curate, of the merry Ancient in The Loyal Subject, of Sebastian in Monsieur Thomas, and Alexander in The Coxcomb, may likewise be adduced as instances of the versatility of Fletcher's comic talents, which were far more extensive than those of Beaumont, Jonson, Massinger, and all his contemporaries, and only exceeded by that of Shakspeare. The superiority of the clowns of the latter will readily be granted. Fletcher, however, though at a great distance, approaches nearer to him in these characters than any of the poets of the time; as the clowns in Nice Valour, The Fair Maid of the Inn, A Wife for a Month, and the Prophetess, evince.

These observations on the comic characters of our poets, will also apply to their style of hu

3 Maid's Tragedy.

• Scornful Lady.
• Ibid.

5 Rule a Wife and have a Wife.

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

mour, which is equally diversified, and variously excellent. Both our poets excelled in the dry and severe humour so characteristic of Ben Jonson; but Fletcher is generally acknowledged to have possessed the peculiar talent of quick repartee and smart dialogue in a degree beyond any poet of the time. In the early plays of our assoçiate poets, as in The Woman-Hater and The Knight of the Burning Pestle, they were much attached to the mock-heroic style; and the latter performance is not excelled by any subsequent production of the kind.

Beaumont and Fletcher are reprehensible in an equal, perhaps a superior, degree with the other dramatic writers of the age, for the frequency of gross and indelicate allusions occurring in their works. A critic, who does not take into consideration the great change of manners which has taken place since their time, will at once condemn them; but, as we know that Fletcher's muse was considered as remarkably chaste by his contemporaries, we must conclude, what indeed we learn from studying all the authors of the time, that our ancestors, in the days of King James, would hear, without the least of fence, phrases and allusions which now would be stamped with every mark of public disappro

« iepriekšējāTurpināt »