Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

which gives us an elevation above the infirmities which flesh is heir to, and identifies us with the nobleness of soul and strength of character which shed “a glory" round their heads.

Heywood, like many of our old dramatists, deals in the extreme of character, which frequently amounts to heroism. His heroes are of unshaken purpose, of irresistible patience ; men who will stand beneath the sword suspended by a single hair; and, with the power of motion, still resolutely bide the consequence. The point of honour is discriminated with the most subtle nicety; a vow is considered as registered in heaven; it is the sentence of fate, and must be equally inexorable. The spirit, however, is frequently sacrificed to the letter, and the good and the true are disregarded, to preserve a consistency with a supposed virtue--a sort of character better calculated to supply, from the passionate and deep internal conflicts which it occasions, affecting subjects for the stage, than useful example or instruction for human happiness. To some, this character will appear unnatural; and so it would be, if man were left to his own natural tendencies; but, if we grant the existence of the artificial notions of honour and virtue, on which it is founded, then the characters are perfectly consistent and natural, although acting under a false impression of what is right and just. Fancy, for instance, a generous, honest, and valiant gentleman, induced by a noble duke to convey a letter to an unyielding lady, who is, as that gentleman conceives, unknown to him; and, by the duke's dictation, who suspects that he is more intimately connected with her than is agreeable to his grace's interest, to swear that he will not cast an amorous look on her, speak“ no familiar syllable, touch, or come near her bosom,” &c. Fancy him hastening to perform the duke's behests, and discovering, to his amazement, that he has undertaken to solicit his own wife for another. Imagine him tricked into a vow, in total ignorance of the circumstances, and resolving to bind himself to so unjust a stipulation, the effect of wbich is to make two persons miserable, and not to make the third happy; yet, Heywood makes Spencer, in “ The Fair Maid of the West,” rigidly perform this vow, and leave his mistress in a swoon, without attempting to render her any assistance. The consequence is, that the Fair Maid of the West, the lady in question, is under the necessity of tricking the duke into another vow, in order to get out of the difficulty.

These exaggerated situations, however, are mixed with others of the deepest feeling, the most glorious overflowings of the affections, the kindest sympathies, the tenderest sentiments. Heywood knew well the nature of human passions, but he threw them into extravagant positions. He was, says Lamb, " a sort of prose Shakspeare.”

Shakspeare.” He caught the mantle of Elijah, but not before it touched the earth, and therefore was he peculiarly human in his delineations of passion. He did not deal skilfully with the invisible world, and yet he was not altogether unacquainted with "the winged spirits of the air;" he introduces them gracefully in “ Love's Mistress," one of the most beautiful and purest of masques founded upon classical mythology.

In a rank, in many respects considerably above the plays we first mentioned, we must place the “ Rape of Lucrece, one of the most wild, irregular, and unaccountable productions of his age. Amongst the most extravagant buffoonery, we find sparks of genius which would do honour to any dramatist; touches of feeling, to which no reader can be indifferent. The extracts we shall make from the scene in which the crime is perpetrated, and from that which immediately follows, are of this description. The dreadful consummation is preceded by an awful note of preparation : a solemn pause in the stride of guilt, which makes the boldest hold his breath, and is succeeded by a display of the most exquisitely touching grief.

Sextus. Night, be as secret as thou art close, as close
As thou art black and dark! thou ominous queen
Of tenebrous silence, make this fatal hour
As true to rape, as thou hast made it kind
To murder, and harsh mischief! Cynthia, mask thy cheek,
And all you sparkling elemental fires,
Choak up your beauties in prodigious fogs,
Or be extinct in some thick vaporous clouds,
Lest ye behold my practice! I am bound
Upon a black adventure, on a deed
That must wound virtue, and make beauty bleed.
Pause, Sextus, and before thou run'st thyself
Into this violent danger, weigh thy sin :
Thou art yet free, belov’d, grac'd in the camp:
Of great opinion and undoubted hope;
Rome's darling in the universal grace
Both of the field and senate, where these fortunes
Do make thee great in both : back! yet thy fame
Is free from hazard, and thy style from shame.
O fate! thou hast usurp'd such power o'er man,
That where thou plead'st thy will, no mortal can.
On then, black mischief, hurry me the way!
Myself I must destroy, her life betray.
The hate of king and subject, the displeasure
Of prince and people, the revenge of noble,
VOL. XI. PART I.

K

And contempt of base; the incurr'd vengeance
Of my wrong'd kinsman Collatine, the treason
Against divin’st Lucrece; all these total curses
Foreseen, not fear’d, upon one Sextus meet,
To make my days harsh, so this night be sweet.
No jar of clock, no ominous hateful howl
Of any starting hound, no horse-cough breath'd from the entrails
Of any drowsy groom, wakes this charm'd silence,
And starts this general slumber; forward still.

[Lucrece discovered in her bed.
To make thy lust live, all thy virtues kill.
Here, here, behold! beneath these curtains lies
That bright enchantress that hath daz’d my eyes.
Oh, who but Sextus could commit such waste
On one so fair, so kind, so truly chaste?
Or like a ravisher thus rudely stand,
To offend this face, this brow, this lip, this hand ?
Or at such fatal hours these revels keep,
With thought once to defile thy innocent sleep?
Save in this breast such thoughts could find no place,
Or pay, with treason, her hospitable grace;
But I am lust-burnt all, bent on what's bad ;
That, which should calm good thought, makes Tarquin mad.
Madam! Lucrece!

Luc. Whose that? oh me! beshrew you.
Sex. Sweet, 'tis I.
Luc. What I ?
Sex. Make room.
Luc. My husband Collatine?
Sex. Thy husband's at the camp.
Luc. Here is no place for any man save him.
Sex. Grant me that grace.
Luc. What are you?
Sex. Tarquin and thy friend, and must enjoy thee.
Luc. Heaven such sins defend !

Sex. Why do you tremble, lady? cease this fear;
I am alone; there is no suspicious ear
That can betray this deed: nay, start not, sweet.

Luc. Dream I, or am I full awake? oh no!
I know I dream to see Prince Sextus so.
Sweet lord, awake me, rid me from this terror:
I know you for a prince, a gentleman,
Royal and honest, one that loves my lord,
And would not wrack a woman's chastity

For Rome's imperial diadem: oh then
Pardon this dream ! for being awake, I know
Prince Sextus, Rome's great hope, would not for shame
Havock his own worth, or despoil my fame.

Sex. I'm bent on both; my thoughts are all on fire;
Choose thee, thou must embrace death, or desire.
Yet do I love thee, wilt thou accept it?

Luc. No.

Sex. If not thy love, thou must enjoy thy foe.
Where fair means cannot, force shall make my way:
By Jove, I must enjoy thee.
Luc. Sweet lord, stay.

Sex. I'm all impatience, violence, and rage,
And save thy bed, nought can this fire assuage:
Wilt love me?

Luc. No, I cannot.
Sex. Tell me why?
Luc. Hate me, and in that hate first let me die.
Sex. By Jove, I'll force thee.

Luc. By a god you swear
To do a devil's deed; sweet lord, forbear.
By the same Jove I swear, that made this soul,
Never to yield unto an act so foul.
Help! help!

Sex. These pillows first shall stop thy breath,
If thou but shriekest; hark; how I'll frame thy death.

Luc. For death I care not, so I keep unstain'd
The uncraz'd honour I have yet maintain’d.

Sex. Thou can'st keep neither, for if thou but squeak'st,
Or let'st the least harsh noise jar in my ear,
I'll broach thee on my steel; that done, straight murder
One of thy basest grooms, and lay you both
Grasp'd arm in arm on thy adulterate bed,
Then call in witness of that mechall sin :
So shalt thou die, thy death be scandalous,
Thy name be odious, thy suspected body
Deny'd all funeral rites, and loving Collatine
Shall hate thee even in death: then save all this,
And to thy fortunes add another friend,
Give thy fears comfort, and these torments end.

Luc. I'll die first; and yet hear me, as you're noble:
If all your goodness and best generous thoughts
Be not exil'd your heart, pity, oh pity
The virtues of a woman! mar not that

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

Cannot be made again: this once defil'd,
Not all the ocean waves can purify
Or wash my stain away; you seek to soil
That which the radiant splendor of the sun
Cannot make bright again; behold my tears,
Oh think them pearld drops, distilled from the heart
Of soul-chaste Lucrece ; think them orators,
To plead the cause of absent Collatine, your friend and kinsman.

Sex. Tush, I am obdure.

Luc. Then make my name foul, keep my body pure.
Oh, prince of princes, do but weigh your sin;
Think how much I shall lose, how small you win.
I lose the honour of my name and blood,
Loss Rome's imperial crown cannot make good.
You win the world's shame and all good men's hate;
Oh! would you pleasure buy at such dear rate?
Nor can you term it pleasure, for what is sweet,
Where force and hate, jar and contention, meet?
Weigh but for what 'tis that you urge me still,
To gain a woman's love against her will?
You'll but repent

such wrong

done a chaste wife, And think that labour's not worth all

your

strife;
Curse your hot lust, and say you've wrong'd your friends,
But all the world cannot make me amends.
I took you for a friend, wrong not my trust,
But let these chaste tears quench your fiery lust.

Sex. No, those moist tears contending with my fire,
Quench not my heat, but make it climb much higher;
I'll drag thee hence.

Luc. Oh!

Sex. If thou raise these cries, lodg'd in thy slaughter'd Arms some base

groom

dies. And Rome, that hath admir'd thy name so long, Shall blot thy death with scandal from my tongue.

Luc. Jove guard my innocence!

Sex. Lucrece, thou art mine,
In spite of Jove and all the powers divine.

[he bears her out.

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

Luc. Mirable.
Maid. Madam.
Luc. Is not my father, old Lucretius, come yet?
Maid. Not yet.

[ocr errors]
« FöregåendeFortsätt »