« FöregåendeFortsätt »
pleadings on both sides, for and against female faith and constancy, are managed with great polemical skill, assisted by the grace and vividness of poetical illustration. As an instance of the manner in which Bellafront speaks of the miseries of her former situation, "and she has felt them knowingly," I might give the lines in which she contrasts the different regard shown to the modest or the abandoned of her sex:
"I cannot, seeing she's woven of such bad stuff,
Nothing did make me when I lov'd them best,
That followed her, went with a bashful glance;
Let her walk saint-like, noteless, and unknown,
aps this sort of appeal to matter of fact and popular opinion, is more convincing than the scholastic subtleties of the Lady in 'Comus.' The manner too, in which Infelice, the wife of Hippolito, is made acquainted with her husband's infidelity, is finely dramatic; and in the scene where she convicts him of his injustice by taxing herself with incontinence first, and then turning his most galling reproaches to her into upbraidings against his own conduct, she acquits herself with infinite spirit and address. The contrivance by which, in the first part, after being supposed dead, she is restored to life, and married to Hippolito, though perhaps a little far-fetched, is affecting and romantic. There is uncommon beauty in the Duke her father's description of her sudden illness. In reply to Infelice's declaration on reviving, "I'm well," he says,
"Thou wert not so e'en now. Sickness' pale hand
Candido, the good-natured man of this play, is a character of inconceivable quaintness and simplicity. His patience and goodhumour cannot be disturbed by anything. The idea (for it is nothing but an idea) is a droll one, and is well supported. He is not only resigned to injuries, but "turns them," as Falstaff of diseases," into commodities." He is a patient Grizzel out of petticoats, or a Petruchio reversed. He is as determined upon winking at affronts, and keeping out of scrapes at all events, as the hero of the Taming of the Shrew' is bent upon picking quarrels out of straws, and signalizing his manhood without the smallest provocation to do so. The sudden turn of the character of Candido, on his second marriage, is, however, as amusing as it is unexpected.
Matheo, "the high-flying" husband of Bellafront, is a masterly portrait, done with equal ease and effect. He is a person almost without virtue or vice, that is, he is in strictness without any moral principle at all. He has no malice against others, and no concern for himself. He is gay, profligate, and unfeeling, governed entirely by the impulse of the moment, and utterly reckless of consequences. His exclamation, when he gets a new suit of velvet, or a lucky run on the dice, "Do we not fly high," is an answer to all arguments. Punishment or advice has no more effect upon him, than upon the moth that flies into the candle. He is only to be left to his fate. Orlando saves him from it, as we do the moth, by snatching it out of the flame, throwing it out of the window, and shutting down the casement upon it.
Webster would, I think, be a greater dramatic genius than Decker, if he had the same originality; and perhaps is so, even without it. His White Devil' and 'Duchess of Malfy,' upon the whole, perhaps, come the nearest to Shakspeare of anything we have upon record; the only drawback to them, the only shade of imputation than can be thrown upon them, "by which
they lose some colour," is, that they are too like Shakspeare, and often direct imitations of him, both in general conception and individual expression. So far, there is nobody else whom it would be either so difficult or so desirable to imitate; but it would have been still better, if all his characters had been entirely his own, had stood out as much from others, resting only on their own naked merits, as that of the honest Hidalgo, on whose praises I have dwelt so much above. Decker has, I think, more truth of character, more instinctive depth of sentiment, more of the unconscious simplicity of nature; but he does not, out of his own stores, clothe his subject with the same richness of imagination, or the same glowing colours of language. Decker excels in giving expression to habitual, deeply-rooted feelings, which remain pretty much the same in all circumstances, the simple uncompounded elements of nature and passion:-Webster gives more scope to their various combinations and changeable aspects, brings them into dramatic play by contrast and comparison, flings them into a state of fusion by a kindled fancy, makes them describe a wider arc of oscillation from the impulse of unbridled passion, and carries both terror and pity to a more painful and sometimes unwarrantable excess. Decker is contented with the historic picture of suffering; Webster goes on to suggest horrible imaginings. The pathos of the one tells home and for itself; the other adorns his sentiments with some image of tender or awful beauty. In a word, Decker is more like Chaucer or Boccaccio; as Webster's mind appears to have been cast more in the mould of Shakspeare's, as well naturally as from studious emulation. The Bella front and Vittoria Corombona of these two excellent writers, show their different powers and turn of mind. The one is all softness; the other "all fire and air." The faithful wife of Matheo sits at home drooping, "like the female dove, the whilst her golden couplets are disclosed;" while the insulted and persecuted Victoria darts killing scorn and pernicious beauty at her enemies. This White Devil (as she is called) is made fair as the leprosy, dazzling as the lightning. She is dressed like a bride in her wrongs and her revenge. In the trial scene in particular, her sudden indignant answers to the questions that are asked her, startle the
nearers. Nothing can be imagined finer than the whole conduct and conception of this scene, than her scorn of her accusers and of herself. The sincerity of her sense of guilt triumphs over the hypocrisy of their affected and official contempt for it. In answer to the charge of having received letters from the Duke of Brachiano, she says,
"Grant I was tempted:
Condemn you me, for that the Duke did love me?
So may you blame some fair and crystal river,
For that some melancholic distracted man
Hath drown'd himself in 't."
And again, when charged with being accessary to her husband's death, and showing no concern for it—
"She comes not like a widow; she comes arm'd
With scorn and impudence. Is this a mourning habit ?"
she coolly replies,
"Had I foreknown his death, as you suggest,
I would have bespoke my mourning."
In the closing scene with her cold-blooded assassins, Lodovico and Gasparo, she speaks daggers, and might almost be supposed to exorcise the murdering fiend out of these true devils. Every word probes to the quick. The whole scene is the sublime of contempt and indifference.
"Vittoria. If Florence be i' the Court, he would not kill me.
Gasparo. Fool! Princes give rewards with their own hands,
But death or punishment by the hands of others.
Lodovico (to Flamineo). Sirrah, you once did strike me; I'll strike you Unto the centre.
Flam. Thou'lt do it like a hangman, a base hangman,
Not like a noble fellow, for thou see'st
I cannot strike again.
Lod. Dost laugh?
Flam. Would'st have me die, as I was born, in whining?
Gasp. Recommend yourself to Heaven.
Flam. No, I will carry mine own commendations thither.
Lod. O! could I kill you forty times a-day,
And use 't four year together, 'twere too little :
The famine of our vengeance. What do'st think on?
Flam. Nothing; of nothing: leave thy idle questions
I am i' th' way to study a long silence.
To prate were idle: I remember nothing;
Lod. O thou glorious strumpet!
Could I divide thy breath from this pure air
Vit. Cor. You my death's-man!
If thou be, do thy office in right form;
Fall down upon thy knees, and ask forgiveness.
Lod. O! thou hast been a most prodigious comet;
But I'll cut off your train: kill the Moor first.
Vit. Cor. You shall not kill her first; behold my breast;
I will be waited on in death: my servant
Shall never go before me.
Gasp. Are you so brave?
Vit. Cor. Yes, I shall welcome death
Lod. Thou dost not tremble!
Methinks, fear should dissolve thee into air.
Vit. Cor. O, thou art deceived, I am too true a woman!
I will not in my death shed one base tear
Or if look pale, for want of blood, not fear.
Gasp. (to Zanche). Thou art my task, black fury.
As red as either of theirs! Wilt drink some?
"Tis good for the falling sickness: I am proud
Death cannot alter my complexion,
For I shall ne'er look pale.
Lod. Strike, strike,
With a joint motion.
Vit. Cor. 'Twas a manly blow:
The next thou givest, murther some sucking infant,
And then thou wilt be famous."
Such are some of the terrible graces of the obscure, forgotten Webster. There are other parts of this play of a less violent, more subdued, and, if it were possible, even deeper character; such is the declaration of divorce pronounced by Brachiano on his wife: