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A history of English dramatic literature to the death of Queen Anne online

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farce Thrte Hours after Marriage (1717) — which gave rise to Pope's quarrel
with CoUey Gibber, and was the final cause of the substitution of the latter
for Theobald as the hero of The Dunciad, See Gibber's Apology, — Besides
the plays mentioned, Dennis produced a masque, Orpheus andEundue (1709).

■ See Pepys* Diary, November 5, 1665. Pepys thought the plays *very
good,' but not so excellent as their author seemed to * conceit them to be.'

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John Old-


(1681), Coriolanus (168a), and King Lear (1687), as well as
Fletcher s Island Princess (1687) and Webster's White Devil
under the title of Injured Love, or The Cruel Husband
(1707), and laying hands upon the works of other earlier
dramatists of great or of mediocre repute ^, produced in his
earlier days a tragedy — which is also called an opera —
called Brutus of Alba (1678) inspired by Vergil, and a
second, The Loyal General {i6So)^ of which the originality has
not been disproved^. CHARLES GiLDON (1665-1724), one
of the Whig hacks who were the favourite objects of
Pope's venomous invective, besides re-casting Measure for
Measure^, produced among writings of almost every sort
a sheaf of tragedies, partly founded on the efforts of previous
writers, from Euripides to Lee *. A Whig author of more
substantial equipment, but who was aspersed with the same
contempt from the same source, John Oldmixon (1673-
1742), before he b^^an his laborious career as a historical
and political writer, essayed the paths of the drama,
and, in addition to some attempts at pastoral and opera,
produced a tragedy, called The Governor of Cyprus (1703),
which (though it introduces a Moor) has no concern with
Othello, and is founded on a contemporary novel *.

The most famous of all the prose romances of this period
of Western literature supplied its theme, and lent its title,
to the last of the series of tragedies perpetrated by John
Banks*. His earlier dramatic efforts, with the exception

^ Upon Chapman and Jonson in his Cuckolds Haven, or An AUkrmoM no
Conjuror (1685) and Cokayne in his A Duke and no Duke (1685).

' Genest, vol. i. p. 289, is inclined to think that the plot was borrowed
from some romance, inasmuch as ' we seldom or never meet with a King
of Greece ' (a character in this play) ' except in a romance, or on the stage.'

' Cf. anUf voL I p. 514 ; cf. 16., p. 534.

* Gildon is more generally remembered for what he said of others, tbain
for what he copied from them. His New Rehearsal, or Bayes the Younger
(17 14), directed against the plays of Rowe, also fell foul of Pope. In 1699
Gildon put forth an enlarged edition of Langbaine's Account of the Dratnatkk
Poets, as to which ct ante, p. 389, note 4.

* The Governour of Cyprus, or The Loves of Virotto and Dorothea, Sec
Genest, vol. x. p. a8o.

* See a short notice of him by Mr. Gosse in vol. iii of The Dictionary of
National Biography (1885). Of Cyrus the Great I speak from personal

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of The Unhappy Favourite (i68a), which treated the story of
Elssex, appear to have been unsuccessful, although aspiring
high in the choice of their themes ^ ; but his Virtue Betrc^ed
(169a), on the story of Anne Bullen, long kept the stage.
The last of his plays was Cyrus the Great, or The Tragedy His Cyrus
of Love (1696), on a perusal of which I am obliged to base *^£^^
my opinion of his dramatic powers. I see no reason for
differing from the judgment of the actors, who are said in
the first instance to have refused to perform the play. In
Banks' blood-and-thunder version of a portion of the gentle
French author's romance no trace of refinement remains ;
and this * Tragedy of Love ' (as it calls itself at the close),
with its ranting and raving declamation, its ghosts and its
charnel-house ending ^, severely appeals, like all such con-
coctions, to the sensations of the moment.

Another dramatist whose career — not perhaps altogether Edward
unfortunately for him — was covered by that of Dryden, was ^"^^^^
Edward Ravenscroft {d. 169a). Although he adven-
tured, and as he opined with notable effect, an adaptation of
Titus Andronicus^y Ravenscroft*s activity chiefly lay in the
direction of the comic drama *. But, besides a tragi-comedy
on the perennial theme of King Edgar and Alfreda (1677),
he likewise produced in the latter part of his career a tragedy
entitled The Italian Husband {i6()T \ printed 1698). He
thought it a rather notable achievement to have constructed
this play in three acts ; but they suffice for the working out of
its simple plot of adultery and revenge *. In point of fact,

^ The Rival Kings , in emulation of Lee's The Rival Queens; The DestrucHon
of Troy; The Innocent Usurper (Lady Jane Grey), which was (perhaps
excusably) not allowed to be performed ; The Island Queens reproduced as
The Albion Queens.

* ' Cyrus taking Abradatas* hand, offering to put it to his mouth, it comes
from the Body ; Ponthea places it back again,' and explaining how much
trouble it had taken her to compose her Lord out of the remains scattered
about the battlefields, asks to be allowed to die in peace by his side.

» Cf. ante, vol. il p. 58.

* See below ; and cf my brief notice of Ravenscroft in vol. xlvii of The
Dictionary of National Biography (1896). Dryden's quarrel with Ravenscroft
has inevitably served to keep the name of the latter alive, and has perhaps
directed an excess of attention to his plagiarisms.

* It is stated to be taken from a horrible tale in a collection by Thomas

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it illustrates a not very uncommon experience, — viz. that of
a play, theatrically effective, which reveals no trace of an
attempt at characterisation, and no thought of style. Far
different is the case of two tragic poets, whose literary
history extends into a period beyond my limits, but neither
of whom I should like to leave unmentioned. John
John Hughes (1677-1720), who assisted Addison in his Cato,

^1^- wrote no tragedy of his own before the death of Queen
1730). Anne, except a juvenile work that has never been published * ;
and his only other contribution to the literature of the stage
was the opera Calypso and Telemachus (1712). But the
fine quality of his powers as a tragic dramatist was not long
afterwards — in 1720 — attested by his justly-celebrated
play of The Siege of Damascus^ for the plot of which he
was unmistakeably indebted to D'Avenant's The Siege^,
Aaron Hm Aaron Hill (1685-1750), although an author of very
1750)7 eccentric genius, whose pen was said to have treated every
subject from the Creation to the Day of Judgment (both
inclusive), had in him a nobility of soul which shut out any-
thing impure or mean from his literary efforts ^ The earliest
only of his many tragedies — Elfrid, or The Fair Inconstant
— fells within the scope of this book ; like Clavigo and La
Dame aux Camellias ^ it was averred by the author to have
been written within a week ; perhaps the familiarity of the
subject added wings to an inborn audacity^.

Wright of Peterhouse, called Tiu Glory of God's Revengt against Murther
and Adultery (1685). The situation at the beginning of act ii of Ravens-
croft's tragedy bears a certain resemblance to the famous scene (act v. sc i)
in Rowe's The Fair Penitent, The denouement is imagined with a strong
sense of realistic effect.

^ Amalasontf Queen of ike Goths,

' Cf. a$Ue^ p. 399. Swift and Pope indulged in sneers at Hughes, who
must be allowed to have incurred considerable hazard by remaining so
respectable a Whig ; but, whatever the wits might say, he had elevation of

* Aaron Hill's life is full of interest, and in many ways typifies the
intellectual activity of the eighteenth century. His poem on The Art of
^cftiw^ appeared in 1746, and the substance of it was afterwards elaborated
by the author in a prose Essc^. His connexion with the theatre and
theatrical management, however, belongs to a much earlier part of his
career ; in the course of this period he wrote the libretto of Rtnalelo, the
first opera composed by Handel in Eng^nd (17 16).

* For an account of this play see Genest, vol. ii. p. 43a.

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I add a mention of some further names of writers by whom otfur
tragedies were produced in this period. William Mount- ^j^lj^
FORT (d, 169a) was a celebrated actor, and his tragic death
is justly remembered as casting a glaring light on the un-
happy connexion between the stage and the dissolute manners
of the age. The most interesting of his dramatic efforts,
however, stands apart from my theme, and could hardly
have been thought by himself likely to secure to him remem-
brance in literary history^. PETER ANTHONY MOTTEUX
(1660-17 1 8), whose active career in his adopted country as
a man of letters* and playwright came to a malign end,
wrote among many plays of more or less mixed species
a tragedy, Beauty in Distress (1698). William Joyner
(1622-1706), who as a convert to the Church of Rome had
accompanied Lord Glamorgan on his critical mission to Ire-
land, was the author of The Roman Empress, a play acted
with applause in 1671 and supposed by Langbaine to have
been intended to treat, under changed names, the story of
Constantine the Great, his wife and his son. Dryden wrote
the Prologue, and Tate the Epilogue, to The Mistakes^ or The
False Report (1691) by Joseph Harris, an actor-dramatist
upon whom this tragedy was rumoured to have been wrongly
fathered, but who also produced other plays. Thomas
Scott's The Unhappy Kindness, or A Fruitless Revenge
(1697), was an alteration of Fletcher's A Wife for a
Month, Charles Hopkins' three tragedies, Pyrrhus, King
of Epious (1695), to which Congreve wrote a Prologue,
Boadiceay Queen of Britain (1697), and Friendship Improved^
or The Female Warrior (1697), were so far as is known
original works of an author the promise of whose powers
was early wasted *. And, to end a very miscellaneous list,

^ Some years before his death Mountfort brought out at Dorset Garden
a farce called The Lift and Death of Doctor Faustus (printed in 1697), a
curious farrago of Marlowe and harlequinade, which must, however, have
materially helped to keep alive the remembrance of a poetic theme of
inexhaustible capabilities. See O. Francke's edition (Heilbronn, 1886), with
its very instructive Introduction.

* His translation of Don Quixote long held its own.

' See Scott and Saintsbur3r's Dtyden, vol. xviii. p. 161. Hopkins was
the son of the Bishop of Deny, and served in King William's Irish

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it may be noticed that among the female authors who in this
age obtained a literary reputation several were active as
tragic dramatists. The list includes MRS. Aphra Behn, to
whom it will be necessary to return below, and Mrs. Manley
{d. 1724), the great society novelist of an age to which she
should not be too severely condemned for having held up
a mirror. Of her cleverness there can be no doubt, and if
she had little consideration for the good fame of others, she
had at least the courage of her intentions, and held her own
not only by the fear she inspired. She wrote in this period
two tragedies and one comedy; the former consisting of
TAe Royal Mischief (1696) and Almyna^ or The Arabian
Vow (1707) ^ Mrs. Fix (1660-1700 ^.), by birth Mary
Griffith, came before the world as a tragic dramatist in the
same year — 1696 — as the redoubtable Mrs. Manley, with
the tragedy of Ibrahim^ the Thirteenth Emperor of the
Turks ^; in 1698 followed Queen Catharine, and in 1701
The Double Distress. She was much associated with another
female authoress of more attractive personality, to whom as
to herself Congreve extended his goodwill. The tragedies
of Catharine Cockbum who afterwards became MRS.
Trotter (i 679-1 749) belong to the earlier period of her
literary life ; the latter, together with the history of her
philosophic doubts, is exempt from notice here. Her
Agnes de Castro appeared in 1695 ; her Fatal Friendship
in 1698 ; and her Revolutiofis of Sweden, in which she
is said to have been indebted to Congfreve's advice,
in 1706^

I have thought it permissible to reserve, for the conclusion
of this necessarily incomplete outline of the history of
English tragedy in the period reviewed in the present
chapter, two names of eminence — ^the one in our dramatic
literature, the other in our national literature at large.

^ Luems, the first Christian King of Britain , followed in 17^0. All these
plays are in the Dyce Library.

' ' When it was too late/ says Mr. Gosse, ' she discovered that she should
have written ** Ibrahim the Twelfth "/

' I have had no opportunity of acquainting myself with any of her plays
except her comedy of Lov« at a Loss, or Most Votes Carry It (1701), which
impresses me favourably by an unartificial sprightliness (if such a combination
be thought possible) of tone.

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Nicholas Rowe (1674-1718)^ deserves to be remem- Nicholas
bered as a tragic dramatist on gfrounds more solid than f^._
those which entitle him to an * esteem ' such as too many of 1718).
his contemporaries have failed to secure. The success of
his literary career, which may be held to have culminated in
his appointment (just after the close of our period) to the
Poet-Laureateship, was due in part to his personal presence,
breeding, and training,— in part to his assiduous service in
the interest of the dominant political party to which he
remained consistently attached, — and very largely to the
versatility of his talents and to the modesty with which he
bore the successes of a singularly prosperous career. He
lived in one of those literary periods where a lively
interest in foreign works of note goes far towards conferring
distinction at home ; and he was so apt a translator, that his
Lucan might almost be described as the most popular of
his works. But posterity holds in most kindly remembrance
his unselfish interest in the greatest of our national poets,
and the stimulating influence exerted by his labour of love
upon the subsequent progress of the study of Shakspere's
life and works ^. Rowe's general characteristics as a man of
letters reflect themselves with sufficient distinctness in his
tragic dramas, which in a single respect only — but that
a very important one — surpass the endeavours of the
foremost among his predecessors *. In dramatic power, as His
exhibiting itself in characterisation, he cannot be said to ^^f^gic
have excelled. Of a genuinely poetic touch he shows few dramatist,
signs. His plays are still occupied almost entirely with
themes of ' heroic love ' ; on this pivot everything is made to
turn, whatever other passions may be nominally brought
into play. In the invention of situations exciting terror or
pity Rowe is fertile and skilful ; he is fond of night-scenes,
and of all the outward machinery of awe and gloom. But
he rarely exhibits any natural force even in his most

» The Works of Nicholas Rowe, Esq., 3 vols. (Third Edition, 1733.)

* Cf. ante, voL L p. 526.

» Rowe's solitary comedy, The Biter (1704), is quite worthless. Its scene
is laid among the * humours' of Croydon fidr ; its chief characters consist of
caricatures of an East India merchant, an old widow in search of a new
husband, and a ' biter,' or amateur of jokes, practical and other.

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effective passages^ and is wanting in impetus or in aspirii^
ardour, where some exceptional movement of the kind
seems to be demanded by his theme. His most distinctive
and most praiseworthy feature lies in the greater d^^ree of
refinement to which in expression if not in sentiment he has
attained. Rowe is indeed &r from being an English Racine;
his style is too tame to rise to the dignified beauty and
exquisite g^race proper to the great French tragedian ; but
he is at least subject to none of those grosser influences
which depressed the higher impulses of so many dramatists
whose creative genius was not inferior to his own.

These characteristics will be found to recur with little
variation in Rowe's five earlier tragedies, which, like their
two successors, are written in blank-verse, though 'the
ends of acts ' — and occasionally of scenes or speeches — * still
jingle into rhyme ^' They may therefore for the most part
be rapidly enumerated. In The Ambitious Step-Mother
(1700) we are introduced to one of those Oriental palace-
intrigues of which heroic tragedy was so fond. A plot
against the elder brother's right to the throne is formed
by the mother of the younger — Artemisa — whose pditic
practices bring about a large number of deaths, although
she herself is left alive at the close. The story of this play is
as good of its kind as anything to be found in Rowe ; and
in the self-sacrificing death of Cleone there is a touch oi
pathos \ Tamerlane (1702), the play upon which its author
is said to have * valued himself most,' chiefly interests us as
treating one of the most famous themes of the Elisabethan
drama. But most assuredly this Tamerlane would have
caused supreme astonishment to Marlowe. In the place
of the truculent hero of the old tragedy, with his * high as-
tounding terms/ we are here met by a calm, tolerant, nay
philosophic prince, who discusses the common merits of
varying forms of religion in a tone resembling that of
Nathan the Wise, and whom the severest of personal trials
hardly suffice to move from his temperate calm. Rowe, as
he informs us, designed in this piece to draw two parallels
— one between Tamerlane and William the Deliverer, the

Prologue to Jam Short.

* Act iv. 8C. 3.

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other between Bajazet and Lewis XIV. As to Bajazet,
inasmuch as he remains a prisoner all through the play and
as under the circumstances of his position he behaves like
a madman, he can hardly be held to be a parallel to any-
body but himself^ ; as to Tamerlane, Gibbon's sneer disposes
of the appropriateness of the comparison*. The plot is
altogether without dramatic probability; everything as
usual resolves itself into a love-story ; but even here the poet
fails to rise to the height of his own situations ; his efforts
indeed are perceptible, but to borrow a phrase which he
appears to affect, * it wo' not be.* The next among Rowe's
tragedies is by far the most celebrated of their number^.
But in my opinion The Fair Penitent (1703), while sharing TfuFasr
the general features that are so attractive in the works of (1703).
Rowe, is not indebted for its extraordinary success to any
special merit. It is to be feared that this success was not
unconnected with the ghastly device of the first scene of the
last act, where the unhappy heroine is discovered * in a room
hung with Black; on one side Lothario' (her seducer)'s
* Body on a Bier * ; on the other, a Table, with a Skull and
other Bones, a Book and a Lamp on it.' It would be an
error to suppose that this play, the idea of which is borrowed
from Massinger and Field's TAe Fatal Dowry *, shows any
sustained endeavour to trace the purifying power of peni-
tence, or to rival the tender pathos of such an Elisabethan
tragedy as Heywood's A Woman Killed with Kindness.
Until she is brought face to face with her doom, the unhappy
Calista fails to excite our sympathy ®, although ' the false

' Fielding in a note to his Totn Thumb (act ii. sc. i') very cleverly contrives
at once to twit Rowe with the bombast of his Bajazet, and to compliment
him on the general (comparative) moderation of his tragic diction.

■ * Except in Rowe's fifth of November play ' ( Tameriatu was for more
than a century annually performed on this twofold Protestant anniversary)
' I did not expect to hear of Timour's amiable moderation.' {Declitu and
Folly ch. Ixv, note.)

' Genest enumerates a long series of revivals on the London stage, continu-
ing till near the date of the publication of his work. The play was repeatedly
translated into French ; and in 1780 Goethe and Corona Schroeter acted in
Seckendorff 's Kallisto, founded on a German adaptation of Rowe's tragedy.
(DOntzer's Lift of Goethg^ English Translation, vol. L pp. 385 note, and 390.)

* ' Is this that haughty, gallant, gay Lothario t* * Ante, p. 39.

* How poor is the soliloquy (act iii. sc. i), where instead of awakening

Ff a

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Lothario' may excite our loathing. Nor is the plot
managed with any great expenditure of skill. Its cardinal
points are the dropping of a letter and an overhearing ; on
the other hand, a certain attraction may have been found in
the novelty of a purely domestic theme, and in the concen-
tration of the action upon a very small number of persons—
Ulysses less even than that which is usual in Rowe's plays. Ulysses
(1705). (1705) may be coupled with Granville's Heroic Love^ as
a ' heroic ' version of Homer. The plot pursues its path
with a sort of relentless logic ; but it is difficult to follow
the solution of the complex problem with decent vigilance.
Eurymachus King of Samos loves Penelope ; Telemachus
secretly marries Semanthe, a daughter of Eurymachus ; on
his father discovering himself, Telemachus kills Euryma-
chus ; the Samians and Ithacans rise against Ulysses ; and
Semanthe, by falsely accusing another of Penelope's suitors
(Antinous) of her father's death, saves Ulysses and Tele-
machus from the wrath of their adversaries. Neither Ulysses
himself, nor any of the other characters, is in the slightest
degree interesting ; so that we have no recognition to spare
for the perverse ingenuity which has foisted a common-
place intrigue into the broad course of the loved Homeric
epos 2. Even so, however, the familiar names lend a certain
Thg Royal degree of interest to this production, as compared with The
CoHvtri Royal Convert (1707), where we have to make shift with
Hengist the son of Hengist, his brother Aribert^, the
Christian maiden Ethelinda, the jealous Rodogune, and
other Early English unrealities. The story is again one of
fraternal rivalry in love ; Hengist being enamoured of his

sympathy by dwelling on her own misery, she enters into a general
exposition of women*s wrongs. In act iv. sc. i, where the fatal discovery
finally takes place, Calista's outburst of anguish can find vent only in five
nouns substantive :

* Distraction ! Fury I Sorrow! Shame! and Death!'

» Anti, p. 424.

* *' Minerva' appears as a ika $x mackmd rather early in the play (act iiL
sc. i).

' Gibbon, whose notices of Rowe illustrate the literary attention secured
by this dramatist, surmises (ch. xxxviii and nott) that he may have borrowed
the character and situation of Rodogune from Procopius — no such Princess
being mentioned by English wnters.

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brother's secret wife, whom the jealousy of Rodogune brings
{coram papula) to the rack. The scene, however, where the
Christian Ethelinda discourses to her Aribert— about to
suffer death in her company — on the consolations of the
Christian faith ^, reveals an elevation of sentiment to which
Rowe rarely attains, and I cannot but think this passage
superior to any but a few to be found in English tragedies
attempting to treat the great theme of Christian martyrdom.

In Rowe's last two plays, The Tragedy af Jane Shore Jam Short
(1714) and The Tragedy af the Lady Jane Gray (1715), i'^J^^
the latter of which properly falls outside the range of this Gny
work*, he sought, to some extent at least, to follow a ('''^s).
model whom he had done much to bring into honour. That
as a critic of Shakspere he should still have been beset by the
prejudices and hasty generalisations of his age, was a short-
coming which none but a short-sighted and ungenerous judg-
ment could deem discreditable to him. In the Prologue to
his first play the utterly unwarranted assertion is made that
Shakspere excelled in male characters only ^ ; and, though
it was precisely in female characterisation that Rowe in his
latest plays still strove more especially to shine, he now
professed to write in the style of the author whose merits

Online LibraryAdolphus William WardA history of English dramatic literature to the death of Queen Anne → online text (page 47 of 69)