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I will not give a penny for a life,
The victory of Poitiers ensues; but, previous to the knowledge of this triumph, the celebrated scene of the surrender of Calais is dramatized. It appears to us very inferior, in the higher requisites of poetry, to the exquisite narrative of Froissart.
The concluding scene, in which the Prince of Wales offers up to the Most High a prayer and thanksgiving, is imbued with a patriotic spirit, but it has not the depth and discrimination of Shakspere's patriotism:
“Now, father, this petition Edward makes: To Thee [kneels], whose grace hath been his strongest shield, That, as thy pleasure chose me for the man To be the instrument to show thy power, So thou wilt grant, that many princes more, Bred and brought up within that little isle, May still be famous for like victories — And, for my part, the bloody scars I bear, The weary nights that I have watch'd in field, The dangerous conflicts I have often had, The fearful menaces were proffer'd me, The heat, and cold, and what else might displease, I wish were now redoubled twenty-fold; So that hereafter ages, when they read The painful traffic of my tender youth, Might thereby be inflamed with such resolve, As not the territories of France alone, But likewise Spain, Turkey, and what countries else That justly would provoke fair England's ire, Might, at their presence, tremble, and retire s”
We have thus presented to our readers some of the striking passages of this play. It does not, in our opinion, bear the marks
of being a very youthful performance of any man. Its great fault is tameness; the author does not rise with the elevation of his subject. To judge of its inferiority to the matured power of Shakspere, dealing with a somewhat similar theme, it should be compared with the ‘Henry W.” The question then should be asked, Will the possible difference of age account for this difference of power We say possible, for we have no evidence that the “Edward III.' was produced earlier than 1595, nor have we evidence that the “Henry W., in some shape, was produced later. Ulrici considers that this play forms an essential introduction to that series of plays commencing with ‘Richard II.' If Shakspere wrote that wonderful series upon a plan which necessarily included ‘Henry W., we think he would advisedly have omitted “Edward III. ; for the main subject of the conquest of France would be included in each play, The concluding observation of Ulrici is—“Truly, if this piece, as the English critics assert, is not Shakspere's own, it is a shame for them that they have done nothing to recover from forgetfulness the name of this second Shakspere, this twin-brother of their great poet.” Resting this opinion upon one play only, the expression “twin-brother” has somewhat an unnecessary strength. Admitting, which we do not, that the best scenes of this play display the same poetical power, though somewhat immature, which is found in Shakspere's historical plays, there is one thing wanting to make the writer a “twin-brother,” which is found in all those productions. Where is the comedy of “Edward III.’” The heroic of Shakspere's histories might be capable of imitation ; but the genius which created Faulconbridge, and Cade, and Pistol, and Fluellen (Falstaff is out of the question) could not be approached.
CHAPTER W. THE MERRY DEVIL OF EDMONTON.
“THE Merry Deuill of Edmonton : As it hath been sundry times acted by his Maiesties Servants, at the Globe on the Bankeside,” was originally published in 1608. Kirkman, a bookseller, first affixed Shakspere's name to it in his catalogue. In “The Companion to the Playhouse,’ published in 1764, it is stated, upon the authority of a laborious antiquary, Thomas Coxeter, who died in 1747, to have been written by Michael Drayton; and in some posthumous papers of another diligent inquirer into literary history, Oldys, the same assertion is advanced. Charles Lamb, who speaks of this play with a warmth of admiration which is probably carried a little too far—and which, indeed, may in some degree be attributed to his familiarity with the quiet rural scenery of Enfield, Waltham, Cheshunt, and Edmonton, in which places the story is laid—says, “I wish it could be ascertained that Michael Drayton was the author of this piece: it would add a worthy appendage to the renown of that panegyrist of my native earth ; who has gone over her soil (in his Polyolbion) with the fidelity of a herald, and the painful love of a son ; who has not left a rivulet (so narrow that it may be stepped over) without honourable mention; and has animated hills and streams with life and passion above the dreams of old mythology.”* “The Merry Devil” was undoubtedly a play of great popularity. We find, from the account-books of the Revels at Court, that it was acted before the King in the same year, 1618, with ‘Twelfth Night’ and ‘A Winter's Tale.” In 1616, Ben Jonson, in his Prologue to ‘The Devil is an Ass,’’ thus addresses his audience :“If you'll come To see new plays, pray you afford us room, And show this but the same face you have done Your dear delight, ‘The Devil of Edmonton.’
* “Specimens of English Dramatic Poets.”
Its popularity seems to have lasted much longer: for it is mentioned by Edmund Gayton, in 1654, in his ‘Notes on Don Quixote.’t The belief that the play was Shakspere's has never taken any root in England. Some of the recent German critics, however, adopt it as his without any hesitation. Tieck has translated it ; and he says that it undoubtedly is by Shakspere, and must have been written about 1600. It has much of the tone, he thinks, of ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor, and “mine host of the George” and “mine host of the Garter” are alike. It is surprising that Tieck does not see that the one character is, in a great degree, an imitation of the other. Shakspere, in the abundance of his riches, is not a poet who repeats himself. Horn declares that Shakspere's authorship of ‘The Merry Devil’ is incontestable. Ulrici admits the bare possibility of its being a very youthful work of Shakspere's. The great merit, on the contrary, of the best scenes of this play consists in their perfect finish. There is nothing careless about them ; nothing that betrays the very young adventurer; the writer is a master of his art to the extent of his power. But that is not Shakspere's power. Fuller, in his “Worthies,' thus records the merits of Peter Fabel, the hero of this play: “I shall probably offend the gravity of some to insert, and certainly curiosity of others to omit, him. Some make him a friar, others a lay gentleman, all a conceited person, who, with his merry devices, deceived the Devil, who by grace may be resisted, not deceived by wit. If a grave bishop in his sermon, speaking of Brute's coming into this land, said it was but a bruit, I hope I may say without offence that this Fabel was but a
“'T is Peter Fabel, a renowned scholar, Whose fame hath still been hitherto forgot By all the writers of this latter age. In Middlesex his birth and his abode, Not full seven miles from this great famous city; That, for his fame in sleights and magic won, Was call'd the Merry Fiend of Edmonton. If any here make doubt of such a name, In Edmonton, yet fresh unto this day, Fix'd in the wall of that old ancient church, His monument remaineth to be seen : His memory yet in the mouths of men, That whilst he lived he could deceive the devil.” The Prologue goes on to suppose him at Cambridge at the hour when the term of his compact with the fiend is run out. We are not here to look for the terrible solemnity of the similar scene in Marlowe's “Faustus;’ but, nevertheless, that before us is written with great poetical power. Coreb, the spirit, thus addresses the magician:—
“Coreb. Why, scholar, this is the hour my date expires; I must depart, and come to claim my due. Fabel. Hah! what is thy due? * Coreb. Fabel, thyself. Fabel. 0 let not darkness hear thee speak that word, Lest that with force it hurry hence amain, And leave the world to look upon my woe: Yet overwhelm me with this globe of earth, And let a little sparrow with her bill Take but so much as she can bear away, That, every day thus losing of my load, I may again, in time, yet hope to rise.”
While the fiend sits down in the necromantic chair, Fabel thus soliloquises:—
“Fabel. O that this soul, that cost so dear
Farther than reason (which should be his pilot) Hath skill to guide him, losing once his compass, He falleth to such deep and dangerous whirlpools, As he doth lose the very sight of heaven: The more he strives to come to quiet harbour, The farther still he finds himself from land. Man, striving still to find the depth of evil, Seeking to be a God, becomes a devil.”
But the magician has tricked the fiend; the chair holds him fast, and the condition of release is a respite for seven years. The supernatural part of the play may be said here to end; for, although throughout the latter scenes there are some odd mistakes produced by the devices of Fabel, they are such as might have been accomplished by human agency, and in fact appear to have been so accomplished. Tieck observes, “It is quite in Shakspere's manner that the magical part becomes nearly superfluous.” This, as it appears to us, is not in Shakspere's manner. In ‘Hamlet, in “Macbeth,' in ‘The Midsummer Night's Dream, in ‘The Tempest,’ the magical or supernatural part is so intimately allied with the whole action that it impels the entire movement of the piece. Shakspere knew too well the soundness of the Horatian maxim,
“Nec Deus intersit nisi dignus vindice nodus,”—
to produce a ghost, a witch, or a fairy, without necessity. However, the magical part here finishes; and we are introduced to the society of no equivocal mortal, the host of the George at Waltham. Sir Arthur Clare, his wife Dorcas, his daughter Millisent, and his son Harry, arrive at the inn, where the host says, “Knights and lords have been drunk in my house, I thank the destinies.” This company have arrived at the George to meet Sir Richard Mounchensey, and his son Raymond, to whom Millisent is betrothed ; but old Clare informs his wife that he is resolved to break off the match, to send his daughter for a year to a nunnery, and then to bestow her upon the son of Sir Ralph Jerningham. Old Mounchensey, it seems, has fallen upon evil days:–
“Clare. For look you, wife, the riotous old knight Hath overrun his annual revenue, In keeping jolly Christmas all the year: The nostrils of his chimneys are still stuff'd With smoke more chargeable than cane-tobacco; His hawks devour his fattest hogs, whilst simple, His leanest curs eat his hounds' carrion. Besides, I heard of late his younger brother, A Turkey-merchant, hath sure suck'd the knight, By means of some great losses on the sea: That (you conceive me) before God, all 's nought, His seat is weak; thus, each thing rightly scann'd, You'll see a flight, wife, shortly of his land.”
Fabel, the kind magician, who has been the tutor to Raymond, arrives at the same time with the Mounchensey party. He knows the plots against his young friend, and he is determined to circumvent them:
“Raymond Mounchensey, boy, have thou and I
by their friend, whatever be the intrigues of their parents:—
“Jern. Raymond Mounchensey, now I touch thy grief With the true feeling of a zealous friend. And as for fair and beauteous Millisent, With my vain breath I will not seek to slubber Her angel-like perfections: but thou know'st That Essex hath the saint that I adore : Where'er didst meet me, that we two were jovial, But like a wag thou hast not laugh'd at me, And with regardless jesting mock'd my love? How many a sad and weary summer's night My sighs have drunk the dew from off the earth, And I have taught the nightingale to wake, And from the meadows sprung the early lark An hour before she should have list to sing: I have loaded the poor minutes with my moans, That I have made the heavy slow-pac'd hours To hang like heavy clogs upon the day. But, dear Mounchensey, had not my affection Seized on the beauty of another dame, . Before I'd wrong the chase, and leave the love Of one so worthy, and so true a friend, I will abjure both beauty and her sight, And will in love become a counterfeit. Moun. Dear Jerningham, thou hast begot my life, And from the mouth of hell, where now I sate, I feel my spirit rebound against the stars; Thou hast conquer'd me, dear friend, in my free soul, There time, nor death, can by their power control. Fabel. Frank Jerningham, thou art a gallant boy; And, were he not my pupil, I would say, He were as fine a metall'd gentleman, Of as free spirit, and of as fine a temper, As is in England; and he is a man That very richly may deserve thy love. But, noble Clare, this while of our discourse, What may Mounchensey's honour to thyself Exact upon the measure of thy grace! Young Clare. Raymond Mounchensey, I would have thee know, He does not breathe this air, whose love I cherish,
And whose soul I love, more than Moun-
Charles Lamb, who gives the whole of this scene in his ‘Specimens,’ speaks of it rapturously:-‘This scene has much of Shakspeare's manner in the sweetness and goodnaturedness of it. It seems written to make the reader happy. Few of our dramatists or novelists have attended enough to this. They torture and wound us abundantly. They are economists only in delight. Nothing can be finer, more gentlemanlike, and noble, than the conversation and compliments of these young men. How delicious is Raymond Mounchensey's forgetting, in his fears, that Jerningham has a “saint in Essex;' and how sweetly his friend reminds him 1" The ancient plotters, Clare and Jerningham, are drawn as very politic but not over-wise fathers. There is, however, very little that is harsh or revolting in their natures. They put out their feelers of worldly cunning timidly, and they draw them in with considerable apprehension when they see danger and difficulty before them. All this is in harmony with the thorough good humour of the whole drama. The only person who is angry is Old Mounchensey:“Clare. I do not hold thy offer competent; Nor do I like the assurance of thy land, The title is so brangled with thy debts. Old Moun. Too good for thee: and, knight, thou know'st it well, I fawn’d not on thee for thy goods, not I, 'T was thine own motion; that thy wife doth know. Lady Clare. Husband, it was so; he lies not in that.
Clare. Hold thy chat, quean. Old Moun. To which I hearkened willingly, and the rather, Because I was persuaded it proceeded From love thou borest to me and to my boy; And gavest him free access unto thy house, Where he hath not behaved him to thy child But as befits a gentleman to do: Nor is my poor distressed state so low That I’ll shut up my doors, I warrant thee. Clare. Let it suffice, Mounchensey, I mislike it; Northink thy son a match fit for my child. Old Moun. I tell thee, Clare, his blood is good and clear As the best drop that panteth in thy veins: But for this maid, thy fair and virtuous child, She is no more disparag'd by thy baseness, Than the most orient and the precious jewel, Which still retains his lustre and his beauty Although a slave were owner of the same.”
For his “frantic and untamed passion” Fabel reproves him. The comic scenes which now occur are exceedingly lively. If the wit is not of the highest order, there is real fun and very little coarseness. We are thrown into the midst of a jolly set, stealers of venison in Enfield Chase, of whom the leader is Sir John, the priest of Enfield. His humour consists of applying a somewhat pious sentence upon every occasion—“Hem, grass and hay—we are all mortal—let 's live till we die, and be merry, and there's an end.” Mine host of the George is an associate of this goodly fraternity. The comedy is not overloaded, and is very judiciously brought in to the relief of the main action. We have next the introduction of Millisent to the Prioress of Cheston (Cheshunt):
“Lady Clare. Madam, The love unto this holy sisterhood, And our confirm'd opinion of your zeal, Hath truly won us to bestow our child Rather on this than any neighbouring cell.
Prioress. Jesus' daughter! Mary's child ! Holy matrons woman mild ! For thee a mass shall still be said, Every sister drop a bead; And those again succeeding them For you shall sing a requiem.
Sir Arthur. Madam, for a twelvemonth's