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MILTON'S MASQUES.

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maker had arisen, who combined the art of Fletcher with his own in a new style of incomparably higher poetry. It is clear from indications scattered through Milton's works, that the Masques which in his boyhood reached their height of splendour, had powerfully affected his imagination. Both the songs and the discourse of his · Arcades' reveal, to my mind at least, a careful study on the youthful poet's part of Jonson's work; and I find the influence of Fletcher no less manifest in the lyrics of 'Comus.' The meditative music of the Genius' speech, the incomparable touches of nature-painting scattered through the 'Arcades,' and the heightened dignity of language which raises this little piece into the region of classical art, place Milton already above his masters. But his immeasurable superiority becomes only unmistakable in ‘Comus.' This exquisite composition, in which poetry of the loftiest is blent with philosophy of the purest and the sweetest, bears upon its title-page the name of Masque. But except in the antithetical treatment of the Spirit and the Genius of sensual pleasure; except in the lyrics scattered with a hand not over-liberal through its scenes ; Comus' challenges no comparison in any ponderable qualities of craftsmanship with those sturdy works of art in which James's Laureate strove with James's architect for fashionable laurels. In the history of English literature, ‘Comus’ remains to show how the scenic elements of the Masque, touching the fancy of a great poet, became converted into flawless poetry beneath his hand. Nominally a Masque, it has really nothing in common with entertainments which demanded bodily presentment' and 'apparelling’upon the stage. Yet it would probably have never issued from the poet's brain but for shows at Court. Masque and Antimasque, sweeping before his sense, had left their impress upon Milton's fancy. The memories of those fair scenes, whether actually witnessed, or studied in a printed page, dwelt in his mind, emerging later to evoke that fairy fabric of romantic allegory which he called the Masque of Comus. Had the · Midsummer's Night's Dream' been composed by Shakspere for courtly theatricals, or the · Faithful Shepherdess' by Fletcher for like purpose, this name might with equal propriety have been given to those two pieces,

CHAPTER X.

ENGLISH HISTORY.

1. The Chronicle Play is a peculiarly English Form-Its Difference from

other Historical Dramas-Supplies the Place of the Epic— Treatment of National Annals by the Playwrights.-II. Shakspere's Chronicles -Four Groups of non-Shaksperian Plays on English History.-III. Legendary Subjects— Locrine'—The History of King Leir.'— IV. Shakspere's Doubtful Plays—Principles of Criticism— The Birth of Merlin.'—V. Chronicle-Plays Proper—'Troublesome Reign of King John'-'True Tragedy of Richard III.'—Famous Victories of Henry V.? - Contention of the Two Famous Houses.'—VI. Edward III.'—The Problem of its Authorship-Based on a Novella and on History—The Superior Development of Situations.-VII. Marlowe's ' Edward II.'-Peele’s ‘Edward I.--Heywood's ' Edward IV.'Rowley's Play on Henry VIII.–VIII. The Ground covered by the Chronicle Plays—Their Utility-Heywood's ' Apology' quoted.—IX. Biographies of Political Persons and Popular Heroes—Sir Thomas More'--'Lord Cromwell’—“Sir John Oldcastle'-Schlegel's Opinion criticised — Sir Thomas Wyatt'-Ford's Perkin Warbeck'-Last Plays of this Species.—X. English Adventurers-Fair Maid of the West'—"The Shirley Brothers '—'Sir Thomas Stukeley'—His Life -Dramatised in “The Famous History,' &c.—'Battle of Alcazar.'XI. Apocryphal Heroes— Fair Em'-Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green'-Two Plays on the Robin Hood Legend-English Partiality for Outlaws-Life in Sherwood — George a Greene'-Jonson's 'Sad Shepherd'-Popularity in England of Princes who have shared the People's Sports and Pastimes.

N.B. The Historical Plays discussed in this chapter will be found as follows: ‘Locrine,' “The Birth of Merlin,' 'Lord Cromwell,' in the Tauchnitz edition of Shakespeare's 'Doubtful Plays;' King Leir, «Troublesome Reign of King John,' 'True Tragedy of Richard III.,' • Famous Victories of Henry V.,''Contention of the Two Houses,' in W. C. Hazlitt's “Shakespeare's Library;' • Edward III.' in Delius' • PseudoShakspere'sche Dramen ;' Marlowe's, Peele's, Heywood's Chronicles in Dyce's editions of Marlowe and Peele and Pearson's reprint of Heywood; Rowley's “When You See Me, You Know Me,' in Karl Elze's reprint ; * Sir Thomas More,' in the Old Shakespeare Society's Publications ; 'Sir Thomas Wyatt,' in Dyce's Webster,' and 'Perkin Warbeck' in Gifford's 'Ford ;' "The Famous History of Sir Thomas Stukeley'in Simpson's 'School of Shakspere,' and 'The Battle of Alcazar’in Dyce's · Peele ;' 'Fair Em’in Delius; “The Blind Beggar' and 'The Shirley Brothers' in Bullen's ‘Day;' Dick of Devonshire' in Bullen's Old Plays;' the two plays on “Robert, Earl of Huntingdon, in Hazlitt's • Dodsley,' vol. viii. ; 'George a Greene' in Dyce's 'Greene.'

I. The Chronicle Play is peculiar to English literature. The lost tragedy by Phrynichus, entitled • The Capture of Miletus,' which is said to have cost the poet a considerable fine from the Athenian people, an

people, and the triumphal pageant of The Persæ,' in which Æschylus sang the pæan of the Greek race over conquered Asia, cannot be reckoned in the same class as the Chronicles of Shakspere and his predecessors. Nor do the few obscure plays produced by Italian authors upon events in their national history, whether we take into account Mussato's · Eccelinis' or the popular Representation of 'Lautrec,' deserve this title. Coleridge has remarked that our Chronicle Play occupies an intermediate place between the Epic and the Drama. It is not, like the Wallenstein' of Schiller or Victor Hugo's 'Roi s'amuse,' an episode selected from the national annals, and dramatised because of its peculiar tragic or satiric fitness. Its characteristic quality is the dramatic presentation in a single action of the leading events of a reign. The Chronicle Plays, which in the Elizabethan age probably covered the whole field of English history, had for their object the scenic exposition of our annals to the nation. sessed that series intact, we should see unrolled before us, as in a gigantic and unequal epic, the succession

If we posTHE CHRONICLE PLAY.

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of events and vicissitudes from mythic Brute to the defeat of the Armada.

English literature possesses no national epic. The legends of Arthur formed, it is true, a semi-epical body of romance. But these legends were not purely English in their origin ; nor were they digested into the · Mort d'Arthur,' by Sir Thomas Malory, until a comparatively late period. When our language attained the proper flexibility for poetical composition, the age of the heroic Epic had passed away. The great events of our annals, whether mythical or historical, instead of being sung by rhapsodists, were acted by tragedians, in accordance with the prevalent dramatic impulse. But the epical instinct was satisfied by the peculiar form which the Chronicle Play assumed. The authors of these works combined fidelity to facts and observance of chronology with their effort after a certain artistic unity of effect. They fixed attention on tragic calamities and conflicting passions, endeavouring, so far as in them lay, to bring the characters of men in action into striking prominence. As the scientific historian seeks to investigate the laws which underlie a nation's growth, regarding men as agents in the process of evolution ; so, by a converse method, our dramatists fixed their eyes upon the personal elements of history, and kept out of sight those complex influences which narrow the sphere of individual activity. The one process presents us with the philosophy of history, the other with its poetry. Neither mode of treatment is dishonest, though the whole truth is not to be found in either result : for the history of the world, as Hegel remarked, has a double aspect; and the highest aim of

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