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"TRAGEDY OF HOFFMANN.'
A contemporary and anonymous tragedy, “Soliman and Perseda,' illustrates the same melodramatic qualities of unfortunate love and wholesale bloodshed. It hardly deserves notice, except as showing how the Tragedy of Blood took form. I may also mention that it was selected by Kyd for the play within the play presented by his hero Hieronymo. The Induction to this piece is curious. Love, Death, and Fortune dispute among themselves which takes the leading part in tragedies of human life. They agree to watch the action of the drama; and at the end, Death sums his
; triumphs up, proving himself indisputably victor :
Alack! Love and Fortune play in Comedies !
Love retires, beaten, but unsubdued :
I go, yet Love shall never yield to Death !
One more of the earlier melodramas, written to glut the audience with bloodshed, deserves mention. This was the work of Henry Chettle, produced before the year 1598, and styled • The Tragedy of Hoffmann; or, a Revenge for a Father. The scene is laid on the
a shores of the Baltic. The hero is son to Admiral Hoffmann, who had been executed unjustly for piracy, by having a crown of red-hot iron forced upon his head. The son hangs up his father's corpse as a memento of revenge, and by various devices murders
in succession six or seven of the enemies who were instrumental in his death. At the end he, too, dios by imposition of the fiery crown. This grisly drama of retributive cruelty, enacted in a remote region of the Northern seas, combining the most violent incidents of torture and assassination, has no beauty of language, no force of character, no ingenuity of plot, to excuse its violation of artistic decencies. It relies upon fantastic horror for effect.
Enough has been said to indicate a species which took firm possession of the stage. Marlowe, finding it already popular, raised it to higher rank by the transfiguring magic of his genius. “The Jew of Malta' marks a decided step in advance upon the plays which I have noticed. Two dramas of superior merit, clearly emanating from the school of Marlowe, may also be reckoned among the Tragedies of Blood in this second period of elaboration. These are · Titus Andronicus,' which, on the faith of an old anecdote, we may perhaps infer to have been the work of an amateur, dressed for the theatre by Shakspere; and · Lust's Dominion ; or, The Lascivious Queen,' a play ascribed to Marlowe, but now believed to have been written by Dekker, Haughton, and Day. Both in ‘Titus Andronicus' and in ‘Lust's Dominion,' Marlowe's sanguinary Jew is imitated. Barabas, Aaron, and Eleazar
. are of the same kindred. I shall have occasion to study Barabas closely in another chapter of this book. Aaron, since he rests beneath the ægis of Shakspere's
name, may here be left untouched.'
But Eleazar, and the play of 'Lust's Dominion,' in which he takes the leading part, demand some words of passing
This is strictly a Tragedy of Blood; yet the motive, as its title implies, is lawless appetite leading to death in various forms. The Queen Mother of Spain loves Eleazar, the Moor, with savage passion. King Fernando loves Maria, the Moor's wife. Cardinal Mendoza loves the Queen. Each of these personages sacrifices duty, natural affection, humanity itself, to ungovernable desire. Eleazar alone remains cold and calculating, using their weakness to attain his own ambitious ends.
Pretending love to the Q een, he forces her
kill her son Philip, and then schemes her murder. In order to checkmate the Cardinal, he betrays his young wife to Fernando, albeit she is ‘chaste as the white moon. His designs, at the last, prove unavailing, and he dies in stubborn contumacy. Ambition was his devil; the strength of intellect, the physical courage, possessed by him in no common measure, he concentrated on the end of climbing to a throne through blood. The
? Aaron seems to me as inferior to Barabas in poetic and dramatic pith, as he exceeds him in brutality. But the play of Titus Andronicus is interesting, independently of this villain's character, for its systematic blending, and in some sense heightening, of all the elements which constitute a Tragedy of Blood. We have a human sacrifice and the murder of a son by his father in the first act; in the second, a murder and the rape and mutilation of a woman; in the third, two executions and the mutilation of the hero ; in the fourth, a murder; in the fifth, six murders, a judicial death by torture, and a banquet set before a queen of her two dead sons' flesh. The hyperbolical pathos of Lavinia's magnificent lunacy of Titus (so like to that of Hieronymo in quality), and the romantic lyrism which relieves and stimulates imagination, belong to the very essence of the species. So also does the lust of Tamora and the frantic devilishness of her paramour.
direct imitation of Marlowe is obvious in the large conception, broad handling, and exaggerated execution of this character, no less than in the florid imagery and sounding versification which distinguish the style adopted by the authors of the play. It is, in fact, a creditable, though extremely disagreeable, piece of imitative craftsmanship.
The Tragedy of Blood, passing successively through the stages marked by Kyd and Marlowe, became a stock species. It would not be correct to assign any of Shakspere's undoubted dramas to this class. Yet Shakspere did not disdain to spiritualise what his predecessors had so grossly and materialistically rough-hewn. “Hamlet,' as it has been often pointed out, is built upon the lines suggested by · The Spanish Tragedy,' and uses for its poetry, philosophy, and passion, motives pre-existing in the English melodrama.
Three considerable playwrights of the later age devoted their talents to the Tragedy of Blood. These were Marston, Webster, and Tourneur. Ghosts, Court villains, paid assassins, lustful princes, romantic lovers, injured and revengeful victims, make up the personages of their drama ; and the stage is drenched with blood. There is one standing personage in these later melodramas, which had from the earliest been sketched firmly enough by Kyd in ‘Hieronymo. That is the desperate instrument of perfidy and murder. When Lorenzo, the arch-villain of “The Spanish Tragedy,' needs an agent, he bethinks him of a certain Lazarotto :
I have a lad in pickle of this stamp,
Whose famished jaws look like the chap of death;
For courtiers will do anything for gold.
I shall close this brief study with a return to The Spanish Tragedy.' From Henslowe's Diary we learn that Ben Jonson received divers sums in 1601 and 1602 for additions to this play. These additions, 'the
very salt of the old play,' in Lamb's often quoted words, are so unlike Jonson's style that few students of our Drama would disagree with Lamb in wishing he could ascribe them to some more potent spirit,' perhaps to Webster. Still there is no external reason for assigning them to any known writer of the time, or for rejecting the plain evidence of Henslowe's Diary.!
1 Henslowe, under the dates Sept. 25, 1601, and June 24, 1602, lent Jonson sums of money for additions and new additions to Hieronymo.