« PreviousContinue »
Cromwell has nothing to do with this “just requital of false treachery,”—which requital consists in the usurer being arrested for purchasing the king's stolen jewels. Cromwell gets as tired of keeping accounts as he previously was of the din of his father's smithy; so all in a moment he throws up his commission and sets off upon his travels to Italy, having very opportunely met in Antwerp with Hodge, his father's man. And so we get through the second act.
In the third act the capricious lad and his servant are standing penniless upon the bridge at Florence, and their immediate necessities are relieved by the generous Italian merchant who was succouring the distress of the Englishman in the first act. Cromwell is always moving; and he sets off for Bononia, where he rescues, by a stratagem, Russell the Earl of Bedford from the agents of the French king. We have the chorus again in the middle of the act:
“ Thus far you see how Cromwell's fortune pass d.
The scene shifts to London, where Sir Christopher Hales is giving an entertainment to Cardinal Wolsey and Sir Thomas More, with Cromwell waiting on the guests. The sudden preferment of Cromwell to the highest confidence of Wolsey is accomplished with a celerity which was perfectly necessary when the poet had so many events to tell us :
“Wol. Sir Christopher, is that your man?
he is a scholar, and a linguist;
Wol. My friend, come nearer : have you been a traveller?
Crom. My lord,
Wol. What do you think then of the several states
Crom. My lord, no court with England may compare,
Wol. My lord, there dwells within that spirit more
Hales. I have sought to proffer him unto your lordship;
Wol. What is thy name?
Wol. Then, Cromwell, here we make thee solicitor
The fourth act opens again with a chorus ::
“ Now Cromwell's highest fortunes do begin.
It was certainly needless for the author to apologize for omitting “all Wolsey's life;" but the apology is curious as exhibiting his rude notions of what was properly within the province of the drama. We have now Cromwell, after the death of Wolsey, become Sir Thomas Cromwell; and Gardiner makes a sudden resolution that he will have his head. The Florence merchant comes to London in want; and we presently find him at the hospitable board of Cromwell, with money-bags showered upon him, and his debts paid. We have in this act a scene between Gardiner and Cromwell which, feeble as it is, is amongst the best passages of the play :
“ Crom. Good morrow to my lord of Winchester : I know You bear me hard about the abbey lands.
Gard. Have I not reason, when religion 's wrong'd ?
Crom. Yes, the abolishing of antichrist,
Gard. Indeed these things you have alleg‘d, my lord;
Gardiner suborns witnesses to impute treasonable words to Cromwell, and absolves them by crucifix and holy water.
The real action of the play commences at the fourth act; all which precedes might have been told by a skilful poet in a dozen lines. The fifth act presents us the arrest of Cromwell; and after a soliloquy in the Tower, and a very feeble scene between the unhappy man, Gardiner, and the Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk, his son is introduced, of whom we have before heard nothing :
“ Lieu. Here is your son, sir, come to take his leave.
Crom. To take his leave? Come hither, Harry Cromwell.
Cromwell leaves the stage for his execution with this speech :
“ Erec. I am your deathsman ; pray, my lord, forgive me.
Crom. Even with my soul. Why, man, thou art my doctor,
Before my death a corporal embrace.
It would be a waste of time to attempt to show that “Thomas Lord Cromwell' could not have been written by Shakspere. Its entire management is most unskilful; there is no art whatever in the dramatic conception of plot or character; from first to last there is scarcely a passage that can be called poetry; there is nothing in it that gives us a notion of a writer capable of better things; it has none of the faults of the founders of the stage,-false taste, extravagance, riches needlessly paraded. We are acquainted with no dramatic writer of mark or likelihood who was a contemporary of Shakspere to whom it may be assigned. If W. S. were Wentworth Smith, it must have been unlucky for him in his own time that his initials might excite a comparison with the great master of the stage; however fortunate he may have been in having descended to after-times in the same volume with ten historical plays that probably first stimulated his weak ambition.
THE LONDON PRODIGAL,
This comedy was first published in 1605, with the following title:• The London Prodigall. As it was plaide by the Kings Maiesties seruants. By William Shakespeare, London. Printed by T. C. for Nathaniel Butter.' It was probably written after the death of Elizabeth; for in the second act we have, “I am a commander, sir, under the king.” There is no entry of the play in the Stationers' registers. Schlegel says, “If we are not mistaken, Lessing pronounced this piece to be Shakspere's, and wished to bring it on the German stage.” Tieck also assigns this comedy to Shakspere. Hazlitt says, “ Locrine' and “The London Prodigal,' if they were Shakspeare's at all, must have been amongst the sins of his youth.” This is at best a hasty opinion; for there can be no doubt whatever that these two plays belong to different periods, and that each is characteristic of its period. They must have been separated by at least twenty years. If in · Locrine' we could find any natural power, any of that instinctive knowledge of art that constitutes genius, we might inquire whether it was possible that the youthful Shakspere could have produced the work. We find in it, not the faults of a very young man, but the habits which belong to a vicious system, in which the writer has had a complete training. We therefore reject it. Putting the date of its publication out of the question, we are satisfied from the general tone of “The London Prodigal' that it represents the manners of the last years of Elizabeth, or the first of James. If Shakspere wrote it, therefore, he must have written it after his comic powers were fully matured; after he had produced "Much Ado about Nothing," "Twelfth Night,' • As You Like It,' · The Merry Wives of Windsor.' The belief is almost too extravagant to be gravely controverted.
The comedy opens with the arrival from Venice of the merchant Flowerdale senior, who had left his son Matthew under the guardianship of his brother, Flowerdale junior, a London merchant. The uncle tells the father of the reckless course of the young man. The father takes this view of the matter: “ Believe me, brother,