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than we should readily find in any of the writers for the stage between 1585 and 1592. Do we then think that “Arden of Feversham” belongs to the early manhood of Shakspere? We do not think so with any confidence; but we do think that, considering its date, it is a very remarkable play, and we should be at a loss to assign it to any writer whose name is associated with that early period of the drama, except to Shakspere. In questions of this nature there may be a conviction resulting from an examination of the whole evidence, the reasons for which cannot be satisfactorily communicated to others. But we are less anxious to make our readers think with us than to enable them to think for themselves; and we shall endeavour to effect this object in the analysis to which we now proceed. The murder of Arden of Feversham must have produced an extraordinary and even permanent sensation in an age when deeds of violence were by no means unfrequent. Holinshed’s “Chronicle' was first published in 1577; the event happened twenty-six years before, but the writer of the “Chronicle’ says, “The which murder, for the horribleness thereof, although otherwise it may seem to be but a private matter, and therefore as it were impertinent to this history, I have thought good to set it forth somewhat at large, having the instructions delivered to me by them that have used some diligence to gather the true understanding of the circumstances.” The narrative in Holinshed occupies seven closely printed columns, and all the details are brought out with a remarkable graphic power. We have no doubt that this narrative strongly seized upon the imagination of the writer of the play. To judge correctly of the poetical art of that writer, we must follow the narrative step by step. The relative position of the several parties is thus described:—
“This Arden was a man of a tall and comely personage, and matched in marriage with a gentlewoman, young, tall, and well favoured of shape and countenance, who chancing to fall in familiarity with one Mosbie, a tailor by occupation, a black swart man, servant to the Lord North, it happened this Mosbie upon some mistaking to fall out with her; but she, being desirous to be in favour with him again, sent him a pair of silver dice by one Adam Foule, dwelling at the Flowerde-luce, in Feversham. After which he resorted to her again, and ostentimes lay in Arden's house; and although (as it was said) Arden perceived right well their mutual familiarity to be much greater than their honesty, yet because he would not offend her, and so lose the benefit he hoped to gain at some of her friends' hands in bearing with her lewdness, which he might have lost if he should have fallen out with her, he was contented to wink at her filthy disorder, and both permitted and also invited Mosbie very often to lodge in his house. And thus it continued a good space before any practice was begun by them against Master Arden. She at length, inflamed in love with Mosbie, and loathing her husband, wished, and after practised, the means how to hasten his end.”
The first evidence of a sound judgment in the dramatist is the rejection of the imputation of the chronicler that Arden connived at the conduct of his wife from mercenary motives. In the opening scene he puts Arden in a thoroughly different position. The play opens with a dialogue between Master Arden and his friend Master Franklin, in which Franklin exhorts him to cheer up his spirits because the king has granted him letters-patent of the lands of the abbey of Feversham. This is the answer of Arden:—
“Franklin, thy love prolongs my weary life;
Presently Arden breaks out into a burst of passion, and Franklin thus counsels him:—
“Be patient, gentle friend, and learn of me
Alice, the wife of Arden, enters; and he accuses her, but mildly, of having called on Mosbie in her sleep; the woman dissembles, and they part in peace. We have then the incident of the silver dice sent to the paramour by Adam of the Flower-de-luce. The chronicler has represented Alice as the principal agent in procuring the murder of her husband; and the dramatist has, it appears to us with considerable skill, shown the woman from the first under the influence of a headlong passion, which cannot stop to conceal its purposes, which has no doubts, no suspicions, no fears. The earnestness with which she proceeds in her terrible design is thoroughly tragic; and
* For—instead of.
her ardour is strikingly contrasted with the more cautious guilt of her chief accomplice. She avows her passion for Mosbie to the landlord of the Flower-de-luce; she openly prompts Arden's own servant Michael to murder his master, tempting him with a promise to promote his suit to Mosbie's sister. The first scene between Mosbie and Alice is a striking one:—
“Mosbie. Where is your husband?
It is impossible to doubt, whoever was the writer of this play, that we have before us the work of a man of no ordinary power. The transitions of passion in this scene are true to nature; and, instead of the extravagant ravings of the writers of this early period of our
drama, the appropriateness of the language to the passion is most remarkable. There is poetry too, in the ordinary sense of the word, but the situation is not encumbered with the ornament. We would remark also, what is very striking throughout the play, that the versification possesses that freedom which we find in no other writer of the time but Shakspere. Ulrici holds a contrary opinion, but we cannot consent to surrender our judgment to a foreign ear. There is too in this scene the condensation of Shakspere, that wonderful quality by which he makes a single word convey a complex idea:–
“Is this the fruit thy reconcilement buds?”
is an example of this quality. The whole scene is condensed. A writer of less genius, whoever he was, would have made it thrice as long. The guilty pair being reconciled, Mosbie says that he has found a painter who can so cunningly produce a picture that the person looking on it shall die. Alice is for more direct measures— for a poison to be given in her husband's food. Here again the “Chronicle' is followed :
“There was a painter dwelling in Feversham, who had skill of poisons, as was reported; she therefore demanded of him whether it were true that he had such skill in feat or not? And he denied not but that he had indeed. Yea, said she, but I would have such a one made as should have most vehement and speedy operation to despatch the eater thereof. That can I do, quoth he , and forthwith made her such a one.”
The painter enters, and his reward, it appears, is to be Susan Mosbie. The painter is a dangerous and wicked person, but he speaks of his art and of its inspiration with a high enthusiasm:—
“For, as sharp-witted poets, whose sweet verse
The conference is interrupted by the entrance of Arden, of whom Mosbie readily asks a question about the abbey-lands. The following scene ensues, and it is an example of the judgment with which the dramatist has adopted the passage from the “Chronicle’ that Arden “both permitted and also invited Mosbie very often to lodge in his house,” without at the same time compromising his own honour :— Vol. XII, 2 C
“Arden. Mosbie, that question we'll decide anon. Alice, make ready my breakfast, I must hence. [Erit Alice. As for the lands, Mosbie, they are mine By letters-patent of his majesty. But I must have a mandat for my wife; They say you seek to rob me of her love: Villain, what mak'st thou in her company? She's no companion for so base a groom. Mosbie. Arden, I thought not on her, I came to thee; But rather than I'll put up this wrong— Franklin. What will you do, sir? Mosbie. Revenge it on the proudest of you both. [Then ARDEN draws forth Mosbie's sword. Arden. So, sirrah, you may not wear a sword, The statute made against artificers forbids it. I warrant that I do.” Now use your bodkin, Your Spanish needle, and your pressing-iron; For this shall go with me: And mark my words,You, goodman botcher, 'tis to you I speak, The next time that I take thee near my house, Instead of legs, I'll make thee crawl on stumps. Mosbie. Ah, master Arden, you have injured me, I do appeal to God and to the world. Franklin. Why, canst thou deny thou wert a botcher once? Mosbie. Measure me what I am, not what I once was. Arden. Why, what art thou now but a velvet drudge, A cheating steward, and base-minded peasant? Mosbie. Arden, now hast thou belch'd and vomited The rancorous venom of thy mis-swoln heart, Hear me but speak: As I intend to live With God, and his elected saints in heaven, I never meant more to solicit her, And that she knows; and all the world shall see: I lov'd her once, sweet Arden; pardon me: I could not choose; her beauty fir'd my heart; But time hath quenched these once-raging coals; And, Arden, though I frequent thine house, "T is for my sister's sake, her waiting-maid, And not for hers. Mayst thou enjoy her long ! Hell fire and wrathful vengeance light on me If I dishonour her, or injure thee! Arden. With these thy protestations The deadly hatred of my heart's appeas'd, And thou and I'll be friends if this prove true. As for the base terms that I gave thee late, Forget them, Mosbie; I had cause to speak, When all the knights and gentlemen of Kent Make common table-talk of her and thee. Mosbie. Who lives that is not touch'd with slanderous tongues?
* I justify that which I do.