Page images
PDF
EPUB

appointment. His master, then being in bed, asked him if he had shut fast the doors, and he said Yea; but yet afterwards, fearing lest Black Will would kill him as well as his master, after he was in bed himself he rose again, and shut the doors, bolting them fast."

In the drama the ruffians arrive, and are of course disappointed of their purpose by the closing of the doors. They swear revenge against Michael, but he subsequently makes his peace by informing them that his master is departing from London, and that their purpose may be accomplished on Rainhamdown.

The scene now changes, with a skilful dramatic management, to exhibit to us the guilty pair at Feversham. Mosbie is alone, and he shows us the depth of his depravity in the following soliloquy:-

Mosbie. Disturbed thoughts drive me from company,
And dry my marrow with their watchfulness;
Continual trouble of my moody brain
Feebles my body by excess of drink,
And nips me as the bitter north-east wind
Doth check the tender blossoms in the spring.
Well fares the man, howe'er his cates do taste,
That tables not with foul suspicion ;
And he but pines among his delicates
Whose troubled mind is stuff'd with discontent.
My golden time was when I had no gold;
Though then I wanted, yet I slept secure;
My daily toil begat me night's repose,
My night's repose made daylight fresh to me :
But since I climb'd the top bough of the tree,
And sought to build my nest among the clouds,
Each gentle stary* gale doth shake
And makes me dread my downfall to the earth.
But whither doth contemplation carry me?
The way I seek to find where pleasure dwells
Is hedg'd behind me, that I cannot back,
But needs must on, although to danger's gate.
Then, Arden, perish thou by that decree;
For Greene doth heir the land, and weed thee up
To make my harvest nothing but pure corn;
And for his pains I 'll heave him up awhile,
And after smother him to have his wax;
Such bees as Greene must never live to sting.
Then is there Michael, and the painter too,
Chief actors to Arden's overthrow,
Who, when they see me sit in Arden's seat,
They will insult upon me for my meed,
Or fright me by detecting of his end :
I'll none of that, for I can cast a bone

my bed,

* Stary-stirring. Our word star is supposed to be derived from the AngloSaxon stir-an, to move.

To make these curs pluck out each other's throat,
Aud then am I sole ruler of mine own:
Yet mistress Arden lives, but she's myself,
And holy church-rites make us two but one.
But what for that? I may not trust you, Alice;
You have supplanted Arden for my sake,
And will extirpen me to plant another;
"T is fearful sleeping in a serpent's bed ;
And I will cleanly rid my hands of her.
But here she comes; and I must flatter her.

[Here enters ALICE."

The unhappy woman has already begun to pay the penalty of her sin ; she has moments of agonizing remorse, not enduring, however, but to be swept away again by that tempest of passion which first hurried her into guilt. The following scene is, we think, unmatched by any other writer than Shakspere in a play published as early as 1592, perhaps written several years earlier. It might have been written by Webster or Ford, but they belong to a considerably later period. It possesses in a most remarkable degree that quiet strength which is the best evidence of real power. Except in Shakspere, it is a strength for which we shall vainly seek in the accredited writings of any dramatic poet who, as far as we know, had written for the stage some ten years before the close of the sixteenth century :

Mosbie. Ungentle Alice, thy sorrow is my sore ;
Thou know'st it well; and 't is thy policy
To forge distressful looks to wound a breast
Where lies a heart that dies when thou art sad :
It is not love that loves to anger love.

Alice. It is not love that loves to murder love.
Mosbie. How mean you that ?
Alice. Thou know'st how dearly Arden loved me.
Mosbie. And then-

Alice. And then conceal the rest, for 't is too bad,
Lest that my words be carried with the wind,
And publish'd in the world to both our shames !
I pray thee, Mosbie, let our spring-time wither;
Our harvest else will yield but loathsome weeds :
Forget, I pray thee, what has pass 'd betwixt us,
For now I blush and tremble at the thoughts.

Mosbie. What, are you chang'd ?

Alice. Ay! to my former happy life again ;
From title of an odious strumpet's name,
To bonest Arden's wise, not Arden's honest wife.
Ab, Mosbie! 't is thou hast rilled me of that,
And made me slanderous to all my kin :
Even iu my forehead is thy name engraver--
A mean artificer ;-that low-born name!

I was bewitch'd—wo-worth the hapless hour
And all the causes that enchanted me!

Mosbie. Nay, if thou ban, let me breathe curses forth ;
And if you stand so nicely at your fame,
Let me repent the credit I have lost.
I have neglected matters of import
That would have stated me above thy state;
Forslow'd advantages, and spurn'd at time;
Ay, Fortune's right hand Mosbie hath forsook,
To take a wanton giglot by the left.
I left the marriage of an honest maid,
Whose dowry would have weigh'd down all thy wealth,
Whose beauty and demeanour far exceeded thee :
This certain good I lost for changing bad,
And wrapp'd my credit in thy company.
I was bewitch'd—that is no theme of thine,
And thou, unhallow'd, bast enchanted me.
But I will break thy spells and exorcisms,
And put another sight upon these eyes,
That show'd my heart a raven for a dove.
Thou art not fair; I view'd thee not till now :
Thou art not kind; till now I knew thee not :
And now the rain hath beaten off thy gilt,
Thy worthless copper shows thee counterfeit.
It grieves me not to see how foul thou art,
But mads me that ever I thought thee fair.
Go, get thee gone, a copesmate for thy binds;
I am too good to be thy favourite.

Alice. Ay, now I see, and too soon find it true, Which often hath been told me by my friends, That Mosbie loves me not but for my wealth, Which, too incredulous, I ne'er believ'd. Nay, hear me speak, Mosbie, a word or two: I'll bite my tongue if it speak bitterly. Look on me, Mosbie, or else I'll kill myself; Nothing shall hide me from thy stormy look. If thou cry war, there is no peace for me; I will do penance for offending thee, And burn this prayer-book, where I here use The holy word that hath converted me. See, Mosbie, I will tear away the leaves, And all the leaves, and in this golden cover Shall thy sweet phrases and thy letters dwell, And thereon will I chiefly meditate, And hold no other sect but such devotion. Wilt thou not look? Is all thy love o'erwhelm d ? Wilt thou not hear? What malice stops thine ears? Why speak'st thou not? What silence ties thy tongue? Thou hast been sighted as the eagle is, And heard as quickly as the fearful hare, And spoke as smoothly as an orator, When I have bid thee hear, or see, or speak. And art thou sensible in none of these?

Weigh all my good turns with this little fault,
And I deserve not Mosbie's muddy looks;
A fence of trouble is not thicken'd still;
Be clear again; I'll no more trouble thee.

Mosbie. O fie, no; I am a base artificer;
My wings are feather'd for a lowly flight;
Mosbie, fie! no, not for a thousand pound-
Make love to you—why 't is unpardonable-
We beggars must not breathe where gentles are !

Alice. Sweet Mosbie is as gentle as a king,
And I too blind to judge him otherwise :
Flowers sometimes spring in fallow lands,
Weeds in gardens ; roses grow on thoms :
So, whatsoe'er my Mosbie's father was,
Himself is valued gentle by his worth.

Mosbie. Ah! how you women can insinuate
And clear a trespass with your sweetest tongue !
I will forget this quarrel, gentle Alice,
Provided I'll be tempted so no more.”

The man who wrote that scene was no ordinary judge of the waywardness and wickedness of the human heart. It would be difficult to say that Shakspere at any time could have more naturally painted the fearful contest of a lingering virtue with an overwhelming passion.

We have seen the conspiracy to murder Arden on Rainhamdown. The devoted man again escapes by accident, and the “Chronicle' thus briefly records the circumstance:

“ When Master Arden came to Rochester, bis man, still fearing that Black Will would kill him with his master, pricked his horse of purpose and made him to balt, to the end he might protract the time, and tarry behind. His master asked him why his horse halted. He said, I know not. Well, quoth his master, when ye come at the smith here before (between Rochester and the hill-foot over against Chatham) remove his shoe, and search him, and then come after me. So Master Arden rode on: and ere he came at the place where Black Will lay in wait for him, there overtook him divers gentlemen of his acquaintance, who kept him company; so that Black Will missed here also of his purpose."

The dramatist shows us Greene and the two ruffians waiting for their prey, and the excuse of Michael to desert his master. Arden and Franklin are now upon the stage; and the dialogue which passes between them is a very remarkable example of the dramatic skill with which the principal characters are made to sustain an indifferent conversation, but which is still in harmony with the tone of thought that pervades the whole drama. Arden is unhappy in his domestic circumstances, and he eagerly listens to the tale of another's unhappiness. The perfect ease with which this conver

sation is managed appears to us a singular excellence, when we regard the early date of this tragedy :

Frank. Do you remember where my tale did cease ?

Arden. Ay, where the gentleman did check his wife.

Frank. She being reprehended for the fact,
Witness producid that took her with the deed,
Her glove brought in which there she left behind,
And many other assured arguments,
Her husband ask'd her whether it were not so.

Arden. Her answer then? I wonder how she look'd,
Having forsworn it with such vehement oaths,
And at the instance so approv'd upon her.

Frank. First did she cast her eyes down to the earth,
Watching the drops that fell amain from thence;
Then softly draws she forth her handkercher,
And modestly she wipes her tear-stain’d face;
Then hemmd she out, to clear her voice should seem,
And with a majesty address'd herself
To encounter all their accusations :-
Pardon me, master Arden, I can no more;
This fighting at my heart makes short my wind.

Arden. Come, we are almost now at Rainhamdown :
Your pretty tale beguiles the weary way;
I would you were in case to tell it out."

This “fighting at the heart," of which Franklin complains, is an augury of ill. Black Will and Shakebag are lurking around them; but the “divers gentlemen ” of Arden's acquaintance arrive. Lord Cheinie and his men interrupt the murderers' purpose. Arden and his friend agree to dine with the nobleman the next day. They reach Feversham in safety. The occurrences of the next day are thus told in the Chronicle:'

“ After that Master Arden was come home, he sent (as he usually did) his man to Sheppy, to Sir Thomas Cheinie's, then lord warden of the Cinque Ports, about certain business, and at bis coming away he had a letter delivered, sent by Sir Thomas Cheinie to his master. When he came home, his mistress took the letter and kept it, willing her man to tell his master that he had a letter delivered him by Sir Thomas Cheinie, and that he had lost it: adding, that he thought it best that his master should go the next morning to Sir Thomas, because he knew not the matter : he said he would, and therefore he willed his man to be stirring betimes. In this mean while, Black Will, and one George Shakebag, his companion, were kept in a storehouse of Sir Anthony Ager's, at Preston, by Greene's appointment; and thither came Mistress Arden to see him, bringing and sending him meat and drink many times. He, therefore, lurking there, and watching some opportunity for his purpose, was willed in any wise to be up early in the morning, to lie in wait for Master Arden in a certain brouinclose betwixt Feversham and the ferry (which close he must needs pass), there to do his feat. Now Black Will stirred in the morning betimes, but missed the way, and tarried in a wrong place.

« PreviousContinue »