« PreviousContinue »
THE FOLLOWING THEATRE CC V
MEASURE FOR MEASURE.
This Comedy contains scenes which are truly worthy of the first of dramatic poets. Isabella pleading with Angelo in behalf of mercy to her brother, and afterwards insisting that his life must not be purchased by the sacrifice of her chastity, is an object of such interest, as to make the reader desirous of overlooking the many great defects which are to be found in other parts of this play. The story is little suited to a comedy. The wickedness of Angelo is so atrocious, that I recollect only one instance of a similar kind being recorded in history; and that is considered by many persons as of doubtful authority.' His crimes, indeed, are not completed, but he supposes them to be so; and his guilt is as great as it would have been, if the person of Isabella had been violated, and the head of Ragozine had been Claudio's. This monster of iniquity appears before the Duke, defending his cause with unblushing boldness; and after the detection of his crimes, he can scarcely be said to receive any punishment. A hope is even expressed that he will prove a good husband, but for no good reason — namely, because he has been a little bad. Angelo betrayed the trust reposed in him by the Duke ; he threatened Isabella that if she
* B 2
would not surrender her virtue, he would not merely put her brother to death, but make his death draw out to lingering sufferance; and finally, when he thought his object accomplished, he ordered Claudio to be murdered in violation of his most solemn engagement. These are the crimes which, in the language of Mariana, are expressed by the words a little bad ; and, with a perfect knowledge of Angelo's having committed them, she
“ Craves no other nor no better man." Claudio's life having been preserved by the Provost, it would not, perhaps, have been lawful to have put Angelo to death; but the Duke might, with great propriety, have addressed him in the words of Bolingbroke to Exton,
“ Go wander through the shade of night, “ And never show thy head by day nor light.” Other parts of the play are not without faults. The best characters act too much on a system of duplicity and falsehood; and the Duke, in the fifth act, trifles cruelly with the feelings of Isabella, allowing her to suppose her brother to be dead, much longer than the story of the play required. Lucio is inconsistent as well as profligate. He appears, in the first act, as the friend of Claudio, and in the fifth, he assists the cause of Angelo, whom he supposes to have been his murderer. Lastly, the indecent expressions with which many of the scenes abound, are so interwoven with the story, that it is extremely difficult to separate the one from the other. ?
2 It is gratifying to me to perceive that Mrs. Inchbald, the respectable Editor of “the British Theatre,” in her preface to this play, has expressed her sentiments respecting Angelo and the comic characters, in terms exactly corresponding with my own.
Feeling my own inability to render this play, sufficiently correct for family-reading, I have thought it advisable to print it (without presuming to alter a single word) from the published copy, as performed at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden.
The alterations, as I am informed, are the work of that gentleman, to whose theatrical talents and laudable exertions, united to those of his unrivalled sister, our dramatic writers in general, and Shaka speare in particular, are more indebted than to any person since the death of Mr. Garrick.
Readers should think (and I confess myself to be of that opinion) that “Measure for Measure” is not yet an unobjectionable play, I would request them to peruse it attentively in its original form; and I am fully persuaded that there is no person, who will not then bestow praise on the ability with which Mr. Kemble has improved it, rather than express surprise at its not being entirely freed from those defects which are inseparably connected with the story.