Изображения страниц

In thinking of this act.

It was a thought
Happy, and worthy Cæsar.

And the lord
As worthy it, on whom it is directed !

Haterius. Most worthy!

Sanquinius. Rome did never boast the virtue
That could give envy bounds, but his : Sejanus-

Ist Sen. Honour'd and noble !
2d Sen. Good and great Sejanus !
Præcones. Silence !1

Tiberius' letter is read. First, long obscure and vague phrases, mingled with indirect protestations and accusations, foreboding something and revealing nothing. Suddenly comes an insinuation against Sejanus. The fathers are alarmed, but the next line reassures them. A word or two further on the same insinuation is repeated with greater exactness. “ Some there be that would interpret this his public severity to be particular ambition; and that, under a pretext of service to us, he doth but remove his own lets : alleging the strengths he hath made to himself, by the prætorian soldiers, by his faction in court and senate, by the offices he holds himself, and confers on others, his popularity and dependents, his urging (and almost driving) us to this our unwilling retirement, and lastly, his aspiring to be our son-in-law.” The fathers rise : “ This is strange!” Their eager eyes are fixed on the letter, on Sejanus, who perspires and grows pale; their thoughts are busy with conjectures, and the words of the letter fall one by one, amidst a sepulchral silence, caught up as they fall with all devouring and attentive eagerness.

The senators anxiously weigh the value of these shifty expressions, fearing to compromise themselves with the favorite or with the prince, all feeling that they must understand, if they value their lives.

Your wisdoms, conscript fathers, are able to examine, and censure these suggestions. But, were they left to our absolving voice, we durst pronounce them, as we think them, most malicious.'

Senator. O, he has restor'd all; list.
Præco. " Yet are they offered to be averrd, and on the lives of the inform-


[ocr errors]


At this word the letter becomes menacing. Those next Sejanus forsake him. “ Sit farther. .... Let's remove!"

The heavy

[blocks in formation]

Sanquinius leaps panting over the benches. The soldiers come in; then Macro. And now, at last, the letter orders the arrest of Sejanus.

· Regulus. Take him hence; And all the gods guard Cæsar!

Trio. Take him hence.

Haterius. Hence.
Cotta. To the dungeon with him.
Sanquinius. He deserves it.
Senator. Crown all our doors with bays.

And let an ox,
With gilded horns and garlands, straight be led

Unto the Capitol.

And sacrific'd
To Jove, for Cæsar's safety.

All our gods
Be present still to Cæsar !
Cot. Let all the traitor's titles be defac'd.
Tri. His images and statues be pull'd down. ...
Sen. Liberty, liberty, liberty! Lead on,

And praise to Macro that hath saved Rome!”1

It is the baying of a furious pack of hounds, let loose at last on him, under whose hand they had crouched, and who had for a long time beaten and bruised them. Jonson discovered in his own energetic soul the energy of these Roman passions; and the clearness of his mind, added to his profound knowledge, powerless to construct characters, furnished him with general ideas and striking incidents, which suffice to depict manners.

IV. Moreover, it was to this that he turned his talent. Nearly all his work consists of comedies, not sentimental and fanciful as Shakespeare's, but imitative and satirical, written to represent and correct follies and vices. He introduced a new model; he had a doctrine; his masters were Terence and Plautus.

He observes the unity of time and place, almost exactly. He ridicules the authors who, in the same play,

“Make a child now swaddled, to proceed
Man, and then shoot up, in one beard and weed,
Past threescore years; or, with three rusty swords,
And help of some few foot and half-foot words,

i The Fall of Sejanus, v.


Fight over York and Lancaster's long jars.

He rather prays you will be pleas'd to see.” 1
He wishes to represent on the stage

One such to-day, as other plays shou'd be;
Where neither chorus wafts you o'er the seas,
Nor creaking throne comes down the boys to please :
Nor nimble squib is seen to make afeard
The gentlewomen.
But deeds, and language, such as men do use.
You, that have so grac'd monsters, may like men.


Men, as we see them in the streets, with their whims and hu


[ocr errors]

“When some one peculiar quality
Doth so possess a man, that it doth draw
All his affects, his spirits, and his powers
In their confluctions, all to run one way,

This may be truly said to be a humour." 3 It is these humors which he exposes to the light, not with the artist's curiosity, but with the moralist's hate :

“I will scourge those apes,
And to these courteous eyes oppose a mirror,
As large as is the stage whereon we act;
Where they shall see the time's deformity
Anatomized in every nerve, and sinew,
With constant courage, and contempt of fear.

My strict hand
Was made to seize on vice, and with a gripe
Squeeze out the humour of such spongy souls,

As lick up every idle vanity.” 4 Doubtless a determination so strong and decided does violence to the dramatic spirit. Jonson's comedies are not rarely harsh; his characters are too grotesque, laboriously constructed, mere automatons; the poet thought less of producing living beings than of scotching a vice; the scenes get arranged, or are confused together in a mechanical manner; we see the process, we feel the satirical intention throughout; delicate and easy-flowing imitation is absent, as well as the graceful fancy which abounds in Shakespeare. But if Jonson comes across harsh passions, visibly evil and vile, he will derive from his energy and wrath the

3 lbid

1 Every Man in his Humour, Prologue.

2 lbid.
4 Every Man out of his Humour, Prologue.

talent to render them odious and visible, and will produce a Volpone, a sublime work, the sharpest picture of the manners of the age, in which is displayed the full brightness of evil lusts, in which lewdness, cruelty, love of gold, shamelessness of vice, display a sinister yet splendid poetry, worthy of one of Titian's bacchanals. All this makes itself apparent in the first scene, when Volpone, says:

Good morning to the day; and next, my gold !

Open the shrine, that I may see my saint.”
This saint is his piles of gold, jewels, precious plate:

“Hail the world's soul, and mine! ...O thou son of Sol,
But brighter than thy father, let me kiss,
With adoration, thee, and every relick

Of sacred treasure in this blessed room.”% Presently after, the dwarf, the eunuch, and the hermaphrodite of the house sing a sort of pagan and fantastic interlude; they chant in strange verses the metamorphoses of the hermaphrodite, who was first the soul of Pythagoras. We are at Venice, in the palace of the magnifico Volpone. These deformed creatures, the splendor of gold, this strange and poetical buffoonery, carry the thought immediately to the sensual city, queen of vices and of arts.

The rich Volpone lives like an ancient Greek or Roman. Childless and without relatives, playing the invalid, he makes all his flatterers hope to be his heir, receives their gifts,


“ Letting the cherry knock against their lips,

And draw it by their mouths, and back again.” Glad to have their gold, but still more glad to deceive them, artistic in wickedness as in avarice, and just as pleased to look at a contortion of suffering as at the sparkle of a ruby.

The advocate Voltore arrives, bearing a “huge piece of plate.” Volpone throws himself on his bed, wraps himself in furs, heaps up his pillows, and coughs as if at the point of death :

Volpone. I thank you, signior Voltore,
Where is the plate ? mine eyes are bad. . . . Your love
Hath taste in this, and shall not be unanswer'd ...
I cannot now last long. I feel me going, —

Uh, uh, uh, uh !” 4 i Compare Volpone with Regnard's Légataire ; the end of the sixteenth with the beginning of the eighteenth century. 2 Volpone, i. 1.

3 lbid. i. 1.

4 Ibid. i. 3.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

He closes his eyes, as though exhausted:

Voltore. Am I inscrib'd his heir for certain ?
Mosca (Volpone's Parasite).

Are you!
I do beseech you, sir, you will vouchsafe
To write me in your family. All my hopes
Depend upon your worship: I am lost,
Except the rising sun do shine on me.

Volt. It shall both shine and warm thee, Mosca.

I am man, that hath not done your love
All the worst offices : here I wear your keys,
See all your coffers and your caskets lock’d,
Keep the poor inventory of your jewels,
Your plate and monies; am your steward, sir,
Husband your goods here.

Volt. But am I sole heir ?
M. Without a partner, sir; confirm'd this ing:
The wax is warm yet, and the ink scarce dry
Upon the parchment.

Happy, happy, me!
By what good chance, sweet Mosca ?

Your desert, sir;
I know no second cause.
And he details the abundance of the wealth in which Voltore is
about to revel, the gold which is to pour upon him, the opulence
which is to flow in his house as a river:

“When will you have your inventory brought, sir ?

Or see a copy of the will ?”
The imagination is fed with precise words, precise details.
Thus, one after another, the would-be heirs come like beasts of
prey. The second who arrives is an old miser, Corbaccio, deaf,
“impotent,” almost dying, who nevertheless hopes to survive
Volpone. To make more sure of it, he would fain have Mosca
give his master a narcotic. He has it about him, this excellent
opiate: he has had it prepared under his own eyes, he suggests :
it. His joy on finding Volpone more ill than himself is bitterly
humorous :

Corbaccio. How does your patron? ...

His mouth
Is ever gaping, and his eyelids hang.

C. Good.
M. A freezing numbness stiffens all his joints,

i Volpone, i. 3.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »