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THE COURT OF DEATH.
It is his own domain;
Grim spectres form his court; And many a ghost around him flits, In mockery of sport.
No human eye can see-
Extravagance of joy,
And in the rabble rout,
Upon my frighted ear;
Man hath usurp'd our skill; With human life we war no more, We seek no more to kill.
A joyful day we see;
Man hath usurp'd our skill; With human life we war no more,
We seek no more to kill."
OLD ENGLISH DRAMATISTS.
THE WITCH OF EDMONTON.
Every body joins in the outcry against the stage: every body declares that it has degenerated, and the proverb informs us, that “ what every body says, must be true.” We suppose, then, we ought to take it for granted that the general opinion, upon this subject, is correct; we must assent to the condemnation which every gallery critic, every would-be witling, continually sounds in our ears. But if the evil is acknowledged, it becomes our duty to look for a remedy,
“ wise men ne'er sit, and wail their loss,
But cheerly seek how to redress their harms." If the drama is admitted to be less worthy of public approbation than it used to be, is it not better that we should endeavour to restore it to its pristine condition, rather than pursue the phantom which has already led us astray? Public taste is usually blamed for the toleration of the outrageous nonsense that is often submitted to patient and wondering audiences, and, like the “ Nobody" so well known in most private families, is pointed out as the cause of the evil which every one discovers, laments, and applauds. “Public Taste” is, in this respect, like his brother, of whom we have made mention, rather harshly treated. If good and bad were set before the public, if a good sterling play and farrago of melo-dramatic nonsense, were both submitted to their judgment, and they were deliberately to make choice of the latter, it would be well to exclaim, they might then be justly condemned; but that, alas! is not the case. A well written, judicious play, a play whose claim to public approbation is founded upon sterling merit, never finds its way to the stage; we are deemed to listen to bad sense and bad morals, and our patience is rewarded, at the end of an hour and a half's torture, by a coronation or a procession, as beautiful as diamonds that cannot sparkle, tin helmets, and mock majesty, can make it. Modern play writers are, indeed, like their works, the mere“ beings of a summer's day," they prop up the tottering edifices, which they submit to public approbation, with straws, and then wonder that they fall. They forsake Nature, they dive not into the human heart, but write for the present day and the present actors, and how can we wonder that they are forgotten to-morrow? Some make a comfortable living by devising characters, in which a favorite performer may exhibit his grimaces to advantage, and consequently owe their success to the fooleries of the actor, and not to the merit of the play. Others adorn their tasteless productions with thunders, and lightnings, and snowstorms, and water-falls; transplant Siberia or Switzerland to the metropolis, and think the plaudits of “public taste" prove them to be wondrous wise.
From scenes and plays such as these, let us cast a retrospective glance to those dramas with which the fathers of our stage used to delight and instruct their audiences. Let us compare
" the wondrous thoughts and fancies infinite” which they bring before us with modern play writing, and then say whether the degradation of the stage is difficult to be accounted for. We have selected upon the present occasion a play which is the joint production of three excellent dramatists---Rowley, Dekker, and Ford; and although many might have been found in which the story is more interesting, the beauties more numerous, and the entire superiority greater, yet there is sufficient to point out its authors as men who had studied human nature with keen and searching eyes, and were masters of the art by which the feelings can be affected. The story is extremely simple, and is merely a vehicle for introducing Mother Sawyer, the Witch of Edmonton, who it appears had a real existence. We need not tell our readers, that witchcraft was at the time this play was written (1658) thoroughly believed in: the common people found in it a solution from any difficulties which they could not otherwise explain; and even the better informed had doubts which they could not clear away. The character of a witch was therefore calculated to attract the attention of the public; and the authors of the present play have thrown an interest round the poor old wretch which even the most careless reader must feel.
Young Thorney baving privately married Winimfrede, to whom he was attached, leaves her very shortly after their marriage, in order to visit bis father, who has in the meantime provided for him a wife, in Susan, the daughter of a neighbouring farmer, whose portion will very opportunely relieve him from some pecuniary
embarrassments, against which he would otherwise be unable to contend. At parting, young Thorney vows eternal constancy to his new bride; but upon his arrival, is prevailed upon to marry Susan, and thus save his father from his difficulties. Worked upon by supernatural influence, he shortly afterwards murders his second wife; and in order to escape punishment, stabs himself in several places, ties himself to a tree, and upon being rescued, immediately accuses two young men of the crime, one of whom had been his rival in Susan's affections. The play ends by the discovery of the real culprit, and his execution. Upon this is superadded the poor “ Witchof Edmonton," an old woman, who is driven by ill usage to enter into a compact with the fiend, who, in consequence, waits upon her in the shape of a black dog. By this means she revenges herself upon those who have ill treated her; but in the end is deserted by her familiar, and consigned to punishment as a witch.
The following extracts will shew our readers with what beauty and force of language the play abounds, and render all encomium on our part entirely unnecessary.
The poor old witch is at first introduced picking up from the grounds of a rich farmer a few dry sticks. She has not as yet formed the compact with the fiend. The following soliloquy, with which the scene is opened, appears to us strikingly appropriate and forcible.
SAWYER.---And why on me! Why should the envious world
[Enter OLD BANKS.
O. BANKS.---I do; and worse I would, knew I a name more
SAWY.---Gather a few rotten sticks to warm me.
O. BANKS.---Down with them when I bid thee, quickly :
SAWY.---You wont, churl, cut-throat, miser : there they be.
O. BANKS.---Say'st thou so ? Hag, out of my ground.
SAWY.---Dost strike me, slave? Curmudgeon, now thy bones aches, thy joints cramps and convulsions, stretch and crack thy sinews.
O. BANKS. ---Cursing, thou hag! take that, and that. [Erit.
SAWY.---Strike do, and wither'd may that hand and arm
May the thing call’d familiar be purchas'd ? Shortly afterwards, a party of young men approach, amongst whom is old Banks' son; and upon perceiving her, cast ridicule upon her age and infirmities. After their departure, she proceeds thus :
SAWYER.---Still vex'd ? still tortur'd? That curmudgeon Banks
Or any thing that's ill, so I might work
Vengeance, shame, ruin, light upon this canker. But the following scene, in which she is examined before a Justice of the Peace, is perhaps the most entirely dramatic-the best calculated for what is termed stage effect, that is to be found in the play. Nor is it less conspicuous for beauty of diction and correctness of sentiment.
Sawy.---At my name; the brave name this knight hath
JUST.--- Is the name of Witch so pleasing to thine ear?
SAWY.---A witch who is not ?
JUST.---But those work not as you do.
SAWY.---No: but far worse :
Yes, yes; but the law
Why then on me,
Now an old woman,
And so is thine.
But these men-witches
SAWY.---Tell them, sir, that do so :
SIR ART.---Yes, 'twill be sworn.