« AnteriorContinuar »
Nathaniel Lee, the author of this tragedy, was the son of Dr. Lee, minister of Hatfield. He received his early education under Busby at Westminster School, and was afterwards a student at Trinity College, Cambridge.
Disappointed in some hopes which he had formed upon the munificence of King Charles the Second, he turned his thoughts towards the stage for his support, and ventured his abilities as a performer. Discouraged in this attempt, yet enthralled by the charms of a theatre, he encountered the perils of a dramatist, and was successful.
Cibber has mentioned, with wonder, the talents which Lee discovered in reading, as he was wholly destitute of eloquence in public speaking. He was so excellent a reader of his own plays at the rehearsals, Cibber says, that the very first actors have thrown down their parts, in despair of giving equal force or pathos in performing them ; yet, as an actor, he had neither the one requisite nor the other. To persons well acquainted with theatrical qualifications, there is nothing wonderful in this intelligence.
The relater of it himself must have known, from long experience, that many a fine reader cannot act; and that many a fine actor cannot read. This observation, of course, applies to a superlative degree of excellence in either art.
Amongst all the plays which this author produced, “ The Rival Queens, or Alexander the Great," has been, and still remains, the most popular : there is popularity even in its high sounding title! nor do these outside words give an unsuitable specimen of those which are containeil within.
This tragedly is calculated for representation, rather than the amusement of the closet ;--for, though it is graced with some beautiful poetry, it is likewise deformed by an extravagance, both in thought and in language, that at times verges upon the ludicrous. Actors, eminent in their art, know how to temper those 'failings in a tragic author: they give rapidity to their utterance in the mock sublime, and lengthen their cadence upon every poetic beauty.
Lee and Dryden sometimes united their labours in the production of a drama. This play, and “ All for Love, were written by each separately, and yet there is a near resemblance of the one to the other.
-The characters and events are historical in both; and Clytus in this, and Ventidius in that, play, form such an equal contrast to the tragic scenes, that it appears the two poets thought alike, though they wrote asunder,
Dryden's Octavia is, however, much less refined than Lee's Statira. The first pardons her husband's love to Cleopatra, and is willing to accept his reluctant return with an alienated heart;-whilst the last makes a solemn vow never more to behold the man who loves her to distraction, because he has given her one proof of incontinence. There is deep knowledge of the female heart evinced in both these incidents. A woman is glad to be reconciled to the husband who does not love her upon any conditions —whilst the wife, who is beloved, is outrageous if she be not adored. Yet Lee should have considered, that such delicate expectations of perpetual constancy, as he has given to his pagan queen, Statira, were not, so late as his own time, prevalent, even among Christian queens. The consorts of Charles the Second and Louis the Fourteenth, saw as many partakers of their royal spouses' love, as the Sultana of Constantinople, and with equal patience. Barry was the last actor who acquired fame in the part of Alexander—he had every qualification, both in person and voice, for a hero and a lover. The play never failed of attraction in his youthful days; and its importance on the stage would be renewed by any performer of his peculiar abilities. Yet all Barry's endowments for this character appear to have fallen infinitely beneath those of Hart, the original hero. This Hart, it is reported by his biographers, made
love, in Alexander, " with such godlike ardour, that spectators could scarcely once doubt of his immediate descent from Jupiter." Nor was this performer's warmth of passion confined to his fictitious characters; he possessed it as a quality of his own, and was the man who beguiled poor Nell Gwyn from selling oranges at the playhouse door, and instructed her to become an actress. But soon she forsook the counterfeit King of Macedon for the real King of England,—and became mother of the Duke of St. Albans.
The dreadful calamity which befel Lee, soon after the writing of this tragedy, is well known; yet no particular cause has been assigned for the affliction with which he was visited! Having progressively fallen into a state of insanity, he was confined in Bedlam for four years. In his lucid intervals he had industry; and followed his wonted occupation of writing plays; and his description of a madman in one of those productions, is surely, considering his own situation at the time, the most curious and interesting passage he ever wrote.
Description of a Madman, by LEE.
• To my charm'd ears no more of woman Nime not a woman, and I shall be well. * Like a poor lunatic, that makes his moan, i? And for a while beguiles his lookers on,