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MATTHEW LEWIS. (E. Review, 1803.)
Alfonso, King of Castile. A Tragedy, in five Acts. By M. G. Lewis. Price 2s. 6d.
ALFONSO, king of Castile, had, many years previous to the supposed epoch of the play, left his minister and general Orsino to perish in prison, from a false accusation of treason. Caesario, son to Orsino, (who by accident had liberated Amelrosa, daughter of Alfonso, from the Moors, and who is married to her, unknown to the father,) becomes a great favourite with the King, and avails himself of the command of the armies with which he is intrusted, to gratify his revenge for his father's misfortunes, to forward his own ambitious views, and to lay a plot by which he may deprive Alfonso of his throne and his life. Marquis Guzman, poisoned by his wife Ottilia, in love with Caesario, confesses to the King that the papers upon which the suspicion of Orsino's guilt was founded, were forged by him : and the King, learning from his daughter Amelrosa that Orsino is still alive, repairs to his retreat in the forest, is received with the most implacable hauteur and resentment, and in vain implores forgiveness of his injured minister. To the same forest, Caesario, informed of the existence of his father, repairs, and reveals his intended plot against the King. Orsino, convinced of Alfonso's goodness to his subjects, though incapable of forgiving him for his unintentional injuries to himself, in vain dissuades his son from the conspiracy; and at last, ignorant of their marriage, acquaints Amelrosa with the plot formed by her husband against her father. Amelrosa, already poisoned by Ottilia, in vain attempts to prevent Caesario from blowing up a mine laid under the royal palace; information of which she had received from Ottilia, stabbed by Caesario to avoid her importunity. In the mean time, the King had been removed
from the palace by Orsino, to his ancient retreat in the forest: the people rise against the usurper Caesario; a battle takes place: Orsino stabs his own son, at the moment the King is in his son's power; falls down from the wounds he has received in battle; and dies in the usual dramatic style, repeating twenty-two hexameter verses. Mr. Lewis says in his preface,
“To the assertion, that my play is stupid, I have nothing to object; if it be found so, even let it be so said; but if (as was most falsely asserted of Adelmorn) any anonymous writer should advance that this Tragedy is immoral, I expect him to prove his assertion by quoting the objectionable passages. This I demand as an act of justice.”
We confess ourselves to have been highly delighted with these symptoms of returning, or perhaps nascent purity in the mind of Mr. Lewis; a delight somewhat impaired, to be sure, at the opening of the play, by the following explanation which Ottilia gives of her early rising.
‘ACT I. Scene I. — The palace-garden. — Day-break. ‘OTTILIA enters in a night-dress: her hair flows dishevelled.
‘OTT1L. Dews of the morn, descend | Breathe, summer gales:
Ottilia at last becomes quite furious, from the conviction that Caesario has been sleeping with a second lady, called Estella; whereas he has really been sleeping with a third lady, called Amelrosa. Passing across the stage, this gallant gentleman takes an opportunity of mentioning to the audience, that he has been passing his time very agreeably, meets Ottilia, quarrels, makes it up; and so end the first two or three scenes.
WOL. I. D
Mr. Lewis will excuse us for the liberty we take in commenting on a few passages in his play which appear to us rather exceptionable. The only information which Caesario, imagining his father to have been dead for many years, receives of his existence, is in the following short speech of Melchior.
“MELCH. The Count San Lucar, long thought dead, but saved,
To this laconic, but important information, Caesario makes no reply; but merely desires Melchior to meet him at one o'clock, under the Royal Tower, and for some other purposes.
In the few cases which have fallen under our observation, of fathers restored to life after a supposed death of twenty years, the parties concerned have, on the first information, appeared a little surprised, and generally asked a few questions; though we do not go the length of saying it is natural so to do. This same Caesario (whose love of his father is a principal cause of his conspiracy against the King) begins criticising the old warrior, upon his first seeing him again, much as a virtuoso would criticise an ancient statue that wanted an arm or a leg.
ORSINo enters from the cave.
CAESARIO, Now by my life
Amelrosa, who imagines her father to have banished her from his presence for ever, in the first transports of
joy for pardon, obtained by earnest intercessions, thus exclaims: —
* Lend thy doves, dear Venus,
What judge of human feelings does not recognise in these images of silver wings, doves and honey, the genuine language of the passions 2 If Mr. Lewis is really in earnest in pointing out the coincidence between his own dramatic sentiments and the Gospel of St. Matthew, such a reference (wide as we know this assertion to be) evinces a want of judgment, of which we did not think him capable. If it proceeded from irreligious levity, we pity the man who has bad taste enough not to prefer honest dulness to such paltry celebrity. We beg leave to submit to Mr. Lewis, if Alfonso, considering the great interest he has in the decision, might not interfere a little in the long argument carried on between Caesario and Orsino, upon the propriety of putting him to death. To have expressed any decisive opinion upon the subject, might perhaps have been incorrect; but a few gentle hints as to that side of the question to which he leaned, might be fairly allowed to be no very unnatural incident. This tragedy delights in explosions. Alfonso's empire is destroyed by a blast of gunpowder, and restored by a clap of thunder. After the death of Caesario, and a short exhortation to that purpose by Orsino, all the conspirators fall down in a thunder-clap, ask o of the king, and are forgiven. This mixture of physical and moral power is beautiful! How interesting a waterspout would appear among Mr. Lewis's kings and queens!
We anxiously look forward, in his next tragedy, to a
fall of snow three or four feet deep; or expect that a plot shall gradually unfold itself by means of a general thaw. All is not so bad in this play. There is some strong painting, which shows, every now and then, the hand of a master. The agitation which Caesario exhibits upon his first joining the conspirators in the cave, previous to the blowing up of the mine, and immediately after stabbing Ottilia, is very fine. * CAESARIO. Ay, shout, shout, And kneeling greet your blood-anointed king, This steel his sceptre Tremble, dwarfs in guilt,
And own your master! Thou art proof, Henriquez,
The resistance which Amelrosa opposes to the firing of the mine, is well wrought out; and there is some good poetry scattered up and down the play, of which we should very willingly make extracts, if our limits would permit. The ill success which it has justly experienced, is owing, we have no doubt, to the want of nature in the characters, and of probability and good arrangement in the incidents, –objections of some force.