Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

And never stays to greet him; 'Ay,' quoth Jaques,
'Sweep on, you fat and greasy citizens;
"Tis just the fashion : Wherefore do you look

Upon that poor and broken bankrupt there? We could almost slide into the belief that “ As You Like It” had an especial reference to the circumstances in which Essex and Southampton were placed in che spring of 1600. There is nothing desponding in its tone, nothing essentially nisanthropical in its philosophy. Jaques stands alone in his railing against mankind. The healing influences of nature fall sweetly and fruitfully upor the exiled duke and his co-mates. But, nevertheless, the ingratitude of the world is emphatically dwelt upon, even amidst the most soothing aspects of a pure and simple life “under the greenwood tree.” The song of Amiens has perhaps a deeper meaning even than the railing of Jacques

“ Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,
That dost not bite so nigh

As benefits forgot:
Though thou the waters warp,
Thy sting is not so sharp

As friend remember'd not." There was one who had in him much of the poetical temperament—a gorgeous imagination for the externals of poetry—upon whose ear, if he ever sought common amusement in the days of his rising power, these words must have fallen like the warning voice that cried “woe.”. There was one who, when Essex in the days of his greatness had asked a high place for him and had been refused, received from the favourite a large private gift thus bestowed :-“I know that you are the least part of your own matter, but you fare ill because you have chosen me for your mean and dependence. You have spent your time and thoughts in my matters. I die, if I do not somewhat toward your fortune. You shall not deny to accept a piece of land, which I will bestow upon you.” The answer of him who accepted a park from the hands of the generous man who had failed to procure him a place, was prophetic. The Duke of Guise, he said, was the greatest usurer in France, “ because he had turned all his estates into obligations, having left himself nothing. * * * * I would not have you imitate this course, for you will find many bad debtors.” It was this man who, in the darkest hour of Essex, when he was hunted to the death, said to the Lord Steward, "My lord, I have never yet seen in any case such favour shown to any prisoner.”

“ Blow, blow, thou winter wind;
Thou art not so unkind

As man's ingratitude." Who can doubt that the ingratitude had begun long before the fatal catastrophe of the intrigues of Cecil and Raleigh? Francis Bacon, the ingrate, justifies himself by the “rules of duty” which opposed him to his benefactor at the bar, in his “public service.” The same rules of duty were powerful enough to lead him to blacken his friend's character after his death, by garbling with his own hand the depositions against the victim of his faction, and publishing them as authentic records of the trial.* Essex, before the last struggles, had acquired experience of “ bad debtors.” The poet of “ As You Like It” might have done something in teaching him to bear this and other afflictions bravely

See Jardine's " Criminal Trials," vol. i. p. 387,

" Thou seest, we are not all alone unhappy:

This wide and universal theatre
Presents more woeful pageants than the scene

Wherein we play in." Essex was re.eased from custody in the August of 1600 ; but an illegal sentence had been passed upon him by commissioners, that he should not execute the affairs of a privy counsellor, or of Earl Marshal, or of Master of the Ordnance. The queen signified to him that he was not to come to court without leave. He was a marked and a degraded man. The wily Cecil, who at this very period was carrying on a correspondence with James of Scotland, that might have cost him his head, was laying every snare for the ruin of Essex. He desired to do what he ultimately effected, to goad his fiery spirit into madness. Essex was surrounded with warm but imprudent friends. They relied upon his unbounded popularity, not only as a shield against arbitrary power, but as a weapon to beat down the strong arm of authority. During the six months which elapsed between the release of Essex and the fatal outbreak of 1601, Essex House saw many changing scenes, which marked the fitful temper and the wavering counsels of its unhappy owner. Within a month after he had been discharged from custody, the queen refused to renew a valuable patent to Essex, saying that “ to manage an ungovernable beast, he must be stinted in his provender.” On the other hand, rash words that had been held to fall from the lips of Essex were reported to the queen. “She was now grown an old woman, and was as crooked within as without." The door of reconciliation was almost closed for ever. Essex House had been strictly private during its master's detention at the Lord Keeper's. Its gates were now opened, not only to his numerous friends and adherents, but to men of all persuasions, who had injuries to redress or complaints to prefer. Essex had always professed a noble spirit of toleration, far in advance of his age ; and he now received with a willing ear the complaints of all those who were persecuted by the government for religious opinions, whether Roman Catholics or Puritans. He was in communication with James of Scotland, urging him to some open assertion of his presumptive title to the crown of England. It was altogether a season of restless intrigue, of bitter mortifications, and rash hopes. Between the closing of the Globe Theatre and the opening of the Blackfriars, Shakspere was in all likelihood tranquil amidst his family at Stratford. The winter comes, and then even the players are mixed up with the dangerous events of the time. Sir Gilly Merrick, one of the adherents of Essex, was accused, amongst other acts of treason, with “having procured the out-dated tragedy of the 'Deposition of Richard II.' to be publicly acted at his own charge, for the entertainment of the conspirators.” In the “Declaration of the Treasons of the late Earl of Essex and his Complices,” which Bacon acknowledges to have been written by him at the queen's command, there is the following statement :“The afternoon before the rebellion, Merrick, with a great company of others, that afterwards were all in the action, had procured to be played before them the play of deposing 'King Richard the Second ;' when it was told him by one of the players, that the play was old, and that they should have loss in playing it, because few would come to it, there was forty shillings extraordinary given to play, and so thereupon played it was.” In the “State Trials ” this matter is somewhat differently mentioned : “ The story of 'Henry IV. being set forth in a play, and in that play there being set forth the killing of the king upon a stage ; the Friday before, Sir Gilly Merrick and some others of the earl's train having an humour to see a play, they must needs have the play of Henry IV. The players told them that was stalo ; they could get nothing by playing that ; but no play else would serve : and Sir Gilly Merick gives forty shillings to Philips the player to play this, besides

whatsoever he could get." Augustine Philips was one of Shakspere's company ; and yet it is perfectly evident that it was not Shakspere's “Richard II.' nor. Shakspere's “Henry IV.,” that was acted on this occasion. In his “ Henry IV." there is no " killing of the king upon a stage.” His “ Richard II.,” which was published in 1997, was certainly not an out-dated play in 1601. A second edition of it had appeared in 1598, and it was no doubt highly popular as an acting play. But if any object was to be gained by the conspirators in the stage representation of the " deposing King Richard II.,' Shakspere's play would not assist that object. The editions of 1597 and 1598 do not contain the deposition scene. That portion of this noble history which contains the scene of Richard's surrender of the crown was not printed till 1608 ; and the edition in which it appears bears in its title the following intimation of its novelty : “ The Tragedie of King Richard the Second, with new additions of the Parliament Sceane, and the Deposing of King Richard. As it hath been lately acted by the Kinges servantes, at the Globe, by William Shake-speare.” In Shakspere's Parliament scene our sympathies are wholly with King Richard. This, even if the scene were acted in 1601, would not have forwarded the views of Sir Gilly Merrick, if his purpose were really to hold up to the people an example of a monarch's dethronement. But, nevertheless, it may be doubted whether such a subject could be safely played at all by the Lord Chamberlain's players during this stormy period of the reign of Elizabeth. Her sensitiveness on this head was most remarkable. There is a very curious record existing of " that which passed from the Excellent Majestie of Queen Elizabeth, in her Privie Chamber at East Greenwich, 4° Augusti, 1601, 43° Reg. sui, towards William Lambarde," * which recounts his presenting the queen his “Pandecta” of historical documents to be placed in the Tower, which the queen read over, making observations and receiving explanations. The following dialogue then takes place :

“W. L. He likewise expounded these all according to their original diversities, which she took in gracious and full satisfaction ; so her Majesty fell upon the reign of king Richard II., saying 'I am Richard II., know ye not that?'

“W.L. "Such a wicked imagination was determined and attempted by a most unkind gentleman, the most adorned creature that ever your Majest, made.'

- Her Majesty. He that will forget God will also forget his bejefactors ; this tragedy was played forty times in open streets and houses."

The “ wicked imagination ” that Elizabeth was Richard the Second, is fixed upon Essex by the reply of Lambarde, and the rejoinder of the queen makes it clear that the “ wicked imagination” was attempted through the performance of the tragedy of the Deposition of “ Richard the Second :” “This tragedy was played forty times in open streets and houses.” The queen is speaking six months after the outbreak of Essex ; ana it is not improbable that the outdated play—that performance which in the previous February the players "should have lost in playing," had been rendered popular through the partisans of Essex after his fall, and had been got up in open streets and houses with a dangerous avidity. But there is a circumstance which renders it tolerably evident that, although Sir Gılly Merrick might have given forty shillings to Philips to perform that stale play, the company of Shakspere were not the performers. In the office-book of the Treasurer of the Chamber, + there is an entry on the 31st of March, 1601, of a payment to John Heminge and Richard Cowley, servants to the Lord Chamberlain, for three plays showed before her High

This was first printed from the original in Nicholl's “ Progresses of Queen Elizabeth. Limlarde died in a fortnight after this interview.

+ Cunningham's “ Revels at Court."

ness on St. Stephen's day at night (26th December, 1600), Twelfth day at night, (January 6th, 1601), and Shrove Tuesday at night, (Easter-day being on the 12th of April in 1601, Shrove Tuesday would be on the 3rd of March). Shakspere's company were thus performing before the queen within a week of the period when Essex was beheaded. They would not have been so performing had they exhibited the offensive tragedy.

In her conversation with Lambarde, Elizabeth uttered a great truth, which might not be unmingled with a retrospect of the fate of Essex. Speaking of the days of her ancestors, she said, " In those days force and arms did prevail, but now the wit of the fox is every where on foot, so as hardly a faithful or virtuous man may be found.” When Raleigh was called upon the trial of Essex, and “his oath given him," Essex exclaimed, “ What booteth it to swear the fox ?” The fox had even then accomplished his purpose. He had driven his victim onwards to that fatal movement of Sunday, the 8th of February, which, begun without reasonable plan or fixed purpose, ended in casual bloodshed and death by the law. We may readily believe that the anxiety of Shakspere for his friends and benefactors would have led him to the scene of that wild commotion. He might have seen Essex and Southampton, with Danvers, Blount, Catesby, Owen Salisbury, and a crowd of followers, riding into Fleet-street, shouting, “For the queen! for the queen!” He might have heard the people crying on every side, “God save your honour! God bless your honour !” An hour or two later he might have listened to the proclamation in Gracechurch-street and Cheapside, that the earl and all his company were traitors. By two o'clock of that fatal Sunday, Shakspere might have seen his friends fighting their way back through the crowds of armed men who suddenly assailed them, and taking boat at Queenhithe, reach Essex House in safety. But it was surrounded with soldiers and artillery; shots were fired at the windows ; the cries of women within mingled with the shouts of fury without. At last came the surrender, at ten o'clock at night. The axe with the edge turned towards the prisoners followed as a matter of course.

176.-ESSEX AND BACON.

LANDOR.

Essex. I did believe, sir, I had helpt to raise
Many to wealth and station, some to fame,-
And one to friendship.
Bacon.

You, my noble earl,
Have done it ; and much more. We must lament
A power thus past (or rather thrown) away.

Essex. Thou ! thou lament it, Bacon ?
Bacon.

To my soul.
Essex. Why then, with energy beyond the pitch
Of brawling law, cry vengeance ? when my fortune
Was pierced with every bolt from every band,
Soon as the golden links were snapt asunder,
Which they who rule the earth held round that bird
Who bore their lightnings and struck down their fues.

Bucon. My gracious lord ! were always their commands
Well waited for ?
Essex.

Nay, by my troth, my zeal
Outflew them.

Bacon. Your return was unadvised.
Essex. Unwelcome : that is worse.
Bacon.

The worst of all
Was summoning to arms a loyal land,
Basking in peace and plenteousress.
Essex.

How far
Extended this your basking ? court indeed
And inns uf law were warm enough ; on those
The sun beats all the day, through all the year ;
Everything there so still and orderly,
That he who sneezes in them is caught up
And cudgel'd for his pains.
Bacon.

Should he awake
Trumpets by sneezing, should he blow up banners,
'Twere well if only cudgels fell on him:
Our laws have sharper instruments, my lord

Essex. I know it; and I knew it ere I rose.
Bacon. O! had this never happened !
Essex.

Then wouldst thou
Have lost some smiles, some parleyings, some tags
Of ermine, and, what more thou valuest
(As any wise man would)- some little gold.

Bacon. Dross!
Essex. (smiling). Very true !-as men are dust and ashes.

Bacon. Such thoughts become all mortals; most of all
Those who have fallen under high displeasure,
Who have their God and prince to reconcile,
And are about to change this brief vile life-
Nay, nay, my lord ! your life may rest unchangeu
For years to come, if you, upon your knees,
Humbly ask pardon-
Essex. (fiercely).
Pardon !

[After hesitation,

I will ask it-
Bacon. Before the privy-council, and the court
Especially assembled.
Essex. (indignantly).

Not before
The best among them, were he quite alone.
No, by the soul of Essex ! were he Raleigh-
The only great man there.
Bacon.

Are we so scorned ?
Essex. Bacon ! I did not say the only wise one
So, do not break thy ring, or loose the stone.

Bacon. My lord ! my finger might have been uneasy
Without such notice from that once high peer
Erewhile the Earl of Essex—until treason
Leveld him lower than burgess or than churl.

Essex. I will not say thou liest ; for thy tongue
Lags far behind thy heart; thy strongest wit
May stretch and strain, but never make them yoke-mates.

Bacon. This cork appliance, this hard breathing, served
While there was water under for support,
But cut a dismal figure in the mud.

« AnteriorContinuar »