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Queen Mary. A Drama. By Alfred Tennyson. Boston: Jas. R.
Osgood & Co.
lights, than it really was. The horrors of Stephen's reign, the humiliation of John's, lie so far away, that one feels as if England had hardly known cruelty or shame until Latimer and Ridley went to the stake and the Houses of Parliament knelt before Legate Pole. Henry VIII. trampled on the rights of Englishmen with a masterful tyranny that Mary never had; his life was soiled by unbridled appetites, while Mary's was chaste and faithful; but Henry is popularly thought of as a bluff, overbearing, but genial monarch, while Mary looms through the smoke and fire of Smithfield, a pallid, haggard, crowned Fury, with robes dabbled in the blood of martyrs.
Mary is herself a very tragic figure. There was an unbappy mingling in her blood, and an unhappy antagonism in her nature. She had the will and courage of her grandfather and father, but without the policy of the one or the temperament of the other that enabled them to win the favor of the people, and present themselves as English kings in a way that no Norman, Angevin, or Plantagenet had ever done. The leading qualities of her Spanish ancestry seem in her to have been perverted into fatal defects: Isabella's piety in her became bitter bigotry; Ferdinand's cold policy degenerated into unscrupulousness without foresight. So she was every way a failure : she coveted the love of her people, and they hated her; she was zealous for the Church, but her zeal only stimulated heresy ; she wished to increase the power of England, and lost its last foot-hold on the continent; she hungered for the affections of her husband, and her fondness only deepened his aversion. Even her personal appearance told against her; and eyes accustomed to the ruddy manhood of Henry, the delicate beauty of Edward, and the sunny brightness of the Princess Elizabeth, set off by the most beautiful court in Europe, turned away from this swarthy, small, haggard, purblind
As Queen, as devotee, as woman, as wife, she was smitten in the most sensitive fibres of her nature ; and the one consolation that might have made amends for all — that of motherhood – was denied her. Old before her time, disappointed, forsaken, hated, no woman among all those whom her tyranny made miserable was so wretched as the Queen of England ; no death in the fires which her bigotry had kindled was more cruel than hers.
And yet it is a question whether Mary's reign can be made into a drama. For this is what Mr, Tennyson does. He does not take a single episode, but gives us the whole five years from her coronation to her death, and the chief events in it are made the motives of the
several acts. Now a drama is something more than the representation of a series of events as actually occurring, and the presentation of the actors therein as living personages before us. An absolutely essential element in it, as in every other work of art, is unity. Not the pedantic unities of time and place, nor merely the unity of persons, but that unity which makes every part subordinate to a central idea, and all the action lead up to, and necessitate, some supreme event. In this it is, especially, that art differs from nature; for while all that we can comprehend of nature is some small fragment of an immense whole, art, by eliminating irrelevancies and inessentials, by subordinating all secondary parts to the main effect, and making all tend to that, produces a work which in itself is complete. This intimate connection of all the parts, and their concurrence in one result, is artistic unity. It is not an arbitrary idol of the critics; it is made necessary by the limitations of human faculties.
Now in this light, the poem before us, though dramatic, is not a drama. There is no central point to which all the events tend. Mary restores the mass, she marries Philip, she quells insurrection, she imprisons Elizabeth, she burns the Bishops and the Primate, and yet noihing comes of it all but a horrible impatience to be rid of her, as though the nation were lying under a nightmare and longing for the day. There was a result, and a great one — the reign of Elizabeth; but this lies out of the scope of Mr. Tennyson's drama. Singularly enough, the one incident of Mary's reign that more powerfully appeals to popular sympathies than any other, more than the grand deaths of Ridley and Latimer, or the pathetic death of Cranmer the execution of Lady Jane Grey — is not brought into the drama at all; while Wyatt's futile insurrection, which to most minds is only important from the fact that it brought Lady Jane to the block, occupies an entire act. We can not, on any hypothesis, account for this omission.
Nor does Mary herself possess the qualities of a dramatic “heroine or chief actor. She is the central figure, it is true, and the action moves around her, yet she is rather a passive puppet than the mainspring of the action. We are shown a sad picture in the sudden morbid paroxysın of her love, which so masters her that she looks on her advisers as friends or enemies only as they favor or disfavor the Spanish marriage; at events which convulse her realm, only as so many helps or hindrances to her union with Philip. A sadder picture is shown when her tenderness is repelled, her timid approaches beaten back by the cold, hard king, until she at last awakens to the miserable truth that her people hate her, that Philip, for whom she sacrificed her people, never loved her, and now abhors, and that nothing is so anxiously desired by all as her death. This is very pitiful, but it is all the result of physical and mental disease; and disease is no legitimate tragic subject.* Moreover, her sufferings and punishment come, not from her bigotry and cruelty, but from her one gentle quality, her love for Philip, which, unhealthy as it is, draws to her all the sympathy her misery can claim. When she paces the gallery, “grim, ghastly,” and mad with wretchedness, it is not the
* The Ajax Flagellifer, notwithstanding. But the madness of Ajax is the result and punishment of his excessive pride.
fires of Smithfield that torment her, but the conviction of Philip's falsity. This may be true to fact, but it violates a fundamental law of tragedy, the opácorti Tuosiy of Aeschylus, the doctrine that a man can not escape the consequences of his own act.
The moralist may tell us that this is not a rule of life; and the theologian may argue from the absence of earthly retribution to the doctrine of a future state ; but with these the tragedian has nothing to do: he must show the deed and its consequences in this life. In nothing is the perfect dramatic feeling of Shakspere more marked than in his observance of this rule, and if ever he seems to neglect it, closer study will show that it is but an apparent omission. And we feel here that the wretchedness of a stupid, sick, disappointed woman, whom only the accident of birth has placed in such a position that the lives and welfare of a nation hang upon her caprices, while it is an instructive theme for the moralist or statesman, is no fit subject for a great tragedy. Even historically, while Mary fills a conspicuous place in the world's eye, yet she effects really nothing, and her reign and herself are two miserable futilities. The poet, instead of bringing the character of his chief actor into a form more in accordance with the requirements of the drama, by showing its energies, has dwelt with all his strength upon its deficiencies. So far from carrying on the action by the energies of her own nature, she is urged on to all her acts merely by her doting love for Philip, which is maniacal, since it seizes her before she has either seen his person or known his character. Abdicating right reason at the outset, she becomes, not an active, but a passive personage, and is dragged at the heels of her frensy, helpless and mangled, as Hippolytus was dragged by his maddened steeds. Even the idea of moral responsibility is lost in a character so obviously passive and incapable of self-control, so that the ethical as well as the artistic basis of tragedy is wanting.
Mr. Tennyson has crowded his stage with actors, introducing about fifty dramatis personae, of whom about thirty are historical. And several of these historical persons are introduced merely to say a few unimportant words which have no influence on the action. Peter Martyr begs Cranmer to fly, and then vanishes from the play. The Duke of Alva speaks eight unnecessary words, and Lord Petre some three sentences. Villa Garcia and Bedingfield only utter a few words; and Sir Robert Southwell appears but once to say that the palace-gates are shut. The introduction
The introduction of historical characters on the stage to do nothing, or nothing of importance, reminds one of Lord Burleigh's nod in The Critic.
But defective as we must consider Queen Mary as a drama, it has many beauties. Of these, one of the most striking is the language, which is the purest English in all its sweetness and strength. With admirable taste, the poet has avoided most of the peculiarities of diction in the Elizabethan writers, the “ay, marry,” and “by'r lady,” and “parlous springald," and all such phrases with which writers, like the author of Brakespear, interlard their dialogue, under the delusion that they are writing antique English. The language here is not, either in phrase or construction, a pedantic copy of the English of the time, and yet it is very nearly such English as More or Latimer might have used.
The gradual hardening of Mary's heart, and the deepening of the gloom around her, is given with wonderful power. So the character of the next most important personage, Cranmer, is drawn with much dramatic force ; yet perhaps his timidity and shrinking from the stake are a little too painfully insisted on. His weakness is historical ; yet the half-choked questions: “Will they burn me, Thirlby? They will surely burn me?” might have been spared us, and his courageous death have lost none of its force. The coarse, unprincipled, selfish Gardiner is well contrasted with the weak, but gentle and amiable Pole, whom we should have been glad to see brought out more fully. In Bonner, Mr. Tennyson has rather drawn the popular than the historical character. His official position as Bishop of London brought him more prominently into view in the persecution than the real master-persecutor, Gardiner, who was kept to his work by the Queen; and the alliterative title of “bloody Bonner" has always stuck in men's memories, though he was far less bloody than the Chancellor. Elizabeth again is but a mere sketch, yet a masterly one, and we would fain see more of her, as she was in her youth, the gay, amorous, but shrewd and politic princess. An admirable scene occurs between her and her kinsman, Edward Courtenay, the Earl of Devon, a foolish young popinjay. He finds Elizabeth alone, while he is turning over ambitious schemes. Court.
The Princess there?
A party in the state ; and then, who knows-
Eliz. Done what, Sir?
The Lady Suffolk and the Lady Lennox.
You, the heir presumptive.
I am utterly submissive to the Queen.
Is both my foe and yours : we should be friends.
Is no true bond of friendship.
Be the rough preface of some closer bond ?
Where, like a butterfly in a chrysalis
The Queen, and been rejected.
Half-faded ! but you, cousin, are fresh and sweet
As the first flower no bee has ever tasted. Eliz. Are
you the bee to try me? why but now
I called you butterfly. Court. You did me wrong.
I love not to be called a butterfly.
Why do you call me butterfly?
This dress was made me as the Earl of Devon
To take my seat in : looks it not right royal ?
I see you in the Tower again. Her Majesty
Hears you affect the Prince - prelates kneel to you -
A Courtenay of Devon, and her cousin.
She means to wed you. Folly, my good Lord.
Wills me to wed her.
Doth not as great a party in the State
Will you to wed me?
Eliz, You know to flatter ladies.
True matters of the heart.
Is no great party in the State as yet.
Lay my life in your hands. Can you be close ?
You shall be Queen.
I can not hear you.
Stand further off, or you may lose your head.
Nay, pout not, cousin.
(Enter LORD WILLIAM HOWARD.) Howard. Was that my Lord of Devon ? Do not you
Be seen in corners with my Lord of Devon.
To woo you, niece, he is dangerous every way.
The disaffected, heretics, reformers,