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THE BROKEN HEART.] There is no account to be found of the first appearance of this tragedy, or of its success on the stage; but it was given to the public in 1639.
The scene of the drama is laid in Sparta; and to persons acquainted with the Greek language, the names of many of the parties will at once afford some indication of the character which they sustain in it: the mournful Penthea, the passionate and fiery Orgilus, the_friendly Prophilus, Calantha, the flower of beauty, and Tecnicus, a master, not of manual, but of philosophic arts. In Sparta a series of deadly feuds had subsisted between the two powerful families of Thrasus and Crotolon, which the prudence of the reigning monarch Amyclas had endeavoured to allay, by promoting a marriage between Penthea, the only daughter of Thrasus, and Orgilus the son of Crotolon. The death of Thrasus, and the ill-subdued resentments of Penthea's brother, Ithocles, prevented the fulfilment of this wellintended scheme; and partly by threats, partly by stratagem, Penthea is induced to transfer her hand to Bassanes, a Spartan noble, richer and more powerful than Orgilus.
Never did a more unfortunate union take place. The quick passions of Bassanes presently light up into a very phrensy of jealousy. He suspects his former rival;
he suspects whoever accosts his wife: the very windows which admit the light of heaven and a gazer's glance are an object of suspicion to him : even the sweet charities of nature become criminal in his eyes, and an interview between his wife and her own brother is supposed by him to be for the most guilty of purposes. Those unnatural surmises and situations, from which modern refinement revolts, seem not to have been unpalatable to our ancestors, any more than the sudden changes and revolutions in character which take place in our old dramatists, and which nowhere exhibit themselves more strongly than in the strangely inconsistent character of Bassanes. His sudden transitions from the most frantic jealousy to all the impotence of childish fondness, from wanton outrage to whining and nauseous repentance, might, perhaps, as Mr. Gifford well observes, be excused by his situation ; but that he should be represented occasionally as shrewd, sentimental, and even impassioned ; as at one period with a mind habitually weak and unsound, and at another with a vigorous understanding, broken, indeed, and disjointed, but manifesting, even in its fragments, traits of original strength-makes it doubtful, as the same acute observer remarks, whether, when Ford sat down to write, he had fully imbodied in his own mind the person he intended to produce.
On Penthea's character all the powers of Ford's pathetic pen are lavished. With a high sense of moral indignation at the condition to which she sees herself reduced-her mind wedded to one, her body to another—a few complaints could not but escape the wretched wife of Bassanes; but these hectics of the moment past, Penthea exhibits such a fixed and hopeless misery, such a sense of loneliness and desolation, that the icy coldness of her heart gradually communicates itself to the reader; and nobly and even amiably as the character of Ithocles subsequently displays îtself, it is not at first without a secret satisfaction that the reader sees the spirits of vengeance gathering around the original author of this forlorn wreck of happiness and beauty. The wretchedness which the thoughtless cruelty of Ithocles had brought upon the hapless Penthea was now in part to become his own. In the flush of conquest and of victory his heart becomes accessible to the charms of the Spartan princess Calantha, and the pangs of an almost hopeless passion (for the hand of Calantha was designed for a more exalted rival) gradually let him into a sense of those miseries which he had inflicted on his virtuous sister. The efforts of this very sister, however, shed a temporary light on his marriage prospects. In a scene of unexampled beauty, the pathetic pleadings of Penthea win for her brother the love of Calantha; and the consent of her father, and even of his rival Nearchus, seem to establish the fortunes of Ithocles on the firmest basis.
But this transient eunshine is only preparatory to a' more complete reverse. The opening scene of the drama represents the first lover of Penthea as about to quit Sparta for ever as a voluntary exile. His travels, however, extended no farther than the abode of the philosopher Tecnicus, which adjoined the gardens of the royal palace, and to which, conveniently enough for the plot of the drama, none
* Except some near in court, or bosom student
From Tecnicus his oratory.” In these retreats and in a scholar's disguise Orgilus has an opportunity of encountering his sister and his first love, Penthea; and an interview with the latter, bitterly painful to his feelings, awakens schemes of vengeance in his breast, which he leaves his present seclusion to prosecute. With the deepest dissimulation he apparently reconciles himself to Ithocles; he approves of a marriage between his sister Euphranea and Prophilus, the bosom friend of Ithocles, and even undertakes to provide a "slight device” by way of entertainment for their ensuing nuptials. The dark and prophetic intimations of the “ book-man” Tecnicus prepare the reader for the various catastrophes which are now impending. The first blow falls on the wretched wife of Bassanes. Penthea's reason sinks under the melancholy of her cruel situation ; yet even in the wreck of sense her feelings point to the author of her miseries, and the ravings which precede her dissolution stimulate the mind of Orgilus, already sufficiently excited for plans of vengeance. What a disordered mind was doing for Penthea age and infirmity were working for the good king Amyclas. Even in death, how. ever, the kind-hearted monarch is willing to see gayety, about him; and the recent nuptials of Euphranea and Prophilus afford a decent pretext for revelry and sport. The third victim is the self-condemned repentant Ithocless He dies by the hand of Orgilus, and the deadly vengeance of his murderer contrives that the fatal deed shall take place by the side of the lifeless body of his sister.
While the work of death is thus going on in other apartments, the state-rooms of the palace are thrown open,
and there all is music, mirth, and revelry.
They dance the first change; during u 'ich Armostes enters.
Arm. [whispers CALANTHA.] The king your father's dead.
They DANCE the second changes
Cal. Beshrew thee!
They DANCE the third change.
Enter ORGILUS. Org. [whispers Cal.] Brave Ithocles is murder'd, mur
der'd cruelly. Cal. How dull this music sounds! Strike up more
The last change.
The death of Amyclas had left Calantha queen of Sparta, and her first act of sovereignty is to decree the death of the murderer Orgilus. One mercy is extended to him in return for the honourable mention which, even in the midst of vengeance, he had made of his victim. He is allowed a choice of death, and he prefers that of being his own executioner, and bleeding himself to death. If Orgilus had allowed the chance of a coward's name to come between him and his mode of vengeance in the murder of Ithocles, it must be owned that himself “ shakes hands with time" in a spirit of the noblest constancy and resolution.
One character yet remained to be disposed of; and to the development of that character, and the funeral rites of Ithocles, the concluding scene of this pathetic drama is devoted. “No audience of the present day,” as Mr. Gifford justly observes, “would support a sight so dreadfully fantastic as the continuance of the revels amid such awful intelligence as reaches Calantha in quick succession