Page images


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 well-intended 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 phrenzy 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 no where 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 embodied 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 itself, 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 sunshine 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 had access

“ 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

« PreviousContinue »