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TAE LADY's Trial.] This play was licensed by the master of the revels, and performed at the Cockpit, May 3d, 1638. It was printed in the following year, and apparently with so little care, that from many passages it is now scarcely possible to extract any sense.
Auria, a noble Genoese, among whose hairs “some messengers of time had took up lodgings," had wedded a lady whose only dowry was her youth, her beauty, and her virtues. Whatever this union might do for the happiness, it did little for the fortunes of Auria. Rich banquetings and revels contributed to embarrass his circumstances, and he proposes to retrieve his fortunes by an expedition against the Turkish pirates. In a scene of great tenderness he commits his young wife, Spinella, to the joint care of his uncle Trelcatio and her sister Castanna, while with his faithful but suspicious friend Aurelio, he deposites a sum of money to be disposed of as the occasions of Spinella may require.
Strong contrasts are the glory of dramatic writing : and if our old dramatists had not learned the secret from nature herself, they would have been taught it by their predecessors, the compilers of interludes and moralities, with whom nothing is more frequent than exhibitions of the strong contrasts between the good and evil appetites existing in the mind of man. Accordingly from this beautiful scene of conjugal tenderness the reader is presently transplanted to one of a very different nature; but which, though drawn up with infinite spirit, will hardly be understood at the first perusal without a little previous explanation. Levidolche, niece of Martino, a Genoese citizen, had married far below her condition in life, by giving her hand, while almost a mere girl, to one Benatzi, servant to a young lord of Genoa, by name Adurni. Disagreements.soon occur between these unequal yoke-fellows; and Levidolche, divorced from Benatzi, gives herself up entirely to the arms of her late husband's young master, between whom and herself there appears to have been a previous intimacy. Not content with this substitute for her late lawful enjoyments, this warm specimen of a southern sun soon courts a newer pleasure; and a letter, descriptive of her inclinations, is presently despatched to the object of them. But Malfato, the person thus sought, had already a deep-rooted and nobler attachment of his own, of which the only outward signs were estrangement from society and a deep melancholy; and bitter scorn and reproof are the only returns which these proffers of lighter love win from this gloomy but virtuous Genoese. The schemes of vengeance projected by the mortified Levidolche, as hot in anger as in love-the hand by which she endeavours to accomplish her purposes —and the unexpected results in which they terminatebelong to that part of the plot in which it would be unwise to forestall the reader's gratification. The letter which conveyed the tender of Levidolche's new loves had for its bearer Futelli, a dependant of Adurni, to whom he recites its contents, as well as the passionate terms in which it had been intrusted to him; but as a newer project was now labouring in that young lord's brain, these proofs of his mistress's inconstancy seem to excite little else in him than a feeling of curiosity as to the manner in which they will be received by his unwilling rival, Malfato. The scheme which now occupied the young Adurni's brain was a design upon the affections of the wife of the absent Auria; and accordingly one of the next scenes exhibits Spinella and her sister as the guests of the too susceptible Adurni. A rich banquet, soft music, whatever could gratify the senses had been prepared for the occasion-Adurni pours forth his protestations of love ; but the answers of the gentle, pureminded Spinella must soon have convinced him of the utter uselessness of continuing his pursuit, had not a stronger interruption occurred to awaken him to a sense of his criminal purpose. Auria, though absent, had left behind him a friend, as watchful to perceive any intended injury to his honour, as resolute and prompt to frustrate its accomplishment. This colloquy is accordingly broken in upon very suddenly by Aurelio, who upbraids Adurni with his treacherous hospitality, accuses Spinella of “loss to every brave respect,” announces the return of Auria to Genoa, and threatens them both with the consequences of their supposed guilt. Spinella, though conscious of innocence, breaks away, and becomes a fugitive none knows where.
The announcement of Aurelio was in one respect at least correct. Auria, with Ford's usual disregard to any thing like the unities of time and place, had returned home, & conqueror in the highest sense of the word; and a profusion of honours and rewards waits upon his brilliant services. He is appointed admiral of Genoa, a thousand ducats are presented to him from the public treasury, the government of Corsica (a month's stay being allowed before he proceeded to his office) is conferred upon him, and his name is solemnly enrolled among the worthies of his country. But these honours and rewards come too late. The star which had shed light and happiness on the more straitened fortunes of Auria had disappeared ; his home is desolate, and in the phrensied anguish of the moment his sword is almost drawn upon the friend to whose giddy zeal and rash indiscretion he considers himself indebted for the awkward situation in which he finds himself placed— his suspicions raised, but not so certified as to justify him in calling Adurni to account. Spinella, meantime, had taken refuge in the house of her cousin Malfato, that cousin who had long sighed for her in secret, but who, considering their nearness of blood as an inseparable bar to their union, had never told his tale of love, till the wrongs of Spinella and her present situation wring it from him, in language so delicately reserved, that even a woman's quick sense hardly perceives its meaning, till the narrative draws towards a close.—The justice finally done to the “pure and unflawed” virtues of Spinella—the means by which all “crooked surmises” on the part of Aurelio are removed—the dignified repentance exhibited by Adurni, contrasting strongly as it does with his former levity and rashness and the development of Auria's character, so new in an Italian husband, will be best learned from the drama itself.
The under-plot of the “ Lady's Trial” consists in the amusement derived from the fantastic imagination of Amoretta, daughter of the Genoese citizen Trelcatio. With more pride than fortune (“since she herself, with all her father's store, can hardly weigh above 400 ducats”) this lisping beauty discards a train of worthy suitors “only for that they are not dukes or counts." To work the silly maiden's reformation, two pretended lovers are, with her father's connivance, provided to play upon her feelings and propensities–Guzman, a solemn bombastic Spaniard, whose whole wealth appears to lie in his language, which certainly
is rich enough, and Fulgoso, a livelier coxcomb, whom the late Flemish wars had lifted from a sutler's hut into opulence, and into such gentility as opulence can confer. It is to be hoped that we may attribute to design, rather than to accident, that the humbler characters of the “ Lady's Trial” are at all events inoffensive. This was probably Ford's last play, and leads us to hope with Mr. Gifford, “that its author had at last suspected his want of genuine humour, and recollected, before he closed his theatrical career, that a dull medley of extravagance and impurity was ill calculated to supply the defect."