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literary value,—witness, for example, Landor's Imaginary
Conversations ;' but it is not drama. Nor can these requirements be evaded or relaxed merely on the plea that a drama is intended for private reading, not for the stage. There is no distinction in principle between written and acted drama; the distinction lies in proportion, detail, and mechanism.
To the class of dramas intended for reading only we must refer both the poems before us. · Queen Mary, it is true, has been produced on the stage, but only after such adaptation and excision as materially to change the face of the poem, the length of which alone precludes the idea that it was originally meant for the theatre; while in regard to the later drama internal evidence points to the same conclusion. therefore dismiss the idea of suitability for the stage in estimating the two dramatic poems before us. It may, in the first instance, however, be of some interest, in considering this new venture of the Poet Laureate, to note whether, and in what degree, his earlier poems gave any indications of dramatic expression. In the earliest
volumes this can hardly be said to be perceptible at all. Even the poems in which the element of human feeling is perceptible, belong to the idyllic type, the figures are merely additions to the landscape. But as we follow the poet through his subsequent productions we find distinct indications of an increasing interest in the definition of human character in a manner more or less tinged with dramatic power. It is true thatMaud,'the poem which, fantastic as it is in design, contains some of the keenest pathos to be found in all Tennyson's works, is completely subjective, in spite of its utterance through the mouth of the principal actor in the story, but Maud herself is a real flesh-and-blood heroine; and in the Idylls 'the figures of Lancelot, Elaine, Guinevere, and Vivien, stand out with a degree of realism and distinctness which places them in a very different category from the fantastic shadows that hover in the retinue of · The Princess.' Even in these portraits, however (and still more in some of the later additions to the Arthurian · Idylls '), there is too much of that spirit of antiquarianism which, in the case of Scott, Carlyle stigmatised as the buff-jerkin business, and which tends to efface the real humanity of the stories, just as the figures in Cattermole's drawings are lost amid old armour and medieval bric-à-brac. It is a welcome contrast to turn to · Enoch Arden.' In this and its companion poem, " Aylmer's Field,' a far more steady and concentrated light is thrown upon the personages of the narrative---a more successful effort is made to realise in dividual character. But even these pieces are surpassed by the Northern Farmer,' a piece of character-painting for which we can hardly find a match in any non-dramatic English poet save Chaucer. That is a typical poem, which can never Iose its interest; and in reference to the present subject it is certainly not insignificant.
The nature of the subject chosen is a more important factor in the success or non-success of drama than in most other forms of poetry. We say chosen,' since few dramas of the higher order have been written on a completely imaginative basis, and the adoption of historic characters and incidents has been so frequent a resource as to indicate a general persuasion among dramatic poets that their business is not so much invention as the exhibition in action of characters which, when merely read of in history, come home but faintly and partially to our imagination. When the subject chosen is not purely pre-historic or traditional, the relation preserved between the historical facts and the dramatic colouring, as well as the inherent interest of the facts themselves, may have an important influence for or against the success of the poet. The extent of this influence depends of course, in some measure, on the proximity of the date of events, the greater or less fulness of the historic record. When dealing with a period and
personages which, however historic, are distant in point of time and imperfectly recorded, the dramatist has almost the free scope of an original inventor, with merely the main lines of his plot or fable laid down for him. The same freedom cannot be attempted in regard to events nearer to the poet's own time, or of which the records are exceptionally full, without leading to such a conflict with known and accepted truths as to produce, instead of a stronger realisation, a disagreeable impression of trick and unreality. As, for instance, in the silly attempt made some little time since to cook the characters of Charles I. and Cromwell, for purposes of stage effect, into what every tolerably instructed schoolboy knew to be an absurd contradiction of historical fact.
Looking at the matter in the first instance from this point of view, it must be confessed that Mr. Tennyson saddled himself with great, perhaps almost insuperable, difficulties in his selection of the subject for his first essay in drama. He adopted a period of English history of peculiar and vivid interest certainly, and to which increased attention has been attracted of late years by the most brilliant and eloquent of contemporary historians. He was thus tied not only to the main incidents but even to the details of history, and compelled to take them as they came, so as not to clash with the facts which had recently been exhibited in a stronger light than ever to the public. And so far from in any way attempting to mask this paraphrase of history, the poet has emphasised it by implicitly adopting the readings of the historian, not only as to the incidents, but as to the characters and language of the principal personages. The speech of Pole at Whitehall, for instance, and that of Cranmer in St. Mary's Church, are simply versificatious (sonietimes so close as to be merely the original words cut up into blank verse) of the speeches recorded in contemporary annals; and though it was scarcely possible to treat them otherwise if introduced at all, it may be questioned whether it was worth while to set before the reader so many pages of what he can read elsewhere. The same remark would apply to Mr. Swinburne's Bothwell,' which consists of the contemporary records of our Scottish Queen Mary turned into very fine blank verse. The stirring character of the times selected hardly helps the dramatist much, for drama must deal with personal character, not merely with the clash of interests and events considered at large; and though few passages in our history are of more interest than the struggle between intellectual liberty and intolerance in Mary's reign, and though the intermingling of the Spanish empire in the affairs of England gives to the whole a large political significance, yet such conditions are matter for historic and epic rather than dramatic treatment, unless we can find a preeminent and concentrated interest in some of the leading characters in the conflict. But none of the characters in this eventful history (with the exception of Elizabeth, whose place in the poem is necessarily secondary) would have played a great part in the world but for accidents of birth or circumstance. Philip was a dull machine of hereditary tyranny; Cranmer and Pole were weak men, unable to comprehend the whirlwind of conflicting forces in which they were involved, still less to ride upon it and direct it. Mary had, after a fashion, more individuality of character than any of them; but her character was bent, distorted, awry, to an extent which makes the contemplation of it anything but agreeable; nor is there any distinctly predominant motive in the drama-any result towards which it tends-adequate to compel our interest in despite of the unpromising nature of the materials from which it is constructed.
The poem, however, unquestionably opens well. The first scene in a drama should have the effect of at once bringing us en rapport with the scene and circumstances in which the action is laid, and in this respect Mr. Tennyson's first scene is so successful and so dramatically suitable as to raise considerable
expectation as to what is to follow. We are in the streets of Aldgate, richly decorated,' waiting to see the newly crowned Queen pass
in state with her sister Elizabeth. The disturbed state of the times, the nature of the political and theological questions which are being tossed from mouth to mouth, are clearly implied in the uncouth talk of the crowd who have been bidden by the marshalman to shout for Queen Mary, 'the lawful and • legitimate daughter of Harry the Eighth, and who are puzzled by the hard word legitimate,' whether it means 'bastard' or 'true-born,' and appeal to their companion Nokes as to whether Parliament cannot make every true man of us • a bastard : ' Nokes being one of the older and more learned heads, having been born in the tail end of old Harry the • Seventh, before bastard-making began,' as he adds with a rather audacious stretch of the privilege of a laudator temporis acti. Nokes has no notion of Parliament interfering with his birthright; he can't argue upon it, but he and his old woman • 'ud burn upon it'-burning being a fashion of the day. The crowd, however, learn of a coming change in some other fashions, in the language in which they are rebuked by the marshalman— He swears by the Rood! whew!' Most suggestive of all, perhaps, are the short phrases put into the mouth of Old Nokes, the white-headed father, who asks whether it is King EJward or King Richard who is passing, and on catching the name of Mary, falls on his knees, saying, the blessed Mary's passing.' The significance of this little incident in carrying us back to the time when the worship of the blessed Mary' was the undisturbed religious faith of the land, before all these broils and heresies had entered it, ought not to be overlooked ; quietly as it is done, it is an admirable touch; and every word in the scene has reference to the situation.
In a lesser degree the saine sort of merit belongs to the third scene, where Father Bourne is addressing the crowd from St. Paul's Cross, and we are introduced to Noailles, the intriguing French ambassador, whose wire-pulling, however, is rather too palpable for probability; and to Courtenay, just liberated from the Tower in honour of Mary's accession, an easy youth in a general flutter of good spirits, and ready to do anything that anybody tells him. His subsequent conversation with Noailles suggests a future complication, and is not otherwise than characteristic; but of the general delineation of Courtenay's character we may say here (as it will not be necessary to return to it) that his folly and feather-headedness' seem somewhat overdrawn : he is a puppet who might be described, in Thackeray's phrase, as very lively on the wires,' but almost
too silly, in Tennyson's delineation, to have been even temporarily regarded in public opinion as a desirable sharer of the throne. *
But when (to turn back for a moment) we pass from the first scene to the second, there is a drop indeed. The scene introduces Cranmer, and, considering the space he subsequently occupies in the poem, should be reckoned of some importance. He is discovered reciting to himself a list of bishops who, 'they say,' are flying from their sees, with the conclusion that
Hooper, Ridley, Latimer will not fly.' However, at the word “fly' Peter Martyr, who has evidently been listening at the door for his cue, enters like an echo• Fly, Cranmer!' and the rest of the scene is taken up by his visitor recounting to him all he has done to bring on him the wrath of Mary, in a manner which can only be defended on the principle laid down in The Critic – how else are the · audience to know anything about it?' The one line in the whole of this scene which can be said to have character about it is Cranmer's last exclamation
' I thank my God it is too late to fly!' which is an epitome of Cranmer's mental attitude and temperament, as far as we can gather it from history. His place in the present drama it is not easy to understand. The fourth act is entirely devoted to him, and the scene of, or rather before, his martyrdom, is worked out at greater length than any other point in the piece. But then we hear and see nothing of him in the interim, nor has his history and fate any such necessary connexion with the destiny of Mary as to account for the important place assigned to it. As a martyr he was only one among many, and it cannot be said that his execution operated specially, more than any other, in bringing about that popular hatred against the Queen which is one of the
leading elements in her misery and downfall in the fifth act. The link between his fortunes and those of the Queen lies in the fact that he was the abettor of her mother's divorce. This, which after all is a connexion only a parte ante, appears to be in the poet's
* In Sir Aubrey De Vere's · Mary Tudor' (a drama which may in some points compare, not without interest, and not disadvantageously, with the work of the later and greater poet), Courtenay is represented as not so much a fool as a careless gibing man of the world, indifferent and audacious; which is perhaps historically an error on the other side, though on the whole more dramatically effective.