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affected women. Morose, outraged by the behavior of his bride and her friends, seeks a divorce. The barber and captain, disguised by True-wit, expound the canonical impediments to him. Determined to escape the 'wedlock noose' at any cost, Morose lies in regard to the twelfth, but is defeated by Epicæne's refusal to give him up. The two knights then bear witness that Morose is a deceived husband, and released by the tenth impediment; but the lawyer's interpretation of the clause defeats him again. Finally, Dauphine promises to release his disgraced relation from his marriage contract for certain money considerations. The uncle yields, and the nephew fulfils his promise, to the astonishment of his confederates, by pulling off the disguise of the talkative bride and alleged mistress of Sir John Daw and Sir Amorous La-Foole, and showing Epicæne to be a boy. Such a tale, with its subordinate episodes of wooing, playing pranks, and revenging practical jokes, is enough to make 'the mighty chests of the companions of Drake and Essex shake with uncontrollable laughter’i. There is, of course, a certain disregard of probabilities, but this fact obtrudes itself little because of the relation of the episodes to the important matter of Morose's marriage. Moreover, from this charge no comedy is free which resorts to disguise, although in this casebecause of the prevailing custom of wearing masks among fashionable women-less exception can be taken. Nor from the same charge are comedies free which are built with the form and proportion of classic models, as is eminently true of Epicæne.
Corneille and Racine never obeyed the unities more closely than does Jonson in this comedy, As for timethe play opens as Clerimont dresses himself for the day, surely no earlier than ten o'clock, and ends two or three hours after dinner, at latest three o'clock in the afternoon. As for action-the outline just given of the plot shows how
1 Taine, Eng. Lit. I. 343.
connected and complete it is, despite its complexity, and how the numerous episodes gain an air of naturalness by the fact that they occur on a day which uncle and nephew have used every contrivance to bring about. As for place -though Dryden is in error when he says the action 'lies all within the compass of two houses, and after the first act in one', yet unity of place is carefully observed. One scene is in Clerimont's lodgings, one in Daw's, one at Mrs. Otter's house, one in a lane close by, and the remaining scenes are in the house of Morose. But the five places are in the immediate neighbourhood of one another : Epicæne is lodg'd i' the next street’to Morose, 'right ouer against the barbers; where Sir IOHN DAW lyes' 3. Mrs. Otter's home is ' but ouer the way, hard by'4.
The classic rules of proportion are observed, no less than the unities. Act 1 is an admirable protasis, introducing character after character, but revealing not at all the direction the action will take from the given situation. From the beginning of Act 2 to the meeting of the bride, Act 3. 4, is the epitasis. The catastasis, embroiling Morose in many new difficulties, grows to a climax in the last scene of Act 5, where the catastrophe occurs, one ‘so admirable, that, when it is done, no one of the audience would think the poet could have missed it; and yet it was concealed so much before the last scene that any
would sooner have entered into your thoughts 5.'
The purpose of Epicæne 'to profit and delight's is as classical as the structure. Jonson's method of achieving the first is by making ridiculous the follies of his contemporaries, and the second, by using interesting story, comic episode, and witty dialogue. The subjects of satire are the frivolous court ladies, the vulgar citizen's wife, the noise-hating misanthrope, the amorous knight, the poetaster, 1 Essays, ed. Ker, 1. 83.
Epicæne 1. 2. 28. s ibid. 1, 2. 59.
4 ibid. 3. 3. 67 Dryden, Essays, ed. Ker, 1. 86.
Epicæne, ANOTHER 3. е
the barber, incapable of holding his tongue, and the beargarden captain. Jonson resorts not only to dramatic satire, and renders his characters contemptible by their actions and words, but to expository satire as well ; and all the characters to a slight degree, but especially True-wit, are mouth-pieces for the dramatist's invective. Several follies are exploited in a single character, and whipped, if a lash be handy. The follies and the punishment excite laughter rather than sympathy and pity, so much so, that the purpose of delighting the spectators seems more amply fulfilled than the purpose of profiting them. This is true of the allotments of reward, as well as of punishment, it is the clever, not the honest, man that wins his end : Cutbeard gets the lease of his house, though he has deceived Morose at every turn; True-wit and Clerimont by unparalleled prevarication are always victorious, until Dauphine's coup in Act 5; poor Daw and La-Foole are punished, not for immorality, but because you may take their vnderstandings in a pursenet'. Even the main objects of satire, Morose and the ‘ladies-collegiates', are made contemptible with emphasis less on moral than intellectual shortcomings. Though both are pointed out, it is the social monstrousness of the isolated misanthrope on the one hand, and the loose-lived women on the other, that Jonson judges, and the judgment is made with a bitterness engendered by his own surly nature, and inherited from the scourgers of society in classic times. This bitterness of tone neither the gaiety of incident nor of dialogue quite counteracts. Epicæne contains no distinctly moral personage. Even True-wit, the pedant, the expositor of morals, delights in lying, and 'invents from mere phlegm’. This comes, not because Jonson lacks a conscience, but because his is an imperturbable intellectual conscience', which enjoys less showing virtue admirable than showing vice laughable and contemptible. In all his comic characters, even those in Epicæne, where on the whole the satire is lighter than is his custom, Jonson judges humanity first according to an intellectual and social standard, and last by a moral one.
Jonson's lack of sympathy with his comic victim is so complete in the punishment of Morose that the comic element is in danger of being lost, as it is lost in the punishment of Shylock, and in that of Sir Giles Overreach, who, in Massinger's New Way to Pay Old Debts, fails in a scheme to circumvent his nephew, and goes mad. Certainly the conception of the comic changes from generation to generation, and fewer things, at least very different things, challenge laughter, as the dignity of the individual comes to be recognized. But comic punishment always defeats itself when it goes beyond a deserved and temporary humiliation and passes into the realm of the irretrievable. In the case of Morose, it is not so much the fact as the spirit of the punishment which is harsh and unfitted for comedy. “I'll not trouble you, till you trouble me with your funerall, which I care not how soone it come. If, instead of this derision, Jonson could have sent a smile of sympathy after the defeated old man, the effect would have been happier, but it would have been antagonistic to the satiric nature of his genius? Moreover, his very method of character-creation barred out such an end. He had a scholar's curiosity in psychology, and looked at men as governed in their actions by some peculiar attribute of character. Therefore he constructed a comic personage by choosing a general idea or ruling passion, adding other qualities, and bestowing upon it a typical name. So logically made a product is apt to be without soul; its very name lends it an air of unreality, and the author regards it impersonally, as an instrument to respond to his touch. It is trite to say that Jonson lays himself open to criticism in these points, and that only in his greatest creations, by sheer force of will, has he overcome the difficulties of his analytic method and his palpably unsympathetic attitude, and, in spite of both, created beings who live. He has done so in Volpone and in Sir Epicure Mammon. Has he done so in Morose ? Some critics, the greatest among them Coleridge and Taine, answer in the negative, while others, Dryden and Gifford, answer in the affirmative.
1 Cf. the punishment
Taine denominates Morose 'a mania gathered from the old sophists, a babbling with horror of noise. ... The poet has the air of a doctor who has undertaken to record exactly all the desires of speech, all the necessities of silence, and to record nothing else 1' Taine would object, then, that Morose remains an abstract idea or 'humor' throughout the play. Coleridge asserts that the defect in Morose lies in this—that the accident is not a prominence growing out of, and nourished by, the character which still circulates in it, but that the character, such as it is, rises out of, or rather consists in, the accident. Taine's objection is easily answered by showing Morose to be not so attenuated a character as he believes. In addition to hatred of noise and love of his own voice, Morose is an egotist, a miser, a tyrant with his servants, and a victim to senile love. Coleridge's criticism pierces to the root of the matter, but it, too, is answered by showing that Morose's sensitiveness to noise is simply an outgrowth of exaggerated misanthropy. The story of the comedy makes this plain. A nephew needs money; his uncle has plenty, but refuses to help him; the nephew then schemes to extort money from the uncle, not only a present sum, but the whole inheritance, which is his by right; he succeeds. The nephew's purpose is attained by playing, first on his latent susceptibility to youthful charm, and then on his horror of noise.
Dryden saw that Morose's physical aversion to noise was due to deeper causes, and wrote: 'We may consider him first to be naturally of a delicate hearing, as many are, to 1 Eng. Lit. 1. 325.
Literary Remains 2. 279.