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In the tragedy the incident is exactly followed. Upon parting with her husband the dissembling of Alice is heart-sickening, but the scene is still managed naturally and consistently.
There is no division of this play into acts and scenes, but it is probable that the first act ends with the departure of Arden for London. Another agent appears upon the scene, whose motives and position are thus described in the Chronicle :'
"After this his wife fell in acquaintance with one Greene, of Feversham, servant to Sir Anthony Ager, from which Greene Master Arden had wrested a piece of ground on the back side of the Abbey of Feversham, and there had great blows and great threats passed betwixt them about that matter. Therefore she, knowing that Greene hated her husband, began to practise with him how to make him away; and concluded that, if he could get any that would kill him, he should have ten pounds for a reward.” The manner in which the guilty wife practises with this revengeful man is skilfully wrought out in the tragedy. She sympathises with his supposed wrongs, she tells a tale of her own injuries, and then she proceeds to the open avowal of her purpose. Greene is to procure agents to murder her husband, and his reward, besides money, is to be the restoration of his lands. She communicates her proceedings to Mosbie, but
This Greene, having doings for his master Sir Anthony Ager, had occasion to go up to London, where his master then lay, and, having some charge up with him, desired one Bradshaw, a goldsmith of Feversham, that was his neighbour, to accompany him to Gravesend, and he would content him for his pains. This Bradshaw, being a very honest man, was content, and rode with him. And when they came to Rainhamdown they chanced to see three or four servingmen that were coming from Leeds; and therewith Bradshaw espied, coming up the hill from Rochester, one Black Will, a terrible cruel ruffian, with a sword and a buckler, and another with a great staff on his neck. Then said Bradshaw to Greene, We are happy that there cometh some company from Leeds, for here cometh up against us as murdering a knave as any is in England: if it were not for them, we might chance hardly escape without loss of our money and lives. Yea, thought Greene (as he after confessed), such a one is for my purpose; and therefore asked, Which is he? Yonder is he, quoth Bradshaw, the same that hath the sword and buckler; his name is Black Will. How know you that? said Greene. Bradshaw answered, I knew him at Boulogne, where we both served; he was a soldier and I was Sir Richard Cavendish's man; and there he committed many robberies and heinous murders on such as travelled betwixt Boulogne and France. By this time the other company of servingmen came to them, and they, going altogether, met with Black Will and his fellow. The servingmanded of him whither he went? He answered, men knew Black Will, and, saluting him, deBy his blood (for his use was to swear almost at every word), I know not, nor care not; but set up my staff, and even as it falleth I go. If thou, quoth they, will go back again to Gravesend, we will give thee thy supper. By his blood, said he, I care not; I am content; have with you and so he returned again with them. Then 'Black Will took acquaintance of Brad
shaw, saying, Fellow Bradshaw, how dost thou ? Bradshaw, unwilling to renew acquaintance, or to have aught to do with so shameless a ruffian, said, Why, do ye know me? Yea, that I do, quoth he; did not we serve in Boulogne together? But ye must pardon me, quoth Bradshaw, for I have forgotten you. Then Greene talked with Black Will, and said, When ye have supped, come to mine host's house at such a sign, and I will give you the sack and sugar. By his blood, said he, I thank you; I will come and take it, I warrant you. According to his promise he came, and there they made good cheer. Then Black Will and Greene went and talked apart from Bradshaw, and there concluded together, that if he would kill Master Arden he should have ten pounds for his labour. Then he answered, By his wounds, that I will if I may know him. Marry, to-morrow in Paul's I will show him thee, said Greene. Then they left their talk, and Greene bad him go home to his host's house. Then Greene wrote a letter to Mistress Arden, and among other things put in these words,-We have got a man for our purpose; we may thank my brother Bradshaw. Now Bradshaw, not knowing anything of this, took the letter of him, and in the morning departed home again, and delivered the letter to Mistress Arden, and Greene and Black Will went up to London at the tide."
The scene in the play seizes upon the principal points of this description, but the variations are those of a master. Bradshaw, it seems, is a goldsmith, and he is involved in a charge of buying some stolen plate. He thus describes the man who sold it him, and we can scarcely avoid thinking that here is the same power, though in an inferior degree, which produced the description of the apothecary in 'Romeo and Juliet: '—
"Will. What manner of man was he?
Brad. A watchet satin doublet all to-torn:
A livery cloak, but all the lace was off; 'T was bad, but yet it serv'd to hide the plate." One of the sources of the enchaining interest of this drama is to be found in the
repeated escapes of Arden from the machinations of his enemies. We have seen the poison fail, and now the ruffian, whom no ordinary circumstances deterred from the commission of his purpose, is to be defeated by an unforeseen casualty. The 'Chronicle' says,
"At the time appointed Greene showed Black Will Master Arden walking in Paul's. Then said Black Will, What is he that goeth after him? Marry, said Greene, one of his men. By his blood, said Black Will, I will kill them both. Nay, said Greene, do not so, for he is of counsel with us in this matter. By his blood, said he, I care not for that; I will kill them both. Nay, said Greene, in any wise do not so. Then Black Will thought to have killed Master Arden in Paul's churchyard, but there were so many gentlemen that accompanied him to dinner, that he missed of his purpose."
The dramatist presents the scene much more strikingly to the senses, in a manner which tells us something of the inconveniences of old London. The ruffians are standing before a shop; an apprentice enters saying
"'T is very late, I were best shut up my stall, for here will be old* filching when the press comes forth of Paul's."
The stage direction which follows is:-"Then lets he down his window, and it breaks Black Will's head." The accident disturbs the immediate purpose of the ruffians. The character of Black Will is drawn with great force, but there is probably something of a youthful judgment in making the murderer speak in high poetry: :
"I tell thee, Greene, the forlorn traveller, Whose lips are glued with summer-scorching heat,
Ne'er long'd so much to see a running brook As I to finish Arden's tragedy."
The other ruffian is Shakebag, and in the same way he speaks in the language which a youthful poet scarcely knows how to avoid
summoning from the depths of his own imagination:
"I cannot paint my valour out with words: But give me place and opportunity. Such mercy as the starven lioness, When she is dry suck'd of her eager young, Shows to the prey that next encounters her, On Arden so much pity would I take." The propriety of putting poetical images in the mouths of the low agents of crime cannot exactly be judged by looking at such passages apart from that by which they are surrounded. There is no comedy in Arden of Feversham.' The characters and events are lifted out of ordinary life of purpose by the poet. The ambition of a young writer may have carried this too far, but the principle upon which he worked was a right one. He aimed to produce something higher than a literal copy of every-day life, and this constitutes the essential distinction between 'Arden of Feversham' and the Yorkshire Tragedy,' as between Shakspere and Heywood, and Shakspere and Lillo. In the maturity of his genius Shakspere did not vulgarize even his murderers. At the instant before the assault upon Banquo, one of the guilty instruments of Macbeth says, in the very spirit of poetry,—
"The west yet glimmers with some streaks of day:
Now spurs the lated traveller apace,
To gain the timely inn."
Early in the drama, as we have seen, Alice proposes to her husband's servant to make away with his master. The circumstance has come to the knowledge of Greene, who, after the defeat of the plan through the apprentice's shutter, has to devise with his ruffians another mode of accomplishing Arden's death. The 'Chronicle' thus tells the story :
"Greene showed all this talk to Master Arden's man, whose name was Michael, which ever after stood in doubt of Black Will, lest he should kill him. The cause that this Michael conspired with the rest against his master was, for that it was determined that he should marry a kinswoman of Mosbie's. After this, Master Arden lay at a certain parsonage which he held in London, and therefore his man Michael and
Greene agreed that Black Will should come in the night to the parsonage, where he should find the doors left open that he might come in and murder Master Arden."
The scene in which Michael consents to this proposal, with great reluctance, is founded upon the above text. We have a scene of Arden and Franklin, before they go to bed, in which Arden is torn with apprehension of the dishonour of his wife. There is great power here; but there is something of a higher order in the conflicting terrors of Michael when he is left alone, expecting the arrival of the pitiless murderer:—
Conflicting thoughts, encamped in my breast,
Insulting o'er thee with a peck of oaths, Whilst thou, submissive pleading for relief, Art mangled by their ireful instruments! Methinks I hear them ask where Michael is, And pitiless Black Will cries, 'Stab the slave; The peasant will detect the tragedy.' The wrinkles of his foul death-threatening face Gape open wide like graves to swallow men: My death to him is but a merriment; And he will murder me to make him sport.He comes! he comes! Master Franklin, help; Call up the neighbours, or we are but dead." This in a young poet would not only be promise of future greatness, but it would be the greatness itself. The conception of this scene is wholly original. The guilty coward, driven by the force of his imagination into an agony of terror so as to call for help, and thus defeat the plot in which he had been an accomplice, is a creation of real genius. The
transition of his fears, from the picture of the murder of his master to that of himself, has a profundity in it which we seldom find except in the conceptions of one dramatist. The narrative upon which the scene is founded offers us a mere glimpse of this most effective portion of the story :
"This Michael, having his master to bed, left open the doors according to the appointment. His master, then being in bed, asked him if he had shut fast the doors, and he said Yea; but yet afterwards, fearing lest Black Will would kill him as well as his master, after he was in bed himself he rose again, and shut the doors, bolting them fast."
In the drama the ruffians arrive, and are of course disappointed of their purpose by the closing of the doors. They swear revenge against Michael, but he subsequently makes his peace by informing them that his master is departing from London, and that their purpose may be accomplished on Rainhamdown.
The scene now changes, with a skilful dramatic management, to exhibit to us the guilty pair at Feversham. Mosbie is alone, and he shows us the depth of his depravity in the following soliloquy:
"Mosbie. Disturbed thoughts drive me
And dry my marrow with their watchfulness;
Doth check the tender blossoms in the spring.
My golden time was when I had no gold;
*Stary-stirring. Our word star is supposed to be derived from the Anglo-Saxon stir-an, to move.
The way I seek to find where pleasure dwells
To make my harvest nothing but pure corn;
Who, when they see me sit in Arden's seat,
And then am I sole ruler of mine own:
You have supplanted Arden for my sake,
[Here enters ALICE."
The unhappy woman has already begun to pay the penalty of her sin: she has moments of agonizing remorse, not enduring, however, but to be swept away again by that tempest of passion which first hurried her into guilt. The following scene is, we think, unmatched published as early as 1592, perhaps written by any other writer than Shakspere in a play several years earlier. It might have been written by Webster or Ford, but they belong to a considerably later period. It possesses in a most remarkable degree that quiet strength which is the best evidence of real power. Except in Shakspere, it is a strength for which we shall vainly seek in the accredited writings of any dramatic poet who, as far as we know, had written for the stage some ten years before the close of the sixteenth century ;
"Mosbie. Ungentle Alice, thy sorrow is my
Thou know'st it well; and 't is thy policy
To forge distressful looks to wound a breast
Where lies a heart that dies when thou art sad:
It is not love that loves to anger love.
Alice. It is not love that loves to murder love.
Mosbie. How mean you that?
Alice. Thou know'st how dearly Arden loved me.
Mosbie. And then
Alice. And then conceal the rest, for 't is too bad,
Lest that my words be carried with the wind, And publish'd in the world to both our shames !
I pray thee, Mosbie, let our spring-time wither;
Our harvest else will yield but loathsome weeds:
Forget, I pray thee, what has pass'd betwixt
For now I blush and tremble at the thoughts. Mosbie. What, are you chang'd?
Alice. Ay! to my former happy life again;
Ah, Mosbie! 't is thou hast rifled me of that,
And if you stand so nicely at your fame,
To take a wanton giglot by the left.
I left the marriage of an honest maid, Whose dowry would have weigh'd down all thy wealth,
Whose beauty and demeanour far exceeded thee:
This certain good I lost for changing bad,
Thou art not fair; I view'd thee not till now: Thou art not kind; till now I knew thee not: And now the rain hath beaten off thy gilt, Thy worthless copper shows thee counterfeit. It grieves me not to see how foul thou art, But mads me that ever I thought thee fair. Go, get thee gone, a copesmate for thy hinds; I am too good to be thy favourite.
Alice. Ay, now I see, and too soon find it
Which often hath been told me by my friends,
Why speak'st thou not? What silence ties thy tongue?
Thou hast been sighted as the eagle is,
And I deserve not Mosbie's muddy looks;
Mosbie. O fie, no; I am a base artificer; My wings are feather'd for a lowly flight; Mosbie, fie! no, not for a thousand poundMake love to you-why 't is unpardonable― We beggars must not breathe where gentles are !
Alice. Sweet Mosbie is as gentle as a king, And I too blind to judge him otherwise : Flowers sometimes spring in fallow lands, Weeds in gardens; roses grow on thorns: So, whatsoe'er my Mosbie's father was, Himself is valued gentle by his worth.
Mosbie. Ah! how you women can insinuate