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This tragedy was dedicated to the_ Earl of Chester-' field, who was the author's patron, and who, it issupposed, assisted him in the composition of the work.
There are two tragedies under the title of“ The Earl of Essex ;” but the following, by Henry Jones, brought upon the stage in 1753, was most favourably received, and became very attractive.
The dramatist, who founds his plot and incidents on history, generally adds, from his invention, those scenes, which best describe the power of love. Here it has been otherwise, at least in the character of the queen; whom every distinguished historian has portrayed as more enamoured of her favourite Essex, than even this play will exhibit.
- The character of Essex is sustained with greater
accuracy ;—the fiery quality of his temper; his al-_
tcrnate pride and humility, daring and servility in presence of his royal mistress; with all his boisterous vows of loyalty to her; and tender oaths of love to another.
The few characters which compose this drama, all claim an interest with the reader, were it but from their mere names. The great Sir Walter Raleigh is
of the least importance among the dramatic group; and yet his appearance causes an association of ideas, that makes every line he utters valuable, for the sake of his reputation, and his impending misfortunes.
The admirers of Shakspeare will likewise feel a double concern in the fate of the Lord Southampton, whilst they recollect, that this zealous friend of Essex was the noble protector and benefactor of England's most illustrious bard.
The name of Burleigh sounds high as that of Elizabeth's, for their glory was equal—but the name alone attaches to the present character; for the great Cecil, by the wisdom of whose measures England was, at the period of this play, in its highest prosperity, died about two years previous to the death of Essex; and this, his son, became the unhappy earl's bitterest foe.
Not even a female character is here introduced from fiction.-—Rutland and Nottingham are both well known in history; and though the cruel incident of the ring is not attested by any historian, it is minutely related by them all.
But whether her majesty gave the unfortunate hero of this tragedy a ring or not, it is most certain that she gave him a blow; and of all the proofs of love which she bestowed upon him, this surely cannot bc numbered amongst the least.
It is extraordinary, that the present play, having introduced this singular occurrence, should omit the particular sentence which Essex uttered on the memora
ble occasion.—-History says, that he laid his hand on his sword, and told Elizabeth, “ he would not have taken such treatment from her father, Henry the Eighth.”—But, as a man of true gallantry, the earl should not‘ have felt himself oflended at a woman's -anger; which experience must have told him, was the certain mark of concealed tenderness. His reply had ‘been most excellent, had it been delivered with smiles instead of frowns: but to have recourse to his sword, was acting like a novice in the art of love; and resenting an aflront, when he should have acknowledged a favour.
As that love, which is expressed by indirect means, has often the greatest hold upon the attention and sympathy of the spectator; so, many an auditor and reader will feel more interest in the -restrained affection of Elizabeth for her parumour, thanin the unbridled fondness of Rutland for her husband.— The scene, where the queen bestows the ring, as a pledge of her kindest regard for his safety, is pecu
liarly affecting, because the strength of her passion '
is there discoverable, under a demeanour properly dignified; and all violent propensity, either to esteem or resentment, is strictly governed by the consideration of her own exalted rank, ‘ '
In depicting the afiiiction, which the queen endured upon the execution of Essex, and more especially at the news that he had implored her mercy in vain, the dramatist has fallen infinitely below the historian. Hume relates, that whe'n--Nottingham, having in her last illness requested to see the queen, revealed her fatal
secret, and entreated her m.ajesty's forgiveness—-the queen shook the dying countess in her bed, and exclain1ed—-“ God may forgive you, but I never will." The most dismal melancholy, as it is alleged, sueceeded this rage.—But, from whatever cause, it is certain that an almost unheard of despondency concluded the reign of this great princess, whose mind was masculine; and who, throughout her long career of government, never evinced one feminine weakness, which was not the effect of love, or of that vanity, which hoped to inspire the passion.
At this era, in the short space of two years, the hand of death snatched from the court of Great BT1tain, all these its most remarkable personages —Essex, Nottingham, and the queen. It is probable, that the decease of the first, hastened that of the second, as well as of the last, character; for the countess's remorse for her political stratagem is reported to have been dreadfully severe. ‘
The earl died in his thirty-fourth, and the queen in her scventieth year.—ln a subject, her majesty's unseasonable love, might have formed a comic, in~ stead of a tragic, drama.