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Bobadill. Well, gentlemen, bear witness, I was bound to the peace, by this good day.
E. Knowell. No, faith, it 's an ill day, captain, never reckon it other, but, say you were bound to the peace, the law allows you to defend yourself: that will prove but a poor excuse.
Bobadill. I cannot tell, sir; I desire good construction in fair sort. I never sustain'd the like disgrace, by heaven! Sure I was struck by a planet thence, for I had no power to touch my weapon.
E. Knowell. Ay, like enough; I have heard of many that have been beaten under a planet: go, get you to a surgeon. 'Slid! an these be your tricks, your passadoes, and your montantos, I'll none of them. Exit BOBADILL.
O, manners! that this age should bring forth such creatures! that nature should be at leisure to make them!
BEAUMONT and FLETCHER are great names in the English Drama, but the demands commonly made by critics in their favour hardly seem to be justified if we are to apply to them the canons derived from the works of admitted masters of the stage. That Beaumont at least was a great poet his exquisite lyrics-hardly below Shakspere's own-abundantly testify. In romantic tragedy, too, the joint work of these great men was assuredly of the highest class, but I find little in their comedy-writings which is fit to stand on a level with their Philaster,' or their 'Maid's Tragedy.' Their comic method at its best was Jonson's method, but their work in this line will bear no sort of comparison with Jonson's. It is certain that half the prosperity of a good play, like that of a good jest, is in the audience. Though Beaumont and Fletcher wrote a few of their early plays before Shakspere's death, the bulk of them continued to be acted in the age after Shakspere's, when the times, and audiences with the times, had greatly changed: the earnest spirit of that great age had by then died out, or was confined to the Puritans. In reading the numerous comedies of Fletcher, the more practised and the more distinctly a comic dramatist of the two, it is impossible not to perceive that we are in the hands of one who is rather a clever playwright than a dramatist in the higher sense, of one who is no longer concerned as Marlowe, Shakspere, Peele, and Webster were concerned with the deeper and subtler springs of human emotion, but has his eye on a half-educated pit and gallery, which he knows are careless of the old music of the heroic line, who ask only for smart and easy dialogue in the fashion of the day, for bustle, for stagetrick, and for stage-movement. The reader of the comedies of Beaumont and Fletcher is for ever brought up by bits of coarse, rough, gross, or careless handiwork, far below the standard of the best work of the period. The popular taste of their day went further than ever before for extravagant metaphor, strained and affected phrases, and verbal puns and quibbles. They got all this from our dramatists, but the result cannot pass as good comedy, the true canon for which has never been so clearly laid down as by Molière himself,
'Ce style figuré dont on fait vanité
Sort du bon caractère et de la verité,
Ce n'est que jeux de mots, qu'affectation pure
Et ce n'est pas ainsi que peint la nature.'
BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER
A KING AND NO KING
CAPTAIN BESSUS is an adventurer and a rank coward, so much so that he is afraid even to run away by himself. I never was at battle but once, and there I was running, but Mardonius cudgelled me; yet I got loose at last, but was so afraid that I saw no more than my shoulders do, but fled with my whole company among my enemies and overthrew 'em.' So has he got a reputation for valour from having previously been esteemed a poltroon, and now those whom he had abused, call him freshly to account' thinking to 'get honour on him.'
A Room in the House of BESSUS.
Enter a Gentleman.
Gent. Good morrow, Captain Bessus.
Bessus. Good morrow, sir.
Gent. I come to speak with you—
Bes. You're very welcome.
Gent. From one that holds himself wrong'd by you some three years since. Your worth he says is famed, and he doth nothing doubt but you will do him right, as beseems a soldier.
Bes. Aside. A plague on 'em! so they cry all.
Gent. And a slight note I have about me for you, for the delivery of which you must excuse me it is an office that friendship calls upon me to do, and no way offensive to you; since I desire but right on both sides. Gives a letter.
Bes. 'Tis a challenge, sir, is it not? Gent. 'Tis an inviting to the field. Bes. Aside. An inviting! Oh, cry you mercy! What a compliment he delivers it with! he might as agreeably to my nature present me poison with such a speech. (Reads.) Um um-um-Reputationum-um-um-call you to account-um-um-um— forced to this-um-um-um-with my sword—um— um-um-like a gentleman-um-um-um-dear to me-um-um-um-satisfaction. 'Tis very well, sir, I do accept it, but he must wait an answer this thirteen weeks.
Gent. Why, sir, he would be glad to wipe off this stain as quick as he could.
Bes. Sir, upon my credit, I am already engaged to two hundred and twelve; all which must have their stains wiped off, if that be the word, before him.
Gent. Sir, if you be truly engaged but to one, he shall stay a competent time.
Bes. Upon my faith, sir, to two hundred and twelve: And I have a spent body, too much bruised in battle;