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MASSINGER'S BONDMAN

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Mistress Knipp. One has to admit that Pepys condemned the play from a literary point of view as a very poor one, methinks," as "fully the worst play that I saw or believe shall see.But the pleasure which Mistress Knipp's share in the performance gave him suggests, in the absence of any explicit disclaimer, that the improprieties of both plot and characters escaped his notice, or, at any rate, excited in him no disgust. Massinger's Bondman, Pepys's ideal of merit in drama, has little of the excessive grossness of the Custom of the Country. But to some extent it is tarred with the same brush.

Pepys's easy principles never lend themselves to very strict definition. Yet he may be credited with a certain measure of discernment in pardoning the indelicacy of Fletcher and Massinger, while he condemns that of Dryden, Etherege, or Sedley. Indelicacy in the older dramatists does not ignore worthier interests. Other topics attracted the earlier writers besides conjugal infidelity and the frailty of virgins, which were the sole themes of Restoration comedy. Massinger's heroes are not always gay seducers. His husbands are not always fools. Pepys might quite consistently scorn the ribaldry of Etherege and condone the obscenity of Fletcher. It was a question of degree. Pepys was clear in his own mind that a line must be drawn somewhere, though it would probably have taxed his logical power to make the delimitation precise.

IV

There is, apparently, a crowning difficulty of far greater moment when finally estimating Pepys's taste in dramatic literature. Despite his admiration for the ancient drama, he acknowledged a very tempered regard for the greatest of all the old dramatists—Shakespeare. He lived and died in complacent unconsciousness of Shakespeare's supreme excellence. Such innocence is attested by his conduct outside, as well as inside, the theatre. He prided himself on his taste as a reader and a book collector, and bought for his library many plays in quarto which he diligently perused. Numerous separately issued pieces by Shakespeare lay at his disposal in the bookshops. But he only records the purchase of one—the first part of Henry IV., though he mentions that he read in addition Othello and Hamlet. When his bookseller first offered him the great First Folio edition of Shakespeare's works, he rejected it for Fuller's Worthies and the newlypublished Butler's Hudibras, in which, by the way, he failed to discover the wit. Ultimately he bought the newly-issued second impression of the Third Folio Shakespeare, along with copies of Spelman's Glossary and Scapula's Lexicon. To these soporific works of reference he apparently regarded the dramatist's volume as a fitting pendant. He seemed subsequently to have exchanged the Third Folio for a Fourth, by which volume alone is Shakespeare represented in the extant library that Pepys bequeathed to Magdalene College, Cambridge.

As a regular playgoer at a time when the stage mainly depended on the drama of Elizabethan days, Pepys was bound to witness numerous performances of Shakespeare's plays. On the occasion of fortyone of his three hundred and fifty-one visits to the theatre, Pepys listened to plays by Shakespeare, or

DEPRECIATION OF SHAKESPEARE

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to pieces based upon them. Once in every eight performances Shakespeare was presented to his view. Fourteen was the number of different plays by Shakespeare which Pepys saw during these fortyone visits. Very few caused him genuine pleasure. At least three he condemns, without any qualification, as "tedious," or "silly.” In the case of others, while he ignored the literary merit, he enjoyed the scenery and music with which, in accordance with current fashion, the dramatic poetry was overlaid. In only two cases, in the case of two tragediesOthello and Hamlet-does he show at any time a true appreciation of the dramatic quality, and in the case of Othello he came in course of years to abandon his good opinion.

Pepys's moderate praise and immoderate blame of Shakespeare are only superficially puzzling. The ultimate solution is not difficult. Despite his love of music and his zeal as a collector, Pepys was the most matter-of-fact of men; he was essentially a man of business. Not that he had any distaste for timely recreation; he was, indeed, readily susceptible to every manner of commonplace pleasures—to all the delights of both mind and sense which appeal to the practical and hard-headed type of Englishman. Things of the imagination, on the other hand, stood with him on a different footing. They were out of his range or sphere. Poetry and romance, unless liberally compounded with prosaic ingredients, bored him on the stage and elsewhere.

In the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher, of Massinger and Ben Jonson, poetry and romance were for the most part kept in the background. Such elements lay there behind a substantial barrier of conventional stage machinery and elocutionary scaffolding. In Shakespeare, poetry and romance usually eluded the mechanical restrictions of the theatre. The gold had a tendency to separate itself from the alloy, and Pepys only found poetry and romance endurable when they were pretty thickly veiled behind the commonplaces of rhetoric, or broad fun, or the realistic ingenuity of the stage carpenter and upholsterer.

There is, consequently, no cause for surprise that Pepys should write thus of Shakespeare's ethereal comedy of A Midsummer Night's Dream: “Then to the King's Theatre, where we saw Midsummer Night's Dream, which I had never seen before, nor shall ever again, for it is the most insipid, ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life. I saw, I confess, some good dancing and some handsome women, which was all my pleasure.” This is Pepys's ordinary attitude of mind to undiluted poetry on the stage.

Pepys only saw A Midsummer Night's Dream once. Twelfth Night, of which he wrote in very similar strains, he saw thrice. On the first occasion his impatience of this romantic play was due to external causes. He went to the theatre "against his own mind and resolution." He was over-persuaded to go in by a friend, with whom he was casually walking past the house in Lincoln's Inn Fields. Moreover, he had just sworn to his wife that he would never go to a play without her: all which considerations "made the piece seem a burden” to him. He witnessed Twelfth Night twice again in a less perturbed spirit, and then he called it a “silly" play, or “one of the weakest plays that ever I saw on the stage.'

Again, of Romeo and Juliet, Pepys wrote: “It is

PEPYS ON FALSTAFF

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a play of itself the worst I ever heard in my life.” This verdict, it is right to add, was attributable, in part at least, to Pepys's irritation at the badness of the acting, and at the actors' ignorance of their words. It was a first night.

The literary critic knows well enough that the merit of these three pieces-A Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelfth Night, and Romeo and Julietmainly lies in their varied wealth of poetic imagery and passion. One thing alone could render the words, in which poetic genius finds voice, tolerable in the playhouse to a spectator of Pepys's prosaic temperament. The one thing needful is inspired acting, and in the case of these three plays, when Pepys saw them performed, inspired acting was wanting.

It is at first sight disconcerting to find Pepys no less impatient of The Merry Wives of Windsor. He expresses a mild interest in the humours of "the country gentleman and the French doctor.” But he condemns the play as a whole. It is in his favour that his bitterest reproaches are aimed at the actors and actresses. One can hardly conceive that Falstaff, fitly interpreted, would have failed to satisfy Pepys's taste in humour, commonplace though it was. He is not quite explicit on the point; but there are signs that the histrionic interpretation of Shakespeare's colossal humorist, rather than the dramatist's portrayal of the character, caused the diarist's disappointment.

Just before Pepys saw the first part of Henry IV., wherein Falstaff figures to supreme advantage, he had bought and read the play in quarto. “But my expectation being too great” (he avers), "it did not please me as otherwise I believe it would.”'

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