‘Where is Astrea fled?’: Tragedy, 1668–1676
Abstract and Keywords
In 1669, Sir William Killigrew published his last play, The Imperial Tragedy, which deals with regicide and restoration based on Zeno; sive, Ambitio Infelix by the English Jesuit Joseph Simons, which opens with the appearance of Astraea on high. Gerard Langbaine believed that the play had been acted at the Barbican Nursery, but there is no record of performance at either of the main houses, and by this time its subject and outlook were dated. Indeed, Simons was at the time helping to make it even more dated by converting the Duke of York to Catholicism. Earl of Orrery's Tryphon, another play about restoration, had already failed, and when John Dryden depicted the deposition of the usurper Maximin in Tyrannick Love, he portrayed not a return to hereditary monarchy but the election of two emperors by the Senate. Increasingly, indeed, serious dramatists turned from celebration of restored authority to reflection upon the problems inherent in the exercise and very nature of power.
In 1669 Sir William Killigrew published his last play, The Imperial Tragedy a play of regicide and restoration based on Zeno; sive, Ambitio Infelix by the English Jesuit Joseph Simons, which opens with the appearance of Astraea on high (1, p. 1). Langbaine believed that the play had been acted at the Barbican Nursery (p. 535), but there is no record of performance at either of the main houses, and by this time its subject and outlook were dated.1 Indeed, Simons was at the time helping to make it even more dated by converting the Duke of York to Catholicism. Orrery's Tryphon (Duke's, December 1668), another play about restoration, had already failed, and when Dryden depicted the de position of the usurper Maximin in Tyrannick Love (King's, June 1669), he portrayed not a return to hereditary monarchy but the election of two Emperors by the Senate.2 Increasingly, indeed, serious dramatists turned from celebration of restored authority to reflection upon the problems inherent in the exercise and very nature of power.
William Joyner's Senecan tragedy The Roman Empress (King's, c. August 1670) deals with the topical subject of civil war and usurpation, but disorder is here irremediable, for political upheaval has so obliterated family ties that even the true heir to the Roman Empire is unrecognized, lusted after by his Phaedra-like stepmother, Fulvia, and executed by his father. The play ends not with restoration but with moral chaos: the escape of the evil Fulvia and the suicide of the Emperor and his long-lost first wife, Palladia. An interesting feature of the play is its sympathetic treatment of the oppressed women, whose condition parallels the prevailing civic disarray. A minor, and not entirely admirable, female character makes a nevertheless persuasive attack on the double standard: ‘Who made these laws and customs?’ she asks; ‘did our Sex | Ever give up their voice, and suffrages?’ (II, p. 24). Joyner also emphasizes (p. 79 ) the linguistic vindication of the wronged Palladia, who had seemingly been executed years before on a false charge of unchastity. Whereas Fulvia is a corrupter of linguistic signs, Palladia has been falsely incriminated by a misinterpreted letter (V, p. 63), and her death is at least mitigated by the proper telling of her story. Indeed, a loyal follower has embedded brass inscriptions of her story beneath the plaster of the Roman buildings in the confidence that time will quickly bring them to light (I, p. 7). Such linguistic vindication was to be denied to some later tragic heroines (most notably Dryden's Cleopatra), who cannot control the posthumous historical narrative of their lives.
The oppression of women is also the subject of a play clearly set in an era of post-Restoration immorality, Elizabeth Polwhele's ‘The Faithfull Virgins’, licensed for performance by the Duke's Company circa 1670 and surviving in manuscript, with two significant cuts marked by the Master of the Revels, Sir Henry Herbert.3 In part, this is a standard offshoot of Caroline Platonic drama, featuring female constancy and noble rivalry: two friends watch in perfect concord over the hearse of the man they both loved, while another heroine in male disguise tries to persuade one of them to love the man she her self loves. Unusually, the self-denying idealism ends in tragedy, the agents of destruction being a lustful duke and his jealous, vengeful wife. Act III is dominated by a wedding masque for the pair, in which Virtue banishes Lechery, Drunkenness, and other vices from the court, but life fails to imitate art and shortly afterwards the Duke is planning to rape and the Duchess (more successfully) to murder one of the faithful virgins. The subsequent killing of the Duke (essentially regicide) is portrayed with complete approval, and it provokes a generalization which Herbert found unacceptably provocative: ‘for it is fitt | all that so sinn, should punisht be for itt’ (V, fo. 76). The other deletion is of a passage in which the future Duchess is sarcastically urged to ‘shackle with’ the Duke until he tires of her (I, fo. 52v)—evidently too close for comfort to the home life of the Yorks.
Restored authority is treated with a more qualified and reserved irony in Dryden's two-part heroic play, The Conquest of Granada (King's, December—January 1670–1), portraying the recovery by Christian Spain of a Granada torn by the sectarian rivalry of the Abencerrages and the Zegrys, and by the rebellion of King Boabdelin's brother Abdalla. The recovery of Granada had been celebrated in one of the best seventeenth-century epics of warfare against the infidel, Girolamo Graziani's II Conquisto di Granata, but Dryden, characteristically, treats the restoration of true faith and kingship with considerable scepticism. There is no pure antithesis between faction and authority, since King Ferdinand triumphs with the aid of Zegry treachery, and seals his triumph by enthroning the monstrously subversive Lyndaraxa as his client (p. 80 ) ruler. Even in the decisive battle for Granada, the inspiring presence of Queen Isabella with her company of Spanish beauties is overshadowed by the contribution of the real female agent of victory: Lyndaraxa, with her Zegry troops. As so often in Dryden's work of this period, legitimacy and subversion turn out to be deeply intertwined.
Indeed, when the Duke of Arcos explains to Boabdelin the basis of the Spanish claim (Part I, I. i. 292–356), he quickly abandons the argument of legitimate ancestral right for that of pure military force, and we are reminded in Almanzor's subsequent debate with Arcos that the conquest of Granada coincides with the start of Spain's expansionist designs in the New World (Part I, II. i. 39–40), which had no colour of ancestral right, and which Dryden had already portrayed with some severity in The Indian Emperour. Later, when Ferdinand himself states his aims, he reveals a quite strikingly secular and materialistic view of his conquering mission. Unlike Graziani's noble Christian hero, who is an agent of providential design, Dryden's Ferdinand sees himself as an agent of sheer historical inevitability, and conceives the workings of history as a simple process of material cause and effect, likening the decline of empire to the plummeting of a massive object over a cliff:
Immediately, Isabella again sets the enterprise in the larger context of Spanish imperialism, alluding to Columbus's quest for Western gold (Part II, I. i. 17–27),4 whereupon Ferdinand emphasizes his pragmatic viewpoint by announcing his support for Abdalla's rebellion, because ‘He brings a specious title to our side’ (Part II, I. i. 39)—a curious desideratum in a champion of divine truth and ancestral right, foreshadowing the symbiosis of Ferdinand and the evil Lyndaraxa.
- K. FERD. When from behind, there starts some petty State;
- And pushes on its now unwieldy fate:
- Then, down the precipice of time it goes,
- And sinks in Minutes, which in Ages rose.
- (Part II, I. i. 13–16)
Disorder is unalterably present at the heart of order: hence the centrality of the ‘noble Savage’ (Part I, I. i. 209) Almanzor, in whom (as the oxymoronic designation suggests) the norms of civilization and disorders of the wilderness overlap and intermingle. He is a ‘Stranger’ within the city,5 but the for tunes of civilization nevertheless depend on him, and the rival causes compete for his necessary aid; and, although an outsider to civilization, he ultimately proves to be of royal blood. Almanzor is not the traditional romance hero who preserves an uncontaminated innate royalty amidst obscurity and de privation. Although fundamentally magnanimous, he cannot comprehend (p. 81 ) that there is any law, or any reality, beyond his own all-important desires, and he alternately accepts and dishonours political and moral constraints, erratic in his allegiance to Boabdelin and even in his duty to his beloved Almahide, Boabdelin's wife, whom he at one point attempts to seduce. In his lapses into lawless appetite, he reveals a partial yet striking affinity with those creatures of pure appetite, the villainous siblings Lyndaraxa and Zulema, who foment the Zegry rebellion. He is not, of course, their moral equal, for unlike him they make no attempt to accept the disciplines of society, but they embody in extreme form instincts that can never be exorcized from civilization (hence Lyndaraxa's part in Ferdinand's victory). For example, at the same time as Almanzor arrives in Almahide's chamber in order to tempt her, Zulema arrives intent on downright rape.
Almanzor is, indeed, far more readily responsive to Lyndaraxa's voice than to Almahide's. For a long time, Almahide painstakingly attempts to elevate his desire for her into an innocent Platonic love, which will enable him to serve her by serving her husband (in a conquest of self worthy of an Orrery hero). But, at Lyndaraxa's first meeting with him (deferred until the mid-point of Part II so as to emphasize its instant and extraordinary effect), the villainess undoes all Almahide's teaching in a few lines, rekindling his lusts and preparing for his attempted seduction of the heroine. Too confidently, he prefaces their encounter with a close echo of the Orrery hero's claim that it is nobler to deserve than to possess: ‘There is this comfort in a noble Fate, | That I deserve to be more fortunate’ (Part II, III. iii. 51–2). But his Orrerian principles are demolished in seconds, as Lyndaraxa corners him into admitting the continuing carnality of his desires. Later, she persuades him that Almahide has slept with her own hapless devotee, Abdelmelech, again commanding an instant assent that Almahide can never inspire. But the affinity between Lyndaraxa and Almanzor has been established long before their first meeting, and appears most strikingly at the mid-point of Part I (the structural counterpart to the point at which they first meet in Part II). Here, amidst the insurrection that she has provoked, Lyndaraxa rants in ugly blood-lust at the waning of battle: ‘Beat faster, Drums, and mingle Deaths more thick’ (Part I, III. i. 260). She then leaves, whereupon Almanzor immediately enters and expresses the same sentiments in acceptably heroic terms: ‘I am griev'd the noble sport is done’ (Part I, III. i. 271). What particularly emphasizes the connection between the speeches is that Lyndaraxa leaves to wait ‘Hero-like’ (Part I, III. i. 263) for her lover Abdalla, the leader of the rebels. She refers, of course, to Hero the mistress of Leander, and grossly departs from this exemplar, but the word is a provocative instruction to compare and contrast the two versions of Hero, and what is compared is not only the conduct of Lyndaraxa and Almanzor but the roles of woman and man, for a single word has radically different meanings, which are determined exclusively by the sex of the person to which it is applied. Lyndaraxa is monstrous because her actions, unlike (p. 82 ) Almanzor's, are nakedly evil; she is also monstrous because, unlike Almanzor, she is a woman.
As Almanzor's dual role as savage stranger and royal kinsman indicates, he sums up the ambiguities of civilization itself, and these ambiguities are apparent even in the ceremonies with which civilization celebrates itself. On two occasions, the opening sports and the Zambra dance which immediately precedes Abdalla's rebellion, formal ceremony collapses into anarchy. In the first, where the Zegrys attempt to murder Ozmyn by furtively introducing a real javelin into a mock-combat, a civilization which expresses itself in ritual orderings and imitations of violence is threatened when these lose their purely ritual character and verge towards chaos;6 though he had celebrated carnival in An Evening's Love, Dryden here portrays a festivity which implies and produces anarchy. The ambiguities of civilization are also illustrated in the perplexed behaviour of Almahide, who marries Boabdelin in order to save Almanzor's life, but is never as successful as she imagines in sacrificing her private affections to her marital role. For example, having assured Boabdelin that he need ‘No more the shadow of Almanzor fear,’ she quickly admits to herself that ‘for Almanzor I in secret mourn’ (Part II, I. ii. 150, 217). In the tortured, forbidden love of Almanzor and Almahide, we see the impossibility of Orrery's ideal social being: Almanzor cannot act the part of noble rival which Almahide designs for him, and Almahide herself cannot subjugate passion to social ideals.
Their socially unassimilable love leads to one of the many flawed judicial rituals that characterize drama of this period, in marked contrast to the manifestations of Astraea only a few years earlier. Wrongly convinced, through Lyndaraxa's all-pervasive influence, that Almahide is an adulteress, Boabdelin arranges a trial by combat, showing that the ritualized violence central to Granada's ceremonies of order governs even the rituals of justice. Although Almahide is vindicated by Almanzor's muscle-power, he himself believes her guilty while defending her, and she almost immediately falls under renewed suspicion from Boabdelin. But the trial by combat is not only unsatisfactory because it grounds the primary ordering procedures of civilization upon archaic violence, and because it denies the woman a voice, giving wordless machismo the responsibility of defining her character. It is also unsatisfactory because the simple public categories of guilt and innocence are crude and insufficient terms for judging complex personal states such as Almahide's emotional alienation from Boabdelin. (Dryden later returned to this issue in Aureng-Zebe and All for Love, creating in each a pair of mock trials in which the heroine's innocence is inadequately investigated by her lover.) Human nature is no longer, as it had been in Orrery, perfectly and fully expressible in (p. 83 ) social terms, and the intimacies of personal existence cannot fully be translated into the approved language of public morality. This is especially true of women, who, as Antonia in The Roman Empress complains, did not give ‘their voice, and suffrages’ to the laws by which they are judged.
Dryden, indeed, repeatedly suggests that the mind is unbridgeably separated from the exterior world with which it must communicate. Alien elements persist within the structures of civilization because the mind and the outward world are largely alien to each other, and the isolation of the mind means that the public currency of language is a fallible means of either informing or representing the individual consciousness: hence the procrustean imprecision of judicial terms. Almanzor is constantly confined within his own sensations, confusing his desires with objective reality, and later concluding that man is ‘a Pris'ner of the Mind’ (Part II, IV. iii. 148), trapped in an inexorably determined sequence of thought and desire. (In the dedication of The Rival Ladies, Dryden himself had spoken of ‘the Prison’ of the human will (p. 97).) Even Almahide becomes ‘lost in my own Webb of thought’ (Part II, I. ii. 226), her mind an enveloping prison, like a silkworm's cocoon. Language is part of the cocoon. In particular, the characters' constant reliance on simile reveals the perceptual elusiveness of the object, the paradox that objects cannot be defined by circular reference to themselves, but only by reference to that which they are not. It is a paradox extensively displayed in Guyomar's description of the Spanish ships in The Indian Emperour, or Almanzor's attempt to understand the new experience of love by likening it to the old and only marginally similar experience of a tarantula bite (Part I, III. i. 328–9), and it is too little noticed that the far-fetched similes for which the play is notorious are seldom just ornamentally illustrative, and generally express clear misconstruction or frank incomprehension of the situations they describe. When, for example, Boabdelin compares Almahide in some detail to a tulip (Part I, V. i. 298–302), he is mistakenly suggesting that she is terrified by Almanzor's presence and will be relieved by his execution; and, when Almahide compares herself and Boabdelin to two turtle doves (Part II, I. ii. 128–33), her pastoral fantasy glosses over the actual bitterness of their marriage.7
At one point, the mental processes behind the similes are exposed with particular clarity. Liberating the captive Almahide, yet wishing to establish a claim on her affections, Almanzor first likens himself to a pirate restoring merchandise and then legitimately buying it; when Almahide exposes the inadequacy of the simile, Almanzor compares himself to a subject honouring a queen; and, when Almahide successfully criticizes that simile too, he abandons the search for convincing analogies, deciding to commit suicide and pursue her as a ghost (Part I, IV. ii. 400–25). The play here lays bare its own poetic processes and incorporates them into the plot, momentarily turning one of its central questions—will the hero marry the heroine?—into an (p. 84 ) issue of literary criticism. The similes are uttered only to be discredited, and they reveal Almanzor's inability to comprehend the publicly sanctioned categories—Almahide's betrothal to Boabdelin—that make the world other than the one demanded by his will.
At one extreme, the similes actively induce error (they play a prominent role in the sophistries of Lyndaraxa and Zulema), whereas at others they merely express unfulfilled intentions, as in the Zegry patriarch Selin's happily frustrated determination to await death like ‘Rome's old Senate’ (Part II, II. i. 17). But, even when apposite, the similes are often (like Almahide's silkworm simile) expressions of incomprehension or helplessness rather than exercises in controlled rhetorical illustration; for, paradoxically, the similes are at their most precisely and appropriately descriptive when they define the factors that make the mind a prison and entangle the observing consciousness in its ‘Webb of thought’. In these cases they evoke a condition either of paralysis or of helpless subjection to material process. The materialism that distinguishes Ferdinand's interpretation of history is universally present in the characters' interpretations of their motives, their mental and linguistic isolation being the isolation of minds locked in separate and discrete cycles of material consequence. Unable to suppress his love for Lyndaraxa, Abdalla finds himself in a living nightmare in which he tries to run but cannot move, and (reducing the operations of mind to those of matter) likens her attraction to that of rubbed amber (Part I, II. i. 180–1). Lyndaraxa herself compares her fluctuating affections to the mobile liquid in a barometer (Part I, IV. ii. 5–6);8 Almanzor compares his love for Almahide to a fire which refines ore (Part I, III. i. 423–4); and even Abenamar, movingly abandoning his resistance to his son Ozmyn's love for his enemy's daughter, compares his conversion to a material operation: the melting of a frozen river (Part II, IV. i. 130–3). As in The Rival Ladies, life and thought are operations of matter in motion, and there are clearly moments when the characters have difficulty in describing anything outside their personal cycle of material process. Almanzor does converse with his mother's ghost, whose voice subsequently dissuades him from the unwitting murder of his father, but even she is confined to the material world, encumbered by gravity and too heavy with unpurged sin to pass the walls of heaven. It is impossible to step outside the material workings of language and history. Even the voice of Providence speaks from the world of matter, and this is the world that shapes human history and civilization, with all their moral, imaginative, and linguistic limitations.
The Conquest of Granada was one of the chief butts of The Rehearsal (King's, December 1671), by the Duke of Buckingham and others, in which Mr Bayes (Dryden) supervises the rehearsal of a preposterous heroic play, to the increasing scorn and incredulity of two gentlemen of sense, Smith and (p. 85 ) Johnson. But the subject of The Rehearsal is not merely aesthetic chaos. It is, after all, a mock play of restoration: two kings of Brentford are deposed by two humbly born usurpers (all four indistinguishable from each other),9 but return in hyperbolic apotheosis. The finality of the apotheosis is, however, counteracted by further fighting, in which Drawcansir (Almanzor), an enemy of ‘justice’ (IV. i. 104–7), indiscriminately annihilates both of the opposing armies, and the play of restoration never reaches any kind of conclusion, since the actors get bored and leave for dinner. A mimic apotheosis gives way to chaos and then peters away inconclusively as the common people follow the more compelling call of the feast (Drawcansir's first act in the play is to disrupt a feast, IV. i. 220–1).10 The multiple kings divide and discredit the received iconography of authority, and there is a general royal obsession with love that is as indecorous in literature as it is in politics; in these respects, at least, the play is more of a sequel to The Conquest of Granada than a satire upon it.
The Rehearsal was a great and lasting success, but it did not, as used to be thought, laugh the heroic play out of existence.11 On the contrary, only in the early 1670s did Dryden's heroic plays start to exercise a substantial influence on the work of other dramatists, when a rising generation of young tragedians (Settle, Crowne, Lee, Otway) took them as starting-points before developing more diverse personal styles. For the most part (though Crowne's early work is an exception) they follow Dryden's lead in rejecting the paeans to just political order that had characterized the first generation of heroic plays. Justice and legitimate authority are flawed and even undiscoverable, and the focus is on the displaced, rootless individual, alienated from society and even family.
The first imitation was the very successful Cambyses King of Persia (Duke's, January 1671) by Elkanah Settle, an author whose incompetence in every sphere of dramatic construction and linguistic expression was no bar to a serious and radical interest in problems of authority, though it sometimes makes deliberate complexity hard to distinguish from inadvertent confusion. Unlike Dryden, Settle does portray clearly exemplary characters, and indeed preserves most of the ideals of the early heroic play. Language, for example, is a clear and celestially judged instrument of moral order: when the Sultan Solyman in Ibrahim adulterously pursues the mistress of his friend, both of whom he has adopted as his children, he violates ‘sacred Vows’ (IV, p. 42), the (p. 86 ) ‘Sacred Name’ of father (III, p. 30), and the duty of a monarch to ‘speak … Sacred things’ (III, p. 36). Settle also has generally conservative views on social degree. He is one of the few dramatists of the period to focus on the threat to established order of the unambiguous outsider (such as Joanna Anglica in The Female Prelate and Celestina in The Ambitious Slave), and he lacks his contemporaries' preoccupation with the stranger within, repeatedly using the term stranger to denote his villains' departure from moral and linguistic norms: in Cambyses, the virtuous Phedima treats the lustful Smerdis as both morally and linguistically alien (‘Stranger, what means this language?’, I, p. 11), and the unscrupulous Prexaspes defines his villainy as estrangement from divinely written absolutes: ‘Religion, Loyalty, and th'aery scrowl | Of gods, are strangers to a Scythians soul’ (I, p. 5).12 The emphasis on moral societies bonded by sacred language leads to an Orrery-like exaltation of friendship and verbal bonds, and magnanimous lovers selflessly help favoured rivals. For example, in Cambyses Theramnes endangers his love in order to honour an obligation that verges on being a punctilio: he has sworn not to reveal that a letter was written by his king, and continues to honour his oath even on finding that the letter is a forgery in his own name, making him seem false to the woman he loves.
But Settle rarely follows Orrery in portraying a triumphant moral reconstitution of society. On the contrary, the status of social obligations is often appallingly ambiguous. While Theramnes is inhibited from clearing his name because he is trapped by an oath to his king, the audience knows that the king is an impostor, lacking the authority which Theramnes attributes to him. Traditional patterns of social obligation become empty formulas and, conversely, individual integrity is frequently denied social vindication. Whereas Orrery's noble rivals suppress self to fulfil themselves as social beings, Settle's noble rivals can end up as social outcasts: as martyrs (Tygranes in The Ambitious Slave) or exiles (Hametalhaz in The Empress of Morocco, Ulama in Ibrahim). Hametalhaz, a villain reformed by hopeless love for the heroine, finally retreats from civilization into the desert, exemplifying a very common Restoration motif, and one that is incompatible with Orrery's stress on the essentially social character of the heroic paragon.
Legitimacy and authority are frequently problematic. In Cambyses, two rival tyrants (the inspiration for the two usurpers in The Rehearsal) contend for control of Persia: Cambyses, who has murdered his younger brother, Smerdis, and an impostor posing as Smerdis. One is the true king and one a usurper, but (as Theramnes' misguided fit of self-denying principle shows) it is not easy for subjects to discover which is which, and indeed the false king is rather less tyrannical than the true. In the end, after both tyrants have been murdered, the succession is (as in Tyrannick Love) determined not by (p. 87 ) inheritance but by worth, the rightful heir insisting that the crown be transferred to Darius, the greater man. The perplexed treatment of authority here contrasts with the simple celebrations of restored legitimacy of a few years before, and it was to be characteristic of Settle throughout his work. Whatever its quality, this play is an important landmark: joy at restoration has finally yielded to worry about succession.
Throughout his plays Settle is mainly interested not simply in the tyrant or usurper but in the enigma of the criminal ruler, whether the ruler who commits crimes or the unrecognized ruler who is falsely labelled a criminal. The most troublesome figure is the absolute monarch who performs acts commonly defined as criminal: for, if the king himself is the criterion of justice, by what other criterion can he be termed criminal? Yet what meaning does the term have if he cannot? As so often, justice (a recurrent term throughout Settle's work) becomes ambiguous in nature and application. Settle clearly rejects the identification of justice with power, which he leaves to villains such as Prexaspes in Cambyses (v, pp. 67–8), but he seems surer of what to reject than what to affirm, and he delights in paradoxical inversions of judicial role and process. In Cambyses a death sentence issued by a criminal ruler is, improbably enough, frustrated when the executioner turns out to be a virtuous hero in disguise, and the same play features two extended scenes of judicial disarray. In the second, the newly enthroned Darius reluctantly finds himself forced by law to sentence the noble Mandana to death for her apparent murder of Cambyses; the judicial process is powerless to save or vindicate her, and she is spared only because the real killer spontaneously exults in his guilt before the court. Earlier, however, the rituals of justice have been complicated to the point of comedy, when King Smerdis performs convolutions of judicial role almost as awkward as the better known contortions of the Lord Chancellor in Iolanthe. Unrecognized, he has made lustful advances to the virtuous Phedima, and subsequently contrives that Phedima should appeal to him for justice on the criminal, Phedima not yet realizing that the criminal and judge are one and the same. In the ensuing welter of judicial paradoxes, judge and plaintiff exchange places, and Phedima asserts love and honour as absolutes that transcend the social terminology of justice and entitle her to condemn a king as a criminal:
(p. 88 ) Settle can only ‘solve’ the problem by resorting to contradiction and nonsense: as so often in his work, an ideological stance is struck without an ideological rationale. Even his insistence on the sanctity of the word is never imaginatively justified. Perhaps not entirely inadvertently, he presents a world of confused and ambiguous particulars which do not yield general or transcendent principles of order.
- Although you Monarchs are exempt from Laws,
- As wanting higher Pow'rs to Judge your cause:
- Yet that you, Smerdis, may have Justice done,
- Since you want Laws, I'le Judge you by my own. …
- Honour and Love are but respective things;
- Greater or less in Subjects or in Kings.
- In which if Kings transgress, the more sublime
- Their greatness is, the greater is their Crime.
- (ii, pp. 19–20)
The unjust ruler is treated with far more orthodoxy in a play which Settle brought to the stage, Samuel Pordage's Herod and Mariamne (?Duke's, c. August 1673, but according to the prologue written twelve years earlier). This is a bombastic adaptation of the account in La Calprenède's Cléopâtre of the virtuously suppressed love of the heroic warrior Tyridates and Herod's ill-treated queen, which Dryden had already used in portraying Porphyrius' love for the wife of the tyrant Maximin in Tyrannick Love. Though later a Whig propagandist during the Exclusion Crisis, Pordage here propounds passive obedience. Perversions of justice provide a heavily emphasized unifying motif, culminating in the elaborate judicial formalities which sanction Mariamne's tragic execution, but subjects must leave tyrants to the justice of heaven. (Tyridates is, however, allowed to kill Herod, since he is a foreign ruler rather than a subject.) There is no progress from tyranny to restoration, and the representation of authority is bleak; yet, at the same time, it is problem-free.
By contrast, John Crowne's The History of Charles the Eighth of France; or, The Invasion of Naples by the French (Duke's, November 1671) is a slavish glorification of royal power, perhaps justifying the recent alliance between England and France.13 The play apes the gestures of The Conquest of Granada, but lacks its sense of the inevitable contradictions within civilization: its Almanzor-figure, the haughty and ambitious Prince of Salerne, is a simple case of good qualities misapplied (he is ‘mislead by too much bravary [sic]’ V, p. 72), and his relationship with the unprincipled villain Trivultio is one of sheer alliance and dependence, as opposed to the partial and inadvertent affinities which in Dryden link a hero of noble aspiration to his evil antitype, Zulema. Charles campaigns to recover his ancestral Neapolitan throne from King Ferdinand, but refuses to profit from dissension against his fellow-monarch; for ‘Subjects or Kingdoms are but trifling things, | When laid together in the, scale with Kings’ (III, p. 30). Ferdinand's love for the Queen of Cyprus is often of more moment to him than the dangers of his kingdom (e.g. II, p. 24), yet there is no obvious indication that his priorities are misplaced; subjects, indeed, are repeatedly described as slaves. In its portrayal of disinterested magnanimity between opposing commanders, Charles the Eighth harks back to the conventions of French prose romance and of such first-generation heroic plays as The Siege of Rhodes. Dryden's Cortez had (p. 89 ) attempted such magnanimity to the Mexicans in The Indian Emperour but could not control the violence and avarice of his associates, revealing the failure of ideal codes to restrain the anarchy of desire. But Dryden's Ferdinand (in The Conquest of Granada) has no interest in such heroic principle, and eagerly manipulates the dissension against Boabdelin.
More ominous is Thomas Shipman's Henry the Third of France Stabb'd by a Fryer (King's, c. June 1672), a play of regicide and legitimate succession, but also a crude and early piece of anti-Catholic propaganda, reflecting the atmosphere which a year later produced the Test Act and thereby drove the heir presumptive to the throne into public declaration of his already widely known Catholicism.14 The play deals with the French Wars of Religion, which Dryden and Lee later portrayed in The Duke of Guise, and indeed it includes the murder of Guise. But, whereas Dryden and Lee treat the subversive fanaticism of the Catholic League as a parallel to that of the Protestant Whigs, Shipman makes specific, non-transferable attacks on Catholicism, which is seen as an international force of terror and oppression (witness the Armada and St Bartholomew). There is praise of that future icon of the Whigs, Elizabeth I. And, as England combined with Catholic France for a war against Protestant Holland (declared in March 1672), Shipman recalls the time when England's alliances had been the other way round (I, pp. 2–3). The play was not published until late 1678, and the Popish Plot scare broke while it was in press, whereupon Shipman added a dedicatory poem to Monmouth, praising him as protector against ‘Jesuits rage’ (a compliment which was suppressed when the poem was reprinted in Shipman's posthumous Carolina; or, Loyal Poems).15 Carolina also contains a poem on the 1679 prorogation, addressed to the Nottinghamshire MP Sir Scrope Howe (pp. 221–2), a close associate of Shaftesbury.16 These later statements of allegiance were still some years in the future, but the play itself, with its clear signs of discontent from a man of impeccably royalist stock, is a foreshadowing of the storm to come.
Shipman's Elizabeth had demonstrated that ‘no Sex is in the soul’ (IV, p. 43), and the position of woman is more subtly examined in Henry Neville Payne's domestic tragedy The Fatal Jealousie (Duke's, by August 1672). ‘Husband's prerogatives are absolute, | Their wills we must obey, and not dispute’ (III, p. 49), says the heroine Cælia, blindly justifying the authority of a man who is to contrive her death. This is one of many late seventeenth-century imitations of Othello (the first was Thomas Porter's The Villain), and, (p. 90 ) characteristically, it excises the cultural or social outsider, concentrating entirely on the individual's intrinsic alienation. This results from the imperfection of earthly knowledge and communication (doubt is a recurrent word, as in Payne's later The Siege of Constantinople), for the mind can never apprehend the essence of objects, as the exemplary Gerardo argues:
Humanity is irremediably dislocated in a maze of false perceptions, and the fatal jealousy of Gerardo's friend Antonio exemplifies this universal displacement:
- in Terrestrial things there is not one
- But takes its Form and Nature from our fancy;
- Not its own being, and is what we do think it.
- (ii, p. 28)
Since Antonio's jealousy is a particular form of a general isolation within error, he is not represented as an outsider. Whereas Othello and Iago mirror each other as complementary strangers, Antonio and his Iago (Jasper) mirror each other in a quite contrary fashion, for their origins lie in the very centre of the state. Jasper, the Iago, is the grandson of a disgraced Vice-Admiral of Spain, explicitly inheriting his ancestor's flaws, and Antonio is the present owner of Jasper's ancestral estates, who gradually displays equal unfitness for the ancestral honour.
- Like Nighted Travellers we lose our way;
- Then every Ignis Fatuus makes us stray.
- By the false Lights of Reason led about.
- (iii, p. 36)
Language is treacherous. Antonio's jealousy is fuelled by a scene of fraudulent magical incantation, where language possesses a sham power, and on two important occasions ignorance proceeds from unheard speech. A loyal servant observes Antonio talking with Jasper, but his observation ‘did signifie but little’, for the noise of the wind ensured that the words ‘Came so divided they had no connexion’ (III, p. 34). Similarly, when (in a recollection of Much Ado About Nothing) Antonio is persuaded that Cælia is false by the sight of her sister Eugenia meeting a lover in Cælia's gown, he ‘cannot hear their words’ (IV, p. 55) and impulsively kills Eugenia. Eugenia suffers in another way from the incompleteness and inadequacy of speech. Having been raped in the past, she is forced through fear of exposure into repeated surrender to the rapist. But, although Gerardo (Eugenia's prospective husband) discovers the truth as she is dying and affirms his confidence in her purity, he too is killed—because Eugenia dies before she can complete a speech warning him of danger—and the tale of Eugenia's unchastity survives her, while the extenuating reasons are forever lost. There are no brass inscriptions (as there are in Joyner's The Roman Empress) to carry the woman's story beyond the grave. (p. 91 ) The dying Eugenia is preoccupied with her ‘story’ (IV, p. 55), but women cannot determine the history of their lives, and they repeatedly lack the power of narrative: Jasper ‘stopt’ the ‘Mouth’ of his aunt, the pseudo-witch, by killing her (v, p. 72), and Antonio urges the Nurse to ‘stop your mouth’ when she defends Cælia (v, p. 68). The Nurse does disclose Jasper's villainy, but without the torrent of speech that Shakepeare's Emilia is permitted; for Jasper has already stabbed her, determined to ‘prevent’ her ‘story’ (v, p. 71). Unlike Iago, indeed, Jasper controls the narrative to the end, anxious that his ‘Tale’ and ‘story’ should survive (V, pp. 71–2), and stabbing himself to avoid society's forms of description in ‘a formal Tryal’ (V, p. 73). Trials were increasingly to be linked with historical narrative as parallel translations of private deeds and motives into public terminology. But here neither trial nor ‘story’ gains an ordering and socially integrating function.
Following the failure of his comedy The Assignation and the burning of the Theatre Royal, Dryden produced little for the stage for some years. His Amboyna (King's, c. May 1672), written at the time of the Third Dutch War, is a hack work, ‘which,’ in his own words, ‘tho' it succeeded on the Stage, will scarcely bear a serious Perusal’ (dedication, sig. R4V). The aim was to defend a controversial war and to combat a growing view that England was fighting the wrong enemy: a view later forcibly expressed in Marvell's An Account of the Growth of Popery and Arbitrary Government in England (1677). Thus, while Shipman's roughly contemporary Henry the Third of France stresses Catholic cruelty, Dryden stresses Dutch cruelty (and portrays a noble Catholic, the Spaniard Perez). Dutch unfitness for alliance or trust is the central theme, and the belief that they are fellow Protestants is an illusion, for their ‘Religion … is only made up of Interest’ (II, p. 415): the noble Englishman Towerson, for example, has a suicidal trust in Dutch gratitude and an ingenuous faith in the heroic gesture, at one point displaying an Almanzor-like impulsiveness in rescuing the outnumbered Harman Junior from two attackers, unaware that the attackers are trying to prevent the villainous Harman from murdering him.
But what is most remarkable about the play is the extent to which Dryden had to desert his normal outlook in order to write it. The East Indian heroine, Ysabinda, is a noble savage of a kind quite different from Almanzor and from the Indians of Dryden's first two heroic plays: an embodiment of a universal natural morality who shows up the refined villainy of the Dutch. Another change lies in Dryden's treatment of language. In their compulsive perjury and treatment of moral values as mere words, the Dutch imply by reverse a natural association between language and ethics that would have won assent from a traditionalist such as Charles Hickman, and indeed on one occasion Dutch villainy is exposed by a victim's natural capacity for signification that is virtually identical to Hickman's ‘open countenance, like Windows into our heart’: ‘Her Heart speaks in her Tongue,’ says Ysabinda, ‘and were she silent, (p. 92 ) her Habit and her Face speak for her’ (III, p. 425). The sign is most effectually powerful when the Spanish captain Perez comes to murder the sleeping Towerson but is converted to nobility by some writing by the head of his prospective victim. The incident is very similar to the one reported in Shakespeare's Richard III (but omitted from Cibber's), in which Forrest is more transiently deterred from murder by the sight of a prayer book by the side of the sleeping princes. Dryden still, however, does not endow language with a sacred or transcendent character. The text which moves Perez is not a holy text; it is an order, signed by Towerson, to pay him £500 (III, p. 417). But it bears his name, and the spectacle of a man being recalled to social virtue by the sight of his name is an archaic touch rare in the drama of this decade.
The possibility of natural and universal signs means that the rituals of justice are no longer grounded upon epistemological impossibility: like many Dryden plays of this period, Amboyna features a flawed judicial ritual—a rigged trial, after which the English are agonizingly executed—but justice is here simply corrupt rather than intrinsically inexact. Correspondingly, the claims of the flesh, which had rightly triumphed over formal justice in The Wild Gallant and An Evening's Love, are here associated with evil and oppression. Young Harman rapes Ysabinda (the most attractive feature of the play is its insistence on the purity of the rape victim), and his fat father's corporeal grossness is repeatedly mentioned. Indeed, in the middle of the corrupt judicial ritual one of the victims rounds on Harman Senior and identifies him with the archetype of obese carnal licence: ‘you Sir John Falstaff of Amsterdam’ (v, p. 447). This is by far the best moment in the play. William Cartwright, the actor who created Harman Senior, was a celebrated Falstaff, and the arresting glimpse of festive licence becoming judicial oppression is still more arresting as a reversal of one of the fundamental images of Dryden's earlier work. Almost as arresting is a reversal of one of the most heterodox jokes of An Evening's Love: the relativism which makes hell a mere provincial locality on a map scribbled over with provincial localities. This, too, is now the property of the enemy: ‘if there be a Hell,’ says the Fiscal (the chief judicial officer), ‘'tis but for those that Sin in Europe, not for us in Asia; Heathens have no Hell’ (IV, p. 433). What is common to all these transient U-turns is an abandonment of relativism in favour of a universal scheme of signification, justice, and morality. These are fixed norms of civilization shared by the English, the noble Indian Ysabinda, and the noble Catholic Perez, but they are incomprehensible to the Dutch: simply (not to say simple-mindedly) portrayed strangers who have little to do with Dryden's more usual figure of the stranger within civilization. Towerson's recurrent mistake is to think that he can establish shared ties of culture with such creatures.
During Dryden's period of relative inactivity, Settle scored his greatest success with his spectacular heroic play The Empress of Morocco (Duke's, by July 1673), subsequently published with illustrations of its most extravagant (p. 93 ) scenic effects. Angered by its success, Dryden collaborated with Shadwell and Crowne in a lengthy and ill-tempered attack on the play, though Settle's reply left him with at least equal honours.17 Settle again portrays authority as problematic, both in family and state: at the beginning of the play Muly Labas, the rightful heir to the throne, has been imprisoned by his father, and is saved only because his father is murdered (on his mother's orders) while pronouncing his death sentence; but his respite is brief, for he is saved from his father's hatred only to be killed by the agency of his mother and her lover, Crimalhaz. Such dark views of the family, interpreting it as an archetype not of society but of the Hobbesian state of war, were to be strikingly common until 1688, contrasting with the official derivation of royal authority from the natural authority of the father. Authority is equally unsatisfactory in the state, and problems of authority again create problems of justice. During his brief reign Muly Labas is well intentioned but weak, easily deluded by his mother and Crimalhaz into condemning the innocent, and finally destroyed by the agency of the villainous pair. He condemns the innocent Muly Hamet for attempted rape (the victim piously exclaiming that the sentence must be just because a king has passed it), and after Muly Labas's murder his queen, Morena, is tried for the crime by its true author, Crimalhaz.
As in Cambyses, the throne passes to the worthiest, when Muly Hamet, now betrothed to Muly Labas's sister, violently ends Crimalhaz' tyranny. As in Cambyses, however, it is difficult to arrive at universal and absolute principles that validate seizure of the throne by the worthy and not by the unworthy: in preparing to resist Muly Hamet, Crimalhaz cynically derives authority from success (‘I'll try, | Who's the successful Rebel, he, or I’, V, p. 167), and although the virtuous Abdelcador declares that true kings go to heaven and usurpers to hell (V, p. 175), his declaration provides no means of distinguishing them in life; as a guide to the temporal, the eternal is mute. As so often, Settle presents life as a concatenation of particular events that rarely support the formulation of general laws, and indeed the lives of the three successive rulers of Morocco in themselves present incoherent medleys of discrete events. Muly Labas and Muly Hamet go from prison to throne, while Crimalhaz makes the reverse journey. Muly Labas and Crimalhaz, true and false king, both preside at unjust trials, and Muly Hamet, who proclaims his own false condemnation to be just since uttered by a king, suddenly finds that he himself is the arbiter of justice. Settle quite ostentatiously emphasizes the instability and discontinuity of the roles of authority.
There is one particularly obvious way in which Settle portrays life as a sequence of discrete concrete events, irreducible to general and immaterial laws, and that is his use of imagery of the hand: imagery that is persistently (p. 94 ) prominent throughout his plays. Hands are rarely linked, as they are in Shakespeare and Milton, in token of the natural social interdependence of humanity; nor is the human hand contrasted or compared with the beneficently controlling hand of God. Rather, Settle portrays a world of conflicting hands engaged in competing action, and rarely articulates criteria of value beyond them. Only in Ibrahim is the repeated stress on manual violence counteracted by something nobler: the hero and heroine defying Solyman's power with a prolonged holding and kissing of hands (v, p. 61), and Solyman's penitent clasp of his dying wife (v, p. 72). But, in The Empress of Morocco itself, the hand merely acts. Crimalhaz and the Queen Mother constantly execute evil or fraudulent justice with their hands, the Queen's dying boast being ‘Let single murders, common hands suffice’ (v, p. 166). But the good, too, live by the hand: Crimalhaz' army is defeated by ‘Muly Hamet's hand’, Crimalhaz then being delivered to ‘Muly Hame's hands’ and his mistress Mariamne (two lines later) to his ‘Hand’ (v, pp. 167, 172). Virtue triumphs, but Settle is better at portraying the physical agencies which the good share with the evil than the metaphysical criteria which distinguish them.
The absence of such criteria is implicit in the one incident of real dramatic skill and subtlety in Settle's œuvre. When the Queen Mother decides to establish her own power by killing her son, she arranges that he and the Young Queen, Morena, shall star in a masque of Orpheus and Eurydice. Morena is told that Crimalhaz will play Orpheus, and that he plans to abduct her under cover of the masque. And so, at the moment when Eurydice is given to Orpheus' ‘hand’ (IV, pp. 148, 153), she surprises the audience by stabbing him to death (IV, p. 153), only to find that she has killed her husband: the brief linkage of hands is tragically delusory, and there is laborious stress on the role of Morena's ‘hand’ in performing the murder. It is equally prominent throughout the aftermath of the murder. She promises herself to the lustful Crimalhaz, provided that his ‘hand’ avenge the King (iv, p. 160), though she privately resolves to give only her corpse: ‘Morena's hand shall wash the stain she wears’ (IV, p. 161). She seals the pact by giving him her hand to kiss (IV, p. 160), and honours it by offering him her hand as she dies (V, p. 165).
In contrast with Isabella and Ibrahim's linking of hands, the three occasions on which Morena links hands are all ironic expressions of disharmony and impotence, fitting adjuncts to a masque in which the hands of the good unwittingly enact the dramaturgic designs of the wicked. Appropriately, the masque itself becomes a representation of the entangled obscurity of justice, for Settle here turns from the problem of the criminal ruler to that of the criminal god. Orpheus confronts the voluntaristic ravisher Pluto, daring ‘of a Crime [to] impeach a Deity’ (IV, p. 151), and repeatedly appears as a dislocated outsider in the cosmos whose rules he challenges: a stranger (twice), a ‘wanderer’, and ‘a Pilgrim’ (IV, pp. 151–2). He appears, that is, as a noble individual in a cosmos whose order provides no support for or analogy to his (p. 95 ) Eurydice is restored, though the atonement of Pluto's crime is curiously described as a relaxation rather than a fulfilment of justice: ‘Mercy as well as Justice rules in Hell’ (IV, p. 153), Proserpine sings, with the implication that Pluto's divinity made his crime itself just. But this fictitious and rather grudging display of providential benevolence is promptly counteracted by the actual death of the rightful king.
Settle was a blunderer, but an innovative blunderer. If Dryden provided a model for the spate of Siege, Conquest, and Destruction plays that were to flood the stage in the mid-1670S, The Empress of Morocco gives new prominence to the dark and brutal chaos at the heart of the family and state, later more searchingly portrayed by Lee and Otway. The increasing political gloom of drama reflects the national mood. There was growing mistrust of the King's aims in the Third Dutch War and fear of his brother's religion and character, which was to be compounded by James's marriage in September 1673 to the Catholic Princess Mary of Modena: a marriage which, in view of Charles's lack of legitimate issue, raised the possibility of a perpetual Catholic dynasty.18 ‘Looking back,’ John Miller writes, ‘thoughtful contemporaries saw 1672–3 as a watershed in Charles's reign, in which designs to establish popery and arbitrary government first became apparent.’19
Nathaniel Lee's The Tragedy of Nero, Emperour of Rome (King's, by May 1674) continues the dissident treatment of authority, celebrating the deposition of a self-deifying tyrant by popular uprising. But Nero is not a play of order restored: it contains the elements of earlier plays of restoration, but they are warped and disarranged. There is the customary figure of the true heir (Britannicus)20 but he is not a triumphant or even potentially regenerative figure, for he quickly goes mad for love, fantasizes (like many later Lee characters) of retreat to a private pastoral landscape (III. i. 87–100),21 and is killed before Nero's fall, leaving the throne to go to the outsider Galba, with whose apotheosis the play unenthusiastically concludes: although Nero's excesses have provoked the anguished cry of ‘where is Astrea fled?’ (II. iii. 90), there is now no miraculous return of the goddess.22 Rather, the heavens become inscrutable. Like other egomaniacs in Lee, Nero sees his language as more potent than that of the gods: his word is ‘an Oracle’ and ‘Fate’ (I. i. 93), and the book which orders human existence is his personal recipe book of ingenious and exquisite tortures (v. iii. 172–6). In his dying moments, however, he (p. 96 ) does hear the language of the gods, for when he challenges them to thunder they at once respond, posthumously vindicating the suffering innocents who have demanded divine thunder, but have not lived to hear it.23 ‘If there be Gods,’ Nero exclaims, ‘sure this must be their voice’ (v. iii. 231). But the voice of the gods is an inarticulate noise that requires human interpretation, and its only interpreter is Nero, who quickly concludes that his death is ennobled by divine participation. It is reasonable to assume that Nero is ignoring the obvious message of the thunder, and an articulate supernatural sphere is evidenced in the appearance of two ghosts (IV. iii. 55b; IV. iv. o), but in later works Lee was to draw out the potential for ambiguity in incidents like that of the thunderclap: the voice of the gods remains inarticulate, but the status of the human interpretation becomes harder to establish. The voice of the gods is also muted in Piso's Conspiracy (Duke's, c. August 1675), an anonymously pruned version of the Nero of 1624 prompted by the success of Lee's play. For, whereas the original concludes with the exhortation ‘People depart, and say there is a God’ (v. iii. 153), the revision merely subdivides categories of human agency: ‘Tyrants by Conquest have their Fall Decreed; | But Traitours should by Execution Bleed’ (V, p. 55).
Nero made no use of Racine's Britannicus, the first sign of Racine's influence coming in John Crowne's Andromache (Duke's, August 1674). Crowne claims simply to have turned into prose the verse translation of a young gentleman, and writes slightingly of Racine's play, claiming that English taste has matured since the ‘times, when the Cid[,] Heraclius, and other French Playes met such applause’ (sig. [A3]). The chief alterations are mechanical: the breaking up of long speeches, and the staging of Pyrrhus' murder (merely narrated in Racine). The ‘parricide’ of the original (v. iii. 1534) becomes, still topically, ‘regicide’ (v, p. 44), and Andromache leaves at the end for a life of wandering exile. In these minor details, we see traces of the great concerns of the early Restoration: the killing of the King, the descent into the wilderness. But they are here merely instinctive tics.
By contrast, Henry Neville Payne's The Siege of Constantinople (Duke's, by November 1674) is brimming with detailed topicality, and is the first of many tragedies to respond specifically to the crises that threatened the monarchy in the years following James's public declaration of his Catholicism.24 A villainous Chancellor (Shaftesbury) undermines a weak king's faith in his loyal brother, and promotes a disastrous war in which he secretly favours the enemy. False allies (Rome in the play, France in actuality) treacherously withhold promised aid, and a foreign general (Justiniano, Schomberg) is called in to no purpose. The play is a Conquest of Granada in reverse, with a Christian outpost falling to Islam, its king killed, his brother turned into the client ruler of a foreign, if benevolent, despotism. There is also an equivalent to Almanzor, (p. 97 ) the ranting Justiniano, though he is a mere miles gloriosus, not a disturbing image of the incompleteness of civilization.
What does vitiate civilization is the imperfection of knowledge. ‘By strength of Argument & Reason’ (I, p. 1) the Council embarks upon a disastrous war, the populace entertain restless doubt (a recurrent word) about the Emperor's intentions, the Emperor is deceived into thinking his brother Thomazo disloyal (the treason being, according to a villainous Cardinal, ‘too evident for any doubt’, V, p. 79), and Thomazo himself falls into total scepticism, hurling away a book of philosophy with the exclamation ‘Rank mist of words be gone; there's nothing true’ (IV, p. 65). Language and the book are divested of authority, revealing man's confused isolation in an enigmatic world.25 Clear monarchic authority is thus a necessary counterbalance to the obscurities of knowledge, and there is no association of authority with a particular system of belief, for the Turkish Sultan proves to be a better ruler than the Christian Emperor. It is he who executes the treacherous Chancellor (impaled in full view, like Settle's Crimalhaz), demonstrating that ‘Severity, not Mercy, strengthens power’ (V, p. 87).
But, if power creates certainty in the midst of ambiguity, the ambiguity itself remains. The imperfection of the sign is embodied in Mutantrope, initially a counterfeit and finally a genuine mute, whose condition the reticent heroine Irene explicitly compares to her own (‘My Love, like Mutantrope, your Highness Boy, | Does now and then make signs, but cannot speak’, I, p. 10). This reticence leads to a particularly striking failure of woman to control the posthumous narrative of her life, which perhaps justifies Thomazo's gesture in throwing away the book. Because of her diffidence, Irene becomes confused with Calista, the Chancellor's daughter, who under the name of Irene becomes the Sultan's mistress, and is subsequently executed by him to demonstrate his superiority to passion. In the original form of this famous story, retained in Johnson's tragedy, Irene herself had been the executed mistress. It had already been used, in tactful admonition of the King's sex-life, in the anonymous Irena (1664), wheretne heroine is similarly kept alive through the execution of a substitute. But in his contemptuous ‘Satire’ of Charles II (1677), Jonn Lacy was directly and abusively to commend the example of Irene's execution.26 Payne is perhaps also admonishing a pleasure-loving king, but he also uses the story to emphasize that, like Eugenia in The Fatal Jealousie, Irene cannot fix her own story. She finds happiness with Thomazo, but at the price of eternal historical opprobrium.
Elkanah Settle's Love and Revenge (Duke's, by November 1674), based upon William Heming's The Fatal Contract, also portrays quarrelling royal (p. 98 ) brothers, but here the younger (Lewis) is genuinely disloyal, leading a successful rebellion against the violent and lecherous Clotair, who has attempted both to kill him and to rape his beloved Aphelia. Once again, the intrinsic incoherence of the family represents that of the state, and once again (as in The Empress of Morocco) a lustful queen murders her husband and plots against her offspring. The central element in the plot, however, is the vengeance of another victim of Clotair's lust, the raped Chlotilda. The rape makes Clotair another of Settle's criminal kings, and he is in addition wildly unstable in the execution of justice, rapidly changing his mind about his decrees and blaming his subordinates for executing them. Institutional justice thus loses all meaning and consistency, and the victims of power repeatedly desire justice of other kinds. As Aphelia's brother argues,
But the problem (half-grasped, as usual) is whether justice has any significance when its only criterion is the individualistic resentment of the injured. Is there any real distinction between justice and vengeance? Increasingly, Settle's plays in this period suggest that there is not. At the end of the play, Lewis regrets deposing a ‘guiltless’ brother, but tells Chlotilda that her ‘Rage was just’, and resolves henceforth to be ‘just’ himself (V, p. ‘73’ ). Yet the guiltless Clotair was a tyrannical rapist, the new, just, ruler is both usurper and hereditary king, and in her just rage Chlotilda has assisted not only in the deposition of Clotair but in the murder of the old king, and in addition has plotted (unsuccessfully) the rape and murder of Aphelia.27 Justice in Settle never transcends the Hobbesian battle of warring individualists, and in this respect he reflected half-passively concerns which were more deliberately and expertly developed by his contemporaries.
- the Laws
- Of Friendship and of Nature ought to be
- Obey'd before th'unjust commands of Kings. …
- The serving of my Friend
- And Sister then, is a design so just,
- That all the Cheats I use, and shapes I take,
- Are pardon'd for their glorious cause sake:
- Moved by the tyes of Friendship and of Blood,
- The means are lawful where the end's so good.
- (iv, p. 56)
These problems are more fully examined in Settle's next play, The Conquest of China by the Tartars (Duke's, by May 1675), where authority and justice again prove bewilderingly mutable. At the beginning of the play, King Theinmingus of Tartary is invading China to avenge the death of his father in battle, rather unwillingly assisted by his son Zungteus. By the final act, there has been a total change of crowns: the King of China has been deposed by a (p. 99 ) usurper, and Zungteus, who now rules Tartary, joins forces with a virtuous Chinese prince to depose the usurper, so that Settle again shows a throne passing to an outsider whose only claim is merit. Amidst all the changes of kingship, definitions of justice proliferate in a virtual Babel; but one constant element is that justice and revenge are synonymous. For Theinmingus, resentful of his father's death, ‘Imperial Heads in Blood, and Thrones in Dust, | Are th'only Vengeance that can make Me just’ (I, p. 2), and his son's friend Palexus soon afterwards confirms that ‘Revenge and Justice’ demand the ruin of China (1, p. 6). But, since Settle does not specify the circumstances of the father's death, we cannot arbitrate between Theinmingus' vision of justice and that of the Chinese heroine Amavanga, who ‘justifies’ the killing (I, p. 3), or of the exemplary Chinese hero Quitazo, who prays for his King's ‘just cause’ (III, p. 35). Zungteus, Theinmingus' son, is himself troubled about the ‘injustice’ (I, p. 7) of his father's cause, but only because he spent his youth in China, loves Amavanga, and regrets that these original loyalties should be overridden by ‘a Turn of State’ (I, p. 6). Political ideals are capricious and transitory, and individual claims alone have substance. The patterns of justice are complicated yet again in the fifth act, when each of the opposing nations has a new king. Theinmingus dies, leaving his throne to Zungteus, the King of China is deposed by the villainous Lycungus, who promptly affronts justice by burning sixteen thousand legal scholars (v, p. 58), and the Chinese hero Quitazo therefore joins the Tartars in a ‘just’ (v, p. 56) campaign against the usurper.
But, if the usurper's slaughter of the legal scholars mocks codified justice, the system he destroys has not emerged with much credit. Earlier in the play, Quitazo is selected by the King to marry his daughter Orunda (and, consequently, become his heir). By established law, refusal is punishable by death, but Quitazo remains faithful to his beloved Alcinda, and Orunda consequently demands ‘Justice’ and her ‘just right’ (III, p. 28) from a father who is only too eager to oblige:
Orunda, more modestly, desires only the ‘Revenge and Justice’ of Alcinda's death, and persuades the King to delegate his ‘Justice’ to her (III, p. 29), though it is characteristic of Settle's habitual complication of judicial roles that the Princess should then pursue her justice through the agency of hired criminals, and that she herself should accidentally become their victim. In this strand of the action, vengefulness appears at its ugliest, even though, more than anywhere else, it is allied to formalized law. But, if Orunda's (p. 100 ) murderous jealousy is marked by the call for ‘Revenge and Justice’, the very same words vindicate the Tartars' heroic campaign against China (I, p. 6), itself distinguished by spectacular images of violence: ‘We burn down Citys till we melt our Way’ (I, p. 2). Heroic and base aims are justified with identical terminology and pursued with similar violence. They are all, indeed, pursued with the hand. The vengeful Orunda and lawless Lycungus alike rely on the violent hand (e.g. III, pp. 33–4), and for Amavanga China feels ‘an Invaders hand’ (I, p. 2); but, for Theinmingus, it feels ‘the hand of Justice’ (I, p. 4). Though the causes in the play demand to be interpreted and judged with reference to absolutes which transcend the imperatives of individual desire, Settle does not provide them.
- I'le punish his Affront on his whole Race,
- And from Mankind his hated Name deface.
- Alcinda's Blood first Expiates her sin …
- And to confirm my Rage, I'le pluck out all
- Their Eyes, that shed a Tear to see her fall.
- (iii, p. 28)
Settle's plays frequently dwell on arbitrary, extreme, and meaningless suffering. Overcome by Lycungus, the King of China chooses suicide and commands his wives to do likewise, but the earthly embodiment of justice again proves capricious and tragically inadequate, for—too late—he changes his mind: ‘The Scene opens, and is discovered a Number of Murdred Women, some with Daggers in their Breasts, some thrust through with Swords, some strangled, and others Poyson'd; with several other Forms of Death’ (V, p. 60). ‘Then their own Murder each bold hand performs’, adds a witness (V, p. 61; italics added). Scorning ‘to fall by a Traitor's Hand,’ and confident in Lycungus' ultimate downfall, the King and his entourage fall on their swords, and—in Settle's most aphoristic expression of comprehensive violence—‘Dy Omnes’ (v, p. 61). The King's belief in Lycungus' imminent punishment is belief in Providence, but a Providence shaped by the human will and executed by the human hand:
Manual action is again the one consistent element in a world of fluctuating principle, since the hand that is to execute the King's ‘Just Revenge’ had earlier inflicted justice and vengeance on him and his subjects. Settle's sensational tableaux, such as that of the slaughtered women with their ‘several’ forms of death, are appropriate climaxes to plays which reduce the various categories of life to inexpertly distinguished varieties of violence. As Orunda says to Quitazo, ‘If killing is such an Heroick part … | Then Plagues and Famines have more worth than you’ (II, p. 17).
- I'le Conjure the Higher Pow'rs,
- And choose the Gods for my Executors,
- To see the true Performance of my Will,
- And by [Zungteus'] Arm my Just Revenge fulfill.
- (v, p. 61; italics added)
Similar sentiments pervade Nathaniel Lee's first study of clashing empires, Sophonisba; or, Hannibal's Overthrow (King's, April 1675). King Massinissa is particularly afflicted by anti-heroic doubt, asking ‘What are we, but the Murd'rers of the Field?’ (I. i. 137) and ‘What real pleasure can it be to kill?’ (p. 101 ) (I. i. 314), and it is notable that the vocabulary of heroism is now explicitly the vocabulary of power and domination: although honour remains an important term, ambition and empire gain a new prominence. Throughout the play, Lee reveals an irreconcilable and intolerable conflict between the demands of public life and the needs of the private self: the tragic counterpart to the conflict between instinct and social existence in contemporary sex comedy. Massinissa has given his nephew Massina a childhood similar to Almanzor's, inuring him to war in the desert and keeping him from the sight of female beauty. Yet, as soon as he sees the beautiful Rosalinda (Hannibal's mistress), he falls into a desperate infatuation which quickly drives him to suicide. Almanzor's eventual reconciliation of love and heroism is now impossible: the disciplines of empire have been unable to quench the natural impulses of individual life, but no accommodation between them can be found. Although Scipio conquers his own love for Rosalinda, the conquest of passion turns him into not a stoic sage but an imaginatively crippled semi-human, for he refuses Hannibal's reasonable peace terms, and the portrayal of his ensuing victory invites us to apply criteria remote from those of heroic machismo. Rosalinda, assuming male garb in order to enter the alien world of glory, is promptly and ingloriously destroyed in an anonymous skirmish. In the aftermath of victory, Scipio drives Massinissa and his beloved Sophonisba to suicide, believing Massinissa's love to be incompatible with the demands of masculinity and empire. Then, in his last speech, he belatedly recognizes the hollowness of the ideals to which he has devoted himself and sacrificed others.
The march of imperial destiny is relentless and oppressive, and there is no visible guiding principle in history. Though Lee habitually used the new scenic resources to portray omens and other spectacular expressions of divine will, the omens declare catastrophe, not justice, and become increasingly ambiguous, showing that communication between earth and heaven is tenuous and uncertain. Sophonisba contains ‘a Heaven of blood, two Suns, Spirits in Battle, Arrows shot to and fro in the Air: Cryes of yielding Persons, See. Cryes of Carthage is fal'n, Carthage, &c’ (II. ii. 87b), where the chaos and inarticulate clamour of battle are transferred to heaven itself. Later a prophetess gives Hannibal an ambiguous prophecy, seemingly of victory but actually of defeat (IV. i. 60–81). She does, however, clearly foretell the death of Rosalinda, though clarity is significantly associated with the suspension of language, for the prophecy is conveyed through a worldless vision (IV. i. 132b–c). Like many Lee characters, Hannibal wishes to supplant the language of the gods with that of man: ‘We'l drown the talking Gods with our last cry, | And Earth shall thunder back upon the sky’ (II. ii. 105–6). He fails, but nobility lies with the divided and suffering mortals, and the celestial regime against which he exclaims never emerges as a source of coherence and meaning.28
(p. 102 ) A great deal of ink has been spilt on the supposed discrepancy between the cynical libertinism of Restoration comedy and the exalted idealism of the heroic play. But, in fact, there is no exalted idealism in tragedy of the early 1670s; instead, tragedy antedates comedy in its deep scepticism about the codes and power structures of civilization, with comedy only catching up in 1675. The confluence of comedy and tragedy in this year is to some extent acknowledged in Shadwell's Don Juan play, The Libertine (Duke's, May—June 1675), which appeared six months after the première of The Country-Wife, and explores the destructive potential of the rake, expressing Shadwell's continuing concern with the debasement of gentility. Profiting all the time from their gentlemanly rank, Don John and his two friends commit seduction, rape, incest, robbery, murder, and parricide, morally overshadowed by the humble peasants who rescue or champion their victims. The rakes are also enemies of justice, here portrayed as an unambiguous norm of order: Don John has ‘Laugh'd at old feeble Judges, and weak Laws’ (I, p. 25), and one of his nastiest acts is to betray a magistrate (Francisco) who has given him shelter after a shipwreck, seducing his benefactor's daughters and then killing him, thus combining the violation of justice with that of hospitality, Shadwell's favourite social virtue.
Shadwell's unfashionable confidence in the existence of palpable and uncomplicated social norms is illustrated in his handling of the bedroom trick. Otway and Wycherley were to exploit the silence that is almost inevitably associated with this deception in order to portray an insoluble tension between human rationality and sexuality: the bout of speechless sensuality represents a brief, unsustainable flight from articulate social consciousness into bestial oblivion, each a permanent part of human nature, yet each irreconcilable with the other. But, when Don John commits rape by means of the bedroom trick, he does not abandon speech, and Shadwell portrays not a„ flight from signification but a simple perversion of it: much stress is laid on Don John's need to discover ‘the Sign’ (I, pp. 33–4) which gains admittance, and when this is discovered he kills his rival and assumes his name and clothes. The bedroom trick confirms that Don John simply negates all the forms that bind individuals into communities: both the forms that differentiate (clothes) and those that unite (words). Indeed, he perpetually delights in obliterating the distinctions that uphold and express civilized values, killing his father and committing a rape upon his tomb: ‘All times and places are alike to him,’ his servant Jacomo says (I, p. 29).
Shadwell had reworked the Dryden-Davenant Tempest as a semi-opera, and his intellectual engagement with the play appears in his reworking of the standard situation of the rakes' shipwreck. As usual, Don John is cast ashore not on a mysterious, remote island but in his native land, but this substitution of the familiar for the alien enables Shadwell to amplify the implication of the first Restoration Tempest, that the alien and the monstrous are everywhere (p. 103 ) endemic in civilization: John and his friends are ‘Monsters of the Land’ (III, p. 59),29 the raped Maria laments that ‘More savage cruelty reigns in Cities, | Than ever yet in Desarts’ (II, p. 48), and the shipwrecked John enters Francisco's hospitable household as a ‘Stranger’ (III, p. 63) and proceeds to destroy it. The Shakespearian virtue of compassion appears in the hermit who first assists the travellers, and who contemplates their ship with a pity like Miranda's (III, p. 53), reversing the indifference of the Lucretian spectator, and rising above the libertines' selfish appetitiveness. But the compassion proves disastrously misplaced, and on the whole Shadwell portrays a world more susceptible to the methods of the Restoration Prospero than of Shakespeare's; for human capacity for shared moral experience is palpably limited. Shadwell plainly rejects the relativistic juxtaposition of conflicting codes favoured by Etherege and Dryden, but his characters are nevertheless as confined in little cells as theirs are, and indeed the Hermit, who has lived in the same cave for forty years (III, p. 53), is a prime example of such confinement. After the libertines have left him and gone to enjoy the unfortunate Francisco's hospitality, the Hermit rescues two of Don John's pursuing victims, Maria and Leonora, who tell him of their seducer's crimes. Leonora is bound by the ‘Chains’ (III, p. 58) of passion, but the Hermit is also constricted by his way of life, ‘bound in charity’ to help the distressed (III, p. 54; italics added), but also unable to leave the ‘small bounds’ (III, p. 58) of his cell even to warn Francisco, who consequently learns too late of the danger to his family. Francisco's daughters fall for Don John because they have grown ‘wild by confinement’ (III, p. 59); and, sadder and wiser, they opt for confinement again, this time in a nunnery. And when, at the end of the play, Don John and his friends sink unmoved into the confinement of the abyss, their calm proceeds not from defiant courage but from the sheer inability to escape their natures. It is necessary for the community to repress the libertines' anarchy, instead of investing them with the impunity of rank. But, while Shadwell differs from his leading contemporaries in affirming an unambiguous set of social rules, the individuals whom they govern are very deficient in their capacity for moral choice or shared moral purpose.
Thomas Otway's first play, Alcibiades (Duke's, September 1675), stays far more within established fashions, using a heroic subject to highlight the tension between individualistic aspiration and social order. At the beginning of the play Alcibiades desecrates a statue of Zeus, flees from his native Athens to the enemy state of Sparta, and in the process deserts his mistress, Timandra, who deplores his broken ‘Faith’ and ‘Truth’ (I. 19). Thereafter, however, he conducts himself admirably, doing wonders in battle, forming an exemplary friendship with the Spartan hero Patroclus, refusing to betray the King by sleeping with his beautiful and lustful wife, Deidamia, and continuing to love (p. 104 ) Timandra—who has followed him into exile—with an exalted rapture. His only miscalculation is courteously to imply to the Queen—with predictable results—that he would love her if Timandra and the King were out of the way. Otherwise, he is as punctilious in love, loyalty, and friendship as an Orrery hero. But all the loyalty and friendship are displayed on the wrong side: values that integrate Orrery's heroes with their native community are here detached from the social setting that originally gave them meaning.
The uprootedness of Alcibiades reflects a general failure of the systems that traditionally express and sustain man's social character. Images of displacement permeate the play. The Queen desires to be ‘Free as the Ayr, and boundless as the Wind’ (II. 186), and the villainous favourite Tissaphernes broods on his rootless youth (‘no dwelling but a Tent’, I. 274). The virtuous Patroclus also experiences displacement, becoming increasingly alienated from an evil father (Tissaphernes) with whom he has no bond of nature or culture. Even when he becomes king, the demands of the personal and the public remain irreconcilable, for (in another displacement) his beloved Draxilla has wandered without trace into exile, and Patroclus has to send subordinates in search of her, being prevented by the responsibilities of office from seeking his own loved one. The main elements of Otway's later plays—the displaced protagonist, the collapsing family, the decaying community—dominate his work from the outset.
Otway's first, clumsy, experiment in the heroic play was soon followed by Dryden's last essay in the genre, Aureng-Zebe (King's, November 1675), written almost five years after The Conquest of Granada. Unsurprisingly, he took few hints from his younger contemporaries, for Otway and Lee had yet to find their voices and Settle was beneath imitation. As he revealed in his prologue, his preferred model was now Shakespeare, but he could not yet move from paralysed awe to creative absorption. As in The Conquest of Granada, he pits brother against brother in civil conflict, but it is a sign of the times that the context of the conflict is no longer sectarian strife but a disputed succession. Although he preserves the patriarchal line, he dispenses with primogeniture, showing the crown passing to the worthiest son, the temperate Aureng-Zebe, rather than to the eldest, the noble but unforgiving Darah, or the valiant Sujah, disabled by bigoted adherence to a foreign creed, and reliance on foreign aid. This is not the Dryden of Absalom and Achitophel.30
When the Crisis came, Dryden opted for primogeniture and Darah—Sujah, and he is here concerned far less with specific political issues than with the philosophical problems that beset the maintenance of civilization: with the isolation imposed on humanity by the very nature of desire and perception, and the consequent fragility of social units. Yet again we see the essential (p. 105 ) incoherence of the family, for the royal family of India is comprehensively divided by sexual rivalry and the lust for power, three of the Emperor's four sons being in rebellion against him. The Emperor himself falls in love with Indamora, the fiancee of his only loyal son, Aureng-Zebe, who is consequently imprisoned, and displaced in the succession by his younger half-brother Morat, who promptly falls for Indamora himself. Torn between love for Indamora and loyalty to his father, Aureng-Zebe experiences a conflict between social duty and personal desire that he can never internally resolve—resolution only coming when the Emperor repents—and he never equals the socially perfect paragons of early Restoration drama. The courtier Arimant concedes that Aureng-Zebe is ambitious and that, since younger brothers were normally executed after the new king's accession, it is in his interest to gain the succession through loyalty. Aureng-Zebe himself repeatedly confirms Arimant's assessment, combining ostentatious public gestures of magnanimity with complex private calculation of the benefit they will bring him: for example, he resonantly discourages his soldiers from rebelling in his support, only to opine in an aside that his ends can be gained without rebellion (II. 21–30). In his dealings with others, however, and particularly with Indamora, he inflexibly demands unyielding heroic principle, outraged by her decision to save his life by playing upon Morat's affections, by her fear of death, and by the emotional involvement which, in the belief that Aureng-Zebe is dead, she develops with the dying and partially penitent Morat.
Both the survival and ultimate union of Indamora and Aureng-Zebe proceed from her violations of his code: a code that does not even adequately represent the true range of his own aims and motives. Once again, the theoretical disciplines of civilization fail to match the vagaries of human nature, and once again the failure is imaged in a failure of judicial process: the two scenes in which Aureng-Zebe berates Indamora become impromptu trials, full of the language of guilt, crime, and innocence, and although she is in each case pronounced not guilty, the verdict is never reached by rational apprehension of her nature, for in each case the hero drops his accusations not because they are disproved but because Indamora wrong-foots him by ending their betrothal. Mental processes are fundamentally capricious, influenced (as in Montaigne) by incongruous causes, and external objects can never be directly comprehended in their essence. Here Dryden demonstrates with particular clarity what is so often affirmed in drama of this period: that the determination of guilt and innocence, so fundamental to the ritual ordering of community, is a process that can never penetrate into the nature of the individual under examination.
Community is thus unstable not only because of the unruliness of individual appetite but because the individual is a prisoner of the mind, perceiving the world only through mental phantasms which bear no verifiable equivalence to the objects themselves. Most characters become trapped in (p. 106 ) Cartesian problems, without finding Cartesian solutions: problems of verifying the existence of the world outside the mind, and of establishing that other human beings also possess a soul and consciousness, instead of being unthinking automata. For Descartes, the answer to the latter problem was that automata could not use articulate language, and his solution had been elaborated in Géraud de Cordemoy's Discours physique de la parole (1668), the English translation of which had been bought and praised by Pepys.31 But this solution does not impress the Empress Nourmahal, who suggests that the Emperor ‘onely mov'd, and talk'd, but did not live’ (v. 294), and the characters in general repeatedly view the self as centre of the universe and others as possessing a shadowy half-existence. Nourmahal sees Indamora as an empty replica of her own self (v. 280–5), and Aureng-Zebe dismisses Morat as a human form inhabited by a brute soul (III. 304–9), later similarly denouncing Indamora as ‘Adorn'd, without; unfinish'd left, within’ (IV. 492). Almost all the major characters doubt the independent reality of beings outside the mind, and none attains a satisfactory criterion whereby to settle his doubts, even Aureng-Zebe's renewed faith in Indamora being an unreasoned consequence of a change in the balance of power between them.
Isolated within their mental phantasms, characters are isolated also within the words that represent those phantasms.32 Words become confused with things, the sign eclipsing an object whose essence is perpetually closed to inspection: Indamora ‘printed kisses’ on Aureng-Zebe's name (IV. 403); and, when Aureng-Zebe accuses her of infidelity with Morat, he asserts that his very repetition of Morat's name will give her a kind of aural orgasm (IV. 426–32). The characters' isolation within language has a further implication, which was more fully developed in Dryden's later plays, and which indeed had already been extensively explored in Wycherley's The Country-Wife (January 1675): that to categorize life in terms of simple polarities such as guilt and innocence is to seek in it pure symmetries to which language naturally tends but which are alien to the tangled nature of experience. Aureng-Zebe's fixation on determining Indamora's innocence or guilt is part of a more widespread failure to distinguish the patterns of language from those of life. Other plays will extend the list of seductive antitheses: truth and falsity, king and usurper, man and woman.
The only other Restoration tragedian so far to have matched Dryden's interest in epistemological enigma was Payne, though Otway and Crowne were to follow him in their mature tragedies, and Wycherley had shown similar preoccupations from his earliest comedy. But in other respects Aureng-Zebe addresses problems of widespread concern. For example, Nathaniel (p. 107 ) Lee's Gloriana; or, The Court of Augustus Caesar (King's, January 1676) also portrays a divided royal family and focuses on disputes about inherited power. Early in the play, Augustus renounces his daughter Julia as a ‘Stranger to my blood’ (I. i. 161) and curses the tomb of her mother, Scribonia. Caesario, illegitimate son of Julius Caesar (by Cleopatra), vies for power with Augustus, Caesar's adopted son (‘I am by birth what you adopted are’, IV. i. 217), asserting that Caesar would have written a different will had he known the qualities of his natural son. Heredity is here not a fixed and clear criterion of succession, but one that is arbitrary, contingent, and speculative, and it is repeatedly stressed that Augustus is a cruel and lustful despot, with neither the moral nor the military qualities of a great ruler. He is regularly compared to a beast of prey and, disgusted by the adultery of Julia and Ovid, actually wishes he could be reincarnated as a lion to rule the nobler and simpler world of the beasts (II. i. 369–73). The hierarchies of empire are essentially those of the jungle, and Caesario deplores the absence of providential rationale from the political order:
But Caesario is scarcely developed as an ideal alternative to Augustus. Both men have illusions of divinity, Caesario believing himself immortal (II. i. 12), Augustus promising to raise the dead (v. i. 108); and Caesario (despite his Almanzor-like bluster and war record) is an erratic blunderer whose foolish mistrust of his beloved Gloriana frustrates her plan to assassinate Augustus and drives her to suicide.
- Heav'n that can see such Vertue in distress,
- And with exceeding power a Tyrant bless …
- Heav'n that allows this parricide a name
- As great and good as the first Sons of Fame.
- (iv. i. 187–92)
Gloriana (Pompey's daughter) is another offspring of the great, her longing for the lost might of her race accentuated by the disabilities of her sex: she wishes that she too could command ‘mighty men’ (III. ii. 47). But, being a woman, she is nearly raped by Augustus, and is destroyed by the jealousy of the man she loves. The problems of female descendants of the great are equally emphasized in the portrayal of Augustus' notorious daughter Julia. Lee's would-be rapist is in no position to condemn the lapses of his daughter, who indeed presents a female version of his own characteristics, ‘being boundless born, and mark'd for sway’ (I. i. 97). But Augustus fails to see the point, concluding simply that she is ‘all o're woman’ (I. i. 192), while her husband Marcellus wonders what could so ‘unman’ Augustus as to make him beget such a child (II. i. 236). When Julia eventually reforms, she also—in a significant correlation—dissociates herself from her father's tyranny.
Perhaps the most striking expression of Julia's early unruliness comes in an incident narrated by Tiberius, when she stole thunder and lightning from a (p. 108 ) statue of Jupiter and brandished the thunder in the god's face (II. i. 242–7). She covets the language of the gods, though, as so often in Lee, divine language is filtered through human mediation: the thunder is mere mimicry and artefact. Nero and Hannibal had also desired to master divine utterance, the latter capping his threat to ‘drown the talking Gods’ by boasting that ‘Earth shall thunder back upon the sky’ (II. ii. 105–6), and here a woman trespasses upon the aspirations of the male overreachers. But thundering remains the privilege of the male. Reflecting on Caesar's dalliance with Cleopatra, Augustus declares, in a speech of agreeable absurdity,
In both the cosmic and mundane spheres, women are a recuperative diversion from the male mission of deafening the world with thunder. For the men, the association of women and thunder is monstrous: when Caesario accuses Gloriana of falsity, he accuses her of having ‘a heart compos'd of Thunder’ (V. ii. 40).
- 'Twas Godlike, and he imitated Jove,
- Who with excessive thundring tir'd above,
- Comes down for ease, enjoys a Nymph, and then
- Mounts dreadful and to thundring goes again.
- (iv. i. 248–51)
Desire for thunder is desire for linguistic power. We do not see Julia's theft of the thunderbolt, but shortly after it is narrated she enters, provocatively engaged in a shared act of reading with Ovid, and comparing his poetic style with Virgil's. Reading and writing become the manifestations of the sexual and social presumption for which Julia and Ovid are respectively condemned, for this literary discussion brings about Ovid's banishment, and is the only direct glimpse of their relationship, evidence of Julia's sexual excesses coming solely from the rather suspect Tiberius. It is a sign of Julia's failure to acquire the words of power that she is yet another tragic heroine whose tale is never narrated: a victim of history, like Payne's Irene. ‘Vainly her thoughts they guess by outward form,’ says Mecenas (I. i. 99), and Julia herself tells Marcellus, her husband, that ‘What I have done | Shall to no mortal, not to you be known’ (IV. i. 48–9). Although she reads on equal terms with a great poet, she is treated by her husband as a mere passive text:
Indeed, right at the beginning of the play Augustus assumes the power to control the significance of Julia's name—‘Of all great evil Julia be the name’ (I. i. 89)—and he speaks with the voice of posterity far more than Julia does when she scorns ‘the awfull puff of Caesar's name’ (I. i. 188). For, as Caesario says, (p. 109 ) Julius Caesar's name is inscribed in golden letters ‘in Fate's Book’ (II. i. 136). In general, men battle for linguistic power while women remain linguistically vulnerable, their vulnerability being especially illustrated in Marcellus' sister Narcissa, ‘highly born, yet educated low’ (v. i. 157).
- Disgrace so bold is grav'd upon thy brow,
- That ev'n old age, whose eyes are seldom clear,
- Dim with death's mist, can read thy falshood there.
- (iv. i. 2–4)
The woman's linguistic exclusion reflects a wider subordination of language to power. For the writer, too, is vulnerable. Augustus is the murderer of Cicero (III. ii. 74–6) and banisher of Ovid (II. i. 349), and the first incident in the play is of Augustus hearing a song by Ovid and the praises of his subordinates and then silencing them: ‘Ye must not speak since I can hear no more’ (I. i. 45). There is, however, one point at which Ovid asserts his own claims. Caught reading with Julia, he reveals the professional's sense of his own worth by physically defending himself against Marcellus, the poet (in a politically telling gesture) assuming the right of self-defence against the heir presumptive to the crown (II. i. 315–16). Indignant, Caesario—the conventional warrior-hero—crudely asserts the inferiority of the writer to the soldier: ‘in Fields we should our Standards raise, | And make this Writer but our drudge to praise’ (II. i. 324–5). Caesario elsewhere shows a violent mistrust of language (he later repudiates vows as ‘Smoak’ and ‘air’, III. i. 20), and his arrogant outburst here invites dissent, opening the old question of how far the glory of the deed derives from the doer and how far from the writer who records it: ‘Non fu sì santo né benigno Augusto | come la tuba di Virgilio suona.’33 The question is sustained in Ovid's farewell speech. In a complex demonstration of the relationship between the panegyrist/satirist and the political system he serves, Ovid departs for exile asserting his loyalty to the tyrant who is banishing him and dedicating both sword and pen to the battle against Augustus' enemies (II. i. 359–63). In Alcibiades Otway had dealt with the displaced, exiled hero. Lee here deals with the displaced, exiled poet, the servant of a system where others control language and wield the thunderbolt.
The place of the woman in the heroic world is also considered in Thomas Durfey's first play, the absurdly bombastic The Siege of Memphis (King's, c. July 1676). As in The Empress of Morocco, the main focus of interest is a flamboyant villainess (Zelmura), but here the villainess is allowed to challenge the masculine hierarchies of the heroic world, performing courageously in battle, killing a general who resents female competition, and inducing her husband to surrender power to her for three days, during which saturnalia she tries and executes him as a traitor. Moaron, the ranting, Almanzor-like hero, is her prisoner for most of the play, removed from the sphere of heroic action, and only able to fight against her in the final act because she has released him. (p. 110 ) Zelmura remains a villainess, murdering her sister through sexual jealousy, but she is the tragic equivalent to those many women of spirit who, in Durfey's comedies, asserted themselves against a culture created in man's image.
The obvious primary inspiration for Durfey's play is The Conquest of Granada, and this remained the most influential of Dryden's heroic plays. But two new Duke's Company tragedies from this period—Settle's Ibrahim The Illustrious Bassa (by March 1676) and Otway's Don Carlos Prince of Spain (June 1676)—are clearly indebted to Aureng-Zebe, both portraying a monarch engaged in sexual rivalry with his son. In Ibrahim Solyman falls in love with the heroine Isabella and obstructs her marriage to Ibrahim, though both are his surrogate children. ‘Is Justice in a King | So strange?’ (II, p. 16), he asks when first agreeing to their marriage, only to be transformed by sudden infatuation into another of Settle's criminal monarchs, seeking to circumvent an earlier vow not to kill Ibrahim. For Ibrahim, Solyman is so godlike that life itself is a privilege depending on his discretion (IV, p. 49), but Solyman himself presents a different view of the relationship between kingship and divinity, seeing power as the arbiter of right in both (III, p. 37), and Ibrahim's viewpoint is counterbalanced by that of the captive Persian Prince Ulama, who is at one point prepared to head a rebellion against Solyman. The plan is not accomplished, but neither is it condemned, and Ibrahim joins the significant group of mid-1670s plays that give some countenance to rebellion against a criminal ruler. Solyman reforms, but—in contrast to King Edward in Orrery's The Black Prince—the reforming king is not a symbol or agent of social renewal, for his folly has destroyed his court. Ibrahim and Isabella depart for exile, Solyman's Queen has committed suicide, and the play's two Orrerian noble rivals also die, isolated martyrs who fail to find a society to which their virtues are appropriate.
In Otway's Don Carlos King Philip has actually married his son's fiancée before the beginning of the play, and Carlos consequently faces an extreme and insoluble conflict between the demands of desire and his social duties as son and subject, which drives him into the alienation characteristic of Otway's characters: ‘a stranger’ to his father (IV. 463), banished by him, becoming ‘a naked wanderer’ bound for ‘some solitary shoar’ (III. 442–47). Like Alcibiades, therefore, Carlos is a hero without a society, and indeed the gap between the hero and his milieu has widened, for libertine sentiments that in Alcibiades were confined to the villains now occur to the most noble and principled. In Alcibiades, only Tissaphernes or his like could have dismissed obedience as ‘a false Notion made | By Priests’ (I 14–15), but here the speaker is Carlos, who indeed later decides to join a rebellion against his father, claiming that his participation will make the cause ‘just’ (IV. 25). The social unassimilability of the hero is due to the indomitability of sexual desire. As Carlos greedily smothers his stepmother's hand with kisses, she at first offers Platonic love, but quickly recognizes a deep moral disorientation that (p. 111 ) parallels Carlos's sense of displacement: ‘Oh whither am I run astray!’ (II. 299). Their passion remains unconsummated, but the tension between desire and social prescription is intolerable. The play opens with a ceremonial court scene in which Carlos's passion prevents him from enacting the expected gestures and roles of deference, and desire weakens the language of social category and obligation: ‘Father! and King! both names bear mighty sence: | Yet sure there's something too in Son, and Prince’ (IV. 16–17), exclaims Carlos immediately before announcing his decision to join the rebels. Later, he actually curses ‘the name of Son,’ declaring the King to be ‘not my Father’ but a ‘Tyrant’ (IV. 160–3). Nevertheless, the ‘Title’ of father (though not of king) dissuades him from murder (IV. 488–90).
If Carlos echoes Tissaphernes, Queen Deidamia's sexual libertinism is echoed by the King's promiscuous bastard brother, Don John, nostalgic for the primeval state when ‘Each of himself was Lord’ (II. 5). Yet, even before his eventual renunciation of libertinism, Don John is a just and magnanimous prince, whose virtues stand in clear contrast to his brother's destructive jealousy, and who demonstrates with particular clarity Otway's growing interest in the universal persistence in human nature of elements alien to the disciplines of community. The incorporation of libertine elements into the heroic character leads to a corresponding decrease in the importance of the villainous libertines, here represented by the aged courtier Rui-Gomez and his young, lustful wife Eboli, who conspires the Queen's death because of her own unrequited love for Carlos. Though they arouse the King's jealousy and provoke his murder of the Queen, the King has much to be jealous about, and Rui-Gomez does not have to work very hard to achieve his goal:
Whereas Iago imposes an entirely fictitious pattern of guilt upon innocence, Rui-Gomez and his wife marginally accentuate disruptive forces that are already raging in those they would manipulate. Rui-Gomez' manipulative menace is diminished by his ridiculous ignorance of his own cuckoldom, and a climactic scheme to expose Carlos and the Queen instead exposes his own wife in flagrante with Don John. Indeed, he cannot keep pace with the characters' own self-destructiveness: when he poisons Carlos's bath, Carlos promptly upstages him by climbing in and slitting his own veins. Iago, the disruptive outsider, is once again redundant, for there is a destructive alien within each individual.
Alas! 'tis only that I saw him here.—
Where? with the Queen? Yes, yes, 'tis so I'm sure.
The royal family is also fatally divided in Abdelazer; or, The Moor's Revenge (Duke's, by July 1676), Aphra Behn's adaptation of Lust's Dominion, by Dekker, Day, and Haughton. Both source and adaptation have much in common with The Empress of Morocco, for once again a lustful Queen (p. 112 ) Mother commits adultery with an ambitious villain, has her husband poisoned, conspires against her offspring, and is betrayed when her lover falls for the heroine. Behn, however, avoids Settle's problems of authority, and indeed reduces those in her source, tactfully diminishing the young King's lechery, the strong anti-Catholic satire, and the personal acrimony between the two royal brothers, though the King is still duped into thinking his brother a traitor. Conversely, the divinity of kingship is accentuated. The play is further evidence of the gathering political crisis, reflecting (in Haley's words) ‘the serious attitude which people had to the succession problem well before the hysteria of the Popish Plot’.34 For the play concerns the unsuccessful attempt to exclude the King's brother from the succession, because of alleged bastardy and the religious scruples it provokes: ‘The giddy Rout are guided by Religion, | More than by Justice, Reason, or Allegiance’ (IV, p. 68). The brother is rash but brave, a warrior of Almanzor-like prowess who does without the foreign army with which his Dekker counterpart had fought for his right. In minimizing the problems of identifying just and legitimate authority, the play moves away from recent trends in tragedy and looks forward to the simplest forms of Tory drama of the Exclusion Crisis.
What is again noticeable, however, is the decay of the imagery that had formerly supported monarchic ideology. There is not even any explicit providential agency in the restoration of the true heir, and the generalized symbolic associations which cling to the original villain (Eleazar) are removed: Behn, for example, omits the comprehensive exclusion of the stranger, the expulsion of the Moors from Spain, with which Lust's Dominion concludes. At the beginning of Lust's Dominion the villain silences music claiming that he hates ‘all unity’ (I. i. 2) whereas Abdelazer silences the music because he ‘hates all Softness’ (I, p. 9). Enmity to the cosmic principles of harmony and unity dwindles into mere personal brutishness. Moreover, although Behn characteristically emphasizes the importance of vows, she diminishes the imagery which represents Eleazar as a foe of the celestial word, such as his comparison of his prisoners to books in an infernal library (v. iii. 65–6). Abdelazer was roughly contemporary with The Man of Mode, and, although its sense of possible crisis is signally absent from Etherege's play, both plays contemplate the standing of the vow in a world where language has lost its sanctity.
Epigraph: Nathaniel Lee, The Tragedy of Nero, Emperour of Rome, 11. iii. 90.
(1) For an account of this play, see Vander Motten, Sir William Killigrew, 302–25. The play was published anonymously, but Killigrew's authorship is now certain: see Joseph S. Johnston, Jr., ‘Sir William Killigrew's Revised Copy of his Four New Plays: Confirmation of His Claim to The Imperial Tragedy’, Modern Philology, 74 (1976–7), 72–4; John Hordern and J. P. Vander Motten, ‘Five New Playes: Sir William Killigrew's Two Annotated Copies’, Library, 6th ser., 11 (1989), 253– 71. Vander Motten points out that a Nursery performance must have occurred after the play's publication, since acting there took place between 1671 and c. 1682.
(2) For extended discussion of this play see my Dryden's Heroic Plays, 59–78.
(3) Bodleian MS Rawl. Poet. 195, fos. 49–78. For discussion of the date, see Elizabeth Polwhele, The Frolicks; or, The Lawyer Cheated (1671), ed. Milhous and Hume, 40–1 (correcting London Stage, i. 65). Milhous and Hume note the play's apparent satire of Charles II (p. 42).
(4) Graziani's laudatory treatment of Columbus (cantos xxii, xxv–xxvi), by contrast, reflects the idealization of Christian exploration prominent in several Renaissance epics (notably the Lusiads).
(5) For Almanzor as stranger, see Part I, I. i. 198, 235, 239; v. i. 230.
(6) J. Douglas Canfield sees the ritual combat as ‘designed to sublimate the very deadly rivalry it now precipitates’ (Word as Bond in English Literature from the Middle Ages to the Restoration (Philadelphia, 1989), 32).
(7) Both similes are mocked in The Rehearsal (I. i. 358–63; II. iii. 18–25).
(8) Bruce King observes that ‘Lyndaraxa has become a mechanical object conditioned in its responses to external stimuli’ (Dryden's Major Plays (Edinburgh and London, 1966), 76).
(9) See Staves, Players' Scepters, 70–2.
(10) Margarita Stocker has attractively suggested a dual literary and political reading of the satire, in which Bayes, sharp practiser in the world of poetry, glances at a comparable figure in the world of politics: Charles's chief minister and Buckingham's great rival, Arlington (‘Political Allusion in The Rehearsal’, Philological Quarterly, 67 (1988), 11–35). Stocker is greatly refining the identification of Bayes and Arlington made in George McFadden, ‘Political Satire in The Rehearsal’, Yearbook of English Studies, 4 (1974), 120–8.
(11) See Robert D. Hume, The Development of English Drama in the Late Seventeenth Century (Oxford, 1976), 290–1.
(12) For parallel imagery of characters as strangers to linguistic or moral absolutes, see The Conquest of China by the Tartars, II, p. 22; Ibrahim, V, p. 72; Distress'd Innocence, IV, p. 42.
(13) Harold Love, ‘State Affairs on the Restoration Stage’, 4; Beth S. Neman, ‘Setting the Record Straight on John Crowne’, Restoration and 18th Century Theatre Research, 2nd sen, 8/1 (1993), 1–26 (p. 15).
(14) On 10 Mar. 1671 both Houses had presented a petition against the growth of popery, and Charles had required all Jesuit and Roman priests to leave the country before 1 May (David Ogg, England in the Reign of Charles II, 2nd edn. (2 vols., Oxford, 1955), i. 350–1).
(15) Tho[mas] Shipman, Carolina; or, Loyal Poems (London, 1683), 209. For the complex publishing history of Henry the Third see Robert D. Hume and Curt A. Zimansky, ‘Thomas Shipman's Henry the Third of France: Some Questions of Date, Performance, and Publication’, Philological Quarterly, 55 (1976), 436–44.
(16) See K. H. D. Haley, The First Earl of Shaftesbury (Oxford, 1968), 420, 522, 658.
(17) [John Crowne, John Dryden, and Thomas Shadwell], Notes and Observations on The Empress of Morocco (London, 1674); [Elkanah Settle], Notes and Observations on The Empress of Morocco Revised (London, ‘1674’[?1675]).
(18) See J. M. Armistead, Nathaniel Lee, Twayne's English Authors Series 270 (Boston, 1979), 41.
(19) John Miller, Charles II (London, 1991), 219.
(20) Britannicus was the son of Claudius, Nero his adopted son and heir.
(21) The relationship between the heroic and the pastoral is discussed throughout Eric Rothstein's important Restoration Tragedy: Form and the Process of Change (Madison, 1967).
(22) See David Scott Kastan, ‘Nero and the Politics of Nathaniel Lee’, Papers on Language and Literature, 13 (1977), 125–35 (p. 132). The political dissidence of Lee's plays was first recognized in Frances Barbour, ‘The Unconventional Heroic Plays of Nathaniel Lee’, University of Texas Studies in English, 20 (1940), 109–16.
(23) II. iii. 126; V. i. 15–21. Piso also appeals to thunder in V. iii. 74–5.
(24) See Love, ‘State Affairs on the Restoration Stage’, 6–8.
(25) The pessimistic scepticism of the play is discussed in Gerald D. Parker, ‘“History as Nightmare” in Nevil Payne's The Siege of Constantinople and Nathaniel Lee's Lucius Junius Brutus’, Papers on Language and Literature, 21 (1985), 3–18.
(26) Poems on Affairs of State: Augustan Satirical Verse, 1660–1714, gen. ed. George deF. Lord (7 vols., New Haven and London, 1963–75), i (1963), 428.
(27) Settle alters his source, where Aphelia dies through Chrotilda's (sic) Iago-like plotting.
(28) The indifference of the gods is discussed in Peter N. Skrine, ‘Blood, Bombast, and Deaf Gods: The Tragedies of Lee and Lohenstein’, German Life and Letters, 24 (1971), 14–30.
(29) Cf. II, p. 51; III, p. 66.
(30) The play was, however, dedicated to the Yorkist Earl of Mulgrave (Winn, John Dryden and his World, 254), and, when The State of Innocence was published in 1677, it was dedicated to the Duchess of York.
(31) [Louis Géraud de Cordemoy], A Philosophicall Discourse concerning Speech (London, 1668), 11–20; Pepys, 6 Dec. 1668.
(32) ‘Spoken words are the symbols of mental experience’ (Aristotle, De Interpretation, tr. E. M. Edghill, 16a, in The Works of Aristotle, ed. J. A. Smith and W. D. Ross (12 vols., Oxford, 1908–52), i).
(33) ‘Augustus was not as saintly or beneficent as the trumpet of Virgil proclaims’ (Lodovico Ariosto, Orlando Furioso (4 vols., Milan, 1955), xxxv. 26 [vol. iii]). Ariosto observes that Augustus and Nero have different reputations because the former patronized writers and the latter persecuted them. Lee's Augustus and Nero are much the same, and both persecute writers (Nero condemning Seneca to death).
(34) Haley, The First Earl of Shaftesbury, 424. Shaftesbury had published his Letter from a Person of Quality in 1675.