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Franklin. Then, Mosbie, to eschew the speech of men,
Arden. Forbear it! nay, rather frequent it more:
The first direct attempt of Alice upon her husband's life is thus told by the chronicler :
“Now, Master Arden purposing that day to ride to Canterbury, his wife brought him his breakfast, which was wont to be milk and butter. He, having received a spoonful or two of the milk, misliked the taste and colour thereof, and said to his wife, Mistress Alice, what milk have you given me here? Wherewithal she tilted it over with her hand, saying, I ween nothing can please you. Then he took horse and rode towards Canterbury, and by the way fell into extreme sickness, and so escaped for that time.” In the tragedy the incident is exactly followed. Upon parting with her husband the dissembling of Alice is heart-sickening, but the scene is still managed naturally and consistently.
There is no division of this play into acts and scenes, but it is probable that the first act ends with the departure of Arden for London. Another agent appears upon the scene, whose motives and position are thus described in the Chronicle:'-
“ After this his wife fell in acquaintance with one Greene, of Feversham, servant to Sir Anthony Ager, from which Greene Master Arden had wrested a piece of ground on the back side of the Abbey of Feversham, and there had great blows and great threats passed betwixt them about that matter. Therefore she, knowing that Greene bated her husband, began to practise with bim how to make him away; and concluded that, if he could get any that would kill him, he should have ten pounds for a reward.”
The manner in which the guilty wife practises with this revengeful man is skilfully wrought out in the tragedy. She sympathises with his supposed wrongs, she tells a tale of her own injuries, and then she proceeds to the open avowal of her purpose. Greene is to procure agents to murder her husband, and his reward, besides money, is to be the restoration of his lands. She communicates her proceedings to Mosbie, but he reproaches her for her imprudence in tampering with so many agents.
The course of the Chronicle' continues to be followed with much exactness. The scene changes to the road for London, and the following description is then dramatized. It is so curious a picture of manners, as indeed the whole narrative is, that we need scarcely apologize for its length:
“ This Greene, having doings for his master Sir Anthony Ager, had occasion to go up to London, where his master then lay, and, having some charge up with him, desired one Bradshaw, a goldsmith of Feversham, that was his neighbour, to accompany him to Gravesend, and he would content him for his pains. This Braulshaw, being a very honest man, was content, and rode with him. And when they came to Rainhamdown they chanced to see three or four servingmen that were coming from Leeds; and therewith Bradshaw espied, coming up the hill from Rochester, one Black Will, a terrible cruel ruthan, with a sword and a buckler, and another with a great staff on his neck. Then said Bradshaw to Greene, We are happy that there cometh some company from Leeds, for here cometh up against us as murdering a knave as any is in England : if it were not for them, we might chance hardly escape without loss of our money and lives. Yea, thought Greene (as he after confessed), such a ove is for my purpose; and therefore asked, which is he? Yonder is he, quoth Bradshaw, the same that hath the sword and buckler; his name is Black Will. How know you that? said Greene. Bradshaw answered, I knew him at Boulogne, where we both served ; be was a soldier, and I was Sir Richard Cavendish's man; and there he committed many robberies and heinous murders on such as travelled betwixt Boulogne and France. By this time the other company of servingmen came to them, and they, going altogetber, met with Black Will and his fellow. The servingmen knew Black Will, and, saluting him, demanded of him whither he went? He answered, By his blood (for his use was to swear almost at every word), I know not, nor care not; but set up my staff, and even as it falleth I go. If thou, quoth they, will go back again to Gravesend, we will give thee thy supper. By his blood, said he, I care not; I am content; have with you : and so he retumed again with them. Then Black Will took acquaintance of Bradshaw, say. ing, Fellow Bradshaw, how dost thou? Bradshaw, unwilling to renew acquaintance, or to have aught to do with so shameless a ruffian, said, Why, do ye
know me? Yea, that I do, quoth he; did not we serve in Boulogne together? But ye must pardou me, quoth Bradshaw, for I have forgotten you. Then Greene talked with Black Will, and said, When ye have supped, come to mine host's house at such a sign, and I will give you the sack and sugar. By his blood, said he, I thank you; I will come and take it, I warrant you. According to his promise he came, and there they made good cheer. Then Black Will and Greene went and talked apart from Bradshaw, and there concluded together, that if he would kill Master Arden he should have ten pounds for his labour. Then he answered, By his wounds, that I will if I may know him. Marry, to-morrow in Paul's I will show him thee, said Greene. Then they left their talk, and Greene bad him go home to his host's house. Then Greene wrote a letter to Mistress Arden, and among other things put in these words,—We have got a man for our purpose; we may thank my brother Bradshaw. Now Braushaw, not knowing anything of this, took the letter of him, and in the morning departed home again, and delivered the letter to Mistress Arden, and Greene and Black Will went up to London at the tide."
The scene in the play seizes upon the principal points of this description, but the variations are those of a master. Bradshaw, it seems, is a goldsmith, and he is involved in a charge of buying some stolen plate. He thus describes the man who sold it him, and we can scarcely avoid thinking that here is the same power, though in an inferior degree, which produced the description of the apothecary in Romeo and Juliet :'
" Will. What manner of man was he?
Brad. A lean-faced writhen knave,
Will. What apparel bad he ?
Brad. A watchet satin doublet all to-torn :
’T was bad, but yet it serv'd to hide the plate.” One of the sources of the enchaining interest of this drama is to be found in the repeated escapes of Arden from the machinations of his enemies. We have seen the poison fail, and now the ruffian, whom no ordinary circumstances deterred from the commission of his purpose, is to be defeated by an unforeseen casualty. The • Chronicle' says,
“ At the time appointed Greene showed Black Will Master Arden walking in Paul's. Then said Black Will, What is he that goeth after him? Marry, said Greene, one of his men. By his blood, said Black Will, I will kill them both. Nay, said Greene, do not so, for he is of counsel with us in this matter. By his blood, said he, I care not for that; I will kill them both. Nay, said Greene, in any wise do not so. Then Black Will thought to bave killed Master Arden in Paul's churchyard, but there were so many gentlemen that accompanied him to dinner, that he missed of his purpose." The dramatist presents the scene much more strikingly to the senses, in a manner which tells us something of the inconveniences of old London. The ruffians are standing before a shop; an apprentice enters saying
“ 'T is very late, I were best shut up my stall, for here will be old * filching when the press comes forth of Paul's." The stage-direction which follows is : “ Then lets he down his window, and it breaks Black Will's head." The accident disturbs the immediate purpose of the ruffians. The character of Black Will is drawn with great force, but there is probably something of a youthful judgment in making the murderer speak in high poetry :
“I tell thee, Greene, the forlorn traveller,
The other ruffian is Shakebag, and in the same way he speaks in the language which a youthful poet scarcely knows how to avoid summoning from the depths of his own imagination :
“I cannot paint my valour out with words:
But give me place and opportunity.
The propriety of putting poetical images in the mouths of the low agents of crime cannot exactly be judged by looking at such passages apart from that by which they are surrounded.
There is no comedy in ' Arden of Feversham.' The characters and events are lifted out of ordinary life of purpose by the poet. The ambition of a young writer may have carried this too far, but the principle upon which he worked was a right one. He aimed to produce something higher than a literal copy of every-day life, and this constitutes the essential distinction between Arden of Feversham' and the • Yorkshire Tragedy,' as between Shakspere and Heywood, and Shakspere and Lillo. In the maturity of his genius Shakspere did not vulgarize even his murderers. At the instant before the assault upon Banquo, one of the guilty instruments of Macbeth says, in the very spirit of poetry,– “ The west yet glimmers with some streaks of day:
the lated traveller apace, To gain the timely inn." Early in the drama, as we have seen, Alice proposes to her husband's servant to make away with his master. The circumstance has come to the knowledge of Greene, who, after the defeat of the plan through the apprentice's shutter, has to devise with his ruffians another mode of accomplishing Arden's death. The Chronicle' thus tells the story :
“ Greene showed all this talk to Master Arden's man, whose name was Michael, which ever after stood in doubt of Black Will, lest he should kill him. The cause that this Michael conspired with the rest against his master was, for that it was de. termined that he should marry a kinswoman of Mosbie's. After this, Master Arden lay at a certain parsonage which he held in London, and therefore his man Michael and Greene agreed that Black Will should come in the night to the parsonage, where he should find the doors left open that he might come in and murder Master Arden."
The scene in which Michael consents to this proposal, with great
reluctance, is founded upon the above text. We have a scene of Arden and Franklin, before they go to bed, in which Arden is torn with apprehension of the dishonour of his wife. There is great power here; but there is something of a higher order in the conflicting terrors of Michael when he is left alone, expecting the arrival of the pitiless murderer :
“Conflicting thoughts, encamped in my breast,
This in a young poet would not only be promise of future greatness, but it would be the greatness itself. The conception of this scene is wholly original. The guilty coward, driven by the force of his imagination into an agony of terror so as to call for help, and thus defeat the plot in which he had been an accomplice, is a creation of real genius. The transition of his fears, from the picture of the murder of his master to that of himself, has a profundity in it which we seldom find except in the conceptions of one dramatist. The narrative upon which the scene is founded offers us a mere glimpse of this most effective portion of the story :
“ This Michael, having his master to bed, left open the doors according to the