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dreams of old mythology.' • The Merry Devil' was undoubtedly a play of great popularity. We find from the account-books of the Revels at Court, that it was acted before the King in the same year, 1618, with “Twelfth Night' and · A Winter's Tale. In 1616, Ben Jonson, in his Prologue to · The Devil is an Ass,' thus addresses his audience:
“ If you 'll con
Its popularity seems to have lasted much longer; for it is mentioned by Edmund Gayton, in 1654, in his . Notes on Don Quixote.'t The belief that the play was Shakspere’s has never taken any root in England. Some of the recent German critics, however, adopt it as his without any hesitation. Tieck has translated it; and he says that it undoubtedly is by Shakspere, and must have been written about 1600. It has much of the tone, he thinks, of “The Merry Wives of Windsor,' and “mine host of the George” and “mine host of the Garter alike. It is surprising that Tieck does not see that the one character is, in a great degree, an imitation of the other. Shakspere, in the abundance of his riches, is not a poet who repeats himself. Horn declares that Shakspere's authorship of. The Merry Devil' is incontestable. Ulrici admits the bare possibility of its being a very youthful work of Shakspere's. The great merit, on the contrary, of the best scenes of this play consists in their perfect finish. There is nothing careless about them; nothing that betrays the very young adventurer; the writer is a master of his art to the extent of his
But that is not Shakspere's power. Fuller, in his . Worthies,' thus records the merits of Peter Fabel, the hero of this play: “ I shall probably offend the gravity of some to insert, and certainly curiosity of others to omit, him. Some make him a friar, others a lay gentleman, all a conceited person, who, with his merry devices, deceived the Devil, who by grace may be resisted, not deceived by wit. If a grave bishop in his sermon, speaking of Brute's coming into this land, said it was but a bruit, I hope I may say without offence that this Fabel was but a fable, supposed to live in the reign of King Henry the Sixth.” His fame is more confidingly recorded in the Prologue to · The Merry Devil:'
* Specimens of English Dramatic Poets.'
“ 'T is Peter Fabel, a renowned scholar,
Whose fame hath still been hitherto forgot
The Prologue goes on to suppose him at Cambridge at the hour when the term of his compact with the fiend is run out.
We are not here to look for the terrible solemnity of the similar scene in Marlowe's 'Faustus;' but, nevertheless, that before us is written with great poetical power. Coreb, the spirit, thus addresses the magician :
“ Coreb. Why, scholar, this is the hour my date expires;
Fubel. Hah! what is thy due?
Fabel. O let not darkness bear thee speak that word,
I may again, in time, yet hope to rise." While the fiend sits down in the necromantic chair Fabel thus soliloquises :
“ Fabel. O that this soul, that cost so dear a price
The more he strives to come to quiet harbour,
But the magician has tricked the fiend; the chair holds him fast, and the condition of release is a respite for seven years. The supernatural part of the play may be said here to end; for although throughout the latter scenes there are some odd mistakes produced by the devices of Fabel, they are such as might have been accomplished by human agency, and in fact appear to have been so accomplished. Tieck observes, “ It is quite in Shakspere's manner that the magical part becomes nearly superfluous.” This, as it appears to us, is not in Shakspere's manner. In · Hamlet,' in Macbeth,' in The Midsummer Night's Dream,' in The Tempest,' the magical or supernatural part is so intimately allied with the whole action that it impels the entire movement of the piece. Shakspere knew too well the soundness of the Horatian maxim,
“ Nec Deus intersit nisi dignus vindice nodus," —
to produce a ghost, a witch, or a fairy, without necessity. However, the magical part here finishes; and we are introduced to the society of no equivocal mortal, the host of the George at Waltham. Sir Arthur Clare, his wife Dorcas, his daughter Millisent, and his son Harry, arrive at the inn, where the host says, “ Knights and lords have been drunk in my house, I thank the destinies." This company have arrived at the George to meet Sir Richard Mounchensey, and his son Raymond, to whom Millisent is betrothed; but old Clare informs his wife that he is resolved to break off the match, to send his daughter for a year to a nunnery, and then to bestow her upon the son of Sir Ralph Jerningham. Old Mounchensey, it seems, has fallen upon evil days :
“ Clare. For look you, wife, the riotous old knight
Fabel, the kind magician, who has been the tutor to Raymond, arrives at the same time with the Mounchensey party. He knows the plots against his young friend, and he is determined to circumvent them :
Raymond Mounchensey, boy, have thou and I
Harry Clare, Frank Jerningham, and Raymond Mounchensey are strict friends; and there is something exceedingly delightful in the manner in which Raymond throws away all suspicion, and the others resolve to stand by their friend, whatever be the intrigues of their parents :
“ Jern. Raymond Mounchensey, now I touch thy grief
I will abjure both beauty and her sight,
Moun. Dear Jerningham, thou hast begot my life,
Fabel. Frank Jerningham, thou art a gallant boy;
upon the measure of thy grace?
Moun. Then, care away! let fate my fall pretend,
Back'd with the favours of so true a friend." Charles Lamb, who gives the whole of this scene in his 'Specimens, speaks of it rapturously :-" This scene has much of Shakspeare's manner in the sweetness and goodnaturedness of it. It seems written to make the reader happy. Few of our dramatists or novelists have attended enough to this. They torture and wound us abundantly. They are economists only in delight. Nothing can be finer, more gentlemanlike, and noble, than the conversation and compliments of these young men.
How delicious is Raymond Mounchensey's forgetting, in his fears, that Jerningham has a saint in Essex;' and how sweetly his friend reminds him!”
The ancient plotters, Clare and Jerningham, are drawn as very politic but not overwise fathers. There is, however, very little that is harsh or revolting in their natures. They put out their feelers of worldly cunning timidly, and they draw them in with considerable apprehension when they see danger and difficulty before them. All this is in harmony with the thorough good humour of the whole drama. The only person who is angry is Old Mounchensey :