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Sophonisba, or Hannibal's Overthrow, was, according to the printers, (R. Wellington, at the Lute in St. Paul's Church-yard, and E. Rumball, at the Post-house in Covent-garden,) the first of Lee's dramatic efforts. To play it with effect, and with due observance of the directions, would require “a kingdom for a stage.” The following must have made the painters and machinists toil after him in vain. “ The scene draws, and discovers a heaven of blood, two suns, spirits in battle, arrows shot to and fro in the air ; cries of yielding persons, &c.; cries of • Carthage is fallen !' &c.” The hero, Hannibal, and his illustrious antagonist, Scipio, have the sort of grandeur in their speeches which becomes characters appearing in such scenes. The words are suited to the scenes, and the scenes to the words. But the humbler trees of the play yield better fruit. Massina, the youthful nephew of Massinissa, the king of Numidia, is a beautiful and delicate sketch. How eagerly he listens to Massinissa's tale of his successful wooing :
“ Now, as I love bright arms, the story's fine!
And how, sadly the falsehood of Sophonisba drives him to the conclusion, that
“ Beauty's breast is like a bank of flowers,
That fairly hides a foul and ugly snake.”
In Scipio's camp he meets with Rosalinda, the mistress of Hannibal, detained there as a prisoner, and feels the resistless sensations at which he before wondered. The haughty beauty threatens to leave him ; he replies,
“ You cannot if you would ;
She boasts her attachment to Hannibal. He is unmoved, and would, without hope or guerdon, “ through all the world attend her as her page.” When liberated by Scipio, he is allowed to conduct her in safety to Hannibal. Their approach is thus described :
“ Rosalinda's beauty did appear
And tears his blushing cheeks did so adorn,
• At length he falls, a self-immolated victim to the jealousy of Hannibal and continued coldness of Rosalinda :
“ Love, when he shot me, sure, mistook his dart;
Thus drinks my blood—thus with a full, deep draught.” The best scene is the reconciliation of Massinissa with Sophonisba, who, after having been wooed and won by him, had given her hand to Syphax, and by the chance of war becomes at once a widow, and the prisoner of her first lover. She at first anticipates being led in triumph, and resolves on death. One attendant refuses to aid her design; another, who consents, is thus thanked :
“ Thy voice like sad but pleasing music flew;
Like dying swans', 'twas sweet and fatal too.”. Both, however, advise her to try the effect of an interview with the conqueror, whose trumpets are announcing his approach, and who has magnanimously resolved to see her, merely to prove his indifference, and upbraid her with her falsehood. We had intended to quote the whole of this scene, but must sacrifice it for the sake of other extracts. The complete triumph of the gentleness of the false one over her boisterous but self-betrayed accuser is excellently managed, and he gradually becomes his own judge :
- None sure was e'er like thee,
Nero is a very “ tragical tragedy,” although not of that unmitigated horror which the subject and the genius of the author might have led us to expect. The tyrant is black enough :
“ The darkness of his horrid vices has
Yet we find, from the dedication, that he was not altogether
so bad as to satisfy the critics; and the author was compelled to plead, that it was “not impossible for a man to love and hate, to be brave and bad.” The gem of the play, and a sweet relief to its atrocities, “ like a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear," is Cyara, a Parthian princess, romantically in love with Britannicus, who had clandestinely visited her in her father's court, and whom she follows, disguised as a page, to Rome, under pretence of ascertaining whether her brother who had disappeared during the last engagement with the Roman army was slain, or living in captivity. Some noble Romans are interested by her
e captivitingagement er her bronne, to Romer's co
“Why dost thou droop, and hang thy pensive head,
Onars hang- upe frequent of thy distriby pensive
And, by assisting in her pretended object, they enable her to accomplish her real design of introducing herself in disguise to Britannicus, and proving his affection by a feigned account of her own death. Her story, told at the unhappy moment when he had just received the parting breath of his murdered sister Octavia, produces an unexpected and dreadful demonstration of her lover's fidelity: his reason is destroyed by the shock; and, in this state, having taxed Nero with the murder of Octavia, the irritated tyrant attempts his life, and Cyara interposes, and receives the fatal blow in her bosom.
Gloriana, or the Court of Augustus Cæsar, is in a fine jovial vein. We see the lords of the earth at their revels; or a carousal of the gods, with Olympus reeling under them. They are mischievous in their cups, indeed, but they “ sinner it right royally.” Augustus shews himself a veteran hero in a lady's bower:
“ Love through my life an equal pace has run,
He well chides Agrippa and Mecænas for hinting that his “white age should beauty's gloss despise :"
“ Ye apes of fame; ye sparks to my full day;
Julia, whose pranks plague him abundantly, is his own daughter.
“ On tall young monarch's shoulders lifted high,
She makes an imperial vindication to her complaining and upbraiding father :
“ Why was I destin'd to be born above,
Two or three extracts from Gloriana will prove, we think, that there is some poetry in it. Marcellus thus expresses his admiration of Cesario's friendship in foregoing a cherished revenge at his solicitation :
“ Methinks I wish that I had never known
Cesario’s reproach of Gloriana, when induced to believe that she had given herself up to Augustus, is too antithetical for the language of passion; but by no means unnatural in one who suppresses his emotions, studies and affects to be calm, and chills his speech into a resemblance of the cold, fantastic, glittering surface of a frozen sea, while the waves are tumbling in the deep beneath.
“ I came to seek for painted virtue here,
When the mask falls, we behold the perturbed countenance which it awhile concealed. The storm soon breaks forth, and he can then
“be deaf as winds when seamen pray, h . And sweep as furious and as swift as they."
• This Cesario is the object of an humble, unreturned, uncomplaining attachment from Narcissa, the sister of Marcellus, which "endures all things,” till an unmerited accusation of malignant falsehood breaks her heart. It greets him in a dungeon with music such as this :
“ Alas, I know not what I have to say,
We pass over, as sufficiently known, Alexander the Great ; a play which has monstrous blemishes, and yet in which elements of dramatic poetry, of a high order, are to be found :