Home Previous TOC Next Bookshelf


THE STAGE.  After the second sounding.


COR.  Nay, my dear Asper.

MIT.  Stay your mind.

ASP.  Away!
Who is so patient of this impious world,
That he can check his spirit, or rein his tongue?
Or who hath such a dead unfeeling sense,
That heaven's horrid thunders cannot wake?
To see the earth crack'd with the weight of sin,
Hell gaping under us, and o'er our heads
Black, ravenous ruin, with her sail-stretch'd wings,
Ready to sink us down, and cover us.
Who can behold such prodigies as these,
And have his lips seal'd up?  Not I:  my soul
Was never ground into such oily colours,
To flatter vice, and daub iniquity:
But, with an armed and resolved hand,
I'll strip the ragged follies of the time
Naked as at their birth --

COR.  Be not too bold.

ASP.  You trouble me -- and with a whip of steel,
Print wounding lashes in their iron ribs.
I fear no mood stamp'd in a private brow,
When I am pleased t'unmask a public vice.
I fear no strumpet's drugs, nor ruffian's stab,
Should I detect their hateful luxuries:
No broker's usurer's, or lawyer's gripe,
Were I disposed to say, they are all corrupt.
I fear no courtier's frown, should I applaud
The easy flexure of his supple hams.
Tut, these are so innate and popular,
That drunken custom would not shame to laugh,
In scorn, at him, that should but dare to tax 'em:
And yet, not one of these, but knows his works,
Knows what damnation is, the devil, and hell;
Yet hourly they persist, grow rank in sin,
Puffing their souls away in perjurous air,
To cherish their extortion, pride, or lusts.

MIT.  Forbear, good Asper; be not like your name.

ASP.  O, but to such whose faces are all zeal,
And, with the words of Hercules, invade
Such crimes as these!  that will not smell of sin,
But seem as they were made of sanctity!
Religion in their garments, and their hair
Cut shorter than their eye-brows!  when the conscience
Is vaster than the ocean, and devours
More wretches than the counters.

MIT.  Gentle Asper,
Contain our spirits in more stricter bounds,
And be not thus transported with the violence
Of your strong thoughts.

COX.  Unless your breath had power,
To melt the world, and mould it new again,
It is in vain to spend it in these moods.

I not observed this thronged round till now !
Gracious and kind spectators, you are welcome;
Apollo and Muses feast your eyes
With graceful objects, and may our Minerva
Answer your hopes, unto their largest strain!
Yet here mistake me not, judicious friends;
I do not this, to beg your patience,
Or servilely to fawn on your applause,
Like some dry brain, despairing in his merit.
Let me be censured by the austerest brow,
Where I want art or judgment, tax me freely.
Let envious censors, with their broadest eyes,
Look through and through me, I pursue no favour;
Only vouchsafe me your attentions,
And I will give you music worth your ears.
O, how I hate the monstrousness of time,
Where every servile imitating spirit,
Plagued with an itching leprosy of wit,
In a mere halting fury, strives to fling
His ulcerous body in the Thespian spring,
And straight leaps forth a poet!  but as lame
As Vulcan, or the founder of Cripplegate.

MIT.  In faith this humour will come ill to some,
You will be thought to be too peremptory.

ASP.  This humour?  good!  and why this humour, Mitis?
Nay, do not turn, but answer.

MIT.  Answer, what?

ASP.  I will not stir your patience, pardon me,
I urged it for some reasons, and the rather
To give these ignorant well-spoken days
Some taste of their abuse of this word humour.

COR.  O, do not let your purpose fall, good Asper;
It cannot but arrive most acceptable,
Chiefly to such as have the happiness
Daily to see how the poor innocent word
Is rack'd and tortured.

MIT.  Ay, I pray you proceed.

ASP.  Ha, what?  what is't?

COR.  For the abuse of humour.

ASP.  O, I crave pardon, I had lost my thoughts.
Why humour, as 'tis 'ens', we thus define it,
To be a quality of air, or water,
And in itself holds these two properties,
Moisture and fluxure:  as, for demonstration,
Pour water on this floor, 'twill wet and run:
Likewise the air, forced through a horn or trumpet,
Flows instantly away, and leaves behind
A kind of dew; and hence we do conclude,
That whatsoe'er hath fluxure and humidity,
As wanting power to contain itself,
Is humour.  So in every human body,
The choler, melancholy, phlegm, and blood,
By reason that they flow continually
In some one part, and are not continent,
Receive the name of humours.  Now thus far
It may, by metaphor, apply itself
Unto the general disposition:
As when some one peculiar quality
Doth so possess a man, that it doth draw
All his affects, his spirits, and his powers,
In their confluctions, all to run one way,
This may be truly said to be a humour
But that a rook, by wearing a pyed feather,
The cable hat-band, or the three-piled ruff,
A yard of shoe-tye, or the Switzer's knot
On his French garters, should affect a humour!
O, it is more than most ridiculous.

COR.  He speaks pure truth; now if an idiot
Have but an apish or fantastic strain,
It is his humour.

ASP.  Well, I will scourge those apes,
And to these courteous eyes oppose a mirror,
As large as is the stage whereon we act;
Where they shall see the time's deformity
Anatomised in every nerve, and sinew,
With constant courage, and contempt of fear.

MIT.  Asper, (I urge it as your friend,) take heed,
The days are dangerous, full of exception,
And men are grown impatient of reproof.

ASP.  Ha, ha!
You might as well have told me, yond' is heaven,
This earth, these men, and all had moved alike. --
Do not I know the time's condition?
Yes, Mitis, and their souls; and who they be
That either will or can except against me.
None but a sort of fools, so sick in taste,
That they contemn all physic of the mind,
And like gall'd camels, kick at every touch.
Good men, and virtuous spirits, that loath their vices,
Will cherish my free labours, love my lines,
And with the fervour of their shining grace
Make my brain fruitful, to bring forth more objects,
Worthy their serious and intentive eyes.
But why enforce I this?  as fainting?  no.
If any here chance to behold himself,
Let him not dare to challenge me of wrong;
For, if he shame to have his follies known,
First he should shame to act 'em:  my strict hand
Was made to seize on vice, and with a gripe
Squeeze out the humour of such spongy souls,
As lick up every idle vanity.

COR.  Why, this is right furor poeticus!
Kind gentlemen, we hope your patience
Will yet conceive the best, or entertain
This supposition, that a madman speaks.

ASP.  What, are you ready there?  Mitis, sit down,
And my Cordatus.  Sound ho!  and begin.
I leave you two, as censors, to sit here:
Observe what I present, and liberally
Speak your opinions upon every scene,
As it shall pass the view of these spectators.
Nay, now y'are tedious, sirs; for shame begin.
And, Mitis, note me; if in all this front
You can espy a gallant of this mark,
Who, to be thought one of the judicious,
Sits with his arms thus wreath'd, his hat pull'd here,
Cries mew, and nods, then shakes his empty head,
Will shew more several motions in his face
Than the new London, Rome, or Niniveh,
And, now and then, breaks a dry biscuit jest,
Which, that it may more easily be chew'd,
He steeps in his own laughter.

COR.  Why, will that
Make it be sooner swallowed?

ASP.  O, assure you.
Or if it did not, yet as Horace sings,
Mean cates are welcome still to hungry guests.

COR.  'Tis true; but why should we observe them, Asper?

ASP.  O, I would know 'em; for in such assemblies
They are more infectious than the pestilence:
And therefore I would give them pills to purge,
And make them fit for fair societies.
How monstrous and detested is't to see
A fellow that has neither art nor brain,
Sit like an Aristarchus, or start ass,
Taking men's lines with a tobacco face,
In snuff still spitting, using his wry'd looks,
In nature of a vice, to wrest and turn
The good aspect of those that shall sit near him,
From what they do behold!  O, 'tis most vile.

MIT.  Nay, Asper.

ASP.  Peace, Mitis, I do know your thought;
You'll say, your guests here will except at this:
Pish!  you are too timorous, and full of doubt.
Then he, a patient, shall reject all physic,
'Cause the physician tells him, you are sick:
Or, if I say, that he is vicious,
You will not hear of virtue.  Come, you are fond.
Shall I be so extravagant, to think,
That happy judgments, and composed spirits,
Will challenge me for taxing such as these?
I am ashamed.

COR.  Nay, but good, pardon us;
We must not bear this peremptory sail,
But use our best endeavours how to please.

ASP.  Why, therein I commend your careful thoughts,
And I will mix with you in industry
To please:  but whom?  attentive auditors,
Such as will join their profit with their pleasure,
And come to feed their understanding parts:
For these I'll prodigally spread myself,
And speak away my spirit into air;
For these, I'll melt my brain into invention,
Coin new conceits, and hang my richest words
As polish'd jewels in their bounteous ears?
But stay, I lose myself, and wrong their patience:
If I dwell here, they'll not begin, I see.
Friends, sit you still, and entertain this troop
With some familiar and by-conference,
I'll hast them sound.  Now, gentlemen, I go
To turn an actor, and a humorist,
Where, ere I do resume my present person,
We hope to make the circles of your eyes
Flow with distilled laughter:  if we fail,
We must impute it to this only chance,
Art hath an enemy call'd ignorance.

COR.  How do you like his spirit, Mitis?

MIT.  I should like it much better, if he were less confident.

COR.  Why, do you suspect his merit?

MIT.  No; but I fear this will procure him much envy.

COR.  O, that sets the stronger seal on his desert:  if he had no enemies,
I should esteem his fortunes most wretched at this instant.

MIT.  You have seen his play, Cordatus:  pray you, how is it?

COR.  Faith, sir, I must refrain to judge; only this I can say of it, 'tis strange, and of a particular kind by itself, somewhat like 'Vetus Comoedia'; a work that hath bounteously pleased me; how it will answer the general expectation, I know not.

MIT.  Does he observe all the laws of comedy in it?

COR.  What laws mean you?

MIT.  Why, the equal division of it into acts and scenes, according to the Terentian manner; his true number of actors; the furnishing of the scene with Grex or Chorus, and that the whole argument fall within compass of a day's business.

COR.  O no, these are too nice observations.

MIT.  They are such as must be received, by your favour, or it cannot be authentic.

COR.  Troth, I can discern no such necessity.

MIT.  No!

COR.  No, I assure you, signior.  If those laws you speak of had been delivered us 'ab initio', and in their present virtue and perfection, there had been some reason of obeying their powers; but 'tis extant, that that which we call 'Comoedia', was at first nothing but a simple and continued song, sung by one only person, till Susario invented a second; after him, Epicharmus a third; Phormus and Chionides devised to have four actors, with a prologue and chorus; to which Cratinus, long after, added a fifth and sixth:  Eupolis, more; Aristophanes, more than they; every man in the dignity of his spirit and judgment supplied something.  And, though that in him this kind of poem appeared absolute, and fully perfect, yet how is the face of it changed since, in Menander, Philemon, Cecilius, Plautus, and the rest!  who have utterly excluded the chorus, altered the property of the persons, their names, and natures, and augmented it with all liberty, according to the elegancy and disposition of those times wherein they wrote.  I see not then, but we should enjoy the same license, or free power to illustrate and heighten our invention, as they did; and not be tied to those strict and regular forms which the niceness of a few, who are nothing but form, would thrust upon us.

MIT.  Well, we will not dispute of this now; but what's his scene?

COR.  Marry, 'Insula Fortunata', sir.

MIT.  O, the Fortunate Island:  mass, he has bound himself to a strict law there.

COR.  Why so?

MIT.  He cannot lightly alter the scene, without crossing the seas.

COR.  He needs not, having a whole island to run through, I think.

MIT.  No!  how comes it then, that in some one play we see so many seas, countries, and kingdoms, passed over with such admirable dexterity?

COR.  O, that but shews how well the authors can travel in their vocation, and outrun the apprehension of their auditory.  But, leaving this, I would they would begin at once:  this protraction is able to sour the best-settled patience in the theatre.

MIT.  They have answered your wish, sir; they sound.

COR.  O, here comes the Prologue.
Now, sir, if you had staid a little longer, I meant to have spoke your
prologue for you i'faith.

PROL.  Marry, with all my heart, sir, you shall do it yet, and I thank you.

COR.  Nay, nay, stay, stay; hear you?

PROL.  You could not have studied to have done me a greater benefit at the instant; for I protest to you, I am unperfect, and, had I spoke it, I must of necessity have been out.

COR.  Why, but do you speak this seriously?

PROL.  Seriously!  ay, wit's my help, do I; and esteem myself indebted to your kindness for it.

COR.  For what?

PROL.  Why, for undertaking the prologue for me.

COR.  How!  did I undertake it for you?

PROL.  Did you!  I appeal to all these gentlemen, whether you did or no. Come, come, it pleases you to cast a strange look on't now; but 'twill not serve.

COR.  'Fore me, but it must serve; and therefore speak your prologue.

PROL.  An I do, let me die poisoned with some venomous hiss, and never live to look as high as the two-penny room again.

MIT.  He has put you to it, sir.

COR.  'Sdeath, what a humorous fellow is this!  Gentlemen, good faith I can speak no prologue, howsoever his weak wit has had the fortune to make this strong use of me here before you:  but I protest --


CAR.  Come, come, leave these fustian protestations; away, come, I cannot abide these grey-headed ceremonies.  Boy, fetch me a glass quickly, I may bid these gentlemen welcome; give them a health here.  [EXIT BOY.]  I mar'le whose wit it was to put a prologue in yond' sackbut's mouth; they might well think he'd be out of tune, and yet you'd play upon him too.

COR.  Hang him, dull block!

CAR.  O, good words, good words; a well-timber'd fellow, he would have made a good column, an he had been thought on, when the house was a building --
O, art thou come?  Well said; give me, boy; fill so!  Here's a cup of wine sparkles like a diamond.  Gentlewomen (I am sworn to put them in first) and gentlemen, around, in place of a bad prologue, I drink this good draught to your health here, Canary, the very elixir and spirit of wine.  [DRINKS.] This is that our poet calls Castalian liquor, when he comes abroad now and then, once in a fortnight, and makes a good meal among players, where he has 'caninum appetitum'; marry, at home he keeps a good philosophical diet, beans and butter-milk; an honest pure rogue, he will take you off three, four, five of these, one after another, and look villainously when he has done, like a one-headed Cerberus. -- He does not hear me, I hope. -- And then, when his belly is well ballaced, and his brain rigged a little, he snails away withal, as though he would work wonders when he comes home.  He has made a play here, and he calls it, 'Every Man out of his Humour':  but an he get me out of the humour he has put me in, I'll trust none of his tribe again while I live.  Gentles, all I can say for him is, you are welcome.  I could wish my bottle here amongst you; but there's an old rule, No pledging your own health.  Marry, if any here be thirsty for it, their best way (that I know) is, sit still, seal up their lips, and drink so much of the play in at their ears.

MIT.  What may this fellow be, Cordatus?

COR.  Faith, if the time will suffer his description, I'll give it you.  He is one, the author calls him Carlo Buffone, an impudent common jester, a violent railer, and an incomprehensible epicure; one whose company is desired of all men, but beloved of none; he will sooner lose his soul than a jest, and profane even the most holy things, to excite laughter:  no honourable or reverend personage whatsoever can come within the reach of his eye, but is turned into all manner of variety, by his adulterate similes.

MIT.  You paint forth a monster.

COR.  He will prefer all countries before his native, and thinks he can never sufficiently, or with admiration enough, deliver his affectionate conceit of foreign atheistical policies.  But stay --
Observe these:  he'll appear himself anon.

MIT.  O, this is your envious man, Macilente, I think.

COR.  The same, sir.