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speare has been made a stilted guy in drama. The poet Richard Savage, bad as he was, has been made worse in a play. The poet Chatterton, a boy of intricate and astonishing character, has been theatrically converted into a sentimental simpleton, starving and dying in a garret, because his sweetheart did not make a timely arrival. Goldsmith, Burns, Byron, and Poe have been misrepresented. Moore has been absurdly depicted. Sheridan, that marvel of brilliancy, has been shown as
Admiral Nelson and Emma Hamilton and Count D'Orsay and Lady Blessington have been coarsely victimized. There is no limit to the opportunity of theatrical distortion that is provided by the literary field. The much married poet Milton offers a fruitful subject for stage fresco. Carew, Lyttelton, Suckling, Carey (grandfather of Edmund Kean), each of them might be made the protagonist of a scandalous play. The list could readily be lengthened. Good taste, however, would have every reason to be content if all dramatists working in the field thus indicated were to prove as tasteful, adroit, and ingenuous in their fables concerning literary notabilities of the past, and as sympathetic and felicitous in their characterization of ideals, as Laurence Irving did in his portrayal of Richard Lovelace.
Mr. Sothern, as Lovelace, impersonated an expeditious, impetuous, chivalric cavalier, such, in general, as he had often made agreeably known on the local Stage,
but his embodiment was deeper in feeling, more sharply defined, more vital, more authoritative with continuity of impersonation, more self-poised, and, alike in speech and action, more rounded and finished than either of his previous impersonations had been, in serious drama. The soldier was martial, the lover was impassioned, but the man was in earnest and he evinced the repose of deep feeling. The actor, evidently, felt the nobility, beauty, and pathos of the ideal to which he imparted form, and he showed that he had thought on it, entered into the soul of it, sought to become identified with it, and so made it live. The part is replete with fluctuations of emotion, but the personality is dominated by one passion. Love at first sight (rare, no doubt, but possible), is first to be expressed; then absolute and joyous trust of confiding friendship; then quick sense of honor, commingled with the glowing impetuosity of eager and dauntless courage; then momentary suspicion of illusage, quickly quenched in reckless excitement; then the languor of silent sorrow, the monotonous dejection of hopeless surrender, the patient, abject state which the poet Tennyson has so expressively designated as “the set, gray life and apathetic end”; and then, finally, the sudden reanimation of the whole being, desperately seeking, and finding, the great and merciful refuge of death. Mr. Sothern, playing Lovelace, manifested the true lover's sense of the sanctity of the woman whom he loves. He was whole-hearted, simple and true, as a
comrade. He revealed at least a theoretical knowledge of sorrow when in the dead calm of adversity,—though that part of his performance was its weakest link, just as that part of the play showed itself to be its most artificial component. In Lovelace's final encounter with his opponent,—from whom he extorts the boon of a death wound, he vitalized the scene with a fine tumult of feeling, and he acted with such simplicity as not even once to mar the dignity and grace of the situation, attributes indispensable to its pathetic effect. His delivery of the speech about the sanctity of the room in which the idolized Lucy has lived and his acting at the moment when Lovelace perceives her unexpected approach are remembered with warm admiration, for fidelity to nature and beauty of art. In the closing scene, which is overweighted by emphasis and attenuation of agony, the melody of a pathetic vocalism would have been of inestimable value--but that is an attribute Mr. Sothern has not shown and, apparently, cannot acquire. The “sad ending” was, as usual, deplored, but grief has its privilege; and Mr. Irving's play, in moving the heart to pity and the mind to thought, is not merely an idle exemplification of its fortunate epigraph, couched in the words of the unfortunate and unhappy Lovelace:
“Vain dreams of love! that only so much bliss
The play of “If I Were King,” by Justin Huntly McCarthy,—which Mr. Sothern brought out at the Garden Theatre on October 14, 1901-illustrates an imaginary episode in the life of François Villon (143114), the dissolute French poet who wrote “The Greater Testament,” etc. It contains a little of almost everything, from a duel by the light of lanterns to a ballet in a bower of roses; pothouse wrangles and poetic recitations, plots and counterplots, disguises, hairbreadth escapes and the splendors of military spectacle. Although it lacks the power, weight, and consistent sincerity of serious drama, such as grows out of actual human life and takes hold on earnest human feelings, it is a graceful piece of gossamer and it gained abundant, long continued success. The style is marred by occasional infelicity of phrase and by language that is inappropriate and inelegant, and the colloquy is hampered and retarded by excess of sentimental versification, by a superflux of flowery talk, and by needless persons and incidents. The closing scene-disclosing a gibbet, the hero and heroine in imminent danger and an eleventh hour and fifty-ninth minute pardon—is handled in such a way as to divest it of probability, even were it not inherently preposterous. But it is romantic in character, animated in movement, agreeably diversified by incident, written in a sprightly though sometimes redundant style, and it
was provided with a pleasing investiture of picturesque scenery, so that while feeding the fancy and satisfying the vision, it afforded ample entertainment. The ground plan of the fable is old, but it has not outgrown its intrinsic allurement, and it commends itself to renewed favor by some novelty of treatment. Once again the King prowls around his capital, in disguise, in order that he may hear the talk of his subjects and acquaint himself, by personal observation, with their views and feelings, and once again the adventurous monarch meets with the indigent but exuberant patriot who could govern all things well if only he might have the opportunity of sway. Those persons have long been known in fiction, and their presence has always been enjoyed.
In this instance the furtive sovereign is the grisly, wily, cruel King Louis the Eleventh, while the potential savior of the state is the audacious, merry, tuneful, indomitable, impecunious Villon. The monarch and the poet meet in a tavern in Paris, to which the former has repaired in quest of political advantage, while the latter has come thither in reckless dissipation, sad with hopeless love and bitter against himself and all the world. Being there, he is suddenly enabled, in the interest of a woman whom he loves, to foil the intrigues of a treacherous Constable of France. The garrulous bard, unaware of his royal auditor, freely descants on what he would do if he were King, and when, presently, he has assailed and defeated the disloyal Constable, who