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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, May 6, 2016

Who is the author, what is the play, and what does it have to do with Jane Austen?

The following all have to do with a particular English play written long before Jane Austen lived, by a male English author who is most famous for this particular play (and no, it’s not Shakespeare!). Solely by reading the rest of this post, and without cheating (i.e., using Google or any database):

Who is the author?  &
What is the title of the play?  

Even if you can’t guess either or both the first two answers (and until last week, I wouldn’t have known the answers myself), I nonetheless believe that a Janeite familiar with JA’s writing could give a pretty good answer to my third question, which is, “What does the play—whatever it’s title, and whoever its author---have to do with Jane Austen’s fiction?”

There are also two bonus questions for the erudite and intrepid respondent:

What do all three of those answers have to do with Shakespeare? &
What two clever clues are hidden in plain sight in the below-quoted speech spoken by the Older Spiritual Advisor, which point to Shakespeare?

As you’ll see, what I give you below are two scholarly reactions from Jane Austen’s era to the play and its author, plus three speeches (one of them quoted in the second scholarly reaction) from the play—but with the character names and main theme of the play all concealed, because they might give the answers away to those well versed in English literature.

I promise to give all these answers, and some explanation, at around 8 pm PST tomorrow (Friday), if they have not already been answered correctly before then.

Charles Lamb 1808 commentary:
"[Author] was of the first order of poets. He sought for sublimity, not by parcels, in metaphors or visible images, but directly where she has her full residence in the heart of man; in the actions and sufferings of the greatest minds. There is a grandeur of the soul above mountains, seas, and the elements. Even in the poor perverted reason of [Male Lover] and  [Female Lover], in the play which stands at the head of the modern collection of the works of this author, we discern traces of that fiery particle, which, in the irregular starting from out the road of beaten action, discovers something of a right line even in obliquity, and shews hints of an improveable greatness in the lowest descents and degradations of our nature."

1812 The Critical Review re Weber’s 1811 Edition of [Author’s] Dramatic Works:
“…[The principal theme of the play] has always been a favourite subject with tragic writers of strong powers. Mr. Lamb has given two or three beautiful scenes from this play: we shall not clash with his specimens in presenting our readers with the following brief passage:
[Older spiritual advisor speaking to the Female Lover]:
Ay, you are wretched, miserably wretched,
Almost condemned alive. There is a place,—
List, daughter!—in a black and hollow vault,
Where day is never seen; there shines no sun,
But flaming horror of consuming fires,
A lightless sulphur, choked with smoky fogs
Of an infected darkness: in this place
Dwell many thousand thousand sundry sorts
Of never-dying deaths: there damned souls
Roar without pity; there are gluttons fed
With toads and adders; there is burning oil
Poured down the drunkard's throat; the usurer
Is forced to sup whole draughts of molten gold:
There is the murderer for ever stabbed,
Yet can he never die; there lies the wanton
On racks of burning steel, whiles in his soul
He feels the torment o£ his raging lust.
[Name of play] is so well known to all whose curiosity has ever tempted them to look into the collection published by Dodsley, (in other words, to all lovers of the antient Drama,) that it is unnecessary to make any particular observations on it in this place. ‘The vivid glow of passion, with which the [theme of the play] of [the two lovers] is delineated,’ (see Introd. p. xi.) has been justly remarked by Mr. Weber as well as other critics, and is equally deserving of poetical admiration and moral censure; but the natural and consistent discrimination of character, so rarely to be found among the old dramatists, except in Shakspere, does not appear to have been so well understood, at least by the present editor [Weber]; who, to one of the best imagined and most judicious scenes in the whole play… subjoins only this cold and spiritless remark:
‘The wicked assurance of [Female Lover] is very properly introduced, though perhaps not with such a design, to erase the pity we had felt for her at first, when her perfections were painted in such strong colours.’
Most certainly, [Author] had no other ‘design’ than that (in which he has fully succeeded) of painting a mind naturally good and noble, but rendered corrupt by the long indulgence of a criminal passion, out-braving the vehemence of angry reproof and cruel treatment by an affected and overstrained assurance, but subdued in an instant and touched with the acutest sense of guilt by the change from furious vehemence to gentleness and mildness. The revolting coarseness of the dialogue is another consideration, and the fault rather of the age than of the author. It may, however, be observed that the effect of contrast is heightened by it.”

[Two almost consecutive speeches by Male Lover, the first right before telling his love to Female Lover, the second right after doing so]

Lost! I am lost! my fates have doomed my death:
The more I strive, I love; the more I love,
The less I hope: I see my ruin certain.
What judgment or endeavours could apply
To my incurable and restless wounds,
I thoroughly have examined, but in vain.
O, that it were not in religion sin
To make our love a god, and worship it!
I have even wearied Heaven with prayers, dried up
The spring of my continual tears, even starved
My veins with daily fasts: what wit or art
Could counsel, I have practised; but, alas,
I find all these but dreams, and old men's tales,
To fright unsteady youth; I'm still the same:
Or I must speak, or burst. 'Tis not, I know,
My lust, but 'tis my fate that leads me on.
Keep fear and low faint-hearted shame with slaves!
I'll tell her that I love her, though my heart
Were rated at the price of that attempt.
— O me! she comes.

True [Female Lover]! 'tis no time to jest.
I have too long suppressed the hidden flames
That almost have consumed me: I have spent
Many a silent night in sighs and groans;
Ran over all my thoughts, despised my fate,
Reasoned against the reasons of my love,
Done all that smoothed-cheeked virtue could advise;
But found all bootless: 'tis my destiny
That you must either love, or I must die.

Good luck, my fellow Janeites!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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