Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
A Tragedy called the Invincible Armado
By Thomas Rymer (16411713)
From A Short View of Tragedy, 1693
IF we cannot rise to the perfection of intrigue in Sophocles, let us sit down with the honesty and simplicity of the first beginners in tragedy; as, for example, one of the most simple now extant is The Persians by Æschylus.
Some ten years after that Darius had been beaten by the Greeks, Xerxes (his father Darius being dead) brought against them such forces by sea and land the like never known in history. Xerxes went also in person, with all the maison du roy, satrapie, and gendarmery; all were routed. Some forty years afterwards the poet takes hence his subject for a tragedy.
First on the stage are seen fifteen persons in robes proper for the satrapa or chief princes in Persia. Suppose they met so early at the tomb, then sacred and ordinarily resorted to by people troubled in mind, on the accounts of dreams, or any thing not boding good. They talk of the state of affairs, of Greece, and of the expedition. After some time take upon them to be the chorus.
The next on the stage comes Atossa, the queen mother of Persia. She could not lie in bed for a dream that troubled her, so in a fit of devotion comes to her husbands tomb; there luckily meets with so many wise men and counsellors to ease her mind by interpreting her dream. This, with the chorus, makes the second act.
Never appeared on the stage a ghost of greater consequence. The grand monarch Darius, who had been so shamefully beaten by those petty provinces of the united Grecians, could not now lie quiet in his grave for them, but must be raised from the dead again to be witness of his sons disgrace, and of their triumph.
Were a tragedy after this model to be drawn for our stage Greece and Persia are too far from us. The scene must be laid nearer home, as at the Louvre; and instead of Xerxes we might take John, king of France, and the battle of Poictiers. So if the Germans or Spaniards were to compose a play on the battle of Pavia, and King Francis there taken prisoner, the scene should not be laid at Vienna, or at Madrid, but at the Louvre. For there the tragedy would principally operate, and there all the lines most naturally centre.
The place, then, for the action may be at Madrid, by some tomb or solemn place of resort; or if we prefer a turn in it from good to bad fortune, then some drawing-room in the palace near the kings bed-chamber.
The scene opening presents fifteen grandees of Spain, with their most solemn beards and accoutrements, met there (suppose) after some ball or other public occasion. They talk of the state of affairs, the greatness of their power, the vastness of their dominions, and prospect to be infallibly, ere long, lords of all. With this prosperity and goodly thoughts transported, they at last form themselves into the chorus, and walk such measures, with music as may become the gravity of such a chorus.
Then enter two or three of the cabinet council, who now have leave to tell the secret, that the preparations and the Invincible Armado was to conquer England. These, with part of the chorus, may communicate all the particulars, the provisions, and the strength by sea and land, the certainty of success, the advantages by that accession, and the many tun of tar-barrels for the heretics. These topics may afford matter enough, with the chorus, for the second act.
In the third act these gentlemen of the cabinet cannot agree about sharing the preferments of England, and a mighty brawl there is amongst them. One will not be content unless he is king of Man; another will be duke of Lancaster. One, that had seen a coronation in England, will by all means be duke of Aquitayn, or else duke of Normandy. And on this occasion two competitors have a juster occasion to work up, and show the muscles of their passion, than Shakespeares Cassius and Brutus. After, the chorus.
The fourth act may, instead of Atossa, present some old dames of the court, used to dream dreams, and to see sprites, in their night-rails and forehead-clothes, to alarm our gentlemen with new apprehensions, which make distraction and disorders sufficient to furnish out this act.
In the last act the king enters, and wisely discourses against dreams and hobgoblins to quiet their minds; and the more to satisfy them, and take off their fright, he lets them to know that St. Loyola had appeared to him, and assured him that all is well. This said, comes a messenger of the ill news; his account is lamesuspected, he is sent to prison. A second messenger, that came away long after, but had a speedier passage; his account is distinct, and all their loss credited. So, in fine, one of the chorus concludes with that of Euripides, Thus you see the gods bring things to pass often, otherwise than was by man proposed.
But it must not be forgotten in the second act that there be some Spanish fryar or Jesuit, as St. Xaviere (for he may drop in by miracle anywhere) to ring in their ears The northern heresie; like Iago in Shakespeare, Put money in thy purse, I say, put money in thy purse. So often may he repeat, The northern heresie. Away with your secular advantages; I say, the northern heresie; there is roast meat for the church, voto a Christo, the northern heresie.
If Mr. Dryden might try his pen on this subject, doubtless, to an audience that heartily love their country and glory in the virtue of their ancestors, his imitation of Æschylus would have better success, and would pit, box, and gallery,1 far beyond any thing now in possession of the stage, however wrought up by the unimitable Shakespeare.