Richard Cumberland, “Epilogue. [To The Battle of Hastings.] Spoken by Miss Younge”

RICHARD CUMBERLAND

“Epilogue. [To The Battle of Hastings.] Spoken by Miss Younge”

 

From ancient Thespis to the present age,
The world have oft been term’d a public stage;
A thread-bare metaphor, which in its time
Hath patch’d much prose, and heel-piec’d many a rhime:
Ev’n the grave pulpit sometimes deigns to use                                        5
The emphatic terms of the proscribed muse;
Calls birth our entry, death our exit calls,
And at life’s close exclaims – the curtain falls;
And so concludes upon the drama’s plan,
That fretting, strutting, short-hour actor, man;                                        10
Are we all actors then? – yes, all from Adam.
And actresses? – I apprehend so, madam:
Some fill their cast with grace, others with none;
Some are shov’d off the stage, and some shov’d on;
Some good, some bad, still we all act a part,                                             15
Whilst we disguise the language of the heart.
Nature’s plain taste provides a simple treat,
But art, the cook, steps in and mars the meat.
The comic blade makes ridicule his test,
And on his tomb proclaims that life’s a jest.                                                20
The swaggering braggart, in true tragic’s cast,
Bellows blank verse and daggers to the last.
Whilst clubs of neutral petit maitres boast
A kind of opera company at most;
Whose dress, air, action, all is imitation,                                                      25
A poor, insipid, servile, French translation;
Whose tame dull scene glides uniform along,
In comi – farci – pastoral – sing – song –
‘Till all awaken’d by the rattling die,
Club wits, and make – a modern tragedy;                                                    30
A tragedy, alas! good friends, look round,
What have we left to tread but tragic ground?
Four authors leagu’d to shake the human soul,
Unsheath the dagger, and infuse the bowl;
At length descending to the least, and last,                                                 35
We hope the terror of the time is past;
Full fated now with battle, blood, and murder,
England is conquer’d – fate can reach no futher;
Bid then the weeping Pleiads dry their eyes,
And turn to happier scenes and brighter skies.                                          40

NOTES:

Title The Battle of Hastings A 1778 play by Richard Cumberland portraying the October 1066 battle over the disputed succession to the British throne after the death of King Edward in January 1066; Miss Younge Elizabeth Younge (1740-1797), a popular actress of the late-century period, best known for her Shakespearean roles.

1 Thespis “The traditional father of Greek tragedy” (OED).

6 proscribed muse That is, a forbidden poet; possibly alluding to Shakespeare, given the clear verbal echoes of Macbeth (V.ii.24-28) at line 10.

11 Adam First human in biblical account of the creation of world (OCB).

21 Braggart “One who brags too much” (OED).

33 Four authors Likely a reference to Harold Godwinson, Tostig Godwinson, Harald Hardrada, and William I, who all made claims to the throne after the death of King Edward in January 1066.

38 England is conquer’d Reference to the Norman victory in the Battle of Hastings, and subsequent rule of Britain by William I (c. 1028-1087), reigned from 1066.

39 Pleiades “In Greek mythology, the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione” (OED).

SOURCE: The London Magazine (February 1778), pp. 89-90. [Google Books]

Edited by J. John Storost


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