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“Shakespeare mingles everything, runs line into line, embarrasses sentences and metaphors…”

October 2, 2009

British playwright John Fletcher (1579-1625), portrait by unknown artist, ca. 1620.

“The scene where Ordella offers her life a sacrifice, that the king of France may not be childless, I have always considered as the finest in all Fletcher, and Ordella to be the most perfect notion of the female heroic character, next to Calantha in The Broken Heart. She is a piece of sainted nature. Yet, noble as the whole passage is, it must be confessed that the manner of it, compared with Shakespeare’s finest scenes, is faint and languid. Its motion is circular, not progressive. Each line revolves on itself in a sort of separate orbit. They do not join into one another like a running-hand. Fletcher’s ideas moved slow; his versification, though sweet, is tedious, it stops at every turn; he lays line upon line, making up one after the other, adding image to image so deliberately, that we see their junctures. Shakespeare mingles everything, runs line into line, embarrasses sentences and metaphors; before one idea has burst its shell, another is hatched and clamorous for disclosure. Another striking difference between Fletcher and Shakespeare is the fondness of the former for unnatural and violent situations. He seems to have thought that nothing great could be produced in an ordinary way. The chief incidents in some of his most admired tragedies show this.* Shakespeare had nothing of this contortion in his mind, none of that craving after violent situations, and flights of strained and improbable virtue, which I think always betrays an imperfect moral sensibility. The wit of Fletcher is excellent,†… like his serious scenes, but there is something strained and far-fetched in both. He is too mistrustful of Nature, he always goes a little on one side of her. Shakespeare chose her without a reserve: and had riches, power, understanding, and length of days, with her for a dowry.”

*Wife for a Month, Cupid’s Revenge, Double Marriage, etc.
…Wit Without Money, and his comedies generally.

Charles Lamb, Specimens of English Dramatic Poets who Lived about the Time of Shakespeare: With Notes

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