1859 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir William Davenant

David Masson, in Life of John Milton (1859-94; 1965) 6:276-77.



Eminent modern critics have had a word of praise for Gondibert. Sir Walter Scott, for example, says that it "very often exhibits a majestic, dignified, and manly simplicity," and Hallam allows it the credit "due to masculine verse in a good metrical cadence." But, while passages of it may be read with a feeling that such praise is deserved, any attempt to read the poem continuously ends in gentle stupefaction. Hence, though Gondibert remained, in a very literal sense, Davenant's "piece de resistance" among his contemporaries, his real popularity depended more on the recollection of his plays, masques, and miscellaneous pieces. On that evidence, a very important place must even yet be assigned to Davenant among the English dramatists of the reign of Charles I. His comedies and tragedies produced in that reign may rank fairly above those of Shirley, and next to those of Massinger and Ford. His subjects are generally of the same kind as theirs, and sometimes, like theirs, frightfully repulsive; there is the same outrageous license occasionally in the situations and phraseology; each play is rather a run of tumid dialogue than a definite invention of real plot and character; but there is undoubted power, both humorous and poetical, with a remarkable inheritance of that language of light, elevated, profuse, and careless ideality which we recognise as Elizabethan.