The Critic, by Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Act III.

SCENE I. — The Theatre, before the curtain.

Enter Puff, Sneer, and Dangle.

Puff. Well, we are ready; now then for the justices.

[Curtain rises.]

“Justices, Constables, &c., discovered.”

Sneer. This, I suppose, is a sort of senate scene.

Puff. To be sure; there has not been one yet.

Dangle. It is the under-plot, isn’t it?

Puff. Yes. — What, gentlemen, do you mean to go at once to the discovery scene?

Just. If you please, sir.

Puff. Oh, very well! — Hark’ee, I don’t choose to say anything more; but, i’faith they have mangled my play in a most shocking manner.

Dangle. It’s a great pity!

Puff. Now, then, Mr. justice, if you please.

Just. Are all the volunteers without?

Const. They are. Some ten in fetters, and some twenty drunk.

Just. Attends the youth, whose most opprobrious fame
And clear convicted crimes have stamp’d him soldier?

Const. He waits your pleasure; eager to repay
The best reprieve that sends him to the fields
Of glory, there to raise his branded hand
In honour’s cause.

Just. ’Tis well — ’tis justice arms him!
Oh! may he now defend his country’s laws
With half the spirit he has broke them all!
If ’tis your worship’s pleasure, bid him enter.

Const. I fly, the herald of your will. [Exit.]”

Puff. Quick, sir.

Sneer. But, Mr. Puff, I think not only the justice, but the clown seems to talk in as high a style as the first hero among them.

Puff. Heaven forbid they should not in a free country! — Sir, I am not for making slavish distinctions, and giving all the fine language to the upper sort of people.

Dangle. That’s very noble in you, indeed.

Enter Justice’s Lady.”

Puff. Now, pray mark this scene.

Lady. Forgive this interruption, good my love;
But as I just now pass’d a prisoner youth,
Whom rude hands hither lead, strange bodings seized
My fluttering heart, and to myself I said,
An’ if our Tom had lived, he’d surely been
This stripling’s height!

Just. Ha! sure some powerful sympathy directs
Us both —

Enter Constable with Son.

What is thy name?

Son. My name is Tom Jenkins — alias have I none —
Though orphan’d, and without a friend!

Just. Thy parents?

Son. My father dwelt in Rochester — and was,
As I have heard — a fishmonger — no more.”

Puff. What, sir, do you leave out the account of your birth, parentage, and education?

Son They have settled it so, sir, here.

Puff. Oh! oh!

Lady. How loudly nature whispers to my heart
Had he no other name?

Son. I’ve seen a bill
Of his sign’d Tomkins, creditor.

Just. This does indeed confirm each circumstance
The gipsy told! — Prepare!

Son. I do.

Just. No orphan, nor without a friend art thou —
I am thy father; here’s thy mother; there
Thy uncle — this thy first cousin, and those
Are all your near relations!

Lady. O ecstasy of bliss!

Son. O most unlook’d for happiness!

Just. O wonderful event! [They faint alternately in each other’s arms.]”

Puff. There, you see, relationship, like murder, will out.

Just. Now let’s revive — else were this joy too much! But come — and we’ll unfold the rest within; And thou, my boy, must needs want rest and food. Hence may each orphan hope, as chance directs, To find a father — where he least expects!

[Exeunt.]”

Puff. What do you think of that?

Dangle. One of the finest discovery-scenes I ever saw! — Why, this under-plot would have made a tragedy itself.

Sneer. Ay! or a comedy either.

Puff. And keeps quite clear you see of the other.

Enter Scenemen, taking away the seats.”

Puff. The scene remains, does it?

Sceneman. Yes, sir.

Puff. You are to leave one chair, you know. — But it is always awkward in a tragedy, to have your fellows coming in in your play-house liveries to remove things. — I wish that could be managed better. — So now for my mysterious yeoman.

Enter Beefeater.

Beef. Perdition catch my soul, but I do love thee.”

Sneer. Haven’t I heard that line before?

Puff. No, I fancy not. — Where, pray?

Dangle. Yes, I think there is something like it in Othello.

Puff. Gad! now you put me in mind on’t, I believe there is — but that’s of no consequence; all that can be said is, that two people happened to hit upon the same thought — and Shakspeare made use of it first, that’s all.

Sneer. Very true.

Puff. Now, sir, your soliloquy — but speak more to the pit, if you please — the soliloquy always to the pit, that’s a rule.

Beef. Though hopeless love finds comfort in despair,
It never can endure a rival’s bliss!
But soft — I am observed.

[Exit.]”

Dangle. That’s a very short soliloquy.

Puff. Yes — but it would have been a great deal longer if he had not been observed.

Sneer. A most sentimental Beefeater that, Mr. Puff!

Puff. Hark’ee — I would not have you be too sure that he is a Beefeater.

Sneer. What, a hero in disguise?

Puff. No matter — I only give you a hint. But now for my principal character. Here he comes — Lord Burleigh in person! Pray, gentlemen, step this way — softly — I only hope the Lord High Treasurer is perfect — if he is but perfect!

Enter Lord Burleigh, goes slowly to a chair, and sits.

Sneer. Mr. Puff!

Puff. Hush! — Vastly well, sir! vastly well! a most interesting gravity.

Dangle. What, isn’t he to speak at all?

Puff. Egad, I thought you’d ask me that! — Yes, it is a very likely thing — that a minister in his situation, with the whole affairs of the nation on his head, should have time to talk! — But hush! or you’ll put him out.

Sneer. Put him out; how the plague can that be, if he’s not going to say anything?

Puff. There’s the reason! why, his part is to think; and how the plague do you imagine he can think if you keep talking?

Dangle. That’s very true, upon my word!

“Lord Burleigh comes forward, shakes his head, and exit.”

Sneer. He is very perfect indeed! Now, pray what did he mean by that?

Puff. You don’t take it?

Sneer. No, I don’t, upon my soul.

Puff. Why, by that shake of the head, he gave you to understand that even though they had more justice in their cause, and wisdom in their measures — yet, if there was not a greater spirit shown on the part of the people, the country would at last fall a sacrifice to the hostile ambition of the Spanish monarchy.

Sneer. The devil! did he mean all that by shaking his head?

Puff. Every word of it — if he shook his head as I taught him.

Dangle. Ah! there certainly is a vast deal to be done on the stage by dumb show and expressions of face; and a judicious author knows how much he may trust to it.

Sneer. Oh, here are some of our old acquaintance.

Enter Sir Christopher Hatton and Sir Walter Raleigh.

Sir Christ. My niece and your niece too!
By Heaven! there’s witchcraft in’t. — He could not else
Have gain’d their hearts. — But see where they approach
Some horrid purpose lowering on their brows!

Sir Walt. Let us withdraw and mark them. [They withdraw.]”

Sneer. What is all this?

Puff. Ah! here has been more pruning! — but the fact is, these two young ladies are also in love with Don Whiskerandos. — Now, gentlemen, this scene goes entirely for what we call situation and stage effect, by which the greatest applause may be obtained, without the assistance of language, sentiment, or character: pray mark!

Enter the two Nieces.

1st Niece. Ellena here! She is his scorn as much as I— that is
Some comfort still!”

Puff. O dear, madam, you are not to say that to her face! — Aside, ma’am, aside. — The whole scene is to be aside.

1st Niece. She is his scorn as much as I— that is
Some comfort still. [Aside.]

2nd Niece. I know he prizes not Pollina’s love;
But Tilburina lords it o’er his heart. [Aside.]

1st Niece. But see the proud destroyer of my peace.
Revenge is all the good I’ve left. [Aside.]

2nd Niece. He comes, the false disturber of my quiet.
Now vengeance do thy worst. [Aside.]

Enter Don Ferolo Whiskerandos.

Whisk. O hateful liberty — if thus in vain
I seek my Tilburina!

Both Nieces. And ever shalt!

Sir Christopher Hatton and Sir Walter Raleigh come forward.

Sir Christ. and Sir Walt. Hold! we will avenge you.

Whisk. Hold you — or see your nieces bleed!

[The two Nieces draw their two daggers to strike Whiskerandos: the two Uncles at the instant, with their two swords drawn, catch their two Nieces’ arms, and turn the points of their swords to Whiskerandos, who immediately draws two daggers, and holds them to the two Nieces’ bosoms.]”

Puff. There’s situation for you! there’s an heroic group! — You see the ladies can’t stab Whiskerandos — he durst not strike them, for fear of their uncles — the uncles durst not kill him, because of their nieces. — I have them all at a dead lock! — for every one of them is afraid to let go first.

Sneer. Why, then they must stand there for ever!

Puff. So they would, if I hadn’t a very fine contrivance for’t. — Now mind —

Enter Beefeater, with his halbert.

Beef. In the queen’s name I charge you all to drop Your swords and daggers!

[They drop their swords and daggers.”]

Sneer. That is a contrivance indeed!

Puff. Ay — in the queen’s name.

Sir Christ. Come, niece!

Sir Walt. Come, niece! [Exeunt with the two Nieces.]

Whisk. What’s he, who bids us thus renounce our guard?

Beef. Thou must do more — renounce thy love!

Whisk. Thou liest — base Beefeater!

Beef. Ha! hell! the lie!
By Heaven thou’st roused the lion in my heart!
Off, yeoman’s habit! — base disguise! off! off!

[Discovers himself by throwing off his upper dress, and appearing in a very fine waistcoat.] Am I a Beefeater now?
Or beams my crest as terrible as when
In Biscay’s Bay I took thy captive sloop?”

Puff. There, egad! he comes out to be the very captain of the privateer who had taken Whiskerandos prisoner — and was himself an old lover of Tilburina’s.

Dangle. Admirably managed, indeed!

Puff. Now, stand out of their way.

Whisk. I thank thee, Fortune, that hast thus bestowed
A weapon to chastise this insolent. [Takes up one of the swords.]

Beef. I take thy challenge, Spaniard, and I thank thee, Fortune, too! [Takes up the other sword.]”

Dangle. That’s excellently contrived! — It seems as if the two uncles had left their swords on purpose for them.

Puff. No, egad, they could not help leaving them.

Whisk. Vengeance and Tilburina!

Beef. Exactly so —

[They fight — and after the usual number of wounds given, Whiskerandos falls.]

Whisk. O cursed parry! — that last thrust in tierce
Was fatal. — Captain, thou hast fenced well!
And Whiskerandos quits this bustling scene
For all eter —

Beef. — nity — he would have added, but stern death
Cut short his being, and the noun at once!”

Puff. Oh, my dear sir, you are too slow: now mind me. — Sir, shall I trouble you to die again?

Whisk. And Whiskerandos quits this bustling scene
For all eter —

Beef. — nity — he would have added, — ”

Puff. No, sir — that’s not it — once more, if you please.

Whisk. I wish, sir, you would practise this without me — I can’t stay dying here all night.

Puff. Very well; we’ll go over it by-and-by. — [Exit Whiskerandos.] I must humour these gentlemen!

Beef. Farewell, brave Spaniard! and when next — ”

Puff. Dear sir, you needn’t speak that speech, as the body has walked off.

Beef. That’s true, sir — then I’ll join the fleet.

Puff. If you please. — [Exit Beefeater.] Now, who comes on?

Enter Governor, with his hair properly disordered.

Gov. A hemisphere of evil planets reign!
And every planet sheds contagious frenzy!
My Spanish prisoner is slain! my daughter,
Meeting the dead corse borne along, has gone Distract!

[A loud flourish of trumpets.]
But hark! I am summoned to the fort:
Perhaps the fleets have met! amazing crisis!
O Tilburina! from thy aged father’s beard
Thou’st pluck’d the few brown hairs which time had left! [Exit.]”

Sneer. Poor gentleman!

Puff. Yes — and no one to blame but his daughter!

Dangle. And the planets —

Puff. True. — Now enter Tilburina!

Sneer. Egad, the business comes on quick here.

Puff. Yes, sir — now she comes in stark mad in white satin.

Sneer. Why in white satin?

Puff. O Lord, sir — when a heroine goes mad, she always goes into white satin. — Don’t she, Dangle?

Dangle. Always — it’s a rule.

Puff. Yes — here it is — [Looking at the book.] “Enter Tilburina stark mad in white satin, and her confidant stark mad in white linen.”

Enter Tilburina and Confidant, mad, according to custom.”

Sneer. But, what the deuce! is the confidant to be mad too?

Puff. To be sure she is: the confidant is always to do whatever her mistress does; weep when she weeps, smile when she smiles, go mad when she goes mad. — Now, Madam Confidant — but keep your madness in the background, if you please.

Tilb. The wind whistles — the moon rises — see,
They have kill’d my squirrel in his cage:
Is this a grasshopper? —
Ha! no; it is my Whiskerandos — you shall not keep him —
I know you have him in your pocket —
An oyster may be cross’d in love! — who says
A whale’s a bird? —
Ha! did you call, my love? —
He’s here! he’s there! — He’s everywhere!
Ah me! he’s nowhere! [Exit.]”

Puff. There, do you ever desire to see anybody madder than that?

Sneer. Never, while I live!

Puff. You observed how she mangled the metre?

Dangle. Yes, — egad, it was the first thing made me suspect she was out of her senses!

Sneer. And pray what becomes of her?

Puff. She is gone to throw herself into the sea, to be sure — and that brings us at once to the scene of action, and so to my catastrophe — my sea-fight, I mean.

Sneer. What, you bring that in at last?

Puff. Yes, yes — you know my play is called The Spanish Armada; otherwise, egad, I have no occasion for the battle at all. — Now then for my magnificence! — my battle! — my noise! — and my procession! — You are all ready?

Und. Promp. [Within.] Yes, sir.

Puff. Is the Thames dressed?

Enter Thames with two attendants.”

Thames. Here I am, sir.

Puff. Very well, indeed! — See, gentlemen, there’s a river for you! — This is blending a little of the masque with my tragedy — a new fancy, you know — and very useful in my case; for as there must be a procession, I suppose Thames, and all his tributary rivers, to compliment Britannia with a fête in honour of the victory.

Sneer. But pray, who are these gentlemen in green with him?

Puff. Those? — those are his banks.

Sneer. His banks?

Puff. Yes, one crowned with alders, and the other with a villa! — you take the allusions? — But hey! what the plague! — you have got both your banks on one side. — Here, sir, come round. — Ever while you live, Thames, go between your banks. — [Bell rings.] There; so! now for’t! — Stand aside, my dear friends! — Away, Thames!

[Exit Thames between his banks.]

[Flourish of drums, trumpets, cannon, &c., &‘c. Scene changes to the sea — the fleets engage — the music plays — “Britons strike home.” — Spanish fleet destroyed by fire-ships, &c. — English fleet advances — music plays, “Rule Britannia.” — The procession of all the English rivers, and their tributaries, with their emblems, &c., begins with Handel’s water music, ends with a chorus to the march in Judas’ Maccabaeus. — During this scene, Puff directs and applauds everything — then

Puff. Well, pretty well — but not quite perfect. So, ladies and gentlemen, if you please, we’ll rehearse this piece again to-morrow.

[Curtain drops.]

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30