« PreviousContinue »
FIRST SCENE OF A TRAGEDY,
DESIGNED IN 1742, BY MR. GRAY,
ON THE SUBJECT OF
THE DEATH OF AGRIPPINA. 
¡Mr. Mason's account of this Fragment is as follows: "The Britannicus "of M. Racine, I know, was one of Mr. Gray's most favourite plays; " and the admirable manner in which I have heard him say that he "saw it represented at Paris, seems to have led him to choose the "death of Agrippina for this his first and only effort in the drama. "The execution of it also, as far as it goes, is so very much in Racine's 66 taste, that I suspect, if that great poet had been born an English"man, he would have written precisely in the same style and man"ner. However, as there is at present in this nation a general pre"judice against declamatory plays, I agree with a learned friend, "who perused the manuscript, that this fragment will be little re"lished by the many; yet the admirable strokes of nature and cha"racter with which it abounds, and the majesty of its diction, pre"vent me from withholding from the few, who I expect will relish "it, so great a curiosity (to call it nothing more) as part of a tragedy "written by Mr. Gray. These persons well know, that till style and "sentiment be a little more regarded, mere action and passion will "never secure reputation to the Author, whatever they may do to "the Actor. It is the business of the one "to strut and fret his hour "upon the stage ;" and if he frets and struts enough, he is sure to find
 See Tacitus' Annals, Book xiii. xiv.
"his reward in the plaudit of an upper gallery; but the other ought "to have some regard to the cooler judgment of the closet: For I "will be bold to say, that if Shakespeare himself had not written a "multitude of passages which please there as much as they do on the "stage, his reputation would not stand so universally high as it does "at present. Many of these passages, to the shame of our theatrical "taste, are omitted constantly in the representation: But I say not "this from conviction that the mode of writing, which Mr. Gray "pursued, is the best for dramatic purposes. I think myself, that a "medium between the French and English taste would be preferable "to either; and yet this medium, if hit with the greatest nicety, would "fail of success on our theatre, and that for a very obvious reason. "Actors (I speak of the troop collectively) must all learn to speak as "well as act, in order to do justice to such a drama.
"But let me hasten to give the reader what little insight I can into Mr. "Gray's plan, as I find, and select it from two detached papers. The "Title and Dramatis Personæ are as follow:
Agrippina, the Empress mother.
Nero, the Emperor.
Poppaa, believed to be in love with Otho.
Otho, a young man of quality, in love with Poppaa.
Anicetus, Captain of the Guards.
Demetrius, the Cynic, friend to Seneca.
SCENE, the Emperor's villa at Baiæ.
"The argument drawn out by him, in these two papers, under the idea "of a plot and under-plot, I shall here unite; as it will tend to show "that the action itself was possest of sufficient unity.
"The drama opens with the indignation of Agrippina, at receiving her "son's orders from Anicetus to remove from Baiæ, and to have her "guard taken from her. At this time Otho having conveyed Pop66 pæa from the house of her husband Rufus Crispinus, brings her to "Baiæ, where he means to conceal her among the crowd; or, if his "fraud is discovered, to have recourse to the Emperor's authority; "but, knowing the lawless temper of Nero, he determines not to "have recourse to that expedient but on the utmost necessity. "In the meantime he commits her to the care of Anicetus, "whom he takes to be his friend, and in whose age he thinks "he may safely confide. Nero is not yet come to Baiæ; but "Seneca, whom he sends before him, informs Agrippina of the ac"cusation concerning Rubellius Plancus, and desires her to clear "herself, which she does briefly; but demands to see her son, who, "on his arrival, acquits her of all suspicion, and restores her to her "honours. In the mean while Anicetus, to whose care Poppaa had "been entrusted by Otho, contrives the following plot to ruin Agrip"pina: He betrays his trust to Otho, and brings Nero, as it were by "chance, to the sight of the beautiful Poppæa; the Emperor is im"mediately struck with her charms, and she, by a feigned resistance, "increases his passion; though, in reality, she is from the first daz"zled with the prospect of empire, and forgets Otho: She therefore "joins with Anicetus in his design of ruining Agrippina, soon per"ceiving that it will be for her interest. Otho hearing that the Em<< peror had seen Poppæa, is much enraged; but not knowing that "this interview was obtained through the treachery of Anicetus, is "readily persuaded by him to see Agrippina in secret, and acquaint "her with his fears that her son Nero would marry Poppæa. Agrip"pina, to support her own power, and to wean the Emperor from "the love of Poppæa, gives Otho encouragement, and promises to "support him. Anicetus secretly introduces Nero to hear their dis66 course; who resolves immediately on his mother's death, and, by "Anicetus's means, to destroy her by drowning. A solemn feast, in "honour of their reconciliation, is to be made; after which she "being to go by sea to Bauli, the ship is so contrived as to sink or "crush her; she escapes by accident, and returns to Baiæ. In this "interval, Otho has an interview with Poppaa; and being duped a "second time by Anicetus and her, determines to fly with her into "Greece, by means of a vessel which is to be furnished by Anicetus; "but he, pretending to remove Poppæa on board in the night, con
veys her to Nero's apartment: She there encourages and deter"mines Nero to banish Otho, and finish the horrid deed he had at"tempted on his mother. Anicetus undertakes to execute his re"solves; and, under pretence of a plot upon the Emperor's life, is "sent with a guard to murder Agrippina, who is still at Baiæ in im"minent fear, and irresolute how to conduct herself. The account "of her death, and the Emperor's horror and fruitless remorse, "finishes the drama."]
ACT I. SCENE I.
'TIS well, begone! your errand is perform'd:
[Speaks as to Anicetus entering.
The message needs no comment. Tell your master,
Say, she retired to Antium; there to tend
You think, you spied a tear stand in her eye,
And would have dropp'd but that her pride restrain'd it?
(Go! you can paint it well) 'twill profit you, And please the stripling. Yet 'twould dash his joy To hear the spirit of Britannicus
Yet walks on earth: at least there are who know
His hospitable board: They are aware
He's gone; and much I hope these walls alone
And dost thou talk to me, to me, of danger,