Half Title
 Title Page
 Table of Contents
 Part I: The trial of the innoc...
 Part II: The trial of the...


Nicholas Rowe and Christian tragedy
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Title: Nicholas Rowe and Christian tragedy
Physical Description: xi, 212 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Canfield, J. Douglas ( John Douglas ), 1941-
Publisher: University Presses of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville
Publication Date: 1977
Copyright Date: 1977
Subjects / Keywords: Christian drama, English -- History and criticism   ( lcsh )
Tragedy   ( lcsh )
Théâtre chrétien   ( rvm )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Bibliography: Includes bibliographies and index.
General Note: "A University of Florida book."
Statement of Responsibility: J. Douglas Canfield.
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Full Text




Christian Tragedy

The Penance of Jane
Shore in St. Paul's
Church, by William
Blake. Courtesy of The
Tate Gallery, London

Nicholas Rowe


Christian Tragedy

J. Douglas Canfield

A University of Florida Book
The University Presses of Florida
Gainesville 1977

The University Presses of Florida is the scholarly publishing agency for the State Univer-
sity System of Florida. The publication of this book was assisted by the American Coun-
cil of Learned Societies under a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Canfield, John Douglas, 1941-
Nicholas Rowe and Christian tragedy.

Includes bibliographies and index.
1. Rowe, Nicholas, 1674-1718-Criticism and
interpretation. I. Title.
PR3671.R5C3 822'.5 76-39917
ISBN 0-8130-0545-0

All rights reserved

For Pam and Robbie
-they endured.


HIS IS A STUDY of the meaning and the merit of Nicholas
Rowe's tragedies, examined in their historical context.
By "Christian tragedy" I mean tragedies that mirror a
Christian Weltanschauung. Tragedy is whatever any age
makes it. The size of the category swells or shrinks ac-
cordingly. In the English Renaissance through the Restoration into the
eighteenth century, plays were generally divided between "comedies"
and "tragedies," the latter usually treating in an elevated style high-born
characters involved in suffering and evil and loss-whether or not the
plays end happily, whether or not they meet Aristotle's criteria, much
less Nietzsche's. Christianity does not preclude any of these things, cer-
tainly, and its basic, "comic" pattern of fall and redemption, which some
take to be inimical to tragedy, is a general pattern of history, to which
the pattern of an individual's life may or may not conform. After all,
Macbeth falls never to rise again, yet Scotland is redeemed, as if to
prove life signifies much more than nothing.
A far more important pattern for the individual in Christian art is
that of trial. As this study argues, Rowe's tragedies, in the tradition of
earlier English tragedy, borrow the metaphor from Scripture and Chris-
tian apologetics and employ it over and over as a shaping pattern, the ul-
timate trial being the temptation to despair, the most serious-and most
sinister-temptation of man in the Christian scheme. This and other
similar patterns, infused as they are with Christian language, imagery,
and thought, are what make the tragedies of Nicholas Rowe Christian.
Not that they are therefore true, or reflect ontological reality. Rowe
obviously thought they did. But in our post-Kantian-indeed, post-

Heideggerian-age, perhaps the best we can say is that Rowe's fictions
take their meaning from the larger, dominant fiction of his age, the
Christian myth. His words refer to another set of words. His poetical
justice, for example, pretends to reflect providential justice, which is
itself-as are all human notions of justice-poetical. Once we conclude
that "reality" is a fiction, however, we must then realize that fiction is
our reality: the projections of human consciousness are all we've got.
Fiction, then, is no longer a pejorative term. We must take it seriously,
and, as literary critics especially, we must construct our own fictions
carefully, aware of our limitations, as out of necessity we scribble notes
toward yet other fictions.
Accordingly, in this study I have adopted the critical fictions that
seem to me to account most fully for my conscious experience of the
intentionality (in the phenomenological sense) of Rowe's consciousness
as projected toward me in the stimuli of the text. The critical princi-
ples (by changing a word, I thus legitimate them) are those of formalism
and the history of ideas. In other words, I have accepted a formal im-
perative as a necessary fiction: whatever their ontological status, we
must treat verbal artifacts as if they were integral objects, for that
allows us, I think, to get the most out of them. And I also assume that,
since they use words (not to mention body language on the stage), they
are therefore meaningful; that they are about states of mind and states
of affairs, rooted in their own historical time; and that those meanings
are more or less ascertainable, within vague but nevertheless present
parameters (Jane Shore is not a play about Watergate, however much
the two Richards have in common). Why else read them? And why write
about them? So ontology and epistemology finally yield to the fictions
of common sense, and I set out not to save Rowe's plays for Christianity
but to interpret their play of words as objectively as I can.
With regard to the merit of Rowe's plays, I have done an evaluative
analysis only of the plays which warrant it. Why kick a man when he's
down? When Rowe is up, however, I have tried to show how and why.
Perhaps such an analysis will convince others that he is worth reading,
not because of his place in literary history or in the history of ideas but
because of his occasional felicitous marriage of theme and form and
language. For convenience's sake, I originally used as my text the 1792
edition of The Works of Nicholas Rowe, Esq., apparently the most read-
ily available edition of the plays-until the 1971 reprinting of the 1720
edition of The Dramatick Works of Nicholas Rowe, Esq., which was not
picked up by the standard bibliographies and came to my attention only



after this study was accepted for publication with the quotations thor-
oughly woven into its fabric. I apologize for not using the more authori-
tative text. Also, Landon Burns' recent monograph, Pity and Tears: The
Tragedies of Nicholas Rowe (Salzburg, 1974), which reprints his disser-
tation almost verbatim, came to my attention too late for me to alter
my references from dissertation to book. Moreover, in the four-and-a-
half-year lag between submission and publication of this study in its
present form, I have attempted to incorporate references to recent work
bearing directly on my reading of Rowe and Restoration tragedy; but,
for expedience's sake, I have not included ancillary material, such as
several recent and important books on Dryden and especially two ex-
cellent related studies, Martin Battestin's The Providence of Wit: As-
pects of Form in Augustan Literature and the Arts (Oxford, 1974), with
whose formalistic approach I am in fundamental agreement, and Robert
Hume's The Development of English Drama in the Late Seventeenth
Century (Oxford, 1976), with whose affective approach I am in funda-
mental disagreement. Battestin corroborates the findings of Aubrey
Williams and Hume those of Eric Rothstein, to both of whom I do refer.
I have used the following forms of reference: parenthetical cita-
tions in the text (where I have tried to place most references to avoid
the annoyance of brief notes); footnotes at the ends of chapters, contain-
ing only author, short title, and an occasional date where necessary; and
a bibliography of works cited, which may be consulted for full titles and
publishing information. To streamline further, I have adopted the abbre-
viations f and ff, except where exact termination must be identified (and
I have eschewed redundant plurals, as in "pp. 218 ff," which I render
"p. 218 ff"). Because my edition does not number lines, I cite act, scene
(where applicable), and page numbers (e.g., II.iii, p. 39) and note every
change of page as soon as it occurs. Finally, I have silently corrected
accidental and transposed italics in prefaces, prologues, epilogues, and
the like in the body of the study, but for scholarship's sake I have repro-
duced the text of the appendix as exactly as possible. A fully annotated
edition of this sale catalogue of Rowe's library awaits a critical edition
of the entire canon of his works.
This volume was begun as a dissertation at the University of Flor-
ida. For help in the revision I am grateful to the following: the staffs of
the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library and the Henry E. Hunt-
ington Library, for bibliographical assistance; the Regents of the Univer-
sity of California, for financial assistance; Ethel Wallis, Stan Scott, and
Renata Landres, for research assistance; and Henry Ansgar Kelly, Henry



x Preface
Knight Miller, and Ben Ross Schneider, for careful critical readings of
the manuscript.
For help all along the road to this book, I am especially grateful to
the following: John Logan, Richard Sewall, and Cleanth Brooks, who
guided my initial steps toward an appreciative understanding of litera-
ture in general and tragedy in particular; the late W. K. Wimsatt, who
introduced me to the theory behind Restoration tragedy; the late D. C.
Allen, who introduced me to the thought behind it; and Aubrey Wil-
liams, who taught me how to read it. From start to finish of the study
proper, Professor Williams has been my rod and my staff, a fact I ac-
knowledge with appreciation and affection.

I. Douglas Canfield



PART ONE. The Trial of the Innocent
I. Prolegomena: The Ambitious Stepmother, "Poetical
Justice," and "The Trial of Man" 13
II. Protagonist as Champion: Tamerlane and Ulysses 45
III. Protagonist as Saint: The Royal Convert and Lady Jane
Gray 77

PART Two. The Trial of the Sinner
IV. Protagonist as Penitent (with Reluctance): The Fair
Penitent 111
V. Protagonist as Penitent (with Resignation): Jane Shore 146

APPENDIX. A Catalogue of the Library of Nicholas
Rowe, Esq. 181

BIBLIOGRAPHY A. A Tentative Twentieth-Century
Bibliography on Rowe's Tragedies 197
BIBLIOGRAPHY B. A List of Works Cited 200


ICHOLAS ROWE is an important literary figure simply be-
cause he was the first biographer and editor of Shake-
speare, as most of us know. He is also important as the
translator of Lucan's Pharsalia into what Samuel Johnson
called "one of the greatest productions of English
poetry,"' as most of us do not know. But his greatest importance in his
own time-as it should be in ours-is that he was the major tragedian of
the early eighteenth century and became poet laureate in 1715 on that
basis. Nearly all of his tragedies were initially successful, and after
Shakespeare's, three of them-Tamerlane, The Fair Penitent, and The
Tragedy of Jane Shore-were among the most popular of the century.2
Historically, Rowe's she-tragedies-The Fair Penitent, Jane Shore, and
Lady Jane Gray-influenced not only the development of English and
continental domestic tragedy but also Richardson and the development
of the novel (Clarissa is obviously indebted to The Fair Penitent).3 Be-
cause of their popularity and their historical importance, the four plays
mentioned are still being edited and anthologized anew (see Bibliogra-
phy A), and one or another is still being taught in dramatic surveys of
the period.
Popularity and literary history aside, however, Rowe's tragedies
deserve to be studied for their intrinsic meaning and merit. His Ulysses
is one of the better classical tragedies of the many attempted in this neo-
classical age, and his she-tragedies are the best tragedies of the entire
century. In them Rowe achieves the naturalness of diction and the
smoothness of verse for which he has been traditionally praised,4 plus a
fine weave of metaphoric and allusive patterns and a keenness of charac-
terization, as in his famous "gay Lothario." The she-tragedies are, fur-
"Notes to the introduction begin on page 8.

thermore, engaging examinations of the central human problems of
suffering and sin.
Yet Rowe's tragedies have received meager attention from
twentieth-century scholarship. The only full-length studies are disserta-
tions, and these are primarily concerned with Rowe's life, his sources,
and his position in the history of English drama as a transitional figure
between "heroic" and "sentimental" tragedy, or as an exemplar of the
"pathetic" mode. In analyzing the plays themselves, when not merely
sketching characters or summarizing plots, critics have concentrated
almost entirely on Rowe's techniques of arousing pity in his audience.
Thus the criticism is most often affective instead of cognitive, and
Rowe's tragedies simply do not seem to have been read for their full
meaning.' Some critics have discussed, in most instances briefly and
tangentially, Rowe's "moralizing," but even then they have divorced
the ethical from any metaphysical foundation.6 In his volume of The
Oxford History of English Literature, Bonamy Dobree goes so far as to
say of Rowe's tragedies that "one essential part of tragedy, the meta-
physical sense, was missing"; for that matter, "in none of the plays of the
period is there any metaphysical idea, no great theme which makes the
observer say, 'This is what happens to man!' "7 In his Restoration
Tragedy, Eric Rothstein argues that "theology does not set its mark in
any real way" on later Restoration tragedy (implicitly including Rowe,
whom he mentions throughout) as it becomes more affective and its
"serial" form becomes detached from plot and thus from a mimetic re-
flection of metaphysical reality (pp. 117, 158 f, and passim). "All con-
duct in these plays," writes Rothstein, "proceeds from an ethical rather
than a religious . basis" (p. 131). Although in his recent and generally
excellent Restoration Serious Drama Geoffrey Marshall admits that Jane
Shore is a "fundamentally religious play" concerning "salvation" and
"penance" (p. 220), because of his emphasis on character throughout his
study he consistently portrays the "seriousness" of Restoration tragedy
-and the Christianity upon which it often depends in the plays-in
strictly ethical terms: "Restoration plays are concerned with the path
through this life. . [The playwrights] assume that every man must
make himself right before the world will be right. They believe that
character, that ethos, is everything that counts. They are therefore dis-
tinguished from writers who find the answer to the morally good life in
terms of any of the following: revelation, institutions, [etc.]. . The
Christian figures [in these plays] ... do not attempt to convert the audi-
ence to a faith, but to show the advantages of a Christian way of life....




The Restoration image of man, in outline, is not very different from the
image of man in the Renaissance, with perhaps one significant difference
-the Restoration man is a secular creature. He may have intimate ties
with the divine or the macrocosmic or the metaphysical, but the plays
make little of that. They focus instead on his worldly anguish and the
possibilities, such as they are, for his worldly redemption, salvation, and
peace" (pp. 30, 34 f, 65).
On the other hand, Rowe's physician and first biographer, James
Welwood, assures us that Rowe was an intensely religious man, one who
studied philosophy and theology diligently: "He had a good Taste in
Philosophy, and having a firm Impression of Religion upon his Mind, he
took great delight in Divinity and Ecclesiastical History, in both which
he made great Advances in the times he retired into the Country, which
were frequent. He express on all Occasions his full Perswasion of the
Truth of Reveal'd Religion."8 Welwood also assures us that religion is a
primary concern in Rowe's plays: "It may be justly said of them all, that
never Poet painted Virtue or Religion in a more charming Dress on the
Stage, nor were ever Vice and Impiety better exposed to Contempt and
Hatred. There runs through every one of them an Air of Religion and
Virtue" (p. xx). This religious dimension has either been denied or almost
totally neglected in criticism of Rowe's tragedies, and yet, I submit, it
is this dimension-in its metaphysical even more than its ethical aspects
-which is the most apposite to their full understanding. For the trage-
dies of Nicholas Rowe are Christian tragedies; that is, the solution which
they dramatically proffer to the problems of suffering and sin and con-
comitant metaphysical doubt is the traditional Christian solution, that
man must above all avoid the nihilistic sin of despair and must trust im-
plicitly in the Providence of God-in His justice and in His mercy.
That Providence, as it manifests itself in the formal design of Rowe's
tragedies, is the supreme metaphysical reality-eminently and imma-
nently involved in "what happens to man," and upon which Christian
ethics, at least as Christians view the world, is necessarily dependent.


Five of Rowe's seven tragedies-The Ambitious Stepmother, Tamerlane,
Ulysses, The Royal Convert, and Lady Jane Gray-concentrate on the
figure of the suffering innocent. Tragedy with such a protagonist has
generally put off most modern readers because of its polarization of good
and evil and its lack of hamartia; but this particular type of tragedy,

4 Introduction
like the tragicomedy which was so popular in the seventeenth century
and with which it has so much in common, is really the other side of the
coin to revenge tragedy in its theme of God's distributive-rather than
primarily retributive (or vindictive)-justice. In Rowe's plays, as in so v
many of the type, the solution to the problem of suffering innocence is
to trust in the providential care and justice of God, Who eventually re-
wards and punishes according to deserts-if only in the hereafter-and
Who ultimately brings good out of evil-if only in the eschaton.
As Herschel Baker points out in The Wars of Truth, "The doctrine
of providence has always served to justify the apparent evils of a world
that, though sunk in sin and temporality, must somehow be adjusted to
the hypothesis of a theocratic universe" (p. 13), and he relates how the
doctrine was strenuously maintained throughout the Renaissance (p.
12 ff). In his study of Renaissance atheism, Doubt's Boundless Sea, Don
Cameron Allen notes that in answer to the growing threat of free think-
ing, and particularly deism, "the sections on theodicy in antiatheist
books grew more and more extended" as the seventeenth century pro-
gressed and that, accordingly, the English "were being very vigorous in
their defense of special Providence," or God's particular intervention
into the lives of men (p. 146 f). This intense activity-culminating in
eighteenth-century optimism-was quite naturally reflected in the imag-
inative literature of the period, most notably, of course, in Milton's
Paradise Lost, whose theodicy Rowe constantly echoes. And in the major
tragedians of the seventeenth century, Rowe found ample precedent for
the Christian tragedy of suffering innocence.
The major tragedian for Rowe and his contemporaries was, of
course, William Shakespeare. Shakespeare's histories and tragedies con-
stantly raise questions of suffering innocence and cosmic justice, and
as numerous critics have argued (and as I am firmly convinced), those
plays commonly portray a providentially ordered universe where suffer-
ing is not meaningless and evil does not go unpunished. From Rich-
mond's defeat of Richard III at the chronological end of the tetralogies;
to the "special providence" in Hamlet which alone can right the state of
Denmark and the world; to Cordelia's and Edgar's redemptive actions
and Malcolm and Macduff's final triumph; to the providential accidents
of Cymbeline (considered a tragedy throughout the seventeenth century
and in Rowe's own edition, The Works of Mr. William Shakespear, q.v.),
most of Shakespeare's serious plays, not to mention his comedies, are
theodicean. In the Restoration period Shakespeare's subtle and complex
treatment of theodicy was oversimplified by those infamous adapters

Introduction 5
with their strict and constricting interpretation of poetic justice. When
examined thematically, as has seldom been done, several of the altera-
tions in three of the most popular adaptations reveal attempts to further
justify Providence. In Davenant's operatic version of Macbeth, a new
emphasis is placed on trust in God, and Macduff becomes even more
explicitly the agent of divine justice. In Tate's The History of King Lear,
Providence is continually invoked; Edgar explicitly becomes God's
Champion, and Cordelia interprets the happy ending thus: "Then there
are Gods, and Vertue is their Care."9 In Cibber's The Tragical History
of King Richard III, against Richard's threat to world order the need for
trust in Providence is stressed, from Henry VI's submission to "Heav'ns
Will" (I.i.89), to the frequent appeals to Heaven, to the appearance of
the ghosts "By Heavens high Ordinance" (V.v.35), to Richmond's role
as God's Champion (V, passim).
Critics have only begun to see that one of the dominant themes in
the tragedies and heroic plays (if not the entire canon) of the major
dramatist of the Restoration, John Dryden, is also trust in providential
justice.10 Nearly all these plays focus on the problem of suffering inno-
cence, and they are filled with challenges to, complaints against, and
justifications of Providence, with the fiercest challenges coming perhaps
from Dryden's villainesses, Zempoalla, Lyndaraxa, and Nourmahal; the
most poignant complaints from Aureng-Zebe, Almeyda, and Cleomenes;
and the most signal justifications from Tiresias and Saint Catharine. In
the opening of Act V of All for Love, Charmion epitomizes the problem
of suffering innocence (or at least misfortunate virtue) in Dryden's
tragedies when she says of Cleopatra's suffering,

Be juster, Heav'n: such virtue punish'd thus,
Will make us think that Chance rules all above,
And shuffles, with a random hand, the Lots
Which Man is forc'd to draw."

Yet whether already present, or acquired gradually as in The Conquest
of Granada, faith in Divine Providence is tested and ultimately vindi-
cated against those who scorn it-even if, as in the instances of Saint
Catharine, Towerson, and Cleomenes, the test is death. That Dryden
would attempt to adapt Milton's great theodicy to drama in The State
of Innocence should not be at all surprising.
There are other major precedents in seventeenth-century tragedy
for Rowe's theodicean solution to the problem of suffering innocence.

6 Introduction
Webster's The Duchess of Malfi and Tourneur's The Atheist's Tragedy
are the best examples in the Jacobean period. In the Restoration some
of Otway's tragedies are theodicean, certainly Alcibiades and Don
Carlos.'2 The same is true of Lee's Mithridates and Lucius Junius Brutus
and of Settle's The Empress of Morocco. Finally, just a few years before
Rowe's advent on the stage, Congreve wrote his popular tragedy, The
Mourning Bride, which concludes,

Seest thou, how just the Hand of Heav'n has been?
Let us that thro' our Innocence survive,
Still in the Paths of Honour persevere;
And not from past or present ills Despair:
For Blessings ever wait on vertuous Deeds;
And tho' a late, a sure Reward succeeds.13

The same conclusion is echoed over and over in Rowe's five dramatic


In Rowe's two most famous plays-The Fair Penitent and Jane Shore-
the focus is not primarily on the problem of suffering innocence but on
the problem of sin and repentance. The major theme remains, never-
theless, trust in Providence-in God's mercy as the key to expiation and
atonement. Rowe's sinful heroines, either early or late, follow the path
of repentance to a human forgiveness which is itself emblematic of di-
vine. The central importance to Christianity of the doctrine of repent-
ance is epitomized in the authorized Anglican sermon "An Homily of
Repentance, And of True Reconciliation unto God": "There is nothing
that the Holy Ghost doth so much labour in all the Scriptures to beat
into mens heads, as Repentance, amendment of Life, and speedy return-
ing unto the Lord God of Hosts. And no marvel why: For we do daily
and hourly by our wickedness and stubborn disobedience, horribly fall
away from God, thereby purchasing unto our selves (if he should deal
with us according to his justice) eternal damnation."'14 Accordingly, the
themes of repentance and forgiveness permeate medieval and Renais-
sance literature, including seventeenth-century English tragedy. With
regard to that kind of tragedy which focuses on the problem of repent-
ance, however, there is a particular tradition out of which Rowe's plays

Introduction 7
Nearly all of Rowe's modern critics place The Fair Penitent and
Jane Shore in the Renaissance-Restoration tradition of "domestic"
tragedy.'5 Indeed, both are adaptations of domestic tragedies by Mas-
singer and Heywood, respectively,16 and Rowe announces in the pro-
logue to The Fair Penitent that he is abandoning "the fate of Kings and
Empires" for "an humbler theme," a "melancholy tale of private woes"
(Works, I, 156). But the important resemblance between Rowe's two
tragedies and the domestic tradition is that they have the same religious
dimension which both Henry Hitch Adams and Charles Howard Peake
have shown to be predominant in seventeenth- and early eighteenth-
century domestic-or "homiletic"-tragedies.17 Both critics argue very
cogently that the meaning of these plays is heavily influenced by the
contemporary theological concepts which are reflected throughout, so
that the plays become something like "adjuncts to the pulpit" (Peake,
passim). Adams offers a formula for the genre, which, if it is too sweep-
ing, at least applies in the majority of instances: "The typical domestic
tragedy followed a pattern, the sequence being: sin, discovery, repent-
ance, punishment, and expectation of divine mercy" (p. 7). This pattern
is roughly that to which Rowe adheres in his two domestic tragedies. His
most important predecessor in this kind of tragedy is Thomas Heywood.
The repentance of Heywood's sinful heroines in A Woman Killed with
Kindness, The English Traveller, and Edward IV, and their final appeals
to their husbands-and to Heaven-for forgiveness, anticipate Rowe,
who in fact adapted Heywood's treatment of Jane Shore in his own most
polished play. But Rowe is more subtle in his treatment of the pattern
than most of his predecessors, including Heywood, and his plays are
much more than mere "adjuncts to the pulpit." Through his excellence
of characterization and through his powerful expression of mental and
spiritual anguish, his two best plays transcend didactic formulae and be-
come good art.
Looming behind Rowe is another and far greater predecessor in the
tragedy of repentance-John Milton. In Samson Agonistes, Samson fi-
nally overcomes despair and places his "trust" in "the living God" and
"his final pardon / Whose ear is ever open; and his eye / Gracious to
re-admit the suppliant.""18 Samson's crucial turning point is his en-
counter with Dalila, where he resists the very temptation to which he
had succumbed-a pattern repeated in both The Fair Penitent and Jane
Shore. For that matter, Milton's tragedy sheds light upon all of Rowe's,
for besides being a penitence play, it is a dramatic theodicy as well. Mil-
ton's conclusion may well serve as an epigraph for Rowe's tragedies:

8 Introduction
All is best, though we oft doubt,
What th'unsearchable dispose
Of highest wisdom brings about,
And ever best found in the close. (vs. 1745 ff)

It is in the light of these traditions and themes, I submit, that the trag-
edies of Nicholas Rowe must be read. As will become apparent in the
course of this study, Rowe was intimately acquainted with the works of
several of the authors I have mentioned, but the important point is that
from these major predecessors he inherited not so much sources as forms
of tragedy that embody the Christian vision of a providential universe,
a vision which was under attack, as Herschel Baker's, Don Cameron
Allen's, and others' studies have shown,'9 by nearly all the new isms un-
leashed by the Renaissance and the Reformation: not only atheism, but
determinism and predeterminism, Machiavellianism and Hobbism, Epi-
cureanism and deism-anything that denied the immanence of Prov-
idence and the efficacy of prayer. Perhaps this attack inspired Rowe, like
Milton before him and his friend Pope after him, to justify the ways of
God to men and to exhort them to trust in divine justice and mercy.
Howbeit, this study attempts to show at least that Rowe's tragedies in-
deed assert eternal Providence in answer to the metaphysical dilemmas
of suffering innocents and sinners alike.


1. "The Life of Nicholas Rowe," conveniently prefixed to Rowe, Works, I, 10*.
(The pagination being separate but not Roman, I distinguish it with an asterisk.)
2. See Emmett L. Avery, "The Popularity of The Mourning Bride in the London
Theatres in the Eighteenth Century," p. 115 f. For Rowe's general success, see Donald
B. Clark, "Nicholas Rowe," who discusses the success of each tragedy in each chapter
and who tabulates performances in Appendix C.
3. Rowe's influence on later English drama and on Richardson is well known. His
influence on continental drama is not, but witness the number of foreign translations
and adaptations (listed in James R. Sutherland, ed., Three Plays, by Nicholas Rowe, p.
42; Ferdinand H. Schwarz, Nicholas Rowe's Fair Penitent, p. 14 f; and Willy Budig, Un-
tersuchungen uber Jane Shore, p. 76) and see the inadequate but suggestive general
sketch in Alfred Behrend, Nicholas Rowe als Dramatiker, p. 62 ff. Continuing German
interest in Rowe is evidenced by the spate of early-twentieth-century dissertations listed
below (Bibliography A, criticism) and by the recent German reprint of Bell's and Inch-
bald's editions of Rowe's she-tragedies, also listed below (Bibliography A, collected edi-
4. See, e.g., the most famous praise, that of Samuel Johnson, "The Life of Nicholas


5. See Bibliography A, criticism, and subsequent citations in my text. A more spe-
cific review of this criticism would be both tedious and irrelevant, since my approach is
radically different from the bulk of it.
6. See especially Frank J. Kearful, "The Nature of Tragedy in Rowe's The Fair
Penitent," and his dissertation, "The Rhetoric of Augustan Tragedy," ch. ii. His criticism
is still mainly affective, however; he concentrates on Rowe's pathetic and didactic ap-
peals to his "middle-class" audience. But see Richard H. Dammers, "Female Characters
and Feminine Morality in the Tragedies of Nicholas Rowe," a 1971 dissertation that is
subsequent to my own "Nicholas Rowe's Christian Tragedies" (1969). Dammers mentions
some of Rowe's religious themes while concentrating, obviously, on other matters. His
own review of this criticism, "Recent Scholarship on Nicholas Rowe," overlooks not only
mine (which is not included in Dissertation Abstracts but is cited in a few places, includ-
ing a dissertation Dammers does review) but several other dissertations and theses (also,
with one exception, not included in DA but cited in the standard bibliography in this
field, Carl J. Stratman et al., eds., Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Theatre Research: A
Bibliographical Guide, 1900-1968).
7. English Literature in the Early Eighteenth Century, 1700-1740, pp. 241, 243. In
"Pathos and Personality in the Tragedies of Nicholas Rowe," Malcolm Goldstein concurs
in denying Rowe's plays any "high seriousness of purpose" whatsoever (p. 185).
8. In Rowe, trans., Lucan's Pharsalia, p. xxiv. For probable evidence of Rowe's
reading, see the numerous volumes of philosophy, theology, and ecclesiastical history
and polity in A Catalogue of the Library of Nicholas Rowe, Esq., appended to this study.
9. V.vi.97, in Five Restoration Adaptations of Shakespeare, ed. Christopher Spen-
cer. All the references to the adaptations are to this edition.
10. See Anne T. Barbeau, The Intellectual Design of John Dryden's Heroic Plays,
and Gail H. Compton, "The Metaphor of Conquest in Dryden's The Conquest of Gra-
11. V.i.1 ff, in John Dryden: Four Tragedies, ed. L. A. Beaurline and Fredson
12. See John David Walker, "Moral Vision in the Drama of Thomas Otway."
13. V.ii.317 ff, in The Complete Plays of William Congreve, ed. Herbert Davis. See
Aubrey Williams, "The 'Just Decrees of Heav'n' and Congreve's Mourning Bride."
14. In Certain Sermons or Homilies, p. 334 f. These were the official Anglican ser-
mons originally appointed to be read every Sunday, and as Donald Greene has pointed out,
they were published forty to fifty times at least in the seventeenth century ("Augustin-
ianism and Empiricism," p. 45n).
15. The quotation marks indicate the arbitrariness of the generic limitations, which
can be stretched to include tragedies of the nobility such as Othello, The Duchess of Malfi,
and Venice Preserved, or restricted to tragedies of the native common folk.
16. Viz. Massinger and Field, The Fatal Dowry, and Heywood, Edward IV. Rowe
had one volume each of Massinger and Heywood in his library, probably (since most of
his sources have been found there) containing these plays (Catalogue, quarto 70).
17. Adams, English Domestic or, Homiletic Tragedy 1575 to 1642, and Peake, "Do-
mestic Tragedy in Relation to Theology in the First Half of the Eighteenth Century."
18. Vss. 1140 and 1171 ff, in Complete Poems and Major Prose, ed. Merritt Y.
Hughes. All quotations from Milton's poetry are from this text.
19. See, e.g., Peake, ch. i; Adams, ch. ii; Roy W. Battenhouse, Marlowe's Tambur-
laine, p. 86 ff; and J. Paul Hunter, The Reluctant Pilgrim, ch. iii. Cf. the following state-
ment concerning the great contemporary French bishop, Jacques-B6nigne Bossuet, and
the doctrine of Providence: "De tous les dogmes chr6tiens, c'est celui que Bossuet a
dbfendu avec le plus de rigueur, parce qu'il etait le plus vivement combattu par les
athees" (F. Gendrot and F.-M. Eustache, eds., Auteurs franqais, p. 266). The same doc-
trine, the editors note, inspires the whole of Bossuet's Les Oraisons funebres and Le
Discours sur l'histoire universelle.

The Trial of

the Innocent

I Prolegomena

The Ambitious Stepmother,

"Poetical Justice," and

"The Trial of Man"

HOUGH AN OBVIOUS apprentice work, Rowe's first tragedy,
The Ambitious Stepmother, produced in 1700, reveals at
once both his literary promise and one of his major
themes, the problem of suffering innocence. The play
ends with a dilemma: although the principal virtuous
characters are dead,`* the new king Artaban insists, "The Gods are great
and just" (Works, I, 78 [V.ii]). That this ending presented a problem for
at least some of Rowe's contemporaries is evident from the Dedication:
"Some people, whose judgment I ought to have a deference for, have
told me, that they wished I had given the latter part of the story quite
another turn; that Artaxerxes and Amestris ought to have been pre-
served, and made happy in the conclusion of the play; that besides the
satisfaction which the spectators would have had to have seen two virtu-
ous (at least innocent) characters rewarded and successful, there might
have been also a more noble and instructive moral drawn that way" (p.
4). Perhaps one of these dissatisfied persons was Charles Gildon, whose
A New Rehearsal, or Bays the Younger (1714), voices such a criticism-a
criticism which could well have been offered at the time of the play's
production.2 Through the mouths of his fictional critics, Gildon says that
the death of Cleone "is contrary to Poetic Justice, and the Rules of Prov-
idence," and that there is "as little Reason that Amestris or Artaxerxes,
should die, both Sovereignly Virtuous, and yet Miserable"; his position
is summed up thus: "The Deaths of Cleone, Amestris, and Artaxerxes,
provoke our Indignation, as having done nothing at all to deserve those
Incredible Misfortunes; so that instead of Fear and Pity, the true aim of
all Tragical Action, it [the play] moves only Horror [at the misfortune
*Notes to this chapter begin on page 40.

of the virtuous] and Satisfaction [at that of the wicked]; and indeed
every where endeavors to abolish the Notion of a particular Providence,
and so is Impious."'3 The comment of one recent critic shows that the
difficulty with the ending persists: "Artaban, in his final speech, claims
that 'The Gods are great and just,' . but this is just what the last act
has proved not true. If it were, then the pathos Rowe wanted to create,
and in fact succeeds rather well in portraying, would be almost impos-
sible. This kind of pathos is created rather by undeserved suffering and
unjust action by 'the Gods,' or what Artemisa calls 'the Hand of
Chance.' "4 If these critics are right; if the play does "abolish the No-
tion of a particular Providence, and so is Impious"; if the outcome for
the virtuous and the vicious alike depends only on the caprice of
"Chance"; if, in short, the play proves that the gods are not just, then
not only is the judgment of Artaban contradicted, but the faith of the
other virtuous characters in the play is belied, and the scorn of the
usurpers is justified. For throughout the play the usurpers insist that the
gods do not care, while the virtuous insist that they do.

From the beginning it is clear that for the usurpers, religion is nothing
more than a tool to placate and manipulate the populace. When the
statesman Mirza proposes seizing Artaxerxes and Memnon in the temple
of the Sun-god on that feast day which is the "most venerable" of all
"sacred times," the high priest Magas balks at the "profanation" and
raises the fear of "the vengeance of the Gods" (II.ii, p. 31 f). Mirza re-
bukes him thus:

The Gods shall certainly befriend our cause,
At least not be our foes, nor will they leave
Their happy seats (where free from care and pain,
Bless'd of themselves alone, of man regardless,
They loll serene in everlasting ease)
To mind the trivial business of our world. (p. 32)

Thus Mirza's gods are those infamous deities of the Epicureans and their
seventeenth-century atheistical disciples, who denied Divine Provi-
dence and consequently were vigorously attacked by clergy, scholars,
and poets alike.3 After the sacrilege, Magas exclaims in terror, "Every
God / Seems from his shrine to threaten us with vengeance" (III.iii,
p. 45). Yet Mirza simply accuses him of being "superstitious" and of

The Trial of the Innocent


Prolegomena 15
fabricating "monsters"-the "coward's vice." When Magas later de-
scribes to Mirza the righteous indignation of the mob, who vow "re-
venge" upon their "slighted" gods (V.i, p. 64), Mirza merely sends him
out to placate them by indulging their "fancy for religion" with the
"gaudy shew" of a sacred procession, an "apt amusement for a crowd"
(p. 65).
On the other hand, the virtuous characters continually assert that
the gods do care. To the flattering Magas, Memnon says, "The Gods,
'tis true, are just, and have, I hope, / At length decreed an end to my
misfortunes" (II.i, p. 21). At the end of their encounter, Memnon warns
Magas of divine retribution (p. 24), and in disgust with the corruption of
the priesthood, calls upon the "awful powers" to assert their "justice"
(p. 25). In the first encounter between Artaxerxes and his usurping step-
mother, she ironically echoes Memnon's earlier words and hypocriti-
cally invokes the "thunders" of the "righteous pow'rs, whose justice
awes the world" (II.ii, p. 27). But Artaxerxes roundly rebukes her:

Thy priest instructs thee,
Else sure thou hadst not dar'd to tempt the Gods,
And trifle with their justice.

Later, to quiet Amestris' fears that their bridal bliss will be destroyed,
Artaxerxes says assuredly, "Doubt not the Gods, my fair, whose
righteous power / Shall favour and protect our virtuous loves" (III.ii,
p. 39).
When they are captured a moment later, Artaxerxes challenges the
Sun-god, from whom by virtue of his royalty he claims descent: "Canst
thou behold, and not avenge thy race?" (III.iii, p. 45). The indignant
Memnon correctly concludes that Mirza "laughs / At the fictitious jus-
tice of the Gods, / And thinks their thunder has not wings to reach him"
(p. 46). In response Mirza prophesies that Memnon soon will renounce
the gods and be renounced by them. With supreme confidence in "the
Gods" and in himself Memnon hurls Mirza's challenge back in his teeth.
And when Amestris concludes that "There are no remedies for ills like
ours" except to "indulge our grief" and wait for the gods "to end our
woes in immortality" (p. 47), Artaxerxes exclaims,

Ha! say'st thou? Gods! Yes certain there are Gods,
To whom my youth with reverence still has bow'd,
Whose care and providence are virtue's guard;

Think then, my fair, they have not made us great,
And like themselves, for miserable ends. (p. 47 f)

Yet after the three captives have been led off to their temple-prison,
Mirza muses,

This night let 'em despair, and ban, and rage,
And to the wooden deities within
Tell frantic tales. (p. 48)

Frantically complain they do, along with Artaban and Cleone, through-
out the fourth act (q.v.); whether to "wooden deities" is the question.
Finally, in Act V Amestris complains,

Will ye not hear, ye ever-gracious Gods?
(Since sure you do not joy in our misfortunes,
But only try the strength of our frail virtue.)
Are not my sorrows full? (sc. ii, p. 66)

In contrast, as he prepares to ravish Amestris, Mirza speaks of a Jove
who would "lay aside his providence" for similar pursuits, and when
Amestris cries to the "awful Gods" for "lightning" to "blast him" (p. 69),
Mirza replies,

Oh no! Your Gods have pleasures of their own;
Some mortal beauty charms the wanton Jove,
Within whose arms he revels, nor has leisure
To mind thy foolish screaming.

She continues to call on the gods, complaining, "Is there no hope of aid
from Gods or men?" When in desperation she kneels to beg Mirza that
he do anything but dishonor her, Mirza gloats,

Thou art, thou must be mine, nor heaven, nor earth,
Nor the conspiring power of hell shall save thee. (p. 70)

Thus the play is permeated with the question of whether the gods
care, a fact which establishes the question as a major-if not the major-
theme. At the end, although Amestris is not raped, she is murdered, and
Memnon asks pointedly, "What has thy innocence done to merit this?"

The Trial of the Innocent


Prolegomena 17
(p. 74). Their momentary hope shattered, Artaxerxes and Memnon kill
themselves. These events temporarily shake even Artaban's confidence
in divine justice, and he complains, "Then virtue is in vain, since base
deceit / And treachery have triumph'd o'er the mighty" (p. 77).

Artaban finally concludes, however, that the gods are just, and the re-
port of Magas' death is the decisive factor. Artaban immediately tells
Cleanthes, his general and the bearer of the report, to ponder the "re-
cent story of this night" and he too will "wonder" at and "confess" the
justice of the gods, whom Artaban addresses thus:

Well have you mark'd,
Celestial powers, your righteous detestation
Of sacrilege, of base and bloody treachery. (V.ii, p. 78)

In other words, he interprets the overthrow of the usurpers as a well-
marked providential judgment. In the Dedication, Rowe maintains that
their overthrow observes "that which they call the poetical justice"
(p. 5). The point is that for this and all of Rowe's plays, as indeed for the
tradition whence he writes, poetic and providential justice are the same.
In recent years, two seminal articles by Richard H. Tyre and Au-
brey Williams6 have rescued the concept of poetic justice from its in-
terpretation as a mere dramaturgical contrivance to effect a happy end-
ing, to illustrate a moral, or even to escape from the realities of suffering
and evil.7 They have shown that in the time of Rowe, especially in the
writings of Thomas Rymer, John Dennis, and Charles Gildon, and
throughout the Renaissance as well (if not the entire Western tradition),
the concept had a metaphysical foundation. As Williams puts it, the best
critics and playwrights of the entire seventeenth century considered
poetic justice to be "fully referential to an ontological reality that was
truly immanent in all earthly events. If poesy were to reflect the essen-
tial realities of man and his world, it had to image forth, they thought,
the order of cosmic justice which they and the majority of persons in
their age believed in. The imaging of that Divine Reality of Justice is
'poetical justice' (p. 553). Dennis states the matter very strongly: "Po-
etick Justice would be a Jest if it were not an Image of the Divine, and
if it did not consequently suppose the Being of a God and Providence."8
In his recent and important book, Restoration Tragedy: Form and
the Process of Change, Eric Rothstein admits that "poetic(al) justice is

the dramatic analogue to Divine Providence" in the "fabulist," or plot-
oriented, theory of Rymer and his tradition (p. 5), and that his demand
for that justice "reflected a commitment to 'nature,' a metaphysically
informed 'nature' which tragedy should map out" (p. 182). Yet after
Rymer, Rothstein sees a new affectivism arising in both theory and prac-
tice which is inimical to "dramatic forms that mirror Providence"
(p. 118). No doubt critics wrote more about affective matters then as
they wrestled with the theory of catharsis, and no doubt playwrights
like Lee, Otway, and Banks became more sensational. But Rothstein
simply does not prove that Restoration tragedies thus surrendered inte-
gral form to "serial" form-that is, a form which mirrors physical and
metaphysical reality to a form which dispenses with plot and presents
merely a series of interchangeable scenes designed to titillate the audi-
ence (ch. i). As he admits, the theoretical shift was one of "emphasis"
and still "a copious number of early eighteenth-century critics reiter-
ated the fabulist theories" (p. 23), a number which included not only
minor critics like James Drake, who throughout his Antient and Modern
Stages Survey'd (1699) bases his answer to Jeremy Collier on the pri-
mary importance of formal design, but also such major critics as Dennis
and Gildon, whose names Rothstein carefully does not mention, for they
weaken his case considerably.9
What dilutes Rothstein's case most is his illogical shifting of ground
between formal and affective concerns, as in this passage: "The rhetori-
cal basis of tragedy had changed. To be persuasive, pleasure had to be
deeply satisfying; to be satisfying, it demanded sensationalism; and sen-
sationalism, in turn, bludgeoned the sense of a providential whole out of
recognition. For although logically the fabulist theory was tenable even
after the older assumptions about tragic pleasure had shrunk in promi-
nence, playgoers accustomed to looking for a succession of sensations
rather than for overall order must have found it difficult to perceive a
continuing and exact Providence animating the whole" (p. 8 f). Must
sensationalism necessarily destroy overall design? Rothstein himself here
admits that no logical connection exists between affective and formal
matters, yet he speculates on a totally unempirical assertion about the
habits and desires of playgoers and what they might have had difficulty
In his rage for generalization, I think, Rothstein has simply not
carefully read later Restoration tragedy, particularly that of Dryden,
Congreve,10 and Rowe. For the proof of whether a Restoration play-
wright departed from the very long "fabulist" tradition lies in the de-


The Trial of the Innocent

sign of the individual plays themselves. Leaving affective concerns
aside, then, let us examine the design of The Ambitious Stepmother on
formal grounds to see whether Rowe was right to insist that it follows
poetic justice, in the traditional mimetic sense, the theoretical founda-
tion for which he most probably knew, since the sale catalogue of his
library (q.v.) contains the relevant works of Jonson, d'Aubignac, Rapin,
Rymer, Dennis, Gildon, and Blackmore.

At the end of Rowe's play Artaban sees in the defeat of the usurpers that
the gods have marked well their "righteous detestation / Of sacrilege, of
base and bloody treachery." For the punishments inflicted on the
usurpers are remarkably appropriate to their crimes. The corrupt priest
Magas is destroyed in the midst of his hypocritical and sacrilegious pro-
cession by the "superstitious" mob he is attempting to appease. More-
over, the function of the mob as the gods' avenger is explicit. In the be-
ginning of Act IV, immediately following the sacrilege in the temple,
Cleanthes has said that while the "fearful crowd" dreads "the anger
of the Gods," the "wise, who know th'effects of popular fury," expect
"vengeance" from the crowd itself (sc. i, p. 49). Ironically, the "wise"
are both right and wrong, as is obvious in Cleanthes' later report of the
"fate" Magas "merited" (V.i, p. 78):

on a sudden, like a hurricane,
That starts at once, and ruffles all the ocean,
Some fury more than mortal seiz'd the crowd;
At once they rush'd, at once they cry'd revenge;
Then snatch'd and tore the trembling priest to pieces.
What was most strange, no injury was offered
To any of the brotherhood beside,
But all their rage was ended in his death:
Like formal justice that severely strikes,
And in an instant is serene and calm.

Details such as the "hurricane," the "fury more than mortal," the crying
"revenge," the strangeness and uniqueness, and the reference to "formal
justice" seem calculated to leave no doubt in the audience's minds (as
they do not in Artaban's) about the import of the entire account: this is
not only a fitting fate, but a manifestation of the Hand of Heaven. It ap-
pears that Memnon's earlier appeal for divine retribution upon this evil



priest has finally been answered-by the "formal justice" of the gods,
working, as usual, through secondary causes that serve as the instru-
ments of their Providence.
The imagery of serenity and calmness that ends Cleanthes' report-
and the play-can also be seen to have supernatural and providential
significance when viewed in relation to the imagery of darkness and im-
minent chaos that has persisted from the opening description of the
dying Arsaces. Magas says that "an universal horror" seized him as he
watched the King:

The cheerful day was every where shut out
With care, and left a more than midnight darkness,
Such as might ev'n be felt. (I.i, p. 9)

The "few dim lamps" only added to the dismalness, which is contrasted
to the "majestic fire" the King's eyes once had. There seems to be a
metaphoric analogy between the demise of the King and the chaotic
absence of the Sun-god, whom he represents on earth" and who is the
very principle of order and harmony in the universe (III.iii, p. 43). On
this holiest of holy days, when, as Magas says, "Pernicious discord
seems / Out-rooted from our more than iron age" (II.ii, p. 31), discord
is far from "Out-rooted." It is imminent. And not merely because the
King is dying, but because he is dying without securing the succession
of the rightful heir. The usurpers are tampering with the very order of
the universe, the very law of nature, as Memnon makes clear. In a scene
marked with several references to the impending "universal ruin"
(II.i, p. 21 f), Memnon rebukes the usurpers and their plot thus:

Can I, can they, can any honest hand,
Join in an act like this? Is not the elder
By nature pointed out for preference?
Is not his right inroll'd among those laws
Which keeps the world's vast frame in beauteous order[?] (p. 23)

It is extremely significant that the King dies at the moment of the sacri-
legious capture in the very Temple of the Sun, for the crime is at once
against the gods themselves, against their "race" (the King and his law-
ful successor), and consequently against the principle of order, both in
heaven and on earth. The King's death presages the demise of order and
the advent of chaos. Accordingly, after the sacrilege Magas reports to


The Trial of the Innocent

Mirza that the temple "reels" and "Nods at the profanation" (III.iii,
p. 45), and he later describes in apocalyptic terms the "Infernal discord"
that threatens the city (V.i, p. 64), while in confusedd disorderly array"
the crowd marches on the palace, crying,

religion is no more,
Our Gods are slighted, whom if we revenge not,
War, pestilence, and famine will ensue,
And universal ruin swallow all.

Magas' death at the hands of this mob, then, must be seen in terms of
the "revenge" of this slight to the gods in order to save the world from
chaos. The mode of his death and the ordered calm that follows it both
imply a providential judgment.
The manifestation of Providence in the death of Magas enables
Artaban, and should urge the audience, to reflect on the entire story of
the night and a fortiori to see also the fates of Mirza and Artemisa as
providential. Like Magas', their punishments are remarkably appropri-
ate to their crimes. Mirza is killed in the act of his own lust; moreover,
the instrument of his death is the maiden he is attempting to ravish and
at whose cries for heavenly assistance he contemptuously scoffs. In the
Dedication Rowe himself points out the appropriateness of the Queen's
punishment: "The Queen is deposed from her authority by her own son;
which, I suppose, will be allowed as the severest mortification that could
happen to a woman of her imperious temper" (p. 5). Thus, lust is pun-
ished by virgin innocence and usurpation by deposition. Both the pun-
ishments and their modes, then, are signs of poetical-and providential

The fate of the usurpers is appropriate not only to their particular
crimes. It is appropriate to their entire philosophy. Mirza's attitude
toward religion and the gods is shown to be woefully mistaken. But this
attitude is also the basis for the usurpers' moral and political philosophy.
Where there are no gods who care, self-interest becomes the guiding
principle. Artemisa explicitly calls "self-interest" the "first and noblest
law of nature" (IV.i, p. 54). According to this view, mankind is divided
into the "wise" and the "foolish." In the passage just cited, Artemisa is
inveighing against Artaban's "foolish honour," which she calls a "ridicu-
lous notion." From the opening scene of the play Mirza has delineated



this philosophy: "The wise and active conquer difficulties / By daring
to attempt 'em" (p. 12). Thus they overcome "Valiant fools" like Mem-
non, who are but the "tools" of statesmen (p. 13):

Dull heavy things! Whom nature has left honest
In mere frugality, to save the charge
She's at in setting out a thinking soul.

The prime example in the play of such a "thinking soul," of course, is
Mirza himself, who conceives evil plots in his mind "at once compleatly
formed" in the fashion of the typical Satan-Machiavel (II.ii, p. 31; cf.
p. 33 and I.i, p. 10). By such a "fine project of the statesman's brain,"
"wit" overcomes "courage" and "boasted prowess" (II.ii, p. 33). Fur-
thermore, Mirza predicts the conversion of the Pretender (Artaban) to
the philosophy "that only fools would lose / A crown for notionary prin-
ciples" (III.ii, p. 42). When Artaban refuses to gain the throne dishonor-
ably, Artemisa asks the "honourable fool" if he has forgotten the "wise
arts of empire" and the "worth of power" in favor of a "notion," an
"empty sound of virtue," a "dry maxim, / Which pedants have devised
for boys to canvas" (IV.i, p. 50 f). So the "wise" are opportunistic, self-
interested nominalists-or Hobbists-and the enemies not only of re-
ligion but of all traditional morality. Theirs is a morality of expediency,
and their politics is based upon it.
As Artemisa implies, the politics of the "wise" is the politics of
"power." Earlier Magas argues,

Unbounded pow'r, and height of greatness give
To Kings that lustre, which we think divine. (II.i, p. 23)

He thus denies the relationship between the King and the Sun-god
which is stressed throughout the play. The boldest and most naked asser-
tion of the doctrine of power is Artemisa's justification of her husband's
murder: "Pow'r gives a sanction, and makes all things just" (I.i, p. 15).
Mirza echoes this doctrine when he begs Amestris to "think on power,
on power and place supreme," and then she will consent to violate her
bridal bed (V.ii, p. 67). Unchecked power is the goal of the usurpers, and
the end justifies any means to obtain it. The political philosophy of the
"wise," then, is a poetic exaggeration of the theories of Machiavelli and
Hobbes, which, as Louis Teeter has shown, had become amalgamated
in the Restoration, and which were seen as a threat to the Christian

The Trial of the Innocent


vision of world order.12 In the tradition of Shakespeare and Dryden,
Rowe is attacking those who, as a consequence of their denial of the
spiritual and the providential-Mirza believes that "mankind is
governed" only by the "finer arts" of the "wise" (III.ii, p. 42)-subscribe
to a politics of de facto power, in which the most cunning can seize
power and hold it with impunity.
In her opening speech-"Be fix'd, my soul, fix'd on thy own firm
basis" (I.i, p. 14 f)-Artemisa carries the self-interested philosophy of the
"wise" to its logical conclusion: total reliance on self instead of the gods.
Her self-assertion is the height of pride and tantamount to the assump-
tion of divinity. Rowe drives the point home by having Mirza approach
her as a goddess, an attribution she implicitly accepts (p. 15).13 Again in
Act IV Artemisa assumes the language and the prerogatives of divinity:
she asks Artaban,

Is not thy power the creation of my favour,
Which in precarious wise on me depending,
Exists by my concurrence to its being? (sc. i, p. 52)

Finally she concludes in the ultimate of blasphemous self-assertion, "I
am fate in Persia, / And life and death depend upon my pleasure" (p.
53). Artaban's retort ("The world would be well governed, should the
Gods / Depute their providence to women's care") makes it clear that
Artemisa is assuming powers which belong to Providence alone.
Appropriately, the irony of the usurpers' defeat is precisely their
inability to control events and their utter dependence on a fortune or a
fate that ultimately proves to have a providential pattern. At the begin-
ning Mirza wishes he could delay fate in the approaching death of
Arsaces (I.i, p. 9), for,

My royal mistress Artemisa's fate,
And all her son, young Artaban's, high hopes,
Hang on this lucky crisis. (p. 10)

Speaking of the temporary truce between the princes, Mirza exclaims,

Most fortunate event! which gives us more
Than ev'n our wishes could have ask'd. This truce
Gives lucky opportunity for thinking. (II.ii, p. 31)



After Arsaces' death and the capture of Artaxerxes in the temple, Ar-
temisa exhorts Artaban to "seize" fortune "While she is thine, or she is
lost forever" (IV.i, p. 51). When Artaban rejects his mother's advice,
Mirza warns,

meddling fortune,
(Whose malice labours to perplex the wise)
If not prevented, will unravel all
Those finer arts, which we with care have wove. (p. 54)

As he has said earlier, "The wise should not allow / A possibility to for-
tune's malice" (III.iii, p. 48).
Yet Mirza allows fortune the possibility of undoing him and his
faction. Consumed by lust, he becomes careless and, ironically, unprov-
idential. Magas, fearful of the wrath of the people, taxes Mirza with
underestimating the crowd's reaction to the capture of Artaxerxes and
pleads with him to accompany the procession which is to placate the
crowd, since they hold his "wisdom in most high regard": "Th'occasion
is well worth your care and presence" (V.i, p. 65). But Mirza refuses,
and we have already noted the subsequent fate of that procession. Mirza
is about his own undoing, too. He is enraptured with the "fatal beauty"
of Amestris (III.iii, p. 44). Struggling with himself, he says,

Remember, statesman,
Thy fate and future fortunes now are forming,
And summon all thy counsels to their aid,
Ev'n thy whole soul.

Nevertheless, he soon turns to rationalizing his lust: the "wise" are free
to "indulge" in a little lustful "riot," he argues, as long as they desist
before it dulls "the faculty of thinking" (p. 49). Thus begins the fall of
the "thinking soul." Finally, his "fine arts" are "Unravel'd all" (V.ii,
p. 70). He cries out in agony,

Malicious fortune!
She took the moment when my wisdom nodded,
And ruin'd me at once. 0 dating fool! (p. 72)

Artemisa sums up the irony of his fall in terms of fate and chance:


The Trial of the Innocent

Could not all thy arts,
That dol'd about destruction to our enemies,
Guard thy own life from fate? Vain boast of wisdom,
That with fantastic pride, like busy children,
Builds paper towns and houses, which at once
The hand of chance o'erturns, and loosely scatters! (p. 76)

It is not, however, either "fate" or "fortune" or the "hand of
chance" that overturns Mirza. His death and its mode are remarkably
appropriate not only to his particular crime but to everything he repre-
sents as the "thinking soul." This appropriateness alone argues for the
presence of the Hand of Heaven. But what is more, the presence of that
hand is explicit. Over Mirza's dead body Artaxerxes exclaims, "0 all ye
juster powers!" (p. 73). Memnon depicts Mirza's soul in hell, and Ames-
tris says,

and now he stands
Arraign'd before the dread impartial judges,
To answer to a long account of crimes.

After she has recounted the latest of those crimes, Artaxerxes complains,
"0 ye eternal rulers of the world, / Could you look on unmov'd?" (p.
74). In his next breath he answers his own question: "But say, instruct
me, / That I may bow before the God that sav'd thee." Amestris' reply
makes fully explicit the intervention of Providence:

Sure 'twas some chaster pow'r that made me bold,
And taught my trembling hand to find the way
With his own poniard to the villain's heart.

Artemisa's fall is similarly ironic, and similarly appropriate to her
philosophy. Immediately after laying claim to the regency of fate, she
warns her son thus:

The patience ev'n of Gods themselves has limits,
Tho' they with long forbearance view man's folly,
Yet if thou still persists to dare my power,
Like them I may be urg'd to loose my vengeance,
And tho' thou wert my creature, strike thee dead. (IV.i, p. 53)



As before, Artemisa is trifling with the truth, and her blasphemous anal-
ogy portends the vengeance that waits for her, for in good Pauline tra-
dition, it is her wisdom that is the "folly," and that which the usurpers
have called "folly" is the real wisdom. Artemisa senses a power con-
trolling events at cross-purposes to her will:

Some envious pow'r above, some hostile Demon,
Works underhand against my stronger genius,
And countermines me with domestic jars.
Malicious chance! When all abroad was safe,
To start an unseen danger from myself! (p. 53 f)

Mirza may call this "Demon" "meddling fortune," and Artemisa may
call it "Malicious chance," but all the indications in the play are that
they are wrong. Just like Mirza's dagger, the instrument of Artemisa's
undoing comes, appropriately, from herself: her own son. Such "remark-
able concurrences," to borrow a standard phrase from seventeenth-
century homilies on Providence, can only be the signs of the Hand of
So in their "fantastic pride" Mirza and Artemisa have overreached
themselves, as do most of the villains of Christian literature, in accord-
ance with that vision of the nature of the universe which sees evil as
willy-nilly contributing to a good that is providentially ordained. Iron-
ically, they spin out of themselves, out of their self-centered and blas-
phemous philosophy, their own destruction. Artemisa's final threat to
Artaban shows her clinging to delusions of grandeur:

When I assert the pow'r thou dar'st invade,
Like Heaven I will resolve to be obey'd,
And rule or ruin that which once I made. (V.ii, p. 78)

The curse falls back upon Artemisa herself. Since she will not be ruled,
that "Heaven," which has destroyed her faction and thereby passed
judgment upon its perversity, will inevitably "ruin" her. In the punish-
ment of the usurpers, then, the justice of the gods has been unquali-
fiedly, and most appropriately, asserted. Neither the necessity of fate
nor the fortuity of chance, to which the usurpers continually allude, but
rather Divine Providence governs their "fates."14


The Trial of the Innocent

While the fate of the usurpers implies providential justice, the fate of the
virtuous seems to contradict it. According to Gildon, their deaths violate
"Poetic Justice and the Rules of Providence." And yet Rowe claims to
have "strictly observed" poetic justice (Dedication, p. 5), which, as we
have seen, implies Providence. The key to the enigma is that in Rowe's
day there were different opinions about how much justice poets had to
distribute in imitation of Providence, perfect distribution being the in-
novation. As Corneille puts it in his "Discours du poeme dramatique"
(1660), such perfect distribution "n'est pas un pr6cepte de l'art, mais un
usage que nous avons embrass6, don't chacun peut se departir a ses
perils" (OEuvres completes, ed. Andre Stegman, p. 823). In fact, from
the dawn of criticism very few theorists have ever prescribed, without
qualification, perfect distributive justice as a rule for tragedy. Plato and
Aristotle may have obliquely implied it, but only after the Renaissance
does such a rule find its few uncompromising supporters: besides Rymer,
Dennis, Gildon, Blackmore, and Collier, cited earlier, they are Georges
de Scud6ry, Edward Filmer, and the author of The Stage Acquitted.15
Almost all the other critics who speak of a poetic justice mean merely
the punishment of the wicked.16 Even those critics usually cited for the
development of the strict interpretation-Jean de Mairet, Jean Chape-
lain, La Mesnardiere, d'Aubignac, Corneille, and Dryden-all qualify it
in some way.
In his preface to La Silvanire (1631), Mairet merely distinguishes
his tragicomic ending (where everyone is happy) from that which
Aristotle describes (sig. 66 ijr). In his prefatory letter to Marino's Adone
(1623), Chapelain says merely that in the denouement of a poem (as
distinguished from an historical account) "the good man is recognized
as such and the wicked man is punished, since their actions result from
virtue or vice whose nature it is to reward or to destroy those who follow
them" (Elledge and Schier, p. 12 f). If he means the kind of choric recog-
nition Horace describes (De Arte Poetica, vs. 196 ff, Loeb), he is not
really prescribing "reward" in the strict sense, just as he does not later
in Les Sentiments de l'Academie franqaise sur la tragi-comedie du Cid
(1638), where he argues merely for "la punition" of vice (in La Querelle
du Cid, p. 360 f).
La Mesnardiere does lay down this maxim: "Que les plus iustes
Tragedies sont celles oiu les forfaits ont leurs punitions lbgitimes, & les
vertus leurs recompenses" (La Poetiqve, p. 223). Yet he qualifies his
maxim thus: "Si toutefois la Fable est telle que le Poete n'ait pas lieu
d'y recompenser la Vertu, il doibt pour le moins faire en sorte que les



Personnes vertueuses soient louiees publiquemet par quelqu'vn des per-
sonnages qui obserue & qui admire leurs glorieuses actions. .. Si la
Fable ne permet pas qu'ils ["des Vices"] reqoiuent a l'heure mesme les
punitions qui leur sont deues, il faut qu'ils soient menacez de la Iustice
divine par quelqu'un des personnages qui exagere & qui deteste leur
honteuse difformit6" (p. 223 f). D'Aubignac and Corneille merely echo
La Mesnardibre, but the actual phrasing is important, because these are
the critics Rowe probably would have known on this subject (see Cata-
logue, quarto 50 and octavos 135, 169) rather than La Mesnardibre or
even Dryden (see below). In The Whole Art of the Stage, d'Aubignac
writes, "One of the chiefest, and indeed the most indispensable Rule of
Dramatick Poems, is, that in them Virtues always ought to be rewarded,
or at least commended, in spight of all the Injuries of Fortune; and that
likewise Vices be always punished, or at least detested with Horrour,
though they triumph upon the Stage for that time" (p. 5; cf. p. 35 f). In
the "Discours du poeme dramatique," Corneille writes, "Celle-ci [la
vertu] se fait toujours aimer, quoique malheureuse, et celui-la [le vice]
se fait toujours hair, bien que triomphant" (OEuvres completes, p. 823)."1
Dryden's seeming demand in Of Dramatic Poesy (1668) for perfect
distribution of poetic justice"8 is belied both in some of his tragedies
(Tyrannick Love, Amboyna, and Cleomenes, if not Oedipus and Don
Sebastian) and in his later theory. He is talking only about punishment
of the wicked when he discusses "poetical justice" in the Preface to An
Evening's Love (1671) and in "The Grounds of Criticism in Tragedy"
(1679).19 In "Heads of an Answer to Rymer" (1677), Dryden's notes
toward the "Grounds of Criticism in Tragedy," he walks a tightrope be-
tween strict poetic justice and unrewarded virtue. Obviously influenced
by the French theorists just mentioned, Dryden writes that if the true
end of tragedy is the reformation of manners, then "not only pity and
terror are to be moved as the only means to bring us to virtue, but gen-
erally love to virtue and hatred to vice; by shewing the rewards of one,
and punishments of the other; at least by rendering virtue always ami-
able, though it be shown unfortunate; and vice detestable, tho' it be
shown triumphant."20 The reason for Dryden's qualification is immedi-
ately clear: "The punishment of vice and reward of virtue are the most
adequate ends of tragedy, because most conducing to good example
of life. Now pity is not so easily raised for a criminal. . as it is for an
innocent man, and the suffering of innocence and punishment of the
offender is of the nature of English tragedy" (p. 218). Yet Dryden ac-
knowledges that if the protagonist is "altogether innocent, his punish-


The Trial of the Innocent

ment will be unjust" (p. 219), and that Aristotle "places tragedies of this
kind in the second form" (p. 218). In obvious consternation, Dryden
wants his poetic justice and his pity too.21 And that brings us to Rowe's
own important theoretical pronouncements in the Dedication to The
Ambitious Stepmother.
Like Addison after him,22 Rowe admits that "tragedies have been
allowed ... to be written both ways very beautifully" (p. 4), but he is
opposed to the demand for perfect distributive justice (even to the point
in his later tragedies of not punishing the wicked on stage). And like
Dryden before him,23 Rowe sees "the suffering of innocence and punish-
ment of the offender" as in the "nature" if not of English tragedy at least
of many successful tragedies: "As for that part of the objection, which
says, that innocent persons ought not to be shewn unfortunate; the suc-
cess and general approbation, which many of the best tragedies that
have been wrote, and which were built on that foundation, have met
with, will be a sufficient answer for me" (p. 5). Examples of such trage-
dies are among the most prominent on Rowe's London stage-many by
Shakespeare, Dryden, Lee, Otway, Banks, and Southerne, as Addison
was later to point out in Spectator 40. Indeed, the usual practice in
English Renaissance tragedy-and Western tragedy up to that time gen-
erally-provides a punishment for the wicked but not a temporal reward
for the innocent. In other words, tragedy up to Rowe had almost always
shown that sin will out by the workings of divine justice, whether or
not the innocent survive.
It is in the light of that tradition, then, that Rowe considers "poeti-
cal justice" to be "strictly observed." Furthermore, like Dryden, Rowe
wanted his poetic justice and his pity too: "But since terror and pity
are laid down for the ends of tragedy by the great master and father of
criticism, I was always inclined to fancy that the last and remaining
impressions, which ought to be left on the minds of an audience, should
proceed from one of these two. They should be struck with terror in
several parts of the play, but always conclude and go away with pity;
a sort of regret proceeding from good-nature, which, though an uneasi-
ness, is not altogether disagreeable to the person who feels it. It was this
passion that the famous Mr. Otway succeeded so well in touching, and
must and will at all times affect people, who have any tenderness or
humanity. If therefore I had saved Artaxerxes and Amestris, I believe
(with submission to my judges) I had destroyed the greatest occasion for
compassion in the whole play" (p. 4 f). Other critics have shown the
foundations and subsequent developments of this affective (and very un-



Aristotelian) theory,24 but the question before us is whether, as Roth-
stein argues, such affective concerns militate against the reflection of
providential order. Does Rowe's "pity," obtained by withholding justice
from virtuous characters, undercut what we have seen to be the the-
matic function of his "poetical justice" in the punishment of the
usurpers? I contend that, far from being inimical to providential justice,
such a tragedy as Rowe's The Ambitious Stepmother can and does image
forth a providential universe in its design, precisely by means of the
suffering of the innocent.

In "The Grounds of Criticism in Tragedy," Dryden argues that the mis-
fortunes of the "most virtuous, as well as the greatest," show that not
even the innocent are safe from the "turns of fortune" (Essays, I, 245).
He probably took the idea from his chief source, Rapin, who says un-
deserved misfortune teaches that the "favors of fortune and the gran-
deurs of the world are not always true goods" (Elledge and Schier, p.
279). D'Aubignac mentions similar lessons, which, by implication, can
be taught by showing virtue either rewarded or unrewarded: that the
favourss of Fortune are not real Enjoyments"; "that Happiness consists
less in the possession of worldly things, than in the despising of them;
that Virtue ought to seek its recompence in its self" (p. 5). There are
many similar passages from other critics, but the point is that it is a
commonplace of Judeo-Christian thought, from the Book of Job to
Anglican theology, that no man is guaranteed a temporal recompense
for his virtue, though Providence may grant him one. Throughout this
tradition, life has been viewed as a trial in which man merits an eternal
reward or punishment. In that trial, the things of this world are not re-
liable, because they are subject to the caprice of fortune. Man must,
therefore, patiently rely solely on Divine Providence, which provides
the necessary grace to meet the trial. The metaphor of trial is thus cen-
tral to Judeo-Christian theodicy and runs throughout Scripture and tra-
dition, from "the trial of the innocent" in Job25 to "the trial of man" in
Milton (PL 1.366). Perhaps the most famous biblical topos is this one:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again
unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the


The Trial of the Innocent

To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that
fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,
Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto sal-
vation ready to be revealed in the last time.
Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need
be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:
That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than
of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found
unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus

In Rowe's time, answering the theodicean complaint that the good
are often not rewarded in this life, Bishop William Sherlock could
write "what is commonly said upon this occasion": "That this world is
not the place of Judgment, but a state of Trial, Probation, and Disci-
pline; where good men many times suffer, not so much in Punishment
of their sins, as to exercise their Faith and Patience, and to brighten their
Vertues, and to prepare them for greater Rewards" (A Discourse Con-
cerning the Divine Providence, p. 147 f). Archbishop James Ussher ar-
gues that the trial of the innocent in this life assures us of such rewards:
"The most godly having the remnant of sin that dwelleth in their mortall
bodies, deserve everlasting condemnation, and therefore in this life are
subject to any of the plagues of God; as for that they are sharplier
handled oftentimes then the wicked, it is to make trial of their patience,
and to make shew of the graces he hath bestowed upon them, which he
will have known, and that it may be assured that there is a Judgment
of the world to come, 2 Thess. I. wherein every one shall receive accord-
ing to his doing in this life, either good or evill."27 Furthermore, argues
John Donne early in the century, such a trial produces God's champions
on the stage of the world: "Militia, vita; our whole life is a warfare; God
would not chuse Cowards; hee had rather we were valiant in the fighting
of his battels; for battels, and exercise of valour, we are sure to have....
And therefore think it not strange, concerning the fiery trial, as though
some strange thing happened unto you [1 Pet. 4:12]; Make account that
this world is your Scene, your Theater, and that God himself sits to see
the combat, the wrestling.'"28
In his recent book, Microcosmos: The Shape of the Elizabethan
Play, Thomas B. Stroup has traced, through Western thought and drama
up to the late seventeenth century, the metaphor of the world as a stage,
in which the metaphor of trial is inherent. Stroup writes, "It seems a far



cry from Plotinus to Ficino to John Bunyan, but it is a clear one: the
same figure has for all of them the same meanings and value. God the
artist, stage-builder, and producer, puts on his cosmic drama and tests
his creature, man. In this way they explain the presence of evil in the
world and the suffering of the innocent" (p. 22). Thus the metaphor, es-
pecially as adopted into the Christian tradition, has a theodicean func-
tion that leads man to an acceptance of "the transitory nature of this
life" (p. 13). Stroup argues that the metaphor was responsible for the
structure of medieval and Renaissance drama, and from it emerges what
he calls the "testing pattern"-"the trial or proving of a man," which is
administered by Providence and "follows the pretty well-recognized
pattern of Christian tests" (p. 179 f; see ch. vi entire). According to how
the test is endured, the pattern carries with it the promise of reward or
punishment, if not in this life, at least in the next (p. 181). Purporting to
treat only the Elizabethan play (to 1642), Stroup traces this pattern
right up to the time of Rowe: "Provided for in the ancient concept of
the world as stage, this testing motif developed into a pattern in both the
mystery and the morality plays and descended as a shaping force in the
Elizabethan drama. Although it is apparent in all sorts of plays, it was
perhaps most effectively used in tragedy. In those tragedies in which the
protagonist succeeds in his quest, though he loses his life, one may dis-
cern the special pattern of the career of the Christian hero, a Dante, a
Red Cross or a Guyon, Adam and Eve, a Jesus in Paradise Regained, or
a Samson" (p. 206).
The "testing pattern" does not cease with Milton, however. Rather,
I submit, it remains, with its still very Christian metaphysical orienta-
tion, the basic pattern of tragedy throughout the Restoration and early
eighteenth century, from Dryden to Rowe at least to Lillo. Certainly
it is the basic pattern of Rowe's tragedies. In The Ambitious Stepmother,
the metaphor of trial is central. Memnon boasts to Mirza that he can
face "with ease" even death, if "the Gods" so will "in trial" of his "vir-
tue" (III.iii, p. 46). Amestris later plaintively asserts of the "ever-
gracious Gods" that surely they "do not joy in our misfortunes, / But
only try the strength of our frail virtue" (V.ii, p. 66). The metaphor re-
veals the very pattern of the play, the trial not only of virtue-as it was
to become in subsequent melodrama-but of faith. In answer to Mem-
non's boast, Mirza cynically says, "Rest well assured, thou shalt have
cause to try / Thy philosophic force of passive virtue" (III.iii, p. 46).
And throughout, the virtuous are severely tested by malice and misfor-
tune, but mostly by what was considered in the Christian tradition the

The Trial of the Innocent


most crucial trial of man: the temptation to despair, to lose trust in Di-
vine Providence. For such distrust can lead to an eternal loss of grace
and thus the loss of a human soul. That loss is the subject of the great
Christian tragedies of Faustus and Macbeth, while victory over despair
is the triumph of the Duchess of Malfi, of Hamlet and Samson, despite
their deaths.29
Throughout this tradition, darkness, especially that of a prison or
dungeon atmosphere, has been associated with despair. Some of the
more famous literary treatments are those of Job, of Boethius, of Chau-
cer's Palamon and Troilus, of Spenser's Redcrosse Knight, of Shake-
speare's King Lear, of Milton's Samson, and of Bunyan's Christian. The
association is especially prevalent in the tragedy of suffering innocence,
where a prison is often the scene of a crucial theodicean complaint, as
in Shakespeare's Cymbeline (V.iv), Webster's The Duchess of Malfi
(IV.i), Tourneur's The Atheist's Tragedy (III.iii), Settle's The Empress
of Morocco (III.ii), Congreve's The Mourning Bride (III ff), and many of
Dryden's tragedies.30 In Rowe's The Ambitious Stepmother, the "Night
Scene of the Temple of the Sun" (IV.iii, p. 56) exploits this traditional
motif of the prison of despair. Though he feels it is "in vain," Artaxerxes
gives vent to his "rage" and "swelling passion," and utters a poignant
complaint, vacillating between trust and distrust of the gods, while
Memnon indicts the "malice" of "fate" and the "damn'd reverse of for-
tune" (p. 56 f). Both go so far as to contemplate suicide (p. 57). Faced
with the horrible thought of Amestris' rape, Artaxerxes even threatens
to "blaspheme" those gods on whom he earlier so vociferously protested
to rely (p. 59). He aptly describes his condition and the correspondence
between the external scene and the internal state of his soul:

This horrid night suits well my soul,
Love, sorrow, conscious worth, and indignation
Stir mad confusion in my lab'ring breast
And I am all o'er chaos.

The threat of the "universal ruin" of nature (II.i, p. 21) is paralleled in
the play by the threat of the eternal ruin of a human soul.
Into this "huge holy Dungeon" with "Not one poor lamp to cheer
the dismal shade" enters Cleone with her "dark lanthorn and key" to
help them escape (IV.iii, p. 59). When Memnon asks, "Ha! whence this
gleam of light?" Artaxerxes says more than he knows: "Fate is at hand,
lets haste to bid it welcome, / It brings an end of wretchedness." It is



not the fate either imagines, for Cleone is "the minister of a happier
fate" (p. 60). But Artaxerxes and Memnon misinterpret Cleone's mission,
and she is forced to kill herself to convince them of her innocence and
sincerity. Yet, through her sacrifice, the light Cleone brings performs its
symbolic function: as Memnon holds the lantern above her dead body,
Artaxerxes says,

A beam of hope
Strikes thro' my soul, like the first infant light
That glanc'd upon the chaos. (p. 63)

Cleone has provided these desperate men with more than the literal
"key" which "amidst the tumult of this night" opens them a "way" out
of their prison (p. 62): she has brought the light of "hope" into the dark-
ness of despair. Thus it appears that their complaint to the gods has been
In the meantime, Amestris' faith and virtue are being severely tried.
Thinking her husband and father dead, she complains, "Are not my sor-
rows full? can ought be added?" (V.ii, p. 66). She too is maddened with
"raging sorrow" and longs for "vengeance" on Mirza (p. 68). When
Mirza threatens her, she desperately begs to die since life has no more
meaning for her and she has suffered the worst. Yet something can "be
added" to her afflictions that is worse even than death. It is Mirza's ra-
pacious lust. As he pursues her, she challenges the "awful Gods" to
"blast him" with "lightning" (p. 69), and when none is forthcoming, she
pathetically whimpers, "Is there no hope of aid from Gods or men?"31
Finally, calling on Diana and Juno, she gains the strength and, the im-
plication is, the grace from those "ever-gracious Gods," to stab Mirza
and to save herself from rape. As we have noted before, she openly
attributes that strength to "some chaster power." It appears, then, that
her virtue has met the test and that Providence has "sav'd" her from
Mirza's "most brutal outrage" to her "honour" (p. 74). The gods, it
seems, have answered her prayer-and Artaxerxes'-that she be not dis-
honored. And yet she dies.
Amestris' death is not an indictment of Providence, any more than
that of Cordelia or Webster's Duchess. Dennis himself wrote the fol-
lowing: 'Tis true indeed upon the Stage of the World the Wicked
sometimes prosper, and the Guiltless suffer. But that is permitted by the
Governour of the World to show from the Attribute of his infinite Jus-
tice that there is a Compensation in Futurity, to prove the Immortality


The Trial of the Innocent

Prolegomena 35
of the Human Soul, and the Certainty of Future Rewards and Punish-
ments" (Critical Works, II, 49). In opposition to Dennis' demand for
perfect distributive justice on the stage itself, and in accordance with the
bulk of tradition, Rowe chose here to picture the world closer to the
literal truth of history than to the ideal truth of philosophy (poetry con-
taining both, according to Aristotle and his Renaissance interpreters).
But if the play imitates life more closely than Dennis or Gildon would
like, still it points to an afterlife, however shadowy may be its appre-
hension in the pre-Christian world of the play (as in King Lear). The
immortality of the soul is stressed throughout Rowe's play (as indeed it
was throughout the Renaissance and especially in answer to the neo-
Epicureans and the Hobbists of the Restoration32). We have already
noted Amestris' faith in the "immortality" promised by the gods, who
"behold" the "sufferings" of these innocents (III.iii, p. 47). The most
explicit statement about the immortality of the soul occurs in the
"Hymn to the Sun" (written by Rowe's school chum, William Shippen):

What is the soul of man, but light,
Drawn down from thy transcendent height?
What but an intellectual beam?
A spark of thy immortal flame?

Since then from thee at first it came,
To thee, tho' clogged, it points its flame;
And conscious of superior birth,
Despises this unkindred earth. (p. 43)

This is the traditional imagery-not only Persian, but also Platonic and
especially, for a Christian audience, Johannine-for man's participation
in the eternal source of light: "The true Light, which lighteth every
man that cometh into the world."33
Finally (with regard to immortality), upon hearing the news of
Arsaces' death (the description of the dying King which opens the play
is, after all, something like a memento mori), Artaban says,

'Twas time the soul should seek for immortality,
And leave the weary body to enjoy
An honourable rest from care and sickness. (IV.i, p. 50)

Thus, not only is the human soul immortal, but death is actually not an

evil but a good, because it releases man from his trial. This metaphor
of death as rest for the just is a traditional theodicean answer to the prob-
lem of death, and it runs throughout Christian literature (e.g., The Di-
vine Comedy, The Pardoner's Tale, King Lear, Gulliver's Travels), but
nowhere is it more explicit than in Paradise Lost (God is speaking of
man after the Fall):

I at first with two fair gifts
Created him endow'd, with Happiness
And Immortality: that fondly lost,
This other serv'd but to eternize woe;
Till I provided Death; so Death becomes
His final remedy, and after Life
Tri'd in sharp tribulation, and refin'd
By Faith and faithful works, to second Life,
Wak't in the renovation of the just,
Resigns him up with Heav'n and Earth renewed. (XI.57 ff)

So, in the Christian vision, death becomes-not an indictment of Provi-
dence-but rather a proof of Providence, and in Rowe's play, with its
stress on the immortality of the soul, the inevitable suggestion is that
Amestris' constancy of virtue during her trial has merited her such an
Yet despite the manifestation of Providence in the defense of Ames-
tris' honor, Artaxerxes and Memnon lose their renewed hope when she
dies. Their "philosophic force of passive virtue," as Mirza has called it,
is found wanting when tested to the extreme, and Artaxerxes and Mem-
non despair. Though he forbears to curse the gods as he has threatened
(after all, Amestris' "honour" has not been "ruin'd"), Artaxerxes sinks
to earth in self-loathing and stabs himself (V.ii, p. 74 ff). Ironically, he
has forgotten to "bow before the God that sav'd" Amestris, and the
imagery of gloom, annihilation, and hell underscores his despair. Mem-
non, on the other hand, does explicitly renounce the gods, as Mirza has
prophesied (p. 76). He then dashes out his brains, and Artemisa con-
cludes, "Fierce despair / Has forc'd a way for the impetuous soul" (p.
77). Again ironically, Artaxerxes and Memnon kill themselves just as the
usurpers are defeated in what we have already seen to be a manifesta-
tion of Providence. Despite their personal loss in the death of Amestris,
all is not lost, and while their plight is pitiful, their solution is damnable
-yet it is certainly understandable, and that tension is at the heart of


The Trial of the Innocent

Christian tragedy and distinguishes it from formal theology or theodicy.
Such tension makes us, along with Shakespeare's Edgar, want to speak
what we feel and not what we ought to say.

The last virtuous character mentioned in Gildon's indictment of The
Ambitious Stepmother is Cleone. It could perhaps be answered that she
too commits suicide. But her death appears, upon closer scrutiny, to be
quite different in motivation from Artaxerxes' and Memnon's and to be
far from a violation of "Poetic Justice and the Rules of Providence." It
is instead an act of self-sacrifice which is in sharp contrast to the self-
interest of her father Mirza and of the rest of the usurpers. In the first
act Mirza describes Cleone as

By nature pitiful, and apt to grieve
For the mishaps of others, and so make
The sorrows of the wretched world her own. (sc. i, p. 15 f)

Of course, Cleone's melancholy has another source besides her compas-
sionate nature's response to human misery. Her tears are for her "unre-
garded love" of Artaxerxes as well. Yet despite this more immediate mo-
tivation for her tears, Cleone's compassion seems really a part of her
nature, as her father suggests, and she appears to mean it when she tells
Artaban that she grieves at the "miserable state of human kind" (III.i,
p. 36). It is her compassion for the "poor Amestris," as well as her love
for Artaxerxes, that leads her to pray for them to the "gentle powers,
who view our cares with pity" (IV.ii, p. 55). Furthermore, despite her
fears and doubts and the apparent inevitability of death, Cleone goes
forth to "save" Artaxerxes in a genuine spirit of self-sacrifice (p. 56).
To the suspicious Memnon and Artaxerxes, Cleone utters a sacred
oath, calling on the present "awful God" to damn her if she have "any
thought but" Artaxerxes' "safety" (IV.iii, p. 62). Stabbing herself as a last
resort, she says to Artaxerxes that she has given him

the last,
And only proof remained that could convince you
I held your life much dearer than my own.

Through this total self-sacrifice, Cleone (like Arsaces) finally obtains
peace and "everlasting rest" from her war with her passions (p. 63).



Moreover, her sacrifice could atone for her father's sins and even more,
as Artaxerxes says:

Why hast thou stain'd me with thy virgin blood?
I swear, sweet saint, for thee I could forgive
The malice of thy father, tho' he seeks
My life and crown; thy goodness might atone
Ev'n for a nation's sins.

Memnon agrees:

Sure the Gods,
Angry ere while, will be at length appeas'd
With this egregious victim.

As we have seen, the light that she has brought symbolically becomes
"the first infant light / That glanc'd upon the chaos," giving hope to the
despairing and providing them with the "key" out of their prison.
The suggestion of this accumulated imagery is that Cleone's sacri-
fice is that kind of which Christ speaks: "Greater love hath no man than
this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). The very
diction-the forgiveness for her father, the atonement "Ev'n for a na-
tion's sins," the appeasement of the gods, all obtained by this "egregious
victim"-seems designed to invoke the Atonement itself, the fulfillment
of the ultimate promise of the care of the gods: "For God so loved the
world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in
him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). Thus, by
imagistically suggesting the Atonement, Cleone's sacrifice reinforces
the primary lesson of the play: the need for absolute trust in Divine
Providence. Moreover, the light that her death brings-"the first infant
light / That glanc'd upon the chaos"-symbolizes more than just the
light of hope that momentarily redeems Artaxerxes from the internal
"chaos" of his despair. As we have noted before, the Persian imagery of
light is also Johannine, and because of the accumulation of allusions, it
seems to me inescapably to suggest the light of the Creative Word of
God, in Whom "was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light
shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not" (John 1:4 f).
In effect, Cleone's sacrifice suggests the promise of redemption from the
chaos (both external and internal) that threatens throughout the play. It
presages the restoration of order and harmony, and, as Cleone came


The Trial of the Innocent

forth out of the loins of Mirza, it presages the intervention of Provi-
dence to bring forth good out of evil.
Artaban's conclusion, then, is justified by more evidence than he
sees. Not only the punishment of the wicked, but also the care for Ames-
tris' honor and the significance of Cleone's sacrifice indicate that "The
Gods are great and just." Furthermore, the accession of Artaban to the
throne represents the restoration of order. Throughout the play Artaban
has reverenced the gods. He acknowledges no superiors but them and
relies on their justice to reward his merit (IV.i, p. 50). Accordingly, he
refuses to obtain the crown by underhanded means but would follow the
"paths of honour" and "do as a King ought," armed against his mother's
threats by his "own innate virtue" (p. 53). At the end the deposed Queen
inveighs against Artaban's self-assertion:

Thou talk'st as if thy infant hand could grasp,
Guide, and command the fortune of the world;
But thou art young in pow'r. (V.ii, p. 78)

Unlike his mother, however, Artaban has learned that another hand
commands the fortune of the world, and he resolves to build his reign
in imitation of divine justice:

May this example guide my future sway:
Let honour, truth and justice crown my reign,
Ne'er let my Kingly word be given in vain,
But ever sacred with my foes remain.
On these foundations shall my empire stand,
The Gods shall vindicate my just command,
And guard that power they trusted to my hand. (p. 78 f)

All the other providential judgments in the play imply that the gods
have indeed entrusted Artaban with the power of the throne, and the
fact that he gains it not through his own defeat of Artaxerxes in combat
as he had prophesied (IV.i, p. 53), but through wondrous events, rein-
forces that implication. He becomes the divinely established symbol of
the repudiation of the usurpers and their philosophy; a symbol of the
inevitable triumph of "honour, truth and justice"; a symbol of the ulti-
mate (if sometimes posthumous) vindication of suffering innocence. Ar-
taban's final declaration is nothing but complete trust in Providence,
and that, after all, is the message of the play, for the world it images-



however much a vale of tears and trials-is indeed a world governed by
a just and "gracious" God.
Thus The Ambitious Stepmother is Rowe's first, but neither his last
nor his best dramatic theodicy. The play is obviously trite and sensa-
tional and at times positively lugubrious in plot and language. It pro-
vides, nevertheless, an excellent introduction to the patterns and themes
with which Rowe was working. There is no doubt, in my mind at least,
that the play is, in its formal design, a Christian tragedy in the fullest
metaphysical sense. Its most important aesthetic quality is that once we
see this design of the whole, then all the parts fit: imagery; plaintive
rhetoric; allusions; setting (particularly the temple-prison); all the ethi-
cal, political, and metaphysical motifs; and especially the ending. In
short, despite Rowe's immaturity, his first play is a unified whole, al-
ready a successful marriage of form and theme. Contrary to prevailing
opinion, then, Rowe's techniques are not gratuitous but integral and
therefore meaningful. Seeing their function in this early apprentice
work prepares the way to understanding his later plays.


1. These include Prince Artaxerxes, the rightful heir to the throne of Persia; Ames-
tris, his bride and the daughter of his faithful general and friend, Memnon; Memnon him-
self, who has been exiled, allegedly for murdering the Machiavellian Mirza's brother
Cleander, but really to get him and the young prince out of the way of the usurping step-
mother, Artemisa, and her son, Artaban; and Cleone, the daughter of Mirza, who is in
love with Artaxerxes but beloved by Artaban.
2. Cf. Alfred Schwarz, "The Literary Career of Nicholas Rowe," p. 60.
3. Because it includes comments on all of Rowe's plays, I have used the 1715 edi-
tion, Remarks on Mr. Rowe's Tragedy of the Lady Jane Gray, and all his other Plays,
edited by George L. Anderson as "Charles Gildon's A New Rehearsal, or Bays the
Younger," p. 52 ff. Gildon is willing to excuse the death of Memnon because he did kill
Cleander (though Memnon defends himself on that charge while admitting partial guilt
in the murder of Tiribasus, Artemisa's husband [II.ii, p. 27 f]), but he cannot forgive Rowe
for allowing Orchanes to go free and Artemisa to remain alive (p. 53). The fact that Or-
chanes is reported killed (V.ii, p. 77) shows that Gildon did not study the play carefully
and suggests that his analysis and evaluation of Rowe may be untrustworthy on all levels.
4. Landon C. Bums, Jr., "The Tragedies of Nicholas Rowe," p. 46.
5. For the anti-Epicurean movement in seventeenth-century England, see espe-
cially Charles T. Harrison, "The Ancient Atomists and English Literature of the Seven-
teenth Century," sec. 2, and George D. Hadzits, Lucretius and His Influence, p. 284 ff. For
further evidence of the neo-Epicurean movement itself, see Thomas F. Mayo, Epicurus
in England (1650-1725), and Wolfgang B. Fleischmann, Lucretius and English Litera-
ture, 1680-1740.
6. Tyre, "Versions of Poetic Justice in the Early Eighteenth Century," and Wil-

The Trial of the Innocent


liams, "Poetical Justice, the Contrivances of Providence, and the Works of William Con-
greve." Both critics were anticipated by three important, unpublished (even by University
Microfilms), and therefore sadly neglected dissertations: Charles H. Peake, "Domestic
Tragedy in Relation to Theology"; J. Leland Rude, "Poetic Justice: A Study of the Problem
of Human Conduct in Tragedy from Aeschylus to Shakespeare"; and Thomas A. Hart,
"The Development and Decline of the Doctrine of Poetic Justice from Plato to Johnson."
7. See Sarup Singh, The Theory of Drama in the Restoration Period, p. 64 if, and
Eugene Hnatko, "The Failure of Eighteenth-Century Tragedy," passim, for some of the
latest (and most wrong-headed) of these interpretations.
8. The Critical Works of John Dennis, ed. Edward N. Hooker, I, 183. Williams
and Tyre maintain, along with Singh and Michael A. Quinlan, Poetic Justice in the
Drama, that the concept is traditional in England, and Rude shows that, indeed, poetic
justice is traditional in tragedy itself, for tragedy is ever concerned with the problem of
justice and retribution and it has ever (at least through to the Renaissance) rationalized
its retribution in terms of divine justice. Cf. Hart, who recognizes the metaphysical
foundation of poetic justice in much Renaissance practice and theory (through to the
first half of the eighteenth century), but who finally sees disproportionate punishment as
an indictment of divine justice. Cf. also John D. Ebbs, The Principle of Poetic Justice Il-
lustrated in Restoration Tragedy, who, along with Singh and Quinlan, completely fails
to explain this metaphysical dimension. Even Rude backs off from it in his fear of imputing
a didactic function to tragedy, particularly Shakespeare's.
Those who still doubt the metaphysical foundation of poetic justice or, especially,
the depths of its roots in English and continental theory should consult the following
critics, who equate poetic with divine justice: Martin Bucer, De Regno Christi (1551), in
E. K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, IV, 189; William Bavande, A Woork of loannes
Ferrarius Montanus (1559), in Chambers, IV, 190; Antonio Minturno, L'Arte Poetica
(1564), in Allan H. Gilbert, ed., Literary Criticism: Plato to Dryden, p. 292; Lodovico
Castelvetro, The Poetics of Aristotle (1571), in Gilbert, p. 349; George Puttenham, The
Arte of English Poesie (1589), in G. Gregory Smith, ed., Elizabethan Critical Essays, II,
35; Thomas Nashe, Pierce Penilesse (1592), in Chambers, IV, 239; Ben Jonson, Prefatory
Epistle to Volpone (1607), in Ben Jonson: Volpone, ed. Alvin B. Kernan, p. 32, where the
"justice" the poet is enjoined to "imitate" is surely divine; Jules de La Mesnardiere, La
Po&tiqve (1640), pp. 23 ff, 107 f; Franqois Hedelin, abbe d'Aubignac, La Pratique du
theatre (1657), trans. as the very popular Whole Art of the Stage (1684), p. 5 f; Rene
Rapin, Reflexions sur la poetique (1674), trans. by Rymer himself the same year as Re-
flections on Aristotle's Treatise of Poesy in General, in Scott Elledge and Donald Schier,
eds., The Continental Model, p. 278. The relevant passages in Rymer, Dennis, and Gil-
don are cited in Peake, p. 115 f, Tyre and Williams, passim. As corroborative passages
from a couple of Rowe's contemporaries, see also Sir Richard Blackmore, Prince Arthur
(1695), first page of the Preface (no sig.), recto and verso; and Jeremy Collier, Second De-
fence of the Short View (1700), p. 83.
Tyre and Ebbs point to several modem critics who have seen the connection be-
tween poetic and providential justice in Elizabethan drama, including William L. Court-
ney, The Idea of Tragedy in Ancient and Modern Drama, p. 67 ff; Richard G. Moulton,
Shakespeare as a Dramatic Artist, p. 245; and Lily B. Campbell, Shakespeare's Tragic
Heroes, ch. i, passim. Ebbs himself sees that poetic justice is equated with Providence in
Samson Agonistes in his article "Milton's Treatment of Poetic Justice in Samson
Agonistes. See also Roy W. Battenhouse, Marlowe's Tamburlaine, who says that poetic
justice is providential throughout Elizabethan tragedy and even makes the following ex-
travagant claim in the light of the metaphor of the world as a stage: "Drama was the chief
form of Elizabethan art largely because Providence was the central dogma of Elizabethan
religion" (p. 126). Henry H. Adams, English Domestic or, Homiletic Tragedy, sees that
poetic justice in Elizabethan domestic tragedy is providential but denies that it is so for



Rymer and the Restoration (p. 18 f). Peake, Tyre, and especially Williams have con-
vincingly proved that it is.
9. Rothstein does mention Dennis earlier but implies that as he adopted more
affective theories in his "later" criticism (Rothstein only takes us up to 1698), he neglected
"fabulist" theories (p. 18). This is simply not the case. Dennis continued to demand forms
which mirror Providence, from The Advancement and Reformation of Modern Poetry
(1701) to his letter to the Spectator (1711) to An Essay on the Genius and Writings of
Shakespear (1712), passim. In 1713, which takes us pretty nearly through the career of
Rowe, Dennis wrote one of his strongest statements on the mimetic function of poetic
justice: 'Tis certainly the Duty of every Tragick Poet, by an exact Distribution of a Po-
etical Justice, to imitate the Divine Dispensation" (Remarks upon Cato, in Critical Works,
II, 49).
10. See Aubrey Williams' answer to Rothstein on Congreve, "Poetical Justice,"
p. 546 f, as well as his formal analysis of The Mourning Bride in "The 'Just Decrees of
Heav'n,' especially p. 13 ff, where Williams appeals to the formal theories of James
Drake. See also Peake's entire dissertation, which argues exactly the contrary to Roth-
stein on late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century tragedy; he sees theology as setting
its hand in a very heavy way upon this tragedy.
11. See the "Hymn to the Sun" (III.iii, p. 43 f), and the numerous references to the
semidivinity of the royal family, e.g., I.i, p. 16 ff; II.i, p. 23 f; III.ii, p. 40.
12. "The Dramatic Use of Hobbes's Political Ideas," ELH, 3 (1936), rpt. in H. T.
Swedenberg, Jr., ed., Essential Articles for the Study of John Dryden, p. 341 ff. For the
anti-Hobbesian movement, see especially Samuel I. Mintz, The Hunting of Leviathan.
Cf. John A. Winterbottom, "The Place of Hobbesian Ideas in Dryden's Tragedies," JEGP,
57 (1958), rpt. in Swedenberg, p. 374 ff; and Anne T. Barbeau, The Intellectual Design
of John Dryden 's Heroic Plays.
13. The sexual overtones seem to heighten the perversity of their blasphemous re-
lationship; cf. Artaxerxes' intimation that Mirza was at one time Artemisa's paramour
(II.ii, p. 30).
14. The doctrine of Providence was, in Anglican apologetics as well as the entire
Christian tradition since Augustine's The City of God, the mean between fate and for-
tune, which were seen, at best, as agencies of Providence. See Peake, ch. i, passim.
15. For Plato, as for Collier, the prescription is somewhat irrelevant, for both really
want to ban the stage; they seem to feel the harm has already been done to an audience,
whatever the ending of a play (see especially Republic III, and Collier's various De-
fences). For Aristotle (Poetics xiii), and for Rymer, Dennis, and Gildon, the prescription is
also somewhat qualified, for none thinks that tragic protagonists should ever be com-
pletely innocent; but for these critics, it seems obvious that if one were to portray an
innocent person on the stage, he would have to reward him in the denouement. See de
Scudery, Observations sur Le Cid (1637), in Arnaud Gaste, ed., La Querelle du Cid, p. 79 f;
Filmer, A Defence of Plays (1707), p. 43; The Stage Acquitted (1699), p. 93 f. Cf. Philip
Massinger, The Roman Actor (1626), who implies strict poetic justice (I.i.20 ff, in Gilbert,
p. 570).
16. See the references above (n. 8) to Bucer, Bavande, Minturno, Castelvetro, Put-
tenham, Nashe, and Rapin, in none of whom is there the demand for the reward of the
innocent. Ben Jonson's Sejanus speaks for itself. See also Jacopo Mazzoni, On the De-
fense of the Comedy (1587), in Gilbert, p. 399 f; Henry Chettle, Kind Harts Dreame
(1592), in Chambers, IV, 244; Thomas Heywood, An Apology for Actors (1612), in Gilbert,
p. 558; Gerard-Jean Vossius, Poeticarum Institutiorum (1647), as quoted in Edith G. Kern,
The Influence of Heinsius and Vossius upon French Dramatic Theory, p. 126 (Heinsius
himself in De Tragoediae Constitutione [1611] does not insist on any kind of poetic justice);
John Oldmixon, Reflections on the Stage (1699), p. 117; A Vindication of the Stage (1698),
p. 20, which implies that vice should always be punished but says nothing of virtue; James


The Trial of the Innocent

Drake, Antient and Modern Stages, who seems to recommend strict poetic justice (p. 122),
but then finds The Orphan and Hamlet acceptable despite unrewarded virtue (p. 204 ff)
and suggests that the way to satisfy poetic justice in Cleomenes is merely to have the
vicious die too (p. 213 f; cf. Peake, p. 113). Passages usually cited as prescribing strict
poetic justice I have found to be generally either (a) statements recommending the prais-
ing of virtue and blaming of vice-e.g., Plato, Laws II; Giraldi Cinthio, On the Composi-
tion of Romances (1549), in Gilbert, p. 271; and most comic theorists-or (b) purely de-
scriptive statements-e.g., Julius C. Scaliger, Poetices Libri Septem (1561), p. 146; Bene-
detto Varchi, Lezzioni (1590), p. 576; Sir Philip Sidney, The Defense of Poesie (1583), in
Gilbert, p. 425; Sir William Temple, "Of Poetry" (1690), in Five Miscellaneous Essays, ed.
Samuel H. Monk, p. 187; and William Congreve, Amendments of Mr. Collier's False and
Imperfect Citations (1698), in The Mourning Bride, Poems, and Miscellanies, ed. Bonamy
Dobree, p. 453-or (c) statements only about comedy-e.g., George Farquhar, A Discourse
upon Comedy (1702), in The Complete Works, ed. Charles Stonehill, p. 343; and the anony-
mous author of A Comparison between the Two Stages (1702), ed. Staring B. Wells-or
(d) statements with important qualifications (see below).
17. These important qualifications in La Mesnardiere, d'Aubignac, and Corneille
have been noted by Rene Bray, La Formation de la doctrine classique en France, p. 81,
and Edward N. Hooker in Dennis, Critical Works, II, 436.
18. Of Dramatic Poesy and Other Critical Essays, ed. George Watson, I, 38, 47-
hereafter cited as Essays.
19. Essays, I, 151 f, 245; see Hooker in Dennis, II, 437.
20. Essays, I, 213; Sarup Singh has noticed the similarity to Corneille (p. 75).
21. See Baxter Hathaway, "John Dryden and the Function of Tragedy," p. 671;
and Singh, p. 74 ff. Cf. Lewis M. Magill, "Poetic Justice: The Dilemma of the Early Crea-
tors of Sentimental Tragedy." See also Rothstein, p. 13 ff, with whom I disagree em-
phatically when he concludes from the "Heads" that "virtue now receives its rewards
not because God loves it and cherishes it, but because the pit and boxes do" (p. 15). This
is again a confusion of affective and formal concerns: despite his admission that Dryden's
shift from "traditional fabulist attitudes" is only one "in stress, in degree, in intensity,
in tone; not in kind" (p. 18), Rothstein concludes from the absence of explicit reference
to Providence that poetic justice must now be rationalized in terms of public desire. Roth-
stein's assertions are belied not only by his faulty logic but by Dryden's own practice in
All for Love, Don Sebastian, and Cleomenes, where the outcomes are specifically ratio-
nalized in terms of Providence (or "Heaven").
22. Spectators 40 and 548 (putative authorship), in The Spectator, ed. G. Gregory
Smith, I, 147, and IV, 279. Burns notices the similarity between Rowe's and Addison's
positions on poetic justice, at least on this point (p. 15); cf. Amrik Singh, "The Argu-
ment on Poetic Justice (Addison versus Dennis)."
23. Of course, Rowe could not have known the passage in Dryden since it was not
published till 1711 (Essays, I, 211).
24. See Hathaway, "John Dryden and the Function of Tragedy," and "The Lucre-
tian 'Return Upon Ourselves' in Eighteenth-Century Theories of Tragedy"; Earl R.
Wasserman, "The Pleasures of Tragedy"; A. Owen Aldridge, "The Pleasures of Pity";
and Rothstein, ch. i entire. The appeal to pity, to Christian charity, perhaps gained its
impetus from the current Latitudinarian attack on the Calvinist and Hobbesian views
of the nature of man. See Peake, p. 56, and Ernest L. Tuveson, "The Importance of
Shaftesbury," both of whom show, in answer to Ronald S. Crane's classic article, "Sugges-
tions toward a Genealogy of the 'Man of Feeling,' that the Latitudinarians' insistence
on innate benevolence did not deny, as did Shaftesburianism, the inclination toward evil
which resulted from Original Sin. From their constant allusion to the Fall throughout
their drama, it appears that Dryden's theory of concernmentt" and Rowe's appeal to
"good-nature" are in the Latitudinarian tradition. Cf. Rothstein, p. 20, who sees a "be-



nevolist philosophy" underlying Rowe's statement, and Eugene Waith, "Tears of Mag-
nanimity in Otway and Racine," p. 19, who sees it as a "prime example" of "sentimen-
talism." But Rowe's plays simply do not espouse philosophical benevolism or senti-
mentalism, however literally "sentimental" they may be in their appeal to "tenderness
or humanity." In the criticism of Restoration and eighteenth-century drama, as Geoffrey
Marshall has recently and ably argued (Restoration Serious Drama, p. 211 ff), we must
begin to use such terms as "benevolist" and "sentimental" with more precision-or else
abandon them altogether.
25. 9:23 (Authorized Version, whence all Biblical quotations are taken). See Black-
more's Preface to A Paraphrase on the Book of Job (in Rowe's library, Catalogue, fol. 116),
where he gives the traditional exigetical interpretation that the story of Job is one of a
providential trial in order to justify the ways of God to men passimm).
26. 1 Pet. 1:3 ff. See Samuel Clarke, Seventeen Sermons, p. 370, who in a sermon
entitled "The Present Life, a State of Probation in order to a Future Life" points out that
the metaphor of "the purifying and Trying of Metals by Fire" is common in Scripture,
and who gives many citations.
27. A Body of Divinitie, 4th ed. rev. (1653), p. 108, the edition Rowe possessed
(see Catalogue, fol. 41).
28. The Sermons of John Donne, ed. Evelyn M. Simpson and George R. Potter, VI,
108. For further proof that the metaphor was commonly used in contemporary apolo-
getics, see, e.g., Clarke, p. 364 ff; Symon Patrick, The Works, ed. Alexander Taylor, IX,
197 f; Isaac Barrow, The Theological Works, ed. Alexander Napier, III, 63, 86, 138 f;
Richard Kingston, A Discourse on Divine Providence, p. 91, a copy of which Rowe
possessed (Catalogue, oct. 336); and John Tillotson, The Works, I, 687.
29. See Kilbee C. Brittain, "The Sin of Despair in English Renaissance Literature,"
for a thorough and excellent treatment of despair in Western thought and literature
through Shakespeare.
30. Though this type of scene occurs often in Dryden's tragedies, nowhere is it
dealt with more fully and more intensely than in Acts IV and V of Cleomenes.
31. We must not allow the triteness either of this scene or of its language to obscure
its meaning. Amestris' cries of "Unhand me, villain!" and "Save me" must be seen in the
context of the play's dominant theme of theodicy. She is not calling merely for her "hero"
to save her; she is challenging the very justice of the gods. Whatever became of the rape
scene in subsequent melodrama does not negate its function here.
32. See Don Cameron Allen, Doubtvs Boundless Sea, ch. v, passim; Harrison on
neo-Epicureanism; and Mintz on Hobbism.
33. John 1:9. The similarity between Persian and Judeo-Christian imagery has
always been obvious, although in Rowe's day, the latter was thought to have influenced
the former, and not vice-versa, as is the case. See Rustom Masani, Zoroastrianism, pt. 1,
ch. i. Rowe is obviously capitalizing on the similarity.


The Trial of the Innocent

II Protagonist as


Tamerlane and Ulysses

N TWO OF HIS subsequent tragedies of suffering innocence,
Tamerlane (1701) and Ulysses (1705), Rowe presents us
with a protagonist who is unmistakably a Champion of
Divine Justice. The title-character in each play acts, as
much as a man can, as the agent of Providence in the
vindication of the innocent. But each is ultimately effective only through
an act of self-sacrifice similar to that of Cleone in The Ambitious Step-
mother. Thus, like Milton, Rowe continues to portray such vindication
as the result of a higher heroism than simply that of the pagan epic hero.
Tamerlane and Ulysses are very similar, then, in thematic development,
though quite unequal, I think, in aesthetic value, Ulysses being far the
better play and one of the better classical tragedies of the period. What-
ever their merit, however, the meaning of these two plays as dramatic
theodicies is manifest in their formal design.
Tamerlane (Works, I, 81 ff) was one of the most popular plays of the early
eighteenth century,* a fact critics have long attributed to the play's
political significance. In The Politics of Drama in Augustan England,
for instance, John C. Loftis points out that Tamerlane is "an allegorical
eulogy" of King William III (p. 31). Indeed, in the Dedication Rowe
tacitly admits that the characterization of Tamerlane is an implicit
panegyric on William (just as the Dedication itself is an explicit pane-
gyric), and for almost a century the play was performed annually on
William's birthday and on the anniversary of his landing in England
*Notes to this chapter begin on page 73.

(November 4 and 5, respectively). Rowe himself notes similarities be-
tween William's and Tamerlane's characters and even their "stories"
(p. 85), and critics have since conjectured whether there are not simi-
larities to other historical personalities as well.2 It is at least certain that
there is an analogy between Bajazet and Louis XIV, that infamous vio-
lator of "all the most solemn engagements of public faith" whom Rowe
describes in the Dedication (p. 84 f).
Loftis sees even more political significance in the play. In its
immediate historical context, he argues, Tamerlane is a "call to arms"
at the beginning of the Wars of the Spanish Succession: "The dramatic
action projects an English Whig's wish: that William would promptly
defeat the forces of Louis and take him personally a captive." As such,
the play dramatizes "war-inspired Francophobia" (p. 32). Moreover,
according to Loftis, the play is propagandistic in a more general sense:
"The frequency with which the play was performed in the first half of
the eighteenth century would suggest that it was a chief vehicle by
which Whig-and Lockeian-ideas on constitutional theory and reli-
gious toleration were disseminated" (p. 34). Thus he attributes Rowe's
obvious exaggerations of contemporary history to this function: "Rowe
was writing propaganda, not political theory, and consequently a con-
vincing confrontation of political philosophies does not emerge. The
French conception of monarchy is distorted; for whatever the liabilities
of the French theory of absolutism, it represented no such diabolical
capriciousness as Rowe would suggest" (p. 32 f).
While Loftis is fairly correct in his assessment of the play, he does
not, perhaps because his thesis is limited, suggest the fuller ramifications
of Rowe's exaggerations, especially Bajazet's "diabolical capricious-
ness." Though Tamerlane is admittedly a political allegory,3 it tran-
scends propaganda. Through the same process of analogy that charac-
terizes Augustan poetry of praise and blame, Rowe's Tamerlane and
Bajazet come to represent much more than either historical or con-
temporary personalities. Bajazet becomes a satanic figure and Tamer-
lane God's Champion, and their conflict becomes emblematic of the
eternal struggle between good and evil.4

In "The Source and Characterization of Nicholas Rowe's Tamerlane,"
Donald B. Clark has shown that Rowe's primary source for the story
and the characterization of Tamerlane and Bajazet was not, as might be

The Trial of the Innocent


expected, either Marlowe's play or his sources-both of which had been
virtually forgotten-but Richard Knolles' The General Historie of the
Turkes (1603), a history whose popularity is demonstrated in the num-
ber of editions and revisions it received in the seventeenth century.5
Unlike Marlowe's historians, Knolles depicts Tamerlane as a model
prince with even a special reverence for Christianity;' Bajazet is, on
the other hand, still the cruel tyrant par excellence (p. 203 if). But what
Clark has failed to emphasize is that, in the tradition of Tudor Histori-
ography, where history is viewed as the working out of God's plan,7
Knolles portrays Tamerlane's victory over Bajazet as a manifestation of
providential justice. For Tamerlane was a champion "by God himself
appointed" (p. 213): "Hee was sent from heaven to punish his [Bajazet's]
rashnesse, and to teach him, that the proud are hated of God, whose
promise is to plucke down the mightie, and raise up the lowly" (p.
217). Thus Tamerlane's title, "Scourge of God."
Several times Knolles reiterates the lesson of "the just judgement
of God against the arrogant follie of the proud" (p. 221), and his last
reiteration is the most important, because it carries the process of
analogy the furthest. He reports that Tamerlane told the Greeks he
came not to conquer but to aid them, and that "his upright meaning
therein, was the greatest cause, That God from above had beheld his
power, and thereby brused the head of the greatest and fiercest enemie
of mankind that was under heaven." As it did vaguely in the phrase,
"to plucke down the mightie, and raise up the lowly," Knolles' lan-
guage here unmistakably echoes Scripture: "And I will put enmity be-
tween thee [the snake] and the woman, and between thy seed and her
seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel" (Gen. 3:15);
again, "And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly"
(Rom. 16:20). Through the allusion, Knolles has implicitly made Tamer-
lane a figure of the Messiah and Bajazet a figure of Satan. Such a use of
implied analogy may be called the process of typification, whereby
Knolles has related his characters and their conflict to archetypes in the
Christian myth.
Rowe adopts Knolles' typification into his play. Not only does he
make Tamerlane and Bajazet model king and typal tyrant, but at the
very outset he establishes the archetypal nature of their conflict. In the
prologue he reviews the history reported in Knolles, characterizing
Tamerlane and Bajazet accordingly. Then he says that Bajazet was
given sway,

Tamerlane and Ulysses


Till Heav'n, the growing evil to redress,
Sent Tamerlane to give the world a peace. (p. 87)

Thus Tamerlane "sav'd mankind." In the opening scene of the play the
world looks to Tamerlane as a redeemer, and Mirva says,

Well has our holy Alha mark'd him out
The scourge of lawless pride, and dire ambition,
The great avenger of the groaning world.
Well has he worn the sacred cause of justice
Upon his prosperous sword: approving Heav'n
Still crown'd the right'ous warrior with success;
As if he said, go forth, and be my champion,
Thou most like me of all my works below. (p. 89)

As Tamerlane enters, the Prince of Tanais exclaims that he "Comes like
the proxy of inquiring Heav'n, / To judge and to redress" (p. 91). As he
prepares for battle, Tamerlane prays to the "great spirit" that "fires"
his "soul" to assist his "sword" in "the cause of Heav'n and injur'd
Earth"(p. 96 f). After his triumph, Tamerlane disdains the homage paid
to him and attributes his success to Heaven, content to be known only
as "Heav'n's happy instrument, / The means of good to all my fellow
creatures" (II.ii, p. 104).
Thus, like Knolles, Rowe has made his hero God's Champion in
what amounts to a holy war. Furthermore, as George W. Whiting has
shown in "Rowe's Debt to Paradise Lost," Rowe has patterned Bajazet
after Milton's Satan and perhaps even Tamerlane after Milton's Messiah
(p. 272 if). Whiting maintains that "it is not absurd to suggest a parallel
between Tamerlane and the Son of God," especially in Mirva's speech,
concluding, "go forth, and be my champion, / Thou most like me of
all my works below" (Whiting, p. 272). Tamerlane is certainly, like
Milton's Messiah, God's Champion, and he is certainly Christ-like in
his mercy and humility (as we shall further see), but Whiting seems on
firmer ground when he says, "If Tamerlane reminds one of Christ, Satan
is even more unmistakably the prototype of Bajazet" (p. 273). He pro-
ceeds to point to several of the numerous passages where Bajazet is com-
pared to the "fallen archangel" both explicitly and implicitly (p. 273 if).
In an apposite passage he does not mention, the satanic analogy is clear.
Tamerlane says to Bajazet in amazement, "Thou would'st scale Heav'n"
(II.ii, p. 106):

The Trial of the Innocent


Thou vain, rash thing,
That with gigantic insolence, hast dar'd
To lift thy wretched self above the stars,
And mate with pow'r almighty: Thou art fallen!

Although Whiting does not discuss their function, the allusions
he has marked enable us to see the ultimate dimension of Rowe's exag-
geration by analogy. On this typological level, Tamerlane conforms to
an eternal pattern. It is a reiteration of God's triumph over Satan,
another manifestation of His Providence. Like Satan, Bajazet threatens
the very fabric of universal order, as Arpasia makes clear in the opening
of Act V:

Some ruling fiend hangs in the dusky air,
And scatters ruin, death, and wild distraction,
O'er all the wretched race of man below. (p. 140)

But, as Tamerlane insists, "Heav'n is watchful o'er its worshippers"
(III.ii, p. 123), and he insists again at the end of the play that Provi-
dence has acted, through him, to deliver the "wretched race of man"
from this satanic evil:

Behold the vain effects of earth-born pride,
That scorn'd Heav'n's laws, and all its pow'r defied:
That could the hand, which form'd it first, forget,
And fondly say, I made myself be great:
But justly those above assert their sway,
And teach ev'n Kings what homage they should pay,
Who then rule best, when mindful to obey. (p. 149)

Like the great epic it echoes, then, and the central Christian myth it
images, Rowe's Tamerlane is a theodicy which dramatically asserts the
intervention of Providence to stem the spread of prosperous vice. As in
Paradise Lost, however, the dramatic conflict in Tamerlane is not only
between contending armies that emblematically represent the cosmic
forces of good and evil. Against that background the play also drama-
tizes a struggle between the philosophies of Tamerlane and Bajazet:
between mercy and revenge; between tolerance and prejudice; be-
tween compassion and hatred; in short, between Christian altruism and
satanic (or Hobbesian) self-interest.


Tamerlane and Ulysses


Like Knolles', Rowe's Tamerlane has a special reverence for Christi-
anity. Indeed, some of his followers are increasingly jealous of the in-
fluence of his "Christian minion," Axalla (IV.i, p. 128), whom his soul
attends "like a prophet, / That waits the inspiration of his God" (I, p.
92). The extent of this influence can be seen in Tamerlane's forgiveness
of the Moslem Dervise who tries to assassinate him for his tolerance
of the Christians: Tamerlane says to him,

Now learn the difference twixtt thy faith and mine;
Thine bids thee lift thy dagger to my throat;
Mine can forgive the wrong, and bid thee live.
Keep thy own wicked secret, and be safe;
If thou continu'st still to be the same,
'Tis punishment enough to be a villain.
If thou repent'st, I have gain'd one to virtue,
And am, in that, rewarded for my mercy. (III.ii, p. 123)

Later the Dervise complains to Bajazet's confederates that Tamerlane's
forgiveness argues an abandonment of Islam for a "new faith":

'Tis what his Christian favourites have inspired
Who fondly make a merit of forgiveness,
And give their foes a second opportunity,
If the first blow should miss. (IV.i, p. 127)

In this "new faith" Tamerlane rejects the revenge code of Islam
and the hypocrisy of its priesthood (III.ii, p. 122 if). Appealing to Provi-
dence's own toleration of the "fair variety" of "different faiths," he re-
jects the attempt by any religious group to convert by force (p. 121 f).
What is more, Tamerlane the Conqueror is opposed to war, considering
it a "fell monster" (I, p. 91); he goes into battle "unwillingly" and only
because Bajazet forces his hand (p. 93). Astounded by Bajazet's "Cause-
less" hatred and his unnatural, blasphemous pride and ambition (II.ii, p.
105), Tamerlane brands him a "monster" and expounds his own con-
trasting ambition to "fix" his "name,"

by peace,
By justice, and by mercy; and to raise
My trophies on the blessings of mankind. (p. 106)


The Trial of the Innocent

Thus Tamerlane represents a New Law (like that of the Christians)
which is antithetical to Bajazet's inordinate hatred and pride.
This conflict between values becomes crystallized into one con-
trast (with Paradise Lost still very much in the background): mercy
versus revenge. When Bajazet describes the cruel and merciless treat-
ment Tamerlane would have received at his hand (p. 106 f), though
strict "justice" and "vengeance" demand the same punishment for him,
Tamerlane instead would give him the chance to reform, "that thou
may'st learn / What man should be to man" (p. 107). Here again, then,
as in his forgiveness of the Dervise, Tamerlane is merciful in order to
reform the sinner, if possible. For, as he says, he is devoted to the "True
greatness" of reforming the world (III.ii, p. 126). Like the Dervise,
Bajazet rejects Tamerlane's mercy, calling him a "vain fool" and crying,
"Thy folly on thy head!" (II.ii, p. 108). Tamerlane justifies his folly thus:

Great minds (like Heav'n) are pleased in doing good,
Tho' the ungrateful subjects of their favours
Are barren in return.

Tamerlane insists that virtue is its own reward, and his mercy is seen
to be "folly" only in the eyes of the worldly, who disparage those who
"fondly make a merit of forgiveness." In other words, as in The Am-
bitious Stepmother, Rowe is alluding to that tradition of Christian folly
which has its roots in the epistles of Saint Paul.
Bajazet answers Tamerlane's mercy with revenge and hatred. On
the way to his dungeon of living hell and despair (see the descriptions
on pp. 108 and 111), Bajazet encounters Arpasia and Moneses, the
Greek lovers whom he had captured and who had masqueraded as
brother and sister until Bajazet forced Arpasia to marry him in Moneses'
absence. Spumed by both, Bajazet takes delight in the "revenge" of
leaving Moneses to hear in "horror" of the rape of his betrothed (p. 110
f). Later Bajazet rejects Axalla's offer to "atone / The fatal breach" be-
tween him and Tamerlane and thus "To buy mankind a peace" (III.i, p.
117); answering Axalla's promise to obtain the return of Bajazet's crown
in exchange for his daughter's hand, Bajazet demands "the Tartar's
head" to "sate" his "revenge" (p. 119). And he commands Selima to
emulate his hatred:

Henceforth, unless thou mean'st to cancel all
My share in thee, and write thyself a bastard,

Tamerlane and Ulysses


The Trial of the Innocent

Die, starve, know any evil, any pain,
Rather than taste a mercy from these [Christian] dogs. (p. 117)

In Act V, against his captive Queen and his own daughter, Bajazet
displays his merciless cruelty at its fullest. With his "wrath" and "ven-
geance" he attempts to pierce Arpasia's "swelling heart" (p. 142), and
asserting in hypocritical self-righteousness, "Here, mercy, I disclaim
thee," he subjects her to a torture so cruel that it does indeed break
her heart (p. 143 ff). Then, disdaining the escaped Axalla's reported
pledge of "mercy" (p. 147), he turns on Selima, who arranged the es-
cape, to "tear" her "to pieces" in "answer" to his "great revenge."
Appropriately, Bajazet is foiled in the midst of his last attempt at ven-
geance, and his abuse of mercy is now finally and fittingly repaid by its
withdrawal from him in favor of "righteous vengeance": as Tamerlane

Mercy at length gives up her peaceful scepter,
And justice sternly takes her turn to govern. (p. 148)

Bajazet's recalcitrance finally calls forth the world's "keenest sword,
/ To cut up villainy of monstrous growth." In poetic justice, Tamerlane
administers a punishment "equal to Bajazet's crimes"-the very caging
Bajazet had planned for Tamerlane-so that Bajazet can be

borne about, in public view,
A great example of the righteous vengeance
That waits on cruelty, and pride like thine. (p. 149)

As Bajazet is led off desperately vowing to kill himself and to curse
Tamerlane with his "parting breath," Tamerlane confirms the poetic
justice done on him to be explicitly providential: "But justly those
above assert their sway."
In view of the deaths of the innocent Moneses and Arpasia, how-
ever, Tamerlane's merciful attitude and his final victory in justice may
appear to be vitiated. Ironically, Tamerlane-"whose word next
Heav'n's, / Makes fate at second hand" (I, p. 98); who is "The Sovereign
judge of equity on earth" (II.ii, p. 112); and "before whose awful throne
/ Th'afflicted never kneel in vain for justice" (III.ii, p. 123)-is unable
from the beginning to redress the evil done this pair, which stands
"bleeding fresh" and calls aloud to Heaven "for justice" (II.ii, p. 109).


Tamerlane bids Moneses forget "these lesser cares" and join him in re-
forming the world (III.ii, p. 126). Confronted with Arpasia's beauty and
virtue, however, Tamerlane himself complains:

When sorrow dwells in such an angel form,
Well may we guess that those above are mourners;
Virtue is wrong'd, and bleeding innocence
Suffers some wond'rous violation here,
To make the saints look sad. Oh! teach my power
To cure those ills which you unjustly suffer,
Lest Heav'n should wrest it from my idle hand,
If I look on, and see you weep in vain. (IV.ii, p. 129)

Though he is God's own Champion on earth, Tamerlane is powerless
to help Arpasia and Moneses, and their story, as well as their complaints
and his, raises the problem of suffering innocence with a special poi-
gnancy in this otherwise transparent dramatic theodicy.
The solution that the play offers is once again couched in the
metaphor of life as a trial. From the moment of their capture on the way
to be married, Moneses and Arpasia, who are both Christians, have been
tempted to despair. Arpasia describes their situation as hopeless:

Our woes are like the genuine shade beneath,
Where fate cuts off the very hopes of day,
And everlasting night and horror reign. (II.ii, p. 111)

Arpasia wills to resist despair, however. Since the evil cannot be re-
dressed on earth and since, on the other hand, she has sworn to maintain
her marital faith, she clings to the hope that "Heav'n" will be "gracious"
and take her to "that blest place / Where the good rest from care and
anxious life" (p. 113). To sustain Moneses' "failing faith," she describes
to him a "tract of endless joys" and provides them both with a "hope"
to build on as they endure their ordeal, the trial of the innocent. Unlike
the Stoic heroines Lucrece and Portia, Arpasia espouses the higher
Christian heroism to "Live ... And dare to be unhappy" (IV.ii, p. 129).
Yet they both gradually languish into a spiritual sloth where, porten-
tously, "all the glorious lights of Heav'n look dim" as they await "the
long night" in "sad society" (p. 135 f).8
They are not permitted to languish thus, however; they must still
face the supreme trial of martyrdom. And for Arpasia this is no ordinary

Tamerlane and Ulysses


trial by fire. She must watch her beloved be cruelly "butcher'd" in her
sight (V, p. 142). She prays to "holy martyrs" for heavenly assistance
and appears to be armed with a "sacred spirit," but like Mirza in The
Ambitious Stepmother, Bajazet challenges her fortitude, asserting that
she talks her virtue well but dares not meet the danger. Significantly he
concludes, "This moment is the trial." As she begins to fail, though,
Moneses, who rises from lassitude to meet the test, becomes her ex-
ample and instructs her in the Christian ars moriendi:

Since thou art arm'd for all things, after death,
Why should the pomp and preparation of it
Be frightful to thy eyes? (p. 144)

The readiness is all, he insists with Hamlet and Edgar, and he goes to
prove it.
The anguished Arpasia breaks down into impatience and "distrac-
tion": "Ye moralists, / Ye talkers, what are all your precepts now?" She
screams for "Avenging lightnings" till human "Nature" can endure
"no more" and she expires (p. 144 f). Critics of the ilk of Gildon would
say that her death impugns Providence or that Rowe's sensationalism
here undercuts his attempt to mirror Providence in the overall design.
But despite her momentary impatience, Arpasia dies peacefully. In
traditional Christian imagery, after wandering bewilderedd with mis-
fortunes" (p. 145), she finally reaches her "home," which must be that
"blest place" she has prayed for, "Where the good rest from care," for
she lies down in "peaceful slumber." We are led to infer that she has
been granted that "peace" promised by the "gentle spirit" who whis-
pers to her earlier (p. 140). It is a peace that is not languished into, how-
ever, but is earned through an excruciating trial, from which she is
finally released. Moreover, Arpasia has said that she would live to tri-
umph over Bajazet a moment, and she does so when she says, "I am now
beyond thy cruel pow'r." Bajazet's reaction expresses the ironic limi-
tations of that power:

What is royalty?
If those that are my slaves, and should live for me,
Can die, and bid defiance to my pow'r.

The point is, as it was from Job and Plato to Milton, that no tyrant, not
even Satan himself, has power over the mind.9 God allows the satanic


The Trial of the Innocent

Bajazets of the world to severely try, but not to coerce, the souls of men.
For the soul is inviolable and thus can endure the gravest test.
Tamerlane's inability to redress the injuries of Moneses and Ar-
pasia, or to save their lives, argues the necessity of retribution in the
afterlife that the couple so ardently expects. To recall the words of
Dennis-and the homiletic tradition they echo-suffering innocence "is
permitted by the Governour of the World to show from the Attribute of
his infinite Justice that there is a Compensation in Futurity, to prove
the Immortality of the Human Soul, and the Certainty of future Re-
wards and Punishments" (Critical Works, II, 49). Tamerlane's final vic-
tory seems the external ratification of the hope for ultimate providential
justice, and Arpasia's prayer for "Avenging lightning" seems answered,
for at last "justly those above assert their sway." Furthermore, the
death of Moneses and Arpasia is the play's ultimate confirmation of
Tamerlane's boast that the virtuous "(like Heav'n) are pleas'd in doing
good," even if they receive no reward in this life. What appears folly
in the eyes of the world is actually the highest kind of heroism, even
if, paradoxically, its victory is attained only through death. But the
play's firmest guarantee of the peace in which Moneses and Arpasia
trust seems to be the self-sacrifice of Selima. Tamerlane is enabled to
foil Bajazet's plot only because Selima sets her beloved Axalla free at
the risk of her own destruction. Through Selima, then, the world ob-
tains a peace-a peace of justice and order which points to that for
Moneses and Arpasia beyond.

Throughout the play Selima is associated with imagery of peace, and
even her name means peace in Arabic.10 Early in the play, impressed
by Tamerlane's beneficence, Selima utters a speech that emphasizes
the supremacy of Christian over martial virtues and that constitutes
a prayer for peace:

Where shall my wonder and my praise begin!
From the successful labours of thy arms?
Or from a theme more soft, and full of peace,
Thy mercy, and thy gentleness? oh, Tamerlane!
What can I pay thee for this noble usage
But grateful praise? So Heav'n itself is paid.
Give peace, ye pow'rs above, peace to mankind;
Nor let my father wage unequal war,
Against the force of such united virtues. (p. 93)

Tamerlane and Ulysses


Her prayer is not immediately answered, however, and she is forced
into a conflict between her love for Axalla and her duty to her father.
Together Selima and Axalla approach Bajazet and through their love
attempt to "buy mankind a peace," if he will only let their marriage
"atone / The fatal breach" between him and Tamerlane (III.i, p. 117).
Bajazet answers, however, by making it a duty for Selima to hate Axalla
and all Christians as her father's "foes": "Hate shall be pious in thee"
(p. 119). At her father's sentence Selima complains, "Undone for ever! /
Now tyrant duty, art thou yet obey'd?" Axalla knows, nevertheless, that
she is incapable of fulfilling such a duty: he has said earlier,

Hate is not in thy nature: thy whole frame
Is harmony, without one jarring atom. (I, p. 98)

Accordingly, when Axalla is later condemned to death by Bajazet,
Selima begs for his life and wins a momentary reprieve. She prays,
"Some angel whisper to my anxious soul / What I shall do to save him"
(IV.ii, p. 138). It appears that Providence answers her prayer, for she
conceives the ruse whereby Axalla escapes. And her action must also
be interpreted as a love to mankind ("to buy mankind a peace"), for
she must know that Axalla will return with Tamerlane to defeat her
Yet she still attempts to save her father, too. Just as before she
would have maintained the balance between love and duty by remain-
ing constant to Axalla though separated from him-"ev'n duty shall not
force me to be false" (III.i, p. 115)-so now she insists that even though
she has disobeyed her father, she has not "betray'd" him:

I made the gentle, kind, Axalla swear,
Your life, your crown, and honour would be safe. (V, p. 147)

She is willing to seal this gesture of peace even with her life. Though she
will not sacrifice Axalla to duty, she will sacrifice herself:

Plunge the ponyard deep!
The life my father gave shall hear his summons,
And issue at the wound.

Her last words as he is about to kill her are, significantly, a prayer-"That
Heav'n may guard my royal father" (p. 148)-and a request for his final

The Trial of the Innocent


blessing. It seems no exaggeration to say that Bajazet's final rejection
of his own daughter is a rejection of the spiritual peace she represents.
Since Tamerlane insists that through his force "justly those above
assert their sway," Axalla's arrival in the nick of time implies a provi-
dential intervention and a final divine judgment between Christian
charity and inhuman cruelty. Selima's loving self-sacrifice has freed
Axalla to arouse Tamerlane's sword as the instrument of Heaven's jus-
tice. From Bajazet himself, then, comes the ultimate agent of peace.
Emblematically, as in The Ambitious Stepmother, Rowe has dramatized
the basic Christian theodicean principle that out of evil comes forth
good, and like Cleone's (and Christ's), Selima's sacrifice represents the
promise of that principle and the pledge of eternal reward and peace
for virtue and suffering innocence.

We have come a long way from William III, but then what greater
compliment than to compare him to one of God's greatest Champions;
to show him to be ultimately Christ-like and his enemy satanic; in short,
to place him in the perspective of an eternal pattern. Rowe's Tamerlane
goes far beyond the topical to the typological. It is not just an "alle-
gorical eulogy" but an image of the eternal victory of good over evil,
hot just by the old heroism of a "Scourge of God" but by the new her-
oism of Christ. The play is a justification of the ways of God-and es-
pecially the Son of God-to men.
In the introduction to the recent Twickenham edition of Pope's Homer,
Robert Fagles maintains that the two great early English translations
of the Odyssey-Chapman's and Pope's-are both theodicies." For
Chapman, Fagles refers us (p. ccxviii) to George DeForest Lord's ex-
cellent study, Homeric Renaissance: The Odyssey of George Chapman,
which argues that the "dynamic allegory" in Chapman's translation is
Ulysses' spiritual regeneration and that Ulysses' reunion with divine
grace (symbolized by Pallas Athena) enables him to triumph at his re-
turn to Ithaca (ch. iii). Thus the dominant theme in Chapman is "man's
relation with the gods" (p. 79), and Ulysses' suffering is justified as the
process of establishing the proper relationship.
That Pope's translation is a theodicy is obvious from the very open-
ing of the poem, when Jove, as Pope's note expresses it, "vindicates his
divinity" (Odyssey I.45n):

Tamerlane and Ulysses


Perverse Mankind! whose Wills, created free,
Charge all their woes on absolute Decree;
All to the dooming Gods their guilt translate,
And Follies are miscall'd the crimes of Fate. (1.41 ff)

Pope's note on Jove's entire speech is explicit: "This passage is . .
worthy of a Christian; it shews us that the Supreme Being is sovereignly
good; that he rewards the just, and punishes the unjust; and that the
folly of man, and not the decree of Heaven, is the cause of human ca-
lamity" (1.41n). As Fagles points out, through his sufferings and trials12
"Augustan Odysseus" has come to rely on that Supreme Being: "Finally,
full circle from the man who courted disaster with Polyphemus,
Odysseus is willingly resignedd to Providence,' and he now at his re-
turn "allies with Pallas to purify his land" (p. ccxiii).
In The Ulysses Theme, W. B. Stanford describes the traditional
treatments of Ulysses' return thus: "The third phase of Ulysses's career,
his return to Ithaca, as described in the Odyssey, provided little scope
for controversy in the post-Homeric tradition. .. He returns as a King
to claim his rightful kingdom and as a husband to rescue his wife from
insolent suitors. Poetic justice prevails. The good are rewarded: the bad
are punished. Ulysses is clearly the leader of the good party" (p. 193).
Poetic justice certainly prevails in the Augustan Odyssey. A note
adapted from Bishop Eustathius, the twelfth-century commentator on
Homer, explains that since Antinous is "the first in guilt, he is the first
in punishment": "This is an act of Poetical justice" (II.95n). And it is
poetic justice in the Renaissance-Restoration-Augustan sense-that is,
providential justice. From Penelope (XXIII.61 if), to the shades of the
suitors (XXIV.209), to Medon (XXIV.515, 517n), all attribute Ulysses'
victory to the intervention of Heaven. Laertes concludes, "almighty
Jove! / Heav'n rules us yet, and Gods there are above" (XXIV.409 f).
The poem ends, as it began, with the manifestation of Providence, for
Jove intervenes in Ulysses' final battle (XXIV.580 if).
Pope's Odyssey reflects the culmination of a whole tradition of
Christian influences, not the least of which was Chapman's Christian-
Platonic theodicy. Itself a collaboration, Pope's translation can be taken
as representative of the Augustan view of Homer's great epic: thus
Fagles' phrase "the Augustan Odyssey." It is not surprising, then, that
only a few years earlier, Pope's friend Nicholas Rowe,3 a man of the
same era and an heir to the same Christian and Homeric traditions,
would render the return of Ulysses as theodicy.


The Trial of the Innocent

Rowe's Ulysses (Works, II, 1 ff) begins with the question of Providence.
Telemachus' opening lines complain of his condition in the absence of
Ulysses and of justice:

0 MENTOR! urge no more my royal birth,
Urge not the honours of my race divine,
Call not to my remembrance what I am,
Born of Ulysses, and deriv'd from Jove;
For 'tis the curse of mighty minds opprest,
To think what their state is, and what it should be;
Impatient of their lot they reason fiercely,
And call the laws of Providence unequal. (I, p. 7)

Mentor counters this complaint by instructing Telemachus to restrain
his passions and "To wait the leisure of the righteous Gods" till one day
he will "bow, and bless thy fate, and own the Gods are just." Mentor
says of the suitors,

Doubt not but all their crimes, and all thy wrongs
Are judg'd by Nemesis and equal Jove;
Suffer the fools to laugh and loll secure,
This is their day,-but there is one behind
For vengeance and Ulysses. (p. 9)

The much-injured Ulysses himself, disguised as the beggar Aethon, ad-
vises Telemachus to bear his injuries and indignation (as he himself has
done) in expectation of "That day of recompence and righteous justice."
Upon her entrance Penelope renews the central question of the
play: How can the gods allow the virtuous to suffer for so long the ad-
versity of fate and the perversity of men? She reminds the suitors of
what she has suffered-"From Troy, the winds and seas, the Gods and
you"-all for her Ulysses (p. 14). She complains,

Are not my wrongs gone up to Heav'n against you?
Do they not stand before the throne of Jove;
And call incessant on his tardy vengeance? (p. 15)

In response to his threats against Telemachus, Penelope promises to
marry Eurymachus, but she regains her fortitude and attempts to kill

Tamerlane and Ulysses


herself as the only way both to save her honor and to escape witnessing
Telemachus' death. When she is disarmed by Aethon and constrained
by Mentor and Eumaeus, she sinks down in despair and complains bit-
terly against both gods and men:

Cast not thy eyes up to yon azure firmament,
Nor hope relief from thence, the Gods are pitiless,
Or busy in their heav'n, and thou not worth their care;
And oh! oh! cast 'em not on earth, to seek
For succour from the faithless race of man. (III, p. 37)

Penelope's complaint is the archetypal crisis of faith which is at
the heart of the problem of suffering innocence. Rowe balances her
doubt against the hope of others and finally against the testimony of
the gods themselves. As he has done with Telemachus, Mentor now in-
structs her to rely on Providence:

Far be that thought, to think you are forsaken;
Gods and good men shall make you still their care.

Eumaeus seconds him with a prediction of an imminent Doomsday,
"That good we daily pray'd for, but pray'd hopeless" (p. 38). Such a day
is the theodicean promise, and Mentor marks its advent:

And hark! vindictive Jove prepares his thunder,
Let the wrong-doer and the tyrant tremble!
The Gods are present with us.

At that moment the beleaguered faithful are granted a theophany.
Pallas descends to mark the return of justice, and the three pray for vin-
dication. As she reascends, Pallas' smile appears an "omen," and "to
the left auspicious rolls the thunder" to mark Ulysses' triumphal entry,
"magnificently armed and habited" (p. 39). The import is clear. Ulysses
is the agent of "vindictive Jove," his Champion, and justice is impend-
ing. The day has come.
As Penelope's (and later Telemachus') continual praising of the
gods attests (p. 39 f), Ulysses' return is indeed providential. He is under
the guidance of Jove, who provides him the "opportunity" to seize his
"right" and "empire" (p. 40). Moreover, as the continual references to
Ulysses as "God-like" insist, he is explicitly the representative of Jove.


The Trial of the Innocent

He tells Telemachus,

Justice instructs her sword to this right hand,
And I will see it faithfully employed. (p. 43)

The last description of the suitors, who have been portrayed throughout
as blasphemous, is the final justification of their fate: Ulysses prepares

invade yon' drunkards,
Immerst in riot, careless, and defying
The Gods as fables, start upon 'em sudden,
And send their guilty souls to howl below,
Upon the banks of Styx. (p. 44)

The return of Ulysses proves that the gods are anything but "fables."
By Telemachus' "fatal error," however (V, p. 56), Ulysses' cause is
nearly lost and Providence nearly thwarted (so it would seem). Antinous
seizes Penelope and bids Ulysses "In vain to Pallas and to Jove com-
plain" (IV, p. 56). Indeed, Eumaeus does complain, and even Mentor
expects only death, "That last relief, that refuge of despair" (V, p. 56 f).
In contrast, Ulysses eschews despair and utters the supreme theodicean
statement of the play:

To doubt if there be justice with the Gods,
Or if they care for ought below, were impious.
Oft have I tried, and ever found 'em faithful,
In all the various perils of my life,
In battles, in the midst of flaming Troy,
In stormy seas, in those dread regions where
Swarthy Cimmerians have their dark abode,
Divided from this world, and borderers on hell;
Ev'n there the providence of Jove was with me,
Defended, chear'd, and bore me thro' the danger;
Nor is his pow'r, nor is my virtue less,
That I should fear this rude tumultuous herd. (p. 63)

Pallas' assistance throughout the Odyssey, then, stands as the proof of
the care and the justice of Providence, Which must be trusted again
at this crisis.

Tamerlane and Ulysses


Confronting the rebellious Antinous, Ulysses actually goes so far as
to disdain the help of the gods (p. 64). But Antinous spitefully grants
him divine assistance: "Invoke those friendly Gods whose care thou
art, / And let them save thee" (p. 65). Ulysses rightly brands him a "de-
fier of the Gods" and attacks. Ulysses' boast is not justified, however,
for he is not "alone sufficient" to defeat Antinous, and the gods must
help. It is not Ulysses but Telemachus who wins the day. Ulysses inter-
prets the significance of Telemachus' arrival:

Celestial Pow'rs! ye guardians of the just!
This wond'rous work is yours, and yours be all the praise.

The truth of this interpretation is witnessed even by Antinous: "Thou
and thy Gods at last have got the better" (p. 66). The point is that the
gods do care and that man must rely on them for justice. The overall
design of the play unmistakably images a providential universe.

Penelope's and Ulysses' final comments are even more instructive of
the theodicean argument of the play. She runs to Ulysses and exults,

At length the Gods have prov'd us to the utmost,
Are satisfied with what we have endur'd,
And never will afflict nor part us more.

Similarly, Ulysses says to Telemachus,

'Tis true the gracious Gods are kind at last,
And well reward me here for all my sorrows past. (p. 67)

Thus Providence does grant Ulysses and Penelope an earthly reward
for their virtue-but not before they have endured their trial of suffer-
ing. The pattern is basically the same as in The Ambitious Stepmother
and Tamerlane-trial and providential judgment. Yet Rowe's Ulysses
does not focus on the trial of the central hero. Ulysses has already been
tried in the half of the Odyssey not represented but briefly alluded to
in his remarks at his reunion with Penelope and in his references to his
sufferings throughout. Instead the play focuses on his vengeance and
vindication, in the process of which he himself, as the representative
of justice, tries others, especially Penelope and Telemachus. In the

The Trial of the Innocent


Odyssey, Minerva praises Ulysses for his prudence in not, as soon as he
reaches Ithaca, rushing home to wife and son as other men would have

Not thus Ulysses; he decrees to prove
His subjects faith, and Queen's suspected love. (XIII.383 f)

Unlike Homer, Rowe does not stress the actual testing of the suitors for
any redeeming virtues, although he does portray Aethon as a railer who
attempts in vain to goad the suitors to reform. Rowe does, however,
stress the trial of Ulysses' Queen and then of his son, and the play can
be roughly divided accordingly.
The Greek for Pope's "to prove / His . Queen's suspected love"
is oaiq ao6ov 7repipaeat (Od. XIII.336, Loeb). With the personal geni-
tive, the verb (the Ionic future infinitive form of 7etepao) means to make
trial of a person, in this case Ulysses' spouse. Perhaps taking his cue from
this line,14 Rowe has expanded the metaphor into a full-fledged and
severe trial for Penelope. Having witnessed Penelope's rebuff to the
suitors, Aethon extolls her exemplary virtue, which has already under-
gone twenty years of trial: "0 matchless proof of faith and love un-
chang'd" (I, p. 16). At this point he is convinced of her truth. There is
no "suspected love" here. Yet Eurymachus raises a doubt, and Ulysses
resolves that Penelope "must be try'd" (p. 19).
Penelope's trial is that of Racine's Andromaque: a wife's honor
versus a mother's love.' In Racine's play, Andromaque must agree to
marry Achilles' son Pyrrhus or else Hector's and her son Astyanax will
be sent with Oreste back to the Greeks to be killed. To save her son she
finally yields, but plans to kill herself once his safety is assured "par des
noeuds immortels," the marriage bonds (vs. 1092). She is reprieved by
Pyrrhus' death. In Rowe's play, Penelope is forced to the same ex-
tremity. She passes the test of solicitation and indignantly rebukes
Aethon's pandering, but Eurymachus abandons persuasion and threat-
ens to kill Telemachus. Aethon comments aside, "That stroke was home
-now, virtue, hold thy own" (II, p. 29), and Penelope demands such
strictness from herself (p. 31). But like Andromaque's, her trial is even
more demanding than her own death, and "A mother's mourning for
her only son" causes her to yield. She is immediately aware of the cost,
and pathetically, she exits murmuring that she gave her son a second
birth "at a price too great" (p. 33).
Despite Mentor's insistence on the "unequal terms" under which

Tamerlane and Ulysses


Penelope has struggled, Aethon concludes that her virtue is already
abandonedd, lost and gone" and that she is now a "Cursed object" (III, p.
34 f). Yet Eumaeus proves to be right: her compliance was only "one
unheeded word, / Forc'd from her in the bitterest pangs of sorrow" (p.
35). The distraught Penelope is no longer hesitant. Unlike Andromaque,
she has no perfect solution to save both her honor and her son. For the
model of fidelity, the marriage itself would be a pollution. There is no
way out. As Ulysses has demanded (p. 34), since she cannot conquer,
she chooses to die-to preserve her virtue and to "shield" herself from
the piteous spectacle of Telemachus' murder (p. 36 f). Her trial is over,
and calling himself a triflerr," Ulysses stays her hand. The ensuing the-
ophany is a sign that the disconsolate Penelope has been more than
sufficiently proved; indeed, as her pitiful, desperate complaint indicates,
she has reached the limits of human endurance. At last "vindictive Jove"
is ready to reward and punish. Only the trial of Telemachus remains.'"
Telemachus, "whose temper / Is open as the day, and unsuspect-
ing" (I, p. 10), is led by the false Antinous to forsake "The fierceness,
rage, and pride of youth" that suit his condition and to become "the
love-sick youth [that] dotes ev'n to death / Upon the Samian Princess"
(II, p. 22). So Telemachus in his naivety has allowed himself to be dis-
tracted from the primary business at hand-the assumption of his role as
Ulysses' son in the chaotic state of Ithaca. We recall his opening com-
plaint to Mentor:

Call not to my remembrance what I am,
Born of Ulysses, and deriv'd from Jove;
For 'tis the curse of mighty minds opprest,
To think what their state is, and what it should be.

Moreover, Telemachus' love leads him rash and overhasty into an illicit
marriage, for Semanthe is a virgin dedicated to Diana-thus her fits and
starts during and after the ceremony (II, p. 23 if). Her portentous dream,
wherein Diana condemns her marriage and her father's corpse takes
Telemachus' place, is expressive of Semanthe's guilt and prophetic of
the fate of the marriage. Semanthe and Telemachus do not heed the
dream, however. He tells her not to "dread the anger of the awful Gods,"
since she is "Safe" in her "native unoffending innocence" (p. 25). Yet
a bit like Adam and Eve, they steal away from the "watchful eye" of
Aethon, who recognizes their flirtation with "folly" (p. 26) and drives
home the import of their actions:


The Trial of the Innocent

This Samian King is happy in his arts:
His daughter, vow'd a virgin to Diana,
Is brought to play the wanton here at Ithaca:
No matter for religion; let the Gods
Look to their rites themselves.

When he later reveals himself to Telemachus, Ulysses makes "harsh
mention" of his love to remind him of what he owes to "honour" (III,
p. 42). Telemachus is boldly assertive and would be tried in battle, but
Ulysses has a greater trial for him: to defend his mother against
Semanthe's father. When he warns Telemachus, "With powerful oppo-
sition shalt thou strive" (p. 44), the audience is aware, as Ulysses him-
self must be, that the struggle will be not only against the power of
Eurymachus but also against the power of Telemachus' love for
As he kneels to kiss his father's sword, like Corneille's Rodrigue,
Telemachus responds to his charge by wagering what the French would
call his gloire:

I swear-And may my lot in future fame
Be good or evil but as I perform it.

Yet again like Rodrigue, Telemachus hesitates momentarily. His wed-
ding night, which he has promised to Semanthe and to love (II, p. 26),
he gives over only grudgingly to honor (IV, p. 46). From the first sight of
Eurymachus he attempts to avoid the fatal confrontation to which he
has pledged himself. Finally, in the climax of the problem of his identity
and his "nature," Telemachus becomes what his heritage has destined
him to be:

Nay then 'tis time to speak like what I am,
And tell you, Sir, you must not, nor you shall not [pass]. (p. 48)

He dispels the last hesitation and becomes the champion not only of
his mother's honor but also of "the Gods" themselves (p. 49). As he kills
Eurymachus, he reignites the "heav'nly fire" that had nearly grown "ex-
tinct within" him.
Telemachus' trial is by no means over, however. Like Chimene,
Semanthe adopts the code of honor that has destroyed her father and
rejects love, along with its concomitant mercy and forgiveness, in favor

Tamerlane and Ulysses


of "blood, destruction and revenge" (p. 53). As she leaves cursing those
who would still believe in love, Telemachus moans,

Now arm thee for the conflict, oh my soul,
And see how thou canst bear Semanthe's loss. (p. 54)

The burden is too great to bear. He is immediately overwhelmed by
the thought that his father's "cruel policy" has been responsible for his
loss, and he rushes, desperately "Careless of all," into battle to be killed
(p. 55). At the same moment, he breaks his vow to his father and there-
by fails his test after all-a failure with consequences far more serious
than the loss of Semanthe. For he leaves Penelope unattended, allowing
her to be seized and carried off to a citadel where she appears to be des-
tined the object of another Trojan War: "Troy and Hector are reviv'd
again" (p. 56).

Telemachus has failed not only because of his despondency but because
he has yielded his secrets to a false friend, Antinous. At the beginning
of the play, Aethon instructs the distraught Telemachus (whom he sig-
nificantly calls his "son") how to patiently await the "day of recompence
and righteous justice":

Learn thou, my son, the cruel arts of courts;
Learn to dissemble wrongs, to smile at injuries,
And suffer crimes, thou want'st the power to punish;
Be easy, affable, familiar, friendly,
Search, and know all mankind's mysterious ways,
But trust the secret of thy soul to none. (I, p. 9)

Aethon is, of course, the perfect embodiment of the lesson he gives, for
he is the disguised Ulysses, famous for his worldly wisdom, stealth, and
craftiness. Throughout the play, moreover, and throughout the entire
Odyssean tradition, secrecy is established as a primary virtue, and both
of Telemachus' parents are its exemplars. As mentioned earlier, Minerva
in the epic praises Ulysses for his secrecy at his return, without which
he would have been destroyed by the suitors. He uses his secrecy to test
his followers, the suitors, and his wife, and to await his divinely occa-
sioned opportunity for vindication. In the meantime, as he tries Pene-
lope in the play, he suffers the "racking, racking, pain of secret thought"

The Trial of the Innocent


(II, p. 31). Secrecy has been equally important to Penelope. Through
"The riddle of her mystic web" (I, p. 11)-through what Polydamas the
suitor calls "the secret malice of the night" which "Undid the labours
of the former day"-she fooled the suitors for four years. For twenty
years she has preservedd" the "heav'nly train" of marital virtues in her
"secret soul" (II, p. 31). Now, even at the moment of ecstatic joy at
Ulysses' return, she must yield to Mentor's call for secrecy and aban-
don her lord again for a while: Mentor says,

Think where you are, what eyes malicious chance
May bring to pry into the happy secret,
Untimely to disclose the fatal birth,
And rashly bring it immature to light. (III, p. 40)

Howbeit unwittingly, Telemachus does exactly what Mentor has
feared, precisely because he does not heed Aethon's advice. Beseeching
him to "heal" the "cares" that the son of Ulysses cannot escape (I, p. 10),
Telemachus trusts Antinous with the "dear secret" of his soul-his love
for Semanthe (p. 9)-and allows himself to be seduced into a secret and
illicit marriage with her. Ironically, he hides his marriage from Aethon,
who is in secret both his father and, as Ulysses makes clear at their re-
union (III, p. 41), his truest friend. While the newlyweds steal away
from his watchful eye, Aethon comments,

Ha! what so close? how cautious to avoid me!
As who should say, old man you are too wise,
What has my youth to do with your instructions. (II, p. 26)

Unaware of the marriage which makes the trial even more severe,
Ulysses prepares to teach Telemachus a lesson. With grave irony, he
promises Eurymachus for his secret marriage with Penelope a priest
"try'd in these pious secrets" and "sworn to secrecy," one who is his
"friend of ancient date" and "now in Ithaca" (II, p. 34)-meaning, of
course, himself! But he sends instead Telemachus, who, if he is not
actually sworn to secrecy by Ulysses, at least has been instructed in it
by Aethon.
Not only does Telemachus reveal the secret of his soul to his false
friend, but he reveals his father's "fatal secret" too (IV, p. 45): Antinous

Tamerlane and Ulysses


The King returned? so long conceal'd in Ithaca?
Aethon the King? What words can speak my wonder?

This is the "fatal secret" upon which depends not only Telemachus'
own life but that of all his "royal race." For Telemachus reveals that
which the secret workings of his parents are parallel to, guided by, and,
in effect, representative of-the secret workings of Providence Itself:

Yes, my Antinous, 'tis most amazing,
'Tis all the mighty working of the Gods,
Unsearchable and dark to human eyes.

Like Milton's Samson, Telemachus has "profan'd / The mystery of
God" by his "Shameful garrulity.""7 Telemachus' phrase "the fatal
secret" links Mentor's image of the providential "fatal birth" with his
later naming of Telemachus' "fatal error." By rashly bringing the design
of Providence "immature to light," Telemachus loses much more than
Semanthe: he loses the "prize" for which Ulysses has yearned in his
wanderings and has fought now at home (V, p. 56). Since the beginning
of the Trojan War, Penelope has remained the very model of virtue in
a world replete with strife. Just as order is about to be restored, Tele-
machus allows the original act of rape to be repeated, and the world
slips again into chaos and despair.
Telemachus' despair is the greatest. In traditional Jobish fashion,
he curses the day he was born (V, p. 59). Although he accepts the di-
vine "justice" of his punishment (p. 60), he seeks to be annihilated, and
he begs Semanthe to "Complete th'imperfect vengeance of the Gods."
Semanthe refuses, however, and reverses her earlier repudiation of
mercy for revenge. Despite the "cruel" (read retributive) decree of the
gods that they must part forever (p. 62), Semanthe, in implied contrast
to Corneille's Chimene, sacrifices her pride and sense of honor for "One
last, one guilty proof" of love. Like Ulysses, keeping the secret of her
soul and practicing "just deceit" (p. 66), she accuses Antinous of killing
her father and turns her countrymen upon him, with Telemachus at
their head. Thus her action not only redeems Telemachus from his des-
perate sloth but also redeems the world from his "fatal error," from a
new Trojan War, and it allows the "fatal birth" of Providence to be

The Trial of the Innocent


brought mature to light. As Mentor says, "Heav'n has approved the
fraud of fond affection"-

A turn so happy, and so unexpected,
None but those over-ruling pow'rs who caus'd it,
Could have foreseen.

And finally, since the ultimate "safety" results from Semanthe's love
and not from Ulysses' righteous vengeance, it can be seen that once
again Rowe, like Milton, asserts the New Testament heroism of love
and sacrifice as superior to the ancient heroism of revenge and force
of arms. Ulysses' justice is implemented and superseded by Semanthe's
mercy. And once again in Rowe, the daughter of a pernicious villain
saves the world: out of evil comes forth good.

Amidst the "wonder" and the "joy" at the victory made possible by
Semanthe's love and at the end of suffering for Ulysses and Penelope
enters the penitent Telemachus. He throws himself at his father's feet:

Here let me kneel, and with my tears atone
The rash offences of my heedless youth.
Here offer the first trophies of my sword,
And once more hail my father King of Ithaca. (p. 66 f)

These first trophies being Eurymachus and Antinous, his action marks
both his initiation into manhood and the atonement of his "fatal error."
He has now resumed his proper relationship to his "race divine"-to
both Ulysses and Jove-and is reintegrated into the order which they
represent. Yet Telemachus still complains to his father (and who would
not say justifiably so?):

Joy like the cheerful morning dawns on all,
And none but your unhappy son shall mourn.

Ulysses' only answer is to explain what it means to be a man:

Tamerlane and Ulysses


The Trial of the Innocent

Like thee the pangs of parting love I've known,
My heart like thine has bled-But oh! my son,
Sigh not nor of the common lot complain,
Thou that art born a man, art born to pain;
For proof, behold my tedious twenty years
All spent in toil, and exercis'd in cares.

Telemachus himself has spoken earlier of "all those miseries mankind is
born to" (IV, p. 52), and now he is fully aware that, along with the
legacy of semidivinity (his "race divine"), he-like everyman-inherits
a legacy of suffering. It is the curse of all men "To think what their state
is, and what it should be." Nevertheless, the design of the play insists
that the "laws of Providence" are not "unequal." Using his own life as
an example, Ulysses can declare to Telemachus, 'Tis true the gracious
Gods are kind at last." Just as the trial of suffering is passed on from gen-
eration to generation, so also is its theodicean solution: absolute trust
in Divine Providence, Which vindicates at last. Armed with this faith,
Telemachus must go forth on his own odyssey of toil and care, of
suffering and trial, keeping the secret of his soul till his own "day of rec-
ompence" arrive. For he, like each of us, is the new Ulysses.


Ulysses is a far better play than not only The Ambitious Stepmother and
Tamerlane but also most of the English classical plays of this neoclas-
sical age. Many were attempted but few are choice: Dryden's All for
Love and Cleomenes, and Lee's The Rival Queens and Lucius Junius
Brutus. In my opinion, Rowe's play is inferior to Dryden's but at least
equal to Lee's. Ulysses is a good play because Rowe captures something
of the aura of his sources in Homer, Corneille, and Racine and because
his characters are not the usual one-dimensional heroes and villains.
His Ulysses is not the all-perfect champion (Christian or Stoic); he is
great in virtue and in soul but a bit too suspicious, too vindictive, a
triflerr" with virtue, even a boaster of too much self-reliance at the end.
Penelope is magnificent in both her indignant disdain and her impa-
tient complaint. Semanthe is a second-rate Chimene but nevertheless
approaches Cornelian quality in her rejection of Telemachus and love
in Act IV and in her resignation and redemptive love in Act V. Tele-
machus is also a complex hero, and Rowe portrays with force and credi-


ability both his triumph over Eurymachus and his piteous plight. Finally,
Eurymachus is far superior to the usual Restoration villain, the melo-
dramatic Machiavel."8 He is the noblest of the suitors and is even gra-
cious and courtly in his early wooing of Penelope. Though his designs
are evil, he achieves heroic stature enough to be the analogue of the
father of Chimene.
Lee and Otway at their best may equal or surpass Rowe's charac-
terization here (Addison does not even come close), but Rowe is supe-
rior to them in his control of language. James R. Sutherland has said,
"No living Englishman could write blank verse more beautifully than
Mr. Rowe" (Three Plays, p. 27). Admittedly, in his earlier plays and
even in this one, Rowe often strains to achieve heroic and passionate
diction, and his greatest weakness lies in the self-conscious ejaculations
and tropes of his amorous dialogues; but the same is true of Lee, Otway,
and Addison. In Ulysses, however, Rowe captures and controls the lan-
guage of the higher passions of indignation and disdain as never before
in his tragedies of suffering innocence (but see The Fair Penitent). Con-
trast Artemisa's stiff and stilted speech, "Be fix'd, my soul" (Works,
I, 14), with Penelope's smoother, more natural yet more powerful an-
swers to the suitors in Act I. In the former Rowe strains for a metaphor
and then contorts it from "active sparks" of "ethereal energy" to "a
busy restless principle" with an "appetite" that is "clogged" by the
"dull mass" of a woman's body; in the latter Rowe reaches for no meta-
phor but relies simply on the concrete details of Penelope's suffering,
the suitor's riot and violence, and the slaughter of them all which is the
price to win her (p. 14 ff).
Rowe is at his best in the rhetoric of complaint-not amorous but
metaphysical. Observe his progress in these passages:

Artaxerxes. 'Tis past, 'tis past; [Lying down]
And all those fires that lighted up my soul,
Glory and bright ambition languish now,
And leave me dark and gloomy as the grave.
Oh thou soft dying sweetness!-shall I rage
And curse myself? Curse ev'n the Gods?-Oh no:
I am the slave of fate, and bow beneath
The load that presses me; am sunk to earth,
And ne'er shall rise again: here will I sit
And gaze till I am nothing. (Works, I, 74)

Tamerlane and Ulysses


Arpasia. A little longer yet, be strong, my heart,
A little longer let the busy spirits
Keep on their cheerful round.-It wo'not be;
Love, sorrow, and the sting of vile reproach,
Succeeding one another in their course,
Like drops of eating water on the marble,
At length have worn my boasted courage down:
I will indulge the woman in my soul,
And give a loose to tears and to impatience;
Death is at last my due, and I will have it. (Works, I, 134 f)

Penelope. Here sit thee down then, humbly in the dust,
Here sit, a poor forlorn, abandoned woman;
Cast not thy eyes up to yon azure firmament,
Nor hope relief from thence, the Gods are pitiless,
Or busy in their heav'n and thou not worth their care;
And oh! oh! cast 'em not on earth, to seek
For succour from the faithless race of man;
But as thou art forsaken and alone,
Hope not for help, where there is none to help thee,
But think-'tis desolation all about thee. (Works, II, 37)

The second seems to me better than the first, partly because its opening
lines capture something of the rhythms of its source in the opening lines
of Samson Agonistes, and partly because its metaphor of "drops of
eating water on the marble" seems less strained than the fires and loads
of the first. Metrically, the passages are fairly regular, but the feminine
endings of the second, rather than weakening the passage, as critics so
often assert, appropriately reflect the weakening of the speaker. The
third passage seems to me better than the others, however, precisely
because of its lack of imagery and its metrical irregularity. Here Rowe
does not strain for the sublime trope. He lets the plain language of des-
pair do its own work and lets the emotion spill out into alexandrines
to create the effect of loss of control in still-controlled but varied
rhythms. The much more pervasive and yet not obtrusive alliteration
and assonance lend a musical resonance to the passage lacking in the
others. Even the expletives "oh! oh!" are functional, as Penelope looks
at the men who she feels have betrayed her and now hold her on either
side. Finally, the repetitive feminine ending "thee" in the last two lines

The Trial of the Innocent


Tamerlane and Ulysses

serves the same function as the feminine endings of the second passage-
to reflect a weakening-but serves it better, I think, in the repetition
itself, which gives the illusion of a polysyllabic rhyme and has some-
thing of the effect of Robert Frost's famous repetition in the last lines
of "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"-a surrendering, a letting
Penelope's complaint is one of the best in Restoration tragedy and
Rowe's best writing up to that time. For both pathos and control it sur-
passes the uncontrolled tirades of Lee and Otway and the cold accents
of Addison. Only the complaints of some of Dryden's heroes are better.
And what makes Rowe's complaint so good, I think, is primarily his dis-
carding of the technique of Lee and Otway-the grasp for the sublime,
shocking, or sensational image. Rowe is generally at his best when he
eschews the local metaphor and relies for imagistic power on the ac-
cumulation of unobtrusive motifs, like peace in Tamerlane, secrecy here
in Ulysses, and bread and bequest later in Jane Shore and Lady Jane
Gray, respectively.
Besides its better language, what finally makes Ulysses Rowe's best
dramatic theodicy to that date is the structure. He handles exposition
and scene variation much better, and instead of finishing his subplot
at the end of the fourth act, as he does in the two earlier plays, here he
dovetails it with the main at the last moment to create tight structural
unity and a blend of form and theme. Emerging from the subplot, so to
speak, Telemachus comes forth to utter his last complaint in the midst
of triumph, adding a poignancy that is absent from the vain threats and
haughty exits of Artemisa and Bajazet. The familiar closing assertion
that the gods are just at last is balanced nicely against the suffering
which is man's "common lot." By sustaining that tension to the end,
Rowe achieves the least contrived and most aesthetically convincing
yet of his justifications of the ways of God to men.



1. See Landon C. Burns, Jr., ed., Tamnrlanc, a Tragedy, p. 6 ff, to which I am in-
debted throughout this opening section.
2. For the most educated guesses, see James R. Sutherland, ed., Three Plays, by
Nicholas Rowe, p. 339; Willard Thorp, "A Key to Rowe's Tamerlane," p. 124 ff; and
Donald B. Clark, "Nicholas Rowe," p. 65 and n.
3. Loftis exaggerates the case, I think. To say that the play represents Whig wish-
fulfillment or "war-inspired Francophobia" seems an instance of the intentional fallacy.
Also, Rowe is not so much of a Whig constitutionalist or antiabsolutist to deny the "right
divine" of kings (Prologue, p. 83; see also I, p. 95).
4. For similar contemporary analogies, see Sir Richard Steele, The Christian Hero,
who compares Louis XIV to a satanic "Foe" and William III to a "Glorious instrument
of Providence" sent for Louis' destruction (p. 82 ff); and Jonathan Swift, "Ode to the King
on his Irish Expedition and the Success of his Arms in General," in The Poems of Jonathan
Swift, ed. Harold Williams, I, 4 ff, who compares William to Tamerlane and Louis to a
"Restless Tyrant" (not explicitly Bajazet, but implicitly so),

Sent by just Heaven to threaten Earth
With War, and Pestilence, and Dearth. (st. 7)

5. Clark, p. 147. As Clark shows, Rowe had a copy of this edition in his library.
See A Catalogue of the Library of N. Rowe, fol. 73.
6. For a reflection of this favorable portrayal contemporary to Rowe, see Sir
William Temple, "Of Heroic Virtue," in Five Miscellaneous Essays, ed. Monk, p. 135 ff.
Cf. Clark, "Source and Characterization," p. 146, and Alfred Schwarz, "The Literary
Career of Nicholas Rowe," p. 97 f. See Rowe's Catalogue, oct. 377, for an edition of
Temple's Miscellanies, Second Part (1690), which contained Temple's essay.
7. See especially Irving Ribner, The English History Play in the Age of Shakespeare,
ch. iv, and C. A. Patrides, The Phoenix and the Ladder, passim.
8. Despair was traditionally associated with sloth, with acedia and tristitia. See
especially Kilbee C. Brittain, "The Sin of Despair in Renaissance English Literature,"
passim, and D. C. Allen, The Harmonious Vision, p. 76.
9. The influence of Milton on Rowe has been suggested throughout, as has that
of the Book of Job. Whiting has already shown explicit references to Milton, and explicit
references to Job and to Plato can be found in Jane Shore and Lady Jane Gray, respec-
tively (see chs. iii, v). In other words, I am not trying to suggest a vague tradition behind
Rowe but a clear one, to which his works are implicitly-if not explicitly-related.
10. Flora H. Loughead, Dictionary of Given Names with Origins and Meanings.
Whether Rowe knew the meaning of the word is undeterminable, and ultimately in-
consequential, since the imagery he surrounds Selima with is certainly that of peace.
However, the sale catalogue of his library (q.v.), with its numerous entries of books deal-
ing with the Near East, suggests that he had more than a superficial knowledge of the
culture and history of that region.
11. Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, ed. Maynard Mack et al., vols. VII-X of The
Twickenham Edition of the Poems of Alexander Pope, VII, cxciii ff, ccxviii. Cf. George
Dimock, "Crime and Punishment in the Odyssey," who shows that the original is, of
course, a theodicy as well.

The Trial of the Innocent


Tamerlane and Ulysses

12. Pope uses the theodicean metaphor of trial to explain suffering innocence:
"The age was not enlightened enough to know that calamity is often a proof of virtue,
and a tryal not a punishment" (XIX.434n). Such suffering also reinforces our "certain
hopes of a future state," a "time of retribution" which "will amply recompense the good
man for all his calamities, or as Milton expresses, Will justify the ways of God to men"
13. For their friendship, see Norman Ault, New Light on Pope, p. 128 ff. Also, it
appears that before he died Rowe made some contribution, however small, to Pope's
Homer: see Pope's acknowledgment in Twickenham Edition, VII, 23, and X, 443.
14. Stanford suggests that the source of Rowe's testing of Penelope is Teiresias'
advice to Ulysses "to offer Penelope to some rich adulterer"-presumably as a trial (ch.
ix, n. 12). Obviously, Rowe is merely expanding what is already in Homer, but the ex-
pansion was a brilliant stroke for the dramatic conflict of the play.
15. Jean Racine, Andromaque (1667), in CEuvres de J. Racine, ed. Paul Mesnard,
I, 1 ff. Cf. Landon C. Burns, Jr., "The Tragedies of Nicholas Rowe," p. 170, who also sees
a relationship between Penelope and Andromaque. The popularity of Racine's play in
England can be inferred from the fact that it was translated for the English stage twice:
anonymously as Andromache in 1675, and by Ambrose Philips as The Distrest Mother in
1712, the latter being "by all odds the most popular and successful translation of a French
tragedy ever produced," according to Dorothea (Canfield) Fisher, Corneille and Racine
in England, p. 140. Of course, Rowe's Ulysses predates Philips' play, but John Crowne
wrote in the Preface to Andromache that even then Racine's play was "much esteemed in
France and here, too, by some English, who are admirers of the French Wit" (as quoted in
Fisher, p. 89). Certainly Rowe was a direct descendant of those admirers, as is attested
by the catalogue of his library (q.v.) with its large number of French works, and by his
later work in editing, translating, and even contributing to the works of Boileau, Quillet,
and La Bruyere. Besides the remarkable similarity in tragic conflict, however, the
strongest implication that Rowe was imitating Racine's play lies, paradoxically, in the
fact that the trial of Telemachus is remarkably similar to that of Corneille's Rodrigue in
Le Cid (see Donald B. Clark, "Nicholas Rowe," p. 145 ff, who clearly establishes the re-
lationship between the two plays through a series of parallels). It appears that Rowe
attempted to incorporate into his adaptation of one of the world's greatest classical epics
the major conflicts in two of France's greatest classical tragedies.
16. Rowe's addition of the trial of Telemachus to the story of Ulysses' return can
probably be attributed, at least in part, to the amazing popularity of Franqois de la
Mothe-Fenelon's Les Aventures de TMlemaque, fils d'Ulysse (1699), which, by the time
Rowe wrote Ulysses, had been published at least five times in French (see Alexander
Cioranescu, Bibliographie de la littbrature franqaise du dix-septikme sibcle, II, s.v.
Fenelon) and at least four times in English translation (see The Catalogue of the British
Museum). Rowe certainly would have found Fenelon's didacticism agreeable, particularly
his insistence throughout on the primacy of trust in Providence. And, if Rowe borrowed
anything directly from him beyond the interest in Telemachus, it was probably the theme
of the education of this neo-Ulysses, the heir not only to Ulysses' throne but also to the
Odyssean pattern of suffering which represents the trial of virtue and faith. Moreover,
Fenelon involved Telemachus in two love-affairs: an illicit one with Eucharis, one of
Calypso's nymphs, which threatens his manhood and his soul (Book VI); and a licit one
with Antiope, which he must defer, however, until his father's business is accomplished
(Book XVII). Perhaps these affairs suggested to Rowe Telemachus' affair with Semanthe.
17. SA 377 f, 491. Cf. Anne Davidson Ferry, Milton and the Miltonic Dryden,
pt. 2, ch. i, for a very fine analysis of the theme of secrecy in Samson Agonistes, an analysis
to which I am indebted throughout this section. Perhaps Rowe himself, influenced so


76 The Trial of the Innocent

much by Milton in his earlier plays, Tamerlane (see above) and The Fair Penitent (see
ch. iv), was indebted to Samson Agonistes, as well as to The Odyssey, for this theme.
18. See Mark D. Horne, "The Villain in Restoration Tragedy," for an interesting
study of the triteness of this figure, which becomes almost a pure abstraction.

Ill Protagonist as


The Royal Convert and

Lady Jane Gray

N ROWE's Tamerlane we have seen that the "trial" of the
Christians, Moneses and Arpasia, culminates in their
death. Arpasia's prayer to the "holy martyrs," along
with Moneses' faith in the certainty of an afterlife, places
their suffering in the context of Christian martyrdom.
Though they are not persecuted primarily for their religion (albeit
Bajazet hates Christians), their story demonstrates that even in the face
of torture and death the Christian dares meet his trial with trust in
Providence. While the Arpasia-Moneses episode does not dominate
Tamerlane, in The Royal Convert (1707) and Lady Jane Gray (1715)
Rowe concentrates on the theme of Christian martyrdom as the extreme
trial of the innocent-as the trial of the saint. Although the victims in
The Royal Convert are reprieved at the last moment, the particular na-
ture of their suffering-not only for their love but also for their faith-
links the tragedy with Lady Jane Gray, and both can justly be called
martyr plays. Significantly, though the historical backgrounds for both
plays can be found in several sources, those same backgrounds are
thoroughly treated in the great Protestant martyrology of the English
Renaissance, John Foxe's Book of Martyrs, of which Rowe possessed a
copy.'* That Rowe used Foxe as one of his sources is probable-but im-
possible to prove. What is more important is that the periods of history
whence Rowe drew these plays-the Saxon conquest of Christian Britain
and the English Reformation-were periods of religious persecution
and martyrdom. Moreover, though the protagonists of The Royal Con-
vert are fictional characters, Lady Jane Gray was in fact one of Protes-
tant England's most illustrious martyrs.
*Notes to this chapter begin on page 105.

It is instructive, then, to view these plays in the light of the Re-
naissance concept of the function of hagiography. Foxe prefixed to the
Book of Martyrs an essay entitled, "The Utility of this Story," in which
he delineates that function, the primary aspect of which is the follow-
ing: if men profit by reading "prophane" history, Foxe argues, "how
much more then is it meet for Christians to conserve in remembrance
the Lives, Acts, and Doings, not of bloody Warriors, but of mild and
constant Martyrs of Christ, which serve not so much to delight the ear,
as to garnish the life, to frame it with examples of great profit, and to
encourage men to all kind of Christian godliness? As first, by reading
thereof we may learn a lively testimony of Gods mighty working in the
life of man, contrary to the opinion of Atheists, and all the whole Nest of
Epicures. For like as one said of Harpalus in times past, that his doings
gave a lively testimony against God, because he being so wicked a man,
escaped so long unpunished; so contrariwise in these men we have a
much more assured and plain witness of God, both in whose Lives and
Deaths appeared such manifest Declarations of Gods divine working"
(sig. a5r).
Thus, according to Foxe, the primary function of hagiography is
theodicean: to teach the workings of Providence and to answer thereby
the problem of suffering innocence, raised with new urgency in this
troublesome age of renascence and reformation by the doubting atheists
and neo-Epicureans. In Tudor Books of Saints and Martyrs, Helen C.
White quotes Eusebius, the first great Church historian and hagi-
ographer, as saying that the events in his Ecclesiastical History evince
" 'a vindication of the divine Word, in whom the faith of Christians
centers' (p. 12). According to White, all the martyr stories told in the
Middle Ages were seen as episodes in "the divine epic" (p. 17); in Foxe's
book, however, an even greater emphasis is put on Providence, es-
pecially in miraculous occurrences (p. 115). Most of Foxe's marvels, she
continues, are "miracles of Providence" and of "retribution" (p. 165):
"The sixteenth-century attack on the miraculous spared retribution,
and many who scoffed at the happy chances of the Golden Legend
[Caxton's extremely popular translation of Jacobus de Voragine's colos-
sal medieval martyrology, Legenda Aurea] would have a grim satis-
faction in Providence's avenging of innocent blood and bringing the
persecutors of the saints to poetic justice" (p. 115). White's terms are
already quite familiar to us in our study of Rowe and the Christian
tragedy of suffering innocence.
The way that the lessons of martyrologies are to be taught, accord-

The Trial of the Innocent


The Royal Convert and Lady Jane Gray

ing to Foxe, is by the "example" of the martyrs, who themselves did
the "dance" of Christ (sig. a5r). The same, of course, is true of martyr
plays from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance. In the Restora-
tion, the Preface to John Dryden's Tyrannick Love, or The Royal Martyr
(acted 1669), reiterates the concept of teaching "the precepts of our
religion" by example, by dramatic representations of "patterns of
piety": "By the harmony of words we [dramatists] elevate the mind to
a sense of devotion, as our solemn music, which is inarticulate poesy,
does in churches; and by the lively images of piety, adorned by action,
through the senses allure the soul; which while it is charmed in a silent
joy of what it sees and hears, is struck at the same time with a secret
veneration of things celestial, and is wound up insensibly into the prac-
tice of that which it admires" (Essays, I, 138 f). Here affective and for-
mal theories exist side by side. Whatever the affective mechanics, the
overall designs are "images" or "patterns," like Foxe's "dance," which
are intended to instruct the audience not merely in Christian ethics
but in "things celestial," in Christian metaphysics. At least up to the
time of Rowe, then, martyr stories and plays by their very nature were
designed to portray not merely the pious lives of saints but metaphysi-
cal reality itself.
As in Foxe, the metaphysical reality portrayed in Dryden's Tyran-
nick Love is the Divine Providence Which Saint Catharine so ably de-
fends and Which manifests Its care in the miraculous events of the play.
The same metaphysical reality is portrayed in Rowe's two martyr plays,
and his theme remains trust in the care and ultimate justice of that
Providence, even in the face of martyrdom. And while The Royal
Convert-in its overbearing rhetoric and contrivances-is inferior to
Tyrannick Love, Lady Jane Gray-in its muted rhetoric and simplicity-
is superior. It images forth better than any of Rowe's previous tragedies
of suffering innocence a universe that is meaningful despite even the
death of the virtuous and the triumph of the wicked.
As in Tamerlane, the motif of peace pervades The Royal Convert
(Works, II, 69 ff) and thus provides an approach to the meaning of the
play. Although King Hengist of Kent and the Saxon Princess Rodogune
are betrothed as a pledge of alliance among the Saxons against the
Britons, each is secretly in love with someone else: he with the British
Princess Ethelinda, whom he has kidnapped but who is secretly married
to his younger brother Aribert; and she with Aribert himself. Both Hen-


gist and Rodogune lose their peace of mind in pursuit of their uncon-
trollable-and, they discover to their dismay, illicit-desires. As a con-
sequence even the peace of the country is threatened, in the destruction
of the alliance and the strife among the Saxons which ensue. Aribert
and Ethelinda, on the other hand, despite the shattering of their bridal
peace by these raging intruders, find peace of mind in their reliance on
"The great o'er ruling author of our beings" (V.ii, p. 123), and they are
rewarded for their constancy with a peace on earth in which their as-
cendance to the throne signifies the crowning of virtue.2

Hengist, whose "nature" is described as "warm," "fierce," and "prone
to sudden passions" (II, p. 94), is "curst within" by his lust for Ethelinda
(I, p. 83) and, despite the fact he is a king, lacks "that peace / Which
ev'ry slave enjoys." For he must marry Rodogune or endanger his
country's peace:

But Kings must wed
(Curse on the hard condition of their royalty!)
That sordid slaves may sweat and eat in peace. (II, p. 85)

And yet to marry Rodogune and lose Ethelinda would be "to reign in
hell" and "never know one hour of peace again" (I, p. 83). Thus, the
"medley war within" and "sickness of soul" (p. 81) which he suffers in-
volve a conflict between his private passion and his public responsi-
bility as king, a responsibility that requires him to be the "common vic-
tim of the state" (p. 84) and the "nursing-father" of his people (p. 80).3
Hengist and his cunning minister Seofrid devise a stratagem to save the
alliance: Prince Aribert will marry Rodogune and will become the
"pledge of peace" (p. 84). Yet ironically, he to whom Hengist turns for
peace becomes the cause of his complete frustration, for Ethelinda
turns out to be Aribert's secret bride. Ostensibly because Aribert has
broken a solemn childhood vow never to become or to marry a Chris-
tian, but really because of jealous rage, Hengist sentences him to death.
Hengist's language evinces his lack of peace as he bids "ten thousand
thousand horrors" come, for they "fit the present fury" of his "soul":

The stings of love and rage are fix'd within,
And drive me on to madness. Earthquakes, whirlwinds,
A general wreck of nature now would please me. (III, p. 106)


The Trial of the Innocent

The Royal Convert and Lady Jane Gray

The subsequent identification of his "inborn tempest" with an ex-
ternal tempest suggests the far-reaching ramifications of Hengist's rage.
As the King's soul is disordered, so is his kingdom: at this very moment
Rodogune begins to plot the rescue of Aribert and the overthrow of
Hengist by her brother and his band of Saxons, and Aribert's faithful
lieutenant Oswald escapes to the Britons to enlist their aid in rescuing
his master. Furthermore, nature itself seems really headed toward a
"general wreck." The restraining bond of "nature" (p. 100) between
brothers is overcome as Hengist prepares to carry out his sentence.
When he learns that Ethelinda's destination is the Briton's camp, he
threatens to "shake / Their Island to the centre" to get her back (IV,
p. 112). Nor does the breach of nature stop there. When Hengist de-
mands again the return of Ethelinda, Aribert reproaches him in terms
common to Western, and particularly Christian, tragedy:

Rage, and the violence of lawless passion,
Have blinded your clear reason; wherefore else
This frantic wild demand! What! should I yield,
Give up my love, my wife, my Ethelinda,
To an incestuous brother's dire embrace?

But Hengist contemptuously boasts that he is not awed "with that fan-
tom, incest." "Lawless passion" has perverted reason and nature, and
only the arrival of Rodogune and the Saxons frustrates his evil designs.
Since the gods thus refuse him "their better blessings" (V.i, p. 118),
the defeated King disdains the "worthless crown" he has lost and deter-
mines to "rest in sullen peace." The key word "sullen" connotes both
apathy and despair and indicates no real peace of mind at all. And when
Seofrid in desperation informs him that Ethelinda is to be killed by
Rodogune, Hengist's "medley" of warring passions returns (p. 118 f). In-
stead of securing the throne as Seofrid had intended, however, Hengist
purposes to let "fighting fools contend in vain" for empire, while he es-
capes to his castle, where, contemning "idle rules," he will "riot" in
incestuous lust with Ethelinda (p. 121). Ironically, with Seofrid crying,
"What know'st thou not the King?" (V.ii, p. 125), a soldier deals Hengist
his mortal wound as he comes in pursuit of his designs. Thus this King
who has rejected his public responsibility is himself the victim of the
ensuing anarchy. Furthermore, though he does not succeed in his inces-
tuous intent, he rejects the admonition of the "fair teacher" Ethelinda
to repent and to "deprecate the wrath divine," concluding, "The Gods


and I have done with one another" (p. 126). Remaining to the end
"fierce, untam'd, disdainful" (p. 127), he curses the gods and his brother
and dies. The implication is that he goes to suffer more than just an in-
ternal hell. Such is the reward-"gnashing fiends beneath, and pains
eternal" (I, p. 77)-clearly promised in the play for "man's injustice"
and unbounded "passions."

Despite her haughty pride, Rodogune also loses her peace of mind in
her passion for Aribert. Her hopes in him of both love and empire are
"blasted" (III, p. 104) by his sudden declaration of his marriage, and
"ten thousand racking passions" are released to plague her. Yet she
approaches Aribert in his prison to offer him freedom, empire, and her-
self, for despite his marriage, she can find no rest without him (IV, p.
109). Expecting to find him similarly distraught at the thought of death,
however, she finds him instead patiently resolved, with a "face of tri-
umph, not of mourning" (p. 107). "Has death so little in it?" she asks,
utterly piqued. For she cannot comprehend the martyr's resolution.4
Most of all, she cannot brook his refusal of her offer (p. 108 f). The fury
of a woman scorned breaks out in storm imagery that recalls Hengist's
passion and the threat of internal and external chaos:

Blast me, ye lightning, strike me to the centre,
Drive, drive me down, down to the depths beneath;
Let me not live, nor think-let me not think,
For I have been despis'd. (p. 109 f)

She surrenders herself to the passion of "revenge" and vows to make
Ethelinda the "victim" of her "offended love" (p. 112).
Nevertheless, when she returns to rescue Aribert from Hengist,
Rodogune seems to have conquered her passions momentarily and to
act with genuine magnanimity, for, "No matter what ensues," she
breaks Aribert's "bonds" and bids him forget her and "Fly far away,"
presumably to Ethelinda (p. 114). When the recaptured Ethelinda ap-
pears in the same room and rushes into Aribert's arms, however, Rodo-
gune's jealous rage explodes, and she exclaims, "Hence, bear her hence.
/ My peace is lost for ever-but she dies" (p. 116). Rodogune bitterly
grants Aribert's wish to die with her and vows to "tear" him from her
"remembrance" and "be at ease for ever" (p. 117). But she is unable
to free herself from her passion, and as she comes to put them to death,


The Trial of the Innocent

The Royal Convert and Lady Jane Gray

she must struggle to put her heart "at peace" (V.ii, p. 123). Finally, she
is denied the "sullen pleasure" of her rage (p. 124)-one is reminded
of the "sullen peace" Hengist seeks-by the arrival of Hengist and the
Britons. Though she considers it "vain to rave and curse" her "fortune"
(p. 126), she spitefully does curse the race of man and impotently prays
that "woman" be allowed to

Subdue mankind beneath her haughty scorn,
And smile to see the proud oppressor mourn. (p. 127 f)

But in so cursing Aribert she rejects his offer of mercy (which itself be-
lies her judgment of man as "proud oppressor") and dooms herself to
the total loss of peace concomitant to despair.

Contrasted to the madness of uncontrolled passion which consumes
Hengist and Rodogune is the inner peace attained by Aribert and
Ethelinda, despite their loss of bridal peace and happiness. In the open-
ing scene of the play Aribert describes to Oswald the joys of his and
Ethelinda's love, joys comparable to "Elysium" or "the first Paradise, /
When nature was not yet deform'd by winter" (I, p. 76). But their para-
dise is doomed from the start not to last in a fallen world, a world that is
"deform'd by winter." Ethelinda has already described to Aribert the
Christian vision of the human condition:

I heard her with an eloquence divine,
Reason of holy and mysterious truths;
Of Heav'n's most righteous doom, of man's injustice;
Of laws to curb the will, and bind the passions;
Of life, of death, and immortality;
Of gnashing fiends beneath, and pains eternal;
Of starry thrones, and endless joys above.

The passage is not just a gratuitous review of Christian doctrine, for
its relevance to the entire play is obvious merely from the injustice and
unbounded passion we have already observed. Aribert is soon to learn
that, given such a world, the only "endless joys" are those "above."
When Hengist asks him to share half the burden of his sorrow,
Aribert unhesitatingly offers to bear "all" of it and to be "greatly tried"
(II, p. 85). With Hengist's request that he marry Rodogune, however,


Aribert has only begun to be "tried," and yet he precipitately concludes
that he is "lost for ever" (p. 89). Cursing the "Fantastic cruelty of hood-
wink'd chance," he yearns for the comfort of his Ethelinda, "that dear
one, / That gently us'd to breathe the sounds of peace" on his "tempes-
tuous soul." Ironically, at that moment Seofrid drags in Hengist's cap-
tive, Ethelinda herself. The amazed Aribert rashly suggests that they
should "resolve to die together" to "Defy the malice" of their "fate"
and "preserve the sacred bond" of their marriage "inviolable" (p. 90).
Then, in an instant, he even more rashly concludes that to die is "in
vain," for the bond is "broke already" through incest,

And envious hell, with its more potent malice,
Has ruin'd and deform'd the beauteous work of heav'n.

Even though Ethelinda assures him that the "horrid incest" has not
taken place, Aribert still concludes that "this bad world is leagu'd with
hell against her" (p. 90 f) and that they "are doom'd to death," since
Seofrid has overheard their secret. He goes into a "rash" and "frantic
rage," desperately trying to buy a respite with Seofrid's murder (p. 91).
Ethelinda's response to her plight is in sharp contrast to Aribert's.
As he had offered to bear all of Hengist's sorrow, so she asks to suffer all
manner of pains, except the "pollution" of incest (p. 90):

Let me know
All miseries beside, each kind of sorrow,
And prove me with variety of pains,
Whips, racks, and flames: For I was born to suffer:
And when the measure of my woes is full,
That power in whom I trust will set me free.

Unlike Aribert, however, Ethelinda does not forget in the first moment
of trial this faith and resolution of the martyr. Nor does she, like Aribert,
blame her condition on "hoodwink'd chance" or the "malice" of "cruel
fate," nor conclude that the "malice" of hell is "more potent" than
Heaven. Instead she calls on "gracious Heaven," which till now has de-
fended her chastity, to guard her from hell and "its blackest crime."
When Aribert is about to kill Seofrid for their momentary safeties,
Ethelinda beseeches him, "Trust 'em to Heaven" (p. 91). Ethelinda is an
example, then, not only to the audience (like other saints in martyro-
logies, in miracle and martyr plays), but also to her royal convert. She

The Trial of the Innocent


The Royal Convert and Lady Jane Gray

is an "angel" who instructs him in the "way to everlasting happiness"
(I, p. 79), and the focus of the play is on the development of his trust in
Providence. Now in Act II, Ethelinda brings peace to the distracted,
doubting soul of Aribert, as she introduces the theodicean argument of
the play. She has a vision of angels who succourr truth and innocence
below" (p. 94):

Hell trembles at the sight, and hides its head
In utmost darkness, while on earth each heart,
Like mine, is filled with peace and joy unutterable.

Such inner peace, what Milton calls a "paradise within" (PL XII.587), is
the result of "hope and never-failing faith" in the "holy pow'r" (p. 95).
It enables the Christian to "triumph o'er the world," despite his tem-
porary paradise lost. Aribert is touchedd with the sacred theme" and
sees himself a vision of "the guardian-angels of the good," who "pity
what we suffer here below" and make the saintly Ethelinda (and him-
self) "their common care" (p. 95 f).
The rest of the play shows Aribert vacillating between trust and
distrust in Providence. Finally, condemned to die with Ethelinda for
both his love and his faith, very much like Milton's Adam (PL XI.527 ff),
he plaintively asks if Heaven has "decreed" that "none shall pass the
golden gates above, / But those who sorrow here" to purge their "in-
born stains away" (p. 123). Ethelinda's theodicean answer combines the
traditional metaphor of trial with the traditional concept of the Happy
Death (see PL XI.530 ff):

The great o'er ruling author of our beings,
Deals with his creature man in various ways,
Gracious and good in all: some feel the rod,
And own, like us, the Father's chast'ning hand.
Sev'n times, like gold, they pass the purging flame,
And are at last refin'd; while gently some
Tread all the paths of life without a rub,
With honour, health, with friends and plenty bless'd,
Their years roll round in innocence and ease.
Hoary at length, and in a good old age,
They go declining to the grave in peace,
And change their pleasures here for joys above.


Aribert still complains. He has not asked for the blessed life but
only for "life and Ethelinda." Yet, "Heav'n thought that too much,"
he murmurs. Ethelinda also sorely feels the loss of that much happiness:
she has admitted that Aribert's image "intercepts" her "journey to the
stars" (p. 122). Yet she answers that since they have been denied their
paradise on earth, they should seek

That wond'rous bliss which Heav'n reserves in store,
Well to reward us for our losses here;
That bliss which Heav'n and only Heav'n can give. (p. 123)

That promised bliss-and the inner peace of those who patiently expect
it-is immediately juxtaposed to Rodogune's suffering ("still I am
doom'd to suffer"), as it has all along been contrasted to the general lack
of peace in the world. Strengthened by Ethelinda's instructions, Aribert
boasts to Rodogune in the face of tortures,

You shall behold how a Prince ought to die,
And what a Christian dares to suffer. (p. 124)

But now, since Rowe is never content to allow his protagonists the
simple trial of merely dying, Aribert is submitted to the severest trial
of all. He must watch Ethelinda die first: "And can my eyes endure it!"
To Rodogune, then to the "saints and angels" (p. 125), Aribert pleads
for Ethelinda, seemingly in vain. In contrast, as she meets her trial
"arm'd and equal to the combat" like the true Christian hero, the con-
stant Ethelinda would give Aribert the final lesson of example and
"lead" him on "in the triumphant way" (p. 124):

Be constant to the last, be fix'd my Aribert.
'Tis but a short, short passage to the stars. (p. 125)

In the midst of this triumph of the martyr, Aribert and Ethelinda are
saved, strangely enough, by the arrival of the brother who has come
bent on their destruction but whose ironic death leaves them King and
Queen of Kent and victors over Rodogune and her rebelling Saxons.
Thus the play ends in perfect poetic justice, and every indication is that
such justice is the work of Providence. The crowning of Aribert and


The Trial of the Innocent

The Royal Convert and Lady Jane Gray

Ethelinda seems a reward for constancy in their trial, and Aribert attri-
butes their final peace on earth to Heaven's influence:

A day of comfort seems to dawn upon us,
And Heav'n at length is gracious to our wishes. (p. 127)

The punishment of the wicked, too, implies the Hand of Heaven, for it is
remarkably appropriate. Seofrid, who to save his master would sacrifice
Aribert, loses his master in rescuing Aribert. Hengist is killed in the pur-
suit of hell's "blackest crime" (a circumstance considered by the theo-
logians to be an instance of particular Providence), and the chaos he has
caused consumes him. In her extreme pride and passion, Rodogune has
attempted to take vengeance into her own hands: "The Gods are just
at length," she exults to Aribert and Ethelinda as she prepares to mur-
der them (p. 124), and she appears to be ironically right, for justice is
ultimately served and her jealous rage thwarted. All her hopes of love
and empire are destroyed as she sullenly banishes herself from the race
of man.
Moreover, the play has all along asked Rowe's primary question,
whether the gods care. Ethelinda has insisted throughout that they do,
but even Aribert at first blames either "hoodwink'd chance" or the
"malice" of fate for his loss of paradisal peace. On the other hand, Seo-
frid at first appears to believe in Providence, for he tells Aribert and
Ethelinda, "Whatever Gods there be, their care you are" (II, p. 94), and
he asserts that "the ruling Gods are over all, / And order as they please
their world below" (III, p. 97). When Hengist's intention to rape Ethe-
linda destroys Seofrid's plan for him to regain the throne, however,
Seofrid (like Mirza, Bajazet, and Eurymachus before him) declares the
"restless racking care" of statesmen "in vain" and swears allegiance to
the "Blind goddess chance" (V.i, p. 122):

henceforth I follow thee.
The politicians of the world may talk,
May make a mighty bustle with their foresight,
Their schemes and arts, their wisdom is thy slave.

Rodogune doubts whether there are really gods "who rule o'er love and
jealousy" (IV, p. 117), and she blames whatever gods there are for deal-
ing so "unjustly with their creatures" as to deny them pleasures and
make them suffer (p. 108). She seems to see the gods as merely vengeful


and otherwise scornful "of the world below" (p. 118), and her final
prayer to the "partial goddess" Nature that woman be allowed to "Sub-
due mankind beneath her haughty scorn" is an indication that she thinks
the deities as perverse and spiteful as she. Hengist also sees the Saxon
gods as vengeful: he offers Aribert as "a royal victim" to "glut the ven-
geance of our angry Gods" (III, p. 105). Furthermore, in Epicurean
fashion (which is the pervading fashion of all these comments), he
blames "the meddling hand of chance" for causing the chaos in which
he finds himself (V.i, p. 119).
But Ethelinda's faith in the "great o'er ruling author of our beings,"
who "Deals with his creature man in various ways, / Gracious and good
in all," is vindicated. Hengist says in Act II that "or love, / Or some di-
vinity, more strong than love, / Forbids my bliss" (II, p. 88). He appears
to be right, for in the next moment Ethelinda maintains that "gracious
Heaven" has defended her up to that point from the "pollution" which
Hengist's "bliss" would entail (p. 90). The implication is that "Heaven"
continues to defend her throughout the play. Aribert has speculated
that "the ruling hand of Heaven," working "thus unseen by second
causes," has ordained Seofrid "for its instrument of good" (p. 92), and
despite his machinations and his final allegiance to the "Blind goddess
chance," Seofrid does appear to have been Heaven's instrument, for it
is he who provokes Hengist to rescue Aribert and Ethelinda from Rodo-
gune. Though the outcome is counter to Seofrid's and Hengist's separate
designs, it appears to evince the design of Providence.
And so we must conclude, I think, that "the ruling hand of Heaven
is in it" and "at length is gracious" to its faithful (italics mine). Their
virtue literally crowned, Aribert and Ethelinda become the monarchs
of a new "Britain" which "takes its pledge of peace" from their union
of Saxon and Briton. "Nor are those pious hopes of peace in vain,"
prophesies Ethelinda, for that "pledge" will be fulfilled when again
"Auspicious Heav'n" shall "smile" and "bless" the "British Isle" of
Rowe's Queen Anne with the "eternal UNION" of the Union Act of
1707.' The inner peace of Aribert and Ethelinda's Christian faith, then,
has received an external manifestation in the peace of the land, a mani-
festation that is emblematic of the ultimate reward of Providence for
those who, with the peace of mind of the saint and resolution of the
martyr, trust in Its care. Thus the play has portrayed not only "patterns
of piety" in the trusting royal couple but also "things celestial" in the
care of that Providence, the metaphysical reality which corresponds to
their faith.


The Trial of the Innocent