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- A Blot In The 'Scutcheon - 1/11 -




ROBERT BROWNING stands, in respect to his origin and his career, in marked contrast to the two aristocratic poets beside whose dramas his "Blot in the 'Scutcheon" is here printed. His father was a bank clerk and a dissenter at a time when dissent meant exclusion from Society; the poet went neither to one of the great public schools nor to Oxford or Cambridge; and no breath of scandal touched his name. Born in London in 1812, he was educated largely by private tutors, and spent two years at London University, but the influence of his father, a man of wide reading and cultivated tastes, was probably the most important element in his early training. He drew well, was something of a musician, and wrote verses from an early age, though it was the accidental reading of a volume of Shelley which first kindled his real inspiration. This indebtedness is beautifully acknowledged in his first published poem, "Pauline" (1833).

Apart from frequent visits to Italy, there is little of incident to chronicle in Browning's life, with the one great exception of his more than fortunate marriage in 1846 to Elizabeth Barrett, the greatest of English poetesses.

Browning's dramatic period extended from 1835 to the time of his marriage, and produced some nine plays, not all of which, however, were intended for the stage. "Paracelsus," the first of the series, has been fairly described as a "conversational drama," and "Pippa Passes," though it has been staged, is essentially a poem to read. The historical tragedy of "Strafford" has been impressively performed, but "King Victor and King Charles," "The Return of the Druses," "Colombe's Birthday," "A Soul's Tragedy," and "Luria," while interesting in many ways, can hardly be regarded as successful stage-plays. "A Blot in the 'Scutcheon" was performed at Drury Lane, but its chances of a successful run were spoiled by the jealousy of Macready, the manager.

The main cause of Browning's weakness as a playwright lay in the fact that he was so much more interested in psychology than in action. But in the present tragedy this defect is less prominent than usual, and in spite of flaws in construction, it reaches a high pitch of emotional intensity, the characters are drawn with vividness, and the lines are rich in poetry.



Time, 17--


SCENE I.--The Interior of a Lodge in Lord Tresham's Park. Many Retainers crowded at the window, supposed to command a view of the entrance to his Mansion.

GERARD, the Warrener, his back to a table on which are flagons, etc.

FIRST RETAINER. Ay, do! push, friends, and then you'll push down me! --What for? Does any hear a runner's foot Or a steed's trample or a coach-wheel's cry? Is the Earl come or his least poursuivant? But there's no breeding in a man of you Save Gerard yonder: here's a half-place yet, Old Gerard!

GERARD. Save your courtesies, my friend. Here is my place.

SECOND RETAINER. Now, Gerard, out with it! What makes you sullen, this of all the days I' the year? To-day that young rich bountiful Handsome Earl Mertoun, whom alone they match With our Lord Tresham through the country-side, Is coming here in utmost bravery To ask our master's sister's hand?

GERARD. What then?

SECOND RETAINER. What then? Why, you, she speaks to, if she meets Your worship, smiles on as you hold apart The boughs to let her through her forest walks, You, always favourite for your no-deserts, You've heard, these three days, how Earl Mertoun sues To lay his heart and house and broad lands too At Lady Mildred's feet: and while we squeeze Ourselves into a mousehole lest we miss One congee of the least page in his train, You sit o' one side--"there's the Earl," say I-- "What then?" say you!

THIRD RETAINER. I'll wager he has let Both swans he tamed for Lady Mildred swim Over the falls and gain the river!

GERARD. Ralph, Is not to-morrow my inspecting-day For you and for your hawks?

FOURTH RETAINER. Let Gerard be! He's coarse-grained, like his carved black cross-bow stock. Ha, look now, while we squabble with him, look! Well done, now--is not this beginning, now, To purpose?

FIRST RETAINER. Our retainers look as fine-- That's comfort. Lord, how Richard holds himself With his white staff! Will not a knave behind Prick him upright?

FOURTH RETAINER. He's only bowing, fool! The Earl's man bent us lower by this much.

FIRST RETAINER. That's comfort. Here's a very cavalcade!

THIRD RETAINER. I don't see wherefore Richard, and his troop Of silk and silver varlets there, should find Their perfumed selves so indispensable On high days, holidays! Would it so disgrace Our family, if I, for instance, stood-- In my right hand a cast of Swedish hawks, A leash of greyhounds in my left?--

GERARD. --With Hugh The logman for supporter, in his right The bill-hook, in his left the brushwood-shears!

THIRD RETAINER. Out on you, crab! What next, what next? The Earl!

FIRST RETAINER. Oh Walter, groom, our horses, do they match The Earl's? Alas, that first pair of the six-- They paw the ground--Ah Walter! and that brute Just on his haunches by the wheel!

SIXTH RETAINER. Ay--ay! You, Philip, are a special hand, I hear, At soups and sauces: what's a horse to you? D'ye mark that beast they've slid into the midst So cunningly?--then, Philip, mark this further; No leg has he to stand on!

FIRST RETAINER. No? that's comfort.

SECOND RETAINER. Peace, Cook! The Earl descends. Well, Gerard, see The Earl at least! Come, there's a proper man, I hope! Why, Ralph, no falcon, Pole or Swede, Has got a starrier eye.

THIRD RETAINER. His eyes are blue: But leave my hawks alone!

FOURTH RETAINER. So young, and yet So tall and shapely!

FIFTH RETAINER. Here's Lord Tresham's self! There now--there's what a nobleman should be! He's older, graver, loftier, he's more like A House's head.

SECOND RETAINER. But you'd not have a boy --And what's the Earl beside?--possess too soon That stateliness?

FIRST RETAINER. Our master takes his hand-- Richard and his white staff are on the move-- Back fall our people--(tsh!--there's Timothy Sure to get tangled in his ribbon-ties, And Peter's cursed rosette's a-coming off!) --At last I see our lord's back and his friend's; And the whole beautiful bright company Close round them--in they go! [Jumping down from the window-bench, and making for the table and its jugs.] Good health, long life, Great joy to our Lord Tresham and his House!

SIXTH RETAINER. My father drove his father first to court, After his marriage-day--ay, did he!

SECOND RETAINER. God bless Lord Tresham, Lady Mildred, and the Earl! Here, Gerard, reach your beaker!

A Blot In The 'Scutcheon - 1/11

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