None of these, probably, has put Massinger finally and irrefutably into a place. The principles which animate this taste remain unexplained. Cruickshank at difference between prose and essay presents us with facts which are capable of generalization.
The sort of labour to which Mr. Cruickshank has devoted himself is one that professed critics ought more willingly to undertake. It is an important part of criticism, more important than any mere expression of opinion. To understand Elizabethan drama it is necessary to study a dozen playwrights at once, to dissect with all care the complex growth, to ponder collaboration to the utmost line.
Reading Shakespeare and several of his contemporaries is pleasure enough, perhaps all the pleasure possible, for most. Massinger, in his grasp of stagecraft, his flexible metre, his desire in the sphere of ethics to exploit both vice and virtue, is typical of an age which had much culture, but which, without being exactly corrupt, lacked moral fibre. Here, in fact, is our text: to elucidate this sentence would be to account for Massinger. We begin vaguely with good taste, by a recognition that Massinger is inferior: can we trace this inferiority, dissolve it, and have left any element of merit? We turn first to the parallel quotations from Massinger and Shakespeare collocated by Mr. One of the surest of tests is the way in which a poet borrows.
A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest. Shakespeare and Webster from Montaigne. Cruickshank shows, borrows from Shakespeare a good deal. That bow unto my sceptre?
Shakespeare, but rare in Massinger. Here, again, Massinger gives the general forensic statement, Shakespeare the particular image. Wilt thou fall like a meteor? And no man see me more. Here the lines of Massinger have their own beauty. And you yourself shall keep the key of it. They occur on the same page, an artless confession.