Home  »  Volume VI: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part Two  »  § 17. Randolph’s Amyntas

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VI. The Drama to 1642, Part Two.

XIII. Masque and Pastoral

§ 17. Randolph’s Amyntas

The third and last pastoral on our list does not require so full a consideration as the first two. It is not a poem like Fletcher’s, nor unfinished like Jonson’s; but it belongs to a new order of art, which has not the full humanity or high imagination of the Elizabethan era. Randolph does not attempt, like Fletcher and Jonson, to cast the pastoral into a new mould. His Amyntas or the Impossible Dowry follows the conventions of Tasso and Guarini, and its plot is deliberately artificial, removed from any contact with life’s realities. His style recalls the work of John Day, and has a scholarly finish and point that raise the play above the other pastorals of Jacobean times. It is in curious contrast to The Muses Looking-Glasse. In that play, the force of the writing, and a touch of dramatic reality in the sketch of the puritan onlookers, are remarkable. In Amyntas, Randolph’s muse is strangely subdued and gentle. He develops a very individual type of pathetic and ironical fantasy in his delineation of the mad Amyntas, which seems very far removed from the boisterous fun and rollicking rimes of Aristippus. This mellowing and softening of Randolph’s spirit extends to the comic scenes of the play, and gives us the Latin rimes of the orchard-robbing elves—the

  • beata Fauni proles
  • Quibus non est magna moles.
  • Few such Latin rimes have been written since the Middle Ages. There are sweet and tender passages of poetry continually occurring in the careful blank verse in which most of the pastoral is composed, but they are so unemphatic and quiet in tone that some familiarity with the poem is necessary before the reader becomes aware of them. Fletcher impetuously injects into his artificial plot and characters the fire of his poetic genius; Randolph, with wonderful art and restraint, keeps his true vein of poetry always in the right key—his play is a more complete and coherent production than either Flecher’s or Jonson’s, but it is essentially artificial; its excellence is all in the handling and embroidery. It was, presumably, the last work of Randolph, and it raises our opinion both of his art and of his genius.