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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.

IV. The Drama and the Stage

§ 10. Fatal Curiosity

In The Christian Hero (1735), Lillo relapses into more conventional tragedy. Prose gives way to blank verse, the London prentice to “a pious hero, and a patriot king,” and London to Albania. In Fatal Curiosity: A True Tragedy of Three Acts (1736), Lillo retains blank verse, but reverts to domestic tragedy. “From lower life we draw our scene’s distress.” The elder Colman, in his prologue written for the revival of the play in 1782, proclaimed Lillo’s kinship with Shakespeare in disregard of dramatic rules and boldly suggested that

  • Lillo’s plantations were of forest growth,
  • Shakespear’s the same, great Nature’s hand in both!
  • The strong verbal reminiscences of Macbeth and Hamlet would seem rather to indicate that Shakespeare’s hand was in Lillo’s. The plot itself, based on an old story of a Cornish murder, shows how old Wilmot, urged by his wife to relieve their poverty, kills the stranger that is within their gates, only to find that he has murdered his son, whom “fatal curiosity” has led to conceal his identity. In Lillo’s play, fatality, not poverty, is the real motive force. With something of the Greek conception, destiny dominates the tragedy. Old Wilmot, to be sure, expires with the confession that “We brought this dreadful ruin on ourselves.” But Randal, whose couplets point the conventional moral,
  • The ripe in virtue never die too soon,
  • protests against any censure of
  • Heaven’s mysterious ways.
  • In Lillo’s tragedy of destiny, we are not “to take upon’s the mystery of things, as if we were God’s spies.”