Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 32.djvu/371

This page needs to be proofread.

Marriage, or the Jealous Bridegroom.' in the same season, but Downes assigns that disaster to Otway. Although Lee appears to have undertaken the small rôle of Captain of the Watch in November 1672 in the 'Fatal Jealousy.' a play assigned to Neville Payne, he very soon abandoned acting for the writing of tragedies. In that pursuit he achieved, despite his extravagances, much popular success. The actor Mohun, who filled the chief rôles in Lee's pieces, is reported to have repeatedly expressed his admiration at the author's effective mode of reading his plays aloud to the company. 'Unless I were to play it.' the actor is reported to have said to Lee of one of his parts, 'as well as you read it, to what purpose should I undertake it?'

The plots of Lee's tragedies were mainly drawn from classical history, but he treated his authorities with the utmost freedom, and at times seems to have wilfully travestied them. His earliest effort, 'Nero.' produced in 1675, was chiefly written in heroic couplets (London, 1675, 1696, 1735). Like its three immediate successors, it was first performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Hart figured in the title-role and Mohun as Britannicus. In 1676 Lee wrote two plays, also in rhyme, 'Gloriana, or the Court of Augustus Caesar' (London, 1676, 4to), and 'Sophonisba, or Hannibal's Overthrow ' (London, 1676 and 1693, 4to ; 5th edit. 1704, 1709, 1735). The latter piece, for which Purcell wrote the earliest music prepared by him for the stage, treats of Hannibal's legendary passion for a lady of Capua, and was dedicated to the Duchess of Portsmouth. It was always admired, according to Genest, by 'the fair sex.' Rochester asserts that Hannibal was presented as 'a whining amorous fool.' The play was performed in the tennis-court at Oxford during commemoration week in July 1680 (cf. Wood, Life and Times, ii. 490), and Dryden wrote a special prologue for the occasion.

Lee's reputation was not definitely secured till 1677, when his best -known tragedy, 'The Rival Queens, or the Death of Alexander the Great' — his first essay in blank verse— proved a triumphant success (London, 1677, 1684, 1694 ; 4th edit. 1702, 4to). De La Calprenede's novel 'Cassandre' seems to have suggested some of the scenes. The jealousy of Alexander's first wife, Roxana, for his second wife, Statira, is the leading theme. In this play first appeared the usually misquoted line, 'when Greeks join'd Greeks then was the tug of war' (act iv. sc. 1 ; Works, 1734, iii. 26o) ; but the verses beginning 'See the conquering hero comes.' which were introduced into the play (act ii. sc. 1) in late acting versions (cf. ed. 1785, p. 21), have been repeatedly assigned to Lee in error; they were written by Dr. Thomas Morell [q. v.] for Handel's oratorio 'Joshua' in 1747, and were thence transferred to Handel's 'Judas Maccabæus.' In the first representation of the 'Rival Queens' Hart played Alexander and Mohun 'honest old 'Clytus' Dryden joined in the general chorus of praise, and when the piece was published, with a fulsome dedication to the Duchess of Portsmouth, he prefixed verses in which Lee's delineation of the passions was commended for sincerity and warmth.

'Mithridates, King of Pontus.' in blank verse (London, 1678, 4to), was first acted at Drury Lane in March 1678, with Mohun in the title-rôle, and it sustained Lee's position in popular esteem. Dryden contributed an epilogue, and the play was acted by amateurs at the Banqueting House, Whitehall, when Princess Anne appeared as Semandra. In 1679 Dryden gave practical proof of his regard for Lee by inviting his aid in an adaptation of Sophocles's 'Œdipus.' The general plan and the first and third acts are assigned to Dryden, the rest to Lee. The piece was produced at the Duke's Theatre in Dorset Gardens. In spite of 'the rant and fustian' which Lee introduced, and his revolting treatment of the closing episode, the tragedy Hook prodigiously, being 'acted ten days together.' Œdipus and Jocasta were played respectively by Betterton and his wife. At the same theatre Lee produced in 1680 his next two tragedies, 'Cæsar Borgia' (London, 1680, 4to), with a prologue by Dryden, and Betterton in the title-role, and 'Theodosius, or the Force of Love' (London, 1680, 1684, 1692, 1697, 1708), with the same actor in the part of Varanes (dedicated to the Duchess of Richmond). 'Caesar Borgia.' whose plot was drawn from the 'Pharamond' of Gomberville, abounds in villanies and murders, and is again in blank verse. In 'Theodosius' the blank verse is diversified by many excursions into rhyme. In 1681 Lee wrote a fourth play for Dorset Gardens Theatre, 'Lucius Junius Brutus, the Father of his Country.' a tragedy in blank verse (London, 1689, 4to). It is partly based on Mile, de Scudery's 'Clelie.' Some lines on the immoral effeminacy of Tarquin were interpreted as a reflection on Charles II, and on the third night the further representations were prohibited by Arlington the lord chamberlain. In 1703 Gildon produced a free adaptation with the scenes and names of the characters transferred to Italy ; this was entitled 'The Patriot, or the Italian Conspiracy.' and was duly licensed and acted at Drury Lane. In 'Tryall of Skill, a New