Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

The Theatre Before and During the

Time of Shakespeare.

THE earliest dramatic performance in England took place on such feasts as the “ Feast of Fools" and the “ Feast of the Ass.” They were acted under the guidance of the priests, who sometimes took part in them, and they were played on a movable stage, arranged usually in three platforms, of which the uppermost was reserved for the Deity, the middle for the Hierarchy of Angels, and the lowest for the human beings. A side of this last was usually supposed to represent Hell, and from this flames would issue, and the devils themselves make their entrance. The subjects were always chosen from the Scriptures, and the pieces played are known as Miracle Plays or Mysteries. The Passion Plays of Ober-Ammergau, which are still played, are similar to them.

The first advance on these Miracle plays produced the Morality Plays, in which were represented the various virtues or vices, such as Magnificence and Avarice, and by which some moral lesson was inculcated. In these plays the Devil of the old Miracle Plays was retained, and was tormented throughout the representation by a character known as the Vice, who belaboured him with a wooden lath (sometimes gilt), and who was finally carried away to the regions below. One of these Moralities was played before Queen Elizabeth in 1602.

In some of the later Moralities real characters were introduced by name, and John Heywood, about 1530, made a still greater advance in his Interludes, which were really

successors.

short farces. The best known of these is the “ Four P's," so called from the four characters—Pardoner, Palmer, Poticary, and Pedlar.

The First Real Comedy, Ralph Roister Doister, was written by Nicholas Udall, in 1551, and the First Tragedy in blank verse was Sackville's Gorboduc, in 1561.

In the brief interval between this and the plays of Shakespeare the powers of blank verse were extended by Kyd (The Spanish Tragedy), Lyly (Alexander and Campaspe), and others, and more particularly in the "6 mighty line” of Christopher Marlowe, whose best known plays are The Jew of Malta, Tamburlaine the Great, Edward II., and Dr. Faustus.

Shakespeare had the classical Ben Jonson and the two friends, Beaumont and Fletcher, for his principal contemporaries, and Ford, Massinger, Webster, and Shirley. as

In spite of some natural jealousy expressed by the older writers and by Ben Jonson, Shakespeare was acknowledged as “most excellent in tragedy and comedy” in Meres' Palladis Tamia, 1598, and was “loved on this side idolatry by Ben Jonson, himself.

At the Reformation the union between Church and Stage was dissolved, and players occupied a very inferior place in the public estimation. They were classed with sturdy beggars, and in Gosson's School of Abuse (1579) were described as

Caterpillars of the Commonwealth," an expression which Shakespeare uses twice in Richard II. The City of London refused to allow them within its limits, and they were compelled to seek the protection of some noble in order to save themselves from persecution. Thus we read of plays performed by “the Earl of Leicester his servants,” and on the title-page of A Midsummer Night's Dream :

“ As it hath beene sundry times publickely acted by the Right honourable the Lord Chamberlaine his servants.”

The old travelling platforms were no longer used, and the courtyards of inns took their place, a temporary stage being

erected, while the audience occupied the yard and galleries round. Such was Belle Sauvage Yard. The first permanent theatre erected in London was the Blackfriars Theatre, built in 1576, and this was quickly followed by others. The plays of Shakespeare were produced at the Blackfriars and Globe Theatres. This latter, on the Bankside, Southwark, just west of London Bridge, was octagonal in shape outside, with a circular interior, and was built of wood.

In most of these theatres the stage alone was protected by a roof, and the audience occupied the pit, the gallery, and the stage itself. The performances took place in the afternoon, commencing generally at half-past three. There was scenery, and the women's parts were played by boys. A notice, such as "A forest," “ Birnam Wood," was considered sufficient change of scene, and in consequence the audience were compelled to use their imagination to a much greater extent than in these days of scenic display. Shakespeare, in his early plays prepared his audience for this effort by closing a scene with two rimed lines. Cf. I. i.; II. i.; III. i.

no

[blocks in formation]

Dut (murdered 971 A.D. by his general, Donwald, at Forres).

[blocks in formation]

GRUOCH (Lady Macbeth)

m. (1) The Thane of Ross; (2) Macbeth.

Bethoc (a daughter)

Douda (a daughter) m. Finlay,

Thane of Ross.

DUNCAN, m. sister of Siward of Northumbria ;

slain 1040.

MACBETH, 1040-1057.

[blocks in formation]

The Source of the Plot,

For the play of Macbeth, as for King Lear, Shakespeare once more returned to his favourite, Holinshed, from whose Chronicle of England and Scotland all his earlier English historical plays had been derived. Closely following Holinshed in parts, particularly in the scene between Macduff and Malcolm in Act IV. Sc. iii., he has allowed himself somewhat more liberty than usual.

Thus the murder upon which the whole story turns does not occur in Holinshed with regard to Macbeth, but is Holinshed's account of the murder of an earlier king, King Duff, who was cruelly killed by his General, Donwald, at Forres, in 971, A.D. The upbraidings of the wife, and the smearing of the grooms with blood all appear in this earlier story.

The virtues of this King Duff are also transferred to Duncan, who seems really to have been a weak and feeble ruler, by no means worthy of the praise of I. wii. 16-19 :

"This Duncan Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been So clear in his great office, that his virtues

Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued.” Nor was Macbeth, in the deep damnation of this taking off, guilty of the double fault of murdering his own guest. This was Donwald's crime; but Macbeth slew Duncan in the open field, and a reference to the genealogical table will show that Macbeth, by his marriage with Lady Macbeth had a strong claim to the throne.

History itself also declares that Macbeth replaced the

« AnteriorContinuar »