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remarking that the piece is written throughout in rhyming quatrains, not couplets, and that the language would indicate it to be of about the same date with Gammer Gurton's Needle. It contains a song, which for fluency and spirit may very well bear to be compared with the drinking-song in that drama. Neither in the contrivance and conduct of the plot, however, nor in the force with which the characters are exhibited, does it evince the same free and skilful hand with Ralph Roister Doister, although it is interesting for some of the illustrations which it affords of the manners of the time. One of the dramatis personae, in particular, who is seldom absent from the stage, Cacurgus, the buffoon or fool kept by the family whose fortunes form the subject of the piece, must, as Mr. Collier remarks, “have been a very amusing character in his double capacity of rustic simpleton and artful mischief-maker.” “There are few pieces,” Mr. Collier adds, “in the whole range of our ancient drama which display the important character of the domestic fool in anything like so full and clear a light.”
CHRONICLE HISTORIES.—BALE's KYNGE JOHAN, ETC.
If the regular drama thus made its first appearance among us in the form of comedy, the tragic muse was at least not far behind. There is some ground for supposing, indeed, that one species of the graver drama of real life may have begun to emerge rather sooner than comedy out of the shadowy world of the old allegorical representations; that, namely, which was long distinguished from both comedy and tragedy by the name
of History; or Chronicle History, consisting, to adopt Mr. Collier's definition, “of certain passages or events detailed by annalists put into a dramatic form, often without regard to the course in which they happened; the author sacrificing chronology, situation, and circumstance to the superior object of producing an attractive play.” Of what may be called at least the transition from the moral-play to the history, we have an example in Bale's lately recovered drama of ‘Kynge Johan,” written in all probability some years before the middle of the sixteenth century, in which, while many of the characters are still allegorical abstractions, others are real personages; King John himself, Pope Innocent, Cardinal Pandulphus, Stephen Langton, and other historical figures moving about in odd intermixture with such mere notional spectres as the Widowed Britannia, Imperial Majesty, Nobility, Clergy, Civil Order, Treason, Verity, and Sedition. The play is accordingly described by Mr. Collier, the editor, as occupying an intermediate place between moralities and historical plays ; and “it is,” he adds, “the only known existing specimen of that species of composition of so early a date.” The other productions that are extant of the same mixed character are all of the latter half of the century; such as that entitled Tom Tiler and his Wife, supposed to have been first printed about 1578, although the oldest known edition is a reprint dated 1661; The Conflict of Conscience (called a comedy), by Nathaniel Woods, minister of Norwich, 1581, &c.;
* Hist. Dram. Poet., ii. p. 414.
+ Published by the Camden Society, 4to. 1838, under the care of Mr. Collier.
! See an account of these and other pieces of the same kind in Collier, Hist. Dram. Poet., ii. 353, &c. In assign
TRAGEDY OF GORBODUC.-BLANK VERSE.
But the era of genuine tragedies and historical plays had already commenced some years before these lastmentioned pieces saw the light. On the 18th of January, 1562, was “shown before the Queen's most Excellent Majesty,” as the title-page of the printed play informs us, “in her Highness’ Court of Whitehall, by the Gentlemen of the Inner Temple,” the Tragedy of Gorboduc, otherwise entitled the Tragedy of Ferrex and Porrex, the production of the same Thomas Sackville who has already engaged our attention as by far the most remarkable writer in The Mirror for Magistrates, and of Thomas Norton, who is said to have been a puritan clergyman, and who had already acquired a poetic reputation, though in a different province of the land of song, as one of the coadjutors of Sternhold and Hopkins in their metrical version of the Psalms. On the title-page of the first edition, printed in 1565, which however was surreptitious, it is stated that the three first acts were written by Norton and the two last by Sackville; and, although this announcement was afterwards withdrawn, it was never expressly contradicted, and it is not improbable that it may have a general foundation of truth. It must be confessed, however, that no change of style gives any indi
ing the first publication of Tom Tiler and his Wife to the year 1578, Mr. Collier professes to follow Ritson (Ancient Songs, ii. 31, edit. 1829), who, he observes, was no doubt as correct as usual. But, whatever may have been Ritson's correctness in matters of mere transcription, it is proper to note that in the present case he merely offers a conjecture; so that we are left to depend, not upon his correctness, but apon his sagacity. That very little dependence is to be placed upon that, they will feel most who know Ritson best.
cation which it is casy to detect of a succession of hands; and that, judging by this criterion, we should rather be led to infer that, in whatever way the two writers contrived to combine their labours, whether by the one retouching and improving what the other had roughsketched, or by the one taking the quieter and humbler, the other the more impassioned, scenes or portions of the dialogue, they pursued the same method throughout the piece. Charles Lamb expresses himself “willing to believe that Lord Buckhurst supplied the more vital parts.” ” At the same time he observes that “the style of this old play is stiff and cumbersome, like the dresses of its times;” and that, though there may be flesh and blood underneath, we cannot get at it. In truth, Gorboduc is a drama only in form. In spirit and manner it is wholly undramatic. The story has no dramatic capabilities, no evolution either of action or of character, although it affords some opportunities for description and eloquent declamation; and neither was there aught of dramatic power about the genius of Sackville (to whom we may safely attribute whatever is most meritorious in the composition), any more than there was about that of his follower Spenser, illustrious as the latter stands in the front line of the poets of his country and of the world. Gorboduc, accordingly, is a most unaffecting and uninteresting tragedy; as would also be the noblest book of the Fairy Queen, or of Paradise Lost—the portion of either poem that soars the highest—if it were to be attempted to be transformed into a drama by merely being divided into acts and scenes, and cut up into the outward semblance of dialogue. In whatever abundance
* Specimens of Eng. Dram. Poets, i. 6 (edit. of 1835).
all else of poetry might be outpoured, the spirit of dialogue and of dramatic action would not be there. Gorboduc, however, though a dull play, is in some other respects a remarkable production for the time. The language is not dramatic, but it is throughout singularly correct, easy, and perspicuous; in many parts it is even elevated and poetical; and there are some passages of strong painting not unworthy of the hand to which we owe the Induction to the Legend of the Duke of Buckingham in the Mirror for Magistrates. The piece has accordingly won much applause in quarters where there was little feeling of the true spirit of dramatic writing as the exposition of passion in action, and where the chief thing demanded in a tragedy was a certain orderly pomp of expression, and monotonous respectability of sentiment, to fill the ear, and tranquillize rather than excite and disturb the mind. Sir Philip Sidney, while he finds fault with Gorboduc for its violation of the unities of time and place, declares it to be “full of stately speeches and wellsounding phrases, climbing to the height of Seneca in his style, and as full of notable morality, which it doth most delightfully teach, and so obtain the very end of poesy.” It grieves him, he adds, that it is so “very defectuous in the circumstances,”—that is, the unities, because that must prevent it from remaining for ever “as an exact model of all tragedies.” Rymer terms it “a fable better turned for tragedy than any on this side the Alps;” and affirms that “it might have been a better direction to Shakspeare and Ben Jonson than any guide they have had the luck to follow.”f Pope has delivered