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his opinion to the like effect, telling us that “the writers of the succeeding age might have improved by copying from this drama a propriety in the sentiments and dignity in the sentences, and an unaffected perspicuity of style, which are essential to tragedy.” One peculiarity of the more ancient national drama retained in Gorboduc is the introduction, before every act, of a piece of machinery called the Dumb Show, in which was shadowed forth, by a sort of allegorical exhibition, the part of the story that was immediately to follow. This custom survived on the English stage down to a considerably later date: the reader may remember that Shakspeare, though he rejected it in his own dramas, has introduced the play acted before the King and Queen in Hamlet by such a prefigurative dumb show. Another expedient, which Shakspeare has also on two occasions made use of, namely, the assistance of a chorus, is also adopted in Gorboduc; but rather by way of mere decoration, and to keep the stage from being at any time empty, as in the old Greek drama, than to carry forward or even to explain the action, as in Henry the Fifth and Pericles. It consists, to quote the description given by Warton, “of Four Ancient and Sage Men of Britain, who regularly close every act, the last excepted, with an ode in long-lined stanzas, drawing back the attention of the audience to the substance of what has just passed, and illustrating it by recapitulatory moral reflections and poetical or historical allusions.”* These effusions of the chorus are all in rhyme, as being intended to be of the same lyrical character with those in the Greek plays; but the dialogue in the rest of the piece is in blank verse,
* Hist. Eng. Poet. iv. 181. WOL. III. C
of the employment of which in dramatic composition it affords the earliest instance in the language. The first experiment in this “strange metre,” as it was then called, had been made only a few years before by Lord Surrey, in his translation of the Second and Fourth Books of the AEmeid, which was published in 1557, but must have been written more than ten-years before, Surrey having been put to death in January, 1547. In the mean time the new species of verse had been cultivated in several original compositions by Nicholas Grimoald, from whom, in the opinion of Warton, the rude model exhibited by Surrey received “new strength, elegance, and modulation.” Grimoald's pieces in blank verse were first printed in 1557, along with Surrey's translation, in Tottel's collection entitled ‘Songs and Sonnets of Uncertain Authors;’ and we are not aware that there was any more English blank verse written or given to the world till the production of Gorboduc. In that case Sackville would stand as our third writer in this species of verse; in the use of which, also, he may be admitted to have surpassed Grimoald fully as much as the latter improved upon Surrey. Indeed, it may be said to have been Gorboduc that really established blank verse in the language; for its employment from the time of the appearance of that tragedy became common in dramatic composition, while in other kinds of poetry, notwithstanding two or three early attempts, such as Gascoigne's ‘Steel Glass,” in 1576, Aske's ‘Elizabetha Triumphans,’ in 1688, and Vallans's ‘Tale of Two Swans,’ in 1590, it never made head against rhyme, nor acquired any popularity, till it was brought into repute
* Hist. Eng. Poet. iii. 346.
by the Paradise Lost, published a full century after Sackville's play. It is remarkable that blank verse is never mentioned or alluded to by Sir Philip Sidney in his Defence of Poetry, which could not have been written more than a few years before 1586, the date of Sidney's death, at the age of thirty-two. Yet he was acquainted with Gorboduc, as it appears; and in one part of his tract he treats expressly on the subject of versification, of which, he says, “there are two sorts—the one ancient, the other modern : the ancient marked the quantity of each syllable, and, according to that, framed his verse; the modern observing only number, with some regard to the accent, the chief life of it standeth in that like sounding of the words which we call rhyme.”” Even in dramatic composition the use of blank verse appears to have been for some time confined to pieces not intended for popular representation. Gorboduc, as we have seen, was brought out before the Queen at Whitehall; and although, after that example, Mr. Collier observes, “blank verse was not unfrequently employed in performances written expressly for the court and for representation before select audiences, many years elapsed before this heroic measure without rhyme was adopted on the public stages of London.”f
OTHER EARLY DRAMAs.
Within a fortnight after the first performance of Gorboduc, it is recorded that another historical play, entitled Julius Caesar, was acted at court; but of this piece— affording “the earliest instance on record,” Mr. Collier
apprehends, “in which events from the Roman history were dramatised in English **—nothing is known beyond the name. To about the same time, or it may be even a year or two earlier, is probably to be assigned another early drama, founded on the story of Romeo and Juliet; as is inferred from the assertion of Arthur Brooke, in an advertisement prefixed to his poem upon that subject printed in 1562, that he had seen “the same argument lately set forth on the stage.” But whether this was a regular tragedy, or only a moral-play, we have no data for conjecturing. “From about this date,” says Mr. Collier, “until shortly after the year 1570, the field, as far as we have the means of judging, seems to have been pretty equally divided between the later morals, and the earlier attempts in tragedy, comedy, and history. In some pieces of this date (as well as subsequently) we see endeavours made to reconcile or combine the two different modes of writing; but morals afterwards generally gave way, and yielded the victory to a more popular and more intelligible species of performance. The licence to James Burbage and others in 1574 mentions comedies, tragedies, interludes, and stage plays; and in the act of common council against their performance in the city, in the following year, theatrical performances are designated as interludes, tragedies, comedies, and shows; including much more than the old miracle-plays, or more recent moral-plays, which would be embraced by the words interludes, shows, and even stage-plays, but to which the terms tragedies and comedies, found in both instruments, could not be so properly applicable.” ” We may add, in order to finish the subject here, that in the licence granted by James I., in 1603, to Burbage, Shakspeare, and their associates, they are authorized to play “comedies, tragedies, histories, interludes, morals, pastorals, stage-plays, and such other like;” and that exactly the same enumeration is found
* Hist. Dram. Poet. ii. 415.
* Hist., ii. 417. Mr. Collier adds in a note, as an instance of how the names designating the different kinds of plays were still misapplied, or what vague notions were as yet attached to them, that, so late as in 1578, Thomas Lupton called his moral of All for Money both a tragedy and a comedy. He calls it in the title “a moral and pitiful comedy;” and in the prologue, “a pleasant tragedy;” but he seems, nevertheless, to use the words in their common acceptation—meaning by these quaint phrases that the piece is a mixture of tragedy and comedy. The catastrophe is sufficiently tragical; Judas, in the last scene, coming in, says the stage direction, “like a damned soul in black, painted with flames of fire and with a fearful wizard,” followed by Dives, “with such like apparel as Judas hath;” while Damnation (another of the dramatis persona), pursuing them, drives them before him, and they pass away, “making a pitiful noise,” into perdition. A few years before, in like manner, Thomas Preston had called his play of Cambyses, King of Persia, which is a mixture of moral and history, “a lamentable tragedy full of pleasant mirth”, on the title-page, and in the running title “A Comedie of King Cambises.” Another play of about the same date, and of similar character, that of Appius and Virginia, by R. B., is styled “a tragical comedy.” At a still earlier period, both in our own and in other languages, the terms tragedy and comedy were applied to ether narrative compositions as well as to those in a dramatic form. The most illustrious instance of such a use of the term comedy is its employment by Dante for the title of his great poem, because—as he has himself expressly told us in his dedication of the Paradise to Cane della Scala, Prince of Verona—the story, although it began sadly, ended prosperously. Even the narratives in the Mirror for Magistrates, published, as we have seen, in the latter part of the sixteenth century, were still called tragedies.