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contrasted with any English verse written twenty years before, marks a rate of progress during that space, in the subsidence of the language into comparative regularity of grammatical and syntactical forms, which is very surprising. Warton remarks, as a proof of the rapidity with which the work of refinement or change went on in the language at this time, that “in the second edition of this play, printed again with Gascoigne's poems in 1587, it was thought necessary to affix marginal explanations of many words, not long before in common use, but now become obsolete and unintelligible.” In the present instance this was done, as the author tells us, at the request of a lady, who did not understand “poetical words or terms.” But it was a practice occasionally followed down to a much later date. To all the quarto editions, for example, of Joshua Sylvester's metrical translation of Du Bartas (1605, 1608, 1613) there is appended “A brief Index, explaining most of the hardest words scattered through this whole work, for ease of such as are least exercised in those kind of readings.” It consists of thirty double-columned pages, and may contain about six hundred words.”
* Most of these are proper names; many others are scien tific terms. Among the explanations are the following:— Annals, Histories from year to year.—Anchises' pheere, Venus (pheere itself is not explained, and may therefore be supposed to have been still in common use.)—Bacchanalian frows, Women-priests of Bacchus, the God of Cups.-Barr-geese and Barnacles, a kind of fowls that grow of rotten trees and broken ships.--Demain, possessions of inheritance, time out of mind continued in the possession of the lord.—Duel, single combat.--Metaphysical, supernatural.—Poetasters, base, counterfeit, unlearned, witless, and wanton poets, that pester the world either with idle vanities or odious villanies.—Patagons,
SECOND STAGE OF THE REGULAR DRAMA: PEELE ;
It thus appears that numerous pieces, entitled by their form to be accounted as belonging to the regular drama, had been produced before the year 1580; but nevertheless no dramatic work had yet been written which can be said to have taken its place in our literature, or to have almost any interest for succeeding generations on account of its intrinsic merits and apart from its mere antiquity. The next ten years disclose a new scene. Within that space a crowd of dramatists arose whose writings still form a portion of our living poetry, and present the regular drama, no longer only painfully struggling into the outward shape proper to that species of
Indian cannibals, such as eat man's flesh.-Scaliger, Josephus, now living, a Frenchman admirable in all languages for all manner of learning (so in edition of 1613, though Jo. --aliger died in 1609). These explanatory vocabularies are sometimes, also, found appended to prose works of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Mr. Hallam, in a note to his Introduction to the Literature of Europe, vol. iii. p. 653, has observed that, in Pratt's edition of Bishop Hall's works, we have a glossary of obsolete or unusual words employed by him, which amount to more than 1100, some of which are Gallicisms, but the greater part of Latin or Greek origin. This book was published after the Restoration. By that time we see the difficulty ordinary readers had was, to understand the old words that were going out of fashion; whereas, that of their ancestors, in the days of Elizabeth and James, was to understand the new words that were flowing so fast into their mother-tongue. This little circumstance is very curiously significant, not only of the opposite directions in which the language was moving at the two periods, but of the difference, also, in other respects, between an age of advancement and hope, and one of weariness, retrogression. and decrepitude.
* sEcoSD STAGE OF THE REGULAR DRAMA : PEELE. 45
composition, but having the breath of life breathed into it, and beginning to throb and stir with the pulsations of genuine passion. We can only here shortly notice some of the chief names in this numerous company of our early dramatists, properly so called. One to whom much attention has been recently directed is George Peele, the first of whose dramatic productions, “The Arraignment of Paris,” a sort of masque or pageant which had been represented before the queen, was printed anonymously in 1584. But Peele's most celebrated drama is his ‘Love of King David and Fair Bethsabe, first published in 1599, two or three years after the author's death. This play Mr. Campbell has called “the earliest fountain of pathos and harmony that can be traced in our dramatic poetry;” and he adds, “there is no such sweetness of versification and imagery to be found in our blank verse anterior to Shakspeare.” David and Bethsabe was, in all pro ability, written not anterior to Shakspeare, but after he had been at least six or seven years a writer for the stage, and had produced perhaps ten or twelve of his plays, including some of those in which, to pass over all other and higher things, the music of the verse has ever been accounted the most perfect and delicious. We know at least that The Midsummer Night's Dream, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, Richard II., King John, and Richard III., were all written and acted, if not all printed, before Peele's play was given to the world.' But, independently of this consideration, it must
* Spec. of Eng. Poet. i. 140.
+ This is established by the often quoted passage in Meres's Wit’s Treasury, published in 1598, in which these and others of Shakspeare's plays are enumerated.
be admitted that the best of Peele's blank verse, though smooth and flowing, and sometimes tastefully decorated with the embellishments of a learned and imitative fancy, is both deficient in richness or even variety of modulation, and without any pretensions to the force and fire of original poetic genius. It may be true, nevertheless, as is conceded by Mr. Collier, one of the modern critics with whom Peele has not found so much favour as with Mr. Campbell and with Mr. Dyce, to whom we are indebted for the first collected edition of his plays,” that “he had an elegance of fancy, a gracefulness of expres– sion, and a melody of versification which, in the earlier part of his career, was scarcely approached.” Another of Peele's pieces, entitled ‘The Old Wives' Tale, a Pleasant conceited Comedy,’ printed in 1595, has excited some curiosity from a resemblance it bears in the story, though in little or nothing else, to Milton's Masque of Comus. Contemporary with Peele was Robert
* Dramatic Works of George Peele (with his Poems), by the Rev. Alexander Dyce, 2 vols. 8vo. London, 1829.
t Mr. Hallam's estimate is, perhaps, not quite so high: “Peele has some command of imagery, but in every other quality it seems to me that he has scarce any claim to honour; and I doubt if there are three lines together in any of his plays that could be mistaken for Shakespeare's...". The versification of Peele is much inferior to that of Marlow ; and, though sometimes poetical, he seems rarely dramatic.”—Lit. of Eur. ii. 378.
f This was first pointed out by Isaac Reed in the appendix to his edition of Baker's Biographia Dramatica, 1782, vol. ii. p. 441. The subject has been examined at length by Warton in his edition of the Minor Poems of Milton, pp. 135, 136; and again, pp. 575—577 (2nd edit. Lond. 1791). He observes, “That Milton had an eye on this ancient drama, which might have been the favourite of his early youth, perhaps may be at least affirmed with as much credibility as that he
Greene, the author of five plays, besides one written in conjunction with a friend. Greene died in 1592, and he appears only to have begun to write for the stage about 1587. Mr. Collier thinks that, in facility of expression, and in the slow of his blank verse, he is not to be placed below Peele. But Greene's most characteristic attribute is his turn for merriment, of which Peele in his dramatic productions shows little or nothing. His comedy, or farce rather, is no doubt usually coarse enough, but the turbid stream flows at least freely and abundantly. Among his plays is a curious one on the subject of the History of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, which is supposed to have been written in 1588 or 1589, though first published in 1594. This, however, is not so much a story of diablerie as of mere legerdemain, mixed, like all the rest of Greene's pieces, with a good deal of farcical incident and dialogue; even the catastrophe, in which one of the characters is carried off to hell, being so managed as to impart no supernatural interest to the drama.”
Of a different and far higher order of poetical and dramatic character is another play of this date upon a similar subject, the Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, by Christopher Marlow. Marlow died at an early age in 1593, the year after
conceived the Paradise Lost from seeing a mystery at Florence, written by Andreini, a Florentine, in 161, , entitled Adamo.” * Greene's plays are collected under the title of “The Dramatic Works of Robert Greene, to which are added his Poems; with some Account of the Author, and Notes; by the Rev. Alexander Dyce; 2 vols. 8vo. 1831.