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ordinary. The Mysteries had reduced truths to facts; but the Moralities which superseded them, rejected facts, and, endeavouring to represent the contentions of Virtue and Vice, sought to exhibit only abstract truths. The importance of these Moralities, as indicating in the amusements of the people the direction of the mental taste of the age, the fixedness of the temper which, in the consideration of abstract questions evolving truth, found a pleasurable relaxation, has never been sufficiently estimated by the historians of the Church; neither has the influence of these entertainments been properly traced by the writers on the Drama. Doubtless the audience soon perceived a moral was not a play; but the discovery could not be made before the admission had been granted that it had a great deal to do in such an invention. Moralities were not popular for any remarkable period; but before they merged into a higher, because less obvious and more natural, order of Drama, they had formed a taste, a habit of judging, and a standard of criticism, to which the new kind of play would be forced to comply. Men had become habituated to regard the operation of motives, to view the personations of human life as the representations of adverse principles; and, consequently, would watch the moral of the Drama as by intuition. The foundation of the ideal, which Shakspere perfected, was thus laid ; for to desire truth is to strain after perfection, and to embody this kind of truth naturally became the object of successive Dramatists. So also the same desire led to the portraiture of mixed motives. The result of the contentions of pure Vice and Virtue afforded little novelty after the first exhibition; and as the study was pursued, combinations were naturally conceived ; and the new interest thereby created, through the display of new and higher truth, made the inquiry to be followed with the utmost enthusiasm. The consequence was the rapid increase of theatres, all devoted to the new order of Drama. The good these places must have done, by taking the people from the barbarous amusements of the age, disseminating a relish for intellectual entertainment, and conveying bistorical information to the ignorant, can hardly be too highly appreciated. In a loftier region, however, they were yet more useful. They brought large masses together, to associate them in a common expression of abstract feeling; they enforced the potency of love, and depicted the danger of passion; they instructed a nation yet attached to its ancient superstition, to seek, through their own convictions, their own truth; and thus aided towards the completion of the work of Reformation. They were instruments in the great design of Providence for the attainment of the Christian mission. A beautiful ungleness of intent is perceptible throughout the Elizabethan Drama. The Christian object it had in view is necessary to be understood before its great perfection can be comprehended. The modern reader is apt to be shocked by passages which bespeak its true character. The frequent recurrence of words expressive of the Deity, the Redeemer, and holy truths, the constant introduction of prayer, and representations of the highest rituals, appear, to modern opinions, out of place in a play. “Should such things," the indignant reader asks, “ be spoken of or represented on a stage?” Not on a modern stage--certainly not. The habits of our theatres are unholy; the temper in which we
visit them not accordant with such thoughts, and the object we desire opposed to such exhibitions. But because this is so with us, cient Dramatist is not to be condemned. Our ancestors were no less devoted to their religion--no less rigorous in their notions of propriety -no less violent in their modes of reprobation--but more so than ourselves. That was not bad in their eyes, which they allowed to be ; nor can anything be deduced abstractedly bad from words which are all significant of goodness. Our minds it is which make the offence. Things now too reverend for the theatre, were once in harmony with its institution. The prayer was listened to with sympathy, and the latest rite witnessed with awe. None felt worse for having seea these sights; but perhaps the first desire to join in devotion may have been so generated in many. Truth was the ambition of the Drama, and holy things were of its nature. The poet who had lived the life he breathed, gave spirit to the prayer, which the actor, in imagination the very being of the scene, gave forth in feeling; and the audience, sympathetic with the passion, heard not its most pathetic expression uttered without participating in its supplications; and many who in those times had never witnessed true devotion, there—in the theatre, perhaps—first regarded its verity. What we are apt to look upon as the license of the time—the evidence of the moral laxity of the period --is the proof of an opposite spirit. The Reformation had made Religion known and loved; and to the audience of that time, the Drama would have been untrue, had not holy thoughts and habits been always present in the scene. It was the child of the Reformation. The Drama was the twin brother of Religion. Both grew up of one age, height, and strength; and as either weakened, both looked pale,-so close were they in being.
When the search after truth, inspired by the exchange of Superstition for Religion, by degrees lost its sincerity, and Theology became the dispute, to the ruin of the spirit of the time, the Drama showed symptoms of decline. As the Divines became more boastful of their opinions, and less righteous in their conduct, the Drama also became more conspicuously learned in its dialogue and licentious in its developements. In the Shaksperian Drama (making a due allowance for the alteration which has taken place in the import of words——that modern society insinuates the ideas which in the former age were openly spoken-for till the world is pure, significations of impurity must be used,) no scene, part of any scene, or detached expression, open to objection, will be discovered, which is not inserted for some special purpose. For instance, in Pericles, vice, in its lowest and most revolting form, is painted to the life ; yet there is, amidst the disorder, virtue present, strengthening the judgment by the contrast, appealing to our sympathies and convictions alike by its helplessness and superiority. The audience who looked on such a scene to find the truth, would be in little danger of seeing the shadows only, introduced to make the light appear more pure upon the picture; though in a modern theatre, the object being apart from truth, such representations are evidently unsuited for instruction. In Beaumont and Fletcher's Dramas, and in those of Shirley, passages written in a spirit of depravity frequently recur; and most frequently in the works of that author who lived furthest from the good time ; for as the Court, in the heat of dispute, took pleasure to defy the Puritans, so the Drama seems to have found a motive for vice in those attacks it could only have answered by a contrary exhibition.
With the Protectorate, the Drama was suppressed ; and as the pages of English history are turned over, the reader sensibly feels the events which occurred at this time are only to be defended on political grounds. Looked at with a religious eye, this is the most antichristian period of English history. The strife was carried on in bloodshed—success was consummated by spoliation—and power, throughout its reign, maintained by severity. No characteristic of the love and innocency of Christ stamps that tiine, but in the unchecked triumph of pride, uncharitableness, and self-love, human passion is alone perceived. The hollowness of mortal pretensions made ridicule hateful to the Puritan, whose sternness rejected flattery, and whose deeds could not be openly tested by truth; thus every form of Drama became alike incompatible with the feeling of this age; and in the circumstance of its incompatibility, far more than in the motives advanced to justify, may be found the true cause of the inveteracy of the Puritans against the Stage.
The Restoration allowed freer scope to human feeling; and if much of dearest good was yet wanting, much which prevented it being sought in calmness was abolished. The late troubles, indeed, had induced a state of mind unfavourable to the developement of a pure Drama, but nevertheless the love for the pure form remained ; and there being many writers of genius, and the majority of the old actors in existence, as the public excitement subsided, and the general feeling purified itself, no doubt a good kind of entertainment would have been exhibited, had not nieasures heen taken to prevent such a result. Heretofore the Drama had depicted the virtues of its age, and the Dramatists had formed the marks by which its progress is indicated; but from the Restoration, the stage plays exhibit the vices of the time, and the names of the actors are the points which denote the progress of the theatre. A total change in the aspect of the art, for the wholesome exercise of which freedom is essential, was produced by the act of the Sovereign which gave the theatre to the party with whom he associated his interests. The temper of the Cavaliers, who endeavour to soothe the bitterness of defeat by pretending to despise their victors, engendered a fondness for ridicule which they dignified by the name of wit, and a habit of bragging, which they insisted was the display of heroism; and the playhouse being given up to their direction, its exhibitions were compelled to take the form their peculiar taste prescribed. Two theatres were found to be as many as the Cavalier faction could maintain, and the metropolis was forced to be content with this allowance,-no greater number being permitted to exist by the patents of Charles the Second.
These grants at once destroyed the national character of the Drama, and the wisdom which conceived them is truly pictured in the consequences they have induced. They have been the loss of all who had endeavoured to work them. As the records of the theatres are looked over, no instance occurs where success can be set down to the possession of the patents, but an opposite cause is always pointed out.
Now the actor, then the spectacle, fills the house; but never is a season of settled prosperity met with. The patentees are ever struggling against some unperceived obstacle which threatens their anvihilation. The speculations are always dangerous, and only, when redeemed, rescued by extraordinary exertion; and so obvious is this throughout, and so continuous the effect, that, at the present time, the larger houses or Patent Theatres most frequently change their proprietors, and are the worst paying properties of any of the like description in London. One person holds a minor house for a life, and dies its manager, leaving wealth behind him. He is poor when he begins his career ; but the managers of the Patent Theatre commence with capital, to lose it in a few years, and retire ruined. The lesser place pays also the higher proportionate rent; for Covent Garden and Drury Lane are, as theatrical properties, considerably underlet ; and yet, were no rent to be paid, could not, probably, under the present system, be profitably occupied.
There must be a reason for this; and when it is understood that all arts create the taste on which they live, and that to circumscribe the sphere of any art is, consequently, to circumscribe the source of its existence, the cause is at once perceived. The minor theatres, being numerous, create a large taste for the order of entertainment they deal in, and one thus makes another prosperous; but the larger houses being few, the Drama they present, little seen, is little admired; but were this latter as much performed as the former, the Patent Houses would, in the increased taste for that form of amusement they can best exhibit, be probably profitable properties. To monopolize an art is an impossibility.
The Patents have caused the pecuniary losses of the Patentees. This, however, is but their lowest effect; they were in a moral view yet more injurious. By their exclusiveness they originated an unhealthy sphere, of the privacy of which the licentiousness of the day quickly availed itself; and the abhorrence which the vices of the Theatre justly generated—the paganism of the pieces—the laxity of the performers and the profligacy of the audience,-effectually separated the Drama from Religion. How intimately these had once been united, the enmity of those who opposed the Reformation has written on the statute book. Mary oppressed the Theatres, because the Drama favoured the cause she hated; and the same conviction of its tendency made Elizabeth and James the patrons of the Stage. But from the date of the Patents good men avoided the playhouse. Even the spirit of party could not silver over the deformity; for Bishop Burnet, in the preface he wrote to “ The Life of God in the Soul of Man," boldly asks, “What shall be said of those constant crowds at plays, especially now the Stage is so defiled with atheism and all sorts of immorality ?” In a later time, the author of “ Douglas" was deprived of his gown for contributing to an unholy amusement, and the justness of the sentence cannot be disputed. The separation was so entire, that nothing afterwards which affected Religion operated on the Drama. The great second Reform, which Wesley and Whitfield devoted their lives to consumo mate, caused no alteration in the habits of the playhouse. A moral change took place in the mind of the nation, yet on the foremost
amusement of the country it had no more effect than if it had occurred in an unknown land. Religion, that should blend with all things, could no longer affect the Stage ; shut up in a limited sphere, and fenced round by law, Vice had a protection in the Patents, and it became evident that if the Legitimate Drama were ever to be revived, its revival must begin, and its strength be matured, in a sphere altogether removed from the influence of the Theatre. When we consider that it is through the playhouse the Dramatist receives the means of living, and that the spirit to write is in a great measure derived from the same source, it will be seen how many circumstances there were to discourage the hope of the Drama being ever restored; but Providence has ordained what reason would have despaired of seeing accomplished.
The activity produced by those events, which originated the late wars, when man again felt a desire to communicate in sentiment, gave rise to an increase in the number of the London theatres. This increase has virtually destroyed the Patents, and also, by the production of Melodrama, has been the source of further benefit in three directions. On the Drama, on the actors, and on the audience.
On the Drama it has done essential good, by banishing the classic, or pagan stage plays, with which the idea of poetical justice or worldly rewards first originated, and from which the morality of Melodrama is a transcript, in the same manner as
“ situations” are no more than an application of the classic habit of ever working to a climax, and thus suddenly breaking the action to recommence the scene. So also “ perfect characters" or single motives, are to be attributed to the same source; in fact, most modern melodramas are no more than classic stage plays, condensed by the rejection of the dry long-winded descriptions and discussions; all the action, manners, characters, motives, sentiment, and morality, being scrupulously retained. Melodrama has, by divesting the classic of its pedantic assumption, displayed its true worth, and generated a disgust which will effectually prevent that bad species of entertainment ever being revived.
With regard to the actors the effect is parallel. Everywhere Melodrama has been a destroyer. When the Patents suppressed the Dramatist, the actors, retaining their art, naturally rose to the first place, which before, the Drama had occupied above them; and if their power was fantastically abused, it must, in charity, be remembered, that circumstances had forced the players into a false position. Yet having tasted authority, some heavy chastisement was required again to reduce them to subjection,--and this, Melodrama, by the destruction of their art, is inflicting.
Regarding the audience, a purifying result through the satiety Melodrama has produced, and the consequent desire for a nobler amusement, is one good, while the patience it has exercised, and the forbearance it has tutored, is another benefit, which will be of great importance during the infancy of the regenerated Draina, which, had the old custom of damnation” prevailed, must have been condemned at its birth.
Melodrama has prepared the Theatre to receive a new impressior