« AnteriorContinuar »
supposed that in 1583 she selected one company of twelve | Revels and the actors exerted themselves to furnish variety performers, to be called “ the Queen's players;" but it seems for the entertainment of the Queen and her nobility; but
tinguished as “the Queen's players." Tylney, the master court, the materials for which were obtained from the Engof the revels at the time, records, in one of his accounts, lish Chronicles. It is very certain, however, that anterior that in March, 1583, he had been sent for by her Majesty to 1588 such pieces had been written, and acted before pub“ to chuse out a company of players:"' Richard Tarlton and lic audiences, but those who catered for the court in these Robert Wilson were placed at the head of that association, matters might not consider it expedient to exhibit, in the which was probably soon afterwards divided into two dis- presence of the Queen, any play which involved the actions tinct bodies of performers. In 1590, John Lanham was the or conduct of her predecessors. The companies of players leader of one body?, and Lawrence Dutton of the other. engaged in these representations were those of the Queen,
We have thus brought our sketch of dramatic perform- the Earls of Leicester, Derby, Sussex, Oxford, the Lords ances and performers down to about the same period, the Hunsdon and Strange, and the children of the Chapel Royal year 1583. We propose to continue it to 1590, and to as- and of St. Paul's. sume that as the period not, of course, when Shakespeare About this date the number of companies of actors perfirst joined a theatrical company, but when he began writing forming publicly in and near London seems to have been original pieces for the stage. This is a matter which is very considerable. A person, who calls himself “ a soldier," more distinctly considered in the biography of the poet; writing to Secretary Walsingham, in January, 1586,5 tells but it is necessary here to fix upon some date to which we him, that “every day in the week the players' bills are set are to extend our introductory account of the progress and up in sundry places of the city," and after mentioning the condition of theatrical affairs. What we have still to offer actors of the Queen, the Earl of Leicester, the Earl of will apply to the seven years from 1583 to 1590.
Oxford, and the Lord Admiral, he goes on to state that not The accounts of the revels at court about this period fewer than two hundred persons, thus retained and emafford us little information, and indeed for several years, ployed, strutted in their silks about the streets. It may be when such entertainments were certainly required by the doubted whether this statement is much exaggerated, reQueen, we are without any details either of the pieces per- collecting the many noblemen who had players acting under formed, or of the cost of preparation. We have such par- their names at this date, and that each company consisted ticulars for the years 1581, 1582, 1584, and 1587, but for probably of eight or ten performers. On the same authority the intermediate years they are wanting.
we learn that theatrical representations upon the Sabbath The accounts of 1581, 1582, and 1584, give us the fol- had been forbidden; but this restriction does not seem to lowing names of dramatic performances of various kinds have been imposed without a considerable struggle: Before exhibited before the Queen:
1581 the Privy Council had issued an order upon the subA comedy called Delight.
ject, but it was disregarded in some of the suburbs of Lon
Ariodante and Genevora. The Story of Pompey.
Pastoral of Phillida and
don; and it was not until after a fatal exhibition of bearA Game of the Cards.
baiting at Paris Garden, upon Sunday, 13 June, 1583, when A comedy of Beauty and History of Felix and Phi
many persons were killed and wounded by the falling of a Housewifry.
scaffold, that the practice of playing, as well as bear-baiting, Love and Fortune..
Five Plays in One.
on the Sabbath was at all generally checked. In 1586, as History of Ferrar.
far as we can judge from the information that has come History of Telomo.
Agamemnon and Ulysses. down to our day, the order which had been issued in this This list of dramas (the accounts mention that others respect was pretty strictly enforced. At this period, and were acted without supplying their titles) establishes that afterwards, plays were not unfrequently played at court on moral plays had not yet been excluded3.' The “ Game of Sunday, and the chief difficulty therefore seems to have the Cards” is expressly called “a comedy or moral." in the been to induce the Privy Council to act with energy against accounts of 1582; and we may not unreasonably suppose similar performances in public theatres... that “ Delight,” and “ Beauty and Housewifry," were of the The annual official statement of the Master of the Revels same class. “The Story of Pompey,” and “ Agamemnon merely tells us, in general terms, that between Christmas and Ulysses,” were evidently performances founded upon 1586, and Shrovetide 1587, “ seven plays, besides feats of ancient history, and such may have been the case with “ The activity, and other shows by the children of Paul's, her History of Telomo.” “Love and Fortune” has been called Majesty's servants, and the gentlemen of Gray's Inn,” were “the play of Fortune” in the account of 1573; and we may prepared and represented before the Queen at Greenwich. feel assured that “ Ariodante and Genevora” was the story No names of plays are furnished, but in 1587 was printed a told by Ariosto, which also forms part of the plot of tragedy, under the title of “The Misfortunes of Arthur," “Much Ado about Nothing.” “The History of Ferrar” was which purports to have been acted by some of the members doubtless “The History of Error” of the account of 1577, of Gray's Inn before the Queen, on 28 Feb., 1587: this, in the clerk having written the title by his ear; and we may fact, must be the very production stated in the revels' acreasonably suspect that “Felix and Philiomena” was, the counts to have been got up and performed by these partale of Felix and Felismena, narrated in the “ Diana” of ties; and it requires notice, not merely for its own intrinsic Montemayor. It is thus evident, that the Master of the excellence as a drama, but because, in point of date, it is the second play founded upon English history represented stage is noticed, is an epistle by Thomas Nash introducing at court, as well as the second original theatrical production to the world his friend Robert Greene's “Menaphon," in in blank-verse that has been preserved'. The example, in 15876: there, in reference to "vain-glorious tragedians," he this particular, had been set, as we have already shown, in says, that they are “mounted on the stage of arrogance," “Gorboduc," fifteen years before; and it is probable, that in and that they think to out-brave better pens with the that interval not a few of the serious compositions exhibited swelling bombast of bragging blank-verse." He afterwards at court were in blank-verse, but it had not yet been used talks of the “drumming decasyllibon” they employed, and on any of our public stages.
186. The editor's "Introduction" is full of new and valuable infor- moral play, under the title of " The Contention between Liberality nation,
and Prodigality," printed in 1602, and acted, as appears by the strongi Tarlton died on 3 Sept. 1588, and we apprehend that it was not est internal evidence, in 1000.. until after this date that Lanham' became leader of one company of 4 Tarlton, who died, as we have already stated, in Sept. 1.588, obthe Queen's Players. Mr. Halliwell discovered Tarlton's will in the tained great celebrity by his performance of the two parts of Derrick Prerogative Office, bearing date on the day of his decease: he there and the Judge, in the old historical play of " The Famous Victories calls himself one of the grooms of the Queen's chamber, and leaves 1 of Henry the Fifth." all his “ goods, cattels, chattels, plate, ready money, jewels, bonds 5 See the original letter in Harleian MSS. No. 286. obligatory, specialties, and debts," to his son Philip 'Tarlton, a minor. 6 The manner in which, about this time, the players were bribed He appoints his mother, Katherine Tarlton, his friend Robert Adams, away from Oxford is curious, and one of the items in the accounts and his fellow William Johnson, one also of the grooms of her expressly applies to the Earl of Leicester's servants. We are obliged Majesty's chamber," trustees for his son, and executors of his will, to the Rev. Dr. Bliss for the following extracts, relating to this pewhich was proved by Adams three days after the death of the testator. riod and a little afterwards : As Tarlton says nothing about his wife in his will, we may presume 1587 Solut. Histrionibus Comitis Lecestriæ, ut cum suis ludis that he was a widower; and of his son, Philip Tarlton, we never hear
sine majore Academiæ molestiâ discedant . .XXS afterwards.
Solut. Histrionibus Honoratissimi Domini Howard : XXS 2 From 1587 to 1604, the most important period as regards Shake: 1588 Solut. Histrionibus, ne ludos inhonestos exercerent inspeare, it does not appear that any official statements by the master
fra Universitatem . . . . . : (no sum) of the revels have been preserved. In the same way there is an un 1590 Solut. per D. Eedes, vice-cancellarii locum tenentem,
quibusdam Histrionibus, ut sine perturbatione et 9 One of the last pieces represented befor n Elizabeth was a
strepitu ab Academia discederent
. XS vain."
ridicules them for “reposing eternity in the mouth of a The main body of The Misfortunes of Arthur” was the player.” This question is farther illustrated by a producauthorship of Thomas Hughes, a member of Gray's Inn ; tion by Greene, published in the next year, " Perimedes, but some speeches and two choruses (which are in rhyme) the Blacksmith," from which it is evident that Nash had an were added by William Fulbecke and Francis Flower, individual allusion in what he had said in 1587. Greene while no less a man than Lord Bacon assisted Christopher fixes on the author of the tragedy of “ Tamburlaine," whom Yelverton and John Lancaster in the preparation of the he accuses of "setting the end of scholarism in an English dumb-shows. Hughes evidently took “Gorbodue” as his blank-verse," and who, it should seem, had somewhere acmodel, both in subject and style, and, like Sackville and cused Greene of not being able to write it. Norton, he adopted the forn of the Greek and Roman We learn from various authorities, that Christopher drama, and adhered more strictly than his predecessors to Marlowe was the author of “ Tamburlaine the Great," a the unities of time and place. The plot relates to the re- dramatic work of the highest celebrity and popularity, bellion of Mordred against his father, King Arthur, and part printed as early as 1590, and affording the first known inof the plot is very revolting, on account of the incest be- stance of the use of blank-verse in a public theatre: the tween Mordred and his stepmother Guenevora, Mordred title-page of the edition 1590 states, that it had been “sunhimself being the son of Arthur's sister: there is also a vast dry times shown upon stages in the city of London." In deal of blood and slaughter throughout, and the catastrophe the prologue the author claims to have introduced a new is the killing of the son by the father, and of the father by form of composition :the son; so that a more painfully disagreeable story could hardly have been selected. The author, however, possessed
" From jigging veins of rhyming mother-wits,
And such conceits as clownage keeps in pay, a very bold and vigorous genius; his characters are strongly
We'll lead you to the stately tent of war, &c. drawn, and the language they employ is consistent with their situations and habits: His blank-verse, both in force Accordingly, nearly the whole drama, consisting of a first and variety, is superior to that of either Sackville or Nor- and second part, is in blank-verse. Hence we see the value tona.
of Dryden's loose assertion, in the dedication to Lord OrIt is very clear, that up to the year 1580, about which rery of his “Rival Ladies," in 1664, that “Shakespeare was date Gosson published his “ Plays confuted in Five Ac- the first who, to shun the pains of continual rhyming, intions," dramatic performances on the public stages of Lon-vented that kind of writing which we call blank-verse." don were sometimes in prose, but more constantly in rhyme. The distinction belongs to Marlowe, the greatest of ShakesIn his “School of Abuse," 1579, Gosson speaks of two peare's predecessors, and a poet who, if he had lived, might, prose books played at the Bell Savage%;" but in his “ Plays perhaps, have been a formidable rival of his genius. We confuted” he tells us, that “poets send their verses to the have too much reverence for the exhaustless originality of stage upon such feet as continually are rolled up in rhyme." I our great dramatist, to think that he cannot afford this, or With one or two exceptions, all the plays publicly acted, of any other tribute to a poet, who, as far as the public stage a date anterior to 1590, that have come down to us, are is concerned, deserves to be regarded as the inventor of a either in prose or in rhyme'. The case seems to have been new style of composition. different, as already remarked, with some of the court- That the attempt was viewed with jealousy, there can be shows and private entertainments; but we are now advert- no doubt, after what we have quoted from Nash and Greene. ing to the pieces represented at such places as the Theatre, It is most likely that Greene, who was older than Nash, the Curtain, Blackfriars, and in inn-yards adapted tempo- had previously written various dramas in rhyme; and the rarily to dramatic amusements, to which the public was bold experiment of Marlowe having been instantly successindiscriminately admitted. The earliest work, in which the ful, Greene was obliged to abandon his old course, and his employment of blank-verse for the purpose of the common extant plays are all in blank-verse. Nash, who had at
i Gascoyne's “Jocasta," printed in 1577, and represented by the of Greene's pamphlets, dated in 1587-we mean "Euphues his author and other members of the society at Gray's Inn in 1566 as a Censure to Philautus." private show, was a translation from Euripides. It is, as far as has 6 If Marlowe were born, as has been supposed, about 1562, (Oldys yet been ascertained, the second play in our language written in places the event earlier,) he was twenty-four when he wrote "Tamblank-verse, but it was not an original work. The same author's burlaine," as we believe, in 1.586, and only thirty-one when he was « Supposes," taken from Ariosto, is in prose.
killed by a person of the name of Archer, in an affray arising out of 2 "The Misfortunes of Arthur," with four other dramas, has been an amorous intrigue, in 1593. In a manuscript note of the time, in reprinted in a supplementary volume to the last edition of Dodsley's a copy of his version of “Hero and Leander," edit. 1629, in our posOld Plays. It is not, therefore, necessary here to enter into an ex- session, it is said, among other things, that “Marlowe's father was a amination of its structure or versification. It is a work of extraor- shoemaker at Canterbury," and that he had an acquaintance at Dover dinary power.
whom he infected with the extreme liberality of his opinions on 3 See the Shakespeare Society's reprint, p. 30. Gosson gives them matters of religion. At the back of the title-page of the same the highest praise, asserting that they contained " never a word volume is inserted the following epitaph, subscribed with Marlowe's without wit, never a line without pith, never a letter placed in name, and no doubt of his composition, although never before
noticediam 4 Sometimes plays written in prose were, at a subsequent date,
"In obitum honoratissimi viri when blank-verse had become the popular form of composition, pub
ROGERI MANWOOD, Militis, Quæstorii lished as if they had been composed in measured lines. The old his
Reginalis Capitalis Baronis. torical play, “The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth," which
Noctivagi terror, ganeonis triste flagellum, preceded that of Shakespeare, is an instance directly in point: it was
Et Jovis Alcides, rigido vulturque latroni, written in prose, but the old printer chopped it up into lines of un
Urnâ subtegitur : scelerum gaudete nepotes. equal length, so as to make it appear to the eye something like blank
Insons, luctifica sparsis cervice capillis, verse.
Plange, fori lumen, venerandæ gloria legis 5 Greene began writing in 1583, his " Mamillia" having been
Occidit: heu! secum effctas Acherontis ad oras then printed: his "Mirror of Modesty” and “Monardo," bear the
Multa abiit virtus. Pro tot virtutibus uni, date of 1584. His Menaphon" (afterwards called “Greene's Ar
Livor, parce viro : non audacissimus esto cadia”) first appeared in 1587, and it was reprinted in 1589. We
Illius in cineres, cujus tot millia vulius have never seen the earliest edition of it, but it is mentioned by
Mortalium attonuit: sic cum te nuncia Ditis various bibliographers; and those who have thrown doubt upon the
Vulneret exanguis, feliciter ossa quiescant, point, (stated in the History of English Dramatic Poetry and the
Famæque marmorei superet monumenta sepulchri." Stage, vol. iii., p. 150), for the sake of founding an argument upon It is added, that “Marlowe was a rare scholar, and died aged about it, have not adverted to the conclusive fact, that Menaphon” is thirty." The above is the only extant specimen of his Latin commentioned as already in print in the introductory rnatter to another position, and we insert it exactly as it stands in manuscript.
tacked Marlowe in 1587, before 1593 (when Marlowe was And scale the icy mountains' lofty tops, killed) had joined him in the production of a blank-verse . Which with thy beauty will be soor dissolv'd."1 tragedy, on the story of Dido, which was printed in 1594. I
| Nash having alluded to “Tamburlaine” in 1587, it is eviIt has been objected to “Tamburlaine," that it is written
dent that it could hardly have been written later than 1585 in a turgid and ambitious style, such indeed as Nash and
or 1586, which is about the period when it has been generGreene ridicule; but we are to recollect that Marlowe was 11
ally, and with much appearance of probability, supposed at this time endeavouring to wean audiences from the
that Shakespeare arrived in London. In considering the “jigging veins of rhyming mother-wits,” and that, in order to
state of the stage just before our great dramatist became a satisfy the ear for the loss of the jingle, he was obliged to
writer for it, it is clearly, therefore, necessary to advert give what Nash calls “the swelling bombast of bragging
briefly to the other works of Marlowe, observing in addiblank-verse.” This consideration will of itself account for
tion, with reference to “Tamburlaine,” that it is a historical breaches of a more correct taste to be found in “ Tambur
drama, in which not a single unity is regarded; time, place, laine." In the Prologue, besides what we have already
and action, are equally set at defiance, and the scene shifts quoted, Marlowe tells the audience to expect “high as
at once to or from Persia, Scythia, Georgia, and Morocco, tounding terms,” and he did not disappoint expectation.
4. as best suited the purpose of the poet. Perhaps the better to reconcile the ordinary frequenters of
Marlowe was also, most likely, the author of a play in public theatres to the change, he inserted various scenes of |
| which the Priest of the Sun was prominent, as Greene menIow comedy, which the printer of the edition in 1590
tions it with “Tamburlaine” in 1588, but no such piece is thought fit to exclude, as * digressing, and far unmeet for
now known: he, however, wrote “The Tragical History of the matter." Marlowe likewise sprinkled couplets here
the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus," “ The Massacre at and there, although it is to be remembered, that having ac-|
Paris,” « The rich Jew of Malta," and an English historical complished his object of substituting blank-verse by the
play, called “ The troublesome Reign and lamentable Death first part of “Tamburlaine," he did not, even in the second
of Edward the Second,” besides aiding Nash in “Dido part, think it necessary by any means so frequently to in
Queen of Carthage," as already mentioned. If they were troduce occasional rhymes. In those plays which there is
not all of them of a date anterior to any of Shakespeare's ground for believing to be the first works of Shakespeare,
original works, they were written by a man who had set couplets, and even stanzas, are more frequent than in any
the example of the employment of blank-verse upon the of the surviving productions of Marlowe. This circum
public stage, and perhaps of the historical and romantic stance is, perhaps, in part to be accounted for by the fact
drama in all its leading features and characteristics. His (as far as we may so call it) that our great poet retained
bed" Edward the Second" affords sufficient proof of both these in some of his performances portions of old rhyming dramas,
points: the versification displays, though not perhaps in the which he altered and adapted to the stage; but in early
same abundance, nearly all the excellences of Shakespeare; plays, which are to be looked upon as entirely his own,
and in point of construction, as well as in interest, it bears Shakespeare appears to have deemed rhyme more neces
a strong resemblance to the “ Richard the Second” of our sary to satisfy the ear of his auditory than Marlowe held it
great dramatist. It is impossible to read the one without when he wrote his “ Tamburlaine the Great."
being reminded of the other, and we can have no difficulty As the first employment of blank-verse upon the public
o in assigning “ Edward the Second” to an anterior period. 3 stage by Marlowe is a matter of much importance, in rela-1"
| The same remark as to date may be made upon the tion to the history of our more ancient drama, and to the mic
I plays which came from the pen of Robert Greene, who subsequent adoption of that form of composition by Shakes-Pia
es died in September, 1592, when Shakespeare was rising into peare, we ought not to dismiss it without affording a single
single notice, and exciting the jealousy of dramatists who had specimen from “Tamburlaine the Great." The following |
ng previously furnished the public stages. This jealousy broke is a portion of a speech by the hero to Zenocrate, when first
out on the part of Greene in, if not before, 1592, (in which he meets and sues to her:
year his “Groatsworth of Wit," a posthumous work, was "Disdains Zenocrate to live with me,
published by his contemporary, Henry Chettle4,) when he Or you, my lords, to be my followers ?
complained that Shakespeare had "beautified himself” Think you I weigh this treasure more than you ? with the feathers of others : he alluded, as we apprehend, Not all the gold in India's wealthy arms
to the manner in which Shakespeare had availed himself Shall buy the meanest soldier in my train. Zenocrate, lovelier than the love of Jove,
of the two parts of the “Contention between the Houses, Brighter than is the silver Rhodope,
York and Lancaster," in the authorship of which there is Fairer than whitest snow on Scythian hills,
much reason to suppose Greene had been concerned. Such Thy person is more worth to Tamburlaine,
evidence as remains upon this point has been adduced in Than the possession of the Persian crown,
our “ Introduction” to “The Third Part of Henry VI.;" and Which gracious stars have promis'd at my birth. a perusal of the two parts of the Contention," in their A hundred Tartars shall attend on thee,
original state, will serve to show the condition of our draMounted on steeds swifter than Pegasus :
matic literature at that great epoch of our stage-history, Thy garments shall be made of Median silk, Enchas'd with precious jewels of mine own,
when Shakespeare began to acquire celebrity. "The True More rich and valurous than Zenocrate's :
Tragedy of Richard III.” is a drama of about the same With milk-white harts upon an ivory sled
period, which has come down to us in a much more imperThou shalt be drawn amidst the frozen poles,
fect state, the original manuscript having been obviously
1 Our quotation is from a copy of the edition of 1590, 4to, in the Edward II.” We willingly adopt the qualification of Mr. Hallam library of Lord Francis Egerton, which we believe to be the earliest : upon this point, where he says, 7 Introduction to the Literature of on the title-page it is stated that it is now first and newly pub Europe," vol. ii., p. 171, edit. 1843,) “I am reluctant to admit that lished.” It was several times reprinted. No modern edition is to be Shakespeare modelled his characters by those of others; and it is trusted: they are full of the grossest errors, and never could have natural to ask whether there were not an extraordinary likeness in been collated. .
the dispositions, as well as in the fortunes of the two kings ?" 2 Another play, not published until 1657, under the title of " Lust's 14 In our biographical account of Shakespeare, under the date of Dominion," has also been constantly, but falsely, assigned to Mar- 1592, we have necessarily entered more at large into this question. lowe: some of the historical events contained in it did not happen | 5 Mr. Hallam ("Introduction to the Literature of Europe," vol. ii., until five years after the death of that poet. This fact was distinctly | p. 171) supposes that the words of Greene, referring to Shakespeare, pointed out nearly twenty years ago, in the last edition of Dodsley's 1 " There is an upstart crow beautified with our feathers," are addressed Old Plays (vol. ii., p. 311); but nevertheless " Lust's Dominion” has to Marlowe; who may have had a principal share in the production since been spoken of and treated as Marlowe's undoubted production, of the two parts of the "Contention." This conjecture is certainly and even included in editions of his works. It is in all probability more than plausible; but we may easily imagine Greene to have the same drama as that which, in Henslowe's Diary, is called “The alluded to himself also, and that he had been Marlowe's partner in Spanish Moor's Tragedy, which was written by Dekker, Haughton, the composition of the two dramas, which Shakespeare remodelled, and Day, in the beginning of the year 1600. .
perhaps, not very long before the death of Greene. 3 In the History of English Dramatic Poetry and the Stage, vol. 6 They have been accurately reprinted by the Shakespeare Society, iii., p. 139, it is incautiously stated, that "the character of Shakes- | under the care of Mr. Halliwell, from the earliest impressions in peare's Richard II. seems modelled in no slight degree upon that of | 1594 and 1595.
massage very corrupt. It was printed in 1594, and Shakespeare, years older than Shakespeare, that he was a writer before tinding it in the possession of the company to which he any of them: it does not seem, however, that his dramas was attached, probably had no scruple in constructing his were intended for the public stage, but for court-shows or “ Richard the Third” of some of its rude materials. It private entertainments. His “ Alexander and Campaspe,'' seems not unlikely that Robert Greene, and perhaps some the best of his productions, was represented at Court, and other popular dramatists of his day, had been engaged it was twice printed, in 1584, and again in 1591 : it is, like upon “The True Tragedy of Richard III.” 1
most of this author's productions, in prose; but his “ WoThe dramatic works published under the name or initials man in the Moon” (printed in 1597) is in blank-verse, and of Robert Greene, or by extraneous testimony ascertained the “ Maid's Metamorphosis," 1600, (if indeed it be by him,) to be his, were “ Orlando Furioso," (founded upon the is in rhyme. As none of these dramas, generally compoems of Boiardo and Ariosto,) first printed in 1594;- posed in a refined, affected, and artificial style, can be said “ Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay," also first printed in 1594, to have had any material influence upon stage-entertainand taken from a popular story-book of the time; “Al- ments before miscellaneous audiences in London, it is unphonsus King of Arragon," 1599, for which we know of no necessary for our present purpose to say more regarding original; and “ James the Fourth" of Scotland, 1598, them. partly borrowed from history, and partly mere invention. George Peele was about the same age as Lyly ;4 but his Greene also joined with Thomas Lodge in writing a species theatrical productions (with the exception of The Arof moral-miracle-play, (partaking of the nature of both, raignment of Paris," printed in 1584, and written for the under the title of “A Looking-Glass for London and Eng-court) are of a different description, having been intended land," 1594, derived from sacred history, and to him has for exhibition at the ordinary theatres. His “ Edward the also been imputed “George a Greene; the Pinner of Wake- First” he calls a “famous chronicle," and most of the incifield,” and “I'he Contention between Liberality and Prodi- dents are derived from history: it is, iż fact, one of our gality," the one printed in 1599, and the other in 1602. It earliest plays founded upon English annals. It was printed may be seriously doubted whether he had any hand in the in 1593 and in 1599, but with so many imperfections, that two last, but the productions above-named deserve atten- we cannot accept it as any fair representation of the state tion, as works written at an early date for the gratification in which it came from the author's pen. The most reof popular audiences.
markable feature belonging to it is the unworthy manner In the passage already referred to from the “ Groats- in which Peele sacrificed the character of the Queen to his worth of Wit," 1592, Greene also objects to Shakespeare desire to gratify the popular antipathy to the Spaniards: on the ground that he thought himself “as well able to the opening of it is spirited, and affords evidence of the bombast out a blank-verse” as the best of his contempora- author's skill as a writer of blank-verse. His “ Battle of ries. The fact is, that in this respect, as in all others, Alcazar" may also be termed a historical drama, in which Greene was much inferior to Marlowe, and still less can his he allowed himself the most extravagant licence as to lines bear comparison with those of Shakespeare. He time, incidents, and characters. It perhaps preceded his doubtless began to write for the stage in rhyme, and his “ Edward the First” in point of date, (though not printed blank-verse preserves nearly all the defects of that early until 1594,) and the principal event it refers to occurred in form: it reads heavily and monotonously, without variety 1578. “Sir Clyomon and Clamydes” is merely a romance, of pause and inflection, and almost the only difference be in the old form of a rhyming play; and “ David and Bethtween it and rhyme is the absence of corresponding sounds sabe," a scriptural drama, and a great improvement upon at the ends of the lines.
older pieces of the same description: Peele here confined The same defects, and in quite as striking a degree, be- himself strictly to the incidents in Holy Writ, and it cerlong to another of the dramatists who is entitled to be con- tainly contains the best specimens of his blank-verse comsidered a predecessor of Shakespeare, and whose name has position. His “Old Wives' Tale,” in the shape in which it been before introduced-Thomas Lodge. Only one play in has reached us, seems hardly deserving of criticism, and it which he was unassisted has descended to us, and it bears would have received little notice but for some remote, and the title of “The Wounds of Civil War, lively set forth in perhaps accidental, resemblance between its story and that the True Tragedies of Marius and Sylla." It was not of Milton's "Comus." 8 printed until 1594, but the author began to write as early / The “Jeronimo" of Thomas Kyd is to be looked upon as as 1580, and we may safely consider his tragedy anterior a species of transition play: the date of its composition, to the original works of Shakespeare: it was probably on the testimony of Ben Jonson, may be stated to be prior written about 1587 or 1588, as a not very successful experi- to 1588", just after Marlowe bad produced his “Tamburnient in blank-verse, in imitation of that style which Mar- laine,” and when Kyd hesitated to follow his bold step to lowe had at once rendered popular.
| the full extent of his progress. “Jeronimo" is therefore As regards the dates when his pieces came from the partly in blank-verse, and partly in rhyme: the same obpress, John Lyly is entitled to earlier notice than Greene, servation will apply, though not in the same degree, to Lodge, or even Marlowe; and it is possible, as he was ten Kyd's “Spanish Tragedy: it is in truth a second part of
1 This drama has also been reprinted by the Shakespeare Society, alty of Sir W. Draper, in 1566-7, of which an account is given by with perfect fidelity to the original edition of 1594, in the library of Mr. Fairholt, in his work upon “ Lord Mayors' Pageants, printed the Duke of Devonshire. The reprint was superintended by Mr. B. for the Percy Society: he erroneously supposed it to have been the Field.
work of George Peele, who could not then have been more than four2 In "The History of English Dramatic Poetry and the Stage," teen years old, even if we carry back the date of his birth to 1553. vol. iii., p. 155, it is observed of " Orlando Furioso :"How far this George Peele was dead in 1598. play was printed according to the author's copy, we have no means 5 It may be doubted whether Peele wrote any part of this produce of deciding; but it has evidently come down to us in a very imper- tion : it was printed anonymously in 1599, and all the evidence of fect state." Means of determining the 'point beyond dispute have authorship is the existence of a copy with the name of Peele, in an since been discovered in a manuscript of the part of Orlando (as writ- old hand, upon the title-page. If he wrote it at all, it was doubtless ten out for Edward Alleyn by the copyist of the theatre) preserved at a very early composition, and it belongs precisely to the class of roDulwich College. Hence it is clear that much was omitted and cor- mantic plays ridiculed by Stephen Gosson about 1580. rupted in the two printed editions of 1594 and 1599. See the “Me- 6 See Milton's Minor Poems, by T. Warton, p. 135, edit. 1791. Of moirs of Edward Alleyn," p. 198.
this resemblance, Warton, who first pointed it out, remarks, "That 3 They were acted by the children of the chapel, or by the children Milton had an eye on this ancient drama, which might have been a of St. Paul's, and a few of them bear evidence on the title-pages that favourite in his early youth, perhaps it may be affirmed with at least they were presented at a private theatre--none of them that they had l as much credibility, as that he conceived the Paradise Lost from seeing been played upon public stages before popular audiences.
a mystery at Florence, written by Adreini, à Florentine, in 1617, 4 He is supposed to have been born about the year 1553. He was entitled Adamo." The fact may have been; that Peele and Milton probably son to Stephen Peele, who was a bookseller and a writer of resorted to the same original, now lost : “ The Old Wives' Tale" ballads. Stephen Peele was the publisher of Bishop Bale's miracle- reads exactly as if it were founded upon some popular storyplay of “God's Promises," in 1577, and his name is subscribed, as book. author, to two Ballads printed by the Percy Society in the earliest 7 In the Induction to his 6 Cynthia's Revels," acted in 1600, production from their press. The connexion between Stephen and where he is speaking of the revival of plays, and among others of George Peele has never struck any of the biographers of the latter. Is the old Jeronimo,' which, he adds, had “departed a dozen years Stephen Peele was most likely the author of a pageant on the mayor- since."
" Jeronimo," the story being continued from one play to the was unfurnished with moveable scenery; and tables, chairs, other, and managed with considerable dexterity. The in- a few boards for a battlemented wall, or a rude structure terest in the latter is great, and generally well sustained, for a tomb or an altar, seem to have been nearly all the and some of the characters are drawn with no little art and properties it possessed. It was usually hung round with force. The success of “ Jeronimo," doubtless, induced Kyd decayed tapestry; and as there was no other mode of conto write the second part of it immediately; and we need veying the necessary information, the author often provided not hesitate in concluding that “The Spanish Tragedy" had that the player, on his entrance, should take occasion to been acted before 1590.
mention the place of action. When the business of a piece Besides Marlowe, Greene, Lodge, Lyly, Peele, and Kyd, required that the stage should represent two apartments, there were other dramatists, who may be looked upon as the effect was accomplished by a curtain, called a traverse, the immediate predecessors of Shakespeare, but few of drawn across it; and a sort of balcony in the rear enabled whose printed works are of an earlier date, as regards the writer to represent his characters at a window, on the composition, than some of those which came from the pen platform of a castle, or on an elevated terrace. of our great poet. Among these, Thomas Nash was the To this simplicity, and to these deficiencies, we doubtmost distinguished, whose contribution to “ Dido,” in con- less owe some of the finest passages in our early plays; for junction with Marlowe, has been before noticed: the por. it was part of the business of the dramatist to supply the tions which came from the pen of Marlowe are, we think, absence of ccloured canvas by grandeur and luxuriance easily to be distinguished from those written by Nash, of description. The ear was thus made the substitute for whose genius does not seem to have been of an imaginative the eye, and the poet's pen, aided by the auditor's imaginaor dramatic, but of a satirical and objurgatory character. tion, more than supplied the place of the painter's brush. He produced alone a piece called “Summer's Last Will Moveable scenery was unknown in our public theatres until and Testament," which was written in the autumn of 1592, after the Restoration; and, as has been observed elsewhere, but not printed until 1600: it bears internal evidence that i" the introduction of it gives the date to the commenceit was exhibited as a private show, and it could never have ment of the decline of our dramatic poetry." 4 been meant for public performance. Henry Chettle, who How far propriety of costume was regarded, we have was also senior to Shakespeare, has left behind him a no sufficient means of deciding; but we apprehend that tragedy called “Hoffman," which was not printed until more attention was paid to it than has been generally sup1630 ; and he was engaged with Anthony Munday in pro- posed, or than was accomplished at a much later and more ducing - The Death of Robert Earl of Huntington," refined period. It is indisputable, that often in this departprinted in 1601. From Henslowe's Diary we learn that ment no outlay was spared: the most costly dresses were both these pieces were written subsequent to the date when purchased, that characters might be consistently habited; Shakespeare had acquired a high reputation. Munday had and, as a single proof, we may mention, that sometimes been a dramatist as early as 1584, when a rhyming trans- more than 201. were given for a cloak, an enormous price, lation by him, under the title of “The Two Italian Gentle- when it is recollected that money was then five or six times inen," came from the press ;and in the interval between as valuable as at present. that year and 1602, he wrote the whole or parts of various. We have thus briefly stated all that seems absolutely replays which have been lost. Robert Wilson ought not to. quired to give the reader a correct notion of the state of be omitted: he seems to have been a prolific dramatist, the English drama and stage at the period when, according but only one comedy by him has survived, under the title to the best judgment we can form from such evidence as of “The Cobbler's Prophecy," and it was printed in 1594. remains to us, Shakespeare advanced to a forward place According to the evidence of Henslowe, he aided Drayton among the dramatists of the day. As long ago as 1679, and Munday in writing "The First Part of the Life of Sir Dryden gave currency to the notion, which we have shown John Oldcastle," printed in 1600; but he must at that date to be mistaken, that Shakespeare “created first the stage,"? have been old, if he were the same Robert Wilson who was and he repeated it in 1692:8 it is not necessary to the just one of Lord Leicester's theatrical servants in 1574, and admiration of our noble dramatist, that we should do injuswho became one of the leaders of the company called the tice to his predecessor's or earlier contemporaries : on the Queen's Players in 1583. He seems to have been a low contrary, his miraculous powers are best to be estiinated by comedian, and his “Cobbler's Prophecy” is a piece, the a comparison with his ablest rivals; and if he appear not drollery of which must have depended in a great degree greatest when his works are placed beside those of Marupon the performers.
..lowe, Greene, Peele, or Lodge, however distinguished their * With regard to mechanical facilities for the representa- rank as dramatists, and however deserved their popularity, tion of plays before, and indeed long after, the time of we shall be content to think, that for more than two cenShakespeare, it may be sufficient to state, that our old pub- turies the world has been under a delusion as to his claims. lic theatres were merely round wooden buildings, open to He rose to eminence, and he maintained it, amid struggles the sky in the audience part of the house, although the for equality by men of high genius and varied talents; and stage was covered by a hanging roof: the spectators stood with his example ever since before us, no poet of our own, on the ground in front or at the sides, or were accommo- or of any other country, has even approached his exceldated in boxes round the inner circumference of the edifice, lence. Shakespeare is greatest by a comparison with greator in galleries at a greater elevation. Our ancient stage ness, or he is nothing.
It can be shown to have been represented at Croydon, no doubt! 46 History of Engl. Dram. Poetry and the Stage,” vol. iii., p. 360. at Beddington, the residence of the Carews, under whose patronage 5 See " The Alleyn Papers," printed by the Shakespeare Society, Nash acknowledges himself to have been living. See the dedication p. 12. to his - Terrors of the Night," 4to, 1594. The date of the death of 1 6 In his Prologue to the alteration of “Troilus and Cressida," Nash, who probably took. a part in the representation of his "Sum- 1679, he puts these lines into the mouth of the Ghost of Shakesmer's Last Will and Testament," has been disputed--whether it was peare: before or after 1001 ; but the production of a cenotaph upon him,
- Untaught, unpractis'd, in a barbarous age, from Fitz-geoffrey's Affanie, printed in 1601, must put an end to all
I found not, but created first the stage." doubt. See the Introduction to Nash's “Pierce Pennyless," 1592, as In the dedication of the translation of Juvenal, thirteen years afterreprinted for the Shakespeare Society.
wards, Dryden repeats the same assertion in nearly the same words; 2 The only known copy of this comedy is without a title-page, but "he created the stage among us." Shakespeare did not create the it was entered at Stationers' Hall for publication in 1584, and we stage, and least of all did he create it such as it existed in the time may presume that it was printed about that date,
of Dryden: "it was, in truth, created by no one man, and in no one 3 He had some share in writing the first part of the “Life of Sirage; and whatever improvements Shakespeare introduced, when he John Oldcastle," which was printed as Shakespeare's work in 1600, began to write for the theatre our romantic drama was completely although some copies of the play exist without his name on the title- formed, and firmly established,"-Pref. to 6 The Hist. of Engl. Drami page.
Poetry and the Stage," vol. i., p. xi.