Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

explain the nature of the story about to be represented, in /of redress and correction,” while her kingdom of England is alternate stanzas; and the whole performance is wound up intended by " Respublica," and its inhabitants represented by an epilogue from the bishop, enforcing the moral, which by “ People:" the Reformation in the Church is distinguished of course was intended to illustrate, and impress upon the as “ Oppression;" and Policy, Authority, and Honesty, are audience, the divine origin of the doctrine of transubstantia- designated “Avarice," “ Insolence,” and “Adulation.” All tion. Were it necessary to our design, and did space allow this is distinctly stated by the author on his title-page, while of it, we should be strongly tempted to introduce some he also employs the impersonations of Misericordia, Vericharacteristic extracts from this hitherto unseen production; tas, Justitia, and Pax, (agents not unfrequently resorted to but we must content ourselves with saying, that the language in the older miracle-plays) as the friends of “Nemesis,” the in several places appears to be older than the reign of Queen, and as the supporters of the Roman Catholic religion Edward IV., or even of Henry VI., and that we might be in her dominions. disposed to carry back the original composition of the drama Nothing would be gained by a detail of the import of the to the period of Wickliffe, and the Lollards.

tedious interlocutions between the characters, represented, It was not until the reign of Elizabeth that miracle-plays it would seem, by boys, who were perhaps the children of were generally abandoned, but in some distant parts of the the Chapel Royal; for there are traces in the performance kingdom they were persevered with even till the time of that it was originally acted at court. Respublica is a widow James I. Miracle-plays, in fact, gradually gave way to greatly injured and abused by Avarice, Insolence, Oppresmoral plays, which presented more variety of situation and sion, and Adulation ; while People, using throughout a character, and moral plays in turn were superseded by a rustic dialect, also complain bitterly of their sufferings, species of mixed drama, which was strictly neither moral especially since the introduction of what had been termed play nor historical play, but a combination of both in the “ Reformation” in matters of faith: in the end Justitia, same representation.

brings in Nemesis, to effect a total change by restoring the . Of this singular union of discordant materials, no person former condition of religious affairs; and the piece closes who has hitherto written upon the history of our dramatic with the delivery of the offenders to condign punishment. poetry has taken due notice; but it is very necessary not to The production was evidently written by a man of educapass it over, inasmuch as it may be said to have led ulti- tion; but, although there are many attempts at humour, mately to the introduction of tragedy, comedy, and history, and some at variety, both in character and situation, the as we now understand the terms, upon the boards of our whole must have been a very wearisome performance public theatres. No blame for the omission can fairly be adapted to please the court by its general tendency, but imputed to our predecessors, because the earliest specimens little calculated to accomplish any other purpose entertained of this sort of mixed drama which remain to us have been by the writer. In all respects it is much inferior to the brought to light within a comparatively few years. The “ Kynge Johan” of Bale, which it followed in point of date, most important of these is the “Kynge Johan" of Bishop and to which, perhaps, it was meant to be a counterpart. Bale. We are not able to settle with precision the date In the midst of the performance of dramatic productions when it was originally written, but it was evidently per- | of a religious or political character, each party supporting formed, with additions and alterations, after Elizabeth came the views which most accorded with the author's individual to the throne. The purpose of the author was to promote opinions, John Heywood, who was a zealous Roman Cathothe Reformation, by applying to the circumstances of his lic, and who subsequently suffered for his creed under own times the events of the reign of King John, when the Edward VI. and Elizabeth, discovered a new species of kingdom was placed by the Pope under an interdict, and entertainment, of a highly humorous, and not altogether when, according to popular belief, the sovereign was poisoned of an uninstructive kind; which seems to have been very by a draught administered to him by a monk. This drama acceptable to the sovereign and nobility, and to have resembles a moral play in the introduction of abstract im- obtained for the author a distinguished character as a court personations, and a historical play in the adaptation of a dramatist, and ample rewards as a court dependent. portion of our national annals, with real characters, to the These were properly called “interludes," being short comic purposes of the stage. Though performed in the reign of pieces, represented ordinarily in the interval between the Elizabeth, we may carry back the first composition and feast and the banquet; and we may easily believe that representation of “Kynge Johan” to the time of Edward they had considerable influence in the settlement of the VI.; but, as it has been printed by the Camden Society, it form which our stage-performances ultimately assumed. is not necessary that we should enlarge upon it. . Heywood does not appear to have begun writing until

The object of Bale's play was, as we have stated, to after Henry VIII. had been some years on the throne; but, advance the Reformation under Edward VI.; but in the while Skelton was composing such tedious elaborations as reign of his successor a drama of a similar description, and his « Magnificence," which, without any improvement, merely of a directly opposite tendency, was written and acted. It carries to a still greater length of absurdity the old style has never been mentioned, and as it exists only in manu- of moral plays, Heywood was writing his “John Tib and script of the time, it will not be out of place to quote its Sir John, his “Four Ps,” his “Pardoner and Friar," and title, and to explain briefly in what manner the anonymous pieces of that description, which presented both variety of author carries out his design. He calls his drama “ Res- matter and novelty of construction, as well as considerable publica," and he adds that it was "made in the year of our wit and drollery in the language. He was a very original Lord 1553, and the first year of the most prosperous reign writer, and certainly merits more admiration than any of of our most gracious Sovereign, Queen Mary the First.” his dramatic contemporaries. He was supposed to speak the prologue himself, in the To the commencement of the reign of Elizabeth we may character of “a Poet;" and although every person he intro- refer several theatrical productions which make approaches, duces is in fact called by some abstract name, he avowedly more or less near, to comedy, tragedy, and history, and still brings forward the Queen herself as “Nemesis, the Goddess retain many of the known features of moral plays. “ Tom

1

1 Bale died in Nov. 1563; but he is nevertheless thus spoken of, as Besides “King Johan," Bale was the author of four extant dramatic still living, in B. Googe's "Eglogs, Epitaphes, and Sonnettes," pu productions, which may be looked upon as miracle-plays, both in their lished, we have reason to believe, in the spring of that year: we have forin and characters: viz. 1. "The Three Laws of Nature, Moses and never seen this tribute quoted, and therefore subjoin it.

Christ;' 2, "God's Promises;" 3. "John the Baptist;" 4. "The “Good aged Bale, that with thy hoary heares

Temptation of Christ." He also wrote fourteen other dramas of variDoste yet persyste to turne the paynefull booke;

ous kinds, none of which have come down to us. O hapye, man! that hast obtaynde such yeares,

2 In the library of Mr. Hudson Gurney, to whom we beg to express And leav'st not yet on papers pale to looke; ..

our obligations for the use of it. Gyve over now to beate thy weryed braine, .

3 John Heywood, who flourished in the reign of Henry VIII., is not And rest thy penne, that long hath labour'd soore :

to be confounded, as some modern editors of Shakespeare have conFor aged men unfyt sure is suche paine,

founded him, with Thomas Heywood, who became a dramatist more And thee beseems to labour now no more ;

than half a century afterwards, and who continued a writer for the But thou, I thynke, Don Platoes part will playe,

stage until near the date of the closing of the theatres by the Puritans. With booke in hand to have thy dying daye."

| John Heywood, in all probability, died before Thomas Heywood was born,

Tiler and his Wife” is a comedy in its incidents; but the only been cajoled and laughed at, makes up his mind to be allegorical personages, Desire, Destiny, Strife, and Patience, merry at the wedding of Goodluck and Custance. connect it immediately with the earlier species of stage. In all this we have no trace of anything like a moral entertainment. “The Conflict of Conscience," on the other play, with the exception, perhaps, of the character of hand, is a tragedy on the fate of an historical personage; Matthew Merrygreek, which, in some of its features, its but Conscience, Hypocrisy, Avarice, Horror, &c., are called love of mischief and its drollery, bears a resemblance to in aid of the purpose of the writer. “Appius and Virginia" the Vice of the older drama. Were the dialogue modernis in most respects a history, founded upon facts; but ised, the comedy might be performed, even in our own Rumour, Comfort, and Doctrine, are importantly concerned day, to the satisfaction of many of the usual attendants at in the representation. These, and other productions of the our theatres. same class, which it is not necessary to particularize, show In considering the merits of this piece, we are to recollect the gradual advances made towards a better, because a that Bishop Still's “Gammer Gurton's Needle," which, until more natural, species of theatrical composition. Into miracle- of late, was held to be our earliest comedy, was written plays were gradually introduced allegorical personages, who some twenty years after “ Ralph Roister Doister:" it was finally usurped the whole stage; while they in turn yielded not acted at Cambridge until 1566, nine years subsequent to real and historical characters, at first only intended to to the death of Udall; and it is in every point of view an give variety to abstract impersonations. Hence the origin inferior production. The plot is a mere piece of absurdity, of comedy, tragedy, and history, such as we find them in the language is provincial (well fitted, indeed, to the country the works of Shakespeare, and of some of his immediate where the scene is laid, and to the clownish persons engaged predecessors.

in it) and the manners depicted are chiefly those of illiterate What is justly to be considered the oldest known comedy rustics. The story, such as it is, relates to the loss of a needle in our language is of a date not much posterior to the reign with which Gammer Gurton had mended Hodge's breeches, of Henry VIII., if, indeed, it were not composed while he and which is afterwards found by the hero, when he is about was on the throne. It has the title of “Ralph Roister to sit down. The humour, generally speaking, is as coarse Doister,” and it was written by Nicholas Udall, who was as the dialogue; and though it is impossible to deny that master of Eton school in 1540, and who died in 1557. It the author was a man of talents, they were hardly such as is on every account a very remarkable performance; and could have produced “Ralph Roister Doister." as the scene is laid in London, it affords à curious picture The drama which we have been accustomed to regard as of metropolitan manners. The regularity of its construction, our oldest tragedy, and which probably has a just claim even at that early date, may be gathered from the fact, to the distinction, was acted on 18th January, 1562, and that in the single copy which has descended to us: it is printed in 1565. It was originally called “Gorboduc; but divided into acts and scenes. The story is one of common, it was reprinted, in 1571 under the title of “Forrex and every-day life; and none of the characters are such as peo-Porrex," and a third time in 1590 as “Gorboduc." The first ple had been accustomed to find in ordinary dramatic enter- three acts were written by Thomas Norton, and the last two tainments. The piece takes its name from its hero, a young by Thomas Sackville, afterwards Earl of Dorset, and it town-gallant, who is mightily enamoured of himself, and was performed by the gentlemen of the Inner Temple." who is encouraged in the good opinion he entertains of his Although the form of the Greek drama is observed in own person and accomplishments by Matthew Merrygreek,“ Gorboduc," and each act concluded by a chorus, yet Sir a poor relation, who attends him in the double capacity of Philip Sidney, who admitted (in his “ Apology of Poetry') companion and servant. Ralph Roister Doister is in love that it was full of stately speeches and well-sounding with a lady of property, called Custance, betrothed to phrases,” could not avoid complaining that the unities of Gavin Goodluck, a merchant, who is at sea when the time and place had been disregarded. Thus, in the very comedy begins, but who returns before it concludes. The outset and origin of our stage, as regards what may be main incidents relate to the mode in which the hero, with termed the regular drama, the liberty, which allowed full the treacherous help of his associate, endeavours to gain exercise to the imagination of the audience, and which was the affections of Custance. He writes her a letter, which afterwards happily carried to a greater excess, was distinctly Merrygreek reads without a due observance of the punctua- asserted and maintained. It is also to be remarked, that tion, so that it entirely perverts the meaning of the writer: “Gorboduc" is the earliest known play in our language in he visits her while she is surrounded by her female domes- which blank-verse was employed; but of the introduction tics, but he is unceremoniously rejected: he resolves to of blank-verse upon our public stage, we shall have occasion carry her by force of arms, and makes an assault upon her to speak hereafter. It was an important change, which habitation, but with the assistance of her maids, armed requires to be separately considered. with mops and brooms, she drives him from the attack. We have now entered upon the reign of Elizabeth; and Then, her betrothed lover returns, who has been misinformed although, as already observed, moral plays and even miracleon the subject of her fidelity, but he is soon reconciled on plays were still acted, we shall soon see what a variety of an explanation of the facts; and Ralph Roister Doister, subjects, taken from ancient history, from mythology, fable, finding that he has no chance of success, and that he has and romance, were employed for the purposes of the drama.

1 One of the latest pieoes without mixture of history or fable, and others, the castigator, of the devil, who represented the principle of evil consisting wholly of abstract personages, is, “The Tide tarryeth no among mankind. The Vice of moral plays subsequently became the Man," by George Wapul, printed in 1576; only a single copy of it has fool and jester of comedy, tragedy, and history, and forms another, and been preserved, and that is in the library of the Duke of Devonshire. an important, link of connexion between them. The principal persons introduced into it have the following names :— 6 In the Hist. of Engl. Dram. Poetry and the Stage, ii. 482, it is said Painted-profit, “No-good-neighbourhood, Wastefulness, Christianity, that the earliest edition of “Gorboduc" has no date. This is a mistake, Correction, Courage, Feigned-furtherance, Greediness, Wantonness, as is shown by the copy in the collection of Lord Francis Egerton, end Authority-in-despair.

which has "anno 1565, Septemb. 22" at the bottom of the title-page. % A very interesting epistle from Udall is to be found in Sir Henry Mr. Hallam, in his admirable " Introduotion to the Literature of Ellis's volume (edited for the Camden Society) " Original Letters of Europe," &c. (Second Edit. vol. ii. p. 167), expresses his dissent from Eminent Literary Men." That of Udall is first in the series.

the position, that the three first acts were by Norton, and the two last 3 This single copy is without title-page, so that the year when it was by Sackville. The old title-page states, that "three acts were written printed cannot be ascertained; but Thomas Hacket had a licence in by Thomas Norton, and the two last by Thomas Sackville.". Unless 1566 for the publication of a play entitled Rauf Ruyster Duster," as the printer, William Griffith, were misinformed, this seems decisive. it is called on the registers of the Stationers' company. We may pre- Norton's abilities have not had justice done to them. same that it was published in that year, or in the next.

6 Richard Edwards, a very distinguished dramatic poot, who died in By " the older drama," we mean moral plays, into which the Vice 1500, and who wrote the lost play of “Palamon and Arcito," which was introduced for the amusement of the spectators: no character so was acted before the Queen in September of that year, did not follow called, or with similar propensities, is to be traced in miracle-plays. the example of Sackville and Norton: his "Damon and Pithias" (the He was, in fact, the buffoon of our drama in, what may be termed, its only piece by him that has survived) is in rhyme. See Dodsley's Old second stage; after audiences began to grow weary of plays founded Plays, last edition, vol. i. p. 177. Thomas Twine, an actor in "Palamon npon Scripture-history, and when even moral plays, in order to be and Arcite," wrote an epitaph upon its author. "Gammer Gurton's

relished, required the insertion of a character of broad humour, and Needle," and “Gorboduc," (the last printed from the second odition) 1. vicious inclinations, who was sometimes to be the companion, and at are also inserted in vols. i. and ii. of Dodsley's Old Plays,

А

Stephen Gosson, one of the earliest enemies of theatricall(he remarks) in this quality is most vain, indiscreet, and out performances, writing his “Plays confuted in Five Actions" of order. He first grounds his work on impossibilities; a little after the period of which we are now speaking, but then, in three hours, runs he through the world, marries, gets adverting to the drama as it had existed some years before, children, makes children men, men to conquer kingdoms, tells us, that “the Palace of Pleasure, the Golden Ass, the murder monsters, and bringeth gods from heaven, and Æthiopian History, Amadis of France, and the Round fetcheth devils from hell: and, that which is worst, their Table, as well as a comedies in Latin, French, Italian, and ground is not so unperfect as their working indiscreet; not Spanish, have been thoroughly ransacked to furnish the weighing, so the people laugh, though they laugh them for play-houses in London.” Hence, unquestionably, many of their follies to scorn. Many times, to make mirth, they the materials of what is termed our romantic drama were make a clown companion with a king: in their grave counobtained. The accounts of the Master of the Revels between cils they allow the advice of fools; yea, they use one order 1570 and 1580 contain the names of various plays repre- of speech for all persons, a gross indecorum." This, it will sented at court; and it is to be noted, that it was certainly be perceived, is an accurate account of the ordinary license the practice at a later date, and it was probably the prač- taken in our romantic drama, and of the reliance of poets, tice at the time to which we are now adverting, to select long before the time of Shakespeare, upon the imaginations for performance before the Queen such pieces as were most of their auditors. in favour with public audiences: consequently the mention To the same effect we may quote a work by Stephen of a few of the titles of productions represented before Gosson, to which we have before been indebted,-“ Plays Elizabeth at Greenwich, Whitehall, Richmond, or Nonesuch, confuted in Five Actions," which must have been printed will show the character of the popular performances of the about 1580 :-"If a true history (says Gosson) be taken in day. We derive the following names from Mr. P. Cunning- hand, it is made, like our shadows, longest at the rising and ham's “Extracts from the Revels' Accounts," printed for the falling of the sun, shortest of all at high noon; for the poets Shakespeare Society :

drive it commonly unto such points, as may best show the

majesty of their pen in tragical speeches, or set the hearers Lady Barbara.

Mutius Scævola. Iphigenia.

Portio and Demorantes.

agog with discourses of love; or paint a few antics to fit Ajax and Ulysses.

Titus and Gisippus.

their own humours with scoffs and taunts; or bring in a Narcissus.

Three Sisters of Mantua.

show, to furnish the stage when it is bare." Again, speakParis and Vienna.

Cruelty of a Stepmother. ing of plays professedly founded upon romance, and not The Play of Fortune.

The Greek Maid.

upon “true history," he remarks: "Sometimes you shall Alemæon.

Rape of the second Helen see nothing but the adventures of an amorous knight, passQuintus Fabius.

The Four Sons of Fabius, ing from country to country for the love of his lady, encounTimoclea at the Siege of Thebes. History of Sarpedon.

tering many a terrible monster, made of brown paper, and Perseus and Andromeda. Murderous Michael. The Painter's Daughter.

Scipio Africanus. .

at his return is so wonderfully changed, that he cannot be The History of the Collier. The Duke of Milan.

known but by some posy in his tablet, or by a broken ring, The History of Error.

or a handkerchief, or å piece of cockle-shell.” We can

hardly doubt that when Gosson wrote this passage he had These are only a few out of many dramas, establishing the particular productions in his mind, and several of the cha-multiplicity of sources to which the poets of the time racter he describes are still extant. resorted. Nevertheless, we find on the same indisputable Sir Philip Sidney is believed to have written his “Apology authority, that moral plays were not yet altogether dis- of Poetry" in 1583, and we have already referred to it in carded in the court entertainments; for we read, in the connexion with “Gorboduc." His observations, upon the original records, of productions the titles of which prove general character of dramatic representations in his time, that they were pieces of that allegorical description : throw much light on the state of the stage a very few among these are " Truth, Faithfulness, and Mercy," and years before Shakespeare is supposed to have quitted “The Marriage of Mind and Measure,” which is expressly Stratford-upon-Avon, and attached himself to a theatrical called “a moral.”

company, “Our tragedies and comedies (says Sidney) are Our main object in referring to these pieces has been to not without cause cried out against, observing neither rules show the great diversity of subjects which had been drama- of honest civility, nor skilful poetry. ... . But if it be so tised before 1580. In 1581 Barnabe Rich published his in Gorboduc, how much more in all the rest, where you “ Farevell to Military Profession, consisting of a collection shall have Asia of the one side, and Afric of the other, and of eight novels; and at the close of the work he inserts this so many other under-kingdoms, that the player, when he strange address " to the reader:"_"Now thou hast perused comes in, must ever begin with telling where he is, or else these histories to the end, I doubt not but thou wilt deem the tale will not be conceived. Now you shall have three of them as they worthily deserve, and think such vanities ladies walk to gather flowers, and then we must believe more fitter to be presented on a stage (as some of them the stage to be a garden: by and by we hear news of a have been) than to be published in print." The fact is, that shipwreck in the same place; then, we are to blame if we three dramas are extant which more or less closely resem- accept it not for a rock. Upon the back of that comes out ble three of Rich's novels: one of them “Twelfth Night;" a hideous monster with fire and smoke, and then the miseranother, “The Weakest goethi to the Wall;" and the third able beholders are bound to take it for å cave; while, in the old play of “ Philotus."

the meantime, two armies fly in, represented with four Upon the manner in which the materials thus procured swords and bucklers, and then what hard heart will not were then handled, we have several contemporaneous receive it for a pitched field ? Now, of time they are much authorities. George Whetstone, (an author who has prin- more liberal; for ordinary it is that two young princes fall cipally acquired celebrity by writing an earlier drama upon in love: after many traverses she is got with child, delivered the incidents employed by Shakespeare in his “ Measure of a fair boy; he is lost, groweth a man, falleth in love, and for Measure”) in the dedication of his “ Promos and Cassan- is ready to get another child, and all this in two hours' dra," gives a compendious description of the nature of popu- space: which how absurd it is in sense, even sense may lar theatrical representations in 1578. “The Englishman imagine, and art hath taught, and all ancient examples justi

[ocr errors]

16 The Play of Fortune,” in the above. list, is doubtless the piece History of the Collier," also mentioned, was perhaps the comedy subsewhich has reached us in a printed shape, as "The Rare Triumphs of quently known and printed as “Grim, the Callier of Croydon;' and it Love and Fortune :) it was acted at court as early as 1573, and again ) has been reasonably supposed, that “The History of Error' was an old in 1582; but it did not come from the press until 1589, and the only play on the same subject as Shakespeare's “ Comedy of Errors.” copy of it is in the library of Lord Francis Egerton. The purpose of 1 2 Until recently no edition of an earlier date than that of 1006 was the anonymous writer was to compose an entertainment which should known; but there is an impression of 1581 at Oxford, which is about possess the great requisite of variety, with as much show as could at to be reprinted by the Shakespeare Society. Malone had heard of a that early date be accomplished; and we are to recollect that the court copy in 1583, but it is certainly a mistake. theatres possessed some unusual facilities for the purpose. The "Induc-1 3 It was reprinted for the Bannatyne Club in 1835, by J. W. Macktion” is in blank-verse, but the body of the drama is in rhyme. “The enzie, Esq.

fied." He afterwards comes to a point previously urged by companies attached to particular places; and in coeval Whetstone; for Sidney complains that plays were “neither records we read of the players of Ỹork, Coventry, Lavenright tragedies nor right comedies, mingling kings and ham, Wycombe, Chester, Manningtree, Evesham, Mile-end, clowns, not because the matter so carrieth it, but thrust in Kingston, &c. the clown by head and shoulders, to play a part in majesti- In the reign of Henry VIII., and perhaps in that of his cal matters with neither decency nor discretion; so as neither predecessor, the gentlemen and singing-boys of the Chapel the admiration and commiseration, nor right sportfulness is Royal were employed to act plays and interludes before by their mongrel tragi-comedy obtained."

the court; and afterwards the children of Westminster, St. It will be remarked that, with the exception of the Paul's, and Windsor, under their several masters, are not instance of “Gorboduc," no writer we have had occasion to unfrequently mentioned in the household books of the cite mentions the English Chronicles, as having yet furnished palace, and in the accounts of the department of the revels. dramatists with stories for the stage; and we may perhaps". In 1514 the king added a new company to the dramatio infer that resort was not had to them, for the purposes of the retinue of the court, besides the two companies which had public theatres, until after the date of which we are now been paid by his father, and the associations of theatrical speaking.

children. In fact, at this period dramatic entertainments, * Having thus briefly adverted to the nature and character masques, disguisings, and revels of every description, were of dramatic representations from the earliest times to the carried to a costly excess. Henry VIII. raised the sum, year 1583, and having established that our romantic drama until then paid for a play, from 61. 13s. 4d. to 101. William was of ancient origin, it is necessary shortly to describe the Cornyshe, the master of the children of the chapel, on one circumstances under which plays were at different early occasion was paid no less a sum than 2001., in the money of periods performed.

that time, by way of reward; and John Heywood, the author There were no regular theatres, or buildings permanently of interludes before mentioned, who was also a player upon constructed for the purposes of the drama, until after 1575. the virginals, had a salary of 201. per annum, in addition to Miracle-plays were sometimes, exhibited in churches and in his other emoluments. During seasons of festivity a Lord the halls of corporations, but more frequently upon move- of Misrule was regularly appointed to superintend the able stages, or scaffolds, erected in the open air. Moral sports, and he also was separately and liberally remuneplays were subsequently performed under nearly similar rated. The example of the court was followed by the circumstances, excepting that a practice had grown up, courtiers, and the companies of theatrical retainers, in the among the nobility and wealthier gentry, of having dramatic pay, or acting in various parts of the kingdom under the entertainments at particular seasons in their own residences." names of particular noblemen, became extremely numerous. These were sometimes performed by a company of actors Religious houses gave them encouragement, and even assisted retained in the family, and sometimes by itinerant players, in the getting up and representation of the performances, who belonged to large towns, or who called themselves the especially shortly before the dissolution of the monasteries: servants of members of the aristocracy. In 14 Eliz. an act in the account-book of the Prior of Dunmow, between was passed allowing strolling actors to perform, if licensed March 1532 and July 1536, we find entries of payments by some baron or nobleman of higher degree, but subjecting to Lords of Misrule there appointed, as well as to the players all others to the penalties inflicted upon vagrants. There- of the King, and of the Earls of Derby, Exeter, and Sussex.5 fore, although many companies of players went round the In 1543 was passed a statute, rendered necessary by the country, and acted as the servants of some of the nobility, polemical character of some of the dramas publicly reprethey had no legislative protection until 1572. It is a singu- sented, although, not many years before, the king had himlar fact, that the earliest known company of players, travel-self encouraged such performances at court, by being present ling under the name and patronage of one of the nobility, at a play in which Luther and his wife were ridiculed. The was that of the Duke of Gloucester, afterwards Richard act prohibits “ballads, plays, rhymes, songs, and other fanIII. Henry VII. had two distinct bodies of "actors of tasies” of a religious or doctrinal tendency, but at the same interludes” in his pay, and from henceforward the profession time carefully provides, that the clauses shall not extend to of a player became well understood and recognized. In the “songs, plays, and interludes" which had for object “the later part of the reign of Henry VII., the players of the rebuking and reproaching of vices, and the setting forth of Dukes of Norfolk and Buckingham, and of the Earls of virtue; so always the said songs, plays, or interludes medArundel, Oxford, and Northumberland, performed at court. dle not with the interpretations of Scripture." About this period, and somewhat earlier, we also hear of The permanent office of Master of the Revels, for the

1 As early as 1465 a company of players had performed at the wed 5 For this information we are indebted to Sir N. H. Nicholas, who ding of a person of the name of Molines, who was nearly related to has the original document in his library. Similar facts might be Sir John Howard, afterwards Duke of Norfolk. See 6 Manners and established from other authorities, both of an earlier and somewhat Household Expenses of England," printed by Mr. Botfield, M. P., for later date. the Roxburghe Club in 1841, p. 511.

6 See Hist. of Engl. Dram. Poetry and the Stage, Vol. i. p. 107. 2 The anonymous MS. play of “Sir Thomas More," written towards The official account, made out by Richard Gibson, who had the prepathe close of the reign of Elizabeth, gives a very correct notion of the ration of the dresses, &c., is so curious and characteristic, that we mode in which offers to perform were inade by a conípany of players, quote it in the words, though not in the uncouth orthography, of the and accepted by the owner of the mansion. Four players and a boy original document: the date is the 10th Nov. 1528, not long before the (for the female characters) tender their services to the Lord Chancel- king saw reason to change the whole course of his policy as regarded lor, just as he is on the point of giving a grand supper to the Lord the Reformation. Mayor and Corporation of London : Sir Thomas More inquires what pieces they can perform, and the answer of the leader of the company - The king's pleasure was that at the said revels, by clerks in the supplies the names of seven which were then popular; viz., " The Latin tongue, should he played in his presence a play, whereof ensuCradle of Security, 6 Hit Nail on the Head," "Impatient Poverty," eth the names. First an Orator in apparel of gold; a Poet in apparel 66 The Four Ps," " Dives and Lazarus," "Lusty Juventus," and " The of cloth of gold; Religion, Ecclesia, Veritas, like three Novices, in marriage of Wit and Wisdom." Sir Thomas More fixes upon the last, garments of silk, and veils of lawn and cypress : Heresy, False-interand it is accordingly represented, as a play within a play, before the pretation, Corruptio-scriptoris, like ladies of Bohemia, apparelled in banquet. "Sir Thomas More" was regularly licensed for public per- garments of silk of divers colours; the heretic Luther, like a party formance.

friar, in russet, damask and black taffeta ; Luther's wife, like a frow 3 Either from preference or policy, Richard III. appears to have of Spiers in Almain, in red silk; Peter, Paul, and James, in three been a great encourager of actors and musicians : besides his players, habits of white sarsenet and three red mantles, and hairs of silver of he patronized two distinct bodies of ó minstrels," and performers on instruments called "shalms.? These facts are derived from a manu-Sergeants in rich apparel; the Dauphin and his brother in coats of script of the household-book of John Lord Howard, afterwards duke of velvet embroidered with gold, and caps of satin bound with velvet; a Norfolk, preserved in the library of the Society of Antiquaries, and Messenger in tinsel-satin ; six men in gowns of green sarsenet; six recently printed for the use of the members of the Roxburghe Club, women in gowns of crimson sarsenet; War in rich cloth of gold and as a sequel to Mr. Botfield's volume...

feathers, and armed; three Almains in apparel all cut and slit of silk; 4 At a considerably subsequent date some of these infant companies Lady Peace, in lady's apparel, all white and rich; and Lady Quietness, performed before general audiences; and to them were added the and Dame Tranquillity, richly beseen in ladies' apparel. Children of the Revels, who had never been attached to any religious establishment, but were chiefly encouraged as a nursery for actors. The drama represented by these personages appears to have been The Queen of James I. had also a company of theatrical children the composition of John Rightwise, then master of the children of under her patronage.

St. Paul's.

[ocr errors]
[graphic]

torneither from preference of pound musicians: besides his players, Damask and pelerines of scarlet, aminhin and his brother in coats of

[ocr errors]

superintendence of all dramatic performances, was created performers. Two years afterwards, the Earl of Leicester in 1546, and Sir Thomas Cawarden was appointed to it with obtained from Elizabeth a patent under the great seal, to an annual salary of 101. A person of the name of John enable his player's James Burbage, John Perkyn, John LanBernard was made Clerk of the Revels, with an allowance ham, William Johnson, and Robert Wilson, to perform of 8d. per day and livery? ..

“comedies, tragedies, interludes, and stage-plays, in any It is a remarkable point, established by Mr. Tytler*, that part of the kingdom, with the exception of the metropolis Henry VIII. was not yet buried, and Bishop Gardiner and The Lord Mayor and Aldermen succeeded in excluding his parishioners were about to sing a dirge for his soul, the players from the strict boundaries of the city, but they when the actors of the Earl of Oxford posted bills for the were not able to shut them out of the liberties; and it is performance of a play in Southwark. This was long before not to be forgotten that James Burbage and his associates the construction of any regular theatre on the Bankside; were supported by court favour generally, and by the powbut it shows at how early a date that part of the town was erful patronage of the Earl of Leicester in particular. "Acselected for such exhibitions. When Mr. Tytler adds, that cordingly, in the year after they had obtained their patent, the players of the Earl of. Oxford were “ the first that were James Burbage and his fellows took a large house in the kept by any nobleman," he. falls into an error, because precinct of the dissolved monastery of the Black Friars, and Richard III., and others of the nobility, as already remark-converted it into a theatre. This was accomplished in 1576, ed, had companies of players attached to their households. and it is the first time we hear of any building set apart for We have the evidence of Puttenham, in his “ Art of English theatrical representations. Until then the various compaPoesie," 1589, for stating that the Earl of Oxford, under nies of actors had been obliged to content themselves with whose name the players in 1547 were about to perform, churches, halls, with temporary erections in the streets, or was himself a dramatist.

with inn yards, in which they raised a stage, the spectators Very soon after Edward VI. came to the throne, severe standing below, or occupying the galleries that surrounded measures were taken to restrain not only dramatic per- the open space. Just about the same period two other formances, but the publication of dramas. Playing and edifices were built for the exhibition of plays in Shoreditch, printing plays were first entirely suspended; then, the one of which was called “ The Curtain®," and the other “The companies of noblemen were allowed to perform, but not Theatre.” Both these are mentioned as in existence and without special authority; and, finally, the sign manual, or operation in 15777. Thus we see that two buildings close the names of six of the Privy Council were required to to the walls of the city, and a third within a privileged distheir licenses. The objection stated was, that the plays had trict in the city, all expressly applied to the purpose of a political, not a polemical, purpose. One of the first acts stage-plays, were in use almost immediately after the date of Mary's government, was to issue a proclamation to put of the Patent to the players of the Earl of Leicester. It is a stop to the performance of interludes calculated to ad- extremely likely, though we have no distinct evidence of vance the principles of the Reformation; and we may be the fact, that one or more play-houses were opened about sure that the play ordered at the coronation of the queen the same time in Southwark, and we know that the Rose was of a contrary description". It appears on other autho- theatre was standing there not many years afterwards: rities, that for two years there was an entire cessation of John Stockwood, a puritanical preacher, published a sermon public dramatic performances; but in this reign the repre- in 1578, in which he asserted that there were weight ordi sentation of the old Roman Catholic miracle-plays was par- nary places” in and near London for dramatic exhibitions, tially and authoritatively revived.

and that the united profits were not less than £2000 a year It is not necessary to detail the proceedings in connexion at least £12,000 of our present money. Another divine, of with theatrical representations at the opening of the reign the name of White, equally opposed to such performances, of Elizabeth. At first plays were discountenanced, but by preaching in 1576, called the play-houses at that time degrees they were permitted; and the queen seems at all erected, “ sumptuous theatres." No doubt, the puritanical times to have derived much pleasure from the services of zeal of these divines had been excited by the opening of the her own players, those of her nobility, and of the different Blackfriars, the Curtain, and the Theatre, in 1576 and 1577, companies of children belonging to Westminster, St. Paul's, for the exclusive purpose of the drama; and the five addiWindsor, and the Chapel Royal. The members of the inns tional places, where plays, according to Stockwood, were of court also performed “Gorboduc" on 18th January, 1562; acted before 1578, were most likely a play-house at Newand on February 1st, an historical play, under the name of ington-butts, or inn-yards, converted occasionally into “ Julius Cæsar," was represented, but by what company is theatres. no where mentioned.

An important fact, in connexion with the manner in which In 1672 the act was passed (which was renewed with ad- dramatic performances were patronized by Queen Elizabeth, ditional force in 1597) to restrain the number of itinerant has been recently brought to light®. It has been hitherto

i The original appointment of John Bernard is preserved in the 5 In 1557 the Boar's Head, Aldgate, had been used for the 'perlibrary of Sir Thomas Phillippes, Bart., to whom we owe the addi formance of a drama called "The Sack full of News;" and Stephen tional information, that this Clerk of the Revels had a house assigned Gosson in his “School of Abuse," 1579, (reprinted by the Shakespearo to him, strangely called, in the instrument, “ Egypt, and Flesh Society) incntions the Belle Savage and the Bull as innis at which Hall," with a garden which had belonged to the dissolved monastery particular plays had been represented. R. Flecknae, in liig “ Short of the Charter-house: the words of the original are, omnia illa do Discourse of the English Stage," appended to his "Love's Kingdom," nium et edificia nuper vocata Egipte et Fleshall, et illam domum | 1604, says that " at this day is to be seen" that "the inn yards of the cdjacentem nuper vocatam le garneter. The theatrical wardrobe of Cross-Keys, and Bull, in Grace and Bishopsgate Streets" had been the court was at this period kept at St. John's Gate, Clerkenwell. used as theatres. There is reason to believe that the Bnar's Head, 2 In his “ Edward VI. and Mary," 1839, vol. i. p. 20.

Aldgate, had belonged to the father of Edward Alleyn. 3 See Kempe's “ Losely Manuscripts,"? 1835, p. 61. The warrant 6 It has been supposed by some, that the Curtain theatre owed its for the purpose was under the sign manual, and it was directed to name to the curtain employed to separate the actors from the airliSir T. Cawarden, as Master of the Revels :-“ We will and command ence. We have before us documents (which on account of their you, upon the sight hereof, forthwith to make and deliver out of our length we cannot insert) showing that such was probably not the fact, Levels, unto the Gentlemen of our Chapel, for a play to be played and that the ground on which the building stood was called the Curs before us at the feast of our Coronation, as in times past hath been tain (perhaps as part of the fortifications of London) before any playaccustomed to be done by the Gentlemen of the Chapel of our pro house was.built there. For this information we have to offer our genitors, all such necessary garments, and other things for the fur thanks to Mr. T. E. Tomlins of Islington niture thereof, as shall be thought meet," &c. The play, although 7 In John Northbrooke's " Treatise," &c. against hi vain plays or ordered for this occasion, viz. 1st Oct. 1553, was for some unex-interludes," licensed for the press in 1577, the work being then ready plained reason deferred until Christmas.

and in the printer's hands. It has been reprinted by tlie Shakespearo 4 There is a inaterial difference between the warrant under the Society. privy seal, and the patent under the great seal, granted upon this 8 See the "Memoirs of Edward Alleyn," (published by the Shake. Occasion: the former gives the players a right to perform as well speare Society) p. 189. It seems that the Rose had been the sign of within the city of London and liberties of the same " as elso where; a house of public entertainment before it was converted into a theatre. but the latter (dated three days afterwards, viz, 10 May, 1574) omits Such was also the case with the Swan, and the Hope, in the same this paragraph ; and we need entertain little doubt that it was ex- neighbourhood. cluded at the instance of the Corporation of London, always opposed 9 By Mr. Peter Cunningham, in his " Extracts from the Accounts to theatrical perfornances.

of the Reveis," printed for the Shakespeare Society, pp. 32 and

[graphic]
« AnteriorContinuar »