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in England, or whether it is lost. The Yorkshire Tragedy is a tragedy in one act, a dramatised tale of murder the tragical effect is overpowering, and it is extremely important to see how poetically Shakspeare could handle such a subject.
There have been still farther ascribed to him: 1st. The Merry Devil of Edmonton, a comedy in one act, printed in Dodsley's old plays. This has certainly some appearances in its favour. It contains a merry landlord, who bears great similarity to the one in the Merry Wives of Windsor. However, at all events, though an ingenious, it is but a hasty sketch. 2nd. The Accusation of Paris. 3rd. The Birth of Merlin. 4th. Edward the Third. 5th. The Fair Emma. 6th. Mucedorus. 7th. Arden of Feversham. I have never seen any of these, and cannot therefore say any thing respecting them. From the passages cited, I am led to conjecture that the subject of Mucedorus is the popular story of Valentine and Orson a beautiful subject which Lope de Vega has also taken for a play. Arden of Feversham is said to be a tragedy on the story of a man, from whom the poet descended by the mother's side. If the quality of the piece is not too directly at variance with this claim, the circumstance would afford an additional probability in its favour. For such motives were not foreign to Shakspeare he treated Henry the Seventh, who bestowed lands on his forefathers for services performed by them, with a visible partiality.
Of Shakspeare's share in The Two Noble Cousins it
will be the time to speak when I come to mention Fletcher's works.
It would be very instructive, if it could be proved that several earlier attempts of works, afterwards rewritten, proceeded from himself, and not from an unknown author. We should thus be best enabled to trace his developement as an artist. Of the older King John, in two parts (printed by Steevens among six old plays), this might probably be made out. That he sometimes came back to the same work is certain. We know withi respect to Hamlet, for instance, that it was very gradually formed by him to its present perfect state.
Whoever takes from Shakspeare a play early ascribed to him, and confessedly belonging to his time, is unquestionably bound to answer, with some degree of probability, this question: who has then written it? Shakspeare's competitors in the dramatic walk are pretty well known, and if those of them who have even acquired a considerable name, a Lilly, a Marlow, a Heywood, are still so very far below him, we can hardly imagine, that the author of a work, which rises so high beyond theirs, would have remained unknown.
Two periods of the English theatre; the first the most important. The first conformation of the stage, and its advantages. -State of the histrionic art in Shakspeare's time.-Antiquities of dramatic literature.-Lilly, Marlow, Heywood.-Ben Jonson.--Criticism of his works.-Masks.-Beaumont and Fletcher.-General characterisation of these poets, and remarks on some of their pieces.--Massinger and other contemporaries of Charles the First.-Closing of the stage by the Puritans.-Revival of the stage under Charles the Second.-Depravity of taste and morals.-Dryden, Otway, and others.-Characterisation of the comic poets from Wycherley and Congreve to the middle of the eighteenth century. — Tragedies of the same period. Rowe. - Addison's Cato.-Later pieces.-Familiar Tragedy: Lillo.-Garrick.-Latest state.
THE great master of whom we have spoken in the preceding Lecture forms such a singular exception to the whole history of art, that we are compelled to assign a particular place to him. He owed hardly any thing to his predecessors, and he has had the greatest influence on his successors: but no man has yet learned from him his secret. For two whole centuries, during which his countrymen have diligently employed themselves in the cultivation of every branch of science and art, by their own confession, he has not only never yet been surpassed, but he has left every dramatic poet at a great distance behind him.
In the sketch of a history of the English theatre which I am now to give, I shall be frequently obliged to return to Shakspeare. The dramatic literature of the English is very rich; they can boast of a considerable number of dramatic poets, who possessed in a distinguished degree the talent of original characterisation, and the means of theatrical effect. Their hands were not shackled by prejudices, by arbitrary rules, and by the anxious observance of conveniences. There has never been in England an academical court of taste; in art as in life, every man there decides for what pleases him best, or what is most suitable to his nature. Notwithstanding this liberty, their writers have not however been able to escape the influence of varying modes, and of the spirit of different ages.
We remain true to our principle of merely dwelling at length on what we consider as the highest efforts of poetry, and of taking brief views of all that merely occupies the second or third place.
The antiquities of the English theatre have been sufficiently cleared up by the English writers, and especially by Malone. The earliest dramatic attempts were here as well as elsewhere mysteries and moralities. Still however it would seem that the English distinguished themselves at an earlier period in these productions than other nations. It has been recorded in the History of the Council of Constance, that the English prelates, in one of the intervals between the sittings, entertained their other brethren with a spiritual
play in Latin, such as the latter were either entirely unacquainted with, or at least not in such perfection, (according to the simple ideas of art of those times). The beginning of a theatre, properly so called, cannot however be placed farther back than the reign of Elizabeth. John Heywood, the buffoon of Henry the Eighth, is considered as the oldest comic writer; the single Interlude under his name, published in Dodsley's collection, is in fact merely a dialogue, and not a drama. But Gammer Gurton's Needle, which was first acted about the year 1560, certainly deserves the name of a comedy. However antiquated in language and versification, it possesses unequivocal merit in the low comic. The whole plot turns on a lost needle, the finding of which is pursued with the utmost assiduity; the poverty of the persons of the drama, which this supposes, and the whole of their domestic condition, is very amusingly portrayed, and the part of a cunning beggar especially is drawn with much humour. The coarse comic of this piece bears a resemblance to that of the Avocat Patelin; yet the English play has not, like the French, been honoured with a revival on the stage in a new shape.
The history of the English theatre divides itself naturally into two periods. The first begins nearly about the time of the ascension of Elizabeth, and extends to about the end of the reign of Charles the First, when the Puritans gained the ascendancy, and effected the prohibition of all plays of whatsoever