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PART II.

FANTASTIC AND HISTORICAL PERIOD.

1591-1598.

CHAPTER I.

Recapitulation-Theatrical pageants - Mysteries-Miracle plays— Moralities-Masques-Ancient tragedy-Marlowe the Eschylus of English tragedy-The Blackfriars and other theatres-Legislative enactments-Royal license-"First Part of Henry VI."-Extreme protestantism-"The Taming of the Shrew"-" Second and Third Parts of Henry VI.”—Duke of Gloster, afterwards Richard III.— “Richard II.”—Shakspere as manager of a theatre commanded assistance-"Richard III."-Peculiarities of style-Throughout Shakspere's-His theology-" King John"-The policy of England.

BEFORE proceeding to the second stage in the development of Shakspere's life and genius, some recapitulation of the argument already traced is desirable. First, I have endeavoured to show the fine elements which entered into the composition of his mind, and which were already in activity when he began to write. Shakspere was a practical man before he was a speculative one, and at an early age assumed the responsibilities of married life. There was neither in his character nor conduct any thing ascetic; but as a youth he had yielded to his natural impulses, and was prepared to defend his practice against the teaching of a church in its decadence, and out of which both he and his age had emerged. His mind was affected by the controversy that had long raged, and was inclined to speak with contempt of the mock chastity which subsequent times have treated with more respect. He mocked and flouted at solem

nities which had recently lost their sacredness, and launched even indecent jests at pretensions which had been only recently exposed. With all the vigour of hilarious youth, he laughed loud and long at the grave faces and dingy robes worn by the hypocrites whom the world had now learned to despise. The scowling aspect of narrow bigotry had no terrors for his free spirit, and he vindicated the rights of man and the claims of woman both fearlessly and lovingly. For Love had established his throne in his heart both as a husband and a father; and to fulfil the responsibilities of these relations, he left his birthplace, and betook himself to the market of the world in search of fortune and honour, where ultimately he found both. His first impressions of the state of things that he witnessed there are registered in the six plays which we have examined. He studied men, but he also studied books; and the influence of the latter became stronger as he progressed in the practice of his art.

In one of these works we find an allusion to the theatrical pageants which frequently delighted his native town. Between the years 1569 and 1587 no fewer than four-and-twenty visitations are recorded of the comedians who were accustomed to aid in the representation of such amusements. The names of Greene and Burbage occur in the lists connected with these companies. Shakspere was probably early acquainted with them, and a witness of their performances. His path to the stage was therefore prepared; and on his first visit to London he seems to have

Early Drama.

107 taken advantage of his opportunities. The drama had now outgrown its chrysalis state; mysteries and miracle-plays had long been out of vogue, and had been followed to the tomb of the Capulets by those allegories which were called moralities. Historical and romantic tales had forced their way to the stage; and there Shakspere found them, and resolved to add to their number. The pageants to which allusion is made in The Two Gentlemen of Verona were exhibited on great public occasions, in honour and for the recreation of royalty, and consisted of stories in dumb-show in which historical and allegorical characters were appropriately habited, and supported on temporary movable stages in the streets. As early as the reign of Henry VI. dialogues and set speeches in verse were added. Such was the origin of masques, and the introduction of vulgar characters in dramatic compositions, as also of those plays in which there was a mixture of pantomime and dialogue-an allegorical representation in dumb-show serving as proem and foretaste of the subject of the sequent scenes.

The universities, inns of court, and public seminaries had advanced the drama still further on the road it was destined to travel. Scholars there had employed themselves in free translations of ancient tragedy, and in compositions constructed on the classic model. The tragedy of Gorboduc and the comedy of Gammer Gurton's Needle are the earliest examples of this tendency. These, for the most part, were written without any real art, almost without any plan, certainly not seldom without plot, and without

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