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As the Justices, Mercies, Vices, and Lusty Juventuses of the Moralities had banished the sacred actors in the Mysteries, so they themselves gradually yielded their places to representations. of classes and individuals,—to the existing characters of dramatic
The stage for the clerical actors, in the days of the earlier Miracle Plays, was usually erected in the church itself. From the church it was transferred to the churchyard, and thence, as the representations passed out of the hands of the clergy, to movable pageants or scaffolds 'dragged through the town, and stopped for the performance at certain places designated by an announcement made a day or two before.' From these it was again transferred to barns and halls, lastly to inn yards, 'where windows, and galleries, and verandas commanded a view of a court round which the house was built.' The yards of the Bull, in Bishopsgate Street, the Cross Keys, in Gracechurch Street, the Bell Savage, on Ludgate Hill, were regularly used for this purpose when Shakespeare arrived in London.
The Elizabethan Theatre was an extersion of, or improvement on, the inn yard. It was commonly of wood and plaster, circular in form, and, in the so-called public theatres, open at the top. A flag, bearing the name of the house, was hoisted on the roof. Inside were boxes, galleries, and a pit or yard without seats. In the covered buildings cressets, or large rude chandeliers, supplied the place of daylight. Upon the stage, which was generally strewn with rushes, the critics, wits, and gallants lay, and sat on stools, and read, gamed, cracked nuts, and smoked, during the performance. The players' wardrobe was costly enough, but the properties were of the rudest kind, and to denote localities and change of scene the simplest expedients were adopted. At the back of the stage was a permanent balcony in which were represented incidents supposed to take place on towers or upper chambers. The musicians occupied a second balcony projecting from the proscenium. The price of admission to the pit ranged from a penny to sixpence; that to the boxes from one shilling to half-a-crown. The female parts were played by boys. The performance took place in the afternoon.
With three flourishes of trumpets the proceedings began. The curtain was drawn from side to side; a player in a black cloak and wreath of bays spoke a prologue, and then with—
'-three rusty swords, And help of some few foot and half-foot words,'
the Burbages and Alleynes of the period would
'Fight over York and Lancaster's long jars,' *
'Tear a passion to tatters
to split the ears of the groundlings'† in the pit. Between the acts there was dancing; after the play, a jig by the clown. Finally, the Queen was prayed for by all the actors, on their knees. The 'jig,' it must be added, was something more than is implied by our modern acceptation of the term. It is described as 'a farcical rhyming composition of considerable length, sung or said by the clown, and accompanied with dancing or playing on the pipe and tabor.' ↑
The following are the names, as given by Mr. Dyce,§ of the chief theatres during Shakespeare's time :- The Theatre (so called by distinction) and The Curtain, in Shoreditch; Paris Garden, The Globe, The Rose, The Hope, The Swan, on the Bankside, Southwark; The Blackfriars, near the present site of Apothecaries' Hall; The Whitefriars, The Fortune, in Golden or Golding Lane, St. Giles's Cripplegate; and The Red Bull, at the upper end of St. John Street. There was also The Newington Butts Theatre, frequented by the citizens during summer.'
38. Early English Plays.-The oldest English Moral. Play that exists in MS. bears the title of The Castle of Perseverance, and was written about 1450. There are also two moralities by Skelton (see p. 44, s. 24),—the Nigramansir and Magnificence, the former of which was acted before Henry VII., at Woodstock, in 1504. Of the Nigramansir no copy is known to exist. The following is Warton's summary of the latter, which may give some idea of the substance of these entertainments:—‘Magnificence becomes a dupe to his servants and favourites Fansy, Counterfet Countenance, Crafty Conveyance, Clokyd Colusion, Courtly Abusion and Foly. At length he is seized and robbed by Adversyte, by whom he is given up as a prisoner to Poverte. He is next delivered to Despare and Mischefe, who offer him a knife and a halter. He snatches the knife to end his miseries by stabbing himself; when Good Hope and Redresse appear, and persuade him to take the "rubarbe of repentance," with some "gostly gummes" and a few "drammes of devocyon." He becomes acquainted with Circumspeccyon and Perseverance, follows
* Ben Jonson, Prologue to Every Man in his Humour.
+ Hamlet, Act iii. s. 2.
Shakespeare's Works, 1866, i. 40. v. also Staunton; and Grant White's Essay on the Rise and Progress of the English Drama to the time of Shakespeare, 1865. See also Appendix A, Extract XXV.
§ Shakespeare's Works, by Dyce, 1866, i. 44-5.
their directions, and seeks for happiness in a state of penitence and contrition.'
One of the latest of the Moral Plays -The Three Lords and Three Ladies of London, printed in 1590, must be dated after 1588, and may almost be regarded as a comedy. John Heywood's Interludes, or farces, have already been noticed; as also Udall's Roister Doister (see p. 48, s. 30). The Gammer Gurton's Needle of John Still (1543-1607), Bishop of Bath and Wells, a comedy turning upon the loss and ignoble recovery of an old-wife's needle, is the next in point of date (1566). The first tragedy extant is the Ferrex and Porrex (sometimes called Gorboduc) of Sackville (see p. 51, s. 33) and Thomas Norton (d. about 1600), a frigid production in blank verse, which was acted by the gentlemen of the Inner Temple, in 1561. Next, as the first play extant in prose, comes the Supposes of Gascoigne (see p. 51, s. 33), an adaptation from Ariosto, acted in 1566, and his blank verse Jocasta, a tragedy from Euripides. With these the Elizabethan Drama may be fairly said to have commenced its career.
39. The Precursors of Shakespeare.-Lyly, Peele, Greene, Marlowe, Kyd and Nash are the most distinguished of the dramatists who immediately preceded Shakespeare. A detailed list of their plays cannot be attempted here, and we must content ourselves with simply naming their principal works. John Lyly, the Euphuist (1553-1606), whom we shall hereafter notice under the Elizabethan prose-writers, was the author of Campaspe, Endymion, and several other plays on mythological subjects, mostly in prose, and, as a rule, cold and artificial in style, but containing some beautiful lyrics, notably the well-known lines beginning Cupid and my Campaspe played. The Love of King David and fair Bethsabe is the most celebrated drama of George Peele (1552-1598). In another of his-the Old Wives' Tale, on account of some coincidences, Milton is said to have found hints for Comus,-a suggestion which, if valid, is of no great importance. Robert Greene (1560-1592), a voluminous pamphleteer, and ultimately-repentant Bohemian, wrote a number of pieces for the stage, of which the most pleasing are his comedies of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, and George-a-Greene, the Pinner of Wakefield. Thomas Kyd (xvi. cent.) is chiefly known in connection with a play called Jeronimo, the authorship of which is doubtful. To this, under the title of The Spanish Tragedy, or Hieronimo is mad again, Kyd wrote a sequel, which, deducting a certain fustian for which the author was 'proverbial even in his own
Hist. of Eng. Poetry, ed. by W. Carew Hazlitt, 1871, iii. 289.
day,' contains some depth of thought and passion. Summer's last Will and Testament is the one conspicuous dramatic effort of Thomas Nash (1564?–1601?), perhaps more famous as a caustic pamphleteer and an unscrupulous satirist-witness his baiting of poor Gabriel Harvey (see p. 53, s. 35), and his battle with the controversialist Hydra of the Puritans, Martin Mar-prelate.' But Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593), already mentioned as the translator of Musæus (see p. 57, s. 36), was undoubtedly the greatest of the pre-Shakesperian writers, and the true founder of the dramatic school;'
For that fine madness still he did retain
Which rightly should possess the poet's brain.'
'In delineating character, he reaches a degree of truth to which they [the predecessors of Shakespeare] make comparatively slight approaches; and in Faustus and Edward the Second he attains to real grandeur and pathos. Even in his earlier tragedy, Tamburlaine, amid all its extravagance of incident and inflation of style, we recognise a power which none of its contemporaries possessed.'† Besides the above-named plays, Marlowe wrote The Jew of Malta, and he is also the author of the beautiful lyric,-Come live with me, and be my love, to which Sir Walter Raleigh wrote the almost equally celebrated answer,-If all the world and love were young. Marlowe died at thirty, by a thrust from his own dagger, which had been turned against him in a tavern brawl. Indeed, misfortunes or excesses appear to have been the fate and portion of most of the earlier Elizabethan playwrights. Of those already mentioned:-Lyly, in one of his latest petitions to the Queen, speaks of 'patience to his creditors, melancholy without measure to his friends, and beggarie without shame to his family,' as the only legacies he has to leave; Kvd died miserably; Nash wrote for bare existence, to use his own words, 'contending with the cold and conversing with scarcity;' Peele, again, was poor and dissolute, and Greene, after a life of follies and contritious, ended at last ignobly of an illness brought on by a surfeit.
40. Shakespeare.-The brief paragraphs which can be given in these pages to William Shakespeare (1564-1616) must, of necessity, be inadequate to the subject. It is easy enough, in the spirit of the words of Chaucer's Man of Law, to make a 'short tale' of the chaf' and 'stre',' but it is impossible to do justice to the
*Taine, Eng. Literature (Van Laun's Trans.), i. 237.
'corn.' In so far, however, as the life proper of our greatest writer is concerned, a limited space will suffice for the slender collection of facts which have been established respecting it; for, even at this date, a century's curiosity has added little to the well-worn and well-known summary, setting forth that,—' All that is known with any certainty concerning Shakespeare is-that he was born at Stratfordupon-Avon-married and had children there-went to London, where he commenced actor, and wrote poems and plays-returned to Stratford, made his will, died, and was buried.'*
The parents of Shakespeare were John Shakespeare, of Stratford, and Mary Arden. He was born in 1564, and christened on the 26th April, in that year; acquired, it is supposed, his small Latin and less Greek' at the Stratford grammar-school; perhaps,-if we may so interpret a passage in a contemporary writer,-passed some time in an attorney's office; and was married, in 1582, to Anne Hathaway, the daughter of a yeoman in an adjoining hamlet. Shortly afterwards, for unknown reasons, he quitted his native town, left his wife and children at Stratford, came up to London, and joined the Blackfriars company of players. From this date (1586?) to 1592, little is known of his movements. In the latter year, as would appear from the Groatsworth of Witte of Robert Greene (see p. 61, s. 39), he had become sufficiently expert as an author and adapter to have excited the envy of rival dramatists:- There is an upstart crow,' says the above-mentioned writer, 'beautified with our feathers, that, with his Tygres heart wrapt in a player's hyde [a parody of a line in Henry VI., Third Part, Act 1. sc. 4], supposes hee is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you; and beeing an absolute Johannes Fac-totum, is, in his own conceyte, the only SHAKESCENE in a countrey.' In 1593, he published his Venus and Adonis, styled in its preface the first heir of his invention,' and, in 1594, Lucrece, both dedicated to Henry Wriothesly, third Earl of Southampton. In 1597, from his purchase of a large house in his native town, it may be assumed that his career had been sufficiently prosperous; and, in 1598, another and less equivocal allusion is made to his literary reputation. In his Palladis Tamia: Wits Treasury, Francis Meres writes as follows:-'As the soule of Euphorbus was thought to live in Pythagoras, so the sweete-wittie soule of Ovid lives in mellifluous and hony-tongued Shakespeare; witnes his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, his sugred Sonnets among his private friends, &c. As Plautus and Seneca are accounted the best for comedy and tragedy among the Latines, so Shakespeare among the * George Steevens, 1780.