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The performance of tragedy appears to have been attended with some peculiar preparations; one of which was hanging the stage with black, a practice which dwelt on Shakspeare's recollection when, in writing his Rape of Lucrece, he speaks of
“ Black stage for tragedies, and murthers fell;" *
and is put out of dispute by a passage in the Induction to an anonymous tragedy, entitled, A Warning for fair Women, 1599, where History, addressing Comedy, says :
If the decorations of the stage itself could boast but little splendour, the wardrobe, even of The Globe and Blackfriars, could not be supposed either richly or amply furnished ; in fact, even Jonson, in 1625, nine years after Shakspeare's death, betrays the poverty of the stage-dresses, when he exclaims in the Induction to his Staple of News, “ () curiosity, you come to see who wears the new suit to-day ; whose clothes are best pen’d, &c.—what king plays without cuffs, and his queen without gloves : who rides post in stockings, and dances in boots.” I It is evident, therefore, that the dramas of our great poet could derive little attraction from magnificence of attire, though it
* Malone's Supplement, vol. i. p. 517.-" The hanging however was,” remarks the editor, “I suppose, no more than one piece of black baize placed at the back of the stage, in the room of the tapestry which was the common decoration when comedies were acted.” + Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iii. p. 111. note.
Whalley's Works of Ben Jonson; Prologue in Induction.
appears, from a passage in Jonson, that not only was there a prompter, or book-holder, but likewise a property, or tire-man, belonging to each theatre, in 1601. * Periwigs, which came into fashion about 1596, were often worn on the stage by male characters, whence Hamlet is represented calling a ranting player, “ a robustious periwig-pated fellow † ;” masks or vizards were also sometimes used by those who personated female characters ; thus Quince tells Flute, in the Midsummer Night's Dream, on his objecting to perform a woman's part, that he “ shall play it in a mask.”
Female characters indeed, were on the old English stage, as they had been on the Grecian and Roman, always personated by men or boys, a practice which continued with us until near the period of the Restoration. Italy and France long preceded us in the introduction of women on the theatric boards ; for Coryate writing from Venice in 1608, and describing one of the theatres of that city, says, “ the house is very beggarly and base, in comparison of our stately playhouses in England ;” and he then adds, what must give us a wretched idea of the state of the stage at that time in Italy, “neither can their actors compare with us for apparell, shewes, and musicke. Here,” he continues, “ I observed certaine things that I never saw before; for I saw women act, a thing that I never saw before.” Ş
The mode of expressing dislike of, or censuring a play, was as decided in the days of Shakspeare as in the present age, and sometimes effected by the same means. Decker gives us two methods of expressing disapprobation; one, by leaving the house with as many in your train as you can collect, the other, by staying, in order to interrupt the performance: “ you shall disgrace him (the poet) worse,” he observes, “ than by tossing him in a blanket, or giving him the bastinado in a tavern, if, in the middle of his play, be it pastoral or comedy, moral or tragedy, you rise with a screwed and discontented face from your stool to be gone;” and “ salute all your gentle acquaintance, that are spread either on the rushes, or on stools about you ; and draw what troop you can from the stage after you:” but, “ if either the company, or indisposition of the weather bind you to sit it out ;— mew at passionate speeches ; blare at merry; find fault with the musick ; whew at the children's action ; whistle at the songs *;” modes of annoyance sufficiently provoking, and occasionally very effectual toward the final condemnation of a play, as Ben Jonson experienced in more instances than one. to
* Whalley's Jonson ; Cynthia's Revels, Induction. + Reed's Shakspeare, vol. xviii. p. 181. Act iïi. sc. 2. # Ibid. vol. iv. p. 338. Act i. sc. 2. ģCoryate's Crudities, 4to. 1611, p. 247.
It was usual also for the critics and coxcombs of the day, either from motives of curiosity, vanity, or malevolence, to carry to the theatre table-books, made of small plates of slate bound together in duodecimo, and to take down passages from the play, for the purpose either of retailing them in taverns and parties, or with the view of ridiculing and degrading the author ; “ to such, wherever they sit concealed,” says
the indignant Jonson in 1601, “ let them know, the author defies them and their writing-tables.”
An Epilogue, sometimes spoken by one of the Dramalis Personæ, and sometimes by an extra character, was not uncommon at this period; and, when employed, generally terminated, if in a public theatre, with a prayer for the king or queen ; if, in a private one, for the lord of the mansion. The prayer, however, was, almost always, a necessary form, whether an epilogue were adopted or not; and, on these occasions, whatever may have been the nature of the preceding drama, the players, kneeling down, solemnly addressed themselves to their devotions : thus Shakspearé concludes his Epilogue to the Second Part of King Henry the Fourth, by telling his audience, “ I will bid you good night: and so keneel down before you ;- but, indeed, to pray for the queen *;" and Sir John Harrington closes his Metamorphosis of Ajax, 1596, with the following sarcastic mention of this custom as retained in private theatres :-“ But I will neither end with sermon nor prayer, lest some wags liken me to my L ( ) players, who when they have ended a baudie comedy, as though that were a preparative to devotion, kneele down solemnly, and pray all the companie to pray with them for their good lord and maister." Considering the place chosen for its display, this is, certainly, a
* Gull’s Horn-book, reprint, pp. 147—149.
I “ There is reason to believe," remarks Mr. Malone, “ that the imperfect and mutilated copies of one or two of Shakspeare's dramas, which are yet extant, were taken down by the ear, or in short-hand, during the exhibition.”-Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iii. p. 151.
« More honour'd in the breach, than the observance."
With regard to the Remuneration of Actors, during the age of Shakspeare, it has been ascertained, that, after deducting forty-five shillings, which were the usual nightly, or rather daily, expenses at the Globe and Blackfriars, the net receipt never amounted to more than twenty pounds, and that, the average receipt, after making a similar deduction, may be estimated at about nine pounds. This sum Mr. Malone supposes to have been in our poet's time “ divided into forty shares, of which fifteen were appropriated to the house keepers or proprietors, three to the purchase of copies of new plays, stagehabits, &c. and twenty-two to the actors.' He further calculates, that, as the acting season lasted forty weeks, and each company consisted of about twenty persons, six of whom probably were principal, and the others subordinate performers, if we suppose two shares to have been the reward of a principal actor; one share that of a second class composed of six, and half a share the portion of the remaining eight, the performer who had two shares, would, on the calculation of nine pounds clear per night, receive nine shillings as his nightly dividend, and, at the rate of five plays a week, his weekly profit would amount to two pounds five shillings. “On all these data,”
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. xii. p. 263.
adds Mr. Malone, “ I think it may be safely concluded, that the
performers of the first class did not derive from their profession more than ninety pounds a year at the utmost.Shakspeare, Heminge, Condell, Burbadge, Lowin, and Taylor had without doubt other shares as proprietors or leaseholders; but what the different proportions were which each of them possessed in that right, it is now impossible to ascertain.” * If we consider, however, the value of money during the reign of Elizabeth, and the relative prices of the necessary
articles of life, it will be found that these salaries were not inadequate to the purposes of comfortable subsistence.
The profits accruing to the original source of the entertainment, or, in other words, the Remuneration given to the Dramatic Poet, was certainly, if we compare the claims of genius between the two parties, on a scale inferior to that which fell to the lot of the actor.
The author had the choice of two modes in the disposal of his property; he either sold the copy-right of his play to the theatre, or retained it in his own hands. In the former instance, which was frequently had recourse to in the age of Shakspeare, the only emolument was that derived from the purchase made by the proprietors of the theatre, who took care to secure the performance of the piece exclusively to their own company, and whose interest it was to defer its publication as long as possible; in the latter instance, not only had the poet the right of publication and the benefit of sale in his own option, but he had, likewise, a claim upon the theatre for a benefit. This, towards the termination of the sixteenth century, took place on the second day t, but
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iii. p. 190. .
“ There is an old tradition,