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Do not our great Reformers use
Of battles fought at sea, and ships
ART. IV. Hawkins's Origin of the English Drama, 3 vols. 8vo. Oxford, 1773.
Dodsley's Select Collection of Old Plays, 12 vols. 12mo. 1744. The Honorable Historie of Frier Bacon, and Frier Bongay, as it was plaid by her Majesties servants. Made by Robert Greene, Maister of Arts. London, Printed for Edward White, and are to be sold at his shop, at the little North dore of Poules, at the signe of the Gun : 1594.
A Looking Glasse for London and England. Made by Thomas Lodge, Gentleman, and Robert Greene, in artibus magister. London, imprinted by Bernard Alsop, 1617.
In undertaking to give a series of articles on the English Drama, as stated in our last number, it never entered into our contemplation to mention every name, or give an account of every production which appeared in our dramatic horizon, but merely to give so much as we conceived necessary, in a short space, to enable the reader to command a view of the gradual progress of this species of literature. They must not, there
fore, be surprised to find we have omitted to notice some authors and their productions; we have not, for instance, given any specimen of the moralities indited by our early poet laureat, John Skelton, whose moral interlude of the Nigramansir was printed so early as 1504, by Wynkin de Worde; although the learned Erasmus, in his letter to King Henry the 8th, calls him, "Britannicarum Literarum lumen et decus." In this interlude the Devil is one of the principal dramatis personæ, and the audience (consisting of "the king* and other estatys,") were treated with a view of hell, and a dance between the devil and the Nigramansir. Of John Heywood, the epigrammatist, however, the favourite of Henry the 8th and Queen Mary, and the friend of Sir Thomas More, for the reasons stated in our last number, we propose to say a few words. He was the author of several interludes, the whole of which, except the Four P's, were printed in 1533; and that play, which is without date, was probably printed about the same time. The author entitles the last-mentioned production a very merry interlude of a Palmer, a Pardoner, a Poticary, and a Pedler ;-it contains no plot or story, but the incidents are as follow:-the three first-named personages fall into a controversy as to the comparative worthiness of their respective callings, a proposal is made that he who can tell the best lie shall be waited on" by the others, and the Pedler is constituted judge of this whimsical exhibition of talent. Each of the polemics produces something appropriate to his profession.
The Pardoner says,
"Nay, sirs, beholde, heer may ye see
And once may role it in his mouth,
All his life after, I undertake,
He shall never be vext with the tooth-ake.
Poticary. I pray you turn that relique about:
Or els, because it is three toes in one,
God made it as muche as three toes alone."
The Poticary is anxious to try his skill:
"Poticary. Now if I wist this wishe no sin I would to God I might begin.
Pardoner. I am content that thou lie first.
Palmer. Even so am I; now say thy wurst.
The greatest lie thou maist devise.
Poticary. Forsooth, you are an honest man.
To praise you for an honest man,
Now, by your faith, speak even truly;
Thought you your affirmation true?
Palmer. Yea, mary, for I would you knew,
I think my self an honest man.
Poticary. What thought you in the contrary than?
I think from trouth I did not vary.
Poticary. And what of my woords?
Pardoner. I thought you lyed.
Poticary. And so thought I, by God that dyed.
Now have you twain eche for him self laid,
That one hath lyed, but bothe true said.
And that the lyer the winner must be."
Finding, at length, that this wordy war would, at the rate the disputants were going on, have no end, the Pedler proposes that each of the three rivals in lying should tell a tale, on which he will in due form of law pronounce his judgement. The Poticary commences with a professional story of no very decent description-the Pardoner tells an infernal lie of his fetching
a woman from hell, whom the prince of that realm is very glad to be rid of; and the Palmer states, that of five hundred thousand women whom he had seen, he never in his conscience knew one out of patience. This excites an involuntary exclamation from every one of the party, as the most exorbitant lie that was ever invented, and he gains a triumphant victory. The Pardoner gives a humorous description of his satanic majesty's subjects.
"The devil and I walked arme in arme,
As for that day there meetly fel.
Their hornes wel gilt, their clawes full clene,
Did laugh thereat ful wel like freends."
This, to be sure, is but a faint sketch of the regular comedy; but even this was something gained on the mysteries and moralities-it displays no discrimination of individual character— but there is some humour in the description of the peculiarities of the different professions of the personages, and some point and liveliness in the dialogue. This is the only interlude of our author which Langbaine had seen; and we much lament that we have not had the opportunity ourselves of seeing any other, as it has been repeatedly printed.
Heywood's interludes are worthy of notice, as the very first,* though rude and unshapely, skeleton of English comedy.
* In the Ancient British Drama, Dr. Palsgrave's play of Acolastus is stated to have been the first, and is said to have been printed in 1529, and Ames, p. 166, is referred to. This play, however, is merely a translation, for the use of children, of a Latin play of William Fullonius, on the story of the Prodigal Son, "set forthe before the bourgesses of Hagen, in Holland," in that year, translated by Dr. P., printed in 1540. See Ames by Herbert, 435; and Langbaine.
But the appearance of Gammer Gurton's Needle, printed, according to Oldys, originally in 1551, and written by John Still, M.A., brings us to a yet more interesting period of dramatic history. This production, as our first regular comedy, is connected with such delightful associations-it opened such a new source of untried enjoyment, that it demands our attention on that ground alone, without reference to its merit—but it has merit, although purely of a ludicrous description.__It displays considerable dramatic skill, and comic power. The humour, however, is coarse and low, and blemished with much grossness of expression. The dialogue is familiar and spirited, and the characters well supported: they consist of Diccon, the Bedlam, a cunning fellow, who lives upon stolen bacon and mischief-Hodge, a mere bumpkin-Gammer Gurton and Dame Chat, two brawling old wives-Mas Doctor Rat, an ignorant meddling parson, who would rather run the risk of a broken head than lose a tithe-pig-and the Baily, a passable person, who dispensed justice seasoned with mirth, and afterwards drank his halfpenny ale with the parties litigant.
We recollect, that on our first perusal of this old comedy, we were very much amused, and, in the course of it, indulged ourselves more than once in a hearty laugh. The plot turns upon the loss of the Gammer's only needle:
"A little thing with an hole in the end, as bright as any siller, Small, long, sharp at the point, and straight as any piller."
This disaster happens whilst the dame is mending the breeches of Hodge, her man.-In the midst of the operation, Gib, the Cat, who is no unimportant personage in the play, disturbs the Gammer's serenity by making a furtive attempt on Hodge's milk.-The Gammer, in a passion, throws the beforementioned article of apparel at Gib, and that valuable instrument of female economy is lost. After a fruitless search in all imaginable places, Diccon, the Bedlam, a mischievous wag, undertakes to conjure up the Devil and make him discover to Hodge where the needle is. Hodge, however, dares not venture into the magic circle, but leaves Diccon with unequivocal tokens of bodily fear. The Bedlam, seeing this affair would afford some sport, straightway hies him to Dame Chat, and tells her how Gammer Gurton has accused her of stealing her cock: he next applies himself to the Gammer, and swears he saw Dame Chat pick up the needle at the Gammer's door. This brings the two old ladies together. The one accuses the other of stealing her goods, and from words they soon proceed to blows, in which Dame Chat comes off victorious. In this extremity, the Gammer applies for relief to the curate, Doctor Rat. Here, again, Diccon interposes, and