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cedents afforded by Greece and Rome. Of comedy, which was an improvement upon the interludes, and may be more remotely traced in the ludicrous parts of the moral plays, the earliest specimen that can now be found bears the uncouth title of Ralph Royster Doyster, and was the production of NICOLAS UDALL, master of Westminster school. It is supposed to have been written in the reign of Henry VIII., but certainly not later than 1551. The scene is in London, and the characters, thirteen in number, exhibit the manners of the middle orders of the people of that day. It is divided into five acts, and the plot is amusing and well constructed. Mr J. Payne Collier, who has devoted years of anxious study to the history and illustration of dramatic literature, has discovered four acts of a comedy, which he assigns to the year 1560. This play is entitled Mesogonus, and bears to be written by Thomas Rychardes.' The scene is laid in Italy, but the manners are English, and the character of the domestic fool, so important in the old comedy, is fully delineated. The next in point of time is Gammer Gurton's Needle, supposed to have been written about 1565 (or still earlier) by JOHN STILL, Master of Arts, and afterwards bishop of Bath and Wells. This is a piece of low rustic humour, the whole turning upon the loss and recovery of the needle with which Gammer Gurton was mending a piece of attire belonging to her man Hodge. But it is cleverly hit off, and contains a few well-sketched characters.
The language of Ralph Royster Doyster, and of Gammer Gurton's Needle, is in long and irregularly measured rhyme, of which a specimen may be given from a speech of Dame Custance in the former play, respecting the difficulty of preserving a good reputation:
How necessary it is now a-days,
Acastus. Your grace should now, in these grave years of yours,
Tragedy, of later origin than comedy, came directly from the more elevated portions of the moral plays, and from the pure models of Greece and Rome. The earliest known specimen of this kind of composition is the Tragedy of Ferrex and Porrex, composed by Thomas Sackville, afterwards Earl of Dorset, and by Thomas Norton, and played before Queen Elizabeth at Whitehall, by the members of the Inner Temple, in January 1561. It is founded on a fabulous incident in early British history, and is full of slaughter and civil broils. It is written, however, in regular blank verse, consists of five acts, and observes some of the more useful rules of the classic drama of antiquity, to which it bears resemblance in the introduction of a chorus-that is, a group of persons whose sole business it is to inter-lish play taken from an Italian novel. sperse the play with moral observations and inferences, expressed in lyrical stanzas. It may occasion some surprise, that the first English tragedy should contain lines like the following :
Have found ere this the price of mortal joys;
Of patient sprite to others wrapp'd in woe,
Porrex, both tragedies and comedies had become not
Gray's Inn Hall.
A tragedy, called Tancred and Gismunda, composed
dramatic pieces now followed, and between the years
of wood, of a circular form, open to the weather, excepting over the stage, which was covered with a thatched roof. Outside, on the roof, a flag was hoisted during the time of performance, which commenced at three o'clock, at the third sounding or flourish of trumpets. The cavaliers and fair dames of the court of Elizabeth sat in boxes below the gallery, or were accommodated with stools on the stage, where some of the young gallants also threw themselves at length on the rush-strewn floor, while their pages handed them pipes and tobacco, then a fashionable and highly-prized luxury. The middle classes were crowded in the pit, or yard, which was not furnished with seats. Moveable scenery was first introduced by Davenant, after the Restoration,* but rude imitations of towers, woods, animals, or furniture, served to illustrate the scene. To point out the place of action, a board containing the name, painted or written in large letters, was hung out during the performance. Anciently, an allegorical exhibition, called the Dumb Show,' was exhibited before every act, and gave an outline of the action or circumstances to follow. Shakspeare has preserved this peculiarity in the play acted before the king and queen in Hamlet; but he never employs it in his own dramas. Such machinery, indeed, would be incompatible with the increased action and business of the stage, when the miracle plays had given place to the pomp and circumstance' of historical dramas, and the bustling liveliness of comedy. The chorus was longer retained, and appears in Marlow's Faustus, and in Henry VI. Actresses were not seen on the stage till after the Restoration, and the female parts were played by boys, or delicate-looking young men. This may perhaps palliate the gross
*The air-blest castle, round whose wholesome crest
ness of some of the language put into the mouths of females in the old plays, while it serves to point out still more clearly the depth of that innate sense of beauty and excellence which prompted the exquisite pictures of loveliness and perfection in Shakspeare's female characters. At the end of each performance, the clown, or buffoon actor of the company, recited or sung a rhyming medley called a jig, in which he often contrived to introduce satirical allusions to public men or events; and before dismissing the audience, the actors knelt in front of the stage, and offered up a prayer for the queen! Reviewing these rude arrangements of the old theatres, Mr Dyce happily remarks- What a contrast between the almost total want of scenery in those days, and the splendid representations of external nature in our modern playhouses! Yet perhaps the decline of the drama may in a great measure be attributed to this improvement. The attention of an audience is now directed rather to the efforts of the painter than to those of the actor, who is lost amid the marvellous effects of light and shade on our gigantic stages."*
The only information we possess as to the payment of dramatic authors at this time, is contained in the memoranda of Philip Henslowe, a theatrical manager, preserved in Dulwich college, and quoted by Malone and Collier. Before the year 1600, the price paid by Henslowe for a new play never exceeded £8; but after this date, perhaps in consequence of the exertions of rival companies, larger sums were given, and prices of £20 and £25 are mentioned. The proceeds of the second day's performance were afterwards added to the author's emoluments. Furnishing prologues for new plays, the prices of which varied from five to twenty shillings, was another source of gain; but the proverbial poverty of poets seems to have been exemplified in the old dramatists, even when they were actors as well as authors. The shareholders of the theatre derived considerable profits from the performances, and were occasionally paid for exhibitions in the houses of the nobility. In 1602, a sum of ten pounds was given to 'Burbidge's players' for performing Othello before Queen Elizabeth, at Harefield, the seat of Sir Thomas Egerton. Nearly all the dramatic authors preceding and contemporary with Shakspeare were
men who had received a learned education at the university of Oxford or Cambridge. A profusion of classical imagery abounds in their plays, but they did not copy the severe and correct taste of the ancient models. They wrote to supply the popular demand for novelty and excitement-for broad farce or superlative tragedy-to introduce the coarse raillery or comic incidents of low life-to dramatise a murder, or embody the vulgar idea of oriental bloodshed and splendid extravagance. If we seek for a poetical image,' says a writer on our drama, a burst of passion, a beautiful sentiment, a trait of not in vain in the works of our very oldest dramatists. But none of the predecessors of nature, we Shakspeare must be thought of along with him, when he appears before us like Prometheus, moulding the figures of men, and breathing into them the animation and all the passions of life.'t Among the immediate predecessors of the great poet are some worthy of separate notice. A host of playwrights abounded, and nearly all of them have touches of that happy poetic diction, free, yet choice and select, which gives a permanent value and interest to these elder masters of English poetry.
*Memoir of Shakspeare-Aldine Poets.
+ Blackwood's Magazine, vol. ii., from Essays on the Old Drama, said to have been contributed by Henry Mackenzie, author of the Man of Feeling.' 165
JOHN LYLY, born in Kent in 1554, produced nine plays between the years 1579 and 1600. They were mostly written for court entertainments, and performed by the scholars of St Paul's. He was educated at Oxford, and many of his plays are on mythological subjects, as Sappho and Phaon, Endymion, the Maid's Metamorphosis, &c. His style is affected and unnatural, yet, like his own Niobe, in the Metamorphosis, oftentimes he had sweet thoughts, sometimes hard conceits; betwixt both a kind of yielding.' By his Euphues, or the Anatomy of Wit, Lyly exercised powerful though injurious influence on the fashionable literature of his day, in prose composition as well as in discourse. His plays were not important enough to found a school. Hazlitt was a warm admirer of Lyly's Endymion, but evidently from the feelings and sentiments it awakened, rather than the poetry. I know few things more perfect in characteristic painting,' he remarks, than the exclamation of the Phrygian shepherds, who, afraid of betraying the secret of Midas's ears, fancy that "the very reeds bow down, as though they listened to their talk;" nor more affecting in sentiment, than the apostrophe addressed by his friend Eumenides to Endymion, on waking from his long sleep, "Behold the twig to which thou laidest down thy head is now become a tree." There are finer things in the Metamorphosis, as where the prince laments Eurymene lost in the woods
Adorned with the presence of my love,
Or the song of the fairies
By the moon we sport and play,
The genius of Lyly was essentially lyrical. The songs in his plays seem to flow freely from nature. The following exquisite little pieces are in his drama of Alexander and Campaspe, written about 1583:
Cupid and Campaspe.
Cupid and my Campaspe play'd
He stakes his quiver, bow, and arrows,
What bird so sings, yet so does wail !
Brave prick-song! who is't now we hear?
GEORGE PEELE held the situation of city poet and conductor of pageants for the court. He was also an actor and a shareholder with Shakspeare and others, in 1589, in the Blackfriars theatre. In 1584, his Arraignment of Paris, a court show, was represented before Elizabeth. The author was then a young man, who had recently left Christ-church, Oxford. In 1593, Peele gave an example of an English historical play in his Edward I. The style of this piece is turgid and monotonous; yet, in the fol lowing allusion to England, we see something of the high-sounding kingly speeches in Shakspeare's historical plays :
Illustrious England, ancient seat of kings,
Her neighbour realms, as Scotland, Denmark, France,
Peele was also author of the Old Wires' Tale, a legendary story, part in prose, and part in blank verse, which afforded Milton a rude outline of his fable of Comus. The Old Wives' Tale was printed in 1595, as acted by the Queen's Majesty's Players.' The greatest work of Peele is his Scripture drama, the Love of King David and Fair Bethsabe, with the tragedy of Absalom, which Mr Campbell terms 'the earliest fountain of pathos and harmony that can be traced in our dramatic poetry.' The date of representation of this drama is not known; it was not printed till 1599, after Shakspeare had written some of his finest comedies, and opened up a fountain compared with which the feeble tricklings of Peele were wholly insignificant. It is not probable that Peele's play was written before 1590, as one passage in it is a direct plagiarism from the Faery Queen of Spenser. We may allow Peele the merit of a delicate poetical fancy and smooth musical versification. The defect of his blank verse is its want of variety: the art of
varying the pauses and modulating the verse without the aid of rhyme had not yet been generally adopted. In David and Bethsabe this monotony is less observable, because his lines are smoother, and there is a play of rich and luxurious fancy in some of the scenes.
BETHSABE and her maid bathing. King DAVID above.
Prologue to King David and Fair Bethsabe.
Of Israel's sweetest singer now I sing,
The cherubim and angels laid their breasts;
See, Cusay, see the flower of Israel,
That, wing'd with lightning, brake the clouds, and cast And comelier than the silver clouds that dance
And of his beauteous son, I press to sing;
Hot sun, cool fire, temper'd with sweet air,
Inflame unstaid desire,
Nor pierce any bright eye
Bethsabe. Come, gentle zephyr, trick'd with those
That erst in Eden sweeten'd Adam's love,
My soul, incensed with a sudden fire!
1 The sun's rays.
That precious fount bear sand of purest gold;
On zephyr's wings before the King of Heaven.
David. Go now and bring her quickly to the king;
In water mixed with purest almond flower,
Now comes my lover tripping like the roe,
Mr Lamb says justly, that the line 'seated in hearing of a hundred streams' is the best in the above passage. It is indeed a noble poetical image. Peele died before 1599, and seems, like most of his dramatic brethren, to have led an irregular life, in the midst of severe poverty. A volume of Merry Conceited Jests, said to have been by him, was published after his death in 1607, which shows that he was not scrupulous as to the means of relieving his necessities.
In 1588, THOMAS KYD produced his play of Hieronimo or Jeronimo, and some years afterwards a second part to it, under the title of the Spanish Tragedy, or Hieronimo is Mad Again. This second part is supposed to have gone through more editions than any play of the time. Ben Jonson was afterwards engaged to make additions to it, when it was revived in 1601, and further additions in 1602. These new scenes are said by Lamb to be the very salt of the old play,' and so superior to Jonson's acknowledged works, that he attributes them to Webster, or some
more potent spirit' than Ben. This seems refining too much in criticism. Kyd, like Marlow, often verges upon bombast, and deals largely in blood and death.'
THOMAS NASH, a lively satirist, who amused the town with his attacks on Gabriel Harvey and the Puritans, wrote a comedy called Summer's Last Will and Testament, which was exhibited before Queen Elizabeth in 1592. He was also concerned with Marlow in writing the tragedy of Dido, Queen of Carthage. He was imprisoned for being the author of a satirical play, never printed, called the Isle of Dogs. Another piece of Nash's, entitled the Supplication of Pierce Penniless to the Devil, was printed in 1592, which was followed next year by Christ's Tears over Jerusalem. Nash was a native of Leostoff, in Suffolk, and was born about the year 1564; he was of St John's college, Cambridge, He died about the year 1600, after a life spent,' he says, in fantastical satirism, in whose veins heretofore I mispent my spirit, and prodigally conspired against good hours.' He was the Churchill of his day, and was much famed for his satires. One of his contemporaries remarks of him, in a happy couplet
His style was witty, though he had some gall, Something he might have mended, so may all. Return from Parnassus. The versification of Nash is hard and monotonous. The following is from his comedy of Summer's Last Will and Testament,' and is a favourable specimen of his blank verse: great part of the play is in prose :
I never lov'd ambitiously to climb,
Or thrust my hand too far into the fire.
In his poem of Pierce Penniless, Nash draws a harrowing picture of the despair of a poor scholar
Ah, worthless wit! to train me to this woe:
ROBERT GREENE, a more distinguished dramatist, is conjectured to have been a native of Norfolk, as he adds Norfolciensis' to his name, in one of his productions. He was educated at Clare-Hall, Cambridge, and in 1583 appeared as an author. He is supposed to have been in orders, and to have held the vicarage of Tollesbury, in Essex, as, in 1585, Robert Greene, the vicar, lost his preferment. The plays of Greene are the History of Orlando, Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, Alphonsus, King of Arragon, George-aGreen, the Pinner of Wakefield, James IV., and the Looking-glass for London and England: the latter was
written in conjunction with Lodge. Greene died in September 1592, owing, it is said, to a surfeit of red herrings and Rhenish wine! Besides his plays, he wrote a number of tracts, one of which, Pandosto, the Triumph of Time, 1588, was the source from which Shakspeare derived the plot of his Winter's Tale. Some lines contained in this tale are very beautiful:
Ah, were she pitiful as she is fair,
Tread she these lawns ?-kind Flora, boast thy pride.
Ah thought, my heaven! Ah heaven, that knows my
Smile, joy in her that my content hath wrought. Passages like this prove that Greene succeeds well, as Hallam remarks, in that florid and gay style, a little redundant in images, which Shakspeare frequently gives to his princes and courtiers, and which renders some unimpassioned scenes in the historic plays effective and brilliant.' Professor Tieck gives him the high praise of possessing a happy talent, a clear spirit, and a lively imagination.' His comedies have a good deal of boisterous merriment and farcical humour. George-a-Green is a shrewd Yorkshireman, who meets with the kings of Scotland and England, Robin Hood, Maid Marian, &c., and who, after various tricks, receives the pardon of King Edward
George-a-Green, give me thy hand: there is None in England that shall do thee wrong. Even from my court I came to see thyself, And now I see that fame speaks nought but truth. The following is a specimen of the simple humour and practical jokes in the play: it is in a scene between George and his servant:
Jenkin. This fellow comes to me, And takes me by the bosom you slave, Said he, hold my horse, and look He takes no cold in his feet.