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children, makes children men, men to conquer kingdoms, murder monsters, and bringeth gods from heaven, and fetcheth devils from hell: and, that which is worst, their ground is not so unperfect as their working indiscreet; not weighing, so the people laugh, though they laugh them for their follies to scorn. Many times, to make mirth, they make a clown companion with a king : in their grave councils they allow the advice of fools; yea, they use one order of speech for all persons, a gross indecorum.” This, it will be perceived, is an accurate account of the ordinary licence taken in our romantic drama, and a proof of the reliance of poets, long before the time of Shakespeare, upon the imaginations of their auditors.
To the same effect we may quote a work by Stephen Gosson, to which we have before been indebted, -"Plays confuted in Five Actions,”—which must have been printed about 1580 :-“If a true history (says Gosson) be taken in hand, it is made, like our shadows, longest at the rising and falling of the sun, shortest of all at high noon ; for the poets drive it commonly unto such points, as may best show the majesty of their pen in tragical speeches, or set the hearers agog with discourses of love; or paint a few antics to fit their own humours with scoffs and taunts; or bring in a show, to furnish the stage when it is bare.” Again, speaking of plays professedly founded upon romance, and not upon “true history,” he remarks: “Sometimes you shall see nothing but the adventures of an amorous knight, passing from country to country for the love of his lady, encountering many a terrible monster, made of brown paper, and at his return is so wonderfully changed, that he cannot be known but by some posy in his tablet, or by a broken ring, or a handkerchief, or a piece of cockle-shell." We can hardly doubt that, when Gosson wrote this remarkable passage, he had particular productions in his mind, and one or two of the character he describes are still extant.
Sir Philip Sidney is believed to have written his “Apology of Poetry" in 1583, and we have already referred to it in connexion with “Gorboduc." His observations, upon the general character of dramatic representations in his time, throw much light on the state of the stage a very few before Shakespeare is supposed to have quitted Stratfordupon-Avon, and attached himself to a theatrical company. “Our tragedies and comedies (says Sidney) are not without
cause cried out against, observing neither rules of honest civility, nor skilful poetry .... But if it be so in Gorboduc, how much more in all the rest, where you shall have Asia of the one side, and Afric of the other, and so many other underkingdoms, that the player, when he comes in, must ever begin with telling where he is, or else the tale will not be conceived. Now you shall have three ladies walk to gather flowers, and then we must believe the stage to be a garden: by and by we hear news of a shipwreck in the same place; then, we are to blame if we accept it not for a rock. Upon the back of that comes out a hideous monster with fire and smoke, and then the miserable beholders are bound to take it for a cave; while, in the meantime, two armies fly in, represented with four swords and bucklers, and then what hard heart will not receive it for a pitched field ? Now, of time they are much more liberal; for ordinary it is that two young princes fall in love : after many traverses she is got with child, delivered of a fair boy; he is lost, groweth a man, falleth in love, and is ready to get another child, and all this in two hours' space : which how absurd it is in sense, even sense may imagine, and art hath taught, and all ancient examples justified.” He afterwards comes to a point previously urged by Whetstone; for Sidney complains that plays were « neither right tragedies nor right comedies, mingling kings and clowns, not because the matter so carrieth it, but thrust in the clown by head and shoulders, to play a part in majestical matters with neither decency nor discretion; so as neither the admiration and commiseration, nor right sportfulness is by their mongrel tragi-comedy obtained.”
It will be remarked that, with the exception of the instance of “Gorboduc,” no writer we have had occasion to cite mentions the English Chronicles, as having yet furnished dramatists with stories for the stage; and we may perhaps infer that resort was not had to them, for the purposes of the public theatres, until after the date of which we are now speaking.
Having thus briefly adverted to the nature and character of dramatic representations from the earliest times to the year 1583, and having established that our romantic drama was of ancient origin, it is necessary shortly to describe the circumstances under which plays were at different early periods publicly performed.
There were no regular theatres, or buildings permanently constructed for the purpose of the drama, until after 1575.
Miracle-plays were sometimes exhibited in churches and in the halls of corporations, but more frequently upon movable stages, or scaffolds, erected in the open air. Moral-plays were subsequently performed under nearly similar circumstances, excepting that a practice had grown up, among the nobility and wealthier gentry, of having dramatic entertainments at particular seasons in their own residences '.
These were sometimes performed by a company of actors retained in the family, and sometimes by itinerant players', who belonged to large towns, or who called themselves the servants of members of the aristocracy. In 14 Eliz. an act was passed allowing strolling actors to perform, if licensed by some baron or nobleman of higher degree, but subjecting all others to the penalties inflicted upon vagrants: therefore, although many companies of players went round the country, and acted as the servants of some of the nobility, they had no legislative protection until 1572. It is a singular fact, that the earliest known company of players, travelling under the name and patronage of one of the nobility, was that of the Duke of Gloucester, afterwards Richard III. Henry VII. had two distinct bodies of “actors of interludes in his pay; and thenceforward the profession of a player became well understood and recognised. In the later part of the reign of the same
* As early as 1465 a company of players had performed at the wedding of a person of the name of Molines, who was nearly related to Sir John Howard, afterwards Duke of Norfolk ; and this we believe is the earliest recorded instance. See “ Manners and Household Expenses of England,” printed by Mr. Botfield, M.P., for the Roxburghe Club in 1841, p. 511.
2 The anonymous MS. play of “Sir Thomas More," written towards the close of the reign of Elizabeth, gives a very correct notion of the mode in which offers to perform were made by companies of players, and accepted by the owners of mansions. Four players and a boy (for the female characters) tender their services to the Lord Chancellor, just as he is on the point of giving a grand supper to the Lord Mayor and Corporation of London : Sir Thomas More inquires what pieces they can perform, and the answer of the leader of the company supplies the names of seven which were then popular; viz. “ The Cradle of Security,” “ Hit Nail on the Head,” “ Impatient Poverty,” The Four Ps," “ Dives and Lazarus, “Lusty Juventus,” and “The Marriage of Wit and Wisdom.” Sir Thomas More fixes upon the last, and it is accordingly represented, as a play within a play, before the banquet. The drama of “Sir Thomas More” was regularly licensed for public performance. See also the Induction to “The Taming of the Shrew,” Vol. ii. 446, and “Hamlet," Vol. y. 522.
3 Either from preference or policy, Richard III. appears to have been a great encourager of actors and musicians : besides his players, he patronized two distinct bodies of “minstrels," and performers on instruments called “shalms.” These facts are derived from a MS. of the household-book of John Lord Howard, afterwards Duke of Norfolk, preserved in the library of the Society of Antiquaries, and printed for the Roxburghe Club in 1844.
monarch, the players of the Dukes of Norfolk and Buckingham, and of the Earls of Arundel, Oxford, and Northumberland, performed at Court. About this period, and somewhat earlier, we also hear of companies attached to particular places; and in coeval records we read of the players of York, Coventry, Lavenham, Wycombe, Chester, Manningtree, Evesham, Mile-end, Kingston, &c.
In the reign of Henry VIII., and perhaps in that of his predecessor, the gentlemen and singing-boys of the Chapel Royal were employed to act plays and interludes before the court; and afterwards the children of Westminster, St. Paul's, and Windsor, under their several masters, are not unfrequently mentioned in the household books of the palace, and in the accounts of the department of the revels *.
In 1514 the king added a new company to the dramatic retinue of the court, besides the two companies which had been paid by his father, and the associations of theatrical children: in fact, at this period dramatic entertainments, masques, disguisings, and revels of every description, were carried to a costly excess. Henry VIII. raised the sum, until then paid for a play, from 61. 13s. 4d. to 101. William Cornyshe, the master of the children of the chapel, on one occasion was paid no less a sum than 2001., in the money of that time, by way of reward; and John Heywood, the author of interludes before mentioned, who was also a player upon the virginals, had a salary of 201. per annum, in addition to his other emoluments. During seasons of festivity a Lord of Misrule was regularly appointed to superintend the sports, and he also was separately and liberally remunerated. The example of the court was followed by the courtiers, and the companies of theatrical retainers, in the pay, or acting in various parts of the kingdom under the names of particular noblemen, became extremely numerous. Religious houses gave them encouragement, and even assisted in the getting up and representation of the performances, especially shortly before the dissolution of the monasteries: in the accountbook of the Prior of Dunmow, between March 1532 and July 1536, we find entries of payments to Lords of Misrule there appointed, as well as to the players of the King, and of the Earls of Derby, Exeter, and Sussex 5.
4 At a considerably subsequent date some of these infant companies performed before general audiences ; and to them were added the Children of the Revels, who had never been attached to any ecclesiastical establishment, but were chiefly encouraged as a nursery for actors. The Queen of James I. had also a separate company of theatrical children under her patronage.
In 1543 was passed a statute, rendered necessary by the polemical character of some of the dramas publicly represented, although, not many years before, the king had himself encouraged such performances at court, by being present at a play in which Luther and his wife were ridiculed . The act prohibits “ballads, plays, rhymes, songs, and other fantasies” of a religious or doctrinal tendency, but at the same time carefully provides, that the clauses shall not extend to “songs, plays, and interludes ” which had for object “the rebuking and reproaching of vices, and the setting forth of virtue ; so always the said songs, plays, or interludes meddle not with the interpretations of Scripture."
The permanent office of Master of the Revels, for the superintendence of all dramatic performances, was created in 1546, and Sir Thomas Cawarden was appointed to it with an annual salary of 101. A person of the name of John Bernard was made clerk of the Revels, with an allowance of 8d. per day and livery".
5 For this information we are indebted to the late Sir N. H. Nicolas, who had the original document in his library. Similar facts might be established from other authorities, both of an earlier and somewhat later date.
6 See “ Hist. of Eng. Dram. Poetry and the Stage,” Vol. i. p. 107. The official account, made out by Richard Gibson, who had the preparation of the dresses, &c., is so curious and characteristic, that we quote it in the words, though not in the uncouth orthography, of the original document: the date is the 10th Nov. 1528, not long before the king saw reason to change the whole course of his policy as regarded the Reformation.
“The king's pleasure was that at the said revels, by clerks in the Latin tongue, should be played in his presence a play, whereof ensueth the names. First an Orator in apparel of gold; a Poet in apparel of cloth of gold ; Religion, Ecclesia, Veritas, like three Novices, in garments of silk, and veils of lawn and cypress ; Heresy, False-interpretation, Corruptio-scripturæ, like ladies of Bohemia, appareled in garments of silk of divers colours; the heretic Luther, like a party friar, in russet damask and black taffeta; Luther's wife, like a frow of Spiers in Almain, in red silk; Peter, Paul, and James, in three habits of white sarsenet and three red mantles, and hatts of silver of damask and pelerines of scarlet; and a Cardinal in his apparel; two Sergeants in rich apparel; the Dauphin and his brother in coats of velvet embroidered with gold, and caps of satin bound with velvet; a Messenger in tinsel-satin ; six men in gowns of green sarsenet; six women in gowns of crimson sarsenet; War in rich cloth of gold and feathers, and armed ; three Almains in apparel all cut and slit of silk; Lady Peace, in lady's apparel, all white and rich; and Lady Quietness, and Dame Tranquillity, richly beseen in ladies' apparel.”
The drama represented by these personages appears to have been the composition of John Rightwise, then master of the children of St. Paul's : we have no other trace of its existence. 7 The original appointment of John Bernard is preserved in the library of Sir VOL. I.