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It is a remarkable point, established by Mr. Tytler“, that Henry VIII. was not yet buried, and Bishop Gardiner and his parishioners were about to sing a dirge for his soul, when the actors of the Earl of Oxford posted bills for the performance of a play in Southwark. This was long before the construction of any regular theatre on the Bankside; but it shows at how early a date that part of the town was selected for such exhibitions. When Mr. Tytler adds, that the players of the Earl of Oxford were “the first that were kept by any nobleman," he falls into an error, because Richard III., and others of the nobility, as already remarked, had companies of players attached to their households. We have the evidence of Puttenham, in his “Art of English Poesie," 1589, for stating that the son of the Earl of Oxford, whose players were about to perform in 1547, was himself a dramatist.
Very soon after Edward VI. came to the throne, severe measures were taken to restrain not only dramatic performances, but the publication of dramas. Playing and printing plays were first entirely suspended; then, the companies of noblemen were allowed to perform, but not without special authority; and finally, the sign manual, or the names of six of the Privy Council were required to their licences. The objection stated was, that the plays had a political, not a polemical, purpose. One of the first acts of Mary's government, was to issue a proclamation to put a stop to the performance of interludes calculated to advance the principles of the Reformation; and we may be sure that the play ordered at the coronation of the queen was of a contrary description'.
Thomas Phillippes, Bart., to whom we owe the additional information, that this Clerk of the Revels had a house assigned to him, strangely called, in the instrument, “ Egypt, and Flesh-hall,” with a garden which had belonged to the dissolved monastery of the Charter-house: the words of the original are, omnia illa domum et edificia nuper vocata Egipte et Fleshall, et illam domum adjacentem nuper vocatam le garneter. The theatrical wardrobe of the court was at this period kept at St. John's Gate, Clerkenwell. 8 In his “ Edward VI. and Mary,” 1839, Vol. i.
20. 9 See Kempe's “ Losely Manuscripts,” 1835, p. 61. The warrant for the purpose was under the sign manual, and it was directed to Sir T. Cawarden, as Master of the Revels :-“We will and command you, upon the sight hereof, forthwith to make and deliver out of our Revels, unto the Gentlemen of our Chapel, for a play to be played before us at the feast of our Coronation, as in times past hath been accustomed to be done by the Gentlemen of the Chapel of our progenitors, all such necessary garments, and other things for the furniture thereof, as shall be thought meet,” &c. The play, although ordered for this occasion, viz. Ist Oct. 1553, was for some unexplained reason deferred until Christmas ; and, very possibly, the performance on the occasion was “ Respublica,” already noticed.
It appears on other authorities, that for two years there was an entire cessation of public dramatic performances; but in this reign the representation of the old Roman Catholic miracle-plays was partially and authoritatively revived.
It is not necessary to detail the proceedings in connexion with theatrical representations at the opening of the reign of Elizabeth. At first plays were discountenanced, but by degrees they were permitted; and the queen seems at all times to have derived much pleasure from the services of her own players, those of her nobility, and of the different companies of children belonging to Westminster, St. Paul's, Windsor, and the Chapel Royal. The members of the inns of court also performed “Gorboduc" on 18th January, 1562; and on February 1st, an historical play, under the name of “ Julius Cæsar," was represented, but by what company is no where mentioned.
In 1572 the act was passed (which was renewed with additional force in 1597) to restrain the number of itinerant performers. Two years afterwards, the Earl of Leicester obtained from Elizabeth a patent, under the great seal, to enable his players, James Burbadge, John Perkyn, John Lanham, William Johnson, and Robert Wilson, to perform “comedies, tragedies, interludes, and stage-plays," in any part of the kingdom, with the exception of the metropolis ?.
The Lord Mayor and Aldermen succeeded in excluding the players from the strict boundaries of the city, but they were not able to shut them out of the liberties ; and it is not to be forgotten that James Burbadge and his associates were supported by court favour generally, and by the powerful patronage of the Earl of Leicester in particular. Accordingly, in the year after they had obtained their patent, James Burbadge and his fellows took a large house in the precinct of the dissolved monastery of the Black Friars, and converted it into a theatre. This was accomplished in 1576, and it is the first time we hear of any building set apart for theatrical representations. Until then the various companies of actors had been obliged to content themselves with churches, halls, with temporary erections in the streets, or with inn-yards, in which they raised a stage, the spectators standing below, or occupying the galleries that surrounded the open space?. Just after the same period two other edifices were built for the exhibition of plays in Shoreditch, one of which was called “ The Curtain " and the other “The Theatre :" both these are mentioned as in existence and operation in 1577. Thus we see that two buildings close to the walls of the city, and a third within a privileged district in the city, all expressly applied to the purpose of stage-plays, were in use almost immediately after the date of the Patent to the players of the Earl of Leicester. It is more than likely that one or two play-houses were opened about the same time in Southwark; and we know that the Rose theatre was standing there not many years afterwards". John Stockwood, a puritanical preacher, published a sermon in 1578, in which he asserted that there
1 There is a material difference between the warrant under the privy seal, and the patent under the great seal, granted upon this occasion : the former gives the players a right to perform“ as well within the city of London and liberties of the
as elsewhere; but the latter (dated three days afterwards, viz. 10 May, 1574) omits this paragraph; and we need entertain little doubt that it was excluded at the instance of the Corporation of London, always opposed to theatrical performances. Nevertheless, before two years had expired, a play-house was opened in the Blackfriars.
eight ordinary places" in and near London for dramatic exhibitions, and that the united profits were not less than 20001. a year, about 10,0001. of our present money. Another divine of the name of White, equally opposed to such performances, preaching in 1576, called the play-houses at that time erected “sumptuous theatres." No doubt, the zeal and animosity of these and other divines had been ex
2 In 1557 the Boar's Head, Aldgate, had been used for the performance of a drama called “ The Sack full of News;" and Stephen Gosson in his “ School of Abuse," 1579 (reprinted by the Shakespeare Society in 1841), mentions the Belle Savage and the Bull, as inns at which particular plays had been represented. R. Flecknae, in bis “ Short Discourse of the English Stage," appended to his “Love's Kingdom,” 1664, says that “at this day is to be seen " that “the innyards of the Cross-Keys, and Bull, in Grace and Bishopsgate Streets " had been used as theatres. There is reason to believe that the Boar's Head, Aldgate, had belonged to the father of Edward Alleyn the actor.
3 It has been supposed by some, that the Curtain theatre owed its name to the curtain employed to separate the actors from the audience. We have before us documents (which on account of their length we cannot insert) showing that such was probably not the fact, and that the ground on which the building stood was called the Curtain (perhaps as part of the fortifications of London) before any play-house was built there. For this information we have to offer our thanks to Mr. E. Tomlins of Islington.
4 In John Northbrooke's “Treatise," &c. against “vain plays or interludes,” licensed for the press in 1577, the work being then ready, and in the printer's hands. It was reprinted by the Shakespeare Society in 1843.
5 See the “ Memoirs of Edward Alleyn (published by the Shakespeare Society in 1841), p. 189. It seems that the Rose had been the sign of a house of public entertainment before it was converted into a theatre. Such was also the case with the Swan, and the Hope, in the same neighbourhood.
cited by the opening of the Blackfriars, the Curtain, and the Theatre, for the exclusive purpose of the drama; and the five additional places, where plays, according to Stockwood, were acted before 1578, were most likely in Southwark, a play-house at Newington-butts, and inn-yards, converted occasionally into theatres.
An important fact, in connexion with the manner in which dramatic performances were patronized by Queen Elizabeth, has been recently brought to light'. It has been hitherto supposed that in 1583 she selected one company of twelve performers, to be called “the Queen's players ;” but it seems that she had two separate associations in her pay, each distinguished as “the Queen's players.” Tylney, the Master of the Revels at the time, records in one of his accounts that in March, 1583, he had been sent for by her Majesty "to chuse out a company of players :" Richard Tarlton and Robert Wilson were placed at the head of that association, which was probably soon afterwards divided into two distinct bodies of performers. In 1590, John Lanham was the leader of one body', and Lawrence Dutton of the other.
We have thus brought our sketch of dramatic performances and performers down to about the same date, the year 1583. We propose to continue it to 1590, and to assume that as the period not, of course, when Shakespeare first joined a theatrical company, but when he began writing original pieces for the stage. This is a matter which is more distinctly considered in the biography of the poet; but it is necessary here to fix upon some date to which we are to extend our introductory account of the progress and condition of theatrical affairs. What we have still to offer will apply to the seven years between 1583 and 1590.
6 By Mr. Peter Cunningham, F.S.A., in his “Extracts from the Accounts of the Revels,” printed for the Shakespeare Society in 1812, pp. 32. 186. The editor's “ Introduction" is full of new and valuable information.
7 Tarlton died on 3 Sept. 1588, and we apprehend that it was not until after this date that Lanham became leader of one company of the Queen's Players. Mr. Halliwell discovered Tarlton's will in the Prerogative Office, bearing date on the day of his decease: he there calls himself one of the grooms of the Queen's chamber, and leaves all his “goods, cattels, chattels, plate, ready money, jewels, bonds obligatory, specialties, and debts,” to his son Philip Tarlton, a minor. He appoints his mother, Katherine Tarlton, his friend Robert Adams, and “his fellow William Johnson, one also of the grooms of her Majesty's chamber,” trustees for his son, and executors of his will, which was proved by Adams three days after the death of the testator. As Tarlton says nothing about his wife in his will, we may presume, perhaps, that he was a widower; and of his son, Philip Tarlton, we never hear afterwards.
The accounts of the revels at court about this period afford us little information ; and indeed for several years, when such entertainments were certainly required by the Queen, we are without any details either of the pieces performed, or of the cost of preparation. We have such particulars for the years 1581, 1582, 1584, and 1587, but for the intermediate years they are wanting
The accounts of 1581, 1582, and 1584, give us the following names of dramatic performances of various kinds exhibited before the Queen :A comedy called Delight.
History of Telomo. The Story of Pompey.
Ariodante and Genevora.
Pastoral of Phillida and Clorin.
Five Plays in One.
Three Plays in One.
Agamemnon and Ulysses. This list of dramas (the accounts mention that others were acted without supplying their titles) establishes that moralplays had not yet been excluded'. The“Game of the Cards is expressly called "a comedy or moral” in the accounts of 1582; and we may not unreasonably suppose that “Delight,
Beauty and Housewifry," were of the same class. “The Story of Pompey,” and “ Agamemnon and Ulysses," were evidently performances founded upon ancient history, and such may have been the case with the “History of Telomo," forsan Ptolemy. “Love and Fortune" has been called “the play of Fortune ” in the account of 1573; and we may feel assured that “ Ariodante and Genevora” was the story told by Ariosto, which also forms part of the plot of “Much Ado about Nothing." The “History of Ferrar" was doubtless the “History of Error" of the account of 1577, the clerk having miswritten the title by his ear; and we may reasonably suspect that “Felix and Philiomena' tale of Felix and Felismena, narrated in the “Diana" of Montemayor. It is thus evident, that the Master of the Revels and the actors exerted themselves to furnish variety for the entertainment of the Queen and her nobility; but we
8 From 1587 to 1604, the most important period as regards Shakespeare, it does not appear that any official statements by the Master of the Revels have been preserved. In the same way there is an unfortunate interval between 1604 and 661]. Some of these accounts may yet be recovered.
9 One of the last pieces represented before Queen Elizabeth was a moral-play, under the title of “The Contention between Liberality and Prodigality,” printed in 1602, and acted, as appears by the strongest internal evidence, in 1600.