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Sackville's Gorboduc. Our first regular tragedy. Its fable, conduct, characters, and style. Its defects. Dumb-show. Sackville not assisted by Norton.
THE first poem which presents itself at the commencement of the reign of queen Elizabeth, is the play of GORBODUC, written by Thomas Sackville lord Buckhurst, the original contriver of the MIRROUR for MAGISTRATES. Thomas Norton, already mentioned as an associate with Sternhold and Hopkins in the metrical version of David's Psalms, is said to have been his coadjutor b.
It is no part of my plan, accurately to mark the progress of our drama, much less to examine the merit of particular plays. But as this piece is perhaps the first specimen in our language of an heroic tale, written in blank verse, divided into acts and scenes, and clothed in all the formalities of a regular tragedy, it seems justly to deserve a more minute and a distinct discussion in this general view of our poetry.
It was first exhibited in the great Hall of the Inner Temple, by the students of that Society, as part of the entertainment of a grand Christmas*, and afterwards before queen Elizabeth at Whitehall, on the eight
It is scarcely worth observing, that one Thomas Brice, at the accession of Elizabeth, printed in English metre a Register of the Martyrs and Confessors under queen Mary, Lond. for R. Adams, 1559, 8vo. I know not how far Fox might profit by this work. I think he has not mentioned it. In the Stationers' Registers, in 1567, were entered to Henry Binneman, Songes and Sonnetts by Thomas Brice. Registr. A. fol. 164 a. I have never seen the book. In 1570, an elegy, called "An epitaph on Mr. Bryce preacher occurs, licensed to John Alde. Ibid. fol. 205 b. Again, we have the Court of Venus, I suppose a ballad, MORALISED, in 1566, by Thomas Bryce, for Hugh Singleton. Ibid. fol. 156 a.
[Brice, at the end of his Metrical "Register," has a poem of the ballad kind, which he calls "The Wishes of the Wise."
When shal this time of travail cease,
Before his Register he expresses an
earnest wish and desire, that "the authour and endightynge were halfe so worthye as the matter, that it myght bee conveyed and delyvered to the Quenes Majesties owne handes."-PARK.]
b See p. 149 of this volume. See Preface to Gorboduc, edit. 1571. Strype says, that Thomas Norton was a clergyman, a puritan, a man of parts and learning, well known to secretary Cecil and archbishop Parker, and that he was suspected, but without foundation, of writing an answer to Whitgift's book against the puritans, published in 1572. Life of Parker, p. 364. Life of Whitgift, p. 28. I forgot to mention before, that Norton has a copy of recommendatory verses prefixed to Turner's Preservative, a tract against the Pelagians, dedicated to Hugh Latimer, printed Lond. 1551. 12mo. In the Conferences in the Tower with Campion the Jesuit, in 1581, one Norton, but not our author, seems to have been employed as a notary. See "A true Reporte of the Disputation," &c. Lond. 1583. bl. lett. 4to. Signat. A a. iij.
[See a description of the magnificent celebration of that festival in Dugdale's Origines Juridicales, p. 150.-PARK.]
centh day of January in 1561. It was never intended for the press; but being surreptitiously and very carelessly printed in 1565, an exact edition, with the consent and under the inspection of the authors, appeared in 1571, in black letter, thus entitled:-" The TRAgidie of FERREX AND PORREX, set forth without addition or alteration, but altogether as the same was showed on stage before the queenes Majestie about nine yeare past, viz. The xviij day of Januarie, 1561. By the gentlemen of the Inner Temple. Seen and allowed, &c. Imprinted at London by John Daye dwelling ouer Aldersgate." It has no date, nor notation of pages, and contains only thirty-one leaves in small octavo. In the edition of 1565, it is called the TRAgedie of GorBODUC. The whole title of that edition runs thus:-" The Tragedie of GORBODuc, whereof three actes were wrytten by Thomas Nortone and the two laste by Thomas Sackvyle. Sett forthe as the same was shewed before the queenes most excellent maiestie in her highnes court of Whitehall, the 18 Jan. 1561. By the gentlemen of thynner Temple in London. Sept. 22, 1565." Printed by William Griffith at the sign of the falcon in Fleet-street, in quarto. I have a most incorrect black lettered copy in duodecimo, without title, but with the printer's monogram in the last page, I suspect of 1569, which once belonged to Pope, and from which the late Mr. Spence most faithfully printed a modern edition of the tragedy in the year 1736. I believe it was printed before that of 1571, for it retains all the errors of Griffith's first or spurious edition of 1565. In the Preface prefixed to the edition of 1571, is the following passage:— "Where [whereas] this tragedy was for furniture of part of the grand Christmasse in the Inner-temple, first written about nine years ago by the right honourable Thomas now lord Buckhurst, and by T. Norton; and afterwards showed before her maiestie, and neuer intended by the authors thereof to be published: Yet one W. G. getting a copie thereof at some young mans hand, that lacked a little money and much discretion, in the last great plague anno 1565, about fiue yeares past, while the said lord was out of England, and T. Norton far out of London, and neither of them both made priuy, put it forth exceedingly corrupted,"
For the benefit of those who wish to gain a full and exact information about this edition, so as to distinguish it from all the rest, I will here exhibit the arrangement of the lines of the title-page. "The Tragidie of Ferrex | and Porrex, ❘ set forth without addition or alteration but altogether as the same was shewed on stage before the queenes maiestie, | about nine yeares past, vz. the xviij daie of Januarie, 1561. by the Gentlemen of the
Inner Temple. Seen and allowed &c. Imprinted at London by | John Daye, dwelling ouer Aldersgate." With the Bodleian copy of this edition, are bound up four pamphlets against the papists by Thomas Norton.
On the books of the Stationers, "The Tragedie of Gorboduc where iij actes were written by Thomas Norton and the laste by Thomas Sack vyle," is entered in 15656, with William Griffiths. Registr. A. fol. 132 b.
* In the year 1717, my father, then a fellow of Magdalene college at Oxford, gave this copy to Mr. Pope, as appears by a letter of Pope to R. Digby, dated Jun. 2, 1717. See Pope's Letters, vol. ix. p. 39. edit. 12mo. 1754. "Mr. Warton forced me to take Gorboduc," &c. Pope gave it to the late bishop Warburton, who gave it to me about ten years ago, 1770.
&c. W. G. is William Griffith, the printer in Fleet-street, above mentioned. Mr. Garrick had another old quarto edition, printed by Alde,
These are the circumstances of the fable of this tragedy. Gorboduc, a king of Britain about six hundred years before Christ, made in his life-time a division of his kingdom to his sons Ferrex and Porrex. The two young princes within five years quarreled for universal sovereignty. A civil war ensued, and Porrex slew his elder brother Ferrex. Their mother Viden, who loved Ferrex best, revenged his death by entering Porrex's chamber in the night, and murthering him in his sleep. The people, exasperated at the cruelty and treachery of this murther, rose in rebellion, and killed both Viden and Gorboduc. The nobility then assembled, collected an army, and destroyed the rebels. An intestine war commenced between the chief lords; the succession of the crown became uncertain and arbitrary, for want of the lineal royal issue; and the country, destitute of a king, and wasted by domestic slaughter, was reduced to a state of the most miserable desolation.
In the dramatic conduct of this tale, the unities of time and place are eminently and visibly violated; a defect which Shakspeare so frequently commits, but which he covers by the magic of his poetry. The greater part of this long and eventful history is included in the representation. But in a story so fertile of bloodshed, no murther is committed on the stage. It is worthy of remark, that the death of Porrex in the bedchamber is only related. Perhaps the players had not yet learned to die, nor was the poniard so essential an article as at present among the implements of the property-room. Nor is it improbable, that to kill a man on the stage was not now avoided as a spectacle shocking to humanity, but because it was difficult and inconvenient to be represented. The writer has followed the series of facts related in the chronicles without any material variation, or fictitious embarrassments, and with the addition only of a few necessary and obvious characters.
There is a Chorus of Four Ancient and Sage Men of Britain, who regularly close every act, the last excepted, with an ode in long-lined stanzas, drawing back the attention of the audience to the substance of what has just passed, and illustrating it by recapitulatory moral reflections, and poetical or historical allusions. Of these the best is that which terminates the fourth act, in which prince Porrex is murthered by his mother Viden. These are the two first stanzas.
When greedie lust in royall seat to reigne,
When blood thus shed doth staine the heauens face,
With wrath to wreak. Then sendes he forth with spede
Blood asketh blood, and death must death requite:
In the imagery of these verses, we discern no faint traces of the hand which drew the terrible guardians of hell-gate, in the INDUCTION to the MIRROUR FOR MAGISTRates.
The moral beauties and the spirit of the following ode, which closes the third act, will perhaps be more pleasing to many readers.
The lust of kingdoms knowes no sacred faithe,
No kindlie loue, no feare of heauens wrathe:
The sonne so lothes the fathers lingerynge daies,
O wretched prince! ne dost thou yet recorde
Thus fatall plagues pursue the giltie race,
The wicked child thus bringes to wofull sier
The dead black streames of mourning', plaint, and wo.TM
1 Act iv. sc. ult.
* 'very,' a worse reading, in edit. 1571.
1 'mournings,' edit. 1565.
Act iii. sc. ult.
Every act is introduced, as was the custom in our old plays, with a piece of machinery called the DUMB SHOW, shadowing by an allegorical exhibition the matter that was immediately to follow. In the construction of this spectacle and its personifications, much poetry and imagination was often displayed. It is some apology for these prefigurations, that they were commonly too mysterious and obscure, to forestal the future events with any degree of clearness and precision. Not that this mute mimicry was always typical of the ensuing incidents. It sometimes served for a compendious introduction of such circumstances as could not commodiously be comprehended within the bounds of the representation. It sometimes supplied deficiencies, and covered the want of business. Our ancestors were easily satisfied with this artificial supplement of one of the most important unities, which abundantly filled up the interval that was necessary to pass, while a hero was expected from the Holy Land, or a princess was imported, married, and brought to bed. In the mean time, the greater part of the audience were probably more pleased with the emblematical pageantry than the poetical dialogue, although both were alike unintelligible.
I will give a specimen in the DOMME SHEWE preceding the fourth act. "First, the musick of howeboies began to plaie. Duringe whiche, there came forth from vnder the stage, as thoughe out of hell, three Furies, ALECTO, MEGERA, and CTES IPHONE", clad in blacke garments sprinkled with bloud and flames, their bodies girt with snakes, their heds spread with serpents instead of heare, the one bearing in her hande a snake, the other a whip, and the thirde a burning firebrande: eche driuynge before them a kynge and a queene, which moued by Furies vnnaturally had slaine their owne children. The names of the kinges and queenes were these, TANTALUS, MEDEA, ATHAMAS, INO, CAMBISES, ALTHEA. After that the Furies, and these, had passed aboute the stage thrise, they departed, and then the musicke ceased. Hereby was signified the vnnaturall murders to followe, that is to saie, Porrex slaine by his owne mother; and of king Gorboduc and queene Viden killed by their owne subjectes." Here, by the way, the visionary procession of kings and queens long since dead, evidently resembles our author Sackville's original model of the MIRROUR FOR MAGISTRATES; and, for the same reason, reminds us of a similar train of royal spectres in the tent-scene of Shakspeare's KING RICHARD the Third.
I take this opportunity of expressing my surprise, that this ostensible comment of the Dumb Show should not regularly appear in the tragedies of Shakspeare. There are even proofs that he treated it with contempt and ridicule. Although some critics are of opinion, that because it is never described in form at the close or commencement of his acts, it was therefore never introduced. Shakspeare's aim was to collect an audience, and for this purpose all the common expedients were neces