« PreviousContinue »
of Shakspeare's ever having been in Scotland is very remote. It should seem by his uniformly accenting the name of this spot Dunsináne, that he could not possibly have taken it from the mouths of the country-people who as uniformly accent it Dunsinnan.”* This is not quite accurate, as Dr. Drake has pointed out. Shakspere has this passage :
“ Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be, until
Wintoun, in his “ Chronicle,” has both Dunsimáne and Dunsinane. But we are informed by a gentleman who is devoted to the study of Scotch Antiquities, that there is every reason to believe that Dunsináne was the ancient pronunciation, and that Shakspere was consequently right in making Dunsinane the exception to his ordinary method of accenting the word. So much for the topographical knowledge displayed in “Macbeth.” Alone, it is scarcely enough to found an argument upon. We proceed to the documentary part of this question.
The fortieth volume of the registers of the Town Council of Aberdeen contains the following entries :
“Nono Octobris 1601.
“Ordinance to the dean of gild. “ The samen day The prouest Bailleis and counsall ordanis the syme of threttie tua merkis to be gevin to the Kingis serwandes presently in this burcht . . quha playes comedeis and staige playes Be reasoun they ar recommendit be his majesties speciall letter and hes played sum of their comedies in this burcht and ordanis the said svme to be payit to tham be the dean of gild quhilk salbe allowit in his comptis.”
“ 22 Oct 1601. “The Quhilk day Sir Francis Hospitall of Haulszie Knycht Frenschman being recommendit be bis majistie to the Prouest Bailleis and Counsall of this brocht to be favorablie Interteneit with the gentilmen his majesties seruands efter specifeit quha war direct to this burcht be his majestie to accumpanie the said Frenshman being ane nobillman of France cumming only to this burcht to sie the towne and cuntrie the said Frenshman with the knightis and gentillmen folowing wer all ressauit and admittit Burgesses of Gild of this burcht quha gawe thair aithis in common form folowis the names of thame that war admittit burgesses
Sir Francis Hospitall of halzie knycht
Gleghorne Dauid Drummond Seruitors to his Majestie
These documents present something more than the facts, that a company of players, specially recommended by the King, were paid a gratuity from the Corporation of Aberdeen for their performances in that town, one of them subsequently receiving the freedom of the borough. The provost, baillies, and council ordain that thirty-two marks should be given to the King's servants then in that borough, who played
* Stoddart's “Remarks on the Local Scenery and Manners in Scotland," 1801.
comedies and stage-plays. The circumstance that they are recommended by the King's special letter is not so important as the description of them as the King's servants. Thirteen days after the entry of the 9th of October, at which first period these servants of the King had played some of their comedies, Lawrence Fletcher, comedian to his Majesty, is admitted a burgess of Guild of the borough of Aberdeen
-the greatest honour which the Corporation could bestow. He is admitted to this honour, in company with a nobleman of France visiting Aberdeen for the gratification of his curiosity, and recommended by the King to be favourably entertained ; as well as with three men of rank, and others, who were directed by his Majesty to accompany “the said Frenchman.” All the party are described in the document as knights and gentlemen.* We have to inquire, then, who was Lawrence Fletcher, comedian to his Majesty ? Assuredly the King had not in his service a company of Scotch players. In 1599 he had licensed a company of English comedians to play at Edinburgh. Fond as James was of theatrical exhibitions, he had not the means of gratifying his taste, except through the visits of English comedians. Scotland had no drama. Before the Reformation she had her Mysteries, as England had. The Moralities of Lyndsay, of which “The Satyre of the three Estaitis” is one of the most remarkable, were indeed dialogues, but in no sense of the word dramas. The biting humour, the fierce invectives, the gross obscenity which we find in “The Satyre of the Three Estaitis," were no doubt the characteristics of other popular exhibitions of the same period. But, taking that singular production as a specimen, they were scarcely so dramatic in their form and spirit as the contemporary productions in England of John Heywood, of which “ The four P's" is a favourable example. “Philotus”—“Ane verie excellent and delectabill Treatise intitulit Philotvs, qvhairin we may persave the greit inconveniences that fallis out in the Marriage betvvene age and zouth "_belongs to a later period. It was first printed in 1603, and again in 1612, when it was entitled “a Comedy.” The plot is founded upon one of the stories of Barnaby Rich, told by him in the collection from which Shakspere is supposed to have derived some hints for the conduct of the action in “Twelfth Night.” The dialogue of “ Philotus” is in verse, not deficient in spirit and harmony, but utterly undramatic-sometimes easy and almost refined, at others quaint and gross beyond all conception. The stanza with which the play opens will furnish some notion of the prevailing metre, and of the poetical tone, of this singular performance :
“O lustie luifsome lamp of licht,
Your bonynes, your bewtie bricht,
With gesture graue and gude :
My senses to illude."
Until William Alexander appeared in 1603 with his tragedy of “Darius,” Scotland possessed no literature that could be called dramatic; and it may be doubted if even Alexander's “ Historical Dialogues" can be properly called dramas. We may safely conclude that King James would have no Scottish company of players, because Scotland had no dramas to play.
“ Lawrence Fletcher, comedian to his Majesty," was undoubtedly an Englishman;
* Archibald Sym, trumpeter, was a person of dignified occupation. He was no doubt the statetrumpeter, whose business it was to assist in proclaiming the royal commands to the people. In Scottish annals we find constant notices of certain acts of authority notified at Edinburgh" by open proclamation and sound of trumpet at the Cross."
and “the King's servants presently in this borough who play comedies and stageplays” were as certainly English players. There are not many facts known by which we can trace the history of Lawrence Fletcher. He is not mentioned amongst " the names of the principal actors in all these plays,” which list is given in the first folio edition of Shakspere ; but he undoubtedly belonged to Shakspere's company. Augustine Phillips, who, by his will, in 1605, bequeathed a thirty-shilling piece of gold to his “fellow” William Shakspere, also bequeathed twenty shillings to his "fellow” Lawrence Fletcher. But there is more direct evidence than this of the connection of Fletcher with Shakspere's company. The patent of James I., dated at Westminster on the nineteenth of May, 1603, in favour of the players acting at the Globe, is headed “Pro Laurentio Fletcher et Willielmo Shakespeare & aliis;" and it licenses and authorises the performances of “ Laurence Fletcher, William Shakespeare, Richard Burbage, Augustine Phillippes, John Hemings, Henrie Condel, William Sly, Robert Armin, Richard Cowly, and the rest of their associates.” The connection in 1603 of Fletcher and Shakspere cannot be more distinctly established than by this document. Chalmers says that Fletcher “was placed before Shakspeare and Richard Burbage in King James's licence as much perhaps by accident as by design.”* The Aberdeen Register is evidence against this opinion. Lawrence Fletcher, comedian to his Majesty, is admitted to honours which are not bestowed upon the other King's servants who had acted plays in the borough of Aberdeen in 1601. Lawrence Fletcher is first named in the letters patent of 1603. It is evident, we think, that he was admitted a burgess of Aberdeen as the head of the company, and that he was placed first in the royal licence for the same reason. But there is a circumstance, we apprehend, set forth in the Aberdeen Registers which is not only important with reference to the question of Shakspere having visited Scot| land, but which explains a remarkable event in the history of the stage. The company rewarded by the Corporation of Aberdeen on the 9th of October, 1601, were not only recommended by his Majesty's special letter, but they were the King's servants. Lawrence Fletcher, according to the second entry, was comedian to his Majesty. This English company, then, had received an honour from the Scottish King, which had not been bestowed upon them by the English Queen. They were popularly termed the Queen's players about 1590; but, subsequently, we find them invariably mentioned in the official entries as the Lord Chamberlain's servants. As the servants of the first officer of the Court, they had probably higher privileges than the servants of other noblemen ; but they were not formally recognised as the Queen's servants during the remainder of Elizabeth's reign. In Gilbert Dugdale's “The Time Triumphant ; declaring in briefe the arival of our Soveraigne Leidge Lord King James into England,” printed in 1604, the author, after noticing that the King “dealt honours as freely to our nations as their hearts could wish," adds, “not only to the indifferent of worth and the worthy of honour did he freely deal about these causes ; but to the mean gave grace: as taking to him the late Lord Chamberlain's servants, now the King's actors ; the Queen taking to her the Earl of Worcester's servants, that are now her actors ; the Prince their son, Henry Prince of Wales, full of hope, took to him the Earl of Nottingham his servants, who are now his actors ; so that of Lords' servants they are now the servants of the King, the Queen, and Prince.” Mr. Collier, in noticing the licence “Pro Laurentio Fletcher et Willielmo Shakespeare et aliis,” says that the Lord Chamberlain's company “by virtue of this instrument, in which they are termed our servants, became the King's players, and were so afterwards constantly distinguished.”+ But the instrument did not create Lawrence Fletcher, William Shakspere, and others,
* “ A pology,” page 422.
† “ Annals of the Stage,” vol. i., p. 348.
the King's servants ; it recognises them as the King's servants already appointed: “ Know you that we, of our special grace, certain knowledge, and mere motion, have licensed and authorised, and by these presents do license and authorise, these our servants,” &c. They are licensed to use and exercise their art and faculty “as well for the recreation of our loving subjects as for our solace and pleasure, when we shall think good to see them.” They are “to show and exercise publicly to their best commodity, when the infection of the plague shall decrease, within their now usual house called the Globe," as in all other places. The justices, mayors, sheriffs, and others to whom the letters patent are addressed, are called upon to aid and assist them, and to do them courtesies; and the instrument thus concludes: “ And also what further favour you shall show to these our servants for our sake we shall take kindly at your hands.” The terms of this patent exhibit towards the players of the Globe a favour and countenance, almost an affectionate solicitude for their welfare, which is scarcely reconcileable with a belief that they first became the King's players by virtue of this instrument. James arrived in London, at the Charter House, on the 7th of May, 1603. He then removed to the Tower, and subsequently to Greenwich on the 13th. The Privy Seal, directing the letters patent to Fletcher, Shakspere, and others, is dated from Greenwich on the 17th of May; and in that document the exact words of the patent are prescribed. The words of the Privy Seal and of the patent undoubtedly imply some previous appointment of the persons therein named as the King's servants. It appears scarcely possible that during the three days which elaped between James taking up his residence at Greenwich, and the day on which the Privy Seal is issued, the Lord Chamberlain's servants, at the season of the plague, should have performed before the King, and have so satisfied him that he constituted them his own servants. It would at first seem improbable that amidst the press of business consequent upon the accession, the attention of the King should have been directed to the subject of players at all, especially in the selection of a company as his own servants, contrary to the precedent of the former reign. If these players had been the servants of Elizabeth, their appointment as the servants of James might have been asked as a matter of course; but certain players were at once to be placed above their professional brethren, by the King's own act, carried into effect within ten days after his arrival within his new metropolis. All these objections are removed when we refer to the facts opened to us by the council registers of Aberdeen. King James the Sixth of Scotland had recommended his servants to the magistrates of Aberdeen ; and Lawrence Fletcher, there can be no doubt, was one of those servants so recommended. The patent of James the First of England directed to Lawrence Fletcher, William Shakspere, and others, eighteen months after the performances at Aberdeen, is directed to those persons as “our servants.” It does not appoint them the King's servants, but recognises the appointment as already existing. Can there be a reasonable doubt that the appointment was originally made by the King in Scotland, and subsisted when the same King ascended the English throne ? Lawrence Fletcher was admitted a burgess of Guild of the borough of Aberdeen as comedian to his Majesty, in company with other persons who were servitors to his Majesty. He received that honour, we may conclude, as the head of the company, also the King's servants. We know not how he attained this distinction amongst his fellows, but it is impossible to imagine that accident so favoured him in two instances. The King's servant who was most favoured at Aberdeen, and the King's servant who is first in the patent in 1603, was surely placed in that position by the voice of his fellows, the other King's servants. William Shakspere is named with him in a marked manner in the heading of the patent. Seven of their fellows are also named, as distinguished from “the rest of their associates." There can be no
doubt of the identity of the Lawrence Fletcher, the servant of James VI. of Scotland, and the Lawrence Fletcher, the servant of James I. of England. Can we doubt that the King's servants who played comedies and stage plays in Aberdeen, in 1601, were, taken as a company, the King's servants who were licensed to exercise the art and faculty of playing, throughout all the realm, in 1603 ? If these points are evident, what reason have we to doubt that William Shakspere, the second named in the licence of 1603, was amongst the King's servants at Aberdeen in 1601 ? Every circumstance concurs in the likelihood that he was of that number recommended by the King's special letter ; and his position in the licence, even before Burbage, was, we may well believe, a compliment to him who in 1601 had taught “our James” something of the power and riches of the English drama.
The circumstances which we have thus detailed give us, we think, warranty to conclude that the story of Macbeth might have been suggested to Shakspere upon Scottish ground; that the accuracy displayed in the local descriptions and allusions might have been derived from a rapid personal observation ; and that some of the peculiarities of his witchcraft imagery might have been found in Scottish superstitions, and more especially in those which may have been rife at Aberdeen at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Is there anything to contradict the inferences which are justly to be deduced from the records which we have just described and commented upon ? There is one contradiction which renders us more sceptical than any anti