« PreviousContinue »
THERE is a memorandum existing (to which we shall hereafter more particularly advert), by Thomas Greene, a contemporary of Shakspere, residing at Stratford, which, under the date of November 17th, 1614, has this record :-“My cousin Shakspeare coming yesterday to town, I went to see him how he did.” We cite this memorandum here, as an indication of Shakspere's habit of occasionally visiting London ; for Thomas Greene was then in the capital, with the intent of opposing the project of an inclosure at Stratford. The frequency of Shakspere's visits to London would essentially depend upon the nature of his connexion with the theatres. He was a permanent shareholder, as we have seen, at the Blackfriars ; and no doubt at the Globe also. His interests as a sharer might be diligently watched over by his fellows; and he might only have visited London when he had a new play to bring forward, the fruit of his leisure in the country. But until he disposed of his ward
robe and other properties, more frequent demands might be made upon his personal attendance than if he were totally free from the responsibilities belonging to the charge of such an embarrassing stock in trade. Mr. Collier has printed a memorandum in the handwriting of Edward Alleyn, dated April 1612, of the payment of various sums " for the Blackfryers,” amounting to 5991. 68. 8d. Mr. Collier adds, “ To whom the money was paid is nowhere stated ; but, for aught we know, it was to Shakespeare himself, and just anterior to his departure from London.” The memorandum is introduced with the observation, “ It seems very likely, from evidence now for the first time to be adduced, that Alleyn became the purchaser of our great dramatist's interest in the theatre, properties, wardrobe, and stock of the Blackfriars.” Certainly the document itself says nothing about properties, wardrobe, and stock. It is simply as follows:
“ April 1612. Money paid by me E. A. for the Blackfryers
160 li More for the Blackfryers . . . . .
126 li More againe for the Leasse .
310 li The writings for the same, and other small charges 3 li 6s. 8d.” More than half of the entire sum is paid “again for the lease.” If the estimate “For avoiding of the Playhouse,” &c., be not rejected as an authority, the conjecture of Mr. Collier that the property purchased by Alleyn belonged to Shakspere is wholly untenable ; for the Fee, valued at a thousand pounds, was the property of Burbage, and to the owner of the Fee would be paid the sum for the lease. Subsequent memoranda by Alleyn show that he paid rent for the Blackfriars, and expended sums upon the building-collateral proofs that it was not Shakspere's personal property that he bought in April 1612. There is distinct evidence furnished by another document that Shakspere was not a resident in London in 1613; for in an indenture, executed by him on the 10th of March in that year, for the purchase of a dwelling-house in the precinct of the Blackfriars, he is described as “ William Shakespeare of Stratforde Upon Avon in the Countie of Warwick gentleman ;" whilst his fellow John Hemings, who is a party to the same deed, is described as “of London, gentleman." From the situation of the property it would appear to have been bought either as an appurtenance to the theatre, or for some protection of the interests of the sharers. In the deed of 1602, Shakspere is also described as of Stratford-upon-Avon. It is natural that he should be so described, in a deed for the purchase of land at Stratford ; but, upon the same principle, had he been a resident in London in 1613, he would have been described as of London in a deed for the purchase of property in London. Yet we also look upon this conveyance as evidence that Shakspere had in March 1613 not wholly severed himself from his interest in the theatre. He is in London at the signing of the deed, attending, probably, to the duties which still devolved upon him as a sharer in the Blackfriars. He is not a resident in London ; he has come to town, as Thomas Greene describes, in 1614. But we have no evidence that he sold his theatrical property at all. Certainly the evidence that he sold it to Edward Alleyn may be laid aside in any attempt to fix the date of Shakspere's departure from London.
In the November of 1611 two of Shakspere's plays were acted at Whitehall. The entries of their performance are thus given in the “ Book of the Revels ;”—
“ By the Kings Hallomas nyght was presented att Whithall before ye Kinge
Players : Tayle."
affirm, upon this entry alone. In the earlier part of the reign of James we have
“If I could find example
Let villainy itself forswear't."
The “Book of the Revels,” 1611-12, which thus shows us that the graces of Perdita and the charms of Prospero had shed their influence over the courtly throngs of Whitehall, also informs us that on Twelfth Night the “Prince's Masque" was performed. In the margin there is this entry : “This day the King and Prince with divers of his noblemen did run at the ring for a prize." There was a magnificence about the Court of James at this period which probably had some influence even upon the productions which Shakspere presented to the Court and the people. The romantic incidents of “The Winter's Tale” and “The Tempest," the opportunities
afforded by the construction of their plots for gorgeous scenery, the masque so beautifully interwoven with the loves of Ferdinand and Miranda, all was in harmony with the poetical character of the royal revels. Prince Henry in his premature manhood was distinguished for his skill in all noble exercises. The tournaments of this period were attempts on the part of the Prince to revive the spirit of chivalry. The young man was himself of a high and generous nature; and if he was surrounded by some favourites whose embroidered suits and glittering armour were the coverings of heartless profligacy and low ambition, there were others amongst the courtiers who honestly shared the enthusiasm of Henry, and invoked the genius of chivalry,
“Possess’d with sleep, dead as a lethargy," to awake at the name Meliadus.* The “Prince's Masque” was one of those elegant productions of Ben Jonson which have given an immortality to the fleeting pleasures of the nights of Whitehall. Jonson's own descriptions of the scenery of these masques show how much that was beautiful as well as surprising was attempted with imperfect materials. The effects were perhaps very inferior to the scenic displays of the modern stage, though Inigo Jones was the machinist. But the descriptions of these wonders-rocks, and moons, and transparent palaces, and moving chariots—are as vivid as if the early genius of Stanfield had realized the poet's conceptions.
It was in the spirit of a high literature that the Masques of the courts of Elizabeth and James were conceived. The dramatic entertainments—Shakspere's especially
" those flights upon the banks of Thames
That so did take Eliza and our James,”— were open to all the world ; and the great showed their good sense in cherishing those wonderful productions, which could not have been what they are if they had been conceived in a spirit of exclusiveness. But the Masque was essentially courtly and regal. It was produced at great expense. It was, like the Italian Opera, conceived in that artistical spirit which makes its own laws and boundaries. It did not profess to be an imitation of common life. To be understood, it assumed that a certain portion of classical knowledge and taste existed in the spectator. Hurd, in his “ Dialogues," says, “I should desire to know what courtly amusements even of our time are comparable to the shows and masques which were the delight and improvement of the court of Elizabeth.” The masques of the time of Elizabeth were, however, not in the slightest degree comparable with those produced in the reign of James; in which such men as Jonson, and Daniel, and Fletcher, were the artificers "artificer" is the expression which Jonson applies to himself in connexion with these performances. The masques of Elizabeth were little more than the old pageants, in which heathen deities walked in procession amidst loud music; and the cloth of gold and the silver tinsel constituted a far higher attraction than the occasional speeches of the performers.
Bacon, whose own mind was essentially poetical, has an essay “Of Masques and Triumphs.” His notions are full of taste :-“ It is better they should be graced with elegancy than daubed with cost. Dancing to song is a thing of great state and pleasure." Choirs placed one over against another, -scenes abounding with
* The name adopted by the Prince. Drummond called him Mæliades, an anagram of Miles à Deo.
† See Mr. Peter Cunningham's “Life of Inigo Jones ;”-one of those performances in which is shown how accuracy and dulness are not essential companions; how taste and antiquarianism may co-exist.
light,-colours of white, carnation, and a kind of sea-water green,-graceful suits, not after examples of known attires,--sweet odours suddenly coming forth ;—these are Bacon's notions of the chief requisites of a masque. His ideas were realized in the masques of Jonson.
The refinements of the Court extended to the people. The Bear-Garden was adapted to theatrical performances ; and rendered “convenient in all things both for players to play in, and for the game of bears and bulls to be baited in the same."* The gorgeousness of the scenic displays of Whitehall became at this period a subject of imitation at the public theatres. Sir Henry Wotton thus writes to his nephew on the 6th of July, 1613;—“Now to let matters of state sleep, I will entertain you at the present with what happened this week at the Bankside. The King's players had a new play, called, 'All is True,' representing some principal pieces of the reign of Henry the Eighth, which was set forth with many extraordinary circumstances of pomp and majesty, even to the matting of the stage ; the knights of the order, with their Georges and Garter, the guards with their embroidered coats and the like ; sufficient, in truth, within a while to make greatness very familiar, if not ridiculous.” This description, as we believe, applies to the original representation of Shakspere's play of “ Henry VIII.”+ We believe also that Shakspere on this occasion introduced such a compliment to the government of the King as was consistent with the independence of his character and the genuine patriotism that was a part of his nature :
" Wherever the bright sun of heaven shall shine,
His honour, and the greatness of his name,
This is somewhat different from Jonson's compliment to the man :
“His meditations, to his height, are even :
All, all their issue is akin to heaven -
And yet it has been said, either that Shakspere condescended to be a flatterer, or that he did not write the compliment to James implied in Cranmer's prophecy. We believe that he did write the lines ; that they are not an interpolation; and that, although they may have been written in the spirit of gratitude for personal favours, it is gratitude of the loftiest kind, honourable alike to the giver and to the receiver, because wholly free from adulation.
There was a catastrophe at this representation of the new play "Henry VIII.” which may possibly have had some influence upon the future life of Shakspere. Sir Henry Wotton thus describes the burning of the Globe Theatre :-“Now King Henry, making a mask at the Cardinal Wolsey's house, and certain cannons being shot off at his entry, some of the paper, or other stuff wherewith one of them was stopped, did light on the thatch, where, being thought at first but an idle smoke, and their eyes being more attentive to the show, it kindled inwardly, and ran round like a train, consuming, within less than an hour, the whole house to the very ground." The Globe was re-built in the ensuing spring. The conflagration was so rapid that Prynne wished to show it was a judgment of Providence upon players — “The sudden fearful burning even to the ground.” Jonson, in his “Execration upon Vulcan,” says the Globe was
"Raz'd, ere thought could urge, this might have been.”
* Collier's “ Annals of the Stage," vol. iii., p. 285. † See “Studies," Book vin., c. v.
I “Masque of Oberon.”