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loss and recovery of the needle with which Gammer Gurton was mending a pair of breeches belonging to her man Hodge. The following fine old song with which the second act opens is, of itself, sufficient to preserve the whole play from oblivion:
I can not eat but little meat,
My stomach is not good;
I stuff my skin so full within
Of jolly good ale and old.
Back and side go bare, go bare;
Both foot and hand go cold;
But belly, God send thee good ale enough,
I love no roast but a nut-brown toast,
No frost, no snow, no wind, I trow,
I am so wrapp'd, and thoroughly lapp'd,
Back and side, &c.
And Tib, my wife, that as her life
Even as a maltworm should,
And saith, Sweetheart, I took my part
Back and side, &c.
Now let them drink till they nod and wink,
Even as good fellows should do;
They shall not miss to have the bliss
Good ale doth bring men to.
And all poor souls that have scour'd bowls,
Or have them lustily troul'd,
God save the lives of them and their wives,
Whether they be young or old.
Back and side, &c.
Tragedy, of later origin than comedy, came directly from the more alevated portions of the moral plays, and from the pure models of Greece and Rome. The earliest known specimen of this kind of composition is the Tragedy of Ferrez and Porrer, composed by THOMAS SACKVILLE and THOMAS NORTON, and acted before queen Elizabeth at Whitehall by the members of
the Inner Temple, in January, 1561. It is founded on a fabulous incident in early English history, and is full of carnage. It is written, however, in regular blank verse, consists of five acts, and observes some of the more useful rules of the classical drama of antiquity, to which it bears resemblance in the introduction of a chorus-that is, a group of persons whose sole business it is to intersperse the play with moral observations and inferences, expressed in lyrical stanzas. It may occasion some surprise, that the first English tragedy should contain lines like the following:
Acastus. Your grace should now, in these grave years of yours,
Have found ere this the price of mortal joys;
How short they be, how fading here in earth;
Of nothing sure save only of the death,
To whom both man and all the world doth owe
Than as the naked hand whose stroke assays
The armed breast where force doth light in vain.
And can in speech both rule and conquer kind,
Not long after the appearance of' Ferrex and Porrex,' both tragedies and comedies had become not uncommon. Damon and Pythias, the first English tragedy upon a classical subject, was acted before the queen at Oxford in 1566. It was the composition of Richard Edwards, a learned member of the university, but was inferior to 'Ferrex and Porrex,' in so far as it contained an admixture of vulgar comedy, and was written in rhyme. In the same year two plays, respectively styled Supposes, and Jocasta, the one a comedy adapted from Ariosto, the other a tragedy from Euripides, were acted in Gray's Inn Hall. A tragedy called Tancred and Gismunda, composed by five members of the Inner Temple, and presented there before the queen in 1568, was the first English play taken from an Italian novel. Various other dramatic pieces now followed, and between the years 1568, and 1580, no less than fifty-two dramas were acted at court under the superintendence of the Master of Revels. Under the date of 1578, the play of Promos and Cassandra, by George Whetsone, was produced, on which Shakspeare founded his 'Measure for Measure.' Historical plays were also at this time written, and the Troublesome Reign of King John. the Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, and the Chronicle History of Lear, King of England, formed the quarry from which Shakspeare constructed his dramas on the same events.
As dramatic writing, about this time, began to assume the aspect of a regular profession, buildings for the representation of plays became necessary;
and, accordingly, houses for that purpose were soon erected. The first regular licensed theatre in London was opened at Blackfriar's in 1576; and in ten years from that period, there were, it is estimated, not less than two hundred players in and near the metropolis. When Shakspeare commenced his career, London contained five public theatres, besides several private or select establishments; and curiosity is naturally excited to learn something of the structure and appearance of the buildings in which his immortal dramas first saw the light, and where he unwillingly made himself a motley to the view,' in his character of actor. The theatres were constructed of wood, and were of a circular form, open to the weather, excepting over the stage, which was covered with a thatched roof. Outside, on the roof, a flag was hoisted during the time of performance, which commenced at three o'clock, at the third sounding or flourish of trumpets. The courtiers and fair dames of the court of Elizabeth, sat in boxes below the gallery, or were accommodated with stools on the stage, where some of the young gallants also threw themselves at length on the rush-strewn floor, while their pages handed them pipes and tobacco, then a fashionable and highly-prized luxury. The middle classes were crowded in the pit or yard, which was destitute of seats, or any other convenience.
Actresses were not introduced upon the stage until after the Restoration, the female parts being played by boys or delicate-looking young men. This may, perhaps, palliate in some degree, the occasional grossness of the language put into the mouths of females in the old plays, while it serves to point out still more clearly the depth of that innate sense of beauty and excellence which prompted the exquisite pictures of loveliness and perfection in Shakspeare's female characters.
Nearly all the dramatic writers preceding Shakspeare, and contemporary with him, were men who had received a learned education at the university of Oxford, or Cambridge. A profusion of classical imagery, therefore, abounds in their plays, but they did not copy the severe and correct taste of the ancient models. They wrote to supply the popular demand for novelty and excitement for broad farce or superlative tragedy-to introduce the coarse raillery or comic incidents of low life-to dramatize a murder, or embody the vulgar idea of oriental bloodshed and splendid extravagance. 'If we seek for a poetical image,' says Henry Mackenzie, a burst of passion, or a beautiful sentiment, a trait of nature, we seek not in vain in the works of our very oldest dramatists. But none of the predecessors of Shakspeare must be thought of along with him, when he appears before us like Prometheus, moulding the figures of men, and breathing into them animation and all the passions of life.' Among the immediate predecessors of the great poet, however, are some worthy of a separate notice; and nearly all of them have touches of that happy poetic diction, free, yet choice and select, which gives a permanent value and interest to these elder masters of English dramatic poetry. To a brief sketch of some of them, therefore, we shall now proceed.
JOHN LYLY, the first to be noticed, was born in Kent in 1553, and educated at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he took his master's degree in 1575. He remained at the university about three years after he had taken his degree, and then removed to London, where he attached himself to the court, and soon became a very great favorite. In 1580 he first appeared as an author, and published his Euphues, or the Anatomy of Wit, which being excessively affected in style, exercised a very injurious influence on the fashionable literature of the day. Lyly's plays, nine in number, were chiefly written for court entertainments, and the greater part of them were on mythological subjects, such as Sappho and Phaon, Endymion, and the Maid's Metamorphosis. Hazlitt was a very warm admirer of the 'Endymion,' but evidently from the feelings and sentiments which it awakened, rather than from the poetry. 'I know few things more perfect in characteristic painting,' he remarks, 'than the exclamation of the Phrygian shepherds, who, afraid of betraying the secret of Midas's ears, fancy that "the very reeds bow down, as though they listened to their talk;" nor more affecting in sentiment, than the apostrophe addressed by his friend Eumenides to Endymion, on waking from his long sleep, "Behold the twig to which thou laidest down thy head is now become a tree." There are, however, finer things in the 'Metamorphosis' than these, such as the following passage, where the prince laments Eurymene lost in the woods :
Adorned with the presence of my love,
The woods I fear such secret power shall prove,
Or the song of the fairies
By the moon we sport and play,
Lightly as the little bee,
Two by two, and three by three,
And about go we, and about go we.
Lyly's genius was essentially lyrical, and hence the songs in his plays seem to flow forth from the native fountain of his feelings. The following exquisite little pieces are in his drama of Alexander and Campaspe, which was written about 1585:
CUPID AND CAMPASPE.
Cupid and my Campaspe play'd
He stakes his quiver, bow, and arrows;
Loses them too, and down he throws
The coral of his lip-the rose
Growing on 's cheek, but none knows how;
With these the crystal on his brow,
And then the dimple of his chin;
What bird so sings, yet so does wail?
The morn not waking till she sings.
Poor Robin red-breast tunes his throat;
Hark, how the jolly cuckoos sing
The time of Lyly's death is uncertain; but he is generally supposed to have died about 1600.
GEORGE PEELE, a contemporary of Lyly, was born about 1556, and was educated at Christ's Church College, Oxford. Immediately after he left the university he repaired to London, and commenced his career as an actor in connection with the same company to which Shakspeare afterward belonged. He also held the situation of city poet, and conductor of pageants for the court; and in 1584, his Arraignment of Paris, a court show, was represented before the queen. In 1593, Peele gave an example of an English historical play in his Edward the First. The style of this piece is turgid and monotonous; yet in the following allusion to England, we see some
thing of the high-sounding kingly speeches which are found in Shakspeare's historical plays:
Illustrious England, ancient seat of kings,
That, sounding bravely through terrestrial vale,
Rings glorious echoes through the farthest world!
Or frozen zones under his brumal stage,
Erst have not quak'd and trembled at the name
Her neighbour realms, as Scotland, Denmark, France,