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SHAKSPEARE; ENGLISH THEATRE CONTINUED.

on the story of a man from whom the poet descended by the mother's side. This circumstance, if the quality of the piece be not too directly at variance with its supposed authorship

, would afford an additional probability in its favour. For such motives were not without their influence on Shakspeare: thus he treated with a manifest partiality, Henry VII., who had betowed lands on his forefathers for services performed by them.

Of Shakspeare's share in The Two Noble Cousins, it will be the time to speak when I come to mention Fletcher's works.

It would be very instructive, if it could be proved that several earlier attempts of works, afterwards re-written, proceeded from himself, and not from an unknown author. We should thus be best enabled to trace his development as an artist. Of the older King John, in two parts, (printed by Steevens among six old plays, this might probably be made out. That be sometimes returned to an old piece is certain. With respect to Hamlet, for instance, it is well known, that it was very gradually formed by him to its present perfect state.

Whoever takes from Shakspeare a play early ascribed to him, and confessedly belonging to bis time, is certainly bound to answer, with some degree of probability, this question: who then wrote it? Shakspeare's competitors in the dramatic walk are pretty well known, and if those of them who have even acquired a considerable reputation, a Lilly, a Marlow, a Heywood, are still very far below him, we can hardly imagine that the author of a work, which rises so high beyond theirs, could have remained unknown.

LECTURE XXVII.

Two periods of the English Theatre : the first the most important--The

first conformation of the Stage, and its advantages --State of the Histrionic Art in Shakspeare's time—Antiquities of Dramatic LiteratureLilly, Marlow, Heywood--Ben Jonson-Criticism of his Works-Masques---Beaumont and Fletcher-General characterization of these Poets, and remarks on some of their Pieces-- Massinger and other

contemporaries of Charles the First. The great master of whom we have spoken in the preceding Lecture, forms so singular au exception to the whole history

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of art, that we are compelled to assign a particular place to him. He owed hardly anything to his predecessors, and he has had the greatest influence on his successors: but no man has yet learned from him his secret. For two whole centuries, during which his countrymen have diligently employed themselves in the cultivation of every branch of science and art, according to their own confession, he has not only never yet been surpassed, but has left every dramatic poet at a great distance behind him.

In the sketch of a history of the English theatre which I am now to give, I shall be frequently obliged to return to Shakspeare. The dramatic literature of the English is very rich; they can boast of a large number of dramatic poets, who possessed in an eminent degree the talent of original characterization, and the knowledge of theatrical effect. Their hands were not shackled by prejudices, by arbitrary rules, and by the anxious observance of so-called proprieties. There has never been in England an academical court of taste; in art, as in life, every man there gives his voice for what best pleases him, or what is most suitable to his nature. Notwithstanding this liberty, their writers have not, however, been able to escape the influence either of varying modes, or of the spirit of different ages.

We shall here remaiu true to our principle of merely dwelling at length on what we consider as the highest efforts of poetry, and of taking brief views of all that occupies but the second or third place.

The antiquities of the English theatre have been sufficiently illustrated by the English writers, and especially by Malone. The earliest dramatic attempts were here as well as elsewhere Mysteries and Moralities. However it would seem that in these productions the English distinguished themselves at an earlier period than other nations. In the History of the Council of Constance it is recorded that the English prelates, in one of the intervals between the sittings, entertained their brethren with a spiritual play in Latin, such as the latter were either entirely unacquainted with, or at least in such perfection, (as perfection was understood by the simple ideas of art of those times). The beginning of a theatre, properly so called, cannot, however, be placed farther back than the reign of Elizabeth. John Heywood, the buffoon of Henry VIII. is considered as the oldest comic writer: the single

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HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH THEATRE.

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Interlude under his name, published in Dodsley's collection, is in fact merely a dialogue, and not a drama. But Gammer Gurton's Needle, which was first acted about the year 1560, certainly deserves the name of a comedy. However antiquated in language and versification, it possesses unequivocal merit in the low comic. The whole plot turns on a lost needle, the search for which is pursued with the utmost assiduity: the poverty of the persons of the drama, which this supposes, and the whole of their domestic condition, is very amusingly portrayed, and the part of a cunning beggar espe cially is drawn with much humour. The coarse comic of this piece bears a resemblance to that of the A vocat Patelin; yet the English play has not, like the French, been honoured with a revival on the stage in a new shape.

The history of the English theatre divides itself naturally into two periods. The first begins nearly with the accession of Elizabeth, and extends to about the end of the reign of Charles I., when the Puritans gained the ascendency, and effected the prohibition of all plays whatsoever. The closing of the theatres lasted thirteen years; and they were not again opened till the restoration of Charles II. This interruption, the change which had taken place in the mean time on the general way of thinking and in manners, and lastly, the influence of the French l'terature which was then flourishing, gave quite a different character to the plays subsequently written. The works of the older school were indeed in part sought out, but the school itself was extinct. I apply the term of a “school” to the dramatical poets of the first wra, in the same sense as it is taken in art, for with all their personal differences we may still perceive on the whole a common character in their productions. Independently of the language or contemporary allusions, we should never be disposed to take a play of that school, though ignorant of its author, and the date of its production, for a work of the more modern period. The latter period admits of many subdivisions, but

. with these, however, we may dispense. The talents of the authors, and the taste of the public, have fluctuated in every possible way; foreign infinence has gained more and more the ascendencv, and (to express myself without circumlocution) the English the:tre has in its progress become more and more destitute of character and independence. For a critic, who everywhere sceks originality, troubling himself little about

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what has arisen from the following or the avoiding of imitation, the dramatic poets of the first period are by far the most important, although, with the exception of Shakspeare, they may be reproached with great defects and extravagances, and although many of the moderns are distinguished for a more careful polish.

There are times when the human mind all at once makes gigantic strides in an art previously almost unknown, as if during its long sleep it had been collecting strength for the effort. The age of Elizabeth was in England such an epoch for dramatic poetry. This queen, during her long reign, witnessed the first infantine attempts of the English theatre, and its most masterly productions. Shakspeare had a lively feeling of this general and rapid development of qualities not before called into exercise; in one of his sonnets he calls his

these timebettering days. The predilection for the theatre was so great, that in a period of sixty years, under this and the following reign, seventeen play-houses were built or fitted up in London, whereas the capital of the present day, with twice the population*, is satisfied with two. No doubt they did not act every day, and several of these theatres were very small, and probably not much better fitted up than Marionette booths. However, they served to call forth the fertility of those writers who possessed, or supposed that they possessed, dramatic talents; for every theatre must have had its peculiar repertory, as the pieces were either not printed at all, or at least not till long after their composition, and as a single theatrical company was in the exclusive possession of the manuscripts. However many of feeble and lame productions might have been called forth, still it was impossible that such an extensive competition should not have been advantageous. Of all the different species of poetry the dramatic is the only one in which experience is necessary: and the failure of others is, for the man of talents, an experiment at their expense. Moreover, the exercise of this art requires vigorous determination, to which the great artist is often the least inclined, as in the execution he finds the greatest difficulty in satisfying himself; while, on the other land, his greatest enjoyment consists in embodying in his own mind the beloved creation of his imagination. It is therefore fortunate for him when the bolder forwardness of those who, with trifling means,

age,

* The author miyht almost have said six times.-Trans.

450 SHAKSPEAICE'S PLAY-HOUSE—THE GLOBE TIIEA TRE.

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venture on this difficult career stimulates him to put fresh haud to the work. Further, it is of importance to the dramatic poet to be connected immediately with the stage, that he either himself guide it, or learn to accommodate himself to its wants; and the dramatic poets of that day were, for the most part, also players. The theatre still made small claims to literature, and it thus escaped the pedantry of scholastic learning There were as yet no periodical writings which, as the instrument of cabal, could mislead opinion. Of jealousies, indeed, and bickerings among the authors there was no want: this, however, was more a source of amusement than of displeasure to the public, who decided without prejudice or partiality according to the amount of entertainment. The poets and players, as well as the spectators, possessed in general the most essential requisite of success: a true love for the business. This was the more unquestionable, as the theatrical art was not then surrounded with all those foreign ornaments and inventions of luxury which serve to distract the attention and corrupt the sense, but made its appearance in the most modest, and we may well say in the most humble shape. For the admirers of Shakspeare it must be an object of curiosity to know what was the appearance of the theatre in which his works were first performed. We have an engraving of the play-house of which he was manager, and which, from the symbol of a Hercules supplying the place of Atlas, was called the Globe: it is a massive structure destitute of architectural ornaments, and almost without windows in the outward walls. The pit was open to the sky, and the acting was by day-light; the scene had no other decoration than wrought tapestry, which hung at some distance from the walls, and left space for several entrances. In the back-ground of the stage there was a second stage raised above it, a sort of balcony, which served for various purposes, and according to circumstances signified all manner of things. The players appeared, excepting on a few rare occasions, in the dress of their time, or at most distinguished by higher feathers on their hats and roses on their shoes. The chief means of disgnise were false hair and beards, and occasionally also masks. The female parts were played by boys so long as their voice allowed it. Two companies of actors in London consisted entirely of boys, namely, the choir of the Queen's Chapel and that of St. Paul's. Betwixt the acts it was not customary to

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