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PRESENT APPLIANCE OF THEATRICAL ACCESSORIES. 451

have music, but in the pieces themselves marches, dauces, solo songs, and the like, were introduced on fitting occasions, and trumpet Aourishes at the entrance of great personages. In the more early time it was usual to represent the action before it was spoken, in silent pantomime (dumb show) between each act, allegorically or even without any disguise, to give a definite direction to the expectation. Shakspeare has observed this practice in the play in Hamlet.

By the present lavish appliance of every theatrical accessory;—of architecture, lighting, music, the illusion of decorations changing in a moment as if hy enchantment, machinery and costume ;-by all this, we are now so completely spoiled, that this earlier meagreness of stage decoration will in no wise satisfy us. Much, however, might be urged in favour of such a constitution of the theatre. Where the spectators are not allured by any splendid accessories, they will be the more difficult to please in the main thing, namely, the excellence of the dramatic composition, and its embodying by delivery and action. When perfection is not attainable in external decoration, the critic will rather altogether overlook it than be disturbed by its deficiencies and tastelessness. And how seldom has perfection been here attained! It is about a century and a half since attention began to be paid to the observance of costume on the European stage; what with this view has been accomplished has always appeared excellent to the multitude, and yet, to judge from the engravings which sometimes accompany the printed plays, and from every other evidence, it is plain that it was always characterized by puerility and mannerism, and that in none the endeavours to assume a foreign or antique appearance, could shake themselves free of the fashions of the time. A sort of hoop was long considered as an indispensable appendage of a hero; the long peruques and fontanges, or topknots, keps their ground in heroical tragedy as long as in real life; afterwards it would have been considered as barbarous to appear without powdered and frizzled hair; on this was placed a helmet with variegated feathers; a taffeta scarf fluttered qver the gilt paper coat of mail; and the Achilles or Alexander was then completely mounted. We have now at last returned to a purer taste, and in some great theatres the costume is actually observed in a learned and severe style. We owo this principally to the antiquarian reform in the arts of

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SYSTEM OF DECORATION-ITS DEFECTS.

design, and the approximation of the female dress to the Grecian; for the actresses were always the most inveterate in retaining on the stage those fashions by which they turned their charms to account in society. However, even yet there are very few players who know how to wear a Grecian

ple mantle, à toga, in a natural and becoming manner; and who, in moments of passion, do not seem to be unduly occupied with holding and tossing about their drapery.

*Our system of decoration was properly invented for the opera, to which it is also in reality best adapted. It has several unavoidable defects; others which certainly may be, but seldom are avoided. Among the inevitable defects I reckon the breaking of the lines in the side scenes from every point of view except one; the disproportion between the size of the player when he appears in the background, and the objects as diminished in the perspective; the unfavourable lighting from below and behind; the contrast between the painted and the actual lights and shades; the impossibility of narrowing the stage at pleasure, so that the inside of a palace and a hut have the same length and breadth, &c. The errors which

may be avoided are, want of simplicity and of great and reposing masses; overloading the scenery with superAuous and distracting objects, either from the painter being desirous of showing his strength in perspective, or not knowing how otherwise to fill up the space; an architecture full of mannerism, often altogether unconnected, nay, even at variance with possibility, coloured in a motley manner which resembles no species of stone in the world. Most scenepainters owe their success entirely to the spectator's ignorance of the arts of design; I have often seen a whole pit enchanted with a decoration from which the eye of skill must have turned away with disgust, and in whose place a plain green wall would have been infinitely better. A vitiated taste for splendour of decoration and magnificence of dress, has rendered the arrangement of the theatre a complicated and expensive business, whence it frequently happens that the main requisites, good pieces and good players, are considered as secondary matters; but this is an inconvenience which it is here unnecessary to mention.

Although the earlier English stage had properly no decoran tious, we must allow, however, that it was not altogether destitute of machinery: without it, it is almost impossible to

MACHINERY-INIGO JONES.

conceive how several pieces, for instance, Macbeth, The Tempest, and others, could ever be represented. The celebrated architect, Inigo Jones, who lived in the reign of James the First, put in motion very complicated and artificial machines for the decoration of the Masques of Ben Jonson which were acted at court.

With the Spanish theatre at the time of its formation, it was the same as with the English, and when the stage had remained a moment empty, and other persons came in by another eutrance, a change of scene was to be supposed though none was visible; and this circumstance had the most favourable influence on the form of the dramas. The poet was not obliged to consult the scene-painter to know what could or what could not be represented; nor to calculate whether the store of decorations on hand were sufficient, or new ones would be requisite: he was not driven to impose restraint on the action as to change of times and places, but represented it entirely as it would naturally have taken place*: he left to the imagination to fill up the intervals agreeably to the speeches, and to conceive all the surrounding circumstances. This call on the fancy to supply the deficiencies supposes, indeed, not merely benevolent, but also intelligent spectators of a poetical tone of mind. That is the true illusion, when the spectators are so completely carried away by the impressions of the poetry and the acting, that they overlook the secondary matters, and forget the whole of the remaining objects around them. To lie morosely on the watch to detect every circumstance that may violate an apparent reality which, strictly speaking, can never be attained, is in fact a proof of inertness of imagination and an incapacity for mental illusion. This prosaical incredulity may be carried so far as to render it utterly impossible for the theatrical artists, who in every constitution of the theatre require many indulgences, to amuse the spectators by their productions, and thus they are, in the end, the enemies of their own enjoyment.

* Capell, an intelligent commentator on Shakspeare, unjustly under rated by the others, has placed the advantages in this respect in the clearest light, in an observation on Antony and Cleopatra. It emboldened the poet, when the truth of the action required it, to plan scenes which the most skilful mechanist and scene-painter could scarcely exhibit to the eye; as for instance, in a Spanish play where sea-fights occur.

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We now complain, and with justice, that in the acting of Shakspeare's pieces the too frequent change of scenes occasions an interruption. But the poet is here perfectly blameless. It ought to be known that the English plays of that time, as well as the Spanish, were printed without any mention of the scene and its changes. In Shakspeare the modern editors have inserted the scenical directions; and in doing so, they have proceeded with the most pedantic accuracy. Whoever has the management of the representation of a piece of Shakspeare's may, without any hesitation, strike out at once all such changes of scene as the following :-“Another room in the palace, another street, another part of the field of battle,” &c. By these means alone, in most cases, the change of decorations will be reduced to a very moderate number.

Of the actor's art on a theatre which possessed so little external splendour as the old English, those wb are in the habit of judging of the man from his dress will not be inclined to entertain a very favourable idea. I am induced, however, from this very circumstance, to draw quite a contrary conclusion: the want of attractions of an accessory nature renders it the more necessary to be careful in essentials. Several Englishmen* have given it as their opinion, that the players of the first epoch were in all likelihood greatly superior to those of the second, at least with the exception of Garrick; and if we had no other proof, the quality of Shakspeare's pieces renders this extremely probable. That most of his principal characters require a great player is self-evident; the elevated and compressed style of his poetry cannot be understood without the most energetic and flexible delivery; besides, he often supposes between the speeches a mute action of great difficulty, for which he gives no directions. A poet who labours only and immediately for the stage will not rely for his main effect on traits which he must beforehand know will he lost in the representation from the unskilfulness of his interpreters. Shakspeare consequently would have been driven to lower the tone of his dramatic art, if he had not possessed excellent theatrical coadjutors. Of these, some have de scended by name and fame even to our times. As for Shakspeare himself, since we are not fond of allowing any one

* See a Dialogue prefixed to the 11th volume of Dodsley's Old Plays.

SHAKSPEARE AS AN ACTOR.

nian to possess two great talents in an equal degree, it has been assumed on very questionable grounds, that he was but an indifferent actor*. Hamlet's instructions, however, to the players prove at least that he was an excellent judge of acting. We know that correctness of conception and judgment are not always coupled with the power of execution; Shakspeare, however, possessed a very important and too frequently neglected requisite for serious acting, a beautiful and noble countenance. Neither is it probable that he could have been the manager of the most respectable theatre, had he not himself possessed the talent both of acting and guiding the histrionic talents of others. Ben Jonson, though a meritorious poet, could not even obtain the situation of a player, as he did not possess the requisite qualifications. From the passage cited from Hamlet, from the burlesque tragedy of the mechanics in the Midsummer Night's Dream, and many other passages, it is evident that there was then an inundation of bad players, who fell into all the aberrations from propriety which offend at the present day, but the public, it would appear, knew well how to distinguish good and bad acting, and would not be easily satisfiedt.

* No certain account has yet been obtained of any principal part played by Shakspeare in his own pieces. In Hamlet he played the Ghost; certainly a very important part, if we consider that from the failure in it, the whole piece runs a risk of appearing ridiculous. A writer of his time says in a satirical pamphlet, that the Ghost whined in a pitiful manner; and it has been concluded from this that Shakspeare was a bad player. What logic! On the restoration of the theatre under Charles II., a desire was felt of collecting traditions and information respecting the former period. Lowin, the original Hamlet, instructed Betterton as to the proper conception of the character. There was still alive a brother of Shakspeare, a decrepid old man, who had never had any literary cultivation, and whose memory was impaired by age. From him they could extract nothing, but that he had sometimes visited his brother in town, and once saw him play an old man with grey hair and beard. From the above description it was concluded that this must have been the faithful servant Adam in As You Like It, also a second-rate part. In most of Shakspeare's pieces we have not the slightest knowledge of the manner in which the parts were distri. buted. In two of Ben Jonson's pieces we see Shakspeare's name among the principal actors.

+ In this respect, the following simile in Richard the Second is deserv. ing of attention :

As in a theatre the eyes of men,
After a well-graced actor leaves the stage,
Are idly bent on him that enters next,
Thinking his prattle to be tedious, &c.

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