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CHAPTER VI.

SHAKESPEARE AND THE EARLY DRAMATISTS.

Rise of the English Drama. Miracle Plays. — At the dawn of modern civilization, most European countries had a rude kind of theatrical entertainment, known as Miracle Plays, or Miracles. These plays were representations of the principal supernatural events of the Old and New Testaments, and of the lives of the saints.

Character of the Miracle Plays. – The Miracle Plays did not undertake to exhibit natural characters and incidents, like the classic dramas of Greece and Rome, but to set forth Scriptural and religious transactions. In the absence of printing, they were one means of making known some of the contents of the Scriptures, and they were thought to be favorable to the diffusion of religious feeling. They were under the management of the clergy, and were acted by men of the clerical order. They were generally acted in church, and often on Sunday. Traces of these Miracle Plays in England may be found as far back as the Norman Conquest, in the twelfth century; possibly a little earlier.

Moral Plays. — The Miracle Plays were succeeded by a somewhat higher sort of drama, called Moral Plays, or Moralities.

Character and History. - In the Moral Plays persons were introduced representing abstract ideas and moral sentiments, such as Mercy, Justice, Truth, and so on. The only Scriptural character retained in them is the Devil, who is represented in grotesque habiliments, and who is perpetually beaten by an attendant character, called The Vice. The Moral Plays at first were acted by clergymen, or by school-boys, and sometimes by members of guilds and trading corporations. Acting had not yet become a distinct profession. The Moral Plays were introduced about the time of Henry VI., say the middle of the fifteenth century, and were continued into the reign of Henry VIII., or nearly to the middle of the sixteenth century.

Interludes. — The next step in the development of the drama was a kind of plays called Interludes.

Character and History. — The Interludes were a species of farce. They were intro-luced in the time of Heury VIII., at which time also acting began to be a distinct profession. In the Interludes, allegorical characters and abstractions also began to give way to characters taken from real life. The principal, perhaps only, writer of Interludes was John Heywood, who was supported at the Court of Henry VIII., partly as a musician, partly as a professed wit, and partly for the purpose of writing these Interludes for the amusement of the Court.

The Four P's. – One of Heywood's Interludes, called The Four P's, turns upon a dispute between a Palmer, a Pardoner, a Poticary, and a Pedler, as to which shall tell the biggest lie. An accidental assertion of the Palmer, that he never in his life saw a woman out of patience, takes the others off their guard. They all declare it to be the biggest lie they ever heard, and so the question is settled.

The Regular Drama. —The regular drama began in England near the close of the reign of Henry VIII., and about the middle of the sixteenth century.

Character and History. — The regular dramas, thongh growing out of the th atrical entertainments which had preceded, were formed after the old classical models, and also after those of Spain and Italy, all of which had now begun to be studied by dramatic writers in England. They were from the first divided into Comedies and Tragedies, and were in five acts.

Ralph Royster Doyster. - The play with this unconth name was the first regular Comedy of which we have any record. It was written by Nicolas Udall, Mas. ter of Westminster School, about the year 1551. The scene is in London, and the characters, thirteen in number, represent the manners of the middle orders of the people of that day,

Misngonus. – Another early comedy, called Misogonus, was written about 1560, by Thomas Richards. The scene is laid in Italy, but the manners are English. The character of the domestic Fool, which figures so largely in the old Comedy, appears for the first time in this play.

Gammer Gurton's Needle. - This comedy was written about 1565, by John Still, afterwards Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity, and Bishop of Bath and Wells. It is a piece of low rustic humor, turning upon the loss and recovery of the needle with which Gammer (godmother, or grunny) Gurton was mending a garment belong. ing to her man Hodge.

Ferrex and Porrex, – This is the name of the earliest known Tragedy in English. It was written by Thomas Sackville, afterwards Earl of Dorset, and was played before Queen Elizabeth at Whitehall, by members of the Inner Temple, in 1561. It is founded on early British story, and is full of blood and civil broils.

Damon and Pythias. - This is the first English tragerly founded on a classical subject. It was acted before Queen Elizabeth, at Oxford, in 1566.

Rapid Growth of the Drama. — From the time of the regular plays just named, the drama may be considered as one of the established forms of English literature. Once established, its growth was rapid. Before the close of Elizabeth's reign it had attained a height and splendor which threw into the shade all other kinds of literary work. Even the Fairy Queen paled before the rising sun of the new Elizabethan Drama.

Immediate Predecessors of Shakespeare.— Shakespeare, the greatest of English dramatists, rose from these humble beginnings at once into meridian splen. dor. Some few stars, however, are discernible in the early dawn preceding Shake speare's rise. These will now be briefly noticed.

PICHARD EDWARDS, 1523–1566, was a dramatic writer of some note in the early part of the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

Edwards was the anthor of Damon and Pythias, already mentioned, and chief contributor to the Paradiso of Dainty Devices. Ile wrote also The Comedy of Palamon and Areite, and other pieces, dramatic and lyric. “He united all those arts and accomplishments which minister to popular pleasantry: he was the first fiddler, the most fashionable gonnetteer, the readiest rhymer, and the most facetious mimic of the Court." - Warton.

GEORGE GASCOIGNE, 1537–1577, was a dramatic writer and a courtier in the days of Queen Elizabeth.

Gascoigne contribated to the entertainment of the Court by writing Masques. Some of his pieces are said to have been the first specimens of regular Comedy in English prose. Ilis principal pieces are : The Princely Pleasures of Kenilworth Castle, a Masque; The Comedy of Supposes, altered from the Italian; The Tragedy of Jocasta, altered from the Greek.

John LYLY, 1553-1600, a dramatic writer of some note, was the author of nine plays, written mostly for Court entertainments, and performed by the scholars of St. Paul's.

Lyly was an Oxford scholar, and many of his plays are on mythological subjects, as Sappho, Endymion, etc. His style is affected and unnatural; and, like his own Niobe, “oftentimes he had sweet thoughts, sometimes hard conceits; betwixt both, a kind of yielding."

Lyly's Euphues. One of Lyly's works, Euphues, or The Anatomy of Wit, exercised a most mischievous influence upon the literature of the day, causing that general use of euphuistic expressions which marks most of the writings of his contemporaries and immediate successors. Lyly is supposed to have been meant by Shakespeare in his character of Don Adriano de Armado, in Love's Labor's Lost, “a man of fire new words, fashion's own knight - that hath a mint of phrases in his brain - one whom the music of his own tongue doth ravish like enchanting har. mony." Sir Walter Scott, in The Monastery, has drawn an amusing caricature of one of these euphnists in Sir Piercie Shafton.

Lyly's forte was in lyrical composition, and some of his short pieces show that he was a man of real genius.

THOMAS NASII, 1558-1600, a native of Suffolk, and a scholar of Cambridge. He was a lively satirist, – the Churchill of his day.

F

Nash am used the town with his attacks on Gabriel Harvey and the Puritans. He wrote a comedy called Summer's Lust Will and Testament, which was acted before Queen Elizabeth, in 1597. He was concerned with Marlowe in writing the Tragedy of Dido Queen of Carthage. He was imprisoned for being the author of a satirical play, never printed, called the Isle of Dogs. Two of his other pieces are The Supplication of Pierce Penniless to the Devil, and Christ's Tears over Jerusalem. Nash's versifica. tion is hard and monotonous, but his thoughts are often striking.

ROBERT GREENE, 1560–1592, was one of the minor dramatists contemporary with Shakespeare.

Greene was educated at Cambridge, and took orders in the Church, but lost his preferment, probably on account of the irregularities of his life.

“ He was a boon companion with the dissipated wits of the day, deserted a lovely wife, lived a profligate life, chequered with partial repentance, and died of a surfeit of pickled herrings and Rhenish wine." — Allibone.

Plays. --Greene's Plays are: The IIistory of Orlando; Friar Bacon and Friar Bun. gay : Alphonsus, king of Arragon ; James IV.; George Greene, the Pinner of Wakefield; The Looking Glass for London and England.

Other Works. - Besides his plays, Greene wrote a large number of tales and other prose pieces, some licentious and indecent, others full of repentance for his own misdeeds and serious exhortations to his fellows to avoid his example.

Character. - Greene was not devoid of literary ability, and his writings male no little impression upon the men and women of that age. Ilis style is strongly tinctured with the euphuisms with which Lyly had infected his generation.

Groat's Worth of Wit. - One of Greene's tracts, A Groat's Worth of Wit Bonght with a Million of Repentance, is often quoted for the light which it throws upon contemporary literature. It contains, among other things, the following allusion to Shakespeare, showing that Shakespeare had even then, 1592, become an object of envy to less successful aspirants : “ There is an upstart crow beautified with our feathers, that, with his tiger's heart wrapt in a playor's hide, (a parody on Shakespeare's line, in Henry VI., Part Third, 'O tiger's heart wrapt in a woman's hide,'} supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you; and being an absolute Johannes Fac-totum, is, in his own conceit, the only Shuke-scene in a country.” The conclusion of this pamphlet gives a melancholy picture of a man of gepius dying prematurely from the effects of a disorderly and vicious life:

“But now return I again to you three (Marlowe, Lodge, and Peele), knowing my misery is to you no news : and let me heartily intreat you to be warned by my harmg. Delight not, as I have done, in irreligious oaths, despise drunkenness, fly lust, abhor those epicures whoso loose life hath made religion loathsome to your ears; and when they soothe you with terms of mastership, remember, Robert Greene (whom they have often flattered) perishes for wint of comfort. Remember, gentlemen, your lives are like so many light-tapers, that are with care delivered to all of you to maintain; these, with wine-puffed breath, may be extinguished, with drnnkenness put out, with negligence let fall. The fire of my light is now at the last snuff. My hand is tired, and I (am) forced to leave where I would begin; desirous that you should live, though himself be dying."

Marlowe. Christopher Marlowe, 1562–1593, was the greatest of the precursors of Shakespeare,

Marlowe was the son of a shoemaker in Canterbury. He received, however, a learned education, and was graduated at Cambridge.

Marlowe's first play, Tamburlaine the Great, was written before his graduation. It was the first English play in blank verse, and the versification has a peculiar majestic swell and sonorousness, which, though verging upon bombast, yet suggested and justified Ben Jonson's phrase of “Marlowe's mighty line."

Marlowe's second play, The Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, exhibits a far wider and higher range of dramatic power than his first tragedy. The subject is the same as that of Goethe's most celebrated work, and many of the characters, Faust, Mephistopheles, Wagner, etc., appear in both works.

Marlowe's other plays are: The Jew of Malta, The Massacre at Paris, and Edward the Second. The play last named is one of his best, and is the first example of the historical play. Marlowe wrote some beautiful lyrics, and is supposed to have had a part in the authorship of several other plays.

Marlowe lived an irregular life, and died young, being killed in a miserable brawl. He was a man of uncommon genius, and was undoubtedly the greatest English dramatic writer before Shakespeare.

Thomas LODGE, 1566–1625, educated at Oxford, was a prominent actor, dramatist, and poet of his day.

Lodge's principal dramas are: The Wounds of Civil War, and Rosalynde, from which latter Shakespeare borrowed the incidents of As You Like It. Lodge was also the translator of Seneca and Josephus, and the author of several pretty pastoral songs.

“Lodge and Greene are the only imitators of Lyly who have atoned for affectation of style by any felicity of genius or invention.” Dunlop's History of Fiction.

GEORGE PEELE, 1553-1598, after completing his studies at Oxford, came to London and became a writer and actor of plays, and a shareholder with Shakespeare and others in the Blackfriars Theatre.

Peele also held the situation of city poet and conductor of pageants for the Court. He has considerable poetical fancy, and his versification is smooth and musical. But his blank verse wants the variety of pauses and modulation given to it by Shakespeare. His life. like that of most of his fellow actors and dramatists of that day, is involved in obscurity, the dates both of his birth and death being matter of conjecture.

Works. – Peele wrote The Arraignment of Paris, a court show, exhibited beforo

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