Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

to play,' deserves mention for the curiosity of its being modelled on the ‘Amphitryon' of Plautus, which it follows longissimo sane intervallo! It is really nothing more than a merry interlude between a scape-grace page called Jenkin Careaway, and Jack Juggler, which latter is our old friend the Vice. The other characters have slight importance.

X.

Having examined some of the Moralities in detail, it will be interesting to inquire into the mode of their performance. During the heyday of their popularity, it appears that they were acted by roving companies on holidays and at hock-tide festivals in the halls of noblemen and gentry, as well as on the open squares of towns. They acquired the subordinate name of Interlude from the custom of having them exhibited in the intervals of banquets or the interspace of other pastimes. A Messenger announced the show in the case of public representations, and explained the argument in a prologue. Not unfrequently a Doctor, surviving from the Expositor of the Miracles, interpreted its allegory as the action proceeded.

It may also be remarked that noblemen, whose households were maintained upon a .princely scale, kept their own companies of actors. We hear of the • Players of the King's Interludes’ so early as the reign of Henry VII. ; and the books of the Percy family contain curious information respecting payınents made to the Lord Northumberland's Servants. The Lords Ferrers, Clinton, Oxford, and Buckingham, are

HOW MORAL PLAYS WERE ACTED.

177

known to have kept private actors at the beginning of the sixteenth century. In those great baronial establishments, musicians, minstrels, and chapel choristers had long formed a separate department; and when the acting of Interludes became fashionable, the players were attached to this section of the household. Cities also began to entertain companies for the occasional representation of Pageants, Masques, and Plays. Thus a dramatic profession was gradually formed, which only waited for a favourable opportunity to render itself independent of patronage, and to develop a national theatre by competition and free appeal to public favour.

For the further illustration of these details, we are fortunate in having ready to our hand a lively episode in the History Play of Sir Thomas More.' It may be premised that the strolling companies consisted of four or at the outside five persons. The leading actor played the part of Vice and undertook stage management. There was a boy for the female characters; and the remaining two or three divided the other parts between them. Sir Thomas More, in the play in question, has invited the Lord Mayor and Aldermen with their respective ladies to a banquet. The feast is spread; but no further entertainment has been furnished, and the guests are presently expected. At this moment a Player is announced. More greets him with :

Welcome, good friend ; what is your will with me?

Player.
My lord, my fellows and myself
Are come to tender you our willing service,
So please you to command us.

N

More.
What ! for a play, you mean?
Whom do

ye
serve ?

Player.
My Lord Cardinal's grace.

More.

My Lord Cardinal's players ! Now, trust me, welcome !
You happen hither in a lucky time,
To pleasure me, and benefit yourselves.
The Mayor of London and some Aldermen,
His lady and their wives, are my kind guests
This night at supper. Now, to have a play
Before the banquet will be excellent.
I prithee, tell me, what plays have ye?

Player. Divers, my lord : “The Cradle of Security,' * Hit the Nail o'th' Head,' 'Impatient Poverty,' · The Play of Four P's,’ ‘Dives and Lazarus,' Lusty Juventus,' and 'The Marriage of Wit and Wisdom.'

[ocr errors]

So the Player runs through his repertory. The name of the last hits More's mood, and he rejoins :

“The Marriage of Wit and Wisdom !' That, my lads,
I 'll none but that ! The theme is very good,
And may maintain a liberal argument.
We 'll see how Master-poet plays his part,
And whether Wit or Wisdom grace his art.
Go, make him drink, and all his fellows too.
How many are ye?

Player.
Four men and a boy.

More.
But one boy? Then I see,
There 's but few women in the play.

Player.
Three, my lord ; Dame Science, Lady Vanity,
And Wisdom--she herself.

MORE AND THE PLAYERS.

179

More.
And one boy play them all? By 'r Lady, he 's loaden !
Well, my good fellows, get ye strait together,
And make ye ready with what haste ye may.
Provide their supper 'gainst the play be done,
Else we shall stay our guests here overlong.
Make haste, I pray ye.

Player.
We will, my lord.

The Chancellor now tells his wife that the Lord Cardinal's Players have luckily turned up. She approves of their engagement. They both receive their guests, and seat them for the Interlude. At this point the chief player, dressed as the Vice, appears, and begs for a few minutes' respite. More addresses him :

More. How now ! What 's the matter?

Vice. We would desire your honour but to stay a little. One of my fellows is but run to Oagles for a long beard for young Wit, and he 'll be here presently.

More. A long beard for young Wit! Why, man, he may be without a beard till he comes to marriage, for wit goes not all by the hair. When comes Wit in?

Vice. In the second scene, next to the Prologue, my lord.

More. Why, play on till that scene comes, and by that time Wit's beard will be grown, or else the fellow returned with it. And what part playest thou ?

Vice. Inclination, the Vice, my lord.

More. Grammercy! Now I may take the Vice if I list; and wherefore hast thou that bridle in thy hand?

Vice. I must be bridled anon, my lord.

a

[ocr errors]

They exchange a few words about the purpose of the play ; and then the scene opens. It is the first act of

Lusty Juventus,' adapted with retrenchments. Inclination and Lady Vanity are in the course of seducing Wit, when the Vice suddenly pulls up with :

Is Luggins yet come with the beard ?

Enter another Player.

No, faith, he is not come : alas ! what shall we do?

The Vice, who is the driver of the team, expresses the dislocation of the whole company by this unforeseen accident :

Forsooth, we can go no further till our fellow Luggins come ; for he plays Good Counsel, and now he should enter, to admonish Wit that this is Lady Vanity and not Lady Wisdom.

More throws himself into the breach, and from his place before the stage undertakes to play the part of Good Counsel, which he does excellently well in default of Luggins. When Luggins at length appears with the beard, the Vice turns to his lordship:

Oh, my lord, he is come.

Now we shall

go

forward.

But the Chancellor thinks it is about time to conduct his guests to the banquet chamber. So the scene breaks up, and the players are left to altercate about this hitch in their arrangements. They pay due compliments to More's ready wit :

Do ye hear, fellows? Would not my lord make a rare player ? Oh, he would uphold a company beyond all. Ho! better than Mason among the King's Players ! Did ye mark how extemprically he fell to the matter, and spake Luggins's part almost as it is in the very book set down ?

While they are so discoursing, a serving man enters with the news that More is called to Court, and that he bids the players take eight angels, and, after they have supped, retire. The fellow doles the money out short of twenty shillings, taking his discount, as the way of flunkeys was, and is. Wit begins to grumble :

« VorigeDoorgaan »