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THE RISE OF TRAGEDY.
1. Classical Influence in England–The Revival of Learning English
Humanism-Ascharn’s ‘Schoolmaster'- Italian Examples.-II. The Italian Drama-Paramount Authority of Seneca—Character of Seneca's Plays.-III. English Translations of Seneca-English Translations of Italian Plays.—IV. English Adaptations of the Latin Tragedy-Lord Brooke-Samuel Daniel — Translations from the French ---Latin Tragedies--False Dramatic Theory.-V. Gorboduc'—Sir Philip Sidney's Eulogy of it-Lives of Sackville and Norton--General Character of this Tragedy-Its Argument-Distribution of Material -Chorus-Dumb Show—The Actors-Use of Blank Verse.-VI. “The Misfortunes of Arthur - Thomas Hughes and Francis Bacon -- The Plot-Its Adaptation to the Græco-Roman Style of Tragedy-Part of Guenevora- The Ghost--Advance on 'Gorboduc'in Dramatic Force and Versification.-VII. Failure of this Pseudo-Classical Attempt What it effected for English Tragedy.
N.B. The two chief tragedies discussed in this chapter will be found in the old Shakespeare Society's Publications, 1847, and in Hazlitt's Dodsley, vol. iv.
The history of our Tragic Drama is closely connected with that of an attempt to fix the rules of antique composition on the playwright's art in England. Up to the present point we have been dealing with those religious pageants, which the English shared in common with other European nations during the Middle Ages, and with a thoroughly native outgrowth from them in our Moral Plays and Comedies. The debt, already indicated, of ‘Jack Juggler' to the 'Amphitryon' of Plautus, and that of Roister Doister' to the
• Miles Gloriosus,' together with a very early English version of the · Andria' of Terence, prove, however, that classical studies were beginning to affect our theatre even in the period of its origins. To trace the further and far more pronounced influence of these studies on tragic poetry, will be the object of this chapter. I shall have to show in what way, when men of culture turned their attention to the stage, a determined effort was made to impose the canons of classical art, as they were then received in Southern Europe, on our playwrights; how the genius of the people proved too strong for the control of critics and 'courtly makers ;' how the romantic drama triumphed over the pseudo-classic type of comedy and tragedy; and how England, by these means, was delivered from a danger which threatened her theatre with a failure like to that of the Italian.
The Revival of Learning may be said to have begun in Italy early in the fourteenth century, when Petrarch, by his study of Cicero, and Boccaccio, by his exploration of Greek literature, prepared the way for discoverers of MSS. like Poggio and Filelfo, for founders of libraries like Nicholas V. and Cosimo de' Medici, for critics and translators like Lorenzo Valla, for poets like Poliziano, for editors like Aldus Manutius, and for writers on philosophy like Ficino and Cristofero Landino. A new type of education sprang up in the universities and schools of Italy, supplanting the medieval curriculum of Grammar, Rhetoric, and Logic by a wider and more genial study of the Greek and Latin authors. This education, reduced to a system by Vittorino da Feltre at Mantua,
HUMANISM IN ENGLAND.
and developed in detail by wandering professors, who attracted scholars from all countries to their lectures in the universities of Padua and Bologna, Florence and Siena, rapidly spread over Europe.
Grocin (1442-1519) and Linacre (1460–1524) transplanted the study of Greek from Italy to Oxford, whence it spread to Cambridge. The royal family and the great nobles of England, vying with the aristocracy of Mantua and Milan, instituted humanistic tutors for their sons and daughters. The children of Henry VIII., the Prince Edward and the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth, grew up accomplished in both ancient languages. Lady Jane Grey preferred the perusal of Plato's · Phædo' in her study to a hunting party in her father's park. Queen Elizabeth at Windsor turned from consultations with Cecil on the affairs of France and Spain to read Demosthenes with Ascham. Sir Thomas More at Westminster, Dean Colet at S. Paul's, Sir John Cheke at Cambridge, and the illustrious foreign friends of these men, among whom the first place must be given to Erasmus, formed as brilliant a group of classical scholars, at the opening of the sixteenth century, as could be matched in Europe. Meanwhile large sums were being spent on educational foundations ; by Wolsey at Christ Church, by Edward VI. in the establishment of grammar schools, by Colet in his endowment of S. Paul's, and by numerous benefactors to whom we owe our present system of high class public education. A race of excellent teachers sprang into notice, among whom it may suffice to mention Nicholas Udall, Roger Ascham, William Camden, Elmer the tutor of Lady Jane Grey, and Cheke the lecturer
on Greek at Cambridge. English gentlemen, at this epoch, were scholars no less than soldiers, men of whom the type is brilliantly represented by Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Philip Sidney. English gentlewomen shared the studies of their brothers; and if a Lady Jane Grey was rare, a Countess of Pembroke and a Princess Mary may be taken as the leaders of a numerous class.
Of the humanistic culture which prevailed in England, we possess a vigorous and vivid picture in the Schoolmaster' of Ascham. imported from Italy, where it had flourished for at least a century before it struck its first roots in our soil, this culture retained a marked Italian character. But in the middle of the sixteenth century Italian scholarship had already begun to decay. Learning, exclaimed Paolo Giovio, is fled beyond the Alps. The more masculine branches of erudition were neglected for academical frivolities. The study of Greek languished. It seemed as though the Italians were satiated and exhausted with the efforts and enthusiasms of two centuries. In the North, curiosity was still keen. The speculative freedom of the Reformation movement kept the minds of men alert to studies which taxed intellectual energy. And though the methods of education, both in public schools and in private tuition, were borrowed from the practice of Italian professors, no class of professional rhetoricians corresponding to the Humanists corrupted English morals, no learned bodies like the academies of the South dictated laws to
1 See the note on female education by Nicholas Udall in his preface to Erasmus' Paraphrase of S. John, translated together with him by the Princess Mary and the Rev. F. Malet, D.D). It will be found in Prof. Arber's Introductions to Ralph Roister Doister, p. 4.
taste, or imposed puerilities on erudition. Society in general was far simpler ; the Court purer ; manners less artificial ; religion more influential in controlling conduct. Sidney furnished a living illustration of Ascham's precepts;
and no one who should compare the life of Sidney with that of a contemporary Italian of his class, would fail to appreciate the specifically English nature of this typical gentleman.
Still, though English culture was now independent, though English scholars held the keys of ancient learning and unlocked its treasures for themselves, though English thinkers drew their own philosophy from original sources, while the character of an accomplished Englishman differed from that of an Italian by superior manliness, simplicity, sincerity, and moral soundness; yet the example of Italy was felt in all departments of study, in every branch of intellectual activity. Three centuries ahead of us in mental training ; with Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Ariosto, and Tasso already on their list of classics; boasting a multifarious literature of novels, essays, comedies, pastorals, tragedies, and lyrics; with their great histories of Guicciardini and Machiavelli; with their political philosophy and metaphysical speculations; the Italians—as it was inevitable—swayed English taste, and moved the poets of England to imitation. Surrey and Wyat introduced the sonnet and blank verse from Italy into England. Spenser wrote the 'Faery Queen' under the influence of the Italian romantic epics. Raleigh could confer no higher praise on this great poem than to say that Petrarch's ghost, no less than Homer's, was moved thereby to weeping for his laurels. Sidney copied the