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Of this magnificent castle, the unrivalled abode of baronial hospitality, and chivalric pageantry, who can avoid lamenting the present irreparable decay, or forbear apostrophising the mouldering reliques in the pathetic, and picturesque language, which Bishop Hurd has placed in the mouth of his admired Addison ?
“ Where, one might ask, are the tilts and tournaments, the princely shows and sports, which were once so proudly celebrated within these walls? Where are the pageants, the studied devices, and emblems of curious invention, that set the court at a gaze, and even transported the high soul of our Elizabeth? Where now, pursued he, (pointing to that which was formerly a canal, but at present is only a meadow, with a small rivulet running through it) where is the floating island, the blaze of torches that eclipsed the day, the lady of the lake, the silken nymphs her attendants, with all the other fantastic exhibitions surpassing even the whimsies of the wildest romance? What now is become of the revelry of feasting? of the minstrelsy that took the ear so delightfully as it babbled along the valley, or floated on the surface of this lake? See there the smokeless kitchens, stretching to a length that might give room for the sacrifice of a hecatomb; the vaulted hall, which mirth and jollity have set so often in an uproar; the rooms of state, and the presencechamber; what are they now but void and tenantleșs ruins, clasped with ivy, open to wind and weather, and representing to the eye nothing but the ribs and carcase, as it were, of their former state? And see, said he, that proud gate-way, once the mansion of a surly porter, who, partaking of the pride of his lord, made the crowds wait, and refused admittance, perhaps, to nobles whom fear or interest drew to these walls, to pay their homage to their master : see it now the residence of a poor tenant, who turns the key but to let himself out to his daily labour, to admit him to a short meal, and secure his nightly slumbers.” *
* Hurd's Moral and Political Dialogues, vol. i. pp. 148–150.
To this account of some of the principal diversions of the court and the metropolis, we have now to subjoin, in a compass corresponding with the scale of our work, a clear, but necessarily a brief view, of an amusement which, more than any other, is calculated to interest, and to influence every class of society. The state, economy, and usages of THE STAGE, therefore, during the age of Shakspeare, will occupy the remainder of this chapter, forming an introduction to a sketch of dramatic poetry, at the period of Shakspeare's commencement as a writer for the stage.
The reader is probably aware, from the very copious and bulky, though somewhat indigested, collections, which have been published on this subject, that the following detail, consisting of an arrangement of minute facts, and which aims at nothing more than a neat and lucid
compendium of an intricate topic, must necessarily, at almost every step, be indebted to previous researches ; in order, therefore, to obviate a continual parade of reference, let it suffice, that we acknowledge the basis of our disquisition to have been derived from the labours of Steevens and Malone, as included in the last variorum edition of Shakspeare; from the two Apologies of Mr. Chalmers ; from Decker, as reprinted by Nott; and occasionally, from the pages
of Warton, Percy, Whiter, and Gilchrist. Where references, however, are absolutely essential, they will be found in their due place.
It has been justly observed by Mr. Chalmers, that “what Augustus said of Rome, may be remarked of Elizabeth and the stage, that she found it brick, and left it marble.” * At her accession in 1558, no regular theatre had been established, and the players of that period, even in the capital, were compelled to have recourse to the yards of great Inns, as the most commodious places which they could obtain for the representation of their pieces. These, being surrounded by open stages and galleries, and possessing, likewise, numerous private apartments and recesses from which the genteeler part of the audience
might become spectators at their ease, while the central space held a temporary stage, uncovered in fine weather, and protected by an awning in bad, were not ill calculated for the purposes of scenic exhibition, and, most undoubtedly, jave rise to the form and construction, adopted in the erection of the licensed theatres.
In this stage of infancy was the public stage at the birth of Shakspeare; nor would it so rapidly have emerged into importance, had not the Queen, though occasionally yielding to the enmity and fanaticism of the puritans with regard to this recreation, been warmly attached to theatric amusements. So early as 1569, was she frequently entertained in her own chapel-royal, by the performance of plays on profane subjects, by the children belonging to that establishment ; and the year following has been fixed upon as the most probable era of the erection of a regular play-house, very appropriately named The Theatre, and supposed to have been situated in the Blackfriars.
We shall not be surprised, therefore, to find, that in 1574 a regular company of players was established by royal licence, granting to James Burbage, John Perkyn, John Lanham, William Johnson, and Robert Wilson, servants of the Earl of Leicester, authority, under the privy seal, “ to use, exercyse and occupie the arte and facultye of playenge commedies, tragedies, enterludes, stage-playes, and such other like as they have alreadie used and studied, or hereafter shall use and studie, as well for the recreation of our lovinge subjects as for our solace and pleasure when we shall thinke good to see them—throughoute our realme of England."'* This may
be considered then, with great probability, as the first general licence obtained by any company of players in England; but, with the customary precaution of Elizabeth, it contains a clause, subjecting all dramatic amusements to the previous inspection of the Master of the Revels, an officer who, in the reign of Henry the Eighth, had been created to superintend a part of the duties which until then
* See Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iii. p. 18.
had fallen to the province of the Lord Chamberlain, and who now had the sphere of his control augmented by this prudent enactment, providing “ that the saide commedies, tragedies, enterludes and stage-playes be by the Master of our Revels for the tyme beynge before sene and allowed.”
The officers who exercised this authority, during the life of Shakspeare, were Sir Thomas Benger, Edmond Tilney, and Sir George Bucke. Sir Thomas Benger, who succeeded Sir Thomas Cawerden in 1560, lived not to see Shakspeare's entrance into the scenic world, but, dying in 1577, Tilney's appointment took place in 1579. This gentleman continued to regulate the stage for the long period of thirty-one years ; he beheld the dawn and the mid-day, splendour of Shakspeare's dramatic genius, and in his official capacity, he enjoyed the opportunity of licensing not less than thirty of his dramas, commencing with Henry the Sixth, and terminating with Antony and Cleopatra. On his death, in 1610, Sir George Bucke, who had obtained a reversionary patent for the office in 1603, and had executed its duties for twelvemonth previous to Tilney's decease, became Master of the Revels, and had the felicity of reading, and the honour of licensing, some of the last and noblest productions of our immortal poet, namely, Timon of Athens, Coriolanus, Othello, the Tempest, and Twelfth Night. He also lived to deplore the premature extinction of this unrivalled bard, and he died in the
which presented to the public the first folio edition of his plays.
The erection of a theatre in 1570; the establishment by royal authority of a regular company in 1574 ; and the subjection of both to highly respectable officers, operated so strongly in favour of dramatic amusements, that we find Stubbes, the puritanic satirist, bitterly inveighing in 1583 against the great popular support of the theatres in his day, which he sarcastically terms Venus' Palaces, and immediately afterwards designates by a general application of the names which had been given at that time to the two principal structures : “ marke,” says he, “ the flocking and running to theaters and
curtens, daylie and hourely, night and daye, tyme and tyde, to see playes and enterludes.” *
This passion for the stage continued rapidly to increase, and before the year
1590 not less than four or five theatres were in existence. The patronage of dramatic representation made an equal progress at court ; for though Elizabeth never, it is believed, attended a public theatre, yet had she four companies of children who frequently performed for her amusement, denominated the Children of St. Pauls, the Children of Westminster, the Children of the Chapel, and the Children of Windsor. The public actors too, who were sometimes, in imitation of these appellations, called the Children of the Revels, were, towards the close of Her Majesty's reign especially, in consequence of a greatly acquired superiority over their younger brethren, often called upon to act before her at the royal theatre in Whitehall. Exhibitions of this kind at court were usual at Christmas, on Twelfth Night, at Candlemas, and at Shrove-tide, throughout the reigns of Elizabeth and James, and the plays of Shakspeare were occasionally the entertainment of the night : thus we find Love's Labour's Lost to have been performed before our maiden Queen during the Christmas-holydays, and King Lear to have been exhibited before. King James on St. Stephen's night. +
On these occasions, the representation was generally at night, that it might not interfere with the performances at the regular theatres, which took place early in the afternoon; and we learn from the Council-books, that the royal remuneration, in the age
of Elizabeth, for the exhibition of a single play at Whitehall, amounted to ten pounds, of which, twenty nobles, or six pounds thirteen shillings, and four-pence, formed the customary fee; and three pounds, six shillings, and eight-pence, the free gift or bounty. If, however, the performers were required to leave the capital for any of the royal palaces in its neighbourhood, the fee, in consequence of the public
* Anatomie of Abuses, edit. 1583, p. 90.