Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

was soon afterwards, as early indeed as 1612, postponed to the third day. *

From a publication of Robert Greene's, dated 1592, it appears, that the price of a drama, when disposed of to the public players, was twenty nobles, or six pounds thirteen shillings and four pence; but that private companies would sometimes give double that † sum. It has been recorded, indeed, by Oldys, in one of his manuscripts, but upon what authority is not mentioned, that Shakspeare received but five pounds for his Hamlet ! I

What a bookseller gave for the copyright of a play at this period is unknown; but we have sufficient foundation, that of the bookseller's Preface to the quarto edition of our poet's Troilus and Cressida in 1609, for asserting, that sixpence was the sale price of a play when published. Ø It may also be affirmed, on grounds of equal security, that forty shillings formed the customary compliment for the flattery of a dedication. |

To these notices concerning the pecuniary rewards of poets and performers, may be added the conjecture of Mr. Malone, that Shakspeare, as author, actor, and proprietor, probably received from the theatre about two hundred pounds a year." I

[ocr errors]

* On the authority of Decker's Prologue to one of his comedies entitled, If this be not a good Play the Devil's in't, 1612:

“ Not caring, so he gains A cram'd third day.

+ “ Master R. G., would it not make

you
blush if

you

sold Orlando Furioso to the queenes players for twenty nobles, and when they were in the country, sold the same play to Lord Admirals men, for as much more ?” — Defence of Coney-catching, 1592.

Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iii. p. 172. ♡ “ Had I time I would comment upon it, though I know it needs not, (for so much as will make you thinke your testerne well bestowd) but for so much worth, as even poore I know to be stuft in it.”— Reed's Shakspeare, vol. xv. p. 226.

11 “ I did determine not to have dedicated my play to any body, because forty shillings I care not for; and above, few or none will bestow on these matters." - Dedication to A Woman's a Weathercock, a comedy by N. Field, 1612. 9 Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iii. p. 191. VOL. II.

GG

From this description of the architecture, economy, and usages of the Shakspearean Stage, it must be evident, how trifling were the obligations of our great poet to the adventitious aid of scenery, machinery, and decoration, notwithstanding we have admitted these to be somewhat more elaborate than is usually allowed. The Art of Acting, however, had, during the same period, made very rapid strides towards perfection, and dramatic action and expression, thereforc, coadjutors of infinitely more importance than the most splendid scenical apparatus, exhibited, we have reason to believe, powers in a great degree competent to the task of doing justice to the imperishable productions of this unrivalled bard of pity and of terror.

CHAPTER VIII.

A BRIEF VIEW OF DRAMATIC POETRY, FROM THE BIRTH OF SHAKSPEARE TO THE PERIOD

OF HIS COMMENCEMENT AS A WRITER FOR THE STAGE, ABOUT THE YEAR 1590; WITH CRITICAL NOTICES OF THE DRAMATIC POETS WHO FLOURISHED DURING THAT INTERVAL.

It is remarkable that the era of the birth of Shakspeare should occur in almost intermediate contact with those periods which mark the first appearance of what may be termed legitimate tragedy and comedy. In 1561-2, was exhibited the tragedy of Ferrex and Porrex, written by Thomas Norton, and Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, “ the first specimen,” observes Mr. Warton, “ in our language of an heroick tale written in verse, and divided into acts and scenes, and cloathed in all the formalities of a regular tragedy * ;” in 1564, as is well known, the leading object of our work, the great poet of nature, was born; and, in 1566, was acted at Christ's College, Cambridge, under the quaint title of Gammer Gurton's Needle, the first play, remarks Wright, “ that looks like a regular comedy." +

Previous to the exhibition of these pieces, the public had been contented with Mysteries, Moralities, and Interludes ; the first of these, exclusively occupied by miracles and scriptural narratives, originated with the ecclesiastics so far back as the eleventh century #; the second, consisting chiefly of allegorical personification, seems to have arisen about the middle of the fifteenth century ); and the third, a species of farce, or, as Jonson defines them, something played at the intervals of festivity, became prevalent during the reign of Henry the Eighth.

• Warton's Hist. of English Poetry, vol. iii. p. 355. + Vide Historia Histrionica. I Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iii. p. 6. 11. See, also, Percy and Warton. Ś Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iii. p. 29; and Warton's Hist. of English Poetry, vol. ii.

p. 199.

To these co-oper

The examples, however, which were now furnished by Sackville and Still, in the production of Gorbodue *, and Gammer Gurton, were not lost

upon
their
age;

and to the ideas of legitimate table emanating from these sources, are also to be added those derived from the now frequent custom of acting plays in the schools and universities, in imitation of the dramas of Plautus and Terence. To these ating causes may be ascribed the numerous tragedies and plays which appeared between the years 1566 and 1590, principally written by men who had been educated at the universities, and who, in the serious drama, endeavoured to support the stately and declamatory style of Gorboduc.

It is to this period, also, that we must reter for the epoch of the historical drama, or, what were called, in the language of their times, Histories, a gradual improvement, it is true, on the allegorical Dramalis Persone of the moralities, but which, in the interval elapsing between 1570 and 1590, received a consistener and form, a materinlity and organisation, which only required the animating fire of Shakspeare's muse to kindle into lite and immortality.

For the prevalence and popularity of this species of play, anterior to the productions of our pout, we are probably indebted to the publication of The Mirrour for llagistrates, a poetical miscellany, of whicle four clitions were printed between 1564 and 1590, and where the inont remarkable personages in Englislı history are brought forward relating the story of their own disasters.

Another and very popular species of dramatic composition, at this era, may be satisfactorily deduced from the strong attachment still existing for the ancient moralities, in which the most solemn and serious subjects were often blended with the lowest scenes of farce and broad humour ; for though the taste of the educated part of the public was chastened and improved by the classical tragedy of Sackville, and by the translations also of Gascoigne, who, in 1566, pre

* See Ancient British Drama, vol. i. both for this play and Gammer Gurton's Needle, as edited by Walter Scott.

sénted his countrymen with Jocasta from Euripides, and The Supposes, a regular comedy, from Ariosto, yet the lower orders still lingered for the mingled buffoonery of their old stage, and tragicomedy became necessary sơ catch their applause. This apparently heterogenous compound was long the most fascinating entertainment of the scenical world ; nor were even the wildest features of the allegorical drama unrepresented; for the interlude and, subsequently, the masque, were frequently lavish in the creation of

personages equally as extravagant and grotesque as any which the fifteenth century had dared to produce.

To this enumeration of the various kinds of dramatic poetry which preceded the efforts of Shakspeare, one more, of a very singular nature, must be added, the production of Richard Tarleton, the celebrated jester and comedian, who, previous to 1589, or during the course of that year, exhibited a play in two parts, called “ The Seven Deadlie Sins." * The piece itself has perished, but the Platt, or groundwork, of the Second Part, having been preserved, we find that the preceding portion had been occupied in exemplifying the sins of Pride, Gluttony, Wrath, and Avarice, while Envy, Sloth, and Lechery, were reserved for its successor. The plan which Tarleton pursued, in illustrating the effects of these sins, was by selecting scenes and passages from the plays of various authors, and co

combining them into a whole by the connecting medium of chorusses, interlocutors, and pantomimic show. Thus the Second Part is composed from three plays, namely, Sackville's Gorboduc, and two, now lost, entitled Sardanapalus and Tereus, while the moralisation and connection are introduced and supported by alternate monologues in the persons of Henry the Sixth, and Lidgate, the monk of Bury. This curious specimen of scenic exhibition may not unaptly receive the appellation of the Composite Drama.

After this short general sketch of the progress of dramatic poetry

* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iii. p. 404.

« VorigeDoorgaan »