Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

AMATEURS AND ACTORS.

AT the close of the year 1587, and the opening, according to our new style, of 1588, “the Queen's Majesty being at Greenwich, there were showed, presented, and enacted before her Highness, betwixt Christmas and Shrovetide, seven plays, besides feats of activity and other shows, by the children of Paul's, her Majesty's own servants, and the gentlemen of Gray's Inn, on whom was employed divers remnants of cloth of gold and other stuff out of the store.” Such is the record of the accounts of the revels at court. Of the seven plays performed by the children of Paul's and the Queen's servants there is no memorial; but we learn from the title of a book of uncommon rarity of what nature were the “Certaine Devises and Shewes presented Her Majestie by the Gentlemen of Grayes Inne, at her Highnesse Court in Greenwich, the twenty-eighth day of Februarie, in the thirtieth year of her Majestie's most happy raigne.” The “Misfortunes of Arthur, Uther Pendragon's son,’ was the theme of these devices and shows. It was “reduced into tragical notes by Thomas Hughes, one of the society of Gray's Inn.” It was “set down as it passed from under his hands, and as it was presented, excepting certain words and lines, where some of the actors either helped their memories by brief omissions, or fitted their acting by alteration.” Thomas Hughes also tells us that he has put “a note at the end of such speeches as were penned by others, in lieu of these hereafter following.” It is pleasant to imagine the gentlemen of Gray's Inn sitting over their sack during the Christmas of 1587, listening to Thomas Hughes reciting his doleful tragedy, cutting out a speech here, adding something wondrously telling there; the most glib of tongue modestly declining to accept the part of Arthur the king, and expressing his content with Mordred the usurper; a beardless student cheerfully agreeing to wear the robes of Guenevra the queen, and a gray-headed elder undertaking the ghost of the Duke of Cornwall. A perfect play it is, if every accessary of a play can render it perfect; for every act has an argument, and every argument a dumb-show, and every dumb-show a chorus. Here is indeed an ample field for ambitious members of the honourable society to contribute their devices; and satisfactory it is that the names of some of his fellow-labourers in this elaborate work have been preserved to us by the honour-giving Thomas Hughes. “The dumb-shows and additional speeches were partly devised by William Fulbeck, Francis Flower, Christopher Yelverton, Francis Bacon, John Lancaster, and others, who with Master Penroodock and Lancaster directed these proceedings at Court.” Precious is this record. The salt that preserves it is the one name of Francis Bacon. Bacon, in 1588, was Reader of Gray's Inn. To the devices and shows of Hughes's tragedy—accompaniments that might lessen the tediousness of its harangues, and scatter a little beauty and repose amongst its scenes of crime and murder—Bacon would bring something of that high poetical spirit which gleams out at every page of his philosophy. Nicholas Trotte, gentleman, penned the introduction, “which was pronounced in manner following, namely, three Muses came upon the stage apparelled accordingly, bringing five gentlemen-students attired in their usual garments, whom one of the Muses presented to her Majesty as captives.” But the dresses, the music, the dancing to song, were probably directed by the tasteful mind who subsequently wrote, “These things are but toys; but yet, since princes will have such things, it is better that they should be graced with elegancy than daubed with cost.” " Under the roof, then, of the old palace at Greenwich —the palace which Humphrey of Gloucester is said to have built, and where Elizabeth was born— are assembled the gentlemen of Gray's Inn and the Queen's players. The two master-spirits of their time—amongst the very greatest of all time—are there. Francis Bacon, the lawyer, and William Shakspere, the actor, are unconscious each of the greatness of the other. The difference of their * Of Masques and Triumphs.-Essay 37.

* A copy in the Garrick Collection, in the British Museum.

rank probably prevents that communication which might have told each something of the other's power. Master Penroodock and Master Lancaster may perhaps solicit a little of the professional advice of Burbage and his men; and the other gentlemen who penned the dumb-shows may have assisted at the conference. A flash of wit from William Shakspere may have won a smile from the Reader of Gray's Inn; and he may have dropped a scrap of that philosophy which is akin to poetry, so as to make the young actor reverence him more highly than as the son of Elizabeth's former honest Lord Keeper. But the signs of that freemasonry by which great minds know each other could scarcely be exchanged. They would go their several ways, the one to tempt the perils and the degradations of ambition, and to find at last a refuge in philosophy; the other to be content with a well-earned competence, and gathering amidst petty strifes and jealousies, if such could disturb him, something more than happiness in the culture of that wondrous imagination which had its richest fruits in his own unequalled cheerful wisdom. Elizabeth, the Queen, is now in her fifty-fifth year. She is ten years younger than when Paul Hentzner described her, as he saw her surrounded with her state in this same palace. The wrinkles of her face, oblong and fair, were perhaps not yet very marked. Her small black eyes, according to the same authority, were pleasant even in her age.

The hooked nose, the narrow lips, and the discoloured teeth, were perhaps less noticeable when Shakspere looked upon her in his early days. The red hair was probably not false, as it afterwards was. The small hand and the white fingers were remarkable enough of themselves, but, sparkling with rings and jewels, the eye rested upon them. The young poet, who has been lately sworn her servant, has stood in the backward ranks of the presence-chamber, to see his dread mistress pass to chapel. The room is thronged with counsellors and courtiers. The inner doors are thrown open, and the gentlemen-pensioners, bearing their gilt battle-axes, appear in long file. The great officers of the household and ministers of state are marshalled in advance. The procession moves. When the Queen appears, sudden and frequent are the genuflexions: “Wherever she turned her face as she was going along, every body fell down upon their knees.” But she is gracious, according to the same authority: “Whoever speaks to her it is kneeling; now and then she raises some with her hand.” As she moves into the ante-chapel loud are the shouts of “Long live Queen Elizabeth !” The service is soon ended, and then to dinner. While reverence has been paid to “the only Ruler of Princes,” forms as reverent in their outward appearance have been offered even to the very place where the creature-comforts of our every-day life are to be served up to majesty. Those who cover the table with the cloth kneel three times with the

« VorigeDoorgaan »