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in rhyme, Gascoigne presented the public with a specimen of the same species of drama in prose. This is a translation from the Italian entitled, "The Supposes. A comedie written in the Italian tongue by Ariosto, Englished by George Gascoigne of Graies-inn, esquire, and there presented, 1566."
The dialogue of this comedy," observes Warton," is supported with much ease and spirit, and has often the air of a modern conversation. As Gascoigne was the first who exhibited on our stage a story from Euripides, so in this play he is the first that produced an English comedy in prose."
The translation from the "Phoenise of" Euripides, or, as Gascoigne termed it, "Jocasta," was acted in the refectory of Gray's Inn, in the same year with the "Supposes." It was the joint production of our poet and his friend Francis Kinwelmersh, the first and fourth acts being written by the latter bard. Jocasta is more a paraphrase than a translation, and occasionally aspires to the honours of original composition, new odes being sometimes substituted for those of the Greek chorus. The dialogue of this play is given in blank verse, forming one of the earliest specimens of this measure, and, like Gorboduc, each act is preceded by a dumb show, and closed by a long ode, in the composition of which, both Gascoigne and his coadjutor have evinced considerable lyric powers.
Shakspeare seems to have been indebted to the Supposes of Gascoigne for the name of Petruchio, in the Taming of the Shrew, and for the incident which closes the second scene of the fourth act of that play.
5. WAGER, LEWIS, the author of an Interlude, called "Mary Magdalen, Her Life and Repentance," 1567, 4to. This, like most of the interludes of the same age, required, as we are told in the title-page, only four persons for its performance. The subject, which is taken from the seventh chapter of St. Luke, had been a favourite with the writers of the ancient Mysteries, of which pieces one, written in 1512, is still preserved in the Bodleian Library.
6. WILMOT, ROBERT, a student of the Inner Temple, the publisher, and one of the writers of an old tragedy, intitled "Tancred and Gismund, or Gismonde of Salerne," the composition of not less than five Templers, and performed before Elizabeth in 1568. Each of these gentlemen, says Warton, 66 seems to have taken an act. At the end of the fourth is "" Composuit Chr. Hatton," or Sir Christopher Hatton, undoubtedly the same that was afterwards exalted by the Queen to the office of lord keeper for his agility in dancing."
Wilmot, who is mentioned with approbation in Webbe's "Discourse of English Poetrie," corrected and improved, many years after the first composition, the united labours of himself and his brother Templers, printing them with the following title: "The Tragedie of Tancred and Gismond. Compiled by the Gentlemen of the Inner Temple, and by them presented before Her Majestie. Newly revived and polished according to the decorum of these daies. By R. W. London. Printed by Thomas Scarlet, and are to be solde by E. C. R. Robinson. 1592."
In a dedication to his fellow-students, the editor incidentally fixes the era of the first production of his drama:
"I am now bold to present Gismund to your sights, and unto your's only, for therefore have I conjured her by the love that hath been these twenty-four years betwixt us, that she wax not so proud of her fresh painting, to straggle in her plumes abroad, but to contain herself within the walls of your house; so am I sure she shall be safe from the tragedian tyrants of our time, who are not ashamed to affirm that there can no amorous poem favour of any sharpness of wit, unless it be scasoned with scurrilous words."
From a fragment of this play as originally written, and inserted in the Censura Literaria, it appears to have been composed in alternate rhyme, and, we may add, displays both simplicity in its diction, and pathos in its sentiment. An imperfect copy of Wilmot's revision, and perhaps the only one in existence, is in the Garrick Collection.
7. GARTER, THOMAS. To this person has been ascribed by Coxeter, "The
Commody of the moste vertuous and godlye Susanna;" it was entered on the Stationers' books in 1568, and probably first performed about that period; its being in black letter, in metre, and not divided into acts, are certainly strong indications of its antiquity. It was reprinted in 4to, 1578.
8. PRESTON, THOMAS, was master of arts, and fellow of King's College, Cambridge, and afterwards doctor of laws, an master of Trinity-Hall. Taking a part in the performance of John Ritwise's Latin tragedy of " Dido," got up for the entertainment of the Queen when she visited Cambridge in 1564, Her Majesty was so delighted with the grace and spirit of his acting, that she conferred upon him a pension of twenty pounds a year, being rather more than a shilling a day; a transaction which Mr. Steevens conceives to have been ridiculed by Shakspeare in his Midsummer-Night's Dream, where Flute, on the absence of Bottom, exclaims, "O sweet bully Bottom! Thus hath he lost sixpence a-day during his life; he could not have 'scaped sixpence a-day: and the duke had not given him sixpence a-day for playing Pyramus, I'll be hanged; he would have deserved it: sixpence a-day, in Pyramus, or nothing." - Act iv. sc. 2.
Nor was this the only sly allusion which Preston experienced from the pen of Shakspeare. Langbaine, Theobald, and Farmer consider the following speech of Falstaff as referring to a production of this writer:-" Give me a cup of sack," says the Knight, "to make mine eyes look red, that it may be thought I have wept; for I must speak in passion, and I will do it in king Cambyses' vein."
The play satirised under the name of this monarch, is entitled, "A Lamentable Tragedy, mixed ful of pleasant Mirth, conteyning the Life of Cambises, King of Percia, from the beginning of his Kingdome unto his Death, his one good deed of execution; after that many wicked deeds, and tirannous murders committed by and through him; and last of all, his odious Death, by God's justice appointed. Don in such order as followeth, by Thomas Preston." Imprinted at London, by Edwarde Allde. 4to. B. 1.
This curious drama, which was written and published about 1570, being in the old metre, a species of ballad stanza, the allusion in Shakspeare must have been rather to the effect, than to the form, of King Cambyses' vein, perhaps referring solely, as Dr. Farmer observes, to the following marginal direction," At this tale folde, let the queen weep."
From the Division of the Parts, as given by Mr. Beloe, this very scarce tragicomedy seems to have been partly allegorical, and, from the specimen produced in the Biographia Dramatica, to have justly merited the ridicule which it was its fate to excite.*
9. WAPUL, GEORGE, the author of a play called "Tide Tarrieth for No Man. A most pleasaunte (and merry (Comedie, ryght pithy and fulle of delighte." It was entered on the Stationers' books in October, 1576, and reprinted in 1611, 4to. B. 1. This drama appears to be irrecoverably lost, as we can find no trace of it, save the title.
10. LUPTON, THOMAS. Of this writer nothing more is known, than that he wrote one play, which is to be found in the Collection of Mr. Garrick, and under the appellation of "A Moral and Pitieful Comedie, entitled All for Money. Plainly representing the Manners of Men and Fashion of the World nowe adaies. Compiled by T. Lupton. At London, printed by Roger Warde and Richard Mundee, dwelling at Temple Barre. Anno 1578." It is written in rhyme, printed in black letter, the pages unnumbered, and the style very antique and peculiar. The characters are altogether figurative and allegorical, and form one of the most grotesque examples of Dramatis Personæ extant. We have "Learning with Money, Learning without Money, Money without Learning, and Neither Money nor Learning;" we have also "Mischievous Helpe, Pleasure, Prest for Pleasure, Sinne, Swift to Sinne, Damnation, Satan, Pride, and Gluttonie;" again, “Gre
Vide Beloe's Anecdotes of Literature, vol. i. p. 323,
goria Graceless, William with the two Wives, St. Laurence, Mother Crooke, Judas, Dives, and Godly Admonition," etc. etc. Like many other dramatic pieces of the same age, it is evidently the offspring of the old Moralities, an attachment to which continued to linger among the lower classes for many subsequent years. 11. WHETSTONE, GEORGE. To this bard, more remarkable for his miscellaneous than his dramatic poetry, we are indebted for one play, viz. "The right excellent and famous Historie of Promos and Cassandra. Devided into two Commicall Discoures." 4to. B. l. 1578.
An extrinsic importance affixing itself to this production, in consequence of its having furnished Shakspeare with several hints for his Measure for Measure, has occasioned its re-publication.* "The curious reader," remarks Mr. Steevens, "will find that this old play exhibits an almost complete embryo of Measure for Measure; yet the hints on which it is formed are so slight, that it is nearly as impossible to detect them, as it is to point out in the acorn the future ramifications of the oak."
The fable of Promos and Cassandra furnishes little interest, in the hands of Whetstone; nor are the diction and versification such as can claim even the award of mediocrity. It is chiefly written in alternate rhyme, with no pathos in its serious, and with feeble efforts at humour in its comic, parts.
12. WOOD, NATHANIEL, a clergyman of the city of Norwich, and only known as the producer of "An excellent New Comedie, entitled, The Conflict of Conscience, contayninge a most lamentable example of the doleful desperation of a miserable wordlinge, termed by the name of Philologus, who forsooke the truth of God's Gospel for feare of the losse of life and worldly goods." 4to, 1581. This is another of the numerous spawn which issued from the ancient Mysteries and Moralities; the Dramatis Personæ, consisting of a strange medley of personified vices and real characters, are divided into six parts, "most convenient," says the author, "for such as be disposed either to shew this Comedie in private houses or otherwise." It is in the Garrick Collection, and very rare.
13. PEELE, GEORGE, the first of a train of play-wrights, who made a conspicuous figure just previous to the commencement, and during the earlier years, of Shakspeare's dramatic career. Educated at the University of Oxford, where he took his degree of Master of Arts in 1579, Peele shortly afterwards removed to London, and became the city poet, and a conductor of the pageants. His dramatic talents, like those which he exhibited in miscellaneous poetry, have been rated too high; the latter, notwithstanding Nash terms him "the chief supporter of pleasance, the atlas of poetrie, and primus verborum artifex," with the exception of two or three pastoral pieces, seldom attain mediocrity; and the former, though Wood has told us that his plays were not only often acted with great applause in his life-time, but did also endure reading, with due commendation, many years after his death," are now, and perhaps not undeservedly, held in little estimation. The piece which entitles him to notice in this chapter was printed in 1584, under the appellation of The Arraignment of Paris; it is a pastoral drama, which was performed before the Queen, by the children of her chapel, and has had the honour of Leing attributed, though without any foundation, to the muse of Shakspeare. Peele, who is supposed to have died about 1597, produced four additional plays, namely. "Edward the First," 4to, 1593; The Old Wive's Tale," 4to, 1595; "King David and Fair Bethsabe," published after his death in 1599, and "The Turkish Mahomet and Hyron the Fair Greek," which was never printed, and is now lost. From this unpublished play Shakspeare has taken a passage which he puts into the mouth of Pistol, who, in reference to Doll Tearsheet, calls out, Have we not Hiren here? a quotation which is to be detected in several other plays, Hiren, as we find, from one of our author's
* Among "Six Old Plays, on which Shakspeare founded his Measure for Measure, Comedy of Errors," &c. &c.; reprinted from the original editions, 2 vols. 8vo. 1779.
tracts, named "The Merie Conceited Jests of George Peele," being synonymous with the word courtezan. These allusions, however, mark the popularity of the piece, and his contemporary Robert Greene classes him with Marlowe and Lodge, "no less deserving," he remarks, "in some things rarer, in nothing inferior." From the specimens, however, which we possess of his dramatic genius, the opinion of Greene will not readily meet with a modern assent; the pastoral and descriptive parts of his plays are the best, which are often clothed in sweet and flowing verse; but, as dramas, they are nerveless, passionless, and therefore ineffective in point of character.
14. LILLY, JOHN. This once courtly author, whom we have had occasion to censure for his affected innovation, and stilted elegance in prose composition, was, says Phillips, "a writer of several old-fashioned Comedies and Tragedies, which have been printed together in a volume, and might perhaps, when time was, be in very good request."
The dramas here alluded to, but of which Phillips has given a defective and incorrect enumeration, are—
1. Alexander and Campaspe, 1584, 4to. Tragi-comedy.-2. Sappho and Phaon, 1584, 4to. Comedy.-3. Endimion, 1591. 4to. Comedy.-4. Galatea, 1592, 4to. Comedy.5. Mydas, 1592, 4to. Comedy.-6. Mother Bombie, 1594, 4to. Comedy.-7. The Woman in the Moon. 1597, 4to. Comedy.-8. The Maid her Metamorphosis, 1600.-9. Love his Metamorphosis, 1601, 4to. Pastoral.
The volume mentioned by Phillips was published by Edward Blount in 1632, containing six of these pieces, to which he has affixed the title of "Sixe Court Comedies."
Notwithstanding the encomia of Mr. Blount, the genius of this "insufferable Elizabethan coxcomb," as he has been not unaptly called, was by no means calculated for dramatic effect. Epigrammatic wit, forced conceits, and pedantic allusion, are such bad substitutes for character and humour, that we cannot wonder if fatigue or insipidity should be the result of their employment. Campaspe has little interest, and no unity in its fable, and though termed a tragi-comedy, is written in prose; Sappho and Phaon has some beautiful passages, but is generally quaint and unnatural; Endimion has scarcely any thing to recommend it; and disgusts by its gross and fulsome flattery of Elizabeth; Galatea displays some Juxuriant imagery, and Phillida and Galatea are not bad copies from the Iphis and Ianthe of Ovid; Mydas is partly a political production, and though void of interest, has more simplicity and purity both of thought and diction than is usual with this writer; Mother Bombie is altogether worthless in a dramatic light; The Woman in the Moon is little better; The Maid her Metamorphosis, the greater part of which is in verse, is one of the author's experiments for the refinement of our language, an attempt which, if any where more peculiarly absurd, must be pronounced to be so on the stage; Love his Metamormophosis, of which the very title-page pronounces its condemnation, being designated as "A Wittie and Courtly Pastoral."*
Though only two or three of Lilly's earlier dramas fall within the period ailotted to this chapter, yet, in order to prevent a tiresome repetition of the subject, we have here enumerated the whole of his comedies; a plan that we shall pursue with regard to the remaining poets of this era.
It may be necessary to remark, that we must not estimate the poetical talents of Lilly from his failure as a dramatist; for in the Lyric department he has shown very superior abilities, whether we consider the freedom and melody of his versification, or the fancy and sentiment which he displays. His plays abound with songs alike admirable for their beauty, sweetness, and polish.†
* For these plays, the reader may consult Dodsley's Old Plays, 1780; Hawkins's Origin of the English Drama; Ancient British Drama apud Sir Walter Scott; and old Plays, vols. 1 and 2. 8vo. 1814.
Numerous specimens of these Songs, in case the dramas are not at hand, will be found in Ellis's
Lilly, who had received an excellent classical education, and was a member of both the Universities, died about the year 1600.
15. HUGHES, THOMAS, the author of a singular old play, entitled "The Misfortunes of Arthur (Uther Pendragon's sonne) reduced into tragical notes by Thomas Hughes, one of the Societie of Graye's Inne." 12mo, 1587.
In conformity with some prior examples, this production has an argument, a dumb show, and a chorus to each act; "it is beautifully printed in the black letter," observes the editor of the Biographia Dramatica, "and has many cancels consisting of single words, half lines, and entire speeches; these were reprinted and pasted over the cancelled passages; a practice, I believe, very rarely seen." Arthur was performed before the Queen at Greenwich, on the 28th of February, and in the thirtieth year of her reign, and exhibits in its title-page a remarkable proof of the license which actors at that time took in curtailing or enlarging the composition of the original author, informing us that the play "was set downe as it passed from under his (the poet's) hands, and as it was presented, excepting certain words and lines, where some of the actors either helped their memories by brief omission, or fitted their acting by alteration." The writer appears to have been familiar with the Roman classics, but the rarity of his piece is much greater than its merit.*
16. KYD, THOMAS, to whom has been ascribed four plays, viz. "Jeronimo;" "The Spanish Tragedy;" Solyman and Perseda," and "Cornelia." Of these the first, which appeared on the stage about the year 1588, seems to have been given to Kyd, in consequence of his resuming the name and story in his Spanish tragedy; it is a short piece not divided into acts and scenes, of little value, and was printed in 1605, under the title of "The First Part of Jeronimo. With the Warres of Portugal, and the Life and Death of Don Andrea." 4to.
"The Spanish Tragedy, or, Hieronimo is mad again, Containing the lamentable end of Don Horatio and Belimperia. With the pitifull Death of Hieronimo," is supposed to have been first acted in 1588, or 1589, immediately following up the elder Jeronimo which had been well received.
Though this drama was an incessant object of ridicule to the contemporaries and immediate successors of its author, it nevertheless acquired great popularity, and long maintained possession of the stage. The consequence of this partiality was shown in a perversion of the public taste, for nothing can exceed the bombast and pueritities of this play and of those to which it gave almost instant birth. Kyd, in fact, whilst aspiring to the delineation of the most tremendous incidents, and the most uncontrolled passions, seems totally unconscious of his own imbecility; and the result, therefore, has usually been, either unqualified horror, unmitigated disgust, or the most ludicrous emotion. There is neither symmetry, consistency, nor humanity in the characters; they are beings not of this world, and the finest parts of the play, which occur in the fourth act, possess a tone of sorrow altogether wild and preternatural. The catastrophe is absurdly horrible. Such were the attractions, however, of this sanguinary tragedy, that Ben Jonson, who, according to Decker, originally performed the character of Jeronimo, was employed by Mr. Henslow, in 1602, to give it a fresh claim on curiosity by his additions.
"The Tragedie of Solyman and Perseda, wherein is laide open Love's Constancy, Fortune's Inconstancy, and Death's Triumphs," is conjectured by Mr. Hawkins to have been the production of Kyd. Like Jeronimo, it is not divided into acts, and was entered on the Stationers' books in the same year with the Spanish Tragedy, a circumstance which leads us to suppose, that its date of performance was nearly contemporary with that production. Its style and manner,
Specimens of the Early English Poets, vol. ii ; and in Beloe's Anecdotes of Literature and Scarce Books, vol. ii. *See a further account of this play, and a specimen of the chorus, in Beloe's Anecdotes, vol. i. p. 386.