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times by an extra character, was not uncommon at this period; and, when employed, generally terminated, if, in a public theatre, with a prayer for the king or queen; if, in a private one, for the lord of the mansion. The prayer, however, was, almost always, a necessary form, whether an epilogue were adopted or not; and, on these occasions, whatever may have been the nature of the preceding drama, the players, kneeling down, solemnly addressed themselves to their devotions: thus Shakspeare concludes his Epilogue to the Second Part of King Henry the Fourth, by telling his audience, "I will bid you good night and so kneel down before you ;-but, indeed, to pray for the queen ;" and Sir John Harrington closes his "Metamorphosis of Ajax, 1596, with the following sarcastic mention of this custom as retained in private theatres :- "But I will neither end with sermon nor prayer, lest some wags liken me to my L. ( ) players, who, when they have ended a baudie comedy, as though that were a preparative to devotion, kneele down solemnly, and pray all the companie to pray with them for their good lord and maister." Considering the place chosen for its display, this is, certainly, a custom
"More honour'd in the breach, than the observance."
With regard to the Remuneration of Actors, during the age of Shakspeare, it has been ascertained, that, after deducting forty-five shillings, which were the usual nightly, or rather daily, expenses at the Globe and Blackfriars, the net receipt never amounted to more than twenty pounds, and that the average receipt, after making a similar deduction, may be estimated at about nine pounds. This sum Mr. Malone supposes to have been in our poet's time "divided into forty shares, of which fifteen were appropriated to the house-keepers or proprietors, three to the purchase of copies of new plays, stage-habits, etc., and twenty-two to the actors." He further calculates, that, as the acting season lasted forty weeks, and each company consisted of about twenty persons, six of whom probably were principal, and the other subordinate performers, if we suppose two shares to have been the reward of a principal actor; one share that of a second class composed of six, and half a share the portion of the remaining eight, the performer who had two shares, would, on the calculation of nine pounds clear per night, receive nine shillings as his nightly dividend, and, at the rate of five plays a week, his weekly profit would amount to two pounds five shillings. "On all these data, adds Mr. Malone, "I think it may be safely concluded, that the performers of the first class did not derive from their profession more than ninety pounds a-year at the utmost. Shakspeare, Heminge, Condell, Burbage, Lowin, and Taylor had without doubt other shares as proprietors or leaseholders; but what the different proportions were which each of them possessed in that right, it is now impossible to ascertain. If we consider, however, the value of money during the reign of Elizabeth, and the relative prices of the necessary articles of life, it will be found that these salaries were not inadequate to the purposes of comfortable subsistence.
The profits accruing to the original source of the entertainment, or, in other words, the Remuneration given to the Dramatic Poet, was certainly, if we compare the claims of genius between the two parties, on a scale inferior to that which fell to the lot of the actor.
The author had the choice of two modes in the disposal of his property; he either sold the copy-right of his play to the theatre, or retained it in his own hands. In the former instance, which was frequently had recourse to in the age of Shakspeare, the only emolument was that derived from the purchase made by the proprietors of the theatre, who took care to secure the performance of the piece exclusively to their own company, and whose interest it was to defer its publication as long as possible; in the latter instance, not only had the poet the right of publication and the benefit of sale in his own option, but he had likewise a claim upon the theatre for a benefit. This, towards the termination of the
sixteenth century, took place on the second day, but 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!
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. It may also be affirmed, on grounds of equal security, that forty shillings formed the customary compliment for the flattery of a dedication. S
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.'
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, therefore, 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.
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 lan
* In Davenant's "Play-house to be Let," occurs the following passage :
"There is an old tradition,
That in the times of mighty Tamberlane,
Of conjuring Faustus and the Beauchamps bold,
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.
§"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 somedy by N. Field, 1612.
guage of an heroic tale written in verse, and divided into acts and scenes, and clothed 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.
The examples, however, which were now furnished by Sackville and Still, in the production of "Gorboduc," and "Gammer Gurton," were not lost upon their age; and to the ideas of legitimate fable 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 co-operating 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 refer 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 Dramatis Personæ of the moralities, but which, in the interval elapsing between 1570 and 1590, received a consistency and form, a materiality and organisation, which only required the animating fire of Shakspeare's muse to kindle into life and immortality.
For the prevalence and popularity of this species of play, anterior to the productions of our poet, we are probably indebted to the publication of "The Mirrour for Magistrates," a poetical miscellany, of which four editions were printed between 1564 and 1590, and where the most remarkable personages in English 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, presented 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 tragi-comedy became necessary to catch their applause. This apparently heterogeneous 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 with preceded the efforts of Shakspeare, one more, of a very singular nature, must be added, the production of Richard Tartelon, 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 preWarton's Hist. of English Poetry, vol. iii. p. 355. + Vide Historia Histrionica.
See Ancient British Drama, vol. i both for this play and Gammer Gurton's Needle, as edited by Sir Walter Scott.
ceding 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 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 suppported 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 from 1564 to 1591, it will be necessary to descend to some particular criticism on the chief productions which graced the stage during this interval; an attempt which we shall conduct chronologically, under the names of their respective authors.
1. SACKVILLE, THOMAS. Though the tragedy of Sackville was exhibited before Queen Elizabeth at Whitehall, on the 18th of January, 1561–2, it did not reach the press until 1565, when a spurious edition was published under the title of "The Tragedie of Gorboduc." This piracy brought forth a legitimate copy in 1571, from the press of John Daye, which was now called "The Tragedie of Ferrex and Porrex;" but the nomenclature was again altered in a third edition printed for Edward Alde, in 1590, re-assuming its first and more popular denomination of "The Tragedie of Gorboduc."
The first and third editions inform us in their title-pages, that "three acts were written by Thomas Norton, and the two last by Thomas Sackville," a co-partnership which, but for this intimation, would not have been suspected, for the whole has the appearance, both in matter and style, of having issued from one and the same pen.
If the mechanism of this play, which Warton justly calls the "first genuine English Tragedy," approximate in the minor parts of its construction to a classical type, being regularly divided into acts and scenes, with a chorus of British sages closing every act save the last, yet does it evince, in many other respects, the infancy of dramatic art in this country. Every act is preceded by an elaborate Dumb Show, allegorically depicting the business of the immediately succceeding scenes, a resource, the crude nature of which sufficiently points out the stage of poetry that gave it birth. Nor is the conduct of the fable less inconsistent with the exterior formalities of the piece, the unities of time and place being openly violated, and the chronological detail of history, or rather of the fabulous annals of the age, closely followed. The plot, too, is sterile and uninteresting, and the passions are touched with a feeble and ineffective hand.
The great merit, indeed, of Gorboduc, is in its style and versification, in its moral and political wisdom, qualities which recommended it to the notice and encomium of Sir Philip Sidney, who tells us, that "Gorboduc is full of stately speeches, and well sounding phrases, climbing to the height of Seneca his style, and as full of notable morality, which it doth most delightfully teach."* Declamation and morality, however, are not the essentials of tragedy; the first, indeed, is a positive fault, and the second should only be the result of the struggle and collision of the passions. We must, therefore, limit the beneficial example of Sackville to purity and perspicuity of diction, to skill in the structure of his numbers, and to truth and dignity of sentiment. If to these virtues of composition, though occasionally encumbered by a too unbending rigidity of style, his contemporaries had paid due attention, we should have escaped that torrent of tumor and bombast which, shortly afterwards, inundated the dramatic world, and which continued
* Defence of Poesie, p. 561, 562.-Vide Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia, folio, 7th edit. 1629.
to disgrace the national taste during the whole period to which this chapter is confined.
2. EDWARDS, RICHARD. This poet, one of the gentlemen of Queen Elizabeth's chapel, and master of the children there, was the author of two plays, under the titles of "Damon and Pithias," and "Palamon and Arcite." The former of these was acted before the Queen, at court, in 1562, and first published in 1571, by Richard Jones, who terms it "The excellent comedie of two the moste faithfullest freendes Damon and Pithias ;" it is an early specimen of tragi-comedy, and written in rhyme, the inferior characters exhibiting a vein of coarse humour, and the more elevated, some touches of pathos, which the story, indeed, could scarcely fail to elicit, and some faint attempts at discrimination of character. The versification is singular, consisting generally of couplets of twelve syllables, but frequently intermixed with lines varying upwards from this number, even as far as eighteen. "Palamon and Arcite," which was considered as far surpassing his first drama, had the honour also of being performed before Elizabeth, at Christ-Church Hall, Oxford, in 1566; it is likewise termed a comedy, and is said to have gratified Her Majesty so highly, that, sending for the author, after the play was finished, she greatly commended his talents, thanked him for the entertainment which his muse had afforded her, and promised to befriend him more substantially hereafter, an intention, however, which was frustrated by the death of the poet during the course of that very year.
Edwards appears to have been very popular, and highly estimated as a writer. Puttenham has classed him with those who "deserve the highest price for comedy and interlude," and Thomas Twine calls him, in an epitaph on his death,
"The flowre of all our realme, And Phoenix of our age,"
assigning him immortality expressly on account of his dramatic productions.* 3. STILL, JOHN, a prelate to whom is ascribed, upon pretty good foundation, the first genuine comedy in our language. He was Master of Arts of Christ's College, Cambridge, at the period of producing "Gammer Gurton's Needle," and subsequently became rector of Hadleigh, in the county of Suffolk, archdeacon of Sudbury, master of St. John's and Trinity Colleges, and lastly bishop of Bath and Wells.
"Gammer Gurton's Needle," which, as we have already remarked, had been first acted in 1566, was committed to the press in 1575, under the following title:"A ryght pithy, pleasant, and merie Comedy, intytuled Gammer Gurton's Nedle; played on the stage not longe ago in Christes Colledge, in Cambridge. Made by Mr. S. master of art. Imprented at London in Fleetestreat, beneth the Conduit, at the signe of S. John Evangelest, by Thomas Colwell.”
The humour of this curious old drama, which is written in rhyme, is broad, familiar, and grotesque; the characters are sketched with a strong, though coarse, outline, and are to the last consistently supported. The language, and many of the incidents, are gross and indelicate; but these, and numerous allusions to obsolete customs, mark the manners of the times, when the most learned and polished of the land, the inmates of an University, could listen with delight to dialogue often tinctured with the lowest filth and abuse. It must be confessed, however, that this play, with all its faults, has an interest which many of its immediate, and more pretending successors, have failed to attain. It is evidently the production of a man of talents and observation, and the second act opens with a drinking song, valuable alike for its humour, and the ease and spirit of its versification.
4. GASCOIGNE, GEORGE. At the very period when Still produced his comedy
Chalmers's English Poets, vol. ii. Turberville's Poems, p. 620,