The Theatre In England - The Romantic Drama Of Shakespeare And His Successors (1590-1642)
( Originally Published 1902 )
1. LIFE OF SHAKESPEARE
IN 1557 a respectable merchant of Stratford-on-Avon, John Shakespeare by name, glover, tanner, and wool-merchant, married Mary Arden, daughter of a wealthy yeoman farmer at Wilmecote. The child of this union was William Shakespeare, the greatest dramatic poet England has produced, born April 23, 1564. Though the point is uncertain, it is generally supposed that the boy was sent at the age of seven to the Grammar School of Stratford, where during seven years he learned all that was then taught in such foundations—literature and history, Greek, and, above all, Latin. Shakespeare's Latin studies (in particular the Metamorphoses of Ovid) were destined to be of peculiar utility to him later on, in the translation of French and Latin works, by which he was frequently inspired in the composition of his plays. Mr. Sidney Lee, in his recent study on the great poet, has attacked the theory of Shakespeare's ignorance of foreign languages, and holds that many of the works put under contribution for the plots of dramas were never translated into English. Sidney Lee, moreover, remarks with justice that ' a boy with Shakespeare's exceptional alertness of intellect, during whose school-days a training in Latin classics lay within reach, could hardly lack in future years all means of access to the literature of France and Italy.'
The holidays of each year were spent by William Shakespeare with his uncle, who owned the property at Snitterfield (an hour and a half on foot from Stratford), where his father had been born. Often, too, he stayed at the neighbouring farms with friends or relations of the family ; and it was in these rural visits, sharing the outdoor life of the occupants, and mixing in the games of their children, that Will Shakespeare drank in his ardent love of nature, and the profound knowledge of country life, with which his plays are saturated. Owing to his father's circumstances he was taken away from school at the age of fourteen, and never had the university education which in those days was an almost indispensable complement to the training of a man of the world.From fourteen to eighteen Shakespeare stayed with his father, and doubtless helped him with his business. In 1582 (when not yet nineteen) he espoused Anne Hathaway, his senior by seven years. Their first child was born in May 1583. Up to the age of twenty-two Shakespeare lived in his father's house with his wife, and two more, twin, children, were born to him. In the same year, 1585, he left Stratford, after the well-known poaching episode, but it may be questioned whether he at once sought an asylum in London. According to Sidney Lee, it seems possible that he was for a time school-master in a neighbouring village, though it was not long before he drifted to London.
On his arrival in London he had perforce to take up the first occupation that offered itself. At this date it was customary for men of fashion to resort to the theatre on horseback. Those who had no servant were obliged to entrust their mounts to some one during the performance. Shakespeare presumably fulfilled this office at the door of the theatre of James Burbage, near Smithfield, and acquitted himself so honourably that he obtained a great reputation in the business. His clients increased so much that he was obliged to take in help. These grooms were known as ' Shakespeare's boys,' and retained the name, after the departure of their first master, as long as the custom lasted of going on horseback to the theatre.' Shakespeare was doubtless noticed by Burbage, who gave him employment inside the theatre. Malone re-cords a stage tradition that ' his first office in the theatre was that of prompter's attendant,' or call-boy. His promotion, in any case, was rapid, as it is certain that by 1593 Shakespeare was himself a professed actor. In the records of the Lord Chamberlain's company there is express mention of his name on the occasion of the two performances given at Christmas of this year before Queen Elizabeth. Still, it is probable that the great poet made his first appearance long before this at the Theatre and the Curtain, both playhouses situated in the parish of Shoreditch, some half-mile from the city walls. When, in 1592, the Lord Chamberlain's company (then known as Lord Strange's men) opened a second theatre----The Rose, in Southwark—Shakespeare was already recognised as actor and author. In 1594 he appeared on the stage of a theatre newly built at Newington Butts. Between 1595 and 1599 we find him again at the Theatre and the Curtain. It was at this time (in 1596) that he lost his only son Hamnet at Stratford, at the age of ten. After King James's succession, in May 1603, the Lord Chamberlain's company was promoted to be the King's players. There is documentary evidence that at this epoch Shakespeare was one of its leaders. His colleagues at that time were Richard Burbage (the director, and the greatest tragic actor of the day), John Heming, Henry Condell, and Augustine Phillips, who were all his best and lifelong friends. With the exception of Titus Andronicus, and the Third Part of Henry VI., which was performed by other companies, Richard Burbage's troop gave the initial representations of all the plays of Shakespeare.
In 1599, the Theatre was demolished, and the Globe was constructed from its materials, and was henceforth considered the best theatre of London ; and here Shakespeare acted till 1609. In this same year he appeared with the other members of his company on the stage at Blackfriars. It can be shown that he took part in the first performance of Sejanus, by Ben Jonson, in 1603 ; but there our knowledge of his career as actor closes. It is supposed that during the few remaining years Shakespeare devoted himself entirely to his occupation of dramatic author, while keeping up his connection with the theatre, of which he was probably a shareholder.
In Shakespeare's time the companies of actors spent the whole of the summer outside London. Between 1594 and 1614 Burbage's players gave performances at Bath, Bristol, Coventry, Dover, and Oxford. The provinces thus had more than one opportunity of applauding the great poet-actor, but in what part we do not know. We have said that Shakespeare played in the Sejanus of Ben Jonson: his name also appears in the cast of Jonson's comedy, Every Man in his Humour. Rowe affirms that it was as 'the Ghost in his own hamlet' that Shakespeare showed the top of his performance.' A younger brother of the poet, who often came to London to see him act in his own plays, recalled in old age his performance of Adam in As You Like It. Chettle wrote, in 1592, that Shakespeare was an excellent' actor.
Shakespeare did not finally return to his native town till 1612 ; but during the latter days of his stay in London he paid frequent visits to Stratford.
In June 1607 he was present at the marriage of his elder daughter Susanna with Mr. John Hall, a physician of that place. In 1612 the poet was able to realise the dream of his life, and retired to Stratford, to enjoy in that quiet retreat the little fortune amassed by his labours. He was then forty-eight. In 1616 his daughter Judith married a Stratford wine-merchant, Thomas Quiney. In the month of April of the same year he received a visit from his friend Ben Jonson, and shortly after his departure was taken with the malignant fever which carried him off after three days' illness, on April 23, 1616. He was buried in the church at Stratford. Shakespeare bequeathed all his property to his elder daughter Susanna (Mrs. Hall), with legacies to his younger daughter, Judith Quiney, to his sister, and to several actors, his former colleagues. His wife only received her legal portion. She died some years later (in 1623), being sixty-three years of age.
Gilbert, Shakespeare's brother, who was not mentioned in the poet's will, seems to have been living in 1660. The younger daughter, Judith Quiney, had three sons, one of whom died in infancy, the others soon after their arrival at manhood. His elder daughter, Susanna Hall, had one girl, who married firstly Mr. Thomas Nash, of Stratford (died 1647), and secondly, Sir John Barnard, a gentleman of wealth and position in the county of Northampton. Leaving no issue by either husband, the lineal descent from the poet terminated at her death, in the year 1670.
2. DIFFERENT PHASES OF THE POET'S DRAMATIC CAREER
The literary career of Shakespeare may be divided into three very distinct phases.
The first, between 1586 and 1593, is a period of groping, an apprenticeship in which the poet levied contribution on the works of his predecessors, and revealed a marvellous talent of adaptation. From this period date The Comedy of Errors, Love's Labour's Lost, Henry VI. (First Part), Titus Andronicus, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and doubtless The Old Tragedy of Hamlet, which were merely retouched by the poet.
The second phase is characterised by greater originality. The poet, conscious of his strength, delivers himself over to the elemental inspirations of his genius, thirsting for creative freedom, and the new plays are hardly in anything mechanical. To this second period, which extends from 1593 to 1599, belong King John, Richard II., Richard III., Romeo and Juliet, Henry VI. (Second Part), Henry VI. (Third Part), All's Well That Ends Well, Henry IV. (First Part), Henry IV. (Second Part), The Merry Wives of Windsor, Henry V., The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado about Nothing, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Taming of the Shrew.
The third phase is essentially the period of reflection. The genius of Shakespeare attains its full maturity, and in form as well as thought exhibits a degree of absolute perfection. It was between 1599 and 1612 that he composed As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Othello, Measure for Measure, King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra, Timon of Athens, Pericles, Coriolanus, Troilus and Cressida, The Winter's Tale, The Tempest, Macbeth, Cymbeline, Henry VIII.
3. SHAKESPEARE'S PLAYS AND THEIR VARIOUS SOURCES
FIRST PHASE, 1586 to 1593:
(1) The Comedy of Errors.—The celebrated dramatic critic Collier has fixed the date of the composition of this play in the year 1589. The subject seems to have been taken from the History of Errors, a play said to have been acted in 1577, and taken from the Menaechmi of Plautus.
(2) Love's Labour's Lost.—Another of Shakespeare's early comedies, doubtless composed before 1590. The sources of this play are unknown. In any case it must indirectly have been inspired by Italian Comedy.
(3) Henry VI. (First Part).—Played March 31, 1592, by Lord Strange's men at the Rose. Here Shakespeare merely retouched the work of an earlier author, and there are only two or three passages, such as the rose scene in the Temple Gardens and the speech of the dying Mortimer, which bear the imprint of his style.
(4) Titus Andronicus.—This tragedy was probably written before 1594. Sidney Lee suggests that Kyd may have collaborated in this work. It i Life of William Shakespeare, p. 65.
was inspired by a piece called Titus and Vespasian, played by Lord Strange's men, April 11, 1592. Shakespeare's tragedy was acted by the Earl of Sussex's men, January 23, 1594.
(5) Two Gentlemen of Verona.—The time at which this piece was written and acted is uncertain ; it is however believed to date from the first period. It may have been suggested by Parabasco's Italian comedy, Il Viluppo.
SECOND PHASE, 1593 to 1599:-
(1) King John.—The principal source of this drama, composed towards 1593, is The Troublesome Raigne of King John, an anonymous work that appeared in 1591.
(2) Richard II.—This tragedy is also supposed to have been written about 1593, and to have been taken from the Historical Chronicles of Holinshed and Hall.
(3) Richard III.—Shakespeare composed this historical drama also towards 1593. The facts are taken from the Chronicles of England, Scotlana, and Ireland, published in 1577 by Holinshed, and possibly also from another historical work, Union of the two noble illustrious Families of Lancaster and York, by Hall, completed by Grafton.
(4) Romeo and Juliet.—Played for the first time at the Curtain in London, between July 1596 and April 1597, this tragedy was published in the latter year. For its composition Shakespeare found inspiration (i) in a poem by Arthur Brooke, The Tragical History of Romeo and Juliet, which appeared in 1562 ; (ii) in the novels of the Italian Bandello, translated into French by Belleforest under the title Histoires Tragiques, and from French into English by Paynter in the Palace of Pleasure. Shakespeare also drew upon The History of Mariotto and Giannozza, by the Italian novelist Massuccio, the heir to Boccaccio's style. The passage referring to the use of the sleeping potion to produce ` a cold and drowsy humour ' was taken from this book.
(5) Henry VI. (Second Part).--This play is only an adaptation by Shakespeare of a drama, by an unknown author, which appeared in 1594 under the title of The First Part of Contention between the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster. It is thought to have been performed in 1595.
(6) Henry VI. (Third Part).--In this, as in the preceding tragedy, Shakespeare had only the rôle of corrector. This third part is certainly a variant of the piece, The True Tragedy of Richard, Duke of York, the work of an anonymous writer which appeared in 1595. The third part of Henry VI. was probably played in the following year, but this is mere conjecture.
(7) All's Well That Ends Well.—Shakespeare took the title of this play from Paynter's Palace of Pleasure, the original source again being the Decamerone of Boccaccio. Judging from probabilities, the play was written in 1595.
(8) Henry IV. (First Part). (9) Henry IV. (Second Part).—These two tragedies were composed about 1597. Shakespeare took his subject from the Historical Chronicles of Holinshed. The two plays were probably acted before Queen Elizabeth in the Christmas holidays, 1597-98.
(10) The Merry Wives of Windsor.—This comedy is believed to have been written, at Queen Elizabeth's wish, between the two dramas of Henry IV. and Henry V, that is, in 1599. The subject must have been taken from the English romance, Newes out of Purgatorie, by Tarlton, itself inspired by one of Straparola's Notte piacevoli. Not only the incidents, but even the expressions, are identical.
(11) Henry V—This tragedy is in direct connection with the two previous dramas, and comes from the same sources. It was composed about 1599.
(12) The Merchant of Venice.—Shakespeare took the subject of this play from Il Pecorone, a collection of Italian tales by Ser Giovanni Fiorentino, a work printed in Italian, 1558. Shylock was more-over suggested by Barabas, in Marlowe's Jew of Malta. The Merchant of Venice was published in 1600.
(13) Much Ado about Nothing.—The plot of this comedy, written in 1598, is borrowed from Bandello, who drew his own inspiration from Ariosto's Orlando Furioso.
(14) A Midsummer Night's Dream.—This play was printed in 1600. Its various parts had various sources : (i) The story of the magic potion may have been found in the Diana of Montemayor. (ii) The entire machinery of Oberon and his Fairy Court was in all probability taken by Shakespeare from Greene's Scottish History of James V. (1590). The idea of Oberon, King of the Fairies, is for the rest of French extraction, from the old popular romance, Huon de Bordeaux, translated into English by Lord Berners, in 1579. (iiii) The story of Pyramus and Thisbe was probably derived from Ovid's Metamorphoses, done into English by Golding, 1567. (iv) The well-known passage, `the little western flower,' Scene 2, Act ii., is no doubt an allusion to the unhappy passion of Leicester for Queen Elizabeth.
(15) The Taming of the Shrew.—The notion of this comedy was borrowed from an earlier play, printed in 1594, A Pleasant Conceited Historie called the Taming of a Shrew. The original sources of the two plays are : (i) a French work, Goulart's Trésor d'histoires admirables et mer-veilleuses de notre temps. This author certainly derived his story from the De rebus burgundicis of Heuterus. Some critics, indeed, trace it back to the Arabian Nights. (ii) The principal action of the comedy was suggested to Shakespeare by the Notte piacevoli of Straparola, published in Venice 1550, and by two early Spanish romances, taken from El Conde Lucanor, by Don Juan Manuel, published 1643. (iii) The episode of Bianca and Lucentio is taken directly from the fourth and fifth acts of Ariosto's Gil Suppasiti, translated by Gascoigne as The Supposes.
THIRD PHASE, 1599 to 1612 :
(1) As You Like It.—Written towards 1599 or 1600, this comedy is an adaptation of Lodge's romance, Rosalynde, Euphues' Golden Legacie (1590). The scene of Orlando's encounter with Charles the Wrestler was inspired by Saviolo's Practise, a manual of the art of self-defence, which appeared in 1595, from the pen of Vincentio Saviolo, an Italian fencing-master in the service of the Earl of Essex. This comedy bears a strong resemblance to a pastoral drama.
(2) Twelfth Night.—This comedy also was most likely composed in 1600. It was acted at the Middle Temple Hall, February 2, 1601. Shakespeare found the subject in the Historie of Apollonius and Silla, which is in Barnabe Riche's Farewell to Militarie Profession (1581). The author of this work himself drew on Belleforest's Histoires Tragiques, the French translation of Bandello's novels.
(3) Hamlet.—This tragedy was represented at the Globe Theatre in London, in the spring of 1602, by the Lord Chamberlain's company. The part of Hamlet was taken by the celebrated Burbage, who made it his most remarkable creation. Shakespeare himself played the Ghost.
In June 1594 the Lord Chamberlain's company (doubtless including Shakespeare) had acted an anonymous ` tragedy of Hamlet' at the theatre of Newington Butts. This play, as touched up by Shakespeare, was certainly performed in 1602, but the tragedy as we know it would seem to be a second version, given by Shakespeare in 1603. The early play of Hamlet has been attributed by some to Thomas Kyd. His Spanish Tragedy recalls the ` tragedy of Hamlet' in many particulars. Be this as it may, the anonymous author has taken his play from an English work, The History of Hamlet, which is again a version of the Histoires Tragiques of Belleforest. This last author found his subject in the Historica Danica of Saxo-Grammaticus, who lived in Denmark at the end of the twelfth century.
(4) Julius Caesar.—To judge from probabilities, this tragedy was acted in 1603. The subject was taken from North's translation of Plutarch's Lives of Caesar, Brutus, and Antonius.
(5) Othello.—This play is mentioned for the first time on the occasion of its performance on November i of that year, by the King's players, Shakespeare himself included, before James i. at Whitehall. Othello was inspired by Cinthio's Italian novels, the Hecatommithi, of which a translation into French had been made by Chappuys, in 1584.
(6) Measure for Measure.—T his play was written in the same year as Othello, in 1604, and was performed on December 26 before James i. at White-hall. As in the preceding work, Shakespeare was inspired by Cinthio's Hecatommithi'.
(7) King Lear.—The tragedy of King Lear, played for the first time on December 26, 1606, achieved a considerable success. This story was founded on The True Chronicle History of King Leir and his three daughters. The author of this last work took his subject from the chronicles of Holinshed, who again followed the chronicles of Geoffrey of Monmouth, and he no doubt took the. story from an ancient Gallic chronicle of the seventh century, the work of Bishop Tyrsilios, or perhaps from the Gesta Romanorum.
(8) Antony and Cleopatra.—This play was acted at the Globe in 1608, that is, in the same year as Pericles, but with much less success. Here again the idea was taken from North's Plutarch's Lives. Dryden made an adaptation of Antony and Cleopatra, under the title of All for Love.
(9) Timon of Athens.—Undoubtedly an old play worked up by Shakespeare, and founded on the novel, Of the strange and beastly nature of Timon of Athens, enemy to mankind, with his death, burial and epitaph, in Paynter's Palace of Pleasure, published 1566. The author of the original tragedy derived his inspiration from the Dialogues of Lucian.
(10) Pericles.—Played at the Globe in 1608. The subject was taken from Laurence Twine's Patterne of Painefull Adventures, 1607. Twine himself only reprinted the story of Apollonius of Tyre, a very popular subject in the Middle Ages, taken originally from the Gesta Romanorum. Certain modern critics pretend that Shakespeare merely worked up an old play by George Wilkins, called The Miseries of Inforst Marriage, a piece which has much in common with Shakespeare's play.
(11) Coviolanus.—This tragedy, composed to-wards 1610, was taken directly from North's translation of Plutarch's Lives.
(12) Troïlus and Cressida.—Represented for the first time in r 609. Shakespeare took this play from a volume called Recuyell of Me Historyes of Troye, translated and drawee out of frenshe into englishe by W. Caxton, 1471. This work, again, was a translation of the Recueil des Histoires de Troyes, by the French writer, Raoul le Fèvre, which appeared in 1463 or 1464. The loves of Troïlus and Cressida were taken by Shakespeare from the Tales of Chaucer. Dryden gave a version of this play, under the title Truth Found Too Late.
(13) The Winter's Tale.—This play was per-formed at the Globe, May 15, 1611. Greene's romance, Pandosto, the Triumph of Time, appeared in 1588, and doubtless provided Shakespeare with his subject.
(14) The Tempest. —Given at Whitehall on November 1, 1611, before James 1., and later on at the Blackfriars Theatre. This tragedy was probably suggested to Shakespeare by the German play, the Comedia von der schonen Sidea, by Jacob Ayrer, which appeared in 1604. This play might have been described to Shakespeare by the English actors on their return from Germany, whither they had gone to see this piece. There are in The Tempest certain peculiarities which recall the Orlando Furioso as translated by Harrington in 1591. Many passages in Shakespeare's drama resemble the Discovery of the Bermudas, otherwise called the Isle of Divils, published in 1610 by Silvester Jourdan. The expedition was organized in 1608 by the Earls of Southampton and Pembroke. Other passages were doubtless inspired by the perusal of a work by Thomas Strachey, secretary to the Council of Virginia, entitled A True Repertory of the wracke and redemption of Sir Th. Gates, Knight, upon, and from the Islands of the Bermudas. This work appeared in 1612. Shakespeare's drama suggested to Beaumont and Fletcher the idea of their play, The Sea-Voyage.
(15) Macbeth.—Played at the Globe in 1611. Shakespeare took this plot from the Chronicles of Holinshed, who found the story of Macbeth in the Latin work, Scotorum Historiae, of Hector Boece, translated into English by Bellenden, 1526. Shakespeare's play was reviewed and enlarged by D'Avenant in 1674. Schiller gave another version of it in 1804.
(16) Cymbeline.—This play was acted in 1610 or 1611. The names of Cymbeline and his two sons, as well as some of the historical events in which the King takes part, were derived from Holinshed, and indirectly from Geoffrey of Mon-mouth. Shakespeare was further inspired by Boccaccio's Decamerone (in particular by the ninth tale of the second day), for the history of Ginevra, which provided him with several situations, including the story of Imogen.
(17) Henry VIII.—The majority of English critics affirm that Fletcher collaborated in this tragedy, which was performed in 1613. Henry VIII. is founded on the Chronicles of Holinshed and Hall. The episode relating to Cranmer appears to have been taken from Foxe's Book of Martyrs, written in 1563.
4. PLAYS ATTRIBUTED, WHOLLY OR IN PART, TO SHAKESPEARE
Arden of Feversham (printed 1592).-This play is the dramatic version of a horrible story narrated by Holinshed in the Chronicles, which tells of the murder of a Kentish gentleman of the name of Arden by his wife, her paramour, and some ruffians. The general opinion is that Shakespeare merely touched up the play.
The Raigne of King Edward III. (printed 1596).-The two first acts of this play were inspired by Paynter's Palace of Pleasure. The last three are taken from Holinshed and Froissart. The great defect of the play is the absence of harmony in its different parts, from which several critics have concluded that Shakespeare had no hand in its composition. Yet we can hardly doubt that the two first acts were his original work, for it is difficult to doubt the authenticity of the admirable passages they contain.
A Yorkshire Tragedy (played at the Globe in 1608).-This is the dramatisation of a horrible tale of murder committed in 1604, and related at length in Stow's Chronicles. The play may have been written by Thomas Heywood. Shakespeare, no doubt, contented himself with the alteration of some few passages when he produced the play at his own theatre, the Globe.
The Two Noble Kinsmen (printed 1634).-This play, written almost entirely by Fletcher, is the adaptation of an old tragedy, Palamon and Areyte, which appeared in 1594, and contained some touches by the hand of Shakespeare, which were respected by Fletcher.
5. INTERPRETATIONS OF SHAKESPEARE'S PLAYS IN ENGLAND, BETWEEN 1660 AND 1900, BY THE MOST CELEBRATED ENGLISH AND AMERICAN ACTORS.
The enforced closing of the theatres during the civil wars, and under Crômwell's protectorate, brought oblivion on the Shakespearean Drama during a period of fifteen years. After the Restoration, from 1660, his plays were reproduced upon the stage ; and Pepys tells us that, between October 11, 1660, and February 6, 1669, he was present at representations of a dozen plays of Shakespeare. Between 1670 and 1692 several dramatists unhappily bethought them of making adaptations of some of the plays of the great poet, Dryden and Thomas Otway being among the Vandals. Throughout that period, however, the eminent tragedian, Thomas Betterton, maintained the popularity of the original conceptions of Shakespeare.
During the second part of the eighteenth century the principal interpreters of the Shakespearean Drama were Charles Macklin and Robert Wilks. Between 1741 and 1779 the incomparable acting of Garrick (who never had an equal in Shakespearean repertory) gave an unheard-of popularity to the plays, more particularly to Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear. The great actor was ably seconded, moreover, in his task by the famous Mrs. Cibber and Mrs. Pritchard.
Owing to the genius of John Philip Kemble and his greater sister, Mrs. Siddons (both brought up in the school of Garrick), the plays of Shakespeare obtained a considerable vogue between 1783 and 1816. It was, moreover, in this period that another famous actress, Mrs. Davenport, began her brilliant illustrations of the Shakespearean Drama.
Shakespeare's popularity at the theatre increased still more during the reign of Edmund Kean, who between 1814 and 1833 gave triumphant renderings of The Merchant of Venice, King Richard III., Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, King John, King Henry IV:, King Lear, King Henry VI, Coriolanus.
The period between 1836 and 1851 marked another brilliant phase of the Shakespearean Drama in the nineteenth century, for it was then that Macready undertook, not merely to illustrate the plays with his remarkable genius, but also to purge them from the alterations and interpolations introduced by various actors and actresses since the Restoration. Accordingly he gave striking revivals of Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, Coriolanus, The Tempest, The Winter's Tale, Antony and Cleopatra, Henry IV., Henry VI, King Lear, As You Like It, Much Ado about Nothing, King John, Richard III,, The Merchant of Venice.
Between 1851 and 1859 another actor of genius, Charles Kean, a rival of Macready, gave sensational renderings of Twelfth Night, The Merry Wives of Windsor, King John, Macbeth, King Richard III., Henry VIII., Richard II., The Merchant of Venice, Henry V., Much Ado about Nothing, Hamlet, and The Tempest. From this period, too, date the first successes in London of Miss Helen Faucit, the great tragic actress.
The year 1827 occupied an important place in the annals of the London stage, for it witnessed the first essays of an American actor in the Shakespearean repertory. This was James Hackett, who interpreted the part of Richard III. with great talent, and some years later made the same success with Falstaff in Henry IV., finally establishing his reputation as a great comedian in the Falstaff of The Merry Wives of Windsor. Another American actor, Edwin Forrest, encouraged by the success of his compatriot, ventured into Shakespearean Tragedy, and won his laurels as Richard, Othello, and Hamlet.' Unhappily, his jealousy and ill-feeling towards Macready damaged his reputation.
From 185o there was an outburst of Puritanism, which relegated the plays of Shakespeare, as an illicit pleasure, to the suburban theatre of Sadler's Wells. This little Islington playhouse became, between 1844 and 1862, under the actor-manager Phelps, the authorised sanctuary of Elizabethan Drama, as well as a school for actors. The most sensational revivals of Phelps were Antony and Cleopatra in 1849 (this play had not been acted for two centuries), and Love's Labour's Lost in 1857. Phelps's management of the theatre at Sadler's Wells came to an end in 1862, and in his farewell discourse the worthy actor stated that the aim of his life had been to reproduce the entire repertory of Shakespeare. He had actually mounted thirty-two of the plays of the great poet, and had devoted some 3500 evenings to their performance at Sadler's Wells. Meantime, some remarkable performances of Helen Faucit (now the wife of Sir Theodore Martin) had brought back to the fashionable stage of London Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and As You Like It.
To the Americans, however, belongs the great merit of having preserved the vitality of the Shakespearean Drama, when to all appearance, between 185o and 1875, it was erased from the polite stages of the capital. Miss Charlotte Cushman, whose voice, manners, walk, and even profile curiously recalled the personality of Mac-ready, was admirably aided by her masculine temperament in playing Romeo, and thus in 1855 she secured a temporary triumph for this play. Her compatriots—MacKean, Buchanan, James Murdoch, J. B. Roberts, Edwin Booth, and the young Batemans-gave revivals on the stage, between 1855 and 1875, of Macbeth, Othello, Richard III., King Lear, The Merchant of Venice.
Special mention must also be made of the American Colonel Bateman, who was manager of the Lyceum between 1871 and 1878. To this clever manager London owes the reproduction of Shakespeare's finest works, while a still greater claim to our gratitude lies in the fact that he discovered and launched the famous tragedian, Sir Henry Irving. Another foreign actor, a Frenchman, Pechter, who was popular for a long time in Paris, in La Dame aux Camélias of Alexandre Dumas, contributed no less to the revival of Shakespeare in London. Notwithstanding his foreign accent, he succeeded in Macbeth, in Othello, and still more in Hamlet, at the Princess and the Lyceum. Yet, notwithstanding these flashes of popularity, the Romantic Drama was practically bankrupt, and it is Henry Irving who claims the signal honour of having, in 1874, achieved the final resurrection of Shakespearean Tragedy. On October 31 of that year he appeared for the first time as Hamlet, with such success that the house was filled for two hundred consecutive nights. The popularity of the great actor has gone on increasing ever since. After winning applause in Macbeth, Othello, and Richard III., he undertook the management (in 1878) of the Lyceum Theatre, and, in addition to the foregoing, revived with success The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado about Nothing, Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar, and Henry VIII, a tragedy in which he made his greatest success as Cardinal Wolsey. Between-whiles the great American actor, Edwin Booth, excited the admiration of London, in 1880, by his fine interpretations of Hamlet, King Lear, and Othello. The night of May 31, 1881, was famous in the annals of the English stage, for Sir Henry Irving generously came forward as Iago, alongside of the other's Othello. Miss Genevieve Ward, a compatriot of Booth, achieved some considerable success in the part of Lady Macbeth, which she acted frequently after 1873. Lastly, since 1888, Ada Rehan and the Daly Company have given successful performances of The Taming of the Shrew and As You Like It.
Along with Sir Henry Irving and the distinguished artist Miss Ellen Terry, England possesses other actors of great merit (Forbes-Robertson, Beerbohm-Tree, Wilson-Barrett, as well as Benson and his company), who have earned applause in all the principal plays of Shakespeare, and still contribute to the popularity of the Romantic Drama on the boards of the London theatres.
Early translations—Eighteenth century—Shakespearean Drama on the principal Parisian stages—Nineteenth century, 1829 to 1884; 1884 to 1900-English actors and the Shakespearean repertory in Paris : in 1822 ; in 1827 and 1828 ; in 1844 and 1845 ; in 1867—Shakespeare criticised by Coleridge and by Saint-Marc-Girardin and Charles Nodier.
Cyrano de Bergerac (died 1655) was the first writer who studied the works of Shakespeare ; it has even been suggested that he was inspired by Cymbeline, Hamlet, and The Merchant of Venice in the composition of his tragedy Agrippine. In the following century the Abbé Prévost (died 1769) confessed in his review, Le Pour et le Contre, that the works of Shakespeare were not wanting in power. But it was Voltaire who first made any profound study of the great poet, after his visit to England, between 1726 and 1729. He expressed his admiration for Shakespeare's genius, even while he condemned his want of taste and of artistic sense. He described him as `the Corneille of London, a great fool, but with superb moments.' Voltaire was inspired by the works of Shakespeare in some of his plays. His tragedy of Brutus contains many reminiscences of Julius Caesar. His Eryphile (1732) was suggested by Hamlet ; Zaïre is essentially an echo of Othello.
At the end of the eighteenth century Ducis gave to the French stage, under the name of translation, the tragedies of Hamlet, Romeo et Juliette, Macbeth, and Othello, abbreviated according to the classical rules,' and in reality no more than gross perversions of the original plays. Hamlet was acted in 1769 with great success, and Othello, played in 1792 at the Comédie-Française, was received with enthusiasm.
Between 1776 and 1782 Pierre Letourneur gave himself up entirely to the prose translation of Shakespeare's works, a task in which he acquitted himself somewhat badly. Nevertheless, he ventured to assert that ` Shakespeare was the god of the theatre,' an utterance which called forth indignant protests from Voltaire.
During the first part of the nineteenth century Guizot, Villemain, and Barante made an active propaganda in favour of the great English poet, whose genius and incomparable powers they proclaimed.
There were also some happy attempts at translation, including those of M. Francisque Michel, in 1839. But the most remarkable are those of M. François Victor Hugo, the son of the great poet, who translated Shakespeare's plays between 1859 and 1866. Shakespeare, ses oeuvres, et ses critiques, by M. Alfred Mézières, is also a most interesting study.
During the last century several of Shakespeare's plays were specially translated or adapted for some of the great Parisian theatres. The first adaptation was that of Othello, by Alfred de Vigny, who, on October 24, 1829, presented at the Comédie-Française a version of the English tragedy, modified to the exigencies of the classic `rules,' the success of which was considerable. MM. Paul Meurice and Alexandre Dumas also arranged a Hamlet, but unfortunately they entirely altered the ending. This play was given for the first time in 1847, at the historic theatre of Alexandre Dumas.
The great novelist, George Sand, gave to the Comédie-Française in 1856 a translation of As You Like It, which was favourably received. In 1863 an excellent translation in verse of Macbeth was made by M. Lacroix, and performed successfully at the Odéon. The same theatre produced, in the month of April 1882, an Othello translated by M. Louis de Gramont, which is not devoid of value. On May 21, 1884 the Porte Saint-Martin gave the first and highly sensational representation of Macbeth, translated by the poet Richepin, in which Mme. Sarah Bernhardt received much applause in the part of Lady Macbeth.
In the same year M. Lacroix's Macbeth was revived at the Odéon. In 1886 the Hamlet of MM, Paul Meurice and Alexandre Dumas was included in the repertory of the Comédie-Française, and the part of Hamlet was colossally rendered by M. Mounet-Sully, who made it one of his finest creations. The success of this fine tragedy has gone on increasing, until now it is one of the plays most appreciated by the frequenters of these superb performances.
In 1886, too, a new adaptation of Hamlet was brought out by MM. Cressonnois and C. Samson, and acted at the Porte Saint-Martin theatre. Mme. Sarah Bernhardt took the part of Ophelia.
In December 1889 the Odéon gave, under the title of Shylock, an adaptation of The Merchant of Venice, by M. Haraucourt.
The Comédie-Française, for the first time on November 19, 1891, gave a performance of La Mégère apprivoisée (The Taming of the Shrew), an adaptation in verse by M. Delair, of which the success was and is enormous. The great French theatre produced in the same year Beaucoup de bruit pour rien (Much Ado about Nothing), translated by M. Legendre.
On December 10, 1898 Mesure pour Mesure (Measure for Measure) was played at the Théâtre de l'Oeuvre. In this performance the scenery and staging were according to the directions given by the Elizabethan Stage Society in London, which religiously follows the Shakespearean tradition.
A new adaptation of Othello has recently been given by the poet Jean Aicard, and played with success at the Comédie-Française in the month of March 1899. The interpretation of the principal part is again one of the finest creations of Mounet-Sully.
Between May 25 and 31, 1899, six performances of another Othello, this time an integral and literal translation by M. Louis Ménard, were given at the Théâtre Libre.
In conclusion, the climax of the Shakespearean repertory in Paris was (in 1899) the representation at the Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt of La Tragique Histoire d'Hamlet, Prince de Danemark. The great tragedian reserved for herself the part of the young prince, and this original and happy creation is perhaps the most sensational dramatic event of her long theatrical career.
During the nineteenth century Shakespeare's plays were performed at different periods in Paris, in the original text, by English companies. The first series of these performances took place in the months of July and August, at the theatre of the Porte Saint-Martin. This experience was unfortunate. The actors were received with cries of Parlez français ! ' and by apostrophes such as À bas Shakespeare ! C'est un des aides de camps de Wellington.' In September 1827 Kemble and a brilliant company of actors (Abbott's company), which included the beautiful Miss Smithson, acted Hamlet. This performance excited the enthusiasm of Victor Hugo, as well as of Alexandre Dumas, and decided the future of the Romantic Drama in France.
On October 4 of the same year Abbott's company gave a series of performances in the Salle Favart, where Miss Smithson won great applause by her remarkable interpretations of Portia, Cordelia, Ophelia, and Desdemona. Charles x. and the Duchesse de Berry assisted at the last performance. The same company acted at Rouen, at Havre, at Orleans, and at Bordeaux. In the next year, 1828, the tragedian Macready played for the first time in France, at the Théâtre Italien, where in the month of April he gave a series of performances before the Duc d'Orléans and the Duchesse de Berry. Macbeth, for Miss Smithson as well as for Macready, was the occasion of an unprecedented success. The French public surnamed Macready the ` Talma of England.' Kean appeared in the following May on the stage of the Théâtre Italien. He took the parts of Richard I. and of Shylock, but with only moderate success. Macready returned in June of the same year, and appeared for two consecutive months in the Shakespearean plays, arousing greater enthusiasm every day from his audience. At the last performance of Othello they carried him off in triumph.
In 1844 Macready returned, accompanied by Miss Helen Faucit. The two great actors appeared on the stage of the Salle Ventadour and interpreted Othello, Hamlet, King Lear, and Romeo and Juliet with renewed success. Edouard Thierry the critic, in the literary journal called Le Messager, thus sums up the impression produced in Paris by this visit : ` The English artists have retained the tragic emphasis, as played by Lafond, as declaimed in the traditions of Talma. Macready himself at times preserves this pompous delivery, which he accentuates moreover in the English fashion, emphasising every syllable. Miss Faucit speaks simply, naturally ; the phrases flow limpidly from her lips, and escape by a single utterance, as in our French recitation.' In 1845 Macready interpreted the part of Hamlet before King Louis-Philippe. In 1867 Sothern and an excellent company, which included the young Henry Irving, went over to Paris to give some performances of Shakespearean Drama, but the attempt was a failure, and has not since been renewed.
Although we have made it a rule not to trespass on the province of criticism proper, we cannot conclude this chapter on Shakespeare without giving some general appreciation of his works, and feel that we cannot err in following the lines of the great poet Coleridge, who, better perhaps than any other, has seized on the thought of the great genius.
` The characteristic of Shakespeare's genius,' says Coleridge, ` is that he keeps readers and spectators in a state of constant expectation, which replaces the vulgar sentiment of surprise that is usually evoked under similar conditions. Shakespeare, instead of minutely analysing (like so many other dramatic writers) the passions and beliefs of man, has simply assured himself that such and such passions, such and such thoughts, have their point de départ in the habitual state of human nature, and not in the mere accidents of ignorance, or in any dissimilarity of temperament. If Shakespeare can be reproached with certain crudities of language, we must admit that he redeems these incorrections by an absolute conformity with the rules of upright conduct. He never glosses over things condemned by religion and reason, and with him our sensibilities are pain-fully affected in every case where they ought by the principles of moral law to be so influenced.' Along with Coleridge's verdict we may place that of the eminent French critic Saint-Marc-Girardin, who sums up his impressions of Shakespeare in these few lines : ` If Shakespeare is for all times, and within the reach of every man, it is because he is fundamentally human, true, and national ; it is because his greatness defies all comparison ; it is because his works contain pabulum for every mind and for every age, and are suited to charm the light hearts of the young as well as ripe and contemplative minds ; it is because they afford matter for amusement as well as for reflection, and with all this, are English to the backbone.'
We will close with some other lines detached from the Pensées de Shakespeare, extraites de ses ouvrages, by Charles Nodier. In the preliminary observations to this work, printed at Besançon in 1801, we find the following reflections : ' Shakespeare is a friend whom Heaven has given to the unhappy in all times and in all countries. The critic may glance askance at his productions, where they seem to err in regularity of form and in exact symmetry ; but his department has its limits, and only sensibility may legitimately judge genius. We may say of him, as was said of Richardson, " From Shakespeare's works we may take many maxims ; but from all the works of the philosophers one could not make one page of Shakespeare." I recommend those who do not know him to read him for themselves. To those who know him, I recommend a second reading.' Genius cannot be expressed in an extract. I know this, but I wished to communicate my admiration for Shakespeare. I questioned my powers, and am content to cast a flower on his tomb, being unworthy to raise a monument to his memory.
7. THE ELIZABETHAN DRAMA AND THE ENGLISH STAGE
The Theatre, the Curtain, and the early Tragedies—Performances in the time of Shakespeare—Playhouses in 1595—Newington Butts and Marlowe's tragedies—The Globe between 1593 and 1613: interior of the theatre—Different London theatres at the close of Elizabeth's reign : various idiosyncrasies—Staging—Costumes—Prices of admission—Theatrical libraries— Dramatic authors and theatrical managers—Adults in the principal female characters—Choristers as actors down to 1626, Shakespeare's company excepted—Dramatic companies in the reign of Elizabeth—Actors and the fashionable world of London—The public and the performances.
The establishment of permanent theatres in England, as well as official representations of the National Drama, dates from the year 1576. The actors, in order to avoid the supervision of the Lord Mayor and the City, constructed playhouses out-side the territory over which the jurisdiction of the latter extended, that is, in the quarters of Shore-ditch, of Blackfriars, and of Bankside, and these different stages were called the Theatre, the Curtain, and the Blackfriars Theatre. Halliwell-Phillipps gives some interesting details as to the Theatre and the Curtain, the history of these two being more particularly bound up with the personality of Shakespeare, in his double character of actor and dramatist. At that time the Theatre was `in the fieldes,' and several meadows had to be crossed in order to reach it from London. In the spring of 1597 the lease of twenty-one years granted to Burbage by Giles Allen for the estate on which stood the Theatre at Shoreditch came to an end. The owner refusing to allow the extension of ten years, as originally covenanted for, the Burbages determined to transport the materials of their theatre to Southwark, where it was rebuilt and opened to the public as the celebrated Globe Theatre, early in 1600.
The most interesting play performed on the stage of the old Theatre at Shoreditch had been The Play of Plays, an old Moral written in defence of the Drama, and acted in February 1581. The ` old Hamlet' was also represented there, along with Marlowe's Doctor Faustus.
The Curtain was situated in the same locality, and it was doubtless there that Ben Jonson made his entry as actor. It is almost certain that Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet was acted at this theatre at the close of 1596, or early in 1597. The Curtain had a very bad reputation. All kinds of pieces were performed there, especially second-rate ones. The Comedy of Errors and Kyd's Spanish Tragedy were, however, in all probability produced at the Curtain.
In Shakespeare's time the performances probably took place in the afternoon. The entrance to two of the theatres was only one penny : this, however, merely gave right of entrance to the pit, where every one had to stand. To get into the galleries cost another penny, and a comfortable seat required the outlay of a third. In these two theatres only the stage and the galleries were roofed over. At the Curtain the pit was certainly open to the weather, and such is supposed to have been the case at the Theatre also.
According to M. Bapst, it is to the German critics that we owe some other very interesting details about the English theatres at the end of the sixteenth century. A priest of Sainte-Marie d'Utrecht, jean de Witt, a celebrated German traveller, who died at Rome in 1622, left a very curious account of the London playhouses in 1595. ` There were then in England,' he says, ` four theatres of a rare beauty, which gave different performances every day. Of these the most remarkable is the Rose, built in 1591 ; next to it comes the Swan. Both are situated on the right bank of the Thames, that is in the country, in the midst of marshes, where there are few houses. The two others are on the road which passes the Bishop's Gate. They are more ancient than those of the right bank, and date from 1576 and 1577' (doubtless the Curtain and the Blackfriars theatres). ` Lastly, on the right bank, near the Swan, is the Bear-Garden, where frequent fights take place with bears and other animals.
The very detailed account of the Swan describes it as ` octagonal in shape, built of stone, while the others are wooden. The interior is open to the air, and circular, while all round the wall there are tiers of benches, as in the ancient theatre. The stage is raised four feet from the ground, and divided from the pit by a balustrade. At the back two large pillars support a balcony, which can be used as a back stage, to represent a theatre within a theatre, as in Hamlet ; a bedroom, as for Desdemona, in Othello ; and a real balcony for Romeo and Juliet. A curtain that can be drawn at will divides, as required, the front scene from the back scene, concealing it from the spectators in the playhouse. Behind the back scene is a door by which the actors enter and leave ; this door gives access by a stair to the room where the actors dress in the upper story. A square roof protects the stage from rain ; another very narrow circular roof, starting from the walls, covers the galleries or amphitheatres, which lean against it. These two roofs are made of thatch, or rushes, which abound on the banks of the Thames. The room in which the actors dress is lofty enough to dominate the entire ring, like the spire of a church ; from its windows there is an extensive view over the city and country. Here stand the trumpeters, whose notes sound forth the beginning of the play. A great banner, too, is run up as the signal of the opening of the piece. The Swan is able to contain three thousand spectators.
Newington Butts was the name of a house constructed for the service of archers and pleasure-makers. In this hall were given the two tragedies of Marlowe, Tamburlaine (in 1587) and The Jew of Malta (in 1588) ; as well as subsequently The Taming of the Shrew, and the ` old tragedy of Hamlet.
In 1593 Richard Burbage, the leader of the Lord Chamberlain's company, to which Shakespeare belonged, built the Globe Theatre on the right bank of the Thames, opposite the Tower. ` This theatre, the most fashionable at the end of the sixteenth century, was wholly of wood, painted red to imitate brick, and covered with a thatched roof, which covered the stage and projected for-wards. The playhouse was open to the weather ; it was a court in which stood the spectators, and surrounded by compartments or boxes. The Globe (the scene of Shakespeare's exploits) was the summer theatre, and used only for four or five months ; for, as the hall was open, evening performances were necessarily excluded. The winter plays took place at Blackfriars.
According to Hentzner, another famous German traveller, who came to London in 1600, `the collection of theatres agglomerated on the right bank looked in summer like a suburban fair. The Globe, the Swan, the Bear - Garden, and the Rose were resorted to by water, in preference to the long détour by the bridge. The Fortune in Golding Lane, which was also a first-class theatre, was built in 1599 by Henslowe and Alleyn, the leaders of the Lord Admiral's players, the rival company. In the pit of the Globe, where Shakespeare was manager, there was an immense stoup of thick English ale, from which every man could draw at will. The women in the boxes wore the traditional velvet mask to hide their face, and smoked pipes during the performance. The boxes contained stools, while there were no seats in the pit. The elegants brought their own stools, and sat not only at the side of the stage, but even behind the actors.
In 1613 the Globe was burned down, and re-constructed in the following year. This time the wood was replaced by plaster, and the thatch by slates. The stage was made of oak-beams, and there was a 'tiring-room behind, with windows, for the actors to rest in. Instead of a single row, there were three sets of boxes, superposed, surrounding the court, and holding the ordinary spectators. The whole building cost 880. In addition to the theatres on the right bank of the Thames, which was always the real dramatic quarter, there were by the end of Elizabeth's reign several theatres within the city : the Cock-Pit or Phoenix at Drury Lane ; the Red Bull in St. John Street ; the Fortune, Shakespeare's rival, between Whitecross Street and Golding Lane in St. Giles', Cripplegate. Out of the eleven theatres existing in London at the end of Queen Elizabeth's reign, two, the Globe and the Fortune, were served by the two great companies (of the Lord Chamberlain and the Lord Admiral) which were directly under the King's patronage, as well as by several smaller companies, whose different members dispersed themselves also in the other theatres. Of these theatres some were called public, others private. The private theatres, that is to say the Cock-Pit, the Salisbury Court, the Blackfriars Theatre, were, unlike the others, entirely roofed in, and could thus be used in winter. The stage was then illuminated with candles. These private theatres were smaller than the others, and the company was more select. The Globe, the Fortune, and the Red Bull were public, and as the house was open to weather, the theatrical season, on account of the fogs, lasted only for two or three months ; this, at any rate, was the case for the Globe. The use of torches was of course unknown. In these theatres, in winter as in summer, the performance took place in the middle of the day, in general from three to five o'clock. The theatres had each their own sign. Before the Fortune stood the statue of Dame Fortune. The sign of the Globe was a Hercules upholding the world. Boards were used to expound the action and title of the play. Those for tragedies were printed in large red letters.
Seen from a distance, these theatres looked like enormous towers, out-topping the trees and houses that surrounded them.
At the beginning of the seventeenth century, properties (like those of the French stage) were used to represent woods, buildings, and furniture. The hangings were mere rags, hung up by rings, on which were rudely painted landscapes, or some city in perspective. Following the ancient use of the Greek theatres, the back of the stage was hung with black drapery when a tragedy was to be performed.
It was not only on the stages of the theatres that stage-furniture was wanting ; the same was true of the Court when Masks were performed there. On the other hand, the costumes of the actors were rich, worth in some instances L20. The absence of perspective and of staging obliged the spectators to seek compensation in beauty of costume and charm of diction.
The prices of admission varied according to the importance of the theatre, the play, and its degree of longevity. In the public theatres the people stood in the court upon an entrance payment of threepence. In the private theatres there were benches for the people. The more affluent occupied boxes. Finally, persons of quality took their stools on to the stage, and sometimes established themselves there by main force. From this vantage-ground they criticised the actors loudly, smoking their pipes, and throwing orange-peel on to the spectators in the pit. Speaking generally, the prices ranged from threepence to half-a-crown.
In the time of Elizabeth, and the custom existed for a long time after, it was customary with the actors to fall on their knees at the close of the performance, and to ask from the Almighty health and happiness for their Most Gracious Queen. After this prayer a farce was played by the clown.
The library of a theatre was its most precious possession. Each company bought and kept with jealous care the manuscripts, which became its exclusive property from the moment when the author had obtained the right to have them printed.
At the outset there was no question of printing the plays ; but the authors gradually began to watch the publication of their works, which originally were worth sixpence a copy. Before 1600 the best plays were never paid more than £8 sterling by the managers of the theatres. It is known, for instance, that Greene's Historie of Orlando Furioso, which appeared in 1594, and was a translation from Ariosto, was paid only £9 sterling. Ben Jonson, however, sent up the prices, which henceforth were £Io. Often a needy author would borrow a little money upon his future pieces, and the manager in this way trafficked in money-lending, and even usury.
Sometimes the writers were taken on as yearly purveyors, and received so much on the receipts of the theatre. Generally several authors composed a play together, applying to their works the principle of the division of labour. Mediocre poets, or persons of quality who thirsted for popularity, would even pay the managers to get their comedies or dramas played in the theatres.
As was said above, the authors frequently combined this trade with that of manager and actor, as did Marlowe, Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Heywood, etc.
Women never appeared on the stage. Adults filled the parts of Lady Macbeth, Desdemona, and Juliet. For the more delicate women's parts, recourse was had to the services of young boys, who were remunerated in proportion to their beauty and distinction. When their voices began to break they were given ordinary parts.
At the outset of the Romantic ])rama the plays were executed entirely by boys. The choristers of the cathedrals, the ` children of the Queen's Chapel,' and the ` children of Windsor,' were at the same time actors, and played in the public theatres. This last item explains the action of the choristers of St. Paul's in wishing to obtain the monopoly in representing Sacred Drama. The ` children' of Queen Elizabeth's Chapel, called after 1603 the `children of Her Majesty's Revels,' played also at the theatre of Blackfriars, and had the monopoly of the best works of the time, including two or three plays of Ben Jonson. It was only in 1626 that the combination of actor and chorister was forbidden. The ` children of Blackfriars' were very popular, and their acting was even held superior to that of the other adult companies. Shakespeare's company per contra was entirely composed of men.
In the reign of Elizabeth there were admirable actors, and this perfection is due in great measure to the dramatic education which the players had received from childhood. They were habitually shareholders in the theatre to which they were attached, but along with them were actors at regular wages, who had no further interest in the affair. Children of ten often served an apprentice-ship, and the manager apportioned the result of their labour. The companies were well paid for the performances given at Court, or sometimes in the houses of great nobles. From time to time the companies travelled in the provinces, stopped at different places, or acted in the open air, or halls of the baronial castles.
At the beginning of the seventeenth century the actors set the tone of London society, and the young elegants endeavoured to copy comedians such as Burbage, Alleyn, and Tarlton ; nevertheless a certain discredit still attached to the trade of actor, and even of dramatic author.
The fast world formed the ordinary public of the theatrical representations. A respectable young girl could hardly venture to go there. It was also held that a modest wife should shun the play-houses. The theatre was the occasion of a great display of dress. Cloaks were worn that must have cost at least £40 to £50, and magnificent laces were also displayed.
Though performed in the suburbs and low parts of the town, and somewhat contemptuously protected by the Court while it was subject to attacks from the City, the Romantic Drama attained the highest destinies ; and it must be confessed, that in thus triumphing over every disadvantage, it proved the spirit of the nation at this epoch to be essentially dramatic.
8. SHAKESPEARE'S SUCCESSORS
Ben Jonson—His life—His comedies, and their character : Every Man in His Humour, Volpone, Epicoene, The Alchemist—Ben Jonson's tragedies : their character—His masks and anti-masks—Influence of his comedies and tragedies upon the development of the theatre—Influence of his masks upon the Drama of the Restoration—Chapman ; the beginnings of his career—Tragedies from the History of France—His comedies : All Fooles, Eastward Hoe—Beaumont and Fletcher—Nature of their collaboration—Their tragedies and comedies : Wit without Money, The Knight of Malta, The Two Noble Kinsmen, Rule a Wife and Have a Wife—Principal comedies of manners—Idiosyncrasies in the respective styles of Beaumont and Fletcher—Principal types—Authors of the second order—Thomas Dekker and his comedies of manners—Webster and the Melodrama--Marston and the Realistic Theatre—Middleton and his comedies of manners—A Game at Chess, and political comedy—Thomas Heywood and his chronicle plays-A Woman Kilde with Kindnesse, and the first domestic tragedy—Samuel Daniel and the pastoral drama--Samuel Rowley and the chronicle play—Massinger and the religious drama—His comedies—John Ford and the chronicle play—James Shirley and his remarkable comedies of manners—Richard Brome and his comedies of manners—D'Avenant and the comedy of intrigue--The different writers of masks—Milton's Cornus—The academic plays.
BEN JONSON.—Of all the dramatists of the Elizabethan Age, Ben Jonson, in virtue of his talent, takes first rank after Marlowe and Shakespeare. This author, the son of an English minister, was born in 1573, at Westminster. His first studies were at that famous school, whence he passed on to the University of Cambridge, but apparently remained there only a few weeks. Nevertheless, he subsequently obtained his Master of Arts degree. He went home to his stepfather's trade (his mother had been married again to a master bricklayer), but soon escaped to enter the army. In 1597 he engaged as actor in Henslowe's company, which by the end of the seventeenth century had settled definitely at the Fortune Theatre, in Golding Lane. In 1598 he began to write for the stage, and his first piece, Every Man in His Humour, was performed by the Lord Chamberlain's servants. Shakespeare's company, and Shakespeare himself, took a part in it. Ben Jonson's dramatic career was shortly afterwards interrupted by an `unfortunate accident.' After a quarrel with an actor named Gabriel Spenser, the latter was killed in a duel, and Jonson was thrown into prison. He was converted to the Catholic faith, and ` thereafter was for twelve years a Papist.'
He had doubtless regained his liberty by 1599, the date at which his comedy, Every Man in His Humour, was acted before the Queen. It was on this occasion that he composed his ` Epilogue at the Presentation before Queen Elizabeth.
In 1601 Jonson published his comedy, Poetaster, an attack against Dekker and Marston, to which Dekker replied in 1602 by another satirical comedy, Satiromastix, or The Untrussing of the Humorous Poet. This quarrel annoyed Jonson so much that he abandoned Comedy to seek a diversion in the serener sphere of Tragedy, and in 1603 his drama of Sejanus was produced at the Globe, Shakespeare again taking a part in the performance. At this date Queen Elizabeth died, and some splendid feasts were organised at the Court in honour of the accession of James 1., as well as at the houses of some of the nobility. Ben Jonson set to work to compose Masks for the occasion. The Satyr, written for Sir Robert Spencer of Althorp, was the first of a long series of similar productions. On Twelfth Night, 1605, the Masque of Blackness was 'personated by the most magnificent of Queens, Anne of Great Britain, with her honourable Ladyes ' at Whitehall. By 1604, however, Jonson had come back to his favourite vein of Comedy. In this year he wrote, in collaboration with Marston and Chapman, Eastward Hoe, which caused him various annoyances, for at the instigation of Sir James Murray, a Scottish gentleman, who thought his country insulted by the piece, the King arrested Chapman and Marston. Ben Jonson, to back up his friends, claimed to share their penalties by voluntary imprisonment. They were soon released, and it was in the course of the ten years that followed that he composed his best works. In the interval he fulfilled the duties of tutor to one of Sir Walter Raleigh's sons, and spent some time with him in Paris, where he became acquainted with Cardinal de Perron. At this period Ben Jonson seems to have taken a dislike to the career of dramatist, for he produced nothing between 1616 and 1625. In 1618 he journeyed on foot to Scotland, and was for some weeks the guest of the celebrated Scottish poet, William Drummond. Of this visit Drummond has preserved an interesting record in his Notes of Ben Jonson's Conversations.
In 1625 the unfortunate state of his affairs obliged Jonson to set to work again. In 1626 he composed his mask, The Fortunate Isles ; and in 1634 another work of the same order, Love's Welcome, which must have been his last dramatic composition. He died in 1637. Among his papers was found a pastoral drama of great beauty, The Sad Shepherd, which is unfortunately unfinished. All the authors of the period agree in allotting to Ben Jonson the first place among contemporary poets after the death of Shakespeare. Like Racine and Goethe, at a later date, Ben Jonson was in the habit of first writing his pieces in prose, and after-wards transcribing them into verse.
Ben Jonson is primarily distinguished as a writer of Comedies. The first and undoubtedly the finest of his pieces is Every Man in His Humour, of which we have already spoken, and which occupies a place in the history of the English Theatre, of so much the more importance in that it is the first Comedy of Character, properly so-called.
It contains portraits of the bragging soldier and the usurer, which are types worthy of being handed down to posterity. This play was acted with great success during the period of the Restoration, and was revived at the end of the eighteenth century by Garrick, who interpreted the part of usurer with incomparable talent. Every Man out of His Humour, which dates from 1599, is, besides being a comedy of character, an interesting study of manners. The author endeavours to show that humour,' that is, the freaks of our nature, finds its cure in its own excesses. The play is, moreover, a biting satire on the customs of the period.
Volpone, or The Fox, written in 1505, and of more modest pretensions, is directed against hypocrisy. It is also a striking picture of the depraved manners of the day.
Epicoene, or The Silent Woman, written 1609, is held to be the finest of Jonson's pieces, from the point of view of its unrivalled comedy. It relates the story of an old misanthrope, who in his horror of noise marries a woman whom he believes to be silent. She proves, however, to be a talkative creature, and eventually turns out to be a boy. This comedy was revived by Garrick in 1776.
The Alchemist, 1610, was written with the object of unmasking a crowd of impostors, who, at this period, traded shamefully upon human credulity.
By ruining the credit of these exploiters Ben Jonson rendered a signal service to society. The play is quite the best of his works from the point of view of excellence of construction, and strength of conception. It contains violent attacks upon the Puritans.
Bartholomew Fair is an interesting picture of London life towards 1614, the date at which this comedy was written. It was, moreover, a witty criticism on the Puritans, who posed as enemies of the theatre. From these different points of view Bartholomew Fair constitutes a valuable documentary witness to the history of English manners in the seventeenth century.
The Devil is an Ass, 1616, is rather a weak composition, but interesting in the sense that it takes us back to the time of the Mysteries and Moral Plays by the introduction of such characters as Satan, and Iniquity the Vice.
The Stalle of News, 1625, is an allegorical play in which the author was inspired by the Plutus of Aristophanes, as well as by the Wasps of the great Greek comedian.
The New Inn, The Magnetic Lady, A Tale of a Tub, his last works, were unfortunate.
The only two Tragedies composed by Ben Jonson—Sejanus, His Fall, 1603, and Catiline, His Conspiracy, 1611—were both taken from Roman history. Unfortunately, they are so freighted with quotations from the classics, that they rather fall into the department of literature than form part of the history of the stage. They appeal more particularly to students and to men of letters. Ben Jonson's very considerable acquaintance with the literature of the ancients, in fact, gives to these two tragedies an incontestable authority.
Ben Jonson is no less celebrated for his Masks than for his Comedies. Of these he composed a great number, taken partly from history and partly from legendary sources. He also wrote several Anti-Masks, that is, a parody of what was to follow, or, according to Schlegel's definition, ` an antidote to the excess of sweetness with which the flattery continued in the mask itself might be liable to clog the audience.
Ben Jonson, having been in succession student, tradesman, soldier, actor, organiser of amusements in the fashionable world as well as at the Court, was particularly fitted to study the lowest and the highest society of his time, and was thus enabled to create types as numerous as they were varied. His tipplers, soldiers of fortune, dupes, impostors, court ladies, fashionables, form an incomparable picture of the manners of the period.
His Comedies mark a great advance in this particular line ; they show a tendency, very pronounced from this time onwards, to subordinate everything to the development of character. It is to be regretted that his plays are spoiled by his intermezzos, or commentaries, a multiplication of the parabasis of Old Athenian Comedy. Ben Jonson had a profound knowledge of French literature, and borrowed many satirical features from Erasmus and Rabelais.
In Tragedy, Ben Jonson's influence was nil. His two compositions rather take a step backwards, for by their abuse of rhetoric they approximate to the pseudo-classic drama of the previous age.
The grandiose setting of the Mask, from Ben Jonson onwards, developed the taste for stage decoration among the dramatists of the Restoration. The appearance on the stage of beautiful, elegant, and distinguished women called the attention of the public to the advantages to be derived from their presence in the Drama, and undoubtedly hastened the substitution of real actresses for the boys who had hitherto taken the part of women.
CHAPMAN.—Next to Shakespeare and Ben Jonson in order of merit comes George Chapman. He was born in 1557 or 1559, at Hitchin, in the county of Hertfordshire. He passed two years at Trinity College, Oxford, ` with a contempt,' says Warton, of Philosophy, but in close attention to the Greek and Roman classics,' and then went on to Cambridge. He had a thorough knowledge of the German language, which points to his having spent some time in Germany. He died in 1634. A writer of Comedies as well as of Tragedies, Chapman is particularly deserving of attention in France, in the last style of composition. His most remarkable plays consist of a series of dramas taken from the History of France, and give an interesting picture of the manners of the Court at that period.
Bussy d'Ambois, the first of these plays, printed in 1607, is founded on the history of a poor gentle-man, in whom Monsieur, the King's brother, thought he had found a docile instrument for the carrying out of his projects of vengeance against his sovereign, and for assassinating him. Eventually, however, the conspirator finds that instead of an accomplice, he has made choice of a powerful rival.
The Revenge of Bussy d'Ambois, printed in 1613, which is a sort of sequel to the last play, turns on the assassination of the Duc de Guise, and the re-vengeful projects of Clement d'Ambois, brother of the victim.
The subject of the third drama was equally taken from the History of France, and was called The Conspiracie and Tragedie of Charles, Duke of Byron, Marshall of France. It was suggested by the political conduct of the famous Marshal of France.
Two other tragedies, although inferior from the dramatic point of view, are also worth mentioning. These are Alphonsus, Emperour of Germany, which is very curious on account of the many and interesting details it gives of the manners of the Germans ; and The Revenge for Honour, a piece which is no less curious as a picture of oriental customs.
Although the serious turn of his mind inclined him more to Tragedy than to Comedy, Chapman composed two real chefs-d'oeuvre of comic humour. The first of these, All Fooles, is taken in great part from the Heauton Timorumenos of Terence. The play opens with a dialogue, the second part of which contains an admirable description of the joys of mutual love.
Eastward Hoe, which was mentioned above in connection with the collaboration of Ben Jonson, and which dates, like the comedy that preceded it, from 1605, is a criticism of the influence upon the lower classes of the manners of the Court. The Theatre of the period perhaps offers nothing more fundamentally droll, nor better constructed, than this play. It was adapted, in 1775, for the theatre of Drury Lane, with the title of Old City Manners.
It is to be regretted that Chapman's talent is not sustained throughout his works ; his great reputation is in fact based more upon the beauty of certain passages than on any perfection of the whole.
BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER.—TheSe two authors, who collaborated in a great number of plays, come next in the series of the Elizabethan dramatists.
Francis Beaumont was born at Grace-Dieu, in Leicestershire, the seat of his ancestors, in 1586, was educated at Oxford, and on leaving the University entered the Inner Temple. He died in 1615.
John Fletcher, whose father was successively Dean of Peterborough (in which capacity he attended Mary, Queen of Scots, at Fotheringay Castle, and urged her to recant the Catholic faith), Bishop of Bristol, and Bishop of London, in the reign of Elizabeth, was born in 1579, and was an undergraduate of Cambridge. He died of the plague in 1625.
In the joint works of these authors the general plan of the piece, the composition of the more serious parts, and the pathetic portions, fell to the share of Beaumont, who had acquired such a reputation for good sense that Ben Jonson himself frequently referred to him.
Fletcher was par excellence the man of the world, refined by the elegant society in which he constantly moved, gifted with an admirable wit, and past master in the art of dialogue, which fell to his lot. Raillery was his special forte, but it was so courteously worded, that the persons aimed at could hardly resent his attacks.
The most remarkable plays of Beaumont and Fletcher are :
Philaster, or Love lies a' Bleeding ; written about 1608, and dramatic to an unusual degree. The character of Philaster is an adaptation of Hamlet.
The Maid's Tragedy ; performed towards the middle of the eighteenth century, with enormous success. At the commencement of the nineteenth century, Sheridan Knowles adapted it under the title of The Bridal, and Macready played it in 1837.
Wit without Money ; this comedy, which is very merry, was in all probability the work of Fletcher only, and was written about 1614. It owes its success to the principal character, Valentin, an original and well-drawn hero, who renounces his patrimony, and hopes to live upon his wits.
The Coxcomb ; another comedy remarkable for its character-sketches, more particularly for the description of the scolding wife.
The tragedy, The Knight of Malta, contains one scene, the 5th of Act i (advice of Oriana to Miranda), which is among the noblest in Elizabethan Drama. This play is attributed to both authors.
The Two Noble Kinsmen is, in the opinion of several critics, the work of Fletcher and Shakespeare. The plot of this tragi-comedy is taken from Chaucer's Knighte's Tale.
The Lover's Progress, The Sea Voyage, are two romantic dramas by Fletcher, and perhaps Mas-singer and Fletcher respectively. The former is taken from a Ekench novel, Histoire tragi-comique de nos temps (Daudiguier's Lisander and Calista). The latter was derived from the Argonautic legend, reproduced by Ariosto in Orlando Furioso.
The Humorous Lieutenant (Fletcher) is a tragicomedy. The character of the lieutenant is one of Fletcher's best creations. The Pilgrim, The Spanish Curate, A King and no King (all by Fletcher), are also excellent comedies of intrigue and of character.
Rule a Wife and Have a Wife is undoubtedly the best of the plays written by Fletcher alone. The author was inspired by a tale of Cervantes. The subject recalls Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, but the play is quite original.. It was popular from the outset, and was played in the nineteenth century with great success. Schlegel considers it one of the best comedies ever written.
The following plays are curious as pictures of contemporary manners, and as exhibiting some of the whims of the period The Woman-Hater, written towards 1606, is a fine mockery of the lust of good cheer, which was one of the scourges of the time. The Little French Lawyer is an exceedingly witty satire on the mania then in vogue for duelling, upon the slightest pro-vocation. The Island Princess, a romantic drama, composed in 1621, is an interesting study of the strange manners and customs imported into London. The Fair Maid of the Inn, a posthumous work, touched doubtless by another hand, attracts us by its exact descriptions of the rage for fashionable toilettes, and the general submission to absurd and exaggerated fashions.
The plays of Beaumont and Fletcher reveal a very extensive literary acquaintance, and a profound study of the best Greek, Latin, French, and Italian authors. Spanish literature seems, moreover, to have been especially familiar ground, a good number of their plays having been borrowed from the romances of Cervantes. The plays, in fact, are constructed like most of the Spanish romances and dramas of the period. An amorous intrigue complicated by a second plot, and a parody of the principal characters and adventures, constitutes the basis of nearly all their plays. Nor should this tendency to imitation surprise us, when we remember that at this moment the relations between England and Spain were closer than ever before.
The extraordinary popularity of these two authors was largely due to the fact that they knew how to adapt their style to the tastes and tendencies of the time. Their ideas and writings, often highly immoral, were in perfect harmony with the corruptions of the court of James I. There is, moreover, no affectation in their plays. One feels that Beaumont and Fletcher wrote as they thought, and that their scepticism was the expression of profound conviction. This is more particularly the case when they are speaking of woman, in whose virtue they have no faith, and who, according to them, is bound sooner or later to succumb, if she has the imprudence to embark on an intrigue.
Their happiest creations in the drama, properly so-called, are the tyrant, the outspoken soldier, and the devoted wife. Generally speaking, when they allude to a woman's heart, the pathetic and sentimental note creates an admirable situation.
In their comedies, the types of the humorous lieutenant and the Spanish vicar are the most successful.
The light and clever construction, the natural style, the elegant and lively dialogue, all charm us in the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher, and it is a matter for regret that they should be too indecent for performance.
The Authors who follow fall into the second category of Elizabethan dramatists, but they occupy none the less an important place in the annals of the English Theatre, for their works are a mine of valuable details as to the history of the manners of the period.
THOMAS DEKKER, born in London about 1570, died 1640, wrote only comedies. The first and best of his plays is The Shoemakers' Holiday, which appeared in 1599, and abounds in details, as curious as they are amusing, of the customs of the London shoemakers. The Honest Whore and Westward Hoe! are somewhat offensive studies of the manners of London women at the beginning of the seventeenth century.
JOHN WEBSTER.—Little is known of this writer's life, but his dramatic career had begun before 1602. His most characteristic productions were The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi. He piles up theatrical horrors, but has a true insight into human nature, along with great dramatic genius and considerable humour. He co-operated with many other playwrights, notably with Dekker in the comedy, Westward Hoe !
JOHN MARSTON belongs to the `blood and thunder' school. His comedy, What You Will, an adaptation of Plautus' Amphitryo, has a certain literary interest. He also collaborated with Ben Jonson and Chapman in their comedy of Eastward Hoe !
THOMAS MIDDLETON, born in London, 1570, died towards 1627, is famous as the creator of Political Comedy in England but before distinguishing him-self in this vein, he composed a ` Tragi-Coomodie called The Witch,' a play curious inasmuch as it includes some of the facts contained in Shakespeare's Macbeth. This peculiarity gave rise to a fierce literary conflict, to determine whether Middle-ton was inspired by Shakespeare's masterpiece, or if the great poet were inspired by Middleton. No definite issue was arrived at. Gifted with a remarkable faculty of observation, he next wrote several comedies of manners : Michaelmas Term, an admirable satire on the everyday follies and vices of the age ; A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, aimed at the debauches of the Cambridge under-graduates ; A Trick to catch the Old One, in which the characters of the usurers and a disreputable lawyer are traced with a master hand. These are psychological masterpieces. Women, Beware Women, is remarkable for its dramatic power, and is at the same time an admirable study of character. Far more than on these, however, Middleton's reputation rests upon his comedy, A Game al Chess, written almost at the close of his career in 1624. In it we see the first appearance in English drama of allegorical representations of the King and other princes of the blood, i.e. it is the inauguration of Political Satire on the stage. The play relates to the events which occurred between 1617 and 1623, and is a direct criticism of the actions of James i., who had opened negotiations for the marriage of Charles, Prince of Wales, with the Infanta Maria, younger daughter of Philip iii. of Spain.
The leading characters are : the White and Black Kings, who personify the Kings of England and Spain; the White Knight, who is Charles, Prince of Wales ; and the Black Knight, Gondomar, the Spanish Ambassador.
Middleton is remarkable for the excellence of his prose, no less than for his fluent versification, and for the light and easy construction of his pieces. Besides the comedies, in which he is perhaps the best delineator of the manners of his time, he composed a great number of Masks.
THOMAS HEYWOOD, who came into notice about 1598, distinguished himself in all dramatic styles, including the Pageant. Moreover, he made a speciality of writing prologues and epilogues for the plays of his associates. His tragedies, Edward IV., printed 1600, and If You know not Me, You know no Bodie, or The Troubles of Queene Elizabeth, were mentioned above, as occupying an important place in the series of Chronicle Plays. Another play, The Late Lancashire Witches, is also interesting as a vivacious picture of English country life in the first part of the seventeenth century. It also throws daylight on the superstitious practices of the time, and exposes the nefarious influences of the sorcery with which Lancashire was infested. Heywood's best play is perhaps A Woman kilde with Kindnesse, which is the earliest specimen of the domestic drama in England. Heywood is the most fertile writer of his time, two hundred and twenty plays, in which he had ` either an entire hand, or at the least a main finger,' being attributed to him. Nevertheless, his works show much care in their composition, and their general tone is very moral.
SAMUEL DANIEL (1562-1619) left a weak tragedy of Cleopatra that was never acted ; an epic play, The Civil Wars between the Houses of Lancaster and York ; an historical tragedy, Philotas, believed to be founded on Essex's famous plot (an assumption, however, repudiated by the author) ; and lastly, a famous pastoral tragi-comedy, The Queen's Arcadia, presented before Queen Anne at Christ Church, Oxford, 1605.
SAMUEL ROWLEY, died about 1632 ; the author of When You See Me, You Know Me, or The Famous Chronicle Historie of King Henrie the Eight, already discussed under the heading Chronicle Plays. The points of likeness between this play and Shakespeare's Henry VIII. aroused a violent controversy as to the relative priority of the two dramas.
PHILIP MASSINGER-Among the late writers of Elizabethan Drama, Massinger claims an important place, though we have unfortunately little information about his life. He claims attention for three plays : The Virgin Martyr (performed before 1620) ; The Renegado (1624) ; The Maid of Honour (1632), all works of an essentially religious character, and probably inspired by Catholic sentiments. The first two were acted in the reign of James 1. This was somewhat remarkable, when we consider the penalties to which all were exposed at this moment, who ventured openly to proclaim their allegiance to Catholic principles.
The Virgin Martyr claims the attention of historians, as it marks the return to a dramatic type which had been entirely neglected and even officially interdicted since 1584. That year witnessed the performance of the Destruction of Jerusalem, the last play of a religious character. Massinger's composition, founded on the Martyrdom of Saint Dorothea, under Diocletian, is a pure Miracle Play divided into five acts. The devil appears on the stage, and the coarse character of the comic pas-sages has quite the ring of the ancient Mysteries. The Renegado and The Maid of Honour, written in the same order of ideas as the preceding, have great dramatic power.
Massinger was no less happy in romantic drama, and has left some really fine work, as in The Bondman, The Roman Actor, and The Great Duke of Florence. The most famous of his comedies is A New Way to pay Old Debts, acted before 1633. The popularity of this play was considerable, and it long found a place in the repertory. Two other comedies, The City Madam and The Fatal Dowry, are full of interesting details—the first in regard to the excesses at table, the second to the prestige attaching to the lawyer's status.
JOHN FORD, born 1586, wrote The Chronicle Historie of Perkin Warbeck, which not unworthily supplies a missing link in Shakespeare's historical dramas. This has already been referred to (supra, p. 210). But his two finest plays are 'Tis Pity and The Broken Heart, which have a curiously modern note. As a recent critic has said,' "Tis Pity is a piece of work so excellent, so natural in its expression, as to give distinction to any age.' In The Broken Heart a deep symbolism underlies the actual story, and the lyrics in the play are so graceful and tender as to rank with the gems of Shakespeare and Fletcher.
Ford also collaborated with Rowley and Dekker in a domestic tragedy called The Witch of Edmonton (1623).
JAMES SHIRLEY was born in London, 1596. After going to Oxford and Cambridge, he abandoned the Anglican for the Roman church, to which he subsequently adhered. This writer, one of the most fertile England has produced, achieved a certain distinction in every style : in tragedy, comedy, romantic drama, the comedy of manners, pastoral drama, masks, even the miracle and the moral play. But it is his comedies of manners that are particularly interesting, from the information they give of the customs of the period. The most remarkable are Hyde Park (1632) and The Gamester (1633).
The first of these comedies gives a complete picture of the amusements of high life in London. The second relates to the pretensions of the middle-classes in educating their children to be gentlefolks. Garrick adapted this play in 1757, under the title of The Gamesters ; as did Poole, in 1827, as The Wife's Stratagem.
St. Patrick for Ireland, another play, represented in Dublin in 1640, is a miracle play mingled with passages of intrigue, and must be regarded as the last vestige of the Miracle Play in England.
Shirley is an incomparable observer, with a wit as fine as it is original, and an extraordinary imagination.
RICHARD BROME is mostly known as the joint-author with Heywood of The Late Lancashire Witches (supra). He wrote some fifteen plays, in which the old clichés of the country gentleman, the parvenu, the light woman, and others reappear. His comedy, The Court Beggar, perhaps the best of all his plays, is amusing ; the author introduces a mask.
We only know of Brome's life that in his early youth he fulfilled the functions of servant to Ben Jonson. His plays must have been written between 162o and 1640.
SIR WILLIAM D'AVENANT, who was a popular dramatist of the Restoration period, may be mentioned here as the author of The Platonick Lovers, 1636, and The Wits ; two comedies of intrigue, which were highly esteemed by some critics, and were written in succession in 1636, just before the closing of the theatres.
Throughout this first part of the seventeenth century, the Mask was in high favour at Court and among the nobility. Along with Ben Jonson,' who holds the palm in this kind of composition, we must cite as authors of masks, Daniel, Chapman, Marston, Beaumont, Dekker, Middleton, Anthony Munday, and Thomas Campion.
In the reign of Charles 1., Shirley, D'Avenant, and Thomas Nabbes were also known for their masks, but the most perfect specimen of the type is Cornus (1634), the work of the great poet Milton, performed at Ludlow Castle in September 1634. Milton's Samson Agonistes, on the other hand, was never intended for the stage. He prefaces it with the well-known remarks on `that sort of Dramatic Poem which is called Tragedy.' Handel composed the music to its setting as an oratorio.
As in the previous century, and along with the Drama, Latin plays were acted in the Universities. Two of these academical plays are celebrated in the history of the English Theatre. The first, Ignoramus, was composed by George Ruggle. It is an imitation of the Italian comedy, La Trappolaria, by G. Portia, in its turn taken from the Pseudolus of Plautus, though mixed with modern elements, after the fashion of the Italian comedy of the day. Ignoramus was acted with success before King James at Cambridge in 1615, in Trinity College Hall.
The second play (also an original Latin comedy) is the Naufragium Joculare of Abraham Cowley ; it was performed in 1638 at Cambridge.
9. HISTORICAL ASPECTS OF THE PERIOD (FROM BEN JONSON TO D'AVENANT)
Desuetude of the Chronicle Play—Fertility of dramatic authors—Different dramatic types—Historical Tragedy, Heroic Tragedy, Domestic Tragedy, the Mask, the Pastoral Drama—The Comedy of Character —The Comedy of Manners : causes of its development—Its principal types—Sympathies of writers with French Literature—Influence of Spanish Literature—Morality of the Plays—Slight amelioration in the staging after Shakespeare—Adults upon the stage—French actresses in London between 1629 and 1635—Prologues and Epilogues of the Plays.
The two things which reveal a somewhat different state of mind in the dramatists of this, as compared with those of the preceding period, are in the first place (with a few exceptions) the abandonment of the Chronicle Play, and the almost total absence of allusions to the person of the Sovereign, as well as to the political events of the time. This is remark-able when we recall the admirable masterpieces with which Shakespeare, and Marlowe before him, had enriched the series of Chronicle Plays, and the spirit of loyalty that breathes from many of their works. The fact arises, no doubt, in the circumstance that there was nothing in the person, character, or acts of James 1. to inflame the imagination of the playwrights. Nor, on the other hand, must it be forgotten that, with the commencement of this monarch's reign, the companies of actors which till now had been attached to the service of the great nobles, were placed under the direct patronage of the Crown, and protected by it from the attacks of the Puritans. This moral and material support from the King and Court explains the absence of all invective or satire in the plays of the period.
The dramatic authors of the first half of the seventeenth century essayed themselves in every style, and their fertility is almost inconceivable. William Prynne, the famous Puritan author of the Histriomastix, the Player's Scourge, or Actor's Tragaedie, an attack on the Theatre, published in 1632, for which the unfortunate author was pilloried, tells us in fact that more than 40,000 plays were printed between 1630 and 1632.
Historical Drama, though relegated to the second place, flickered up with Ben Jonson and Chapman, who attempted to revive it-the former by his Roman tragedies, the second by his plays on the history of France—but with very mediocre success.
The Chronicle Plays found bolder representatives in the younger Heywood, in Samuel Rowley, and u in Ford, who more nearly approximate to the style of Shakespeare ; but the effort was sterile.
Heroic Tragedy dominated all other types during the first part of the seventeenth century, and was generally derived from Italian, Spanish, and French fiction. It exhibited great poverty in its choice of motives, but approved itself by the lightness of its constructions.
A third form of the drama is the Domestic Tragedy, that is, the presentment of the episodes and events of everyday life. This style, inaugurated by Thomas Heywood, was continued by Middleton, Marston, Webster, Fletcher, Ford, and Shirley. Unhappily, all the plays in this category err in their absence of originality and in a certain uniformity of character, which makes the reading of them wearisome. The motives, in effect, are always the same ; poetical ambition, conjugal jealousy, feminine devotion, unregulated passion, constitute the basis. Webster, Ford, and Shirley, however, introduced a note of sentimentality, and thereby created situations as touching as they were original.
The Mask attained its highest degree of perfection and splendour in the reigns of James i. and Charles i., thanks to the talent of Ben Jonson, Marston, Beaumont, T. Heywood, Chapman, Ford, and 'Shirley. Under the Stuarts, the average expense of a mask was about Z1400 sterling.
The sole representatives of the Pastoral Play were Ben Jonson, with his Sad Shepherd (unhappily not finished) ; Samuel Daniel, with The Queen's Arcadia ; and The Faithful Shepherdess of Fletcher.
The Comedy of Character, created by Shakespeare, was carried to a high degree of excellence by Ben Jonson. Bobadil (the military braggart), Kitely (the jealous usurer), in Every Man in His Humour ; Macilente (the envious man), Carlo Buffone (the cynic), in Every Man out of His Humour; Volpone (the hypocrite) ; Morose (the misanthrope), in Epicoene, are characters traced by a master hand. The comedy, All Fooles, by Chapman, is another good specimen of the comedy of character.
Above all, however, it is in the Comedy of Manners that the successors of Ben Jonson found their vein. They brought to fruition the heritage that this writer himself had left them in that style, and as a picture of the follies and foibles of the epoch, the comedies of Dekker, Chapman, Middle-ton, Fletcher, and Shirley are most remarkable.
In this development, it is to be remarked that the interests of social life, which in previous reigns had been distributed in the different centres of the kingdom, were concentrated entirely in the capital after the accession of James i.
The desertion of country for town, which had already begun in the reign of Elizabeth, was steadily increasing in the time of James i. and Charles I. London became the focus of art and literature, the centre of magnificence and pleasure, but of idleness and dissipation also : and a favourite theme of the writers of the period is the contrast between the city life and country life.
The social types most ridiculed by the comedians are : the half-ruined country gentleman who becomes the prey of usurers, the parvenus, the newly created knights (Shirley's particular object of derision), the epicurean, the drunkard, the fop, the sporting man who ruins himself on the turf, the duellist, the dry sticks at the university, the lawyer, the doctor, the clergyman, who are all studies dear to the dramatist of the period.
In many of the plays the authors seek to make capital out of their acquaintance with the French language. This originated in the marriage of Charles i. and Henrietta Maria of France—a union which had bound the two nations very closely together. Still it is certain that no foreign literature, during this first part of the seventeenth century, exercised any serious influence on the progress of the English Drama. There are indeed marked relations between it and the Spanish Drama. Several authors—Beaumont, Fletcher, Middleton, and still more Webster-were inspired by suggestions from the plays of Lope de Vega and Calderon, as well as by the romances of Cervantes, in their dramatic compositions. Yet these borrowings amounted only to questions of detail ; and if the Spanish authors furnished numerous plots, incidents, and situations, they did not endow the English Theatre with a single type in comedy, or one important tragic character. The Italian influence is more pronounced, but only in the so-called `academic plays,' which were addressed to the members of the literary societies.
In the reign of James I., religious scepticism was in vogue at the Court, as well as in society, and the pursuit of the domestic virtues was held to be a very vulgar affair. The Theatre naturally betrays this state of feeling. At the same time, granting a considerable number of coarse and indelicate plays, there are few that systematically advocate depravity and cry down virtue. For the rest, the example of morality given by Charles i. and his queen, Henrietta Maria, exerted a happy influence upon the spirit of the nation, which could but reflect on the Drama. In the last years of this reign there are evident signs of reaction, more particularly in the plays of Shirley, several of whose pieces are full of elevated sentiments. On the other hand, William Prynne, the famous Puritan writer, had in 1632 published his Histriomaslix, an attack on the Theatre, which aimed at showing the Drama to be an illegal thing, harmful to morality, and condemned by the Holy Scriptures, the Fathers of the Church, modern religious writers, and even the wisest of the pagan philosophers. This diatribe also contributed to improve the moral tone of the plays produced during the last few years that pre-ceded the closing of the theatres in 1642.
The staging, which we have seen to be practically nil in the time of Shakespeare, began by the end of James I.'s reign to show steady progress. Instead, for instance, of the permanent sheets painted with coarse landscapes, a few timid changes of scene were now attempted, of a character more or less appropriate to the place of action. The female parts were still filled by boys, notwithstanding the immorality of many scenes. Some French actresses ventured to appear on the stage at Black-friars in 1629, but they were received with such a storm of hisses that the experiment was not renewed in public. Collier, however, says that on February 15, 1635, some French actors and actresses played Mélise and Le Mystère de la Passion, under the special patronage of the Queen. On April 16 of the same year, a French company played Alcimedor with great success. On May 5, and the following days, the celebrated actor, Floridor, and his troupe acted three French plays. On December 21, 1635, the French ladies of the Queen's suite gave a performance at Whitehall of the pastoral Florimène, in French.
Most of the plays of this period were dedicated to some great personage, and the remuneration offered to the author under these conditions was forty shillings, as established by custom.
In addition to prologues, the plays contained epilogues destined to win the good graces of the audience, or to assure the spectator of the perfect morality of the work. I t is only with Dryden that the prologue takes a more elevated tone.
10. THE OLD ROMANTIC DRAMA AFTER THE RESTORATION
From 1663 to 1700—From 1700 to 1750—From 1750 to 1800—From 1800 to 183o—Phelps and the theatre of Sadler's Wells—Elizabethan Drama and the old Romantic Drama.
Between 1663 and 1700 there were revivals of twenty-four plays of the old repertory, including more particularly Catilina, The Devil is an Ass,
Every Man in His Humour, Every Man out of His Humour, by Ben Jonson ; The Duchess of Ma/, by Webster ; Beaumont and Fletcher's Cox-comb ; Chapman's Bussy d'Ambois ; Shirley's Court Secret ; Massinger's Virgin Martyr.
During the first half of the eighteenth century, the plays most frequently given were The Late Lancashire Witches, by Thomas Heywood ; Ben Jonson's Alchemist, Epicoene, Volpone, and Bartholomew Fair; Fletcher's Rule a Wife and Have a Wife ; The Sea-Voyage, The Maid's Tragedy, Philaster, by Beaumont and Fletcher ; The Duke of Guise and The Gamester, by Shirley ; Milton's Cornus.
After 1750 the neglect of the old repertory was very marked, and in the latter part of the eighteenth century, the only early plays that enjoyed any popularity were Every Man in His Humour, and The Alchemist, Ben Jonson; Milton's Cornus ; Rule a Wife and Have a Wife, by Fletcher ; The Gamester, by Shirley.
During the first quarter of the nineteenth century, A New Way to pay Old Debts, Massinger; Every Man in His Humour, Ben Jonson ; Rule a Wife and Have a Wife, Fletcher ; The Gamester, Shirley; and Milton's Cornus, obtained a few performances, the rarity of which testifies to the imminent and final abandonment of the Elizabethan Drama. By 1830, in short, it had practically disappeared from the playbills.)
Thanks to the exertions of the excellent actor, Phelps, manager of the theatre at Sadler's Wells, there was a definite revival of the Old English Drama after 1844. The little Islington theatre gave performances of Massinger's City Madam (1844) ; Shirley's Gamester (1845) ; Massinger's Fatal Dowry (1845), and A New Way to pay Old Debts (1846) ; A King and No King, Beaumont and Fletcher (1846) ; Rule a Wife and Have a Wife, Fletcher (1849) ; The Duchess of Malfi, Webster (1850).
After the death of Phelps, Shakespearean plays alone survived of the Old English Drama on the public stage of Great Britain. Laudable efforts have, however, been made in recent years to revive the ashes of Elizabethan Drama. A society was formed in London to give representations by subscription of some of the tragedies of the old repertory, presenting them as far as possible with the mise en scéne of Shakespeare's time.
The Elizabethan Stage Society has given performances, at St. George's Hall and elsewhere, of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus; Webster's Duchess of Mali ; Ford's Broken Heart ; The Spanish Gypsy, by Middleton and Rowley ; The Sad Shepherd, Ben Jonson ; and Milton's Samson Agonistes (April 1900). At the present moment these are the sole vestiges of the Romantic Drama in England, outside the limits of the Shakespearean repertory.