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source, or combining for the promotion of the same end, consistent with, though varying from, cach other. They either ran into the error of framing their story with such bald simplicity, that it was scarcely worthy the name of story at all, or they placed in the same play two, or more, stories unconnected by one single link. Incidents are either made the subject of long and tedious conference, or they follow each other in such quick succession, that actions and their results, which a lapse of time only could produce, stand in immediate contact, so that the passing scene wears the appearance of arbitrary arrangement, rather than of a natural progress of events. One of two faults generally marks the concluding act. The denouement is delayed, after the result is obvious, and all interest in it has evaporated, or, the main story being finished, the author's ingenuity is put to the rack to eke out his scene to its prescribed extent, with whatever extraneous circumstances he could graft upon it.
The chorus very commonly formed a portion of the earlier English plays, sometimes taking a part in the performance, sometimes supplying the deficiencies of the action by narrative or explanation, and sometimes performing the office of a moral commentator on the passing events. A more incongruous accompaniment was the cumbrous machinery of the dumb-shew which preceded the several acts, prefiguring their contents by allegorical and pantomimic exhibition. Into such extensive use was this mute mimickry sometimes stretched, that it was made to cover the want of business in the play; and where an author was extremely fastidious, and attentive to probability, it was used to fill up the interval that was necessary to pass, while a hero was expected from the holy land, or a princess imported, married, or brought to bed.
Prose, rhyme, and blank-verse, were indifferently the mental vehicles of the early dramatists: occasionally plays were composed in one or other of them entirely; the mixture of two was very frequent, and instances of the presence of all three in the same play were by no means common.
That our early dramatists were well acquainted with the laws which antiquity prescribed for the regulation of the drama, is a circumstance that admits not of question, for they were all scholars. Their neglect of the unities, therefore, and other proprieties, more essential, and of much easier observance, was wilful, and they had, apparently, no hesitation in committing to paper all the suggestions of their imaginations: hence the occurrences of many years are crowded into five acts; in a single play the scene is often shifted to different quarters of the globe; hence the mixture of characters of different countries; and while the scene is laid in Greece or Rome, the customs, manners, sentiments, and allusions proclaim all the personages to be English. In short, their anachronisms and anomalies are without end.
The leading characteristic of the early English tragedy, in which the ancients were not imitated, was exaggeration. The plot generally embodied some circumstance of extraordinary horror or wickedness, and all ils accompaniments were attuned to a turgid and unnatural pitch. Situations such as could scarcely be produced by any possibility were diligently sought after; passions were overstrained till no distinction remained between what was intended for their expression and the ravings of lunacy; language was inflated till it lost its connection with sense; and melaphors the most unlicensed, and conceits of thought and expression the most fanciful, were used with the utmost freedom. It was impossible that the heart could speak from beneath so cumbrous a load of folly and absurdity: attempts were indeed made to imitate the voice of nature, but rarely with such success as to be productive of even a momentary delusion.
We turn to comedy, but meet with no superior gratification: much greater diversity of scene and incident she certainly exhibits, but she entails even greater evils on her reader than those already enumerated. Low buffooncry, horrible obscenity, petty conceits, quibbles, puns, crosspurposed questions and replies, and, in short, every variety of rhodomontade was produced, and accepted us substitutes for wit. The most prominent characters in the old comedies were waiters, pages, servants, and other personages of the same humble description: the mcanness of their rank may be urged as some excuse for their vulgarity.
The union of serious and comic business in the same play was very common from the first dawnings of dramatic literature in England. The Vice and the Devil obtruded their impertinent buffoonery on scenes of the most serious and solemn import, and the audiences, who witnessed such absurdity with delight, may well be supposed incapable of relishing performances of pure and simple beauty. The
grossness of their taste was administered to by a clown who thrusts himself upon the scene, on all occasions, to vent the ebullitions of his folly or his wit. He was privileged to notice what was passing in the audience part of the theatre, to enter into familiar conversation with the spectators, either between the acts or in the midst of the business of the scene. But there was a particular expectation that the clown should exhibit his talents at the conclusion of a play in an entertainment called a jig, in which he danced, sung, and chanted metrical nonsense, to the accompaniment of a pipe and tabor.
It would be unjust to associate the name of Marlow with those of Green, Lodge, Peele, Nash, Lily and Kyd, the principal authors during the earliest age of the English drama.
Marlow's first undoubted play was produced in 1590, and he died in 1593. His appearance, therefore, was contemporaneous with that of Shakspeare, from whom he borrowed nothing. His own vigorous understanding taught him to despise, and he had the courage to discard, ihe puerility and diffusion, and, in a great measure, the low buffoonery and vulgar witticisms also, that disgraced the works of his predecessors. His conceptions were striking and original, his intellect grasped his subject as a whole, and bending every faculty of his mind to the topic immediately before him, he never shrunk from the expression of his boldest thoughts. Sublimity is Marlow's perpetual aim, and to his over strenuous efforts for its attainment, and his indistinct notions of the difference between sublimity and horror, his most glaring faults are attributable. He heaps crime on crime, and one disgusting incident upon another, till a mass of deformity is accumulated which both nature and probability disclaim. The richest success is often, however, the reward of his noble daring, and his dramas exhibit many scenes both of deep pathos and true sublimity, Marlow's language harmonises exactly with his thoughts. Its characteristics are depth, clearness, and strength, but, partaking of the over-grown boldness of his designs, it is distorted by far-fetched images, forced comparisons, and turgid and bombastic phrases. Marlow's greatest misfortune was want of taste. The arrangement of his scenes is generally bad, the incidents are awkwardly and coarsely introduced, and the whole plot so loosely hung together, that he might literally join with Polonius in asserting, that he used “no art at all.”
While the subjects of dramatic entertainments were sacred, and the stage accessary to the views of the priesthood, churches and chapels, and their immediate vicinities, were deemed perfectly appropriate for dramatic exhibition. But as mysteries yielded to profane subjects, and lessons of instruction, in the shape of moralities, gave way to scenes of mere amusement, the profanation of sacred edifices loudly protested against, and, by degrees, entirely disused. When scholars and singing boys succeeded the clergy as the principal performers, schoolrooms, halls in the universities and inns of court, the mansions of the nobility, and the palaces of royalty, became the theatres of exhibition. To a late period, indeed, of the reign of Elizabeth, the regularly licensed comedians occasionally performed in churches and chapels; but with this exception, and the further one of companies being called upon to afford entertainment to their sovereign, or immediate patron, the scenes of their theatrical glories were temporary erections in the court-yards of inns: the stage occupied one side of the quadrangle; the centre area, and ihe balconies on the three remaining sides, afforded ample accommodation for the audience.
The first building in England dedicated exclusively to the purposes of the drama, emphatically termed the theatre, was erected about 1570 in Blackfriars, near the present Apothecaries' Hall. The number of theatres rapidly increased: a playhouse in Whitefriars, in, or near, Salisbury Court, and another called the Curtain in Shoreditch, were raised previous to ́1580; and, subsequently, the
Globe, on Bankside: the Red Bull, at the upper end of St. John's Streel; the Fortune, in Whitecross Street; and the Cockpit or Phocnix, in Drury Lane. There were, besides, other theatres of minor importance: the Swan, the Rose, and the Hope. Each theatre, it is believed, was distinguished by a sign indicative of its name; that on the Globe was a figure of Hercules supporting the globe, underwritten was the motto, Totus mundus agit histrionem i). The roof of the Globe, and of the other public theatres, was surmounted by a pole which displayed a flag during the period of performance. The playhouses were never all open at the same time, some of them being summer, others winter theatres. The roofs of summer theatres extended only over the stage, passages, and galleries; the area of the pit was therefore open to the weather: the winter houses were completely covered in, and consequently their performances took place by candle light. Such were the Theatre, the playhouse in Whitefriars and the Cockpit; tley were also smaller than the other iheatres, and for some reason now unknown, .called private theatres. The illumination of the body of the house was effected by crossels, or large open lantherns, and, occasionally, if it be possible to credit the circumstance, wax lights were used: the stage was lighted by two large branches similar to those that are hung in churches.
The form of the English theatres was derived from those buildings which experience had proved to be well adapted to the purposes of the drama. Like the court-yard of an inn, tlıree sides were occupied by balconies; these, properly divided, were appropriated to the reception of different classes of company: the fourth side formed the stage; and the centre area the pit, which, unlike the same place in modern English theatres, was without benches. The common people, who resorted thither, stood to witness the exhibition, and hence are called groundling's by Shakspeare, and, by Ben Jonson, the understanding gentlemen of the ground. Between this class of spectators, and the occupiers of the upper balconies, or scaffolds, there was no distinction in rank, boih being of the lowest and most disreputable description. The lower balconies, or rooms, which answered to our boxes, were frequented by company of rank. Thc “lords' rooms” are often mentioned by the old dramatists, and appear to have been next the stage.
Independently of the regular rooms, there were, in some of the theatres, private boxes, but their situation is not asocrtained with precision. Occasionally, also, the public rooms were appropriated to individuals, under the security of a lock and key. An upper balcony, over what is now called the stage box, constituted the orchestra.
The stage was separated from the audience part of the house by palings, and, previous to the commencement of the performance, was concealed by a curtain, which, divided in the middlc, could be drawn from the centre to the sides: its materials varied, with the opulence of the theatre, from woollen to silk. Like the floors of private houses in the Elizabetban age, the stage was usually strewed with rushes, but on occasions of extraordinary ceremony it was covered with matting. At the back of the stage there was a balcony, or upper stage, on which the characters entered who were required to appear in clevated situations, such as Juliet in the balcony; and Romeo and Juliet aloft 2). When not in use for the purposes of the scene, the balcony stage was concealed by a curtain. Where a play was exhibited within a play, the balcony was made use of either for the audience before whom the representation was to be made, or as a stage for the performance of the auxiliary play. Shakspeare himself furnishes an instance of each practice. Sly would sit in the balcony to witness the Taming of the Shrew; and the mock play in Hamlet was certainly acted on the upper stage.
The presence of scenery in the booths and temporary erections in inn yards, where the first companies of comedians exhibited, is not to be supposed; and the evidence collected on the subject, for the most part, goes to prove, that the first regular theatres were nearly as destitute of scenic decoration as their beggarly pre
1) Note K.
decessors had been. The absence of so essential an article of theatrical furniture is a proof, above all others, decisive of the excessive poverty of the first dramatic establishments, since the account books of Queen Elizabeth's master of the revels for 1571, and several subsequent years, clearly demonstrate the use of four varieties of scenery in almost every masque or play exhibited at court. 1. Temporary erections on the stage; 2. paintings on canvass stretched on frames ; 3. mechanical contrivances; and, 4. furniture and properties generally 1).
Scarcely a representation took place in the royal presence without the introduction of a “castell” or “battlement.” Houses, arbours, prisons, senate-houses, altars, tombs, rocks and caves, devices for hell and hell-mouth, were in constant requisition. On one occasion a “church” is specified, which appears, by a subsequent item in the account, to have contained a light. Trees, “hollow," and “of holly," appeared in painting or in effigy, and for the representation of a “wilderness” the axe was laid to the root, and the requisite proportion of timber removed in a waggon from the place of its growth to the rerel-hall at court. The notice of such rural scenery forms a natural introduction to the mention of an exhibition little to have been expected on the ancient stage; “hunters that made cry after the fox (let loose in the coorte,) with their hounds, hornes, and hallowing in the play of Narcissus, which crye was made of purpose even as the words then in utterance, and the parte then played did requier. ance of these realities was, however, the exception rather than the rule. Notices elsewhere appear of “hobby horses ;” and from the perpetual charges throughout the accounts for lions, dragons, and fish, it is evident that the representation of animals was very common.
The suspension of the sun, in a cloud likewise suspended, must have been skilfully executed indeed, if it did not carry with it the appearance of absurdity; but the sun certainly was exhibited in that way before her majesty, who, in the masque of Janus, witnessed with delight the descent of “flakes of yse, hayle stones, and snow-balls," delicately composed of “sugar plate, musk, kumfets, corianders prepared, clove cumfetts, synnamon cumfetts, ginger cumfetts, rosewater, spike-water, etc.” The royal ear and eye were occasionally also recreated with artificial thunder, and its natural precursor, lightning. An instance is afforded, by the description of a chariot in these accounts, of the ponderous and complicated machinery and properties sometimes used in masques. « A charrott of 14 foote long and 8 foote brode, with a rocke upon it, and a fountayne therein, for Apollo and the Nine Muzes."
The contrast afforded to the ample equipment of the royal stage by the destitute state of the public theatres is striking. A simple hanging of arras or tapestry was all the ornament the stage could boast, and this, as it became decayed or torn, was clumsily repaired by the display of pictures over the fractured places. A plain curtain hung up in a corner, separated distant regions. A board inscribed with the name of a country or a city, indicated the scene of action, the varieties of which were proclaimed by the removal of one board and the substitution of another: a table with a pen and ink thrust in, signified that the stage was a counting house; if these were withdrawn, and two stools put in their places, it was then a tavern. It was not always thought necessary to clear the stage previous to the execution of these inartificial contrivances. The Dramatis Personae frequently remained immoveable during two or three shiftings of boards, stools, and tables, and were thus transferred, without the trouble of removal, to as many different places in succession. An endeavour was, indeed, sometimes made to rectify so striking an incongruity by the use of curtains, called traverses, which were suspended across the stage, and being withdrawn, discovered a person in a place distinct from that where the scene had hitherto been laid; and this constituted a transfer of all the persons present to the new locality.
When the theatres were entirely destitute of scenery, the protruded board indicated that the empty stage was to be considered as a city, a house, a wood, or any other place. When scenes were first introduced, the board was not imme
1) Note L.
diately discontinued, but was used to denote that the painting exhibited to the audience represented such a particular city, wood, or house. It was a long while indeed before the theatres were rich enough to afford a separate scene for every change of place throughout a play, so that it was frequently the lot of one painting, in the space of a few hours, to represent the metropolis of different countries. Temporary crections on the stage, for the purposes of the scene, were very com
In the last act of Romeo and Juliet the interest centres entirely in ihe descent of the hero into a tomb; and in the historical plays, so much in favour on the early stage, the frequent mention of the walls of towns, attacks upon the gates, the appearance
of citizens and others on the battlements, made some representation of the places named absolutely indispensable. A very inartificial crection in the front of the balcony would answer the principal purposes required; firm footing for those who were to appear above, and ingress or egress beneath, by means of a door or gate.
Many old plays require in their representation the use of somewhat complicated machinery. To mention only those of Shakspeare. In the Tempest, Ariel enters "like a harpy, claps his wings on the table, and with a quaint device the banquet vanishes.” In another scene of the same play Juno “descends.” In Cymbeline, Jupiter “descends” in thunder and lightning, sitting upon an eagle. The “ cauldron sinks,” and apparitions rise at the bidding of the witches in Macbeth. There were of course trap-doors; the subterraneous region to which they led was known by the name of hell, in opposition to the ceiling of the stage, which represented the heavens. Azure hangings from the roof indicated the presence of day; a more sombre drapery represented the shades of night. A “hell inouth” is enumerated among the articles belonging to the Admiral's company, and mention of the same delectable avenue very frequently occurs in the Revel Account Books.
It is impossible to mark the introduction of scenery on the public stage, or to describe its actual state at any specific period. In the forty years, or more, between the erection of the first playhouse and the death of Shakspeare, considerable advancement, it appears, had been made in scenic decoration. The mention of a few particulars of the properties actually belonging to the Lord Admiral's company in 1598, may probably, however, give rise to ideas that have not been already suggested. After the mention of rocks, tombs, coffins and altars; lions, dragons, dogs and horses, Phaeton's chariot, and oh, lamentable fall! a bedstead; the articles most indicative of the adoption of scenery, and a gradual improvement in its use, are, “2 stepells, and i chyme of belles, and 1 beacon, ” “ the sittie of Rome,” a “raynbowe,” and the “cloth of the Sone and Mone." Nor should the trees of “gowlden apelles," and of “ 'Tantelouse” be omitted.
In the representation of masques and regular dramatic pieces at court, the dresses worn by the perforiners were remarkable for their elegance and splendour. Gold, silver, silk, satin, velvet, and feathers, in every variety of colour and combination, were exhausted in adorning the actors. "Nor was splendour the only consideration: considerable pains were bestowed, and expense incurred, in the provision of dresses, attributes, and ornaments, appropriate to the characters represented.
However cramped by poverty, various causes combined to enable the theatres to emulate the bravery of the royal stage. The customary habits of the noble and wealthy were splendid; and their rejected wardrobes found ready sale at the theatre, where a slight diminution of lustre was immaterial, and casual soils were · well compensated by cheapness of acquisition. As plays or masques were not frequently acted more than once at court, little necessity existed for the preservation of the dresses which were used; and they, of course, readily found their way into the possession of the only persons to whom they could be valuable. Like the scenery, the dresses of the theatres would vary, in quality and variety, with the opulence or poverty of their treasuries; but it is certain, that at most of the principal playhouses ihe apparel was various, appropriate, and elegant. Kings figured in crowns, imperial, plain, or surmounted with a sun; and globes