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Who can sing a merrier note
Than he that cannot change a groat? In another passage he cries:
When earth and seas from me are reft,
The skies aloft for me are left. Merrythought's absorbing jollity is not the spirit of Merrygreek. Still less is it associated with Shakespeare's Justice Silence. This character has no kinship with Merrythought beyond his singing of snatches from old ballads, and, moreover, he sings only when he is intoxicated; Merrythought sings at all times, whether he be drunk or sober. If it were desirable to push comparisons, one might find relationships between our lover of ballads and the ballad-monger Autolycus in A Winter's Tale, which was first acted near the date of our play's appearance. This latter personage, however, is concerned only with the profit to be gained from his wares, and the clownage which characterizes him is the expression of deep-dyed rascality, while that of Merrythought is merely the result of irrepressible spirits. After all, however far Merrythought may be the reflection of a common type, I think that we must recognize in his blithe and sunny nature, his invincible gaiety, and his comfortable philosophy, an imperfectly outlined, but original and eminently happy creation of our dramatists. The character is not without an ancestry, but in its distinguishing lineaments it is unique.
E. OBJECTS OF THE SATIRE. The satire in The Knight of the Burning Pestle points in many directions. It is leveled at the romances of chivalry, together with the tastes of the reading mempers of the middle classes, and the extravagances of The bourgeois drama, which were the products of this
literature; it is leveled at the dunce-critics of the London shops, who presumed to sit in judgment upon the playwrights, and to impose upon the stage such theatrical productions as conformed to their uncouth standards; it is leveled at some of the childish diversions and foibles of the commoners, with an especial reference to their inflated military ardor as manifested in the drills of the City train bands at Mile End. My purpose is to show the relevancy and justification of this ridicule by sketching the several objects which provoked it.
1. Literary and Theatrical Tastes of the Middle Classes.
The discussion of the parallel episodes in The Knight of the Burning Pestle and the romances of chivalry has either covered or anticipated what is to be said of the popular literature of the time, so far as it offered material for the burlesque. The features of the old tales which were most openly exposed to the satirical shafts of the dramatist have been sufficiently illustrated by these comparisons. It remains to show how far the burlesque upon them was pertinent to the English public. a. The Fashion of Romance-reading, and the Chivalric Drama.
The continental romances of chivalry never secured the wide vogue among the English aristocracy which they had enjoyed in the courts and castles of their native soils. The reason is not far to seek. In the first place, the field was preëmpted, so far as the romances continued to be read among the higher classes, by the legends of Arthur and his Round Table, which, with their organic religious principle and their fine consecrations, together with their distinctly national aroma, appealed to thoughtful, cultivated minds
with far greater force than the pointless extravagances of Amadis of Gaul and its progeny. The favor sometimes accorded to these peculiarly British tales by men of letters is reflected in Milton's unqualified reverence for the characters and ideals of the knights: he tells us that in his youth he betook himself ' among those lofty fables and romances, which recount in solemn cantos the deeds of knighthood founded by our victorious kings,' and that the magnanimous and pure lives of the heroes proved to him so many incitements ... to the love and steadfast observation of that virtue which abhors the society of bordelloes '; 1 and his early intention to write an epic founded upon the Arthurian legend is well known.
But the good opinion of romances entertained by Milton does not by any means reflect the attitude of all littérateurs and scholars. As early as 1570, Roger Ascham lodged a frequently quoted indictment against the Morte d'Arthur as an agent of popery and a corrupter of youth. He says:
In our forefather's time, when Papistrie as a standyng poole, couered and ouerflowed all England, few bookes were read in our tong, sauyng certaine bookes of Cheualrie, as they sayd, for pastime and pleasure, which, as some say, were made in Monasteries, by idle Monkes, or wanton Chanons; as one for example, Morte Arthure : the whole pleasure of which booke standeth in two speciall poyntes, in open manslaughter, and bold bawdry. . . . Yet, I know when Gods Bible was banished the Court, and Morte Arthure received into the Princes chamber. What toyes the dayly readying of such a booke may worke in the will of a yong ientleman, or a yong mayde, that liueth welthelie and idelie, wise men can iudge, and honest men do pitie.
The sombre old pedagogue's fear of the pernicious influence of the Morte d'Arthur was, of course, excessive, but it was in line, at least, with a growing sentiment that the reading of romances, even those
· An Apology for Smectymnuus, 1642.
of native growth, was a waste of time. During Elizabeth's reign, the national tales were displaced, and the Amadis cycles were forestalled, in the 'prince's chamber' and court circles, by court and pastoral fictions, either translated or modeled from the Spanish and the Italian, and by the varied species of poetry which sprang into being under the inspiration of the Italian Renaissance. As a result of this new and polished literature, the way into the favor of cultivated readers was blocked against the Peninsular
When Anthony Munday began to make his translations in the latter half of the sixteenth century, books of chivalry had lost much of their prestige in Spain itself, and it was inevitable that they should receive small notice in English society, whose literary fashions were largely dominated by Spanish influence!
But though banished from the circles of the élite, Munday's versions received wide and lasting popularity among the uneducated. Because of the success of his undertaking, Munday published translations of Palmerin of England, Palmerin de Oliva, Pallidino of England, Amadis of Gaul, Primaleon of Greece, and Palmendos, in the order named. Coeval with Munday's labor were the translations of other romances by other hands, chief of which was that of the famous Espeio de Caballerias. The first part of this exceedingly popular work was translated in 1579 by Margaret Tiler. The remaining eight portions appeared at intervals, the last being printed in 1602. The book was given the English title of The Mirrour of Knighthood . ... The Mirrour of Princely Deeds and Knighthood, wherein is shewed the Worthinesse of the Knight of the Sunne and his Brother Rosicleer, &c., &c.
1 Cf. Underhill, Spanish Literature in the England of the Tudors, p. 368.
The romances which seem to have received the largest prominence, and which, moreover, are the most directly related to The Knight of the Burning Pestle, are Amadis of Gaul, the two Palmerins, and The Mirrour of Knighthood. As is well known, Amadis was the progenitor of the Spanish cycles, and it is generally regarded as having given the most admirable expression to the peculiarities of its type. Its imitative descendants, however, steadily deteriorated in worth, and in The Mirrour of Knighthood the wild and preposterous plots which marked the romances reached the climax of extravagance. Cervantes has this tale consigned without mercy to the flames. The relative merits of the Amadis and the Palmerins are specified by Cervantes is his chapter on ‘The Burning of the Books.' The curate commands Oliva to be ‘rent in pieces, and burned in such sort that even the very ashes thereof may not be found.' Amadis is to be preserved as 'the very best contrived book of all those of that kind.' Palmerin of England also is to be preserved as a thing rarely delectable.' * The discourse,' says the curate, “is very clear and courtly, observing evermore a decorum in him that speaks, with great propriety and conceit.' All the other presentations of .so bad a sect' are doomed by the curate to the flames.
Side by side with these foreign importations, the heroic tales of native growth were diligently published and read. The Morte d'Arthur was frequently printed down to 1634, and the histories of Sir Bevis of Hamptoun, Sir Guy of Warwick, Sir Lancelot of the Lake, Robin Hood, Adam Bell, &c., were constantly issued from the press in small handy volumes, which were adorned with illustrative cuts! In their attract
· Cf. Jusserand, The English Novel in the Time of Shakespeare, p. 64.