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THE LAWFULNESS OF PLAYS.
The controversy upon the lawfulness of stage-| thought that declamation like this would plays was a remarkable feature of the period produce any great effect in turning a poetiwhich we are now describing; and pamphlets cal mind from poetry, or that even Master were to that age what newspapers are to ours. Gosson's contrast of the “manners of EngThe dispute about the Theatre was a contest land in old time” and “ New England,” between the holders of opposite opinions in would go far to move a patriotic indignation religion. The Puritans, who even at that against modern refinements. We have, on time were strong in their zeal if not in their one hand, Dion's description how Englishnumbers, made the Theatre the especial ob- went naked and were good soldiers ; ject of their indignation; for its unquestion they fed upon roots and barks of trees; they able abuses allowed them so to frame their would stand up to the chin many days in invectives that they might tell with double marshes without victuals;" and, on the other force against every description of public hand, “ but the exercise that is now among amusement, against poetry in general, against us is banqueting, playing, piping, and dancmusic, against dancing, associated as they ing, and all such delights as may win us to were with the excesses of an ill-regulated pleasure, or rock us in sleep. Quantum mustage. A Treatise of John Northbrooke, li- tatus ab illo !” In this his first tract the censed for the press in 1577, is directed worthy man has a sneaking kindness for the against “dicing, dancing, vain plays, or in- Theatre which he can with difficulty suppress: terludes.” Gosson, who had been a student —“As some of the players are far from abuse, of Christchurch, Oxford, had himself written so some of their plays are without rebuke, two or three plays previous to his publica- which are easily remembered, as quickly tion, in 1579, of 'The School of Abuse, con- reckoned. The two prose books played at taining a Pleasant Invective against Poets, the Bel Savage, where you shall find never Pipers, Players, Jesters, and such-like Cater- a word without wit, never a line without pillars of a Commonwealth.” This book, writ- pith, never a letter placed in vain. "The ten with considerable ostentation of learning, Jew,' and ' Ptolemy,' shown at the Bull; the and indeed with no common vigour and oc- one representing the greediness of worldly casional eloquence, defeats its own purposes choosers, and bloody minds of usurers; the by too large an aim. Poets, whatever be the other very lively describing how seditious character of their poetry, are the objects of estates with their own devices, false friends Gosson’s new-born hostility :—“Tiberius the with their own swords, and rebellious comEmperor saw somewhat when he judged mons in their own snares, are overthrown; Scaurus to death for writing a tragedy; Au- neither with amorous gesture wounding the gustus when he banished Ovid; and Nero eye, nor with slovenly talk hurting the ears, when he charged Lucan to put up his pipes, of the chaste hearers. “The Blacksmith's to stay his pen, and write no more.” Music Daughter,' and Catiline's Conspiracies,' comes in for the same denunciation, upon the usually brought in at the Theatre : the first authority of Pythagoras, who "condemns containing the treachery of Turks, the hothem for fools that judge music by sound nourable bounty of a noble mind, the shining and ear.” The three abuses of the time are of virtue in distress. The last, because it is held to be inseparable :—“As poetry and known to be a pig of mine own sow, I will piping are cousin-germans, so piping and speak the less of it; only giving you to unplaying are of great affinity, and all three derstand that the whole mark which I shot chained in links of abuse." It is not to be at in that work was to show the reward of
traitors in Catiline, and the necessary go- | thing forgot that might serve to set out the vernment of learned men in the person of matter with pomp, or ravish the beholders Cicero, which foresees every danger that is with variety of pleasure.” Lodge, in his relikely to happen, and forestalls it continu- ply to Gosson's 'School of Abuse,' had indially ere it take effect.”
rectly acknowledged the want of moral purThe praise of the “two prose books at the pose in the stage exhibitions ; but he conBel Savage,” that contained “never a word tends that, as the ancient satirists were without wit, never a line without pith, never reformers of manners, so might plays be a letter placed in vain,” is quite sufficient to properly directed to the same end. “Surely show us that these prose books exhibited nei we want not a Roscius, neither are there ther character nor passion. The 'Ptolemy' great scarcity of Terence's profession : but and the Catiline,' there can be no doubt, yet our men dare not nowadays presume so were composed of a succession of tedious much as the old poets might: and therefore monologues, having nothing of the principle they apply their writings to the people's vein; of dramatic art in them, although in their whereas, if in the beginning they had ruled, outward form they appeared to be dramas. we should nowadays have found small specGosson says, “ These plays are good plays tacles of folly, but of truth.
You and sweet plays, and of all plays the best say, unless the thing be taken away, the vice plays, and most to be liked, worthy to be will continue ; nay, I say, if the style were sung of the Muses, or set out with the cun- changed, the practice would profit.” To this ning of Roscius himself; yet are they not fit argument, that the Theatre might become for every man's diet, neither ought they com the censor of manners, Gosson thus replies : monly to be shown.” It is clear that these “If the common people which resort to thegood plays and sweet plays had not in them- atres, being but an assembly of tailors, tinkselves any of the elements of popularity ; ers, cordwainers, sailors, old men, young therefore they were utterly barren of real men, women, boys, girls, and such-like, be poetry. The highest poetry is essentially the judges of faults there pointed out, the the popular poetry : it is universal in its rebuking of manners in that place is neither range, it is unlimited in its duration. The lawful nor convenient, but to be held for a lowest poetry (if poetry it can be called) is kind of libelling and defaming." The noconventional; it lives for a little while in tion which appears to have possessed the narrow corners, the pet thing of fashion or minds of the writers against the stage at of pedantry. When Gosson wrote, the poetry this period is, that a fiction and a lie were of the English drama was not yet born; and the same. Gosson says, “The perfectest the people contented themselves with some- image is that which maketh the thing to thing else that was nearer poetry than the seem neither greater nor less than indeed plays which were “not fit for every man's it is; but, in plays, either the things are diet.” Gosson, in his second tract, which, feigned that never were, as Cupid and Psyche provoked by the answer of Lodge to his played at Paul's, and a great many comeSchool of Abuse,' is written with much dies more at the Blackfriars, and in every more virulence against plays especially, thus playhouse in London, which, for brevity sake, describes what the people most delighted in: I overskip; or, if a true history be taken in “As the devil hath brought in all that Poetry hand, it is made like our shadows, longest at can sing, so hath he sought out every strain the rising and fall of the sun; shortest of all that Music is able to pipe, and drawn all at high noon.” kinds of instruments into that compass, It has scarcely, we think, been noticed that simple and mixed. For the eye, beside the the justly celebrated work of Sir Philip Sidbeauty of the houses and the stages, he ney forms an important part of the controsendeth in garish apparel, masks, vaulting, versy, not only against the Stage, but against tumbling, dancing of jigs, galliards, moriscos, Poetry and Music, that appears to have comhobby-horses, showing of juggling casts ; no menced in England a little previous to 1580.
Gosson, as we have seen, attacks the Stage, | Now for the poet, he nothing affirmeth, and not only for its especial abuses, but because therefore never lieth ; for, as I take it, to lie it partakes of the general infamy of Poetry. is to affirm that to be true which is false: So According to this declaimer, it is "the whole as the other artists, and especially the hispractice of poets, either with fables to show torian, affirming many things, can, in the their abuses, or with plain terms to unfold cloudy knowledge of mankind, hardly escape their mischief, discover their shame, discre- from many lies : But the poet, as I said bedit themselves, and disperse their poison fore, never affirmeth, the poet never maketh throughout the world.” Gosson dedicated any circles about your imagination to conhis 'School of Abuse' to Sidney; and Spen- jure you to believe for true what he writeth: ser, in one of his letters to Gabriel Harvey, He citeth not authorities of other histories, shows how Sidney received the compliment: but even for his entry calleth the sweet —“New books I hear of none: but only of Muses to aspire unto him a good invention : one that, writing a certain book called “The In troth, not labouring to tell you what is School of Abuse,' and dedicating it to Master or is not, but what should or should not be. Sidney, was for his labour scorned; if, at least, And therefore, though he recount things not it be in the goodness of that nature to scorn. true, yet, because he telleth them not for Such folly is it not to regard aforehand the true, he lieth not, unless we will say that inclination and quality of him to whom we Nathan lied in his speech, before alleged, to dedicate our books.” We have no doubt that David ; which as a wicked man durst scarce the · Defence of Poesy,' or, as it was first say, so think I none so simple would say that called, 'An Apology for Poetry,' was intended Æsop lied in the tales of his beasts ; for who as a reply to the dedicator. There is every thinketh that Æsop wrote it for actually true reason to believe that it was written in 1581. were well worthy to have his name chroSidney can scarcely avoid pointing at Gosson nicled among the beasts he writeth of. What when he speaks of the “Poet-haters as of child is there that, coming to a play and seeing “people who seek a praise by dispraising Thebes' written in great letters upon an others," that they “do prodigally spend a old door, doth believe that it is Thebes ? If great many wandering words in quips and then a man can arrive to the child's age, to scoffs, carping and taunting at each thing know that the poet's persons and doings are which, by stirring the spleen, may stay the but pictures what should be, and not stories brain from a thorough beholding the worthi- what have been, they will never give the lie ness of the subject." We have seen how the to things not affirmatively, but allegorically early fanatical writers against the stage held and figuratively, written; and therefore, as that a Poet and a Liar were synonymous. in history, looking for truth, they may go To this ignorant invective, calculated for the away full aught with falsehood, so in poesy, lowest understandings, Sidney gives a brief looking but for fiction, they shall use the and direct answer :—“That they should be narration but as an imaginative ground-plat the principal liars, I answer paradoxically, of a profitable invention.” but truly, I think truly, that, of all writers The notion of Sidney's time evidently was, under the sun, the poet is the least liar, and, that nothing ought to be presented upon the though he would, as a poet can scarcely be stage but what was an historical fact; that a liar. The astronomer, with his cousin the all the points belonging to such a history geometrician, can hardly escape when they should be given ; and that no art should take upon them to measure the height of the be used in setting it forth beyond that nestars. How often, think you, do the physi- cessary to give the audience, not to make cians lie, when they aver things good for them comprehend, all the facts. It is quite sicknesses, which afterwards send Charon a clear that such a process will present us little great number of souls drowned in a potion of the poetry or the philosophy of history. before they come to his ferry? And no less The play-writers of 1580, weak masters as of the rest which take upon them to affirm : | they were, knew their art better than Gosson;
they made history attractive by changing it , secret friends, whom they have thought to into a melo-drama :-“ The poets drive it have tasted like torment: some, having (a true history) most commonly unto such noted the ensamples how maidens restrained points as may best show the majesty of their from the marriage of those whom their pen in tragical speeches, or set the heroes friends have misliked, have there learned agog with discourses of love, or paint a few a policy to prevent their parents by stealantics to fit their own humours with scoffs ing them away: some, seeing by ensample of and taunts, or bring in a show to furnish the the stage-player one carried with too much stage when it is bare. When the matter of liking of another man's wife, having noted itself comes short of this, they follow the by what practice she has been assailed and practice of the cobbler, and set their teeth overtaken, have not failed to put the like in to the leather to pull it out. So was the effect in earnest that was afore shown in jest. history of Cæsar and Pompey, and the play The device of carrying and recarrying of 'The Fabii,' at the theatre both amplified letters by laundresses, practising with pedlars there where the drums might walk or the to transport their tokens by colourable means pen ruffle. When the history swelled or ran to sell their merchandise, and other kind of too high for the number of the persons who policies to beguile fathers of their children, should play it, the poet with Proteus cut the husbands of their wives, guardians of their same to his own measure: when it afforded wards, and masters of their servants, is it not no pomp at all, he brought it to the rack to aptly taught in “The School of Abuse ?'”. make it serve. Which invincibly proveth on Perhaps the worst abuse of the stage of this my side that plays are no images of truth.” period was the licence of the clown or fool The author of The Blast of Retreat,' who —an abuse which the greatest and the most describes himself as formerly “a great af- successful of dramatic writers found it esfector of that vain art of play-making,” sential to denounce and put down. The aucharges the authors of historical plays not thor of The Blast Retreat' has described only with expanding and curtailing the this vividly :-“ And all be [although] these action, so as to render them no images of pastimes were not, as they are, to be contruth, but with changing the historical facts demned simply of their own nature, yet bealtogether :-“If they write of histories that
cause they are so abused they are abominable. are known, as the life of Pompey, the mar For the Fool no sooner showeth himself in tial affairs of Cæsar, and other worthies, they his colours, to make men merry, but straightgive them a new face, and turn them out way lightly there followeth some vanity, not like counterfeits to show themselves on the only superfluous, but beastly and wicked. stage.” From the author of "The Blast of Yet we, so carried away by his unseemly Retreat' we derive the most accurate ac gesture and unreverenced scorning, that we count of those comedies of intrigue of which seem only to be delighted in him, and are none have come down to us from this early not content to sport ourselves with modest period of the drama. We might fancy he mirth, as the matter gives occasion, unless was describing the productions of Mrs. Behn it be intermixed with knavery, drunken or Mrs. Centlivre, in sentences that might merriments, crafty cunnings, undecent jugappear to be quoted from Jeremy Collier's glings, clownish conceits, and such other attacks upon the stage more than a century cursed mirth, as is both odious in the sight later :-"Some, by taking pity upon the de- of God, and offensive to honest ears." ceitful tears of the stage-lovers, have been
* The editor of the tract appends a note :-"He meaneth moved by their complaint to rue on their | plays, who are not unfilly so called.”
When the ancient pageants and mysteries that.” In the same pamphlet Nashe dehad been put down by the force of public scribes the plays to the performance of which opinion,—when spectacles of a dramatic cha-“in the afternoon” resorted “men that are racter had ceased to be employed as instru- their own masters, as gentlemen of the court, ments of religious instruction,—the profes- the inns of court, and the number of captains sional players who had sprung up founded and soldiers about London.” To this auditheir popularity for a long period upon the ence, then,-not the rudest or least refined, old habits and associations of the people. however idle and dissipated,—the representOur drama was essentially formed by a course ation of some series of events connected of steady progress, and not by rapid tran- with the history of their country had a charm sition. We are accustomed to say that the which, according to Nashe, was to divert drama was created by Shakspere, Marlow, them from grosser excitements. In another Greene, Kyd, and a few others of distin- passage the same writer says, “ What a gloguished genius; but they all of them worked rious thing it is to have King Henry V. upon a rough foundation which was ready represented on the stage leading the French for them. The superstructure of real tra- | king prisoner, and forcing both him and the gedy and comedy had to be erected upon the Dauphin to swear fealty.” Something like moral plays, the romances, the histories, this dramatic action is to be found in one of which were beginning to be popular in the those elder historical plays which have come very first days of Queen Elizabeth, and con- down to us, "The Famous Victories of tinued to be so, even in their very rude Henry V., containing the Honourable Battle forms, beyond the close of her long reign. of Agincourt.' Nothing can be ruder or
In the controversial writers who, about more inartificial than the dramatic conduct 1580, attacked and defended the early Stage, of “The Famous Victories :' nothing grosser we find no direct mention of those Histories, than the taste of many of its dialogues. The " borrowed out of our English Chronicles, old Coventry play of Hock Tuesday,' exwherein our forefathers' valiant acts, that hibited before Queen Elizabeth in Kenilworth have been long buried in rusty brass and Castle, in 1575, did not more essentially worm-eaten books, are revived, and they differ in the conduct of its action from the themselves raised from the grave of oblivion, structure of a regular historical drama, than and brought to plead their aged honours in such a play as “The Famous Victories' difopen presence.” This is a description of the fered, in all that constitutes dramatic beauty early Chronicle Histories of the stage, as and propriety, from the almost contemporary given by Thomas Nashe, in 1592. Nashe histories of Marlow and Shakspere. To ungoes on to say :-“In plays, all cosenages, all derstand what Shakspere especially did for cunning drifts, over-gilded with outward ho- English History, we may well bestow a little liness, all stratagems of war, all the canker- study upon this extraordinary composition. worms that breed in the rust of peace,
"The Famous Victories' is a regal story ; are most lively anatomised. They show the its scenes changing from the tavern to the ill success of treason, the fall of hasty palace, from England to France ; now exclimbers, the wretched end of usurpers, the hibiting the wild Prince striking the repremisery of civil dissention, and how just God | sentative of his father on the seat of justice, is evermore in punishing murder. And to and then, after a little while, the same prove every one of these allegations could I Prince a hero and a conqueror. A raised propound the circumstances of this play and I floor furnishes ample room for all these dis