ePub 版



THE controversy upon the lawfulness of stageplays was a remarkable feature of the period which we are now describing; and pamphlets were to that age what newspapers are to ours. The dispute about the Theatre was a contest between the holders of opposite opinions in religion. The Puritans, who even at that time were strong in their zeal if not in their numbers, made the Theatre the especial object of their indignation; for its unquestionable abuses allowed them so to frame their invectives that they might tell with double force against every description of public amusement, against poetry in general, against music, against dancing, associated as they were with the excesses of an ill-regulated stage. A Treatise of John Northbrooke; licensed for the press in 1577, is directed against "dicing, dancing, vain plays, or interludes." Gosson, who had been a student of Christchurch, Oxford, had himself written two or three plays previous to his publication, in 1579, of 'The School of Abuse, containing a Pleasant Invective against Poets, Pipers, Players, Jesters, and such-like Caterpillars of a Commonwealth.' This book, written with considerable ostentation of learning, and indeed with no common vigour and occasional eloquence, defeats its own purposes by too large an aim. Poets, whatever be the character of their poetry, are the objects of Gosson's new-born hostility:"Tiberius the Emperor saw somewhat when he judged Scaurus to death for writing a tragedy; Augustus when he banished Ovid; and Nero when he charged Lucan to put up his pipes, to stay his pen, and write no more." Music comes in for the same denunciation, upon the authority of Pythagoras, who "condemns them for fools that judge music by sound and ear." The three abuses of the time are held to be inseparable:-"As poetry and piping are cousin-germans, so piping and playing are of great affinity, and all three chained in links of abuse." It is not to be


| thought that declamation like this would produce any great effect in turning a poetical mind from poetry, or that even Master Gosson's contrast of the "manners of England in old time" and "New England," would go far to move a patriotic indignation against modern refinements. We have, on one hand, Dion's description how Englishmen went naked and were good soldiers; they fed upon roots and barks of trees; they would stand up to the chin many days in marshes without victuals ;" and, on the other hand, "but the exercise that is now among us is banqueting, playing, piping, and dancing, and all such delights as may win us to pleasure, or rock us in sleep. Quantum mutatus ab illo!" In this his first tract the worthy man has a sneaking kindness for the Theatre which he can with difficulty suppress: -"As some of the players are far from abuse, so some of their plays are without rebuke, which are easily remembered, as quickly reckoned. The two prose books played at the Bel Savage, where you shall find never a word without wit, never a line without pith, never a letter placed in vain. Jew,' and 'Ptolemy,' shown at the Bull; the one representing the greediness of worldly choosers, and bloody minds of usurers; the other very lively describing how seditious estates with their own devices, false friends with their own swords, and rebellious commons in their own snares, are overthrown; neither with amorous gesture wounding the eye, nor with slovenly talk hurting the ears, of the chaste hearers. The Blacksmith's Daughter,' and 'Catiline's Conspiracies,' usually brought in at the Theatre: the first containing the treachery of Turks, the honourable bounty of a noble mind, the shining of virtue in distress. The last, because it is known to be a pig of mine own sow, I will speak the less of it; only giving you to understand that the whole mark which I shot 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 Cicero, which foresees every danger that is likely to happen, and forestalls it continually ere it take effect."

The praise of the "two prose books at the Bel Savage," that contained "never a word without wit, never a line without pith, never a letter placed in vain," is quite sufficient to show us that these prose books exhibited neither character nor passion. The 'Ptolemy' and the 'Catiline,' there can be no doubt, were composed of a succession of tedious monologues, having nothing of the principle of dramatic art in them, although in their outward form they appeared to be dramas. Gosson says, "These plays are good plays and sweet plays, and of all plays the best plays, and most to be liked, worthy to be sung of the Muses, or set out with the cunning of Roscius himself; yet are they not fit | for every man's diet, neither ought they commonly to be shown." It is clear that these good plays and sweet plays had not in themselves any of the elements of popularity; therefore they were utterly barren of real poetry. The highest poetry is essentially the popular poetry: it is universal in its range, it is unlimited in its duration. The lowest poetry (if poetry it can be called) is conventional; it lives for a little while in narrow corners, the pet thing of fashion or of pedantry. When Gosson wrote, the poetry of the English drama was not yet born; and the people contented themselves with something else that was nearer poetry than the plays which were "not fit for every man's diet." Gosson, in his second tract, which, provoked by the answer of Lodge to his 'School of Abuse,' is written with much more virulence against plays especially, thus describes what the people most delighted in: "As the devil hath brought in all that Poetry can sing, so hath he sought out every strain that Music is able to pipe, and drawn all kinds of instruments into that compass, simple and mixed. For the eye, beside the beauty of the houses and the stages, he sendeth in garish apparel, masks, vaulting, tumbling, dancing of jigs, galliards, moriscos, hobby-horses, showing of juggling casts; no


matter with pomp, or ravish the beholders
with variety of pleasure." Lodge, in his re-
ply to Gosson's 'School of Abuse,' had indi-
rectly acknowledged the want of moral pur-
pose in the stage exhibitions; but he con-
tends that, as the ancient satirists were
reformers of manners, so might plays be
properly directed to the same end. "Surely
we want not a Roscius, neither are there
great scarcity of Terence's profession: but
yet our men dare not nowadays presume so
much as the old poets might: and therefore
they apply their writings to the people's vein;
whereas, if in the beginning they had ruled,
we should nowadays have found small spec-
tacles of folly, but of truth.
. . You
say, unless the thing be taken away, the vice
will continue; nay, I say, if the style were
changed, the practice would profit." To this
argument, that the Theatre might become
the censor of manners, Gosson thus replies:
"If the common people which resort to the-
atres, being but an assembly of tailors, tink-
ers, cordwainers, sailors, old men, young
men, women, boys, girls, and such-like, be
the judges of faults there pointed out, the
rebuking of manners in that place is neither
lawful nor convenient, but to be held for a
kind of libelling and defaming." The no-
tion which appears to have possessed the
minds of the writers against the stage at
this period is, that a fiction and a lie were
the same. Gosson says, "The perfectest
image is that which maketh the thing to
seem neither greater nor less than indeed
it is; but, in plays, either the things are
feigned that never were, as Cupid and Psyche
played at Paul's, and a great many come-
dies more at the Blackfriars, and in every
playhouse in London, which, for brevity sake,
I overskip; or, if a true history be taken in
hand, it is made like our shadows, longest at
the rising and fall of the sun; shortest of all
at high noon."

It has scarcely, we think, been noticed that the justly celebrated work of Sir Philip Sidney forms an important part of the controversy, not only against the Stage, but against Poetry and Music, that appears to have commenced 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 it partakes of the general infamy of Poetry. According to this declaimer, it is "the whole practice of poets, either with fables to show their abuses, or with plain terms to unfold their mischief, discover their shame, discredit themselves, and disperse their poison throughout the world." Gosson dedicated his 'School of Abuse' to Sidney; and Spenser, in one of his letters to Gabriel Harvey, shows how Sidney received the compliment: -"New books I hear of none: but only of one that, writing a certain book called 'The School of Abuse,' and dedicating it to Master Sidney, was for his labour scorned; if, at least, it be in the goodness of that nature to scorn. Such folly is it not to regard aforehand the inclination and quality of him to whom we dedicate our books." We have no doubt that the Defence of Poesy,' or, as it was first called, 'An Apology for Poetry,' was intended as a reply to the dedicator. There is every reason to believe that it was written in 1581. Sidney can scarcely avoid pointing at Gosson when he speaks of the "Poet-haters" as of "people who seek a praise by dispraising others," that they "do prodigally spend a great many wandering words in quips and scoffs, carping and taunting at each thing which, by stirring the spleen, may stay the brain from a thorough beholding the worthiness of the subject." We have seen how the early fanatical writers against the stage held that a Poet and a Liar were synonymous. To this ignorant invective, calculated for the lowest understandings, Sidney gives a brief and direct answer:- "That they should be the principal liars, I answer paradoxically, but truly, I think truly, that, of all writers under the sun, the poet is the least liar, and, though he would, as a poet can scarcely be a liar. The astronomer, with his cousin the geometrician, can hardly escape when they take upon them to measure the height of the stars. How often, think you, do the physicians lie, when they aver things good for sicknesses, which afterwards send Charon a great number of souls drowned in a potion before they come to his ferry? And no less of the rest which take upon them to affirm:

therefore never lieth; for, as I take it, to lie is to affirm that to be true which is false: So as the other artists, and especially the historian, affirming many things, can, in the cloudy knowledge of mankind, hardly escape from many lies: But the poet, as I said before, never affirmeth, the poet never maketh any circles about your imagination to conjure you to believe for true what he writeth: He citeth not authorities of other histories, but even for his entry calleth the sweet Muses to aspire unto him a good invention : In troth, not labouring to tell you what is or is not, but what should or should not be. And therefore, though he recount things not true, yet, because he telleth them not for true, he lieth not, unless we will say that Nathan lied in his speech, before alleged, to | David; which as a wicked man durst scarce say, so think I none so simple would say that Æsop lied in the tales of his beasts; for who thinketh that Æsop wrote it for actually true were well worthy to have his name chronicled among the beasts he writeth of. What child is there that, coming to a play and seeing Thebes' written in great letters upon an old door, doth believe that it is Thebes? If then a man can arrive to the child's age, to know that the poet's persons and doings are but pictures what should be, and not stories what have been, they will never give the lie to things not affirmatively, but allegorically and figuratively, written; and therefore, as in history, looking for truth, they may go away full fraught with falsehood, so in poesy, looking but for fiction, they shall use the narration but as an imaginative ground-plat of a profitable invention."

[ocr errors]

The notion of Sidney's time evidently was, that nothing ought to be presented upon the stage but what was an historical fact; that all the points belonging to such a history should be given; and that no art should be used in setting it forth beyond that necessary to give the audience, not to make them comprehend, all the facts. It is quite clear that such a process will present us little of the poetry or the philosophy of history. The play-writers of 1580, weak masters as they were, knew their art better than Gosson;

[ocr errors]

they made history attractive by changing it
into a melo-drama :-" The poets drive it
(a true history) most commonly unto such
points as may best show the majesty of their
pen in tragical speeches, or set the heroes
agog with discourses of love, or paint a few
antics to fit their own humours with scoffs
and taunts, or bring in a show to furnish the
stage when it is bare. When the matter of
itself comes short of this, they follow the
practice of the cobbler, and set their teeth
to the leather to pull it out. So was the
history of 'Cæsar and Pompey,' and the play
of 'The Fabii,' at the theatre both amplified
there where the drums might walk or the
pen ruffle. When the history swelled or ran
too high for the number of the persons who
should play it, the poet with Proteus cut the
same to his own measure: when it afforded
no pomp at all, he brought it to the rack to
make it serve. Which invincibly proveth on
my side that plays are no images of truth."
The author of 'The Blast of Retreat,' who
describes himself as formerly a great af
fector of that vain art of play-making,"
charges the authors of historical plays not
only with expanding and curtailing the
action, so as to render them no images of
truth, but with changing the historical facts
altogether:-" If they write of histories that
are known, as the life of Pompey, the mar-
tial affairs of Cæsar, and other worthies, they
give them a new face, and turn them out
like counterfeits to show themselves on the
stage." From the author of 'The Blast of
Retreat' we derive the most accurate ac-
count of those comedies of intrigue of which
none have come down to us from this early
period of the drama. We might fancy he
was describing the productions of Mrs. Behn
or Mrs. Centlivre, in sentences that might
appear to be quoted from Jeremy Collier's
attacks upon the stage more than a century
later:-"Some, by taking pity upon the de-
ceitful tears of the stage-lovers, have been
moved by their complaint to rue on their plays, who are not unfitly so called."

secret friends, whom they have thought to
have tasted like torment: some, having
noted the ensamples how maidens restrained
from the marriage of those whom their
friends have misliked, have there learned
a policy to prevent their parents by steal-
ing them away: some, seeing by ensample of
the stage-player one carried with too much
liking of another man's wife, having noted
by what practice she has been assailed and
overtaken, have not failed to put the like in
effect in earnest that was afore shown in jest.

. . The device of carrying and recarrying letters by laundresses, practising with pedlars to transport their tokens by colourable means to sell their merchandise, and other kind of policies to beguile fathers of their children, husbands of their wives, guardians of their wards, and masters of their servants, is it not aptly taught in 'The School of Abuse?'". Perhaps the worst abuse of the stage of this period was the licence of the clown or fool -an abuse which the greatest and the most successful of dramatic writers found it essential to denounce and put down. The author of 'The Blast of Retreat' has described this vividly :-" And all be [although] these pastimes were not, as they are, to be condemned simply of their own nature, yet because they are so abused they are abominable. For the Fool no sooner showeth himself in his colours, to make men merry, but straightway lightly there followeth some vanity, not only superfluous, but beastly and wicked. Yet we, so carried away by his unseemly gesture and unreverenced scorning, that we seem only to be delighted in him, and are not content to sport ourselves with modest mirth, as the matter gives occasion, unless it be intermixed with knavery, drunken merriments, crafty cunnings, undecent jugglings, clownish conceits, and such other cursed mirth, as is both odious in the sight of God, and offensive to honest cars."

The editor of the tract appends a note:-"He meaneth



WHEN the ancient pageants and mysteries had been put down by the force of public opinion,-when spectacles of a dramatic character had ceased to be employed as instruments of religious instruction,—the professional players who had sprung up founded their popularity for a long period upon the old habits and associations of the people. Our drama was essentially formed by a course of steady progress, and not by rapid transition. We are accustomed to say that the drama was created by Shakspere, Marlow, Greene, Kyd, and a few others of distinguished genius; but they all of them worked upon a rough foundation which was ready for them. The superstructure of real tragedy and comedy had to be erected upon the moral plays, the romances, the histories, which were beginning to be popular in the very first days of Queen Elizabeth, and continued to be so, even in their very rude forms, beyond the close of her long reign.

In the controversial writers who, about 1580, attacked and defended the early Stage, we find no direct mention of those Histories, "borrowed out of our English Chronicles, wherein our forefathers' valiant acts, that have been long buried in rusty brass and worm-eaten books, are revived, and they themselves raised from the grave of oblivion, and brought to plead their aged honours in open presence." This is a description of the early Chronicle Histories of the stage, as given by Thomas Nashe, in 1592. Nashe goes on to say:-" In plays, all cosenages, all cunning drifts, over-gilded with outward holiness, all stratagems of war, all the cankerworms that breed in the rust of peace, are most lively anatomised. They show the ill success of treason, the fall of hasty climbers, the wretched end of usurpers, the misery of civil dissention, and how just God is evermore in punishing murder. And to prove every one of these allegations could I propound the circumstances of this play and

that." In the same pamphlet Nashe describes the plays to the performance of which "in the afternoon" resorted "men that are their own masters, as gentlemen of the court, the inns of court, and the number of captains and soldiers about London." To this audience, then,-not the rudest or least refined, however idle and dissipated,-the representation of some series of events connected with the history of their country had a charm which, according to Nashe, was to divert them from grosser excitements. In another passage the same writer says, "What a glorious thing it is to have King Henry V. represented on the stage leading the French king prisoner, and forcing both him and the Dauphin to swear fealty." Something like this dramatic action is to be found in one of those elder historical plays which have come down to us, The Famous Victories of Henry V., containing the Honourable Battle of Agincourt.' Nothing can be ruder or more inartificial than the dramatic conduct of The Famous Victories: nothing grosser than the taste of many of its dialogues. The old Coventry play of 'Hock Tuesday,' exhibited before Queen Elizabeth in Kenilworth Castle, in 1575, did not more essentially differ in the conduct of its action from the structure of a regular historical drama, than such a play as 'The Famous Victories' differed, in all that constitutes dramatic beauty and propriety, from the almost contemporary histories of Marlow and Shakspere. To understand what Shakspere especially did for English History, we may well bestow a little study upon this extraordinary composition.

[ocr errors]

"The Famous Victories' is a regal story; its scenes changing from the tavern to the palace, from England to France; now exhibiting the wild Prince striking the representative of his father on the seat of justice, and then, after a little while, the same Prince a hero and a conqueror. A raised floor furnishes ample room for all these dis

« 上一頁繼續 »