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THE DRAMATISTS OF SHAKSPERE'S SECOND PERIOD.
“Many were the wit-combats betwixt him, having turned it carelessly and superciliously and Ben Jonson ; which two I behold like a over, were just upon returning it to him Spanish great galleon and an English man- with an ill-natured answer, that it would be of-war : Master Jonson (like the former) of no service to their company, when Shakwas built far higher in learning ; solid, but spere luckily cast his eye upon it, and found slow, in his performances. Shakespeare, something so well in it as to engage him with the English man-of-war, lesser in bulk, first to read it through, and afterwards to but lighter in sailing, could turn with all recommend Mr. Jonson and his writings to tides, tack about, and take advantage of all the public."* The tradition which Rowe winds, by the quickness of his wit and in- thus records is not supported by minute vention.” Such is Thomas Fuller's well-facts which have since become known. In known description of the convivial inter- Henslowe's Diary of plays performed at his course of Shakspere and Jonson, first pub- theatre, we have an entry under the date of lished in 1662. A biographer of Shakspere the 11th of May, 1597, of 'The Comedy of says, “ The memory of Fuller perhaps teemed Humours.' This was no doubt a new play, with their sallies.” That memory, then, for it was acted eleven times : and there can must have been furnished at secondhand; be little question that it was Jonson's cofor Fuller was not born till 1608. He be- medy of 'Every Man in his Humour.' A held them in his mind's eye only. Imper- few months after we have the following enfect, and in many respects worthless, as the try in the same document :-"Lent unto few traditions of these wit-combats are, Benjamin Jonson, player, the 22nd of July, there can be no doubt of the companionship 1597, in ready money, the sum of four and ardent friendship of these two monarchs pounds, to be paid it again whensoever either of the stage. Fuller's fanciful comparison I or my son shall demand it.” Again: “Lent of their respective conversational powers is unto Benjamin Jonson, the 3rd of December, probably to some extent a just one. The 1597, upon a book which he was to write for difference in the constitution of their minds, us before Christmas next after the date and the diversity of their respective ac- hereof, which he showed the plot unto the quirements, would more endear each to the company : I say, lent in ready money unto other's society.
him the sum of twenty shillings.” On the Rowe thus describes the commencement 5th of January, 1598, Henslowe records in of the intercourse between Shakspere and the same way the trifling loan of five shilJonson :—“ His acquaintance with Ben Jon- lings. An advance is also made by Henson began with a remarkable piece of hu- slowe to his company on the 13th of August, manity and good nature. Mr. Jonson, who 1598, “to buy a book called 'Hot Anger was at that time altogether unknown to the soon cold,' of Mr. Porter, Mr. Chettle, and world, had offered one of his plays to the Benjamin Jonson, in full payment, the sum players, in order to have it acted ; and the of six pounds” We thus see, that in 1597 persons into whose hands it was put, after !
* Life of Shakspeare.'
and 1598 there was an intimate connection | Curtain Playhouse.” We know where Marof Jonson with the stage, but not with Shak- lowe was killed, and when he was killed. spere's company. It can scarcely be sup- He was slain at Deptford in 1593. Gifford posed that Jonson was a writer for the stage supposes that this tragical event in Jonson's earlier than 1597, and that the “ remarkable life took place in 1595 ; but the conjecture piece of humanity and good nature” re- is set aside by an indisputable account of corded of Shakspere took place before the the fact. Philip Henslowe, writing to his connection of Jonson with Henslowe's the son-in-law Alleyn on the 26th of September, atre. He was born, according to Gifford, in 1598, says, “ Since you were with me I have 1574. In January, 1619, he sent a poetical lost one of my company, which hurteth me "picture of himself” to Drummond, in which greatly, that is Gabrell [Gabriel)
, for he is these lines occur :
slain in Hogsden Fields by the hands of
Benjamin Jonson, bricklayer ; therefore I "My hundred of grey hairs Told six and forty years."
would fain have a little of your counsel, if
I could."* This event took place then, we This would place his birth in 1573*, Drum- see, exactly at the period when Jonson was mond, in narrating Jonson's account of “his in constant intercourse with Henslowe’s comown life, education, birth, actions,” up to pany; and it probably arose out of some the period in which we have shown how quarrel at the theatre that he was “ appealed dependent he was upon the advances of a to the fields.” The expression of Henslowe, theatrical manager, thus writes :-“ His
Benjamin Jonson, bricklayer,” is a regrandfather came from Carlisle, and, he markable one. It is inconsistent with Jonthought, from Annandale to it: he served son's own declaration that after his return King Henry VIII., and was a gentleman. from the Low Countries he“ betook himself His father lost all his estate under Queen to his wonted studies.” We believe that Mary, having been cast in prison and for- Henslowe, under the excitement of that feited ; at last turned minister; so he was a
loss for which he required the counsel of minister's son. He himself was posthumous Alleyn, used it as a term of opprobrium, that born, a month after his father's decease ;
was familiar to his company. Dekker, who brought up poorly, put to school by a friend
was a writer for Henslowe's theatre, and who (his master Camden); after, taken from it, in 1599 was associated with Jonson in the and put to another craft (I think was to be composition of two plays, ridicules his former a wright or bricklayer), which he could not friend and colleague, in 1602, as a “poor endure; then went he to the Low Countries ; | lime and hair rascal”—as one who ambled but returning soon, he betook himself to his “in a leather pilch by a play-waggon in the wonted studies. In his service in the Low highway”—“a foul-fisted mortar-treader”Countries, he had, in the face of both the
“one famous for killing a player"-one camps, killed an enemy and taken opima whose face “ looks for all the world like a spolia from him ; and since his coming to
rotten russet-apple when it is bruised”England, being appealed to the fields, he whose “goodly and glorious nose was blunt, had killed his adversary which had hurt him blunt, blunt"—who is asked, “how chance in the arm, and whose sword was ten inches it passeth that you bid good bye to an honest longer than his ; for the which he was im- trade of building chimneys and laying down prisoned, and almost at the gallows.' Then bricks for a worse handicraftness ?”—who is took he his religion by trust, of a priest twitted with “dost stamp, mad Tamburlaine, who visited him in prison. Thereafter he dost stamp ; thou think'st thou 'st mortar was twelve years a Papist.” Aubrey says in under thy feet, dost ?"-one whose face was his random way, “He killed Mr. Marlowe “punched full of eyelet-holes like the cover the poet on Bunhill, coming from the Green of a warming-pan"_"a hollow-cheeked
* See 'Jonson's Conversations with Drummond,' pub- * Letter in Dulwich College, quoted in Collier's 'Melished by the Shakespeare Society.
moirs of Alleyn.'
scrag." It is evident from all this abuse, ness induced him to write of Shakspere, “I which we transcribe as the passages occur in loved the man, and do honour his memory Dekker’s ‘Satiro-Mastix,' that the poverty, on this side idolatry as much as any. He the personal appearance, and, above all, the was indeed honest, and of an open and free original occupation of Jonson, exposed him nature ?" We have no hesitation in abiding to the vulgar ridicule of some of those with by the common sense of Gifford, who treated whom he was brought into contact at the with ineffable scorn all that has been written theatre. They did not feel as honest old about Jonson's envy, and malignity, and Fuller felt, when, describing Jonson, being coldness towards Shakspere. We believe in want of maintenance, as“ fain to return with him “that no feud, no jealousy ever to the trade of his father-in-law," the old disturbed their connection ; that Shakspere chronicler of the Worthies says—“Let not was pleased with Jonson, and that Jonson them blush that have, but those who have loved and admired Shakspere.” They worked not, a lawful calling.” We can understand upon essentially different principles of art ; what Henslowe means when he says “ Ben- they had each their admirers and disciples ; jamin Jonson, bricklayer.” In the autumn but the field in which they laboured was of 1598 the bricklayer-poet was lying in large enough for both of them, and they prison. At the Christmas of that year each cultivated it after his own fashion. * Every Man in his Humour,' greatly altered With the exception of such occasional quarfrom the original sketch produced by Hen- rels as those between Jonson and Dekker, slowe's company, was brought out by the the poets of that time lived as a generous Lord Chamberlain's company at the Black- brotherhood, whose cordial intercourse might friars. The doors of Henslowe's theatre on soften many of the rigours of their worldly the Bankside were probably shut against the lot. Jonson was by nature proud, perhaps man who had killed Gabriel, “ whose sword arrogant. His struggles with penury had was ten inches longer than his.” There made him proud. He had the inestimable seems to have been an effort on the part of possession of a well-educated boyhood ; he some one to console the unhappy prisoner had the consciousness of great abilities and under his calamity. He was a writer for a great acquirements. He was thrown amongst rival theatre, receiving its advances up to a band of clever men, some of whom perhaps the 13th of August, 1598. His improved laughed, as Dekker unworthily did, at his
| play was brought out by the company of a honest efforts to set himself above the real theatre which stood much higher in the disgrace of earning his bread by corrupt popular and the critical estimation a few arts: who ridiculed his pimpled face, his months afterwards. There was an act of one eye lower than t'other,” and his “coat friendship somewhere. May we not believe like a coachman's coat, with slips under the that this proud man, who seems to have arm-pits.” So Aubrey describes him who been keenly alive to neglect and injury- laid down laws of criticism, and married who says that “Daniel was at jealousies music and painting to the most graceful with him "—that “Drayton feared him”
But when the bricklayer had the that “he beat Marston, and took his pistol gratification of seeing his first comedy perfrom him ”-that “Sir William Alexander formed by the Lord Chamberlain's company, was not half kind to him”-that “Mark- to ham was but a base fellow”-that “such
“Sport with human follies, not with crimes," were Day and Middleton”—that “Sharpham, Day, Dekker, were all rogues, and that there was one amongst that company strong Minshew was one "—that “ Abraham Francis enough to receive with kindliness even the was a fool"*—may we not believe that original prologue, in which the romantic some deep remembrance of unusual kind- drama, perhaps some of his own plays, were
declaimed against by one who belonged to * All these passages are extracted from his Converse.
another school of art. Shakspere could not
tions with Drummond."
doubt that a man of vigorous understanding intercourse of some of the illustrious band had arisen up to devote himself to the ex- to whom the young dramatist refers :hibition of “popular errors," — humours
“Methinks the little wit I had is lost passing accidents of life and character. He
Since I saw you; for wit is like a rest himself worked upon more enduring ma
Held up at tennis, which men do the best terials ; but he would nevertheless see that
With the best gamesters: what things have there was one fitted to deal with the comedy of manners in a higher spirit than had yet Done at the Mermaid ! heard words that have been displayed. Not only was the amended been “Every Man in his Humour'acted by Shak- So nimble, and so full of subtile flame, spere’s company, Shakspere himself taking As if that every one from whence they came one of the characters; but the second co- Had meant to put his whole wit in a jest, medy from the same satirist was first pro
And had resolved to live a fool the rest duced by that company in 1599. When the Of his dull life; then when there hath been author, in his Induction, exclaims
Wit able enough to justify the town " If any here chance to behold himself,
For three days past—wit that might warrant Let him not dare to challenge me of wrong ;
be For, if he shame to have his follies known, For the whole city to talk foolishly First he should shame to act 'em : my strict Till that were cancell'd : and when that was hand
gone, Was made to seize on vice, and with a gripe We left an air behind us, which alone Squeeze out the humour of such spongy souls Was able to make the two next companies As lick up every idle vanity,"
Right witty: though but downright fools,
mere wise." the poet who “ was not for an age, but for all time,"_he, especially, who never once
Sociality was the fashion of those days—in comes before the audience in his individual moderation, not a bad fashion. Gifford has character, — might gently smile at these
noticed this with great justness ; “Domestic high pretensions. But he would stretch out
entertainments were, at that time, rare ; the the hand of cordial friendship to the man ;
accommodations of a private house were ill for he was in earnest—his indignation against
calculated for the purposes of a social meetvice was an honest one. Though a little ing: and taverns and ordinaries are therepersonal vanity might peep out—though the fore almost the only places in which we hear satirist might “venture on the stage when
of such assemblies. This, undoubtedly, gives the play is ended to exchange courtesies and an appearance of licentiousness to the age, compliments with gallants in the lord's which, in strictness, does not belong to it. rooms, to make all the house rise up in arms
Long after the period of which we are now and to cry,—That's Horace, that's he, that's speaking, we seldom hear of the eminent he, that's he, that pens and
characters of the day in their domestic humours purges
circles.” and diseases,"* Shakspere's congratulations
Jonson laughs at his own dison the success of Asper—for so Jonson de position to conviviality in connection with lighted to call himself—would come from
his habitual abstemiousness : Canary, the the heart.
very elixir and spirit of wine! This is that The things “ done at the Mermaid ” were
our poet calls Castalian liquor, when he
comes abroad now and then, once in a fortnot as yet. Francis Beaumont, who has made them immortal by his description, was
night, and makes a good meal among players, at this period scarcely sixteen years of age.
where he has caninum appetitum ; marry, at His · Letter to Jonson’ may, however, give home he keeps a good philosophical diet, us the best notion of the earlier convivial beans and buttermilk; an honest pure rogue,
he will take you off three, four, five of these, • • Satiro-Mastix.'
* Memoirs of Ben Jonson,'n exc.
one after another, and look villainously when the Iliad in six weeks,—the daring fiery he has done, like a one-headed Cerberus."* spirit of him who, in the opinion of the He puts these words into the mouth of a more polished translator, gave us a Homer buffoon. In his own person he speaks of such as he might have been before he had himself in a nobler strain :
come to the years of discretion. This is "I that spend half my nights, and all my days, meant by Pope for censure. Meres, in 1598,
Here in a cell to get a dark pale face, enumerates Chapman amongst the “ tragic To come forth worth the ivy and the bays; poets,” and also amongst the "best poets for
And, in this age, can hope no other grace.”+ comedy.” We have no evidence that he The alternations of excessive labour and wrote before the period when Shakspere joyous relaxation belong to the energies of raised the drama out of chaos. He had not the poetical temperament. Jonson has been the power to become a great dramatist in accused of excess in his pleasures. Drum- the strict sense of the word; for his genius mond ill-naturedly says, “ Drink is one of was essentially didactic. He could not go the elements in which he liveth.” But no out of himself to paint all the varieties of one affirmed that in his convivial meetings passion and character in vivid action ; but there was not something higher and better he could analyze the passion, exhibit its than sensual indulgence :
peculiarities, describe its current, with won“Ah, Ben !
drous force and originality, throwing in Say how, or when
touches of the purest poetry, clothed in Shall we thy guests
the most splendid combinations of language. Meet at those lyric feasts,
Dryden has not done justice to him, when Made at the Sun,
he says that “a dwarfish thought dressed up The Dog, the Triple Tun?
in gigantic words is his characteristic.” Where we such clusters had,
There are the gigantic words, but the thought As made us nobly wild, not mad;
is rarely dwarfish. Had he become a draAnd yet each verse of thine
matist ten years earlier, as he well might Outdid the meat, outdid the frolic wine."
from the period in which he was born, we GEORGE CHAPMAN, as Anthony Wood tells should have found more extravagance and us,“ was a person of most reverend aspect, less poetical fire. Shakspere rendered the religious and temperate, qualities rarely drama not so easy of approach by inferior meeting in a poet.” Anthony Wood has a
men, as it was in the early days of the low notion of the poetical character, as many Greenes and Peeles. Chapman with his unother prosaic people have. He tells us of dramatic mind has done wonders in his own an unhappy verse-maker of small merit who
way. was “exceedingly given to the vices of
JOHN FLETCHER was born in 1576. His poets." Chapman was, however, the senior father, the Bishop of London—he who poured of the illustrious band who lighted up the into the ears of the unhappy Mary of Scots close of the sixteenth century, and might on the scaffold that verbosam orationem, as be more reverend than many of them. He Camden has it, which had more regard to was seven years older than Shakspere, being his own preferment than the Queen's conborn in 1557. Yet his inventive faculties version-he who, marrying a second time, were brilliant to the last. Jonson told
fell under his royal mistress's displeasure, Drummond, in 1619, that “next himself and died of grief and excessive tobacco, in only Fletcher and Chapman could make a
1596, "seeking to lose his sorrow in a masque.” He said also, what was more im- mist of smoke,"*_he left his son John to portant, that “ Chapman and Fletcher were
carry his "sail of phantasy” into the danloved of him,” No one can doubt the vigour gerous waters of the theatre. The union of of the poet who translated twelve books of real talent with fashionable pretension, which *' Every Man out of his Humour.'
in time made him one of the most popular • The Poetaster.' | Herriek's Hesperides.'
* Fuller's Worthies.'