« 上一頁繼續 »
SHAKESPEARE MEMORIAL BUILDINGS.
INAUGURATION OF THE THEATRE,
(RE-PRINTED FROM THE “STRATFORD-UPON-AVON HERALD” OF APRIL 25TH, 1879).
Three hundred and fifteen years ago the infant Shakespeare was born; two hundred and sixty-three years ago the man Shakespeare died. In that short term of life we all know what he did. He looked on men and nature in a manner in which they had never before been seen; he gave the result to the world; and effected a revolution in thought, feeling, and language. If the work of his life had been the production of ordinary dramatic literature, he would have been accepted by posterity, without doubt or hesitation, as a great dramatic author of the Elizabethan and Jacobean era, who was born and who died in Stratford-uponAvon, and the meagre records of his life would have been taken as ordinary proved events in literary history. But the miracle which he had wrought was too great for belief and acceptation. Every fact in connection with his life—and they very
few-has been denied, received in a spirit of incredulity. With the small amount of education he was known to possess, with his "little Latin and less Greek,” he could not have been the author of those plays and poems. They must have been written by Lord Bacon; they are not the work of any one man, but of many. He is not Shakespeare at all in the sense conveyed by the authorship of the book, but he has somehow got mixed up in a matter with which he had nothing to do. “All this, and much more, of equal logical force and relevancy, has been said, even down to our own day. Meanwhile there has never been any need, to a Warwickshire man, of any. evidence beyond that contained in the book itself. It abounds in local allusions, and strong idiomatic Warwickshire talk which amount to
“confirmation strong as proofs of Holy Writ.” Words of purely local meaning, forms of expression peculiar to the people, and folk-lore of the locality are very numerous throughout, which would be the merest commonplaces, but that "imagination amends them,” and the light of genius illumines every page. Weare, however, in no mood to contest mere differences of opinion to-day. The spirit of the gentle Shakespeare is around and about us, tinging all things with its glamour and its glory, Let the town-pent critic come to us, " before the swallow dares,' and we will take him where the spirit of Shakespeare floats on every breath of spring; where soon every hedgerow will teem with evidence that it has lain under the spell of his presence and observation. We will take him into our woodland glades—he must be careful of the dwarf briars, and tendrils of the wild honeysuckle—and open to his view some of the choicest pages in the book of nature. He will then find how faithfully and lovingly the poet has copied from the great original, and discover the wondrous fidelity of the transcript. And there, if he has the true influence upon him, we will for a short time leave him, to pour out his soul in passionate love and longing for the common mother. Such sights and sounds encompass
him will take his spirit captive, and imprison it in a dream of joy.
magic in the web ” of nature's rare embroidery is on every hand, and the potent spell is working upon him. If he “loves to lie i' the sun,” and will wait patiently till our English summer gives us a little, we will take him to scenes hard-by which hold sweet communion with the soul of the rural volup
tuary, and where lies the source from whence our Shakespeare drew his glorious inspirations.
Where, then, should our hero-worship be, if not in scenes like these—if not in his own beloved Stratford, where evidences of his life and work meet us at every turn? And in this belief, and in the truest spirit befitting the time and the occasion, have our revels been, and will continue to be, held on the banks of the Avon.
HISTORY OF THE PROJECT. It may not be uninteresting at the present time to reproduce an account of the Memorial project which, consequent the completion of the theatre portion, was the occasion of so much rejoicing on Wednesday last. With regard to the drama, we are told that for many years it had a “home” here. Some ancient Corporation records go to show that at intervals the town was visited by companies of stage players, but the occurrences were few and far between. The legitimate drama lingered in our great cities, and was not much encouraged in the great metropolis. Yet it is handed down to us by " that babbling dame,”'_tradition, that Mrs Siddons and the no less famed Kembles “fretted their hour on the stage
" in a barn which stood in what is called Windsor Street; but in those degenerate days” the thoroughfare had a name not quite so euphonious; and also in a building which stood until very recently on the north-east side of Guild Street, and was known by the cognomen of “ New York.” In after years the use of it degenerated to equine purposes, and the horses belonging to the famous Red Horse Hotel—the once temporary home of the amiable Washington Irving-were there housed. The structure has been razed to the ground, and the Newland Almshouses now occupy the space. As population increased education advanced, and improvements in the manners and customs of society followed ; a degree of refinement, the consequences of the blessings of peace after the long war, permeated society; and in 1835 a theatre was erected in Chapel Lane on a portion of ground which had formed part of the great garden of the poet. The house was of modest dimensions and of very plain exterior. The interior was neatly but not gorgeously fitted up. The cost (about £1,200) was defrayed by a proprietor. The original capital was £800, but that sum was found inadequate to complete the building. The theatre was liberally supported. Its opening was a memorable event. The play selected was As You Like It, in which that accomplished actress the late Mrs Nesbitt appeared. At intervals followed those brilliant stars of the theatrical world—the Kembles, Siddons, Young, the Keans, Cooke, Macready, Knowles, Vandenhoffbut a change came over the scene. The drama, to use a familiar phrase, declined; the house was little used, and the shareholders determined upon rearranging the interior of the house. Accordingly the pit and stage were swept away, the boxes and gallery only retained, where was once the place for “the groundlings” a floor was laid, and the style “theatre” was abandoned for that of “ The Shakespeare Rooms." This was in 1842; Charles Kemble gave a reading on the rooms being opened. The audience was not large, and theatrical matters languished-itinerant companies now and then came
to the town, and the late Mr Jackman was the lessee of the house for several seasons. With him came the late lamented Henry Hartley, a fellow of infinite jest.” For a few years the legitimate drama, burlesque, opera, each in turn were experimented with, Again a change took place, and in 1869 the rooms were adapted for theatrical performances by fixing a permanent stage and a proscenium. The building was occupied at different times by many theatrical “stars,” among them being Mr Walter Searle, and that clever actress Miss Alice Dodd. For several seasons Mr Stanley Betjemann introduced an English Opera Company, whose performances were very successful, and made the house famous. Mr and Mrs Wybert Rousby gave two performances on the last two nights that the theatre was used—the final play being Hamlet—so that the Alpha and Omega of the career of the theatre were the plays of the unrivalled poet and dramatist whose name is inseparably associated with this town. Shortly after this the house was sold by auction, and the materials carted away. It has been said that had the burgesses been aware of the impending destruction of the old house, an effort would have been made to have retained it until another theatre had been built, but the purchase was commenced and concluded so quietly that until the entire negotiations were finished, the unwelcome act was not known. The birth of the movement which has culminated in such well-deserved success is set forth at length in an admirably written work entitled “ A History of the Shakespeare Memorial,”' written by one of our townsmen, and from which we venture to quote. We are told that about various periods, and especially when the attention of the people has been more particularly directed to our immortal bard and his work, it has been felt that it was something of a disgrace to us that we had done nothing to mark our appreciation of him, nothing to testify our admiration of him, nothing to show our love for him—at least, nothing that was at all worthy of us as a people, or of the object of our veneration. This feeling was particularly shown at the Tencentenary Festival in 1864, and among the many propositions and plans for the proper celebration of that time, it became apparent that nothing would so fully satisfy -the popular sentiment in regard to it as the erection of some memorial that should be a fitting monument of the love and gratitude of a great people, to him, the greatest of them all. The division of opinion at the outset, the rival committees, and the attempt on the part of some towns to gain an advantage for themselves out of the movement, prevented then the full realisation of the project. An amount of enthusiasm was, however, then created which has never since died out, but has gone on increasing to the present time in favour of what was then pretty clearly demonstrated. First, that it was desirable to erect a mouumental memorial to Shakespeare, built by the offerings of all those, wherever they may be, who love and admire his writings and reverence his memory; and, secondly, that this could nowhere be properly accomplished except at Stratford-upon-Avon, “the birthplace, the home, and the grave of the bard,”' that it could nowhere be so fittingly done as amid the scenes of his childhood, youth, and manhood, where Nature had whispered to him her choicest thoughts, and where ere yet his manly strength declined, he chose to come and dwell and spend the remainder of his