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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."
matter with pomp, or ravish the beholders
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, heney forms an important part of the controsendeth in garish apparel, masks, vaulting, tumbling, dancing of jigs, galliards, moriscos, hobby-horses, showing of juggling casts; no
It has scarcely, we think, been noticed that the justly celebrated work of Sir Philip Sid
versy, 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 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 fraught 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 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:
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;
they made history attractive by changing it
secret friends, whom they have thought to
. . 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 ears.”
The editor of the tract appends a note :-"He meaneth
THE EARLIEST HISTORICAL DRAMA.
WHEN the ancient pageants and mysteries | that." In the same pamphlet Nashe dehad 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
scribes 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.
"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
plays. A painted board leads the imagina- | bar to the prisoner;" but what he adds,
tion of the audience from one country to another; and when the honourable battle of Agincourt is to be fought, "two armies fly in, represented with four swords and bucklers, and then what hard heart will not receive it for a pitched field?" (Sidney-Defence of Poesy.') The curtain is removed, and without preparation we encounter the Prince in the midst of his profligacy. Ned and Tom are his companions; and when the Prince says, "Think you not that it was a villainous part of me to rob my father's receivers ?" Ned very charitably answers, "Why no, my lord, it was but a trick of youth." Sir John Oldcastle, who passes by the familiar name of Jockey, joins this pleasant company, and he informs the Prince that the town of Deptford has risen with hue and cry after the Prince's man who has robbed a poor carrier. The accomplished Prince then meets with the receivers whom he has robbed; and, after bestowing upon them the names of villains and rascals, he drives them off with a threat that if they say a word about the robbery he will have them hanged. With their booty, then, will they go to the tavern in Eastcheap, upon the invitation of the Prince :-" We are all fellows, I tell you, sirs; an the king my father were dead, we would be all kings." The scene is now London, with John Cobbler, Robin Pewterer, and Lawrence Costermonger keeping watch and ward in the accustomed style of going to sleep. There is short rest for them; for Derrick, the carrier who has been robbed by the Prince's servant, is come to London to seek his goods. Tarleton, the famous Clown, plays the Kentish carrier. It matters little what the author of the play has written down for him, for his "wondrous plentiful pleasant extemporal wit" will do much better for the amusement of his audience than the dull dialogue of the prompt-books. In the scene before us he has to catch the thief, and to take him before the Lord Chief Justice; and when the Court is set in order, and the Chief Justice cries, "Gaoler, bring the prisoner to the bar," Derrick speaks according to the book, -"Hear you, my lord, I pray you bring the
having this hint for a clown's licence, soon renders the Chief Justice a very insignificant personage. The real wit of Tarleton probably did much to render the dullness of the early stage endurable by persons of any refinement. Henry Chettle, in his curious production, 'Kind-Hartes Dreame,' written about four years after Tarleton's death, thus describes his appearance in a vision;—"The next, by his suit of russet, his buttoned cap, his tabor, his standing on the toe, and other tricks, I knew to be either the body or resemblance of Tarleton, who, living, for his pleasant conceits was of all men liked, and, dying, for mirth left not his fellow." The Prince enters and demands the release of his servant, which the Chief Justice refuses. The scene which ensues when the Prince strikes the Chief Justice is a remarkable example of the poetical poverty of the early stage. In the representation, the action would of course be exciting, but the dialogue which accompanies it is beyond comparison bald and meaningless. The audience was, however, compensated by Tarleton's iteration of the scene:-" Faith, John, I'll tell thee what: thou shalt be my lord chief justice, and thou shalt sit in the chair; and I'll be the young prince, and hit thee a box on the ear; and then thou shalt say, To teach you what prerogatives mean, I commit you to the Fleet." The Prince is next presented really in prison, where he is visited by Sir John Oldcastle. The Prince, in his dialogue with Jockey, Ned, and Tom, again exhibits himself as the basest and most vulgar of ruffians; but, hearing his father is sick, he goes to Court, and the bully, in the twinkling of an eye, becomes a saintly hypocrite: -"Pardon me, sweet father, pardon me: good my lord of Exeter, speak for me; pardon me, pardon, good father: not a word: ah, he will not speak one word: ah, Harry, now thrice unhappy Harry. But what shall I do? I will go take me into some solitary place, and there lament my sinful life, and, when I have done, I will lay me down and die". The scene where the Prince removes the crown possesses a higher interest, when we recollect the great parallel