ePub 版

criticism, Tieck says, first, that the action | passion, but first and last they speak out

of the play is not conducted upon dramatic principles; second, that the language is not varied with the character and situation; third, that the poetry is essentially conventional, being the reflection of the author's school-learning. It must be evident to all our readers that these characteristics are the very reverse of Shakspere. Schlegel says of 'Locrine,' "The proofs of the genuineness of this piece are not altogether unambiguous; the grounds for doubt, on the other hand, are entitled to attention. However, this question is immediately connected with that respecting 'Titus Andronicus,' and must be at the same time resolved in the affirmative or negative." We dissent entirely from this opinion. It appears to us that the differences are as strikingly marked between 'Locrine' and Titus Andronicus' as between "Titus Andronicus' and 'Othello.' Those productions were separated by at least twenty years. The youth might have produced Aaron; the perfect master of his art, Iago. There is the broad mark of originality in the characterization and language of 'Titus Andronicus.' The terrible passions which are there developed by the action find their vent in the appropriate language of passion, the bold and sometimes rude outpourings of nature. The characters of Locrine' are moved to

[ocr errors]

of books. In Shakspere, high poetry is the most natural language of passion. It belongs to the state of excitement in which the character is placed; it harmonizes with the excited state of the reader or of the audience. But the whole imagery of 'Locrine' is mythological. In a speech of twenty lines we have Rhadamanthus, Hercules, Eurydice, Erebus, Pluto, Mors, Tantalus, Pelops, Tithonus, Minos, Jupiter, Mars, and Tisiphone. The mythological pedantry is carried to such an extent, that the play, though unquestionably written in sober sadness, is a perfect travesty of this peculiarity of the early dramatists. Conventional as Greene and Marlowe are in their imagery, a single act of 'Locrine' contains more of this tinsel than all their plays put together, prone as they are to this species of decoration. In the author of 'Locrine' it becomes so entirely ridiculous, that this quality alone would decide us to say that Marlowe had nothing to do with it, or Greene either. It belongs, if not to a period scarcely removed from the rude art of the early stages, at least to a period when the principles of real dramatic poetry had not been generally received. It is essentially of the first transition state, in point of conception and execution.



THE royal patent of 1574 authorized in the exercise of their art and faculty "James Burbadge, John Perkyn, John Lanham, William Johnson, and Robert Wilson,” who are described as the servants of the Earl of Leicester. Although on the early stage the characters were frequently doubled, we can scarcely imagine that these five persons were of themselves sufficient to form a company of comedians. They had, no doubt, subordinate actors in their pay; they being the

proprietors or shareholders in the general adventure. Of these five original patentees, four remained as the "sharers in the Blackfriars Playhouse" in 1589, the name only of John Perkyn being absent from the subscribers to a certificate to the Privy Council, that the company acting at the Blackfriars “have never given cause of displeasure in that they have brought into their plays matters of state and religion." This certificate

which bears the date of November, 1589—

exhibits to us the list of the professional | at least a year before the date of this certicompanions of Shakspere in an early stage of his career, though certainly not in the very earliest. The certificate represents the persons subscribing it as "her Majesty's poor players," and sets forth that they are "all of them sharers in the Blackfriars Playhouse." Their names are presented in the following order :

1. James Burbadge.
2. Richard Burbadge.
3. John Laneham.
4. Thomas Greene.
5. Robert Wilson.
6. John Taylor.
7. Anth. Wadeson.
8. Thomas Pope.
9. George Peele.

10. Augustine Phillipps.
11. Nicholas Towley.

12. William Shakespeare.
13. William Kempe.
14. William Johnson.
15. Baptiste Goodale.
16. Robert Armyn.

ficate; for he was the successor of Tarleton in the most attractive line of characters, and Tarleton died in 1588. We hold that Shakspere had won his position in this company at the age of twenty-five by his success as a dramatic writer; and we consider that in the same manner George Peele had preceded him, and had acquired rank and property amongst the shareholders, chiefly by the exercise of his talents as a dramatic poet.

There can be little doubt that upon the early stage, the occupations of actor and "maker of plays" for the most part went together. The dialogue was less regarded than the action. A plot was hastily got up, with rude shows and startling incidents. The characters were little discriminated; one actor took the tyrant line, and another the lover; and ready words were at hand for the one to rant with and the other to whine. The actors were not very solicitous about the words, and often discharged their mimic passions in extemporaneous eloquence. In a few years the necessity of pleasing more refined audiences changed the economy of the stage. Men of high talent sought the theatre as a ready mode of maintenance by their writings; but their connexion with the stage would naturally begin in acting rather than in authorship. The managers, themselves actors, would think, and perhaps

In the 'Account of GEORGE PEELE and his Writings,' prefixed to Mr. Dyce's valuable edition of his works (1829), the editor says, "I think it very probable that Peele occasionally tried his histrionic talents, particularly at the commencement of his career, but that he was ever engaged as a regular actor I altogether disbelieve." But the pub-rightly, that an actor would be the best lication, in 1835, by Mr. Collier, of the above certificate of the good conduct in 1589 of the Blackfriars company, which he discovered amongst the Bridgewater Papers, would appear to determine the question contrary to the belief of Mr. Dyce. Mr. Collier, in the tract in which he first published this important document *, says, with reference to the enumeration of Peele in the certificate, George Peele was unquestionably the dramatic poet, who, I conjectured some years ago, was upon the stage early in life." The name of George Peele stands ninth on this list; that of William Shakespeare the twelfth. The name of William Kempe immediately follows that of Shakspere. Kempe must have become of importance to the company *New Facts regarding the Life of Shakespeare.'

[ocr errors]

judge of dramatic effect; and a Master of
Arts, unless he were thoroughly conversant
with the business of the stage, might better
carry his taffeta phrases to the publishers of
sonnets. The rewards of authorship through
the medium of the press were in those days
small indeed; and paltry as was the drama-
tist's fee, the players were far better pay-
masters than the stationers. To become a
sharer in a theatrical speculation offered a
reasonable chance of competence, if not of
wealth. If a sharer existed who was ex-
cellent" enough in "the quality" he pro-
fessed to fill the stage creditably, and added
to that quality
66 a facetious grace in writ-
ing," there is no doubt that with “upright-
ness of dealing" he would, in such a com-
pany as that of the Blackfriars, advance

[ocr errors]

rapidly to distinction, and have the counte- | brought to the task a higher poetical feeling, nance and friendship of " divers of worship." Such was the character given to Shakspere himself in 1592. One of the early puritanical attacks upon the stage has this coarse invective against players: "Are they not notoriously known to be those men in their life abroad, as they are on the stage, roysters, brawlers, ill-dealers, boasters, lovers, loiterers, ruffians? So that they are always exercised in playing their parts and practising wickedness; making that an art, to the end that they might the better gesture it in their parts?" By the side of this silly abuse may be placed the modest answer of Thomas Heywood, the most prolific of writers, himself an actor: "I also could wish that such as are condemned for their licentiousness might by a general consent be quite excluded our society; for, as we are men that stand in the broad eye of the world, so should our manners, gestures, and behaviours, savour of such government and modesty, to deserve the good thoughts and reports of all men, and to abide the sharpest censure even of those that are the greatest opposites to the quality. Many amongst us I know to be of substance, of government, of sober lives, and temperate carriages, housekeepers, and contributory to all duties enjoined them, equally with them that are ranked with the most bountiful; and if, amongst so many of sort, there be any few degenerate from the rest in that good demeanour which is both requisite and expected from their hands, let me entreat you not to censure hardly of all for the misdeeds of some, but rather to excuse us, as Ovid doth the generality of women :'Parcite paucarum diffundere crimen in omnes; Spectetur meritis quæque puella suis.'"*

Those of Peele's dramatic works which have come down to us afford evidence that he possessed great flexibility and rhetorical power, without much invention, with very little discrimination of character, and with that tendency to extravagance in the management of his incidents which exhibits small acquaintance with the higher principles of the dramatic art. He no doubt became a writer for the stage earlier than Shakspere. He

*Apology for Actors.'

and more scholarship, than had been previously employed in the rude dialogue which varied the primitive melodramatic exhibitions, which afforded a rare delight to audiences with whom the novel excitement of the entertainment compensated for many of its grossnesses and deficiencies. Thomas Nash, in his address 'To the Gentlemen Students of both Universities,' prefixed to Greene's 'Menaphon,' mentions Peele amongst the most celebrated poets of the day, “ as the chief supporter of pleasance now living, the Atlas of poetry, and primus verborum artifex; whose first increase, the 'Arraignment of Paris,' might plead to your opinions his pregnant dexterity of wit, and manifold variety of invention, wherein (me judice) he goeth a step beyond all that write." "The Arraignment of Paris,' which Nash describes as Peele's first increase, or first production, was performed before the Queen in 1584, by the children of her chapel. It is called in the title-page "a pastoral." It is not improbable that the favour with which this mythological story of the Judgment of Paris was received at the Court of Elizabeth might in some degree have given Peele his rank in the company of the Queen's players, who appear to have had some joint interest with the children of the chapel. The pastoral possesses little of the dramatic spirit; but we occasionally meet with passages of great descriptive elegance, rich in fancy, though somewhat overlaboured. The god| desses, however, talk with great freedom, we might say with a slight touch of mortal vulgarity. This would scarcely displease the courtly throng; but the approbation would be overpowering at the close, when Diana bestows the golden ball, and Venus, Pallas, and Juno cheerfully resign their pretensions in favour of the superior beauty, wisdom, and princely state, of the great Eliza. Such scenes were probably not for the multitude who thronged to the Blackfriars. Peele was the poet of the City as well as of the Court. He produced a Lord Mayor's Pageant in 1585, when Sir Wolstan Dixie was chief magistrate, in which London, Magnanimity, Loyalty, the Country, the Thames, the Sol

whom Robert Greene in 1592 addressed his dying warning. Peele was, according to the repentant profligate, driven, like himself, to extreme shifts. He was in danger, like Greene, of being forsaken by the puppets "that speak from our mouths." The reason that the players are not to be trusted is because their place is supplied by another: "Yes, trust them not; for there is an upstart crow beautified with our feathers, that, with his tiger's heart wrapped in a player's hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you; and, being an absolute Johannes factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country."

dier, the Sailor, Science, and a quaternion of | pany in 1589. He is one of the three to nymphs, gratulate the City in melodious verse. Another of his pageants before "Mr. William Web, Lord Mayor," in 1591, has come down to us. He was ready with his verses when Sir Henry Lee resigned the office of Queen's Champion in 1590; and upon the occasion also of an Installation at Windsor in 1593. When Elizabeth visited Theobalds in 1591, Peele produced the speeches with which the Queen was received, in the absence of Lord Burleigh, by members of his household, in the characters of a hermit, a gardener, and a mole-catcher. In all these productions we find the facility which distinguished his dramatic writings, but nothing of that real power which was to breathe a new life into the entertainments for the people. The early play of 'Sir Clyomon and Sir Clamydes' is considered by Mr. Dyce to be the production of Peele. It is a most tedious drama, in the old twelve-syllable rhyming verse, in which the principle of alliteration is carried into the most ludicrous absurdity, and the pathos is scarcely more moving than the woes of Pyramus and Thisby in A 'Midsummer Night's Dream.' One example of a lady in distress may suffice:—

[blocks in formation]

In a few years, perhaps by the aid of better examples, Peele worked himself out of many of the absurdities of the early stage; but he had not strength wholly to cast them off. We shall notice his historical play of 'Edward I.' in the examination of the theory that he was the author of the three Parts of Henry VI. in their original state; and it is scarcely necessary for us here to enter more minutely into the question of his dramatic ability. It is pretty manifest that a new race of writers, with Shakspere at their head, was rising up to push Peele from the position which he held in the Blackfriars com


ROBERT GREENE has been described by his friend Henry Chettle as a man of indifferent years, of face amiable, of body well-proportioned, his attire after the habit of a scholarlike gentleman, only his hair somewhat long.” Greene took his degree of Bachelor of Arts at Cambridge in 1578, and his Master's degree in 1583.

The "somewhat long hair" is scarcely incompatible with the "attire after the habit of a scholar." Chettle's description of the outward appearance of the man would scarcely lead us to imagine, what he has himself told us, that "his company were lightly the lewdest persons in the land." In one of his posthumous tracts, "The Repentance of Robert Greene,' which Mr. Dyce, the editor of his works, holds to be genuine, he says, "I left the University and away to London, where (after I had continued some short time, and driven myself out of credit with sundry of my friends) I became an author of plays, and a penner of love pamphlets, so that I soon grew famous in that quality, that who for that trade grown so ordinary about London as Robin Greene? Young yet in years, though old in wickedness, I began to resolve that there was nothing bad that was profitable: whereupon I grew so rooted in all mischief, that I had as great a delight in wickedness as sundry hath in godliness; and as much felicity I took in villainy as others had in honesty." The whole story of Greene's life renders it too probable that Gabriel Harvey's spiteful caricature of him had much of that real re

semblance which renders a caricature most effective: "I was altogether unacquainted with the man, and never once saluted him by name: but who in London hath not heard of his dissolute and licentious living; his fond disguising of a Master of Art with ruffianly hair, unseemly apparel, and more unseemly company; his vainglorious and Thrasonical braving; his fripperly extemporizing and Tarletonizing; his apish counterfeiting of every ridiculous and absurd toy; his fine cozening of jugglers, and finer juggling with cozeners; his villainous cogging and foisting; his monstrous swearing and horrible forswearing; his impious profaning of sacred texts; his other scandalous and blasphemous raving; his riotous and outrageous surfeiting; his continual shifting of lodgings; his plausible mustering and banqueting of roysterly acquaintance at his first coming; his beggarly departing in every hostess's debt; his infamous resorting to the Bankside, Shoreditch, Southwark, and other filthy haunts; his obscure lurking in basest corners; his pawning of his sword, eloak, and what not, when money came short; his impudent pamphleting, fantastical interluding, and desperate libelling, when other cozening shifts failed?"* This is the bitterness of revenge, not softened even by the penalty which the wretched man had paid for his offence, dying prematurely in misery and solitariness, and writing from his lodging at a poor shoemaker's these last touching lines to the wife whom he had abandoned: "Doll, I charge thee by the love of our youth, and by my soul's rest, that thou wilt see this man paid for if he and his wife had not succoured me, I had died in the streets." As a writer he was one amongst the most popular of his day. His little romances of some fifty pages each were the delight of readers for amusement, for half a century. They were the companions of the courtly and the humble, -eagerly perused by the scholar of the University and the apprentice of the City. They reached the extreme range of popularity. In Anthony Wood's time they were "mostly sold on ballad-monger's stalls ;" and Sir Thomas Overbury describes his Chambermaid *Four Letters, &c., 1592.'


as reading "Greene's works over and over." Some of these tales are full of genius, illregulated no doubt, but so pregnant with invention, that Shakspere in the height of his fame did not disdain to avail himself of the stories of his early contemporary. The dramatic works of Greene were probably much more numerous than the few which have come down to us; and the personal character of the man is not unaptly represented in these productions. They exhibit great pomp and force of language; passages which degenerate into pure bombast from their ambitious attempts to display the power of words; slight discrimination of character; incoherence of incident; and an entire absence of that judgment which results in harmony and proportion. His extravagant pomp of language was the characteristic of all the writers of the early stage except Shakspere; and equally so were those attempts to be humorous which sank into the lowest buffoonery. In the lyrical pieces which are scattered up and down Greene's novels, there is occasionally a quiet beauty which exhibits the real depths of the man's genius. Amidst all his imperfections of character, that genius is fully acknowledged by the best of his contemporaries.

THOMAS LODGE was Greene's senior in age, and greatly his superior in conduct. He had been a graduate of Oxford; next a player, though probably for a short time; was a member of Lincoln's Inn; and, finally, a successful physician of the name of Thomas Lodge is held to be identical with Lodge the poet. He was the author of a tragedy, The Wounds of Civil War: lively set forth in the true Tragedies of Marius and Sylla.' He had become a writer for the stage before the real power of dramatic blank verse had been adequately conceived. His lines possess not the slightest approach to flexibility; they invariably consist of ten syllables, with a pause at the end of every line-"each alley like its brother;" the occasional use of the triplet is the only variety. Lodge's tragedy has the appearance of a most correct and laboured performance; and the result is that of insufferable tediousness. In conjunction with Greene he wrote A Looking Glass for

« 上一頁繼續 »