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But this very
too much reason to know that the stage | them to stand, and some other few things, had acquired a more licentious tone after but in the greater part allowed of my reShakspere's time; and although the puritans formations. This was done upon a complaint were over-zealous in their indiscriminating of Mr. Endymion Porter's, in December. The violence against all theatrical performances, king is pleased to take faith, death, slight, for there is just cause to believe that the senses asseverations, and no oaths, to which I do of the people were stimulated by excitements humbly submit as my master's judgment; of plot and character, mingled with profane but under favour conceive them to be oaths, and licentious language, much more than and enter them here, to declare my opinion in the days when Shakspere rested for his and submission.” But it was not the striking attractions on a large exhibition of natural out of the asseveration, or even of the oaths, passion and true wit; and when he produced which could purify the plays of that period. play after play, history, comedy, tragedy- Their principal demoralizing power consisted “ works truly excellent and capable of en- in their false representations of human chalarging the understanding, warming and pu- racter and actions. Take for example “the rifying the heart, and placing in the centre frightful contrasts,” as they have justly been of the whole being the germs of noble and called, between the women of Beaumont and manlike actions." * The nation was much Fletcher and those of Shakspere. He kept divided then, as it was long afterwards, at all times in the high road of life. He between the followers of extreme opinions “has no innocent adulteries, no interesting in morals—the over-strict on one hand, the incests, no virtuous vice; he never renders wholly careless on the other. Prynne tells that amiable which religion and reason alike us that, upon his first arrival in London, he teach us to detest, or clothes impurity in the had “heard and seen in four several plays, garb of virtue, like Beaumont and Fletcher, to which the pressing importunity of some the Kotzebues of the day.”* ill acquaintance drew me whiles I was yet truth and purity of Shakspere must have a novice, such wickedness, such lewdness, greatly diminished his attractions, amidst a as then made my penitent heart to loathe, crowd who wrote upon opposite principles. my conscience to abhor, all stage-plays ever Nothing but the unequalled strength of his since.” Prynne left Oxford and came to artistical power could have preserved the London after 1620. Fletcher was then the unbroken continuance of his supremacy. living idol of the theatre; and any one who And this leads us to the consideration of is acquainted with his plays, full of genius another cause why the popular admiration as they are, must admit that Prynne had too of him would have been diminished and inmuch cause for his disgust. In the office terrupted within a very few years after his book of Sir Henry Herbert, in 1633, we find death, and certainly long before the suppresthe following curious entry: “The comedy sion of the theatres, if his excellences had called The Young Admiral,' being free from not so completely triumphed over every oaths, profaneness, or obsceneness, hath given impediment to his enduring popular fame. me much delight and satisfaction in the His plays were to a certain extent mixed up reading, and may serve for a pattern to with the reputation of the actors by whom other poets.” The play was Shirley's. But they were originally represented. In that six months after there is a still more curious curious play "The Return from Parnassus, entry in the same book : “ This morning, which was acted by the students in St. John's being the 9th of January, 1633 , the College, Cambridge, in 1606, and which was king was pleased to call me into his with- clearly written by an academical person drawing chamber to the window, where he inclined to satirize the popular poets and went over all that I had crossed in Davenant's players of his day, Kempe is thus made to play-book, and, allowing of faith and slight to address two scholars who want lessons in be asseverations only and no oaths, marked the histrionic art: “Be merry, my lads ; * Coleridge.
* Coleridge's • Literary Remains,' vol. ij. p. 79.
you have happened upon the most excellent own, but the stain of all other nations and
Wit e the
onument Ety hart I was i ngerous acquired ats stars
the net eir om se whom
the con of the site
The theatres were thrown open at the of his own documents, for, when he gives us one Restoration. Malone, in his "Historical list, he points out that there are only three Account of the English Stage,' informs us, plays of Shakspere—“a melancholy proof” of that, “in the latter end of the year 1659, his decline; and at another list he shakes his some months before the restoration of King head, reciting “the following plays of ShakCharles II., the theatres, which had been speare, and these only.” Now it appears to us suppressed during the usurpation, began to that, if any proof were wanting of the wonrevive, and several plays were performed at derful hold which Shakspere had taken of the the Red Bull in St. John's Street, in that English mind, under circumstances the most and the following years, before the return of adverse to his continued popularity, it would the King.” He then adds, that in June, be found in these imperfect lists, which do 1660, three companies seem to have been not extend over more than eight or nine formed, including that of the Red Bull ; and years. Here are absolutely fourteen plays of he enters into a history of the contests Shakspere revived—for that is the phrasebetween the Master of the Revels, and in an age which was prolific of its own Killigrew and Davenant, who had received authors, adapting themselves to a new school a patent from the king for the exclusive of courtly taste. All the indirect testimony, performance of dramatic entertainments. It however meagre, exhibits the enduring popuis scarcely necessary for us to pursue the larity of Shakspere. Killigrew's new theatre details of this contest, which, as is well in Drury Lane is opened with Henry IV. known, terminated in the permanent esta- Within a few months after the Restoration, blishment of two theatres only in London. when heading and hanging are going forward, Malone has ransacked the very irregular Pepys relates that he went to see “Othello.' series of papers connected with the office of In 1661, he is attracted by 'Romeo and Juliet;' Sir Henry Herbert, who appears to have kept and, in 1662, we have an entry in his diary, an eye upon theatrical performances with a with his famous criticism : "To the King's view to demanding his fees if he should be Theatre, where we saw 'Midsummer's Night's supported by the higher powers. From Dream,' which I had never seen before, nor these, and other sources, such as the List of shall ever again, for it is the most insipid Downes, the prompter of the principal plays ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life.” acted by Killigrew's company, Malone infers, Here, upon unquestionable authority, we that such was the lamentable taste of have a fifteenth play added to the fourteen those times that the plays of Fletcher, previously cited. But why need we search Jonson, and Shirley were much oftener ex- amongst such chance entries for evidence of hibited than those of Shakspere.” The plays the reputation of Shakspere immediately acted by this company, as he collects from after the Restoration ? Those who talk of these documents, were 'Henry IV.,''Merry Shakspere as emerging some century ago into Wives of Windsor,' Othello,' and 'Julius celebrity after having fallen into neglect for Cæsar.' At Davenant's theatre, which boasted a lengthened period ; those who flippantly of the great actor Betterton, we learn, from affirm, that “the preface of Pope was the Malone, that the plays performed were 'Pe- first thing that procured general admiration ricles, Macbeth, The Tempest,' 'Lear,' for his works," are singularly ignorant of 'Hamlet,' 'Romeo and Juliet,' 'Henry VIII.,' the commonest passages of literary history. "Twelfth Night,”Taming of the Shrew,''Henry To the vague and random assertions and V. Malone does not do justice to the value assumptions, whether old or new, about the
ook at al Fletetes
neglect into which Shakspere had fallen as competitors; formed for the mutual assistance a popular dramatist, may be opposed the and illustration of each other's genius. How most distinct testimony of one, especially, Shakespeare wrote, all men who have a taste who was
a most accurate and minute for nature may read, and know; but with chronicler of the public taste. COLLEY CIBBER, what higher rapture would he still be read, who himself became an actor, in 1690, in the could they conceive how Betterton played one privileged company of London, of which him!” Whenever Cibber speaks of BetterBetterton was the head—a company formed ton's wondrous excellence, it is always in out of the united strength of the two connection with Shakspere : “Should I tell companies which had been established at the you that all the Othellos, Hamlets, Hotspurs, Restoration—describes the state of the stage Macbeths, and Brutuses whom you may have at the period of the first revival of dramatic seen since his time, have fallen far short of performances: “ Besides their being thorough him, this still should give you no idea of his masters of their art, these actors set forward particular excellence.” For some years after with two critical advantages, which perhaps the Restoration it seems to have been difficult may never happen again in many ages.” to satiate the people with the repetition of One of the advantages he mentions, but a Shakspere's great characters and leading secondary one, was, “that before the Restora- plays, in company with some of the plays of tion no actresses had ever been seen upon the Jonson and Fletcher. The two companies English stage.” But the chief advantage had an agreement as to their performances : was, “their immediate opening after the so “ All the capital plays of Shakespeare, long interdiction of plays during the civil Fletcher, and Ben Jonson were divided bewar and the anarchy that followed it.” He tween them by the approbation of the court, then goes on to say, What eager appetites and their own alternate choice.
So that, from so long a fast must the guests of those when Hart was famous for Othello, Betterton times have had to that high and fresh variety had no less a reputation for Hamlet.” Still, of entertainments !” Provided by whom? the test of histrionic excellence was ShakBy the combined variety of Jonson, and spere. So far from Shakspere being neglected Fletcher, and Massinger, and Ford, and at this period, it is almost evident that the Shirley, and a host of other writers, whose performance of him was overdone ; for every attactive fare was to be presented to the one knows that a theatrical audience, even eager guests after so long a fast? No. The in the largest city, is, in a considerable high entertainment and the fresh variety degree, composed of regular frequenters of was to be provided by one man alone,—the the theatre, and that novelty is therefore an man who we are told was neglected in his indispensable requisite to continued success. own age, and forgotten in that which came The plays of Shakspere were better acted by after him. “What eager appetites from so the company of which Betterton was the long a fast must the guests of those tinies head, than by the rival company; and this, have had to that high and fresh variety of according to Cibber, led to the introduction entertainments which Shakespeare had left of a new taste :- “ These two excellent prepared for them! Never was a stage so companies were both prosperous for some few provided. A hundred years are wasted, and years, till their variety of plays began to be another silent century well advanced *, and exhausted. Then, of course, the better actors yet what unborn age shall say Shakespeare (which the King's seem to have been allowed) has his equal! How many shining actors could not fail of drawing the greater audihave the warm scenes of his genius given to
Sir William Davenant, therefore, posterity!” Betterton is idolized as master of the Duke's company, to make head actor, as much as the old man venerates against their success, was forced to add Shakspere: “Betterton was an actor, as spectacle and music to action, and to introShakespeare was an author, both without duce a new species of plays, since called * Cibber is writing as late as 1740.
dramatic operas, of which kind were “The
Tempest,' 'Psyche,' 'Circe,' and others, all | several angels holding the King's arms, as if set off with the most expensive decorations they were placing them in the midst of that of scenes and habits, with the best voices compass-pediment. Behind this is the scene, and dancers.
which represents a thick cloudy sky, a very “This sensual supply of sight and sound rocky coast, and a tempestuous sea in percoming into che assistance of the weaker petual agitation. This tempest (supposed to party, it was no wonder they should grow too be raised by magic) has many dreadful hard for sense and simple nature, when it is objects in it, as several spirits in horrid considered how many more people there are shapes flying down amongst the sailors, then that can see and hear than think and judge. rising in the air. And, when the ship is So wanton a change of the public taste, sinking, the whole house is darkened, and a therefore, began to fall as heavy upon the shower of fire falls upon 'ern. This is King's company as their greater excellence in accompanied with lightning, and several action had before fallen upon their competitors. claps of thunder, to the end of the storm.” Of which encroachment upon wit several In the alterations of this play, which were good prologues in those days frequently made in 1669, and which continued to possess complained."
the English stage for nearly a century and a There can be no doubt that most of the half, it is impossible now not to feel how original performances of Shakspere, imme- false was the taste upon which they were diately after the Restoration, were given built. Dryden says of this play, that Davefrom his unsophisticated text. The first nant, to put the last hand to it, “designed improvements that were perpetrated upon the counterpart to Shakespeare's plot, namely, this text resulted from the cause which that of a man who had never seen a woman ; Cibber has so accurately described. Davenant, that by this means those two characters of to make head against the success of the innocence and love might the more illustrate King's company “was forced to add spectacle and commend each other.” Nothing can be and music to action.” What importance weaker and falser in art than this mere Davenant attached to these novelties, we may duplication of an idea. But still it was not learn from the description of the opening done irreverently. The prologue to this scene of 'The Enchanted Island ;' that altered Tempest (of his own part of which alteration of "The Tempest,' by himself and Dryden says, “I never writ anything with Dryden, to which Cibber refers :-“ The front more delight”) is of itself an answer to the of the stage is opened, and the band of asinine assertion that Dryden, in common twenty-four violins, with the harpsicals and with the public of his day, was indifferent to theorbos which accompany the voices, are the memory of Shakspere :placed between the pit and the stage. While the overture is playing, the curtain rises,
“ As, when a tree's cut down, the secret root and discovers a new frontispiece joined to
Lives underground, and thence new branches
shoot; the great pilasters on each side of the stage. This frontispiece is a noble arch, supported
So, from old Shakespear's honour'd dust, this by large wreathed columns of the Corinthian
day order; the wreathings of the columns are
Springs up and buds a new reviving play. beautified with roses wound round them, and
Shakespear, who (taught by none) did first
impart several Cupids flying about them. On the
To Fletcher wit, to labouring Jonson art. cornice, just over the capitals, sits on either
He, monarch like, gave those his subjects side a figure, with a trumpet in one hand
law, and a palm in the other, representing Fame.
And is that nature which they paint and A little farther on the same cornice, on each draw. side of a compass pediment, lie a lion and a Fletcher reached that which on his heights unicorn, the supporters of the royal arms of England. In the middle of the arch are Whilst Jonson crept and gather'd all below.