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excuse for a man who, in times of a virulent and crushing persecution, was unwilling to sacrifice the temporal interests of his wife and children as well as his own on the altar of open non-conformity. It should be added that the vestments belonging to the Church of the Holy Trinity, which had been out of use for some years, were sold by the Corporation in 1571; and these were among the last remaining vestiges of a ritual that was not publicly celebrated at Stratford in the life-time of the great dramatist.
It must have been somewhere about this period, 1568, that Shakespeare entered into the mysteries of the hornbook and the A. B. C. Although both his parents were absolutely illiterate, they had the sagacity to appreciate the importance of an education for their son, and the poet, somehow or other, was taught to read and write, the necessary preliminaries to admission into the Free School. There were few persons at that time at Stratfordon-Avon capable of initiating him even into these preparatory accomplishments, but John Shakespeare, in his official position, could hardly have encountered much difficulty in finding a suitable instructor. There was, for instance, Higford, the Steward of the Court of Record, and the person who transcribed some of his accounts when he was the borough Chamberlain; but it is as likely as not that the poet received the first rudiments of education from older boys who were some way advanced in their school
A passion for the drama is with some natures an instinct, and it would appear that the poet's father had an express taste in that direction. At all events, dramatic entertainments are first heard of at Stratford-on-Avon during the year of his bailiffship, and were, it may fairly be
presumed, introduced in unison with his wishes as they certainly must have been with his sanction. At some period between Michaelmas, 1568, and the same day in 1569, the Queen's and the Earl of Worcester's players visited the town and gave representations before the Council, the former company receiving nine shillings and the latter twelve pence for their first performances, to which the public were admitted without payment. They doubtlessly gave other theatrical entertainments with stated charges for admission, but there would, of course, be no entries of those performances in the municipal accounts; and sometimes there were bodies of actors in the town to whom the official liberality was not extended. No notice whatever of the latter companies would have been registered.
Were it not for the record of a correlative incident, it would have been idle to have hazarded a conjecture on the interesting question,—was the poet, who was then in his fifth or sixth year, a spectator at either of these performances? If, however, it can be shown that, in a neighboring county about the same time, there was an inhabitant of a city who took his little boy, one born in the same year with Shakespeare, 1564, to a free dramatic entertainment exhibited as were those at Stratford-on-Avon before the Corporation under precisely similar conditions, there then arises a reasonable probability that we should be justified in giving an affirmative reply to the enquiry. There is such an evidence in the account left by a person of the name of Willis, of "a stage-play which I saw when I was a child," and included by him in a confidential narrative of his moral and religious life, a sort of autobiog
raphy, which, in his old age, he addressed to his wife and children.
The curious narrative given by Willis is in the following terms,-"in the city of Gloucester the manner is, as I think it is in other like corporations, that, when players of enterludes come to towne, they first attend the Mayor to enforme him what noble-mans servants they are, and so to get licence for their publike playing; and if the Mayor like the actors, or would shew respect to their lord and master, he appoints them to play their first play before himselfe and the Aldermen and Common Counsell of the city; and that is called the Mayors play, where every one that will comes in without money, the Mayor giving the players a reward as hee thinks fit to shew respect unto them. At such a play my father tooke me with him, and made mee stand between his leggs as he sate upon one of the benches, where wee saw and heard very well. The play was called the Cradle of Security, wherin was personated a king or some great prince, with his courtiers of severall kinds, amongst which three ladies were in speciall grace with him; and they, keeping him in delights and pleasures, drew him from his graver counsellors, hearing of sermons and listning to good counsell and admonitions, that, in the end, they got him to lye downe in a cradle upon the stage, where these three ladies, joyning in a sweet song, rocked him asleepe that he snorted againe; and in the meane time closely conveyed under the cloaths wherewithall he was covered a vizard, like a swine's snout, upon his face, with three wire chaines fastned thereunto, the other end whereof being holden severally by those three ladies who fall to singing againe, and then discovered his face that the spec
tators might see how they had transformed him, going on with their singing. Whilst all this was acting, there came forth of another doore at the farthest end of the stage two old men, the one in blew with a serjeant-at-armes his mace on his shoulder, the other in red with a drawn sword in his hand and leaning with the other hand upon the others shoulder; and so they two went along in a soft pace round about by the skirt of the stage, till at last they came to the cradle, when all the court was in greatest jollity; and then the foremost old man with his mace stroke a fearfull blow upon the cradle, whereat all the courtiers, with the three ladies and the vizard, all vanished; and the desolate prince starting up bare-faced, and finding himselfe thus sent for to judgement, made a lamentable complaint of his miserable case, and so was carried away by wicked spirits. This prince did personate in the morrall the Wicked of the World; the three ladies, Pride, Covetousnesse and Luxury; the two old men, the End of the World and the Last Judgment. This sight tooke such impression in me that, when I came towards mans estate, it was as fresh in my memory as if I had seen it newly acted," (Willis's Mount Tabor or Private Exercises of a Penitent Sinner, published in the yeare of his age 75, anno Dom. 1639, pp. 110-113. Who can be so pitiless to the imagination as not to erase the name of Gloucester in the preceding anecdote, and replace it by that of Stratford-on-Avon?
Homely and rude as such an allegorical drama as the Cradle of Security would now be considered, it was yet an advance in dramatic construction upon the medieval religious plays generally known as mysteries, which were still in favor with the public and were of an exceedingly
primitive description. The latter were, however, put on the stage with far more elaborate appliances, there being no reason for believing that the itinerant platform of the later drama was provided with much beyond a few properties. The theater of the mysteries consisted of a movable wooden rectangular structure of two rooms one over the other, the lower closed, the upper one, that in which the performances took place, being open at least on one side to the audience. The vehicle itself, every portion of which that was visible to the audience was grotesquely painted, was furnished in the upper room with tapestries that answered the purposes of scenery, and with mechanical appliances for the disposition of the various objects introduced, such as hell-mouth, a favorite property on the ancient English stage. This consisted of a huge face constructed of painted canvas exhibiting glaring eyes and a red nose of enormous dimensions; the whole so contrived with movable jaws of large, projecting teeth, that, when the mouth opened, flames could be seen within the hideous aperture; the fire being probably represented by the skillful management of links or torches held behind the painted canvas. There was frequently at the back of the stage a raised platform to which there was an ascent by steps from the floor of the pageant and sometimes an important part of the action of the mystery was enacted upon it. Some of the properties however rude, must have been of large dimensions. They were generally made of wood, which was invariably painted, but some appear to have been constructed of basket-work covered over with painted cloths. The larger ones were cities with pinnacles and towers, kings' palaces, temples, castles and such like, some probably not very unlike decorated