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The present Volume, entitled “Studies of Shakspere,' will consist of a republication, with additions and corrections, of the critical Notices that are scattered through my editions of Shakspere, known as “the Pictorial' and 'the Library.' These Notices are not included in my edition in one volume, nor in my Cabinet' edition.
It may appear somewhat presumptuous that I should devote a volume of a National Library of Select Literature’ to a republication of my own writings. I have seriously weighed this possible objection, and I thus meet it. There are very few readers who have not access to some edition of the works of “the greatest in our literature—the greatest in all literature.” But there are a vast number who have no aids in the proper appreciation of Shakspere's excellence, dependent as such a judgment is upon an adequate comprehension of his principles of art. In developing those principles I have felt it necessary, on the one hand, to combat some opinions of former editors which were addressed to an age nearly without poetry; which looked upon the age of Shakspere as equally remarkable for the rudeness as for the vigour of its literature ; and which considered Shakspere himself under the vulgar aspect of the miraculous,-a genius perfectly untaught and unregulated. On the other hand, I have as sedulously brought forward and enforced the doctrines of that more recent school of æsthetics which holds that “the Englishman who, without reverence, a proud and affectionate reverence, can utter the name of William Shakspere, stands disqualified for the office of critic.” These Essays, therefore, are not to be received as the opinions of an individual, but as an embodiment of the genial spirit of the new school of Shaksperean criticism, as far as a humble disciple may interpret that spirit.
But even to those who are familiar with critical editions of Shakspere, and with the great mass of critical writings upon Shakspere, the present volume will have the value of a comprehensive arrangement. It will exhibit the rude beginnings of the Drama previous to Shakspere’s appearance; it will trace the growth of his powers, as far as can be gathered from positive and circumstantial evidence, in his earliest works; it will carry forward the same analysis through the second period of his meridian splendour ; it will show, in like manner, the glory of his mature day, and the sober lustre of his evening. In each of these periods the characters and productions of his dramatic contemporaries will be examined. The reader will proceed step by step in a systematic knowledge of the Shaksperean Art,
and view it in connection with the circumstances which attended it in each successive stage of its advancement.
Since the completion of my larger editions of Shakspere many new materials for the History of our Dramatic Literature have been published by “The Shakespeare Society,' and by individual critics and antiquaries. It will be my duty to consult these authorities, so that this work may be rendered of some additional value to those friends who, possessing my ‘Pictorial' or ‘Library' editions, have expressed a desire to see the Notices' of each play in a colleeted form, and sold at a cheap rate, so as to form a Companion Volume to the many thousand copies of Shakspere which are diffused amongst our countrymen.
STUDIES OF SHAKSPERE.
PAGEANTS AND MYSTERIES.
The city of Coventry, within a moderate In the play of “The Fall,' Eve sangdistance of Stratford upon Avon, was
"In this garden I will go see amongst the last places which retained the
All the flowers of fair beauty, ancient pageants. Before the Reformation,
And tasten the fruits of great plenty these pageants, “acted with mighty state
That be in Paradise ;” and reverence by the friars of this house [the Grey Friars), bad theatres for the several In the same play.we have a hymn of Abel, scenes, very large and high, placed upon very sweet in its music :wheels, and drawn to all the eminent parts
Almighty God, and full of might, of the city for the better advantage of spec
By whom all thing is made of nought, tators; and contained the story of the New
To thee my heart is ready dight, Testament composed into old English rhyme, For upon thee is all my thought.” as appeareth by an ancient manuscript, entitled Ludus Corporis Christi, or Ludus Co- In the play of ‘Noah, when the dove reventriæ.”* Henry V. and his nobles took turned to the ark with the olive-branch, great delight in seeing the pageants; Queen there was a joyful chorus :Margaret, in the days of her prosperity,
“ Mare vidit et fugit, came from Kenilworth to Coventry privily
Jordanis conversus est retrorsum, to see the play, and saw all the pageants Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, played save one, which could not be played Sed nomini tuo da gloriam." because night drew on; the triumphant Richard III. came to see the Corpus Christi These ancient Coventry plays were fortyplays; and Henry VII. much commended three in number I. The general spread of themt. In these Corpus Christi plays there knowledge might have brought other teachwere passages which had a vigorous sim- ing, but they familiarized the people with plicity, fit for the teaching of an unin- | the great scriptural truths; they gave them structed people. In the play of “The Crea- amusements of a higher nature than milition,' the pride of Lucifer disdained the wor- tary games, and contentions of mere brute ship of the angels, and he was cast down force. In the boyhood of Shakspere the
same class of subjects was handled by rude "With mirth and joy never more to mell.”
artificers. Let us attempt to describe such * Dugdale.
| See Sharp's quotations from the manuscript Annals of # See the Ludus Coventriæ,' published by the ShakeCoventry, ‘Dissertation,' page 4.
a scene as the great city of the Black Prince to the wide area on the north of Trinity would have presented during the boyhood Church and St. Michael's, for there is the of Shakspere.
pageant to be first performed. There was a The morning of Corpus Christi comes, and high house or carriage which stood upon soon after sunrise there is stir in the six wheels ; it was divided into two rooms, streets of Coventry. The old ordinances for one above the other. In the lower room this solemnity require that the Guilds should were the performers ; the upper was the be at their posts at five o'clock. There is to stage. This ponderous vehicle was painted be a solemn procession-formerly, indeed, and gilt, surmounted with burnished vanes after the performance of the pageant-and and streamers, and decorated with imagery ; then, with hundreds of torches burning it was hung round with curtains, and a around the figures of our Lady and St. John, painted cloth presented a picture of the candlesticks and chalices of silver, banners subject that was to be performed. This of velvet and canopies of silk, and the mem simple stage had its machinery, too; it was bers of the Trinity Guild and the Corpus fitted for the representation of an earthChristi Guild bearing their crucifixes and quake or a storm; and the pageant in most candlesticks, with personations of the angel cases was concluded in the noise and flame Gabriel lifting up the lily, the twelve apos- of fireworks. It is the pageant of the comtles, and renowned virgins, especially St. pany of Shearmen and Tailors, which is to Catherine and St. Margaret. The Reforma- be performed, the subject the Birth of tion has, of course, destroyed much of the Christ and Offering of the Magi, with the ceremonial ; and, indeed, the spirit of it has Flight into Egypt and Murder of the Innoin great part evaporated. But now, issuing cents. The eager multitudes are permitted from the many ways that lead to the Cross, to crowd within a reasonable distance of the there is heard the melody of harpers and There is a moveable scaffold erected the voice of minstrelsy; trumpets sound, for the more distinguished spectators. The banners wave, riding-men come thick from men of the Guilds sit firm on their horses. their several halls; the mayor and aldermen Amidst the sound of harp and trumpet the in their robes, the city servants in proper curtains are withdrawn, and Isaiah appears, liveries, St. George and the Dragon, and prophesying the blessing which is to come Herod on horseback. The bells ring, boughs upon the earth. Gabriel announces to Mary are strewed in the streets, tapestry is hung the embassage upon which he is sent from out of the windows, officers in scarlet coats Heaven. Then a dialogue between Mary struggle in the crowd while the procession and Joseph, and the scene changes to the is marshalling. The crafts are getting into field where shepherds are abiding in the their ancient order, each craft with its darkness of the night-a night so dark that streamer and its men in harness. There are they know not where their sheep may be ; “Fysshers and Cokes,–Baxters and Milners, they are cold and in great heaviness. Then -Bochers,—Whittawers and Glovers,-Pyn- the star shines, and they hear the song of ners, Tylers, and Wrightes,-Skynners, Gloria in excelsis Deo."
“Gloria in excelsis Deo.” A soft melody of Barkers,—Corvysers,-Smythes,-Wevers - concealed music hushes even the whispers of Wirdrawers,—Cardemakers, Sadelers, Peyn- | the Coventry audience; and three songs are tours, and Masons, Gurdelers,—Taylours, sung, such as may abide in the remembrance Walkers, and Sherman,-Deysters,-Drapers, of the people, and be repeated by them at Mercers."* At length the procession is ar their Christmas festivals. “ The first the ranged. It parades through the principal shepherds sing :"lines of the city, from Bishopgate on the north to the Grey Friars' Gate on the south,
As I rode out this enderst night,
Of three jolly shepherds I saw a sight, and from Broadgate on the west to Gosford
And all about their fold a star shone bright; Gate on the east. The crowd is thronging * Sharp's . Dissertation,' page 160.
† Enders night-last night.