图书图片
PDF
ePub

brothel; the pope had his fool, and the bawd speare; but, perhaps, a good idea may be ner's; they excited the mirth of kings and beg- | formed of their general conduct from a passage gars; the hovel of the villain and the castle of the baron were alike exhilarated by their jokes. With respect to the antiquity of this custom in England, it appears to have existed even during the period of our Saxon history, but we are certain of the fact in the reign of William the Conqueror. Maitre Wace, an historian of that time, has an account of the preservation of William's life, when duke of Normandy, by his fool, Goles; and, in Domesday-book, mention is made of Berdia joculator regis; and though this term sometimes denoted a minstrel, evidence might be adduced to prove, that in this instance it signified a buffoon.

The accounts of the household expenses of our kings contain many payments and rewards to fools, both foreign and domestic. Dr. Fuller, speaking of the court jester, remarks, in his usual quaint way; that it is an office which none but he that hath wit can perform, and none but he that wants it will perform. The names of many of these buffoons are preserved; they continued an appurtenance to the English court to a late period. Muckle John, the fool of Charles I., the successor of Archee Armstrong, was, perhaps, the last regular personage of that kind. The downfall of royalty, and the puritanical manners that came into vogue, banished this privileged satirist; and, at the Restoration, it was deemed of no moment to restore the office, for the stories told of Killigrew, as jester to Charles II., are without authority. The discontinuance of the court fool influenced the manners of private life, and from one of Shadwell's plays we find, that it was then unfashionable for the great to retain domestic fools. Yet the practice was not abolished; it kept its ground so late as the comencement of the last century. Dean Swift wrote an epitaph on Dicky Pearce, the earl of Suffolk's fool buried in Berkeley churchyard, June 18, 1728. Lord Chancellor Talbot kept a Welsh jester, named Rees Pengelding; he was a shrewd fellow, and rented a farm of his master. The steward, who had been a tailor, and bore him a grudge, put in execution for his rent, saying surlily, "I'll fit you, sirrah." "Then," replied Rees, "it will be the first time in your life that you ever fitted any one."

The entertainment fools were expected to afford, may be collected in great variety from our old plays, especially from those of Shak

in a curious tract by Lodge, entitled, Wit's Miserie, 1599, quarto: "Imoderate and disordinate joy became incorporate in the bodie of a jeaster; this fellow in person is comely, in apparell courtly, but in behaviour a very ape, and no man; his studie is to coin bitter jeasts, or to shew antique motions, or to sing baudie sonnets and ballads; give him a little wine in his head, he is continually flearing and making of mouthes: he laughs intemperately at every little occasion, and dances about the house, leaps over tables, out-skips men's heads, trips up his companions' heeles, burns sack with a candle, and hath all the feats of a lord of misrule in the countrie: feed him in his humour, you shall have his heart; in mere kindness he will hug you in his armes, kisse you on the cheeke, and rapping out an horrible oath, crie 'God's soule, Tum, I love you, you knowe my poore heart, come to my chamber for a pipe of tobacco, there lives not a man in this world that I more honour.' In these ceremonies you shall know his courting, and it is a speciall mark of him at table, he sits and makes faces: keep not this fellow company, for in jingling with him, your wardrobes shall be wasted, your credits crackt, your crownes consumed, and time (the most precious riches of the world), utterly lost.”

[ocr errors]

As these hirelings required considerable skill and dexterity to please their employers, they sometimes failed of success, and their paucity of talents excited disgust. Cardinal Perron, being in company with the duke of Mantua, the latter observed of his fool that he was "a meagre, poor spirited buffoon." The cardinal replied that nevertheless he had wit. "Why so ?" demanded the duke: “Because,” replied Perron, he lives by a trade which he does not understand." The license allowed them was very great, but did not always afford them protection. Archbishop Laud's disgraceful severity to poor Archee is well known. The duke d'Epernon, though a high-spirited man, conducted himself with much more discretion. Maret, the fool of Louis XIII., whose chief talent was mimicry, frequently mocked the duke's Gascon accent; and Richelieu, who was fond of admonishing him, desired him, among other things, to get rid of his provincial tones, at the same time counterfeiting his speech, and sarcastically begging he would not take the advice in ill part. "Why should I?” replied

the duke; "when I bear as much from the king's fool, who mocks me in your presence." Fools, however, did not always escape with impunity. Whipping was the punishment commonly inflicted. Hence, in Twelfth Night, Olivia, addressing her jester, says, "Sirrah, you shall be whipped." However, they were often treated with great tenderness, as is feelingly exemplified in the conduct of Lear.

breeches close, and frequently each leg of a different colour. A hood, like a monk's cowl, covered the head entirely, falling down over part of the breast and shoulders. It was sometimes adorned with asses's ears, or terminated in the neck and head of a cock, a fashion as old as the fourteenth century. It often had the comb or crest only of the animal, whence the term cockscomb was afterwards applied to With regard to the fool's business on the any silly upstart. This fool carried in his hand stage, it was nearly the same as in reality, with a sceptre or bauble, ornamented with a fool's this difference, that the wit was more highly head, a doll, or a puppet. The bauble origiseasoned. In Middleton's Mayor of Quin-nally used in King Lear, was extant so late as borough, a company of actors, with a clown, | Garrick's time, and the figure of it would have make their appearance, and the following dialogue ensues:

Ist Cheater.. This is our clown, sir.
Simon...Fye, fye, your company

[i'faith,
Must fall upon him and beat him; he's too fair,
To make the people laugh.

ist Cheater. Not as he may be dress'd, sir.
Semon...Faith, dress him how you will. I'll give him
That gift, he will never look half scurvily
enough.

Oh! the clowns that I have seen in my time.
The very peeping out of one of them would have
Made a young heir laugh though his father lay

a-dying;

A man undone in law the day before,

been worth preserving. To this instrument
was annexed an inflated bladder, with which
the fool belaboured those who offended him, or
with whom he was disposed to make sport.
The form of it varied, and was often obscene in
the highest degree. In some old prints, the
fool appears, with a sort of flapper or rattle,
surrounded with bells. This implement was
used for the same purpose as the bladder.
fool's dagger, occasionally mentioned, was pro-
bably the wooden sword of the Vice in the

The

(The saddest case that can be) might for bis Moralities, a thin piece of lath, with which he

second

Have burst himself with laughing, and ended all

His miseries. Here was a merry world, my

masters!

Some talk of things of state, of puling stuff;
There's nothing in a play like to a clown,

used to belabour the devil.

In Elizabeth's time, the archbishop of Canterbury's fool wore a coxcomb and a wooden

If he have the grace to hit on it, that's the dagger. In Chapman's Widow's Tears, an

thing indeed.

Simon.......Away then, shift; clown,to thy motley crupper.

Those who desire accurate information concerning the dresses that belonged to the characters in question at various periods, should consult ancient prints and paintings, particularly the miniatures that embellish manuscripts. But the difficulty of learning how the theatrical fools and clowns of Shakspeare's age were always habited, is insuperable. In Some cases the dramas themselves assist, by references which leave little doubt; but this is not common. Artists formerly did not devote much of their time to theatrical subjects; the discovery of a single painting of this kind would be more valuable than a folio of conjectural dissertation. As, however, the costume of the time would in some degree be preserved on the stage, the materials which remain to illustrate the dress of the real fools may supply the defect. The garb of domestic fools in Shakspeare's day, was of two sorts. In the first, the coat was motley or party-coloured, and attached to he body by a girdle, with bells at the skirts and elbows, though not invariably. The hose and

upstart governor is called "a wooden dagger gilded o'er; and in the Noble Gentleman, a person likened to a fool is desired to wear a great wooden dagger.

The other dress, which seems to have been most worn in Shakspeare's time, was the long petticoat, which originally belonged to the idiot or natural fool, and was adopted for the purpose of cleanliness. How it came into use for the allowed fool, is not so obvious. It was, like the former, of various colours, the materials often rich, as of velvet, and guarded or fringed with yellow. In one instance we have a yellow leather doublet. In Bancroft's Epigrams, 1639, quarto, there is one addressed "to a giglot with her greene sicknesse," in which are these lines:

"Thy sicknesse mocks thy pride, that's seldom seene But in foole's yellow, and the lover's greene." And from a manuscript note we learn, that yellow was the foole's colour in the time of the Commonwealth.

Yet the foregoing were not the only modes in which domestic fools were habited. The hood was occasionally without a coxcomò, in

A

stead of which a bell or bells appeared. feather was frequently added to the comb; and in an old Morality, the fool says,

"By my trouth the thing that I desire most
Is in my cappe to have a goodly feather."

In mimicry of a monk's crown, the head was sometimes shaved, and in one instance the hair is made to represent a triple or papal tiara. The garment was often decorated with fox or squirrel tails. In The Pope's Funeral, 1605, quarto, we find this passage:-" I shall prove him such a noddy before I leave him, that all the world will deeme him worthy to wear in his forehead a coxcombe for his foolishness, and on his back a fox tayle for his badge." This custom was perhaps designed to ridicule a fashion common among the ladies in the reign of Edward III. which is thus alluded to in the old Chronicle of England :-" And the women more nysely yet passed the men in aray and coriouslaker, for they were so streyt clothed that they let hange fox tailles sowed bineth within hir clothes for to hale and hide their a―; the which disguysinges and pride, paradventure, afterward brouzt forth and encaused many mysbappes and meschief in the reame of Englond." Idiots or naturals wore calf or sheep's skin; for in the Gesta Grayorum, 1660, quarto, we read, "The scribe claims the manor of Noverinte, by providing sheep skins and calve skins to wrappe his highness wards and idiotts in." A purse or wallet at the waist, was part of the fool's dress. Tarlton, who personated the clowns in Shakspeare's day, appears to have worn it; Triboulet, in Rabelais, is described as having a budget of tortoise-shell.

The fools, however, did not invariably wear a distinguishing habit; this appears from some of their portraits still remaining. A painting at Kensington-palace, by Holbein, represents Will Somers, the fool of Henry VII., in a common dress. In an account of that sovereign's wardrobe, are these particulars ;—"For making a doubblette lyned with canvas and cotton for William Som'ar, oure foole. Item, for making of a coote and a cappe of grene clothe, fringed with red crule, and a lyned with fryse, for oure said foole." But the account goes on thus:-"Item, for making of a coote of greene clothe, with a hoode to the same, fringed with white crule lyned with fryse and bokerham, for our foole aforesaid." From these, we infer that he also wore the distinctive habit of the fool. In families where the fool acted as a menial servant, he might have kept his official

garb for occasions of ceremony. Want of materials to illustrate our subject, renders this part of it very imperfect; but the plays of Shakspeare furnish more information than those of any other writer. It is strange that the domestic fool should so seldom appear in the old dramas, because it not merely excited mirth among a rude audience, but gave the author an opportunity of shewing his ingenuity in extemporary wit. It is undeniable, that Shakspeare's fools were pre-eminent above all others. Shadwell declares they had more humour than any of the wits and critics of his age. Beaumont and Fletcher seldom introduce them; Ben Jonson and Massinger never.

The practice of putting the fools and clowns in requisition between the acts and scenes, and after the play was finished, to amuse the spectators with their tricks, may be traced to the Greek and Roman theatres; and their usages being preserved in the middle ages, wherever the Roman influence had spread, it would not, of course, be peculiar to England. The records of the French theatre demonstrate this fact; in the Mystery of Saint Barbara, we find this stage direction :-"Pausa. Vadunt, et stultus loquitur;" (A pause. They quit the stage, and the fool speaks.) and in this way he is frequently brought on between the scenes.

The decline of domestic fools, and its causes, have been already touched on; the same reason may, in part, be assigned for their dramatic exile. In the præludium to Goffe's Careless Shepherdess, 1656, quarto, there is a panegyric on them, and some concern is shewn for the fool's absence in the play itself, while it is stated that "the motley coat was banished with trunk-hose." Yet in Charles II.'s reign, some efforts were made to restore the character. In the tragedy of Thorney Abbey, or the London Maid, 1662, 12mo, the prologue is delivered by a fool, who uses these words :-" The poet's a fool who made the tragedy, to tell a story of a king and a court, and leave a fool out on't, when in Pacey's, and Sommer's, and Patche's and Archer's times, my venerable predecessours, a fool was alwaies the principal verb." Shadwell's play of The Woman Captain, 1680, is perhaps the last in which a regular fool is introduced; and even there, his master is made to say that the character was exploded on the stage. In real life, as was formerly stated, the professed fool was to be met with at a much later period, but the custom has long been obsolete.

[graphic][subsumed]

that revolve and shine round their great source and centre, the sun. Volumes would be required to do justice to the splendid names alluded to; and, at present, we intend little more than briefly to enumerate some of those mighty magicians of the heart, whose touch opened all the flood-gates of feeling, and lit up the face with smiles, or channelled it with tears at pleasure. To the disgrace of our country, some of these intellectual benefactors of their species are suffered to sleep in the dust of oblivion, but this cannot be for ever; they must yet arise in glory and strength; for while we acknowledge the transcendent genius of Shakspeare we should not forget his contemporaries.

SPENSER.

This illustrious poet is, from a variety of causes, but little read, and less understood, at the present day. The allegorical character of his great work, The Fairy Queen, is in itself

PERHAPS there is no period in the literary | cated round his orbit, like the planetary worlds history of mankind distinguished by so many rare examples of real genius, as that which elapsed from the accession of Elizabeth to the commencement of that stormy era which ended in the destruction of royalty. The mind of man, which had for ages lain dormant in the sloth of ignorance and superstition, was, at length, by a variety of concurring causes, but more especially by the Reformation, roused to shake off her trammels, and exert her native energies with irresistible force. Beings, that for many centuries had scarcely deserved the denomination of rational, determining once more to choose their own principles of action, like awakening giants, emerged from their intellectual prisonhouse, to expatiate at full freedom over the universe of nature, and the boundless worlds of imagination. Literature, so long confined to the cell and the cloister, extended its empire, and found willing and enthusiastic worshippers, where, heretofore, the privilege of mental liberty had been unappreciated and unknown. A string of saintly legends, remarkable only for their folly and extravagance, and composed in barbarous Latin, or volumes of idle sonnets, crammed with pitiful conceits, uncouthly expressed, had been all the aliment supplied to the paralysed intellect; but now, a daring, unfettered originality, rife with intense feeling, and commanding a wild profusion of ideas newly dug from the yet unbroached mines of passion and genius, tore away the veil from the human heart, and published all its wonderful secrets, with a fidelity and power which instantly insured universal attention. No department of literature received so much advantage by the change as the drama. Prior to the time of the first Heywood, we find nothing but the Mysteries, compositions always puerile and insipid, and sometimes blasphemous; but the light of passion and imagination which broke with him, broadened and brightened into the full glory of perfect day, in Shakspeare, and the brilliant host of exalted spirits, that flamed and corrus

a very unfavourable circumstance for his fame; since few readers have patience to go through a long poem, which has little or no tangible interest, however beautiful and original the imagery with which it abounds. The critic will not hesitate to acknowledge its superlative merit, whether considered as a work of art or a triumph of imagination; but the general reader, while he frequently pauses to admire the inimitable grace and delicacy of particular passages, will, probably, lay down the work with a feeling of weariness. Yet when we consider the rude state in which Spenser found the language, and the difficulties he must have encountered in adapting it to the elaborate species of metre he has employed, we shall surely feel that it is impossible to praise his productions too highly.

BEN JONSON.

This erudite and excellent dramatist, who was born at Westminster, 1574, had the sin

they are much more correct and classical than Shakspeare's, but they are not so constantly ir radiated by the beams of genius. Every Man in His Humour is the only one of his plays that retains a place on the stage. Yet Volpone has never been equalled in its way, and Sejanus breathes of the venerable spirit of antiquity, and conjures up before us all the grandeur and glory of old Rome. And why are such dramas as these consigned to oblivion? Dryden's character of Ben is magnificent; the following pas sage is admirable and extremely just: "IfI would compare him with Shakspeare, I must acknowledge him the more correct poet, but Shakspeare the greater wit. Shakspeare was the Homer or father of our dramatic poets; Jonson was the Virgil, the pattern of elaborate writing; I admire him, but I love Shakspeare."

MASSINGER.

This dramatist, second to none but him who never had an equal, Shakspeare, was born 1584, and received his education at Oxford. He was singularly modest and unassuming, claiming no precedence of his associates on account of his

gular happiness of receiving his education under the illustrious Camden. His family was reputable, but his mother marrying a second time, his step-father, a bricklayer, taught him his own trade; and we are informed, on tolerably good authority, that a portion of Ben's brick and mortar still exists in Chancery-lane. Disgusted with this servile employment, he entered the army, and served in the low countries with great credit; he soon, however, returned to England, and completed his studies at Cambridge. A mere accident seems to have given a direction to his talents; to procure bread, he joined a miserable company of players at the Curtain, in Shoreditch; but his excellence was not to be developed here, he remained poor and unnoticed. In a tavern brawl he had the misfortune to kill his opponent, and being thrown into prison, languished there a considerable time. It does not appear how he obtained his liberty; but he now became the intimate of Shakspeare, whose kindliness of disposition ever prompted him to assist the aspirations of real talent; and under his auspices, he commenced a dramatic writer. His success was complete; his annual play was looked for anxiously, and hailed affectionately; he became one of the chief orna-lofty endowments, and accepting their praise ments of a stage, ennobled with many kindred spirits; and however it may be the fashion to disregard his writings at present, they certainly abound with excellencies of the highest description. In 1619, he succeeded Daniel as laureat: the salary was only one hundred marks per annum; but on Jonson's application in 1630, it was increased to 1007. and a tierce of Spanish wine, annually. Poor Ben, however, often suffered all the pangs incident to want; and once, when on a sick bed, in extreme wretchedness, he petitioned Charles I. for pecuniary aid. The monarch sent him ten guineas, on which Jonson said, "His majesty has sent me ten guineas, because I am poor and live in an alley; go and tell him that his soul lives in an alley." Yet, in justice we are bound to state, that Charles once gave him 1007., then a large sum, and the above bitter remark might have been breathed in the irritation of a wounded spirit. Jonson died in 1637, aged sixty-three years. His moral character has been questioned; in particular, he is accused of ingratitude to Shak-manly sententious eloquence which is so pespeare; and, indeed, a passage in his Bar- culiarly effective on the stage. Till very lately, tholomew Fair might countenance the charge, A New way to Pay Old Debts was the only did we not possess a noble poem dedicated by play of his generally known. Rowe, indeed, Ben to his benefactor's memory. had pilfered largely from his Fatal Dowry, and Jonson's dramas are extremely numerous; foisted this stolen property on the public under

more as a favour than a right. He lived long
and happily; his years glided away in peace,
for they were solaced by the applauses of the
virtuous, and the testimony of his own con-
science. In his old age he reposed in the shade
of his laurels, and delighted to direct the ener-
gies of those young and ardent spirits who were
about to run the race which he had concluded
with honour. He lies buried in the same grave
with his friend Fletcher, in the church-yard of
St. Saviour, Southwark. The following epi-
taph is from the poems of Sir Aston Cokain,
1659:

"In the same grave was Fletcher buried, here
Lies the stage poet, Philip Massinger.
Plays they did write together, were great friends,
And now one grave includes them in their ends.
So whom on earth nothing did part, beneath
Here in their fame they lie, in spite of death."

It is quite unaccountable how this author's works should have fallen into neglect, since a profound knowledge of human nature is evident in every page; and his poetry is rich in that

« 上一页继续 »