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Shakspeare's boys, that circumstance is the strongest possible corroboration of the story. But it was known to Rowe, and rejected by him; and Steevens advances this omission as a proof that our author's first biographer considered the anecdote incredible, and wholly undeserving his attention. Rowe's suppression of the fact may however have originated in some other cause than his suspicion of its truth. Might he not have been actuated by that absurd spirit of refinement, which is only too common among the writers of biography, as well as history, and which induces them to conceal or misrepresent every occurrence which is at all of a humiliating nature, and does not accord with those false and effeminate notions so generally entertained respecting the dignity of peculiar class of composition? But, however inferior the situation which Shakspeare occupied on first entering upon his dramatic career, his talents were not
The most ancient as well as most complete collection of this kind is The Chester Mysteries, which were written not by Ralph Higden, as was supposed by Warton, Malone, and others, but by an earlier ecclesiastic of the Abbey of Chester, named Randall, and were first represented between the years 1268 and 1276. The following extract is from MSS. Harl. 2013, &c. Exhibited at Chester in the year 1327, at the expense of the different trading companies of that city. The Fall of Lucifer, by the Tanners. The Creation, by the Drapers. The Deluge, by the Dyers. Abraham, Melchisedeck, and Lot, by the Barbers. Moses, Balak, and Balaam, by the Cappers. The Salutation and Nativity, by the Wrightes. The Shepherds feeding their Flocks by Night, by the Painters and Glaziers. The three Kings, by the Vintners. The Oblation of the three Kings, by the Mercers. The killing of the Innocents, by the Goldsmiths. The Purification, by the Blacksmiths. The Temptation, by the Butchers. The Last Supper, by the Bakers. The Blind Men and Lazarus, by the Glovers. Jesus and the Lepers, by the Corvesarys. Christ's Passion, by the Bowyers, Fletchers, and Ironmongers. Descent into Hell, by the Cooks and Innkeepers. The Resurrection, by the Skinners. The Ascension, by the Taylors. The Election of St. Mathias, sending of the Holy Ghost, &c. by the Fishmongers. Antichrist, by the Clothiers. Day of Judgment, by the Websters. The reader will perhaps smile at some of these combinations. This is the substance and order of the former part of the play. God enters creating the world: he breathes life into Adam, leads him into Paradise, and opens his side while sleeping. Adam and Eve appear naked, and not ashamed, and the old serpent enters, lamenting his fall. He converses with Eve. She eats of the forbidden fruit, and gives part to Adam. They propose, according to the stage-direction, to make themselves subligacula a foliis quibus tegamus pudenda. Cover their nakedness with leaves, and converse with God. God's curse. The serpent exit hissing. They are driven from Paradise by four angels and the cherubim with a flaming sword. Adam appears digging the ground, and Eve spinning. Their children Cain and Abel enter: the former kills his brother. Adam's lamentation. Cain is banished,' &c.-WARTON'S History of English Poetry, vol. i. p. 243.
Indulgences were granted to those who attended the representation of these mysteries.
long buried in obscurity. He rapidly rose to the highest station in the theatre; and, by the power of his genius, raised our national dramatic poetry, then in its merest infancy, to the highest state of perfection which it is perhaps capable of reaching.
It is impossible for any art to have attained a more rapid growth, than was attained by the art of dramatic writing in this country. The people had, indeed, been long accustomed to a species of exhibition, called MIRACLES, OF MYSTERIES,* founded on sacred subjects, and performed by the ministers of religion themselves, on the holy festivals, in or near the churches, and designed to instruct the ignorant in the leading facts of sacred history. From the occasional introduction of allegorical characters, such as Faith, Death, Hope, or Sin, into these religious dramas, representations of another kind, called MORALITIES,† had by degrees arisen, of which the plots
+ We have a curious account in a book entitled Mount Tabor, or private Exercises of a Penitent Sinner, by R. W. [R. Willis,] Esq. published in the year of his age 75, Anno Domini, 1639; an extract from which will give the reader a more accurate notion of the old Moralities, than a long dissertation on the subject.
UPON A STAGE-PLAY WHICH I SAW WHEN I WAS A CHILD.
In the city of Gloucester the manner is (as I think it is in other like corporations), that when players of interludes come to towne, they first attend the Mayor, to enforme him what nobleman's 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 himself, and the Alderman and Common-Counsell of the city; and that is called the Mayor's 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 me stand between his leggs, as he sate upon one of the benches, where we saw and heard very well. The play was called The Cradle of Security, wherein was personated a king or some great prince, with his courtiers of several kinds, among which three ladies were in special grace with him; and they keeping him in delights and pleasures, drew him from his graver counsellors, hearing of sermons, and listening to good councell and admonitions, that in the end they got him to lye down in a cradle upon the stage, where these three ladies joyning in a sweet song, rocked him asleepe, and be snorted againe; and in the mean time closely conveyed under the cloaths wherewithall he was covered, a vizard, like a swine's snout, upon his face, with three wire chains fastened thereunto, the other end whereof being holden severally by those three ladies; who fall to singing againe, and then discovered his face, that the spectators 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 other's shoulder; and so they went along with a soft pace round about the
THE LIFE OF WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE.
were more artificial, regular, and connected, and which were entirely formed of such personifications; but the first rough draught of a regular tragedy and comedy that appeared, Lord Sackville's Gorboduc, and Still's Gammer Gurton's Needle, were not produced till within the latter half of the sixteenth century, and but little more than twenty years previous to Shakspeare's arrival in the metropolis.*
About that time, the attention of the public began to be more generally directed to the stage; and it throve admirably beneath the cheerful beams of popularity. The theatrical performances which had, in the early part of the reign of Elizabeth, been exhibited on temporary stages, erected in such halls or apartments as the actors could procure, or, more generally, in the yards of the great inns, while the spectators surveyed them from the surrounding windows and galleries, began to be established in more convenient and permanent situations. About the year 1569, a regular playhouse, under the appropriate name of The Theatre, was built. It is supposed to have stood somewhere in Blackfriars; and three years after the commencement of this establishment, yielding to her inclination for the amusements of the theatre, and disregarding the remonstrances of the Puritans, the queen granted license and authority to the Servants of the Earl of Leicester, 'to use, exercise, and occupie, the arte and facultie of playinge commedies, tragedies, interludes, stage-playes, as well for the recreation of our lovinge subjects, as for our solace and pleasure, when we shall thinke good to see them, throughoute our realme of England.' From this time, the number of theatres increased with the ripening taste and the increasing demands of the people. Various noblemen had their respective companies of performers, who were associated as their servants, and acted under their protection; and during the period of Shakspeare's theatrical career, not less than seven principal playhouses were open in the metropolis.
Of these the Globe, and the playhouse in Blackfriars, were the property of the company to which Shakspeare was himself attached, and
skirt of the stage, till at last they came to the cradle, when all the court was in the greatest jollity; and then the foremost old man with his mace stroke a fearfull blow upon the cradle; wherewith all the courtiers, with the three ladies, and the vizard, all vanished; and the desolate prince starting up barefaced, and finding himself thus sent for to judgment, made a lamentable complaint of his miserable case, and so was carried away by wicked spirits. This prince did personate in the Morall, the wicked of the world; the three ladies, Pride, Covetousness, and Luxury; the two old men, the end of the world, and the last judgment. This sight took such impresson in me, that when I came towards man's estate, it was as fresh in my memory, as if I had seen it newly acted.'
The writer of this book appears to have been born is the same year with our great poet (1564). Sup
by whom all his productions were exhibited. The Globe appears to have been a wooden building of a considerable size, hexagonal without, and circular within; it was thatched in part, but a large portion of the roof was open to the weather. This was the company's summer theatre; and the plays were acted by day-light: at the Blackfriars, on the contrary, which was the winter theatre, the top was entirely closed, and the performances were exhibited by candle-light. In every other respect, the economy and usages of these houses appear to have been the same, and to have resembled those of every other contemporary theatre.
With respect to the interior arrangements, there were very few points of difference between our modern theatres and those of the days of Shakspeare. The terms of admission, indeed, were considerably cheaper; to the boxes, the entrance was a shilling, to the pit and galleries only sixpence.+ Sixpence, also, was the price paid for stools upon the stage; and these seats, as we learn from Decker's Gull's Hornbook, were peculiarly affected by the wits and critics at the time. The conduct of the audience was less restrained by the sense of public decorum, and smoking tobacco, playing at cards, eating and drinking, were generally prevalent among them: the hour of performance also was earlier; the play beginning at first at one, and afterwards at three o'clock, in the afternoon. During the time of representation, a flag was unfurled at the top of the theatre; and the floor of the stage (as was the case with every floor at the time, from the cottage to the palace) was strewn with rushes. But in other respects, the ancient theatres seem to have been very nearly similar to those of modern times: they had their pit, where the inferior class of spectators—the groundlings-vented their clamorous censure or approbation; they had their boxes, and even their private boxes, of which the right of exclusive admission was hired by the night, for the more wealthy and refined portion of the audience; and there were again the galleries, or scaffolds above the boxes, for those who were content to purchase inferior
posing him to have been seven or eight years old when he saw this interlude, the exhibition must have been in 1571, or 1572.—MALONE, History of the English Stage.
* Gorboduc was produced in 1562. Gammer Gurton, in 1566.
+ These prices appear latterly to have risen to two shillings and half-a-crown for the best places. The prices at the Blackfriars, were higher than at the Globe.-REED's Shakspeare, vol. iii. p. 78.
A little pique happened betwixt the duke of Lenox, and the Lord Chamberlain, about a box, in a new play at the Blackfriars, of which the duke had got the key; which if it had come to be debated betwixt them, as it was once intended, some heat or perhaps other inconvenience might have happened.'-Letter from Mr. Garrard, dated Jan. 25th, 1535. Straff. Letters, vol. i. p. 511.
accommodation at a cheaper rate. On the stage, the arrangements appear to have been nearly the same as at present-the curtain divided the audience from the actors; which, at the third sounding, not indeed of the bell, but of the trumpet, was drawn for the commencement of the performance. Malone has puzzled himself and his readers, in his account of the ancient theatre, by the supposition that there was a permanent elevation of about nine feet, at the back of the stage, from which, in many of the old plays, part of the dia-arke must be boarded round about, and upon the bordes all the beastes and fowles hereafter rehearsed must be painted, that their wordes may agree with the pictures.'t In this passage, then, is a distinct reference to a painted scene; and it is not likely, that in the lapse of three centuries, while all other arts were in a state of rapid im
verting the common ornaments of their walls into the decorations of their theatres. But, the fact appears to be, that the use of scenery was almost coexistent with the introduction of dramatic representations in this country. In the Chester Mysteries, written in 1268, and which are the most ancient and complete collection of the kind that we possess, we have the following stage direction: Then Noe shall go into the arke with all his familye, his wife excepte. The
logue was spoken; and that there was a private box on each side of this platform. Such an arrangement would have precluded the possibility of all theatrical illusion; and it seems an extraordinary place to fix upon as a station for spectators, where they could have seen nothing but the backs and trains of the performers. But as Ma-provement, and the art of dramatic writing perlone himself acknowledges the spot to have been haps more rapidly and successfully improved than inconvenient, and that it is not very easy to any other, the art of theatrical decoration should ascertain the precise situation where these boxes have alone stood still. It is not improbable that really were; it may be presumed, from our their scenes were few; and that these were varied knowledge of the good sense of our forefathers, as occasion might require, by the introduction of that, if indeed such boxes existed at all, they cer- different pieces of stage furniture. Mr. Gifford, tainly were not where the historian of the Eng- who adheres to Malone's opinion, says, 'a table lish stage has placed them. Malone was possessed with a pen and ink thrust in, signified that the with an opinion, that the use of scenes was stage was a counting-house; if these were withunknown in the early years of our national drama, drawn, and two stools put in their places, it was and he was perhaps not unwilling to adopt such then a tavern ;'§ and this might be perfectly a theory respecting the distribution of the stage satisfactory, as long as the business of the play as would effectually preclude the supposition was supposed to be passing within doors, but that such aids to the imagination of the audience when it was removed to the open air, such meahad ever been employed. That he was in error gre devices would no longer be sufficient to guide respecting the want of painted scenery, I cannot the imagination of the audience, and some new help suspecting, even against the high authority method must have been adopted to indicate the of Mr. Gifford. As to his permanent platform, place of action. After giving the subject consior upper stage, he may, or may not, be correct in derable attention, I cannot help thinking that his opinion; all that is certain upon this subject Steevens was right in rejecting the evidence of is, that his quotations do not authorize the con- Malone, strong as it may in some instances clusion that he has deduced from them; and only appear; and concluding that the spectators were, prove that in the old, as in the modern theatre, as at the present day, assisted in following the when the actor was to speak from a window, or progress of the story, by means of painted and appear upon a balcony, or on the walls of a for- moveable scenery. This opinion is confirmed tress, the requisite ingenuity was not wanting by the ancient stage directions. In the folio to contrive an adequate representation of the Shakspeare, of 1623, we read, Enter Brutus, place. But, with regard to the use of scenery, in his orchard.' Enter Timon, in the woods.' it is scarcely possible, from the very circumstances Enter Timon, from his cave.' In Coriolanus: of the case, that such a contrivance should have Marcius follows them to the gates, and is shut in.' escaped our ancestors. All the materials were Innumerable instances of the same kind might ready to their hands; they had not to invent for be cited, to prove that the ancient stage was not themselves, but to adapt an old invention to their so defective in the necessary decorations as some own purposes: and at a time when every better antiquarians of great authority would represent. apartment was adorned with tapestry; when even It may be added,' says Steevens, 'that the diathe rooms of the commonest taverns were hung logue of Shakspeare has such perpetual reference with painted cloths; while all the essentials of to objects supposed visible to the audience, that scenery were continually before their eyes, we the want of scenery could not have failed to can hardly believe our forefathers to have been render many of the descriptions uttered by his so deficient in ingenuity, as to suppose that they speakers absurd and laughable. Banquo exnever should have conceived the design of con- amines the outside of Inverness castle with such
* REED's Shakspeare, vol. iii. p. 83, note 9. + Massinger, vol. i. p. 103.
REED'S Shakspeare, vol. iii. p. 15. § Massinger, vol. i. p. 103.
THE LIFE OF WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE.
minuteness, that he distinguishes even the nests which the martins had built under the projecting parts of its roof. Romeo, standing in a garden, points to the tops of fruit-trees gilded by the moon. The prologue speaker to the Second Part of King Henry IV., expressly shews the spectators, "this worm-eaten hold of ragged stone," in which Northumberland was lodged. Iachimo takes the most exact inventory of every article in Imogen's bed-chamber, from the silk and silver of which her tapestry was wrought, down to the Cupids that support her andirons. Had not the inside of this apartment, with its proper furniture, been represented, how ridiculous must the action of lachimo have appeared! He must have stood looking out of the room for the particulars supposed to be visible within it. In one of the parts of King Henry VI., a cannon is discharged against a tower; and conversations are held in almost every scene from different walls, turrets, and battlements.' Indeed, must not all the humour of the mock play in the Midsummer Night's Dream have failed in its intent, unless the audience before whom it was performed were accustomed to be gratified by the combination of all the embellishments requisite to give effect to a dramatic representation, and could therefore estimate the absurdity of those shallow contrivances, and mean substitutes for scenery, which were devised by the ignorance of the clowns?*
In only one respect do I perceive any material difference between the mode of representation at the time of Shakspeare and at present. In his day, the female parts were performed by boys:† this custom, which must in many cases have materially injured the illusion of the scene, was in others of considerable advantage. It furnished the stage with a succession of youths regularly educated to the art, and experienced to fill the parts appropriate for their age. It
This question appears to be set at rest by the following extracts of expenses from the Book of Revels, the oldest that exists, in the office of the auditors of the Imprest. 'The Cullorer, William Lyzard, for gold, sylver, and sundry other cullers by him spent, in painting the houses that served for the playes and players at the coorte, with their properties and necessaries incident, &c., 137. 16s. 1d.
Paper for patternes, and for leaves of trees, and ether garnishing, 4 reams, 24s.
'Mrs. Dane, the lynnen dealer, for canvas to paynte for houses for the players, and other properties, as monsters, great hollow trees, and such other, twenty dozen ells, 124.
'William Lyzarde, for syze, cullers, pottes, nayles, and pensills, used and occupied upon the payntinge of seven cities, one villadge, one countrey house, one battlement, nine axes, a braunche, lillyes, and a monate for Christmas three holidays, 47. 15s. 8d.'
There are several other references to paynting
great clothes of canvas,' which were evidently
Beither more nor less than moveable canvass scenes.
See BOSWELL'S Shakspeare, vol. iii. p. 364-409.
obviated the necessity of obtruding performers before the public in parts that were unsuited to their time of life. When the lad had become too tall for Juliet, he was prepared to act, and was most admirably calculated in age to assume, the character of the ardent Romeo: when the voice had the 'mannish crack,' that rendered the youth unfit to appear as the representative of the gentle Imogen, he was skilled in the knowledge of the stage, and capable of doing justice to the princely sentiments of Arviragus or Guiderius.
Such then was the state of the stage when Shakspeare entered into its service, in the double capacity of actor and author. As an author, though Dryden says, that
'Shakspeare's own muse his Pericles first bore," it is most probable that Titus Andronicus was the earliest dramatic effort of his pen. Shakspeare arrived in London about the year 1587, and according to the date of the latter play, as intimated by Ben Jonson, in his introduction to Bartholomew Fair,§ we find it to have been produced immediately after his arrival. That Titus Andronicus is really the work of Shakspeare, it would be a defiance to all contemporary evidence to doubt. It was not only printed among his works by his friends, Heminge and Condell, but is mentioned as one of his tragedies by an author,|| who appears to have been on such terms of intimacy with him, as to have been admitted to a sight of his MS. sonnets. Against this testimony, the critics have nothing to oppose but the accumulated horrors of its plot; the stately march of its versification; and the dissimilarity of its style from the other efforts of Shakspeare's genius. It does not strike me that these arguments are sufficient to lead us to reject the play as the composition of our great dramatist. He was, perhaps, little more than three-and-twenty years of age when it was composed. The plays¶
REED's Shakspeare, vol. iii. p. 3, 4. note.
which at the time had possession of the stage, of which very few had been written, and not above fifteen are extant, supposing Andronicus to have been produced in 1589, were all of the same bombastic and exaggerated character; and the youthful poet naturally imitated the popular manner, and strove to beat his contemporaries with their own weapons. However tiresome the tragedy may be to us, it was a great favourite at its first appearance. It was full of barbarities that shock the refined taste; but these formed a mode of exciting the interest of the audience which was very commonly had recourse to by the play-writers of the age, and from which Shakspeare never became fully weaned, even at a period when his judgment was matured; as we may learn from the murder of Macduff's children, the hamstringing of Cassio, and the plucking out the eyes of Gloucester. The versification and language of the play, are certainly very different from those of Othello, of Hamlet, of Macbeth, or Lear. The author had not yet acquired that facility of composition for which he was after-grammar is set wholly at defiance; half lines wards distinguished. He wrote with labour, and frequently omitted, so as to destroy the sense; left in every line the trace of the labour with and sentences brought together without any which he wrote. He had not yet discovered imaginable connexion. Sometimes the tran(and it was he who eventually made the disco- scriber caught the expression, but lost the sentivery), that the true language of nature and of ment; and huddled the words together, without passion is that which passes most directly to the any regard to the meaning or no-meaning that heart but it is not with the works of his expe- they might happen to convey: at other times he rienced years, that this 'bloody tragedy' should remembered the sentiment, but lost the expresbe compared; if it be, we certainly should find sion; and considered it no presumption to supa difficulty in admitting that writings of such ply the lines of Shakspeare with doggerel verses opposite descriptions, could be the effusions of of his own. Such were, for the most part, the the same intellect; but, compare this tragedy early quarto impressions of our author's plays : with the other works of his youth, and the diffi- and it is not difficult to conceive, that Pericles, culty vanishes. Is it improbable that the author which seems to have suffered more than any other of the Venus and Adonis, and the Rape of Lucrece, play in passing through the ignorant and negshould, on turning his attention to the stage, ligent hands of the transcriber and the printer, produce as heavy and monotonous a performance might have been originally the work of Shakas the Titus Andronicus? speare, without retaining in its published form any distinguishing characteristics of the magic hand that framed it. To attempt tracing the literary life of our great dramatist were a work of unprofitable toil. I have given in the appendix (No. 2.) the list of his plays, according to the order in which Chalmers, Malone, and Dr. Drake, suppose them to have been composed : but the grounds of their conjectures are so uncertain, that little reliance can be placed in them, and all we really know upon the subject, is what we learn from Meres, that previously to the year 1598, that is, within twelve years after his attaching himself to the theatre, Shakspeare had not only published his two poems, the Venus and Adonis, and the Rape of Lucrece; but had already written Titus Andronicus, King John, Richard the
I have been rather more diffuse upon this subject, than the nature of the present notice would appear to warrant, because it affords the means of ascertaining the time when Shakspeare commenced writer for the stage. If Titus Andronicus be really his, as I suppose, he became an author immediately on finding himself in the service of the theatre. His first play, though we now despise and reject it, was the best play that had been presented to the public; and immediately placed him in the first ranks of the profession, and among the principal supports of the company to which he was attached.
Pericles, if the work of Shakspeare, was probably his next dramatic production. Dryden has most unequivocally attributed this play to Shakspeare, and he was also commended as its author, in 1646, by S. Shepherd, in a poem called Time displayed. It is true that it was omitted by Heminge and Condell, in their col
lection of our poet's works; but this may have proceeded from forgetfulness, and it was only by an afterthought, that Troilus and Cressida escaped a similar fortune. How far Pericles, as originally written, was, or was not, worthy the talents of Shakspeare, we have no means of judging. The only editions of this tragedy that have come down to us, are three spurious quartos, of which the text was printed from copies taken by illiterate persons during representation, and published without any regard to the property or the reputation of the author, to impose on the curiosity of the public. The Pericles of Shakspeare may have been a splendid composition, and yet not have shewn so in the garbled editions of the booksellers. We may estimate the injuries that Pericles received, by the injuries which we know were inflicted upon Hamlet on its first issuing, after such a process, from the press. In the first edition of Hamlet, 1603, there is scarcely a trace of the beauty and majesty of Shakspeare's work. Long passages, and even scenes, are misplaced;
Palladis Tamia, or Second Part of Wit's Common Place Book, by Francis Meres, and printed at London, 1598.