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his country, and forgot his duty to his Queen. The distinctions of society were then so marked, and the distance between a nobleman and an actor, or even a dramatic writer, so vast, that the existence of a friendly intimacy is not to be unhesitatingly believed unless indisputably proved. Most of the facts recorded of Shakespeare were found or fabled after the Restoration; and the only probability that Queen Elizabeth ever saw, much less conversed with him,-arises from the circumstance of Heminge's company having performed before her, when probably he was one of the actors,
The story of the autograph letter of King James seems to be quite apocryphal; and “from the accounts which have come down to us,” we should conclude that very few of Shakespeare's contemporaries knew anything at all of him.
“ Several Englishmen,” says Schlegel, "have given it as their opinion that the players of the first epoch were, in all likelihood, greatly superior to those of the second—at least with the exception of Garrick."
The quality of the audience is the best criterion of the capacity of the actors: if the audience was rude and uncultivated, it were hard to believe that the actors were cultured and refined.
The witty and worthless writers for the stage were wonderfully prolific in their productions. Heywood is reported to have written 220 pieces, and several others nearly as many. Among the numerous advantages arising from the absence of scenery and costume, may be accounted the ready access of authors to the stage, and the equal competition to which they were subjected. No consideration of expense deterred the acceptation of a piece. In all ages, managers have been more ready to tax the ingenuity of their companies to learn new parts, than to tax their own pockets to provide new scenery and dresses. In this, too, they act wisely; for how many avoid the theatre, because they have “seen the piece before," and how soon scenery and dresses pall.
Amid such a profusion of plays, so much better adapted to the taste of the multitude, it is impossible to believe that the small number attributed to Shakespeare, which were published during his lifetime, could have made any great sensation.
The Shakespeare Plays were never more popular nor better appreciated, than at the present day; because they are essentially addressed to the reading public, which was never so extensive as now.
The collected plays in the folio of 1623, were
read and appreciated by the then small portion of the community which constituted the reading public; and new editions, in folio, were published to supply their libraries and studies, though there is no suggestion or tradition that they were ever performed for nearly one hundred years after the supposed author's decease.
We have spoken disparagingly of the Blackfriars Theatre, its plays and its actors; but let us not be misunderstood. The People's Playhouse is, and ever must be, the foundation and support of England's drama. What we contend is, that these plays were beyond, and consequently not appreciated by, the age in which they were written.
Mysteries, Moralities, and Mummeries had satisfied the people whilst the Bible was a sealed book ; but when its truths were made known to them, and the great charter of freedom from priestcraft announced, that“ whatever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not required of any man that it should be believed," they then served but as subjects for merriment.
As the contest of creeds had provoked a better knowledge of religion, so the contest of governments excited inquiry into civil affairs; and under the third of the Stuarts the masses had attained an intelligence wonderfully in advance of that which they possessed under the last of the Tudors. It is doubtful whether the closing of the theatre was so great a privation to the Londoners as it might seem;
the excitement of the times might compensate their loss: the Royalists privately performing pasquinades in ridicule of the Puritans, and these latter, by attending preaching, supplying the excitement they had heretofore sought at plays. There can be no doubt, however, that this break disturbed the natural growth of the British Drama.
Upon the Restoration, the theatre was reopened under the managment of Sir William Davenant, upon whom extensive privileges were conferred. The decorations, costumes, and other arrangements of the theatre, were after the most approved foreign model. The pieces produced were in accordance with the taste of the court, which was most licentious and profligate.
As the practice of vice is more consonant to men than habits of virtue, and as the extravagant indulgence in all lawful or unlawful pleasures was considered an evidence of loyalty, and in no way a disgrace, it is no wonder that public and private manners and theatrical entertainments exhibited a grossness it is now hardly possible to credit. Some, doubtless, simulated vices they neither adopted nor approved, in order to be in the fashion; and many, with regret, countenanced what they could not alter, yet wished to see cured.
Thus the theatre continued to exist an exotic foreign to the soil of England, cheered by the feeble sunshine of the court, and sustained by the fickle breath of fashion. But towards the middle of the reign of Queen Anne, Betterton appeared at the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and personated the characters of Othello, Brutus, and Hotspur.
It is an elegant passage of Guizot's, where he says "Imagine a man who has lived for a long time in rooms lighted only with wax-candles, chandeliers, or coloured glasses-who has only breathed in the faint suffocating atmosphere of drawingrooms—who has seen only the cascades of the opera, calico mountains, and garlands of artificial flowers, imagine such a man suddenly transported, one magnificent July morning, to a region where he could breathe the purest air, under the tranquil and graceful chestnut-trees which fringe the waters of Interlacken, and within view of the majestic glaciers of the Oberland, and you will have a pretty accurate idea of the moral position of one accus