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punished by whipping, fine, or imprisonment. Finding themselves in this pedicament, they applied to the Earl of Leicester, who obtained for them a protecting license from the Queen, contingent upon their good behaviour, and liable to be taken away at any time.
Thus the Queen's Players became licensed Vagabonds, as the Queen's Bedesmen were licensed Beggars.
It was to this class that William Shakespeare belonged.
We do but draw an historical portrait, painting it in black and white. We have no desire to disparage the Thespian art; in our Utopia, we should rank Players as Preachers; and we regret that our reading has led us to the conclusion, that Plays are not the legitimate descendants of the Mysteries, but spring from quite a different stock.
The playhouse is the people's sermon-book with pictures; its object should be to amuse, delight, instruct, exalt.
Whoever writes respecting the Theatre, feels constrained to say something about the Greek Drama and the Roman Plays, and then proceed to the Mysteries and Moralities; but we think it might easily be proved that the Mysteries and Moralities had as little to do with the British stage, as the Greek drama or Roman plays. The Mysteries and Moralities were, we doubt not, first produced for the purpose of propagating religion ; they were persevered in by the priests, to preserve their power. There was so much of fiction and absurdity mixed up with religious truth, that the people soon turned the tables upon the priests, and the persecuted Devil and the Vice became the most popular persons in the performance.
These Mysteries and Moralities were openly played by the parish clerks and others connected with the state religion, who thus endeavoured to influence the people. The public preachings at Paul's Cross and other places, the May meetings at Exeter Hall, the outpourings at Surrey Chapel or the Surrey Gardens, are their ligitimate issue. The English drama had a much earlier and more domestic origin: Private playings commenced long before, and continued during, these public religious exhibitions, until, as we shall presently demonstrate, the theatre became an institution of the country. The child's exclamation, “Let's play,” is the sesame to the English drama. We may daily witness it on our domestic hearths. Your little boy will be papa, your little girl mamma, and dolly shall be their child. Dolly is dandled, praised, and punished ; her dress and her duties arranged and rearranged, discussed and disputed over, till the playmates quarrel, and seek their parents to adjust their differences.
Here we have a domestic drama, representing the cares, passions, pleasures, and anxieties of life, and, as it were, carried on into a future of rewards and punishments.
The highest reach of the drama is but an amplification of this; and none is enduring which is not founded on a basis as simple and natural.
Banish Hamlet from the precincts of the Court of Denmark—strip him of his inky cloak-forget the fine painting with the upturned eyes and the skull in the left hand-dress him in a frock-coat and plaid trouserst-call him Mr. Brown or Mr. Smith-and, placed in circumstances equally perplexing, you shall find that an ordinary man would act, if not in a precisely, certainly in a proximately similar manner, to that pursued by the Prince of Denmark.
Like a skilful artist, the poet draws the natural figure, and then adds the appropriate drapery ; others, like milliners and tailors exhibiting their fabrics, make the outward semblance of a human being, which, when we come to examine, we find as foreign to nature, as wire and whalebone are to flesh and blood.
Hamlet is not a grand conception, as we vulgarly count grandeur. It is more largely grand:
- it is grand in the truth and simplicity of nature.
BUBBAGE and his fellows having, through the influence of Leicester, obtained a license from the Queen in 1574, they took a house in Blackfriars (which was then without the liberties of the City), and altered and fitted it up as a theatre in 1576.
The Theatre and the Curtain, two places in Shoreditch where plays were performed, appear to have been already in existence. Of these very little is known; and we are disposed to think the theatre in Blackfriars the first public theatre; though all the commentators and critics have chosen to consider it, what they denominate, a private theatre. "Our old theatres," says Collier, “ were either
,, public or private.”—“What,” says Malone, “were the distinguishing marks of a private playhouse, it is not easy to ascertain. We know only that it was smaller than those which were called public