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acted by Henslowe's company in May, 1597; and the probability of the position that, as Ben Jonson himself states, it was originally brought out in 1598 by “the then Lord Chamberlain's servants.” It may have been, and probably was, acted by them, because Shakespeare had kindly interposed with his associates on behalf of the deserving and unfriended author.
Restriction of dramatic performances in and near London in 1597. Thomas Nash
and his play, “ The Isle of Dogs :" imprisonment of Nash, and of some of the players of the Lord Admiral. Favour shown to the companies of the Lord Chamberlain and of the Lord Admiral. Printing of Shakespeare's Plays in 1597. The list of his known dramas, published by F. Meres in 1598. Shakespeare authorized the printing of none of his plays, and never corrected the press. Carelessness of dramatic authors in this respect. “ The Passionate Pilgrim,” 1599. Shakespeare's reputation as a dramatist.
In the summer of 1597 an event occurred which seems to have produced for a time a serious restriction upon dramatic performances. The celebrated Thomas Nash, early in the year, had written a comedy which he called “The Isle of Dogs:" that he had partners in the undertaking there is no doubt; and he tells us, in his tract called “Lenten Stuff,” printed in 1599, that the players, when it was acted by the Lord Admiral's servants in the beginning of August, 1597, had taken most unwarrantable liberties with his piece, by making large additions, for which he ought not to have been responsible. The exact nature of the performance is not known, but it was certainly satirical, no doubt personal, and it must have had reference also to some of the polemical and political questions of the day. The representation of it was forbidden by authority, and Nash, with others,
was arrested under an order from the privy council, and sent to the Fleet prison'. Some of the offending actors had escaped for a time, and the privy council, not satisfied with what had been already done in the way of punishment, wrote from Greenwich on 15th August, 1597, to certain magistrates, requiring them strictly to examine all the parties in custody, with a view to the discovery of others not yet apprehended. This important official letter, which has hitherto been unmentioned, we have inserted in a note from the registers of the privy council of that date; and by it we learn, not only that Nash was the author of the “seditious and slanderous” comedy, but possibly himself an actor in it, and “the maker of part of the said play,” especially pointed at, who was in custody?.
1 The circumstance was thus alluded to by Francis Meres in the next year: —“As Actæon was wooried of his owne hounds, so is Tom Nash of his Ile of Doje. Dogges were the death of Euripides ; but bee not disconsolate, gallant young Juvenall; Linus the sonne of Apollo died the same death. Yet, God forbid, that so brave a witte should so basely perish: thine are but paper dogges ; neither is thy banishment, like Ovid's, eternally to converse with the barbarous Getes : therefore, comfort thyselfe, sweete Tom, with Cicero's glorious return to Rome, and with the counsel Aeneas gives to his sea-beaten soldiors, lib. i. Aeneid :* Pluck up thine heart, and drive from thence both feare and care away;
To thinke on this may pleasure be perhaps another day.' “ Durato, et temet rebus serrato secundis.”—Palladis Tamia, 1598, fo. 286.
2 The minute in the registers of the privy council (pointed out to us by Mr. Lemon) is this :
“A letter to Richard Topclyfe, Thomas Fowler, and Ric. Skevington, Esquires, Doctour Fletcher, and Mr. Wilbraham.
“ Upon information given us of a lewd plaie, that was plaied in one of the plaie howses on the Bancke side, containing very seditious and sclaunderous matters, wee caused some of the players to be apprehended and comytted to pryson, whereof one of them was not only an actor, but a maker of parte of the said plaie. For as much as yt ys thought meete that the rest of the players or actours in that matter shal be apprehended, to receave soche punyshment as there lewde and mutynous behavior doth deserve; these shall be, therefore, to require yow to examine those of the plaiers that are comytted, whose names are knowne to you, Mr. Topelyfe, what is become of the rest of theire fellowes that either had their partes in the devysinge of that sedytious matter, or that were actours or plaiers in the same, what copies they have given forth of the said playe, and to whome, and soch other pointes as you shall thinke meete to be demaunded of them ; wherein you shall require of them to deale trulie, as they will looke to receave anie favour. Wee praie yow also to peruse soch papers as were fownde in Nash his lodgings, which Ferrys, a messenger of the Chamber, shall
Before the date of this incident the companies of various play-houses in the county of Middlesex, but particularly at the Curtain and Theatre in Shoreditch, had attracted attention, and given offence, by the licentious character of their performances; and the registers of the privy council show that the magistrates had been written to on the 28th July, 1597, requiring that no plays should be acted during the summer, and directing, in order to put an effectual stop to such performances, because “ lewd matters were handled on stages,” that the two places abovenamed should be “plucked downs.” The magistrates were also enjoined to send for the owners of “any other common playhouse” within their jurisdiction, and not only to forbid performances of every description, but “so to deface” all places erected for theatrical representations, “as they might not be employed again to such use.” This command was given just anterior to the production of Nash's “ Isle of Dogs,” which was certainly not calculated to lessen the objections entertained by any persons in authority about the Court.
The Blackfriars, not being, according to the terms of the order of the privy council, “a common play-house,” but what was called a private theatre, does not seem to have been included in the general ban; but as we know that similar directions had been conveyed to the magistrates of the county of Surrey, it is somewhat surprising that they seem to have produced no effect upon the performances at the Globe or the Rose upon delyver unto yow, and to certyfie us the examynations you take. So &c. Greenwich, 15. Aug. 1597." From the Council Register.
Eliz. No. 13. p. 346. 3 We find evidence in a satirist of the time, that about this date the Theatre was abandoned, though not "plucked down.”
---- --“But see yonder
Edw. Guilpin's “ Skialetheia," 8vo. 1598. Sign. D 6. The theatre, in all probability, was not used for plays afterwards.
the Bankside. We must attribute this circumstance, perhaps, to the exercise of private influence; and it is quite certain that the necessity of keeping some companies in practice, in order that they might be prepared to exhibit, when required, before the Queen, was made the pretext for granting exclusive “licenses” to the actors of the Lord Chamberlain, and of the Lord Admiral. We know that the Earls of Southampton and Rutland, about this date and shortly afterwards, were in the frequent habit of visiting the theatres" : the Earl of Nottingham also seems to have taken an unusual interest on various occasions in favour of the company acting under his name, and to the representations of these noblemen we are, perhaps, to attribute the exemption of the Globe and the Rose from the operation of the order “to deface” all buildings adapted to dramatic representations in Middlesex and Surrey, in a manner that would render them unfit for any such purpose in future. We have the authority of the registers of the privy council, under date of 19th Feb. 1597-8, for stating that the companies of the Lord Chamberlain and of the Lord Admiral obtained renewed permission “to use and practise stage-plays,” in order that they might be duly qualified, if called upon to perform before the Queen.
This privilege, as regards the players of the Lord Admiral, seems the more extraordinary, because that was the very company which only in the August preceding had given such offence by the representation of Nash’s “ Isle of Dogs,” that its farther performance was forbidden, the author and some of the players were arrested and sent to the Fleet, and vigorous steps taken to secure the persons of other parties who for a time had made their escape. It is very likely that Nash was the scape-goat on the occasion, and that the chief blame was thrown upon him, although, in his tract, before mentioned, he maintains that he was the most innocent party of all those who were concerned in the transaction. It seems evident, that in 1598 there was a strong disposition on the part of some members of the Queen's government to restrict dramatic performances, in and near London, to the servants of the Lord Chamberlain and of the Lord Admiral.
4 See Vol. ii. p. 132 of the “Sidney Papers,” where Rowland White tells Sir Robert Sidney, “My Lord Southampton and Lord Rutland come not to the court: the one doth but very seldom, They pass away the time in London merely in going to plays every day.” This letter is dated 11th October, 1599, and the Queen was then at Nonesuch.
As far as we can judge, there was good reason for showing favour to the association with which Shakespeare was connected, because nothing has reached us to lead to the belief that the Lord Chamberlain's servants had incurred any displeasure: if the Lord Admiral's servants were to be permitted to continue their performances at the Rose, it would have been an act of the grossest injustice to have prevented the Lord Chamberlain's servants from acting at the Globe. Accordingly, we hear of no interruption, at this date, of the performances at either of the theatres in the receipts of which Shakespeare participated.
To the year 1598 inclusive, only five of his plays had been printed, although he had then been connected with the stage for about twelve years, viz. “Romeo and Juliet,” “ Richard II.” and “Richard III.” in 1597, and “Love's Labour's Lost” and “Henry IV.” part i. in 15985; but, as we learn from indisputable contemporaneous authority, he had written seven others, besides what he had done in the way of alteration, addition, and adaptation. The earliest enumeration of Shakespeare's dramas made its appearance in 1598, in a work
5 It is doubtful whether an edition of “ Titus Andronicus” had not appeared as early as 1594 (see Vol. vi. p. 272); but no earlier copy than that of 1600, in the library of Lord Francis Egerton, is known. It is necessary to bear in mind, that the impression of “Romeo and Juliet” in 1597 was only a mangled and mutilated representation of the state in which the tragedy came from the hand of its author. (See Vol. vi. p. 368.)