« السابقةمتابعة »
distinguished character as a court dramatist, and ample rewards as a court dependent'. These were properly called “ interludes,” being short comic pieces, represented ordinarily in the interval between the feast and the banquet; and we may easily believe that they had considerable influence in the settlement of the form which our stage-performances ultimately assumed. Heywood does not appear to have begun writing until after Henry VIII. had been some years on the throne; but, while Skelton was composing such tedious elaborations as his “ Magnificence,” which, without any improvement, merely carries to a still greater length of absurdity the old style of moral plays, Heywood was writing his “ John Tib and Sir John,” his “Four Ps," his “Pardoner and Friar,” and pieces of that description, which presented both variety of matter and novelty of construction, as well as considerable wit and drollery in the language. He was a very original writer, and certainly merits more admiration than any of his dramatic contemporaries.
To the commencement of the reign of Elizabeth we may refer several theatrical productions which make approaches, more or less near, to comedy, tragedy, and history, and still retain many of the known features of moral plays. “Tom Tiler and his Wife” is a comedy in its incidents; but the allegorical personages, Desire, Destiny, Strife, and Patience, connect it immediately with the earlier species of stage-entertainment. “The Conflict of Conscience," on the other hand, is a tra· gedy on the fate of an historical personage; but Conscience, Hypocrisy, Avarice, Horror, &c., are called in aid of the purpose of the writer. “Appius and Virginia” is in most respects a history, founded upon facts; but Rumour, Comfort, and Doctrine, are importantly concerned in the representation. These, and other productions of the same class, which it is not necessary to particularize, show the gradual advances made towards a better, because a more natural, species of theatrical composition. Into miracle-plays were gradually introduced allegorical personages, who finally usurped the whole stage; while they in turn yielded to real and historical characters, at first only intended to give variety to abstract impersonations. Hence the origin of comedy, tragedy, and history, such as we find them in the works of Shakespeare, and of some of his immediate predecessors.
7 John Heywood, who flourished in the reign of Henry VIII., is not to be confounded, as some modern editors of Shakespeare have confounded him, with Thomas Heywood, who became a dramatist more than half a century afterwards, and who continued a writer for the stage until near the date of the closing of the theatres by the Puritans. John Heywood, in all probability, died before Thomas Heywood was born.
What is justly to be considered the oldest known comedy in our language is of a date not much posterior to the reign of Henry VIII., if, indeed, it were not composed while he was on the throne. It has the title of “Ralph Roister Doister,” and it was written by Nicholas Udall, who was master of Eton school in 1540, and who died in 1557'. It is on every account a very remarkable performance; and as the scene is laid in London, it affords a curious picture of metropolitan manners. The regularity of its construction, even at that early date, may be gathered from the fact, that in the single copy which has descended to us it is divided
s One of the latest pieces without mixture of history or fable, and consisting wholly of abstract personages, is, “ The Tide tarryeth no Man," by George Wapul, printed in 1576 : only a single copy of it has been preserved, and that is in the library of the Duke of Devonshire. The principal persons introduced into it have the following names :—Painted-profit, No-good-neighbourhood, Wastefulness, Christianity, Correction, Courage, Feigned-furtherance, Greediness, Wantonness, and Authority-in-despair.
9 A very interesting epistle from Udall is to be found in Sir Henry Ellis's volume (edited for the Camden Society) “Original Letters of Eminent Literary Men." That of Udall is the first in the series.
| This single copy is without title-page, so that the year when it was printed cannot be ascertained; but Thomas Hacket had a licence in 1566 for the publication of “a play entitled Rauf Ruyster Duster," as it is called on the registers of the Stationers' company. We may presume that it was published in that year, or in the next.
into acts and scenes. The story is one of common, every-day life; and none of the characters are such as people had been accustomed to find in ordinary dramatic entertainments. The piece takes its name from its hero, a young town-gallant, who is mightily enamoured of himself, and who is encouraged in the good opinion he entertains of his own person and accomplishments by Matthew Merrygreek, a poor relation, who attends him in the double capacity of companion and servant. Ralph Roister Doister is in love with a lady of property, called Custance, betrothed to Gawin Goodluck, a merchant, who is at sea when the comedy begins, but who returns before it concludes. The main incidents relate to the mode in which the hero, with the treacherous help of his associate, endeavours to gain the affections of Custance. He writes her a letter, which Merrygreek reads without a due observance of the punctuation, so that it entirely perverts the meaning of the writer: he visits her while she is surrounded by her female domestics, but he is unceremoniously rejected: he resolves to carry her by force of arms, and makes an assault upon her habitation; but with the assistance of her maids, armed with mops and brooms, she drives him from the attack. Then, her betrothed lover returns, who has been misinformed on the subject of her fidelity, but he is soon reconciled on an explanation of the facts; and Ralph Roister Doister, finding that he has no chance of success, and that he has only been cajoled and laughed at, makes up his mind to be merry at the wedding of Goodluck and Custance.
In all this we have no trace of anything like a moral play, with the exception, perhaps, of the character of Matthew Merrygreek, which, in some of its features, its love of mischief and its drollery, bears a resemblance to the Vice of the older drama? Were the dialogue modernised, the comedy might be performed, even in our own day, to the satisfaction of many of the usual attendants at our theatres.
2 By “the older drama," we mean moral plays, into which the Vice was introduced for the amusement of the spectators : no character so called, or with
In considering the merits of this piece, we are to recollect that Bishop Still's “Gammer Gurton's Needle," which, until of late, was held to be our earliest comedy, was written some twenty years after “Ralph Roister Doister:" it was not acted at Cambridge until 1566, nine years subsequent to the death of Udall; and it is in every point of view an inferior production. The plot is a mere piece of absurdity, the language is provincial (well fitted, indeed, to the country where the scene is laid, and to the clownish persons engaged in it) and the manners depicted are chiefly those of illiterate rustics. The story, such as it is, relates to the loss of a needle with which Gammer Gurton had mended Hodge's breeches, and which is afterwards found by the hero, when he is about to sit down. The humour, generally speaking, is as coarse as the dialogue; and though it is impossible to deny that the author was a man of talents, they were hardly such as could have produced “ Ralph Roister Doister.”
The drama which we have been accustomed to regard as our oldest tragedy, and which probably has a just claim to the distinction, was acted on 18th January, 1562, and printed in 15653. It was originally called similar propensities, is to be traced in miracle-plays. He was, in fact, the buffoon of our drama in, what may be termed, its second stage ; after audiences began to grow weary of plays founded upon Scripture-history, and when even moral plays, in order to be relished, required the insertion of a character of broad humour, and vicious inclinations, who was sometimes to be the companion, and at others the castigator, of the devil, who represented the principle of evil among mankind. The Vice of moral plays subsequently became the fool and jester of comedy, tragedy, and history, and forms another, and an important, link of connexion between them.
$ In the Hist. of Engl. Dram. Poetry and the Stage, ii. 482, it is said that the earliest edition of “Gorboduc” has no date. This is a mistake, as is shown by the copy in the collection of Lord Francis Egerton, which has “anno 1565, Septemb. 22” at the bottom of the title-page. Mr. Hallam, in his admirable “Introduction to the Literature of Europe,” &c. (Second Edit. vol. ii. p. 167), expresses his dissent from the position, that the three first acts were by Norton, and the two last by Sackville. The old title-page states, that “three acts were
“ Gorboduc;" but it was reprinted in 1571 under the title of “ Forrex and Porrex," and a third time in 1590 as “ Gorboduc.” The first three acts were written by Thomas Norton, and the last two by Thomas Sackville, afterwards Earl of Dorset, and it was performed “by the gentlemen of the Inner Temple.” Although the form of the Greek drama is observed in “Gorboduc,” and each act concluded by a chorus, yet Sir Philip Sidney, who admitted (in his “ Apology of Poetry”) that it was “ full of stately speeches and well-sounding phrases,” could not avoid complaining that the unities of time and place had been disregarded. Thus, in the very outset and origin of our stage, as regards what may be termed the regular drama, the liberty, which allowed full exercise to the imagination of the audience, and which was afterwards happily carried to a greater excess, was distinctly asserted and maintained. It is also to be remarked, that “Gorboduc” is the earliest known play in our language in which blankverse was employed; but of the introduction of blankverse upon our public stage, we shall have occasion to speak hereafter. It was an important change, which requires to be separately considered.
We have now entered upon the reign of Elizabeth; and although, as already observed, moral plays and even miracle-plays were still acted, we shall soon see what a variety of subjects, taken from ancient history, from mythology, fable, and romance, were employed for the purposes of the drama. Stephen
written by Thomas Norton, and the two last by Thomas Sackville.” Unless the printer, William Griffith, were misinformed, this seems decisive. Norton's abilities have not had justice done to them,
• Richard Edwards, a very distinguished dramatic poet, who died in 1566, and who wrote the lost play of “ Palamon and Arcite,” which was acted before the Queen in September of that year, did not follow the example of Sackville and Norton : his “ Damon and Pithias” (the only piece by him that has survived) is in rhyme. See Dodsley's Old Plays, last edition, vol. i. p. 177. Thomas Twine, an actor in “ Palamon and Arcite,” wrote an epitaph upon its author. “Gammer Gurton's Needle," and “Gorboduc," (the last printed from the second edition) are also inserted in vols. i. and ü. of Dodsley's Old Plays.