« السابقةمتابعة »
gentry, of having dramatic entertainments at particular seasons in their own residences. These were sometimes performed by a company of actors retained in the family, and sometimes by itinerant players, who belonged to large towns, or who called themselves the servants of members of the aristocracy. In 14 Eliz, an act was passed allowing strolling actors to perform, if licensed by some baron or nobleman of higher degree, but subjecting all others to the penalties inflicted upon vagrants. Therefore, although many companies of players went round the country, and acted as the servants of some of the nobility, they had no legislative protection until 1572. It is a singular fact, that the earliest known company of players, travelling under the name and patronage of one of the nobility, was that of the Duke of Gloucester, afterwards Richard III. Henry VII. had two distinct bodies of “actors of interludes” in his pay, and from henceforward the profession of a player became well understood and recognised. In the later part of the reign
8 As early as 1465 a company of players had performed at the wedding of a person of the name of Molines, who was nearly related to Sir John Howard, afterwards Duke of Norfolk. See “ Manners and Household Expenses of England," printed by Mr. Botfield, M. P., for the Roxburghe Club in 1841, p. 511.
9 The anonymous MS. play of “ Sir Thomas More,” written towards the close of the reign of Elizabeth, gives a very correct notion of the mode in which offers to perform were made by a company of players, and accepted by the owner of the mansion. Four players and a boy (for the female characters) tender their services to the Lord Chancellor, just as he is on the point of giving a grand supper to the Lord Mayor and Corporation of London : Sir Thomas More inquires what pieces they can perform, and the answer of the leader of the company supplies the names of seven which were then popular; viz., “ The Cradle of Security,” “Hit Nail on the Head,” “Impatient Poverty," “ The Four Ps,” “Dives and Lazarus," “ Lusty Juventus,” and “ The Marriage of Wit and Wisdom." Sir Thomas More fixes upon the last, and it is accordingly represented, as a play within a play, before the banquet. “ Sir Thomas More” was regularly licensed for public performance.
Either from preference or policy, Richard III. appears to have been a great encourager of actors and musicians : besides his players, he patronised two distinct bodies of “minstrels,” and performers on instruments called “shalms.” These facts are derived from a manuscript of the household-book of John Lord Howard, afterwards Duke of Norfolk, preserved in the library of the Society of Antiquaries, and recently printed for the use of the members of the Roxburghe Club, as a sequel to Mr. Botfield's volume.
of Henry VII., the players of the Dukes of Norfolk and Buckingham, and of the Earls of Arundel, Oxford, and Northumberland, performed at court. About this period, and somewhat earlier, we also hear of companies attached to particular places; and in coeval records we read of the players of York, Coventry, Lavenham, Wycombe, Chester, Manningtree, Evesham, Mile-end, Kingston, &c.
In the reign of Henry VIII., and perhaps in that of his predecessor, the gentlemen and singing-boys of the Chapel Royal were employed to act plays and interludes before the court; and afterwards the children of Westminster, St. Paul's, and Windsor, under their several masters, are not unfrequently mentioned in the household books of the palace, and in the accounts of the department of the revels ?.
In 1514 the king added a new company to the dramatic retinue of the court, besides the two companies which had been paid by his father, and the associations of theatrical children. In fact, at this period dramatic entertainments, masques, disguisings, and revels of every description, were carried to a costly excess. Henry VIII. raised the sum, until then paid for a play, from 61. 135. 4d. to 101. William Cornyshe, the master of the children of the chapel, on one occasion was paid no less a sum than 2001., in the money of that time, by way of reward; and John Heywood, the author of interludes before mentioned, who was also a player upon the virginals, had a salary of 20l. per annum, in addition to his other emoluments. During seasons of festivity a Lord of Misrule was regularly appointed to superintend the sports, and he also was separately and liberally remunerated. The example of the
2 At a considerably subsequent date some of these infant companies performed before general audiences ; and to them were added the Children of the Revels, who had never been attached to any religious establishment, but were chiefly encouraged as a nursery for actors. The Queen of James I. had also a company of theatrical children under her patronage.
court was followed by the courtiers, and the companies of theatrical retainers, in the pay, or acting in various parts of the kingdom under the names of particular noblemen, became extremely numerous. Religious houses gave them encouragement, and even assisted in the getting up and representation of the performances, especially shortly before the dissolution of the monasteries: in the account-book of the Prior of Dunmow, between March 1532 and July 1536, we find entries of payments to Lords of Misrule there appointed, as well as to the players of the King, and of the Earls of Derby, Exeter, and Sussex'.
In 1543 was passed a statute, rendered necessary by the polemical character of some of the dramas publicly represented, although, not many years before, the king had himself encouraged such performances at court, by being present at a play in which Luther and his wife were ridiculed. The act prohibits “ ballads, plays, rhymes, songs, and other fantasies” of a religious or doctrinal tendency, but at the same time carefully provides, that the clauses shall not extend to “songs, plays, and interludes” which had for object “the rebuking and reproaching of vices, and the setting forth of virtue; so always the said songs, plays, or interludes meddle not with the interpretations of Scripture.”
3 For this information we are indebted to Sir N. H. Nicolas, who has the original document in his library. Similar facts might be established from other authorities, both of an earlier and somewhat later date.
4 See Hist. of Engl. Dram. Poetry and the Stage, Vol. i. p. 107. The official account, made out by Richard Gibson, who had the preparation of the dresses, &c., is so curious and characteristic, that we quote it in the words, though not in the uncouth orthography, of the original document: the date is the 10th Nov. 1528, not long before the king saw reason to change the whole course of his policy as regarded the Reformation.
“The king's pleasure was that at the said revels, by clerks in the Latin tongue, should be played in his presence a play, whereof ensueth the names. First an Orator in apparel of gold; a Poet in apparel of cloth of gold; Religion, Ecclesia, Veritas, like three Novices, in garments of silk, and veils of lawn and cypress; Heresy, False-interpretation, Corruptio-scriptoris, like ladies of Bohemia, appareled in garments of silk of divers colours ; the heretic Luther, like a party friar, in russet damask and black taffeta ; Luther's wife, like a frow of Spiers in Almain, in red silk; Peter, Paul, and James, in three babits of white sarsenet and three red mantles, and hairs of silver of damask and pelerines of scarlet, and a Cardinal in his apparel; two Sergeants in rich apparel; the Dauphin and his brother in coats of velvet embroidered with gold, and caps of satin bound with velvet ; a Messenger in tinsel-satin ; six men in gowns of green sarsenet ; six women in gowns of crimson sarsenet; War in rich cloth of gold and feathers, and armed; three Almains in apparel all cut and slit of silk; Lady Peace, in lady's apparel, all white and rich; and Lady Quietness, and Dame Tranquillity, richly beseen in ladies' apparel.”
The drama represented by these personages appears to have been the composition of John Rightwise, then master of the children of St. Paul's.
The permanent office of Master of the Revels, for the superintendance of all dramatic performances, was created in 1546, and Sir Thomas Cawarden was appointed to it with an annual salary of 101. A person of the name of John Bernard was made Clerk of the Revels, with an allowance of 8d. per day and livery 5.
It is a remarkable point, established by Mr. Tytler 6, that Henry VIII. was not yet buried, and Bishop Gardiner and his parishioners were about to sing a dirge for his soul, when the actors of the Earl of Oxford posted bills for the performance of a play in Southwark. This was long before the construction of any regular theatre on the Bankside; but it shows at how early a date that part of the town was selected for such exhibitions. When Mr. Tytler adds, that the players of the Earl of Oxford were “ the first that were kept by any nobleman,” he falls into an error, because Richard III., and others of the nobility, as already remarked, had companies of players attached to their households. We have the evidence of Puttenham, in his “ Art of English Poesie,” 1589, for stating that the Earl of Oxford, under whose name the players in 1547 were about to perform, was himself a dramatist.
5 The original appointment of John Bernard is preserved in the library of Sir Thomas Phillippes, Bart., to whom we owe the additional information, that this Clerk of the Revels had a house assigned to him, strangely called, in the instrument, “ Egypt, and Flesh-hall,” with a garden which had belonged to the dissolved monastery of the Charter-house : the words of the original are, omnia illa domum et edificia nuper vocata Egipte et Fleshall, et illam domum adjacentem nuper tocatam le garneter. The theatrical wardrobe of the court was at this period kept at St. John's Gate, Clerkenwell.
6 In his “ Edward VI. and Mary," 1839, vol. i. p 20.
Very soon after Edward VI. came to the throne, severe measures were taken to restrain not only dramatic performances, but the publication of dramas. Playing and printing plays were first entirely suspended; then, the companies of noblemen were allowed to perform, but not without special authority; and finally, the sign manual, or the names of six of the Privy Council were required to their licences. The objection stated was, that the plays had a political, not a polemical, purpose. One of the first acts of Mary's government, was to issue a proclamation to put a stop to the performance of interludes calculated to advance the principles of the Reformation; and we may be sure that the play ordered at the coronation of the queen was of a contrary description'. It appears on other authorities, that for two years there was an entire cessation of public dramatic performances; but in this reign the representation of the old Roman Catholic miracle-plays was partially and authoritatively revived.
It is not necessary to detail the proceedings in connexion with theatrical representations at the opening of the reign of Elizabeth. At first plays were discountenanced, but by degrees they were permitted; and the queen seems at all times to have derived much pleasure from the services of her own players, those of ber nobility, and of the different companies of children belonging to Westminster, St. Paul's, Windsor, and the Chapel Royal. The members of the inns of court also performed “Gorboduc” on 18th January, 1562; and on February 1st, an historical play, under the name of
7 See Kempe's “ Loseley Manuscripts,” 1835, p. 61. The warrant for the purpose was under the sign manual, and it was directed to Sir T. Cawarden, as Master of the Revels :“ We will and command you, upon the sight hereof, forth with to make and deliver out of our Revels, unto the Gentlemen of our Chapel, for a play to be played before us at the feast of our Coronation, as in times past hath been accustomed to be done by the Gentlemen of the Chapel of our progenitors, all such necessary garments, and other things for the furniture thereof, as shall be thought meet,” &c. The play, although ordered for this occasion, viz. 1st Oct. 1553, was for some unexplained reason deferred until Christmas.