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matist as early as 1584, when a rhyming translation by him, under the title of “The Two Italian Gentlemen,” came from the press '; and in the interval between that year and 1602, he wrote the whole or parts of various plays which have been lost“. Robert Wilson ought not to be omitted: he seems to have been a prolific dramatist, but only one comedy by him has survived, under the title of “The Cobbler's Prophecy,” and it was printed in 1594. According to the evidence of Henslowe, he aided Drayton and Munday in writing “ The First Part of the Life of Sir John Oldcastle," printed in 1600; but he must at that date have been old, if he were the same Robert Wilson who was one of Lord Leicester's theatrical servants in 1574, and who became one of the leaders of the company called the Queen's Players in 1583. He seems to have been a low comedian, and his “Cobbler's Prophecy” is a piece, the drollery of which must have depended in a great degree upon the performers.
With regard to mechanical facilities for the representation of plays before, and indeed long after, the time of Shakespeare, it may be sufficient to state, that our old public theatres were merely round wooden buildings, open to the sky in the audience part of the house, although the stage was covered by a banging roof: the spectators stood on the ground in front or at the sides, or were accommodated in boxes round the inner circumference of the edifice, or in galleries at a greater elevation. Our ancient stage was unfurnished with moveable scenery; and tables, chairs, a few boards for a battlemented wall, or a rude structure for a tomb or an altar, seem to have been nearly all the properties
• The only known copy of this comedy is without a title-page, but it was entered at Stationers' Hall for publication in 1584, and we may presume that it was printed about that date.
+ He had some share in writing the first part of the “ Life of Sir John Oldcastle,” which was printed as Shakespeare's work in 1600, although some copies of the play exist without his name on the title-page.
it possessed. It was usually bung round with decayed tapestry; and as there was no other mode of conveying the necessary information, the author often provided that the player, on his entrance, should take occasion to mention the place of action. When the business of a piece required that the stage should represent two apartments, the effect was accomplished by a curtain, called a traverse, drawn across it; and a sort of balcony in the rear enabled the writer to represent his characters at a window, on the platform of a castle, or on an elevated terrace.
To this simplicity, and to these deficiencies, we doubtless owe some of the finest passages in our early plays; for it was part of the business of the dramatist to supply the absence of coloured canvass by grandeur and luxuriance of description. The ear was thus made the substitute for the eye, and the poet's pen, aided by the auditor's imagination, more than supplied the place of the painter's brush. Moveable scenery was unknown in our public theatres until after the Restoration; and, as has been observed elsewhere," the introduction of it gives the date to the commencement of the decline of our dramatic poetrys."
How far propriety of costume was regarded, we have no sufficient means of deciding; but we apprehend that more attention was paid to it than has been generally supposed, or than was accomplished at a much later and more refined period. It is indisputable, that often in this department no outlay was spared: the most costly dresses were purchased, that characters might be consistently habited ; and, as a single proof, we may mention, that sometimes more than 201. were given for a cloak, an enormous price, when it is recollected that money was then five or six times as valuable as at present.
5 “ History of Engl. Dram. Poetry and the Stage,” vol. iii. p. 366. 6 See “ The Alleyn Papers,” printed by the Shakespeare Society, p. 12.
We have thus briefly stated all that seems absolutely required to give the reader a correct notion of the state of the English drama and stage at the period when, according to the best judgment we can form from such evidence as remains to us, Shakespeare advanced to a forward place among the dramatists of the day. As long ago as 1679, Dryden gave currency to the notion, which we have shown to be mistaken, that Shakespeare “ created first the stage,” and he repeated it in 1692?: it is not necessary to the just admiration of our noble dramatist, that we should do injustice to his predecessors or earlier contemporaries: on the contrary, his miraculous powers are best to be estimated by a comparison with his ablest rivals; and if he appear not greatest when his works are placed beside those of Marlowe, Greene, Peele, or Lodge, however distinguished their rank as dramatists, and however deserved their popularity, we shall be content to think, that for more than two centuries the world has been under a delusion as to his claims. He rose to eminence, and he maintained it, amid - struggles for equality by men of high genius and varied talents; and with his example ever since before us, no poet of our own, or of any other country, has even approached his excellence. Shakespeare is greatest by a comparison with greatness, or he is nothing.
7 In his Prologue to the alteration of “ Troilus and Cressida,” 1679, he puts these lines into the mouth of the Ghost of Shakespeare :
“ Untaught, unpractis’d, in a barbarous age,
I found not, but created first the stage.” In the dedication of the translation of Juvenal, thirteen years afterwards, Dryden repeats the same assertion in nearly the same words ; "he created the stage among us.” Shakespeare did not create the stage, and least of all did he create it such as it existed in the time of Dryden : “it was, in truth, created by no one man, and in no one age ; and whatever improvements Shakespeare introduced, when he began to write for the theatre our romantic drama was completely formed, and firmly established.”—Pref. to “ The Hist. of Engl. Dram. Poetry and the Stage,” vol. i. p. xi.
No Shakespeare advanced or rewarded by Henry VII. Antiquity of the Shake
speares in Warwickshire, &c. Earliest occurrence of the name at Stratfordupon-Avon. The Trade of John Shakespeare. Richard Shakespeare of Snitterfield, probably father to John Shakespeare, and certainly tenant to Robert Arden, father of John Shakespeare's wife. Robert Arden's seven daughters. Antiquity and property of the Arden family. Marriage of John
Shakespeare and Mary Arden : their circumstances. Purchase of two houses • in Stratford by John Shakespeare. His progress in the corporation.
It has been supposed that some of the paternal ancestors of William Shakespeare were advanced, and rewarded with lands and tenements in Warwickshire, for services rendered to Henry VII.' The rolls of that reign have been recently most carefully searched, and the name of Shakespeare, according to any mode of spelling it, does not occur in them.
Many Shakespeares were resident in different parts of Warwickshire, as well as in some of the adjoining counties, at an early date. The register of the Guild of St. Anne of Knolle, or Knowle, beginning in 1407 and ending in 1535, when it was dissolved, contains various repetitions of the name, during the reigns of Henry VI., Edward IV., Richard III., Henry VII., and
i On the authority of a grant of arms from the Herald's College to John Shakespeare, which circumstance is considered hereafter.