صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

allowed to take money and admit any one to see the acting; but private, when it was secured or engaged, which at any time it might be, for a performance to which the general public were not admitted

That the Whitefriars Theatre could be so engaged or “taken up,” is evidenced by a letter (without date) of Sir Henry Wotton to Sir Edmund Bacon :

“On Sunday last, at night, and no longer, some sixteen apprentices (of what sort you may guess, by the rest of the story) having secretly learnt a a new play without book, intituled The Hog has lost his Pearl, took up the White Fryers for their theatre, and having invited thither (as it would seem) rather their mistresses than their masters, who were all to enter per buletini, for a note of distinction from ordinary comedians, towards the end of the play the sheriffs (who by chance had heard of it) came in (as they say) and carried some six or seven of them to perform the last act of it at Bridewell; the rest are fled. Now, it is strange to hear how sharp-witted the City is; for they will needs have Sir Thomas Swinnerton, the Lord Mayor, be meant by the Hog, and the late Lord Treasurer, by the Pearl.”

At this public theatre, to which every one could obtain access, and the lowest of the people ordinarily resorted, the ordinary performances doubtless were, as it might be expected they would be, of the coarsest and most ordinary description. Yet we are called upon to believe that it was here that the wonderful works which we all so greatly admire, and feel that we can only properly appreciate by careful private study, were performed; and it was from the profit arising from this wretched place of amusement that Shakespeare realised the far from inconsiderable fortune with which he in a few years retired to Stratford-upon-Avon.

Commentators say,We do not find that the plays attributed to Shakespeare were ever performed at any other theatre. They do not say, which they might, We do not find that they were ever performed at this.

We cannot but think that the best plays must have been performed at the best, the most exclusive, that is, the private theatres--the theatres held at inns, taverns, &c., to which the most respectable portion of the community resorted.

Of these the Rose seems to have been at that time the most eminent.

It was here, and at similar places, before audiences capable of appreciating them, that these plays doubtless were performed in their integrity. And Shakespeare's company made their money, either by supplying the actors at these superior theatres with dramas, or by performing them before those audiences themselves.

The only account we have of the performance of Twelfth Night is from the Table Book of John Manningham, student of the Middle Temple, and it confirms this idea :

February, 1601.–At our feast we had a play called Twelfth Night, or What You Will, much like the Comedy of Errors, or Menechmis in Plautus, but more like or neare to that in Italian called Inganni. A good practice in it, to make the steward believe his lady widdowe was in love with him, by counterfeiting a letter as from a lady, in generall terms telling him what shee liked best in him, and prescribing his gestures, inscribing his apparaile, &c., and then, when he came to practise, making him believe they took him to be mad.”— Knight'sCyclopædia of London, from Harleian MSS. That some of the plays may have been performed

common plaies” at Shakespeare's own theatre, is very possible; but if they were, they were doubtless altered, mutilated, and interpolated, to suit the taste of that wretched audience.

as

CHAPTER X.

PLAY-WRITERS.

We have seen how Play-acting," which was once a recreation, and used therefor now and then occasianally, afterwards by abuse, became a trade and calling, and so remains to this day.”

We have seen how plays, which were originally performed in the open air, and then at inns and taverns, had at length found a habitation of their own, and the playhouse was a recognised institution.

This state of things involved another and most important change; for, as plays were now continually being performed, in order that the actors might procure their daily bread, it became essential that there should be a continual supply of novelties to stimulate the curiosity of the public, and attract an audience.

It was of the first importance to the actors too, that the authors should be men that would produce matter congenial to the taste, and level with the understandings, of those who came to hear it. The profound wisdom and the noble language of the writers of that time were ill suited for such a purpose. This new demand, therefore, called into existence an entirely new class of writers.

Men hitherto had written from the fulness of their souls; these latter were more actuated by the emptiness of their stomachs. The editor of the Illustrated London News (December 6th, 1856) states :-"So far was the vocation of dramatist for pecuniary profit from being attended with dishonour or fraught with detriment to a writer's professional prospects, that Sackville, the Lord Treasurer under the reigns of Elizabeth and James, was a confessed dramatist."

The Atheneum (September 13th, 1856), says :“ Connection with 'poets and players' was no bar to public employments, under either Elizabeth or James. Sackville, the Lord Treasurer under both reigns, was a poet and a dramatist. Sydney and Raleigh, though occupying places at court, and commanding armies and fleets, were poets. Some of the strongest men of the time, such as Donne, rose wholly by the tower of rhyme. The Shepherd's Calender made Spenser secretary to the

« السابقةمتابعة »