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Privy Council had issued an order upon the subject, but it was disregarded in some of the suburbs of London; and it was not until after a fatal exhibition of bear-baiting at Paris Garden, upon Sunday, 13 June, 1583, when many persons were killed and wounded by the falling of a scaffold, that the practice of playing, as well as of bear-baiting, on the Sabbath was at all generally checked. In 1586, as far as we can judge from the information that has come down to our day, the order which had been issued in this respect was pretty strictly enforced. At this period, and afterwards, plays were not unfrequently played at court on Sunday, and the chief difficulty therefore seems to have been to induce the Privy Council to act with energy against similar performances before public audiences.
The annual official statement of the Master of the Revels merely tells us, in general terms, that between Christmas 1586, and Shrovetide 1587, seven plays, besides feats of activity, and other shows by the children of Paul's, her Majesty's servants, and the gentlemen of Gray's Inn," were prepared and represented before the Queen at Greenwich. No names of plays are furnished, but in 1587 was printed a tragedy, under the title of “The Misfortunes of Arthur," which purports to have been acted, by some of the members of Gray's Inn, before the Queen on 28 Feb. 1587: this, in fact, must be the very production stated in the Revels' accounts to have been got up and performed by these parties; and it requires notice, not merely for its own intrinsic excellence as a drama, but because, in point of date, it is the second play founded upon English history represented at court, as well as the second original theatrical production in blank-verse that has been preserved'. The example, in this particular, had been set, as we have already shown, in “ Gorboduc,” fifteen years before; and it is probable, that in that interval not a few of the serious compositions exhibited at court were in blank-verse, but it had not yet been used on any of our common stages.
The main body of “The Misfortunes of Arthur” authorship of Thomas Hughes, a member of Gray's Inn; but
• Gascoigne's “Jocasta," printed in 1577, and represented by the author and other members of the Society at Gray's Inn in 1566 merely as a private show, was a translation from Euripides. It is, as far as has yet been ascertained, the second play in our language written in blank-verse, but it was not an original work. The same author's “ Supposes," taken from Ariosto, is in prose.
some speeches and two choruses (which are in rhyme) were added by William Fulbecke and Francis Flower, while no less a man than Lord Bacon assisted Christopher Yelverton and John Lancaster in the preparation of the dumb shows. Hughes evidently took “Gorboduc" as his model, both in subject and style, and, like Sackville and Norton, he adopted the form of the Greek and Roman drama, and adhered more strictly than his predecessors to the unities of time and place. The plot relates to the rebellion of Mordred against his father, king Arthur, and part of the plot is very revolting, on account of the incest between Mordred and his stepmother Guenevora, Mordred himself being the son of Arthur's sister : there is also a vast deal of blood and slaughter throughout, and the catastrophe is the killing of the son by the father, and of the father by the son; so that a more painfully disagreeable story could hardly have been selected. The author, however, possessed a bold and vigorous genius ; his characters are strongly drawn, and the language they employ is consistent with their situations and habits: his blank-verse, both in force and variety, is superior to that of either Sackville or Norton'.
It is very clear, that up to the year 1580, about which date Gosson published his “ Plays confuted in Five Actions,” dramatic performances on the public stages of London were sometimes in prose, but more constantly in rhyme. In his “School of Abuse,” 1579, Gosson had spoken of “two prose books played at the Bell Savage •;" but in his “ Plays confuted” he tells us, that “poets send their verses to the stage upon such feet as continually are rolled up in rhyme.” With a few exceptions all the plays, publicly acted and of a date anterior to 1590, that have come down to us, are either in prose or in rhyme'. The case seems to have been different,
8 "The Misfortunes of Arthur," with four other dramas, has been reprinted in a supplementary volume to the last edition of Dodsley's “Old Plays,” 8vo, 1828. It is not, therefore, necessary here to enter into an examination of its structure or versification : it is a work of extraordinary power.
• See the Shakespeare Society's reprint in 1841, p. 30. Gosson gives these proge books the highest praise, asserting that they contained “never a word without wit, never a line without pith, never a letter placed in vain."
Sometimes plays written in prose were, at a subsequent date when blank. verse had become the popular form of composition, published as if they had been composed in measured lines. The old bistorical play, “The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth,” which preceded that of Shakespeare, is an instance directly in point: it was written in prose, but the old printer chopped it up into lines of unequal length, so as to make it appear to the eye something like blank-verse.
as before observed, with some of the court-shows and private entertainments; but we are now adverting to the pieces represented at such places as the Theatre, the Curtain, Blackfriars, and in inn-yards adapted temporarily to dramatic amusements, to which the public was indiscriminately admitted. The earliest work, in which the employment of blank-verse, for the purpose of the common stage, is noticed, is an epistle by Thomas Nash introducing to the world his friend Robert Greene's “Menaphon,” in 1587': there, in reference to "vain-glorious tragedians," he says, that they
“mounted on the stage of arrogance,” and that they “think to out-brave better pens with the swelling bombast of bragging blank-verse." He afterwards talks of the
drumming decasyllabon” they employed, and ridicules them for “reposing eternity in the mouth of a player." This question is farther illustrated by a production of Greene's, published in the next year, “ Perimedes, the Blacksmith," from which it is evident that Nash had an individual allusion in what he had said in 1587. Greene fixes on the author of the tragedy of “Tamburlainė,” whom he accuses of "setting the end of scholarism in an English blank-verse,” and who, it should seem, had somewhere charged Greene with not being able to write it.
We learn from various authorities, that Christopher Marlowe' was the author of “Tamburlaine the Great," a dramatic work of the highest celebrity and popularity, printed as early as 1590, and affording the first known instance of the use of blank-verse in a public theatre: the title-page of the edition 1590 states, that it had been" sundry times shown upon stages in the city of London.” In the prologue the author claims to have introduced a novel form of compo
8 Greene began writing in 1583, his “ Mamillia " having been then printed : bis “Mirror of Modesty" and "Monardo," bear the date of 1584. His “Menaphop' (afterwards called “Greene's Arcadia or Menaphon,” but mentioned as “Greene's Arcadia in 1592,) first appeared in 1587, and it was reprinted in 1589. We have never seen the earliest edition of it, but it is spoken of by various bibliographers ; and those who have thrown doubt upon the point (stated in the “ History of English Dramatic Poetry and the Stage,” Vol. iii. p. 150), for the sake of founding an argument upon it, have not adverted to the conclusive fact, that “Menaphon" is stated to be already in print in the introductory matter to another of Greene's pamphlets, dated in 1587—
-we mean “Euphues his Censure to Philantus."
9 If Marlowe were born, as has been supposed, about 1562 (Oldys places the event earlier), he was twenty-four when he wrote “ Tamburlaine," as we believe, in 1586, and only thirty-one when he was killed in 1593 by a person of the name of Archer, in an affray arising out of an amorous intrigue. In a MS. note of the time, in a copy of his version of “ Hero and Leander,” edit. 1629, in our posses. sion, it is said, among other things, that “ Marlowe's father was a shoemaker at Canterbury," and that he had an acquaintance at Dover whom be infected with the extreme liberality of bis opinions on matters of religion. At the back of the title-page of the same volume is inserted the following Latin epitaph, (the subject of it was buried 16 Dec. 1592) subscribed with Marlowe's name, and no doubt of his composition, although never before noticed :
“ From jigging veins of rhyming mother-wits,
And such conceits as clownage keeps in pay,
Accordingly, nearly the whole drama, consisting of a first and second part, is in blank-verse. Hence we see the value of Dryden's loose assertion, in the dedication to Lord Orrery of his “Rival Ladies,” in 1664, that “ Shakespeare was the irst who, to shun the pains of continual rhyming, invented that kind of writing which we call blank-verse. The distinction, as far as the common stage is concerned, belongs to Marlowe, the greatest of Shakespeare's predecessors, and a poet who, if he had lived, might, perhaps, have been a formidable rival of his genius.
We have too much reverence for the exhaustless resources of our great dramatist, to think that he cannot afford this, or any other tribute to a poet, who deserves to be regarded as the originator of a new style of composition in popular representations.
That the attempt was viewed with jealousy there can be no doubt, after what we have quoted from Nash and Greene. It is most likely that Greene, who was older than Nash, had
“In obitum honoratissimi viri
Reginalis Capitalis Baronis.
Famæque marmorei superet monumenta sepulchri.” It is added, that “ Marlowe was a rare scholar, and died aged about thirty." The above is the only extant specimen of bis Latin composition, and we quote it exactly as it stands in manuscript : the Rev. A. Dyce has inserted it, from our original, in his Marlowe's Works, iii. p. 308.
previously written various dramas in rhyme; and the bold experiment of Marlowe having been instantly successful, Greene was obliged to abandon his old course, and his extant plays are all in blank-verse. Nash, who had attacked Marlowe in 1587, before 1593 (when Marlowe was killed) had joined him in the production of a blank-verse tragedy on the story of Dido, which was printed in 1594.
It has been objected to " Tamburlaine,” that it is written in a turgid and ambitious style, such indeed as Nash and Greene ridicule; but we are to recollect that Marlowe was at this time endeavouring to wean mixed audiences from the "jigging veins of rhyming mother-wits,” and that, in order to satisfy the ear for the loss of the jingle, he was obliged to give what Nash calls “the swelling bombast of bragging blank-verse.' This consideration will of itself account for breaches of a more correct taste to be found in “Tamburlaine.” In the Prologue, besides what we have already quoted, Marlowe tells the audience to expect “high astounding terms,” and he did not disappoint expectation. Perhaps, the better to reconcile the ordinary frequenters of public theatres to the change, he inserted various scenes of low comedy, which the printer of the edition in 1590 thought fit to exclude, as digressing, and far unmeet for the matter." Marlowe likewise sprinkled couplets here and there ; although it is to be remembered, that having accomplished his object of substituting blank-verse by the first part of “Tamburlaine," he did not, even in the second part, think it necessary by any means so frequently to introduce occasional rhymes. In those plays which there is ground for believing to be the first works of Shakespeare, couplets, and even stanzas, are more frequent than in any of the surviving productions of Marlowe. This circumstance is, perhaps, in part to be accounted for by the fact (as far as we may so call it) that our great poet retained in some of his performances portions of older rhyming dramas, which he altered and adapted to the stage; but in such early plays, as are to be considered entirely his own, Shakespeare appears to have deemed rhyme more necessary to satisfy the ear of his auditory, than Marlowe held it when he wrote his “Tamburlaine the Great."
As the first employment of blank-verse upon the public stage by Marlowe is a matter of much importance, in relation to the history of our more ancient drama, and to the subsequent adoption of that form of composition by Shakespeare,