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again with extravagant praise of his person, wishing himself a woman for his sake, and advising him to hold off awhile, as this will soon bring her to terms. Ralph consents to try this course, and swears vengeance against the scrivener who copied his letter; but in the scrivener's reading it is found all right, and Matthew is seen to be the true culprit.
In the fourth Act Sim Suresby comes from Goodluck to salute the lady on his master's return from a voyage; while they are talking, Ralph arrives with Matthew, and addresses her as his spouse; whereupon Sim, thinking them married, goes to inform his master what seems to have happened in his absence. The lady, full of grief and anger at this staining of her good name, calls on her man and maids to drive out Ralph and Matthew, who quickly retreat, but threaten to return. Matthew now contrives to let the lady know that he has joined with Ralph only to make fun of him. In due time, Ralph comes back armed with kitchen utensils and a popgun, and attended by Matthew and Harpax. The issue of the scrape is, that the lady and her maids beat off the assailants with mop and broom; Matthew managing to have all his blows light on Ralph.
The fifth Act opens with the arrival of Goodluck and his man Sim, both persuaded of the lady's infidelity. She proceeds to welcome him with much affection, but he draws back, and calls for an explanation: she protests her innocence, and refers him to her friend Tristram Trusty. This brings about the conclusion, the wedding of Goodluck and Custance being appointed, and Ralph and Matthew being invited to it.
The piece, its date considered, is certainly one of no little merit: it has considerable wit and humour, in which there is nothing coarse or vulgar; the dialogue abounds in variety and spirit, and the characters are well discriminated and life-like. The idea of Merrygreek was evidently caught from the old Vice; but his love of sport and mischief is without malignity, and the interest of his part is in the
character, not in the trimmings. The play is written in lines of unequal length, and with nothing to mark them as verse but the rhymes.
Misogonus, a piece which has lately come to light, appears from internal evidence to have been written about 1560. The scene is laid in Italy, but the manners and allusions are English, while the persons have Greek and Roman names significant of their tempers or positions. Here, again, the characterization is diversified and sustained with no little skill, while many of the incidents and situations are highly diverting. Perhaps the most noteworthy feature of the play is Cacurgus, a specimen of the professional domestic Fool that succeeded the old Vice. And he is one of the niost remarkable instances of his class that have survived; there being no other play of so early a date wherein the part is used with so much skill. Before his master, who is the hero, Cacurgus commonly affects the simpleton, but at other times is full of versatile shrewdness and waggish mischief. He is usually called, both by himself and others, Will Summer; as though he were understood to model his action after the celebrated court Fool of Henry the Eighth.
An analysis of the plot would occupy too much space; besides, the piece, with all its merit, does not really offer much towards illustrating the matter of dramatic progress : it only shows that the spirit of improvement was alive in > more minds than one. Perhaps I ought to add, that the
events of the play extend over a considerable period of time; yet the unity of action is so well maintained, that the diversities of time do not press upon the thoughts. On the whole, it is clear that even at that date the principles of the Gothic Drama were vigorously at work, preparing that magnificent fruitage of art which came to full harvest, ere she who then sat on the English throne was taken to her rest.
Hitherto we have met with no instance of regular tragedy, which was in England of later growth than comedy; though
we have seen that some beginnings of tragedy were made in the older species of drama. The Tragedy of Gorboduc, or, as it is sometimes called, Of Ferrex and Porrex, is on several accounts deserving of special attention. It was acted before the Queen at Whitehall, by gentlemen of the Inner Temple, in January, 1562; and was printed in 1565, the title-page informing us that three Acts were written by Thomas Norton, and the last two by Thomas Sackville. Norton made and published a translation of Calvin's Institutes, which went through five editions during his lifetime. Sackville, afterwards Earl of Dorset, succeeded Burghley as Lord Treasurer in 1599, which office he held till his death, in 1608; and was eulogized by divers pens, Lord Bacon's being one, for his eloquence, his learning, his charity, and integrity.
Warton's statement of the plot is brief and accurate, as follows: “Gorboduc, a king of Britain about six hundred years before Christ, made in his lifetime a division of his kingdom to his two sons Ferrex and Porrex. The two young princes within five years quarrelled for universal sovereignty. A civil war ensued, and Porrex slew his elder brother Ferrex. Their mother, Videna, who loved Ferrex best, revenged his death by entering Porrex's chamber in the night, and murdering him in his sleep. The people, exasperated at the cruelty and treachery of this murder, rose in rebellion, and killed both Gorboduc and Videna. The nobility then assembled, collected an army, and destroyed the rebels. An intestine war commenced between the chief lords; the succession of the crown became uncertam and arbitrary, for want of a lineal royal issue; and the country, destitute of a king, and wasted by domestic slaughter, was reduced to a state of the most miserable desolation."
Each Act of the tragedy is preceded by a dumb-show significant of what is forthcoming, and the first four are followed by choruses, moralizing the events. But the most notable fact about it is, that all except the choruses is in
blank-verse; in which respect it was a great and noble innovation. And the versification runs abundantly smooth; beyond which little can be said in its favour; though that was a good deal for the time. With considerable force of thought and language, the speeches are excessively formal, stately, and didactic; every thing is told, nothing represented; the dialogue is but a series of studied declamation, without any pulses of life, or any relish of individual traits ; in brief, all is mere State rhetoric speaking in the same vein, now from one mouth, now from another. From the subject-matter, the unities of time and place are necessarily disregarded, while there is no continuity of action or character to lift it above the circumscriptions of sense. The Acts and scenes follow one another without any innate principle of succession: there is nothing like an organic composition of the parts, no weaving of them together by any law of dramatic sequence and development. Still, the piece marks an era in the English Drama. In the single article of blank-verse, though having all the monotony of the most regular rhyming versifier, it did more for dramatic improvement than, perhaps, could have been done in a century without that step being taken.
The Supposes, translated from the Italian of Ariosto by George Gascoigne, and acted at Gray's Inn in 1566, is chiefly remarkable as being the oldest extant play in English prose. Jocasta, also acted at Gray's Inn the same year, is the second known play in blank-verse. It was avowedly taken from Euripides, but can hardly be called a translation, since it makes many omissions, retrenchments, and transpositions"; though the main substance of the original is retained.
The example of making English plays out of Italian novels appears to have been first set, unless the lost play of Romeo and Juliet should be excepted, in 1568, when the tragedy of Tancred and Gismunda was performed before Elizabeth at the Inner Temple. It was the work of five persons, each contributing an Act, and one of them being Christopher Hatton, afterwards known as Elizabeth's “ dancing Chancellor.” Except in the article of blankverse, the writers seem to have taken Gorboduc as their model; each Act beginning with a dumb-show, and ending with a chorus. The play was founded on one of Boccaccio’s tales, an English version of which had recently appeared in The Palace of Pleasure.
The accounts of the revels from 1568 to 1580 furnish the titles of fifty-two dramas performed at Court, none of which have survived. Of these fifty-two pieces, judging by the titles, eighteen were on classical subjects; twenty-one on subjects from modern history, romance, and other tales; while seven may be classed as comedies, and six as MoralPlays. It is to be noted, also, that at this time the Master of the Revels was wont to have different sets of players rehearse their pieces before him, and then to choose such of them as he judged fit for royal ears; which infers that the Court rather followed than led the popular taste.
This may probably be taken as a fair indication how far the older species of drama still kept its place on the stage. Moral-Plays lingered in occasional use till long after this period; and we even hear of Miracle-Plays performed now and then till after the death of Elizabeth. And this was much more the case, no doubt, in the country towns and villages than in the metropolis, as the growing life of thought could not but beat lustiest at the heart; and of course all the rest of the nation could not bridle Innovation, spurred as she was by the fierce competition of wit in London.
Certain parts, however, of the Moral-Plays had vigour enough, it appears, to propagate themselves into the drama of comedy and tragedy after the main body of them had been withdrawn. An apt instance of this is furnished in A Knack to know a Knave, entered at the Stationers' in 1593, but written sever:) years before. It was printed in 1594, the title-page stating that it had been “acted sundry