Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

as elsewhere within the realme, doe for the most part play such interludes as contain matter tending to sedition," &c. By common players of interludes here mentioned, I apprehend, were meant the players of the city, as contradistinguished from the king's own servants. In a manuscript which I saw some years ago, and which is now in the library of the Marquis of Lansdown", are sundry charges for the players belonging to King Edward the Sixth; but I have not preserved the articles. And in the household book of Queen Mary, in the library of the Antiquarian Society, is an entry which shows that she also had a theatrical establishment: "Eight players of interludes, each 66s. 8d.-261. 13s. 4d."

It has already been mentioned that originally plays were performed in churches. Though Bonner Bishop of London issued a proclamation to the clergy of his diocese in 1542, prohibiting "all manner of common plays, games, or interludes, to be played, set forth, or declared within their churches, chappels," &c. the practice seems to have been continued occasionally during the reign of Queen Elizabeth; for the author of The Third Blast of Retrait from Plays and Players complains, in 1580, that "the players are permitted to publish their mammetrie in every temple of God, and that throughout England;" &c. and this abuse is taken notice of in one of the Canons of King James the First, given soon after his accession in the year 1603. Early, however, in Queen Elizabeth's reign, the established players of London began to act in temporary theatres constructed in the yards of inns; and about the year 1570, I imagine, one or two regular playhouses were erected. Both the theatre in Blackfriars and that in Whitefriars were certainly built before 1580; for we learn from a puritanical pamphlet published in the last century, that soon after that year, 66 many goodly citizens and well disposed gentlemen of London, considering that playhouses and dicing-houses were traps for young gentlemen, and others, and perceiving that many inconveniencies and great damage would ensue upon the long suffering of the same, acquainted some pious magistrates therewith,—

*Now in the British Museum. C.

who thereupon made humble suite to Queene Elizabeth and her privy-councell, and obtained leave from her majesty to thrust the players out of the citty, and to pull down all play-houses and dicing-houses within their liberties; which accordingly was effected, and the playhouses in Gracious-street, Bishopsgate-street, that nigh Paul's, that on Ludgate-hill, and the White-friars, were quite pulled down and suppressed by the care of these religious senators." The theatre in Blackfriars, not being within the liberties of the city of London, escaped the fury of these fanaticks. Elizabeth, however, though she yielded in this instance to the frenzy of the time, was during the whole course of her reign a favourer of the stage, and a frequent attendant upon plays. So early as in the year 1569, as we learn from another puritanical writer, the children of her chapel, (who are described as "her majesty's unfledged minions,")" flaunted it in their silkes and sattens," and acted plays on profane subjects in the chapel-royal. In 1574 she granted a licence to James Burbage, probably the father of the celebrated tragedian, and four others, servants to the Earl of Leicester, to exhibit all kinds of stage-plays, during pleasure, in any part of England, " as well for the recreation of her loving subjects, as for her own solace and pleasure when she should think good to see them ;" and in the year 1583, soon after a furious attack had been made on the stage by the puritans, twelve of the principal comedians of that time, at the earnest request of Sir Francis Walsingham, were selected from the companies then subsisting, under the licence and protection of various noblemen, and were sworn her majesty's servants. Eight of them had an annual stipend of 31. 6s. 8d. each. At that time there were eight companies of comedians, each of which performed twice or thrice a week.

King James the First appears to have patronized the stage with as much warmth as his predecessor. In 1599, while he was yet in Scotland, he solicited Queen Elizabeth (if we may believe a modern historian) to send a company of English comedians to Edinburgh; and very soon after his accession to the throne, granted a license to the company at the Globe, which is found in Rymer's Fœdera.

HAVING now, as concisely as I could, traced the History of the English Stage, from its first rude state to the period of its maturity and greatest splendor, I shall endeavour to exhibit as accurate a delineation of the internal form and economy of our ancient theatres, as the distance at which we stand, and the obscurity of the subject, will permit.

The most ancient English playhouses of which I have found any account, are, the playhouse in Blackfriars, that in Whitefriars, the Theatre, of which I am unable to ascertain the situation, and The Curtain, in Shoreditch. The Theatre, from its name, was probably the first building erected in or near the metropolis purposely for scenick exhibitions.

In the time of Shakspeare there were seven principal theatres: three private houses, namely, that in Blackfriars, that in Whitefriars, and The Cockpit or Phoenix, in Drury Lane: and four that were called publick theatres; viz. The Globe on the Bankside, The Curtain in Shoreditch, The Red Bull, at the upper end of St. John's Street, and The Fortune in Whitecross Street. The last two were chiefly frequented by citizens. There were, however, but six companies of comedians: for the playhouse in Blackfriars, and the Globe, belonged to the same troop. Beside these seven theatres, there were for some time on the Bankside three other publick theatres; The Swan, The Rose, and The Hope: but The Hope being used chiefly as a bear-garden, and The Swan and The Rose having fallen to decay early in King James's reign, they ought not to be enumerated with the other regular theatres.

All the established theatres that were open in 1598, were either without the city of London or its liberties.

It appears from the office-book of Sir Henry Herbert, Master of the Revels to King James the First, and the two succeeding kings, that very soon after our poet's death, in the year 1622, there were but five principal companies of comedians in London; the

[ocr errors]

King's Servants, who performed at the Globe and in Blackfriars; the Prince's Servants, who performed then at the Curtain; the Palsgrave's Servants, who had possession of the Fortune; the players of the Revels, who acted at the Red Bull; and the Lady Elizabeth's Servants, or, as they are sometimes denominated, the Queen of Bohemia's players, who performed at the Cockpit in Drury Lane.

When Prynne published his Histriomastix, (1633,) there were six playhouses open; the theatre in Blackfriars; the Globe; the Fortune; the Red Bull; the Cockpit or Phoenix, and a theatre in Salisbury Court, Whitefriars.

All the plays of Shakspeare appear to have been performed either at The Globe, or the theatre in Blackfriars. I shall therefore confine my inquiries principally to those two. They belonged, as I have already observed, to the same company of comedians, namely, his Majesty's servants, which title they obtained after a licence had been granted to them by King James in 1603; having before that time, I apprehend, been called the servants of the Lord Chamberlain. Like the other servants of the household, the performers enrolled into this company were sworn into office, and each of them was allowed four yards of bastard scarlet for a cloak, and a quarter of a yard of velvet for the cape, every second year.

The theatre in Blackfriars was situated near the present Apothecaries' Hall, in the neighbourhood of which there is yet Playhouse Yard, not far from which the theatre probably stood. It was, as has been mentioned, a private house; but what were the distinguishing marks of a private playhouse, it is not easy to ascertain. We know only that it was smaller than those which were called publick theatres; and that in the private theatres plays were usually presented by candle-light.

In this theatre, which was a very ancient one, the children of the Revels occasionally performed.

It is said in Camden's Annals of the reign of King James the First, that the theatre in Blackfriars fell down in the year 1623, and that above eighty persons were

killed by the accident; but he was misinformed. The room which gave way was in a private house, and appropriated to the service of religion.

I am unable to ascertain at what time the Globe theatre was built. Hentzner has alluded to it as existing in 1598, though he does not expressly mention it. I believe it was not built long before the year 1596.

situated on the Bankside, (the southern side of the river Thames,) nearly opposite to Friday Street, Cheapside. It was an hexagonal wooden building, partly open to the weather, and partly thatched." When Hentzner wrote,

5 In the long Antwerp View of London in the Pepysian Library at Cambridge, is a representation of the Globe theatre, from which a drawing was made by the Rev. Mr. Henley, and transmitted to Mr. Steevens. From that drawing this cut was made.

[graphic][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][subsumed][ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »