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THE drama before the time of Shakspeare was so little cultivated, or so ill understood, that to many

it may appear unnecessary to carry our theatrical researches higher than that period. Dryden has truly observed, that he “ found not, but created first the stage;" of which no one can doubt, who considers, that of all the plays issued from the press antecedent to the year 1592. when there is reason to believe he commenced a dramatick writer, the titles are scarcely known, except to antiquaries; nor is there one of them that will bear a second perusal. Yet these, contemptible and few as they are, we may suppose to have been the most popular productions of the time, and the best that had been exhibited before the appearance of Shakspeare.'

There are but thirty-eight plays, (exclusive of mysteries, VOL. III.

B

A minute investigation, therefore, of the origin and progress of the drama in England, will scarcely repay the labour of the inquiry. However, as the best introduction to an account of the internal economy and usages of the English theatres in the time of Shakspeare', (the principal object of this dissertation,) I shall take a cursory view of our most ancient dramatick exhibitions, though I fear I can add buc little to the researches which have already been '

made on that subject. Mr. Warton in his elegant and ingenious Hisory of English Poetry has given so accurate an account of

1540 | King John, in two parts; } 1591

in or

moralities, interludes, and translated pieces,) now extant, written antecedent to, or in, the year 1592. Their titles are as follows: Acolastus Ferrex and Porrex Damon and Pythias

1562 Soliman and Perseda Tancred and Gifmund 1568 Midas

before Cambyses, no date, but pro

Galathea

1592 bably written before - 1570 Arden of Feversham Gammer Curion Weedle} 1575 Alphonfus King of Arram Promos and Cassandra 1578 gon Arraignment of Paris

James IV. King of ScotSao ho amd Phao

1584

land Alexander and Campasþe A Lookinglas for London Misfortunes of Arthur 1587

and England

before Jeronimo

Friar Bacon and Friars 1592 Spanish Tragedy, or Hie

Bungay

1588 ronimo is mad again

Few of Malta Tamburlaine

Dr. Faustus Titus Andronicus

1589 Edward II. King Henry V. in or before 1589 Luft's Dominion Contention between the Hou- Masacre of Paris ses of Yorke and Lanca

Dide Jer, in or before - 1590

our earliest dramatick, performances, that I shall make no apology for extracting from various parts of his valuabe work, such particulars as suit my present purpose.

The earliest dramatick entertainments exhibited in England, as well as every

other

part of Europe, were of a religious kind. So early as in the beginning of the twelfth century, it was customary in England on holy festivals to represent, in or near the churches, either the lives and miracles of saints, or the most important stories of Scripture. From the subject of these spectacles, which, as has been observed, were either the miracles of saints, or the more mysterious parts of holy writ, such as the incarna

} 1593

Between the years 1592 and 1600. the following plays were printed or exhibited ; the greater part of which, probably, were written before our author conimenced playwright. Cleopatra

Woman in the Moon 1597 Edward I.

Mucedorus Battle of Alcazar

The virtuous Octavia Wounds of Civil War

Blind Beggar of Alex-1 1598 Selymus, Emperor of the

andria Turks

Every Man in his Humour Cornelia

Pinner of Wakefield Mother Bombie

Warning for fair Women The Cobler's Prophecy 1594 David and Bethfabe The Wars of Cyrus

Two

angry Women of King Leir

Abingdon Taming of a Shreui

The Case is altered

1599 An old Wives Tale

Every Man out of his Maid's Metamorphoses

Humour Love's Metamorphoses

The Trial of Chevalry Pedler's Prophecy

Humourous Day's Mirth Antonius

1595

Summer's last Will and Edward III.

Testament Wily Beguileu

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tion, passion, and resurrection of Christ, these scriptural plays were denominated Miracles, or Mysteries. At what period of time they were first exhibited in this country, I am unable to ascertain. Undoubtedly, however, they are of very great antiquity; and Riccoboni, who has contended that the Italian theatre is the most ancient in Europe, has claimed for his country an honour to which it is not entitled. The era of the earliest representation in Italy, · founded on holy writ, hé has placed in the year 1 264. when the fraternity del Gonfalone was established; but we had similar exhibitions in England above 150 before that time. In the year 1110. as Dr. Percy and Mr. Warton have observed, the Miracle-play of Saint Catharine, written by Geoffrey, a learned Norman; (afterwards Abbot of St. Alban's,) was acted, probably by his scholars, in the abbey of DunItable; perhaps the first spectacle of this kind exhibited in England.' William Fitz-Stephen, amonk of Canterbury, who according to the best accounts composed his very curious work in 1174. about four years after the murder of his patron Archbishop Becket, and in the twenty-first year of the reign of King Henry the Second, mentions, that “ London, for its theatrical exhibitions, has

3

1 The French theatre cannot be traced higher than the year 1398. when the Mystery of the Passion was represented at St. Maur.

Apud Duneftapliam - quendam ludum de fancta Katerina (quem MIRACULA vulgariter appellainus) fecit. Ad quæ decoranda, petiit a facrista fancti Albani, ut fibi capæ chorales accommodarentur, & obtinuit.” Vitæ Abbat. ad cale. Hift. Mat. Paris, folio, 1639. p. 56.

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