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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 but little to the researches which have already been made on that subject.
Mr. Warton in his elegant and ingenious History of English Poetry has given so accurate an account of
1540 | King John, in two parts;} 1591
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 Perfeda Tancred and Gifmund 1568 Midas
before Cambyses, no date, but pro
( 1592 bably written before - 1570 Arden of Feversiam Virginia
Gammer Curlons Weedle} 1575 Alphonfus King of Arra?
Promos and Gassandra 1578 gon
Jaines IV. King of Scola
land Alexander and Campalpe A Lookinglas for London Misfortunes of Arthur 1587
Friar Bacon and Friars 1592 Spanish Tragedy, or Hic
1588 ronimo is mad again Jew of Malta Tamburlaine
Dr. Faustus Tilus Andronicus
1589 Edvard 11. King Henry V. in or before 1589 Luft's Dominion Contention between the Hou- Massacre of Paris
ses of Yorke and Lanca- Dido Jier, 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 ofa 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 faints, or the more mysterious parts of holy writ, such as the incarna
Between the years 1592 and 1600. the following plays were printed or exhibited ; the greater part of which, probably, were written before our author commenced playwright. Cleopatra
Woman in the Moon - 1597 Edward I.
Mucedorus Battle of Alcazar
The virtuous Ottavia Wounds of Civil War
Blind Beggar of Alex- 1593 Selymus, Emperor of the
Every Man in his Humour Cornelia
Pinner of Wakefield
Warning for fair Women
Two angry Women of
Abingdon Taming of a Shrew
The Case is altered An old Wives Tale
Every Man out of his 1599 Maid's Metamorphoses Love's Metamorphoses
The Trial of Chevalry
Humourous Day's Mirth
Summer's laf Will and
Teftament Wily Beguiled
tion, passion, and resurrection of Christ, these fcriptural 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 èra of the earliest representation in Italy , * founded on holy writ, he has placed in the year 1264. 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 Nor-man, (afterwards Abbot of St. Alban's,) was acted, probably by his scholars, in the abbey of Dunftable; perhaps the first spectacle of this kind exhibited in England.: William Fitz-Stephen, a, monk 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
2 The French theatre cannot be traced higher than the year 1398. when the Mystery of the Passion was represented at St. Maur.
3 66 Apud Dunestapliam- quendam ludum de fancta Katerina (quem MIRACULA vulgariter appellamus), fecit. Ad qua decoranda, petiit a facrista sancti Albani, ut fibi capæ chorales accommodarentur, & obtinuit.” ' Vitæ Abbat. ad calc, Hift. Mat. Paris, folio, 1639. p. 56.
religious plays, either the representations of miracles wrought by holy confeffors, or the sufferings
* “ Lundonia pro fpectaculis theatralibus, pro ludis fcenicis, ludos habet fanctiores, repræsentationes miraculorum quæ fancti confeffores operati funt, feu representationes paffionum, quibus claruit constantia martyrum.' Descriptio nobilissime civitatis Lundoniæ. Fitz-Stephen's very curious description of London is a portion of a larger work, entitled Vita fan&ti Thoma, Archiepiscopi & Martyris, i. e. Thomas a Becket. It is ascertained to have been written after the murder of Becket in the year 1170. of which Fitz-Stephen
an 'ocular witness, and while King Henry II. was yet living. A modern writer with great probability supposes it to have been composed in 1174. the author in one passage mentioning that the church of St. Paul's was formerly metropolitical, and that it was thought it would become so again, is should the citizens return into the island." In 1174 King Henry II. and his sons had carried over with them a confiderable number of citizens to France, and many English had in that year also gone to Ireland. See Differtation prefixed to Fitz-Stephen's Description of London, newly translated, &c. 4to. 1772. p. 16. - Near the end of his Description is a parfage which ascertains it to have been written before the year 1182. “ Lundonia & modernis temporibus reges illustres magnificofque peperit; imperatricem Matildam, Henricum regem tertium, & beatum Thomam” (Thomas Becket). Some have supposed that instead of tertium we ought to read secundum, but the text is undoubtedly right; and by tertium, Fitz-Stephen must have meant Henry, the fecond son of Henry the Second, who was born in London in 1156-7. and being heir-apparent, after the death of his elder brother William, was crowned king of England in his father's lifetime, on the 15th of July, 1170. He was frequently styled rex filius, rex juvenis, and sometimes he and his father were denominated keges Anglia. The young king, who occasionally exercised all the rights and prerogatives of royalty, died in 1182. Had he not been living when Fitz-Stephen wrote, he would probably have added nuper defun&um. Neither Henry II. nor Henry III. were born in London. See the Disertation abovecited, p. 12.
Mr. Warton has remarked, that" in the time of Chaucer, Plays of Miracles appear to have been the common resort of idle gollips in Lent:
• Therefore made I my visitations • To vigilies and to processions ; • To prechings ekc, and to thise pilgrimages, • To playes of miracles, and mariages,'s &c. " And in Pierce Plowman's Creed, a piece perhaps prior to Chaucer, a friar Minorite mentions these Miracles as not less frequented than markettowns and fairs:
• We haunten no taverns, ne hobelen about,
The elegant writer, whose words I have just quoted, has given the following ingenious account of the origin of this rudc fpecies of dramatick entertainment:
“ About the eighth century trade was principally carried on by means of fairs, which lasted several days. Charlemagne established many great marts of this fort in France, as did William the Conqueror, and his Norman successors in England. The merchants who frequented these fairs in numerous caravans or companies, employed every art to draw the people together. They were therefore accompanied by jugglers, minstrels, and buffoons ; who were no less interested in giving their attendance, and exerting all their skill on these occasions. As now but few large towns existed, no publick spectacles or popular amusements were established;
5. Th¢ Wif of Bathes Prologue, v. 6137. Tyrwhitt's edit,