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Shakespeare: His Life, Art, And Characters, Volume I. by H. N. Hudson

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all sorts of vice, wherein he is aided by Pride, Cupidity, and
Carnal-concupiscence. When she has reached the climax of sin, he
advises her "not to make two hells instead of one," but to live
merrily in this world, since she is sure of perdition in the next; and
his advice succeeds for a while. On the other hand, Law, Faith,
Repentance, Justification, and Love strive to recover her, and the
latter half of the play is taken up with this work of benevolence. At
last, Christ expels the seven devils, who "roar terribly"; whereupon
Infidelity and his companions give her up. The piece closes with a
dialogue between Mary, Justification, and Love, the latter two
rejoicing over the salvation of a sinner.

This play was printed in 1567, and is described in the title-page, as
"not only godly, learned, and fruitful, but also well furnished with
pleasant mirth and pastime, very delectable for those which shall hear
or read the same: Made by the learned clerk, Lewis Wager." It bears
clear internal evidence of having been written after the Reformation;
and the prologue shows that it was acted by itinerant players, and had
been performed "at the university."

Four Miracle-Plays have come down to us, which were written by Bishop
Bale, and printed on the Continent in 1538. The most notable point
concerning them is their being the first known attempt to use the
stage in furtherance of the Reformation. One of them is entitled
_Christ's Temptation_. It opens with Christ in the wilderness, faint
through hunger; and His first speech is meant to refute the Romish
doctrine of the efficacy of fasting. Satan joins Him in the disguise
of a hermit, and the whole temptation proceeds according to Scripture.
In one of his arguments, Satan vents his spite against "false priests
and bishops," but plumes himself that "the Vicar of Rome" will worship
and serve him. Bale wrote several plays in a different line, of one of
which I have given some account in another place.[2]

[2] See the chapter on _King John_, vol. ii., pages 10 and 11.

The Miracle-Play of _King Darius_ is scarce worth notice, save that
Iniquity with his wooden dagger has a leading part in the action. He,
together with Importunity and Partiality, has several contests with
Equity, Charity, and Constancy: for a while he has the better of them;
but at last they catch him alone, each in turn threatens him with sore
visitings, and then follows the direction, "Here somebody must cast
fire to Iniquity"; who probably had some fireworks about his person,
to explode for the amusement of the audience, as he went out.

Hitherto we have met with nothing that can be regarded as portraiture
of individual character, unless somewhat of the sort be alleged in the
case of Mak the sheep-stealing rogue. The truth is, character and
action, in the proper sense of the terms, were hardly thought of in
the making of Miracle-Plays; the work aiming at nothing higher than a
literal or mechanical reflection of facts and events; sometimes
relieved indeed with certain generalities of popular humour and
satire, but without any contexture of individual traits. The piece
next to be noticed deserves remark, as indicating how, under the
pressure of general dramatic improvement, Miracle-Plays tried to rise
above their proper sphere, and still retain their proper form.

_The History of Jacob and Esau_, probably written as early as 1557,
and printed in 1568, is of very regular construction, having five
Acts, which are duly subdivided into scenes. Besides the Scripture
characters, are Ragau, Esau's servant; Mido, a boy who leads blind
Isaac; Hanan and Zethar, two of his neighbours; Abra, a girl who
assists Rebecca; and Debora, an old nurse. Esau and his servant Ragau
set forth together on a hunt. While they are gone, Rebecca urges Jacob
to secure his brother's birthright. Esau returns with a raging
appetite, and Jacob demands his birthright as the condition of
relieving him with a mess of rice pottage; he consents, and Ragau
laughs at his stupidity, while Jacob, Rebecca, and Abra sing a psalm
of thanksgiving. These things occupy the first two Acts; in the third,
Esau and his man take another hunt. The blessing of Jacob takes place
in the fourth Act; Rebecca tasking her cookery to the utmost in
dressing a kid, and succeeding in her scheme. In the last Act, Esau
comes back, and learns from his father what has occurred in his
absence. The plot and incidents are managed with considerable
propriety; the characters are discriminated with some art; the comic
portions show some neatness of wit and humour.

In the Interlude of _Godly Queen Esther_, printed in 1561, we have a
Miracle-Play going still further out of itself. One of the characters
is named Hardy-dardy, who, with some qualities of the Vice,
foreshadows the Jester, or professional Fool, of the later Drama;
wearing motley, and feigning weakness or disorder of intellect, to the
end that his wit may run more at large, and strike with the better
effect. Hardy-dardy offers himself as a servant to Haman; and after
Haman has urged him with sundry remarks in dispraise of fools, he
sagely replies, that "some wise man must be fain sometime to do on a
fool's coat." Besides the Scripture characters, the play has several
allegorical personages, as Pride, Ambition, and Adulation, who make
their wills, bequeathing all their bad qualities to Haman, and thereby
ruin him.

Of all the persons who figured in the Miracle-Plays, Herod, the slayer
of the Innocents, appears to have been the greatest popular
favourite. We hear of him as early as the time of Chaucer, who says of
the parish clerk, Absolon,

"Sometime, to show his lightness and maistrie,
He plaieth Herode on a scaffold hie."

From that time onwards, and we know not how long before, he was a sort
of staple character, no set of Miracle-Plays being regarded as
complete without him. And he was always represented as an immense
swearer and braggart and swaggerer, evermore ranting and raving up and
down the stage, and cudgelling the spectators' ears with the most
furious bombast and profanity. Thus, in one of the Chester series:

"For I am king of all mankind;
I bid, I beat, I loose, I bind:
I master the Moon: Take this in mind,
That I am most of might.
I am the greatest above degree,
That is, that was, or ever shall be:
The Sun it dare not shine on me,
An I bid him go down."

Thus, too, in one of the Coventry series:

"Of beauty and of boldness I bear evermore the bell;
Of main and of might I master every man;
I ding with my doughtiness the Devil down to Hell;
For both of Heaven and of Earth I am king certain."

Termagant, the supposed god of the Saracens, was another staple
character in the Miracle-Plays; who is described by John Florio as "a
great boaster, quarreller, killer, tamer or ruler of the universe, the
child of the earthquake and of the thunder, the brother of death."
That Shakespeare himself had suffered under the monstrous din of these
"strutting and bellowing" stage-thumpers is shown by Hamlet's
remonstrance with the players: "O, it offends me to the soul, to hear
a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to rags, to very
tatters, to split the ears of the groundlings: I would have such a
fellow whipped for o'erdoing Termagant; it out-herods Herod: pray you,
avoid it."

Thus much must suffice by way of indicating, in a general sort, the
character of those primitive sprouts and upshoots of the Gothic Drama
in England. Their rudeness of construction, their ingrained coarseness
of style, their puerility, their obscenity, and indecency, according
to our standard, are indescribable. Their quality in these respects
could only be shown by specimens, and these I have not room to
produce, nor would it be right or decent to do so, if I had.

But what strikes us, perhaps, still more offensively in those old
religious plays, is the irreverent and shocking familiarity everywhere
used with the sacredest persons and things of the Christian Faith. The
awfullest and most moving scenes and incidents of the Gospel history,
such as the Last Supper and the Crucifixion, were treated with what
cannot but seem to us the most shameless and most disgusting
profanity: the poor invention of the time was racked to the uttermost,
to harrow the audience with dramatic violence and stress; and it seems
to us impossible but that all the solemnity of the matter must have
been defeated by such coarseness of handling.

But, indeed, we can hardly do justice either to the authors or the
audiences of those religious comedies; there being an almost
impassable gulf fixed between their modes of thought and ours. The
people were then just emerging from the thick darkness of Gothic
barbarism into what may be termed the border-land of civilization. As
such, their minds were so dominated by the senses, that they could
scarce conceive of any beings much more than one grade above
themselves. A sort of infantile unconsciousness, indeed, had
possession of them; so that they were really quite innocent of the
evils which we see and feel in what was so entertaining to them.
Hence, as Michelet remarks, "the ancient Church did not scruple to
connect whimsical dramatic rites with the most sacred doctrines and

So that the state of mind from which and for which those old plays
were produced goes far to explain and justify we are apt to regard as
a shocking contradiction between the subject-matter and the treatment.
The truth is, such religious farces, with all their coarse trumperies
and comicalities and sensuous extravagances, were in perfect keeping
with the genius of an age when, for instance, a transfer of land was
not held binding without the delivery of a clod. And so, what Mr. John
Stuart Mill describes as "the childlike character of the religious
sentiment of a rude people, who know terror, but not awe, and are
often on the most intimate terms of familiarity with the objects of
their adoration," makes it conceivable how that which seems to us the
most irreverent handling of sacred things, may notwithstanding have
been, to the authors and audiences in question, but the natural issue
of such religious thoughts and feelings as they had or were capable of
having. At all events, those exhibitions, so revolting to modern taste
and decorum, were no doubt in most cases full of religion and honest
delectation to the simple minds who witnessed them. Moreover, rude and
ignorant as the Miracle-Plays were in form, coarse and foul as they
were in language and incident, they nevertheless contained the germ of
that splendid dramatic growth with which the literature and life of
England were afterwards enriched and adorned.

Before leaving this branch of the subject, perhaps I ought to add
something further as to the part which was taken by the Clergy in
those old stage exhibitions. The register of the Guild of _Corpus
Christi_ at York, which was a religious fraternity, mentions, in 1408,
books of plays, various banners and flags, beards, vizards, crowns,
diadems, and scaffolds, belonging to the society; which shows that its
members were at that time concerned in the representation of
Miracle-Plays. It appears that a few years afterwards these
performances, because of certain abuses attending them, were
discontinued: but in 1426 William Melton, a friar who is called "a
professor of holy pageantry," preached several sermons in favour of
them; and the result was, that they were then made annual, suitable
measures being taken for preventing the former disorders. But the
best evidence as to the share the Clergy had in the representations is
furnished by the account-book of Thetford Priory from 1461 to 1540;
which contains numerous entries of payments to players; and in divers
cases expressly states that members of the convent assisted in the
performances. These were commonly held twice or three times a year; in
1531 there were five repetitions of them; after which time there are
but three entries of plays wherein the members participated with the
common actors; the old custom being broken up most likely by the
progress of the Reformation.

The practice in question, however, was by no means universal. We learn
from Stowe that in 1391 and 1409, plays were acted in London by the
parish clerks. In cities and large towns, these performances were
generally in the hands of the trade fraternities or guilds. Our
information touching the _Corpus Christi_ plays at Coventry extends
from 1416 to 1590; during which period there is no sign of the Clergy
having any part in them. The records of Chester also show that the
whole business was there managed by laymen. And in 1487 a Miracle-Play
on the descent of Christ into Hell was acted before Henry the Seventh
by the charity boys of Hyde Abbey and St. Swithin's Priory. Long
before this date, acting was taken up as a distinct profession, and
regular companies of actors were formed.

That churches and chapels of monasteries were at first, and for a long
time after, used as theatres, is very certain. The Anglo-French poem
already referred to informs us that Miracle-Plays were sometimes
performed in churches and cemeteries, the Clergy getting them up and
acting in them. And Burnet tells us that Bishop Bonner as late as 1542
issued an order to his clergy, forbidding "all manner of common plays,
games, or interludes to be played, set forth, or declared within their
churches and chapels." Nor was the custom wholly discontinued till
some time after that; for in 1572 was printed a tract which has a
passage inferring that churches were still sometimes used for such

When plays were performed in the open air, temporary scaffolds or
stages were commonly erected for the purpose; though in some cases the
scaffold was set on wheels, so as to be easily moved from one part of
the town to another. It appears that the structure used at Chester had
two stages, one above the other; the lower being closed in, to serve
as a dressing-room for the actors, while the performance was on the
upper stage where it could be seen by all the spectators. Sometimes
the lower stage seems to have been used for Hell, the devils rising
out of it, or sinking into it, as occasion required. In some plays,
however, as we have seen in that of _Mary Magdalen_, more than one
scaffold was used; and certain stage-directions in the Towneley and
Coventry plays infer that two, three, and even four scaffolds were
erected round a centre, the actors going from one to another across
the intervening space, as the scene changed, or their several parts


The purpose of the Miracle-Plays was to inculcate, in a popular way,
what may be termed the theological verities; at first they took their
substance and form solely with a view to this end, the securing of an
orthodox faith being then looked upon as the all-important concern. In
course of time, the thirst for novelty and variety drew them beyond
their original sphere of revealed religion into that of natural
ethics. By degrees, allegorical personages came, as we have seen, to
be more or less mixed up with Scripture characters and events; the aim
being to illustrate and enforce the virtues that refer directly to the
practical conduct of life. The new-comers kept encroaching more and
more: invited in as auxiliaries, they remained as principals; and at
last quite superseded and replaced the original tenants. Hence there
grew into use a different style or order of workmanship, a distinct
class of symbolical or allegorical dramas; that is, dramas made up
entirely of abstract ideas personified. These, from their structure
and purpose, are properly termed MORAL-PLAYS. We shall see hereafter
that much the same process of transition was repeated in the gradual
rising of genuine Comedy and Tragedy out of the allegorical dramas.

In Miracle-Plays the Devil of course made a legitimate part of the
representation. He was endowed in large measure with a biting, caustic
humour, and with a coarse, scoffing, profane wit; therewithal he had
an exaggerated grotesqueness of look and manner, such as to awaken
mixed emotions of fear, mirth, and disgust. In these qualities of mind
and person, together with the essential malignity of which they are
the proper surface and outside, we have the germs of both Comedy and
Tragedy. For the horrible and the ridiculous easily pass into each
other, they being indeed different phases of the same thing.
Accordingly, the Devil, under one name or another, continued to
propagate himself on the stage long after his original co-actors, had

On the other hand, a personage called Iniquity, Vice, or some such
name, was among the first characters to take stand in Moral-Plays, as
a personification of the evil tendencies in man. And the Vice thus
originating from the moral view of things was a sort of natural
counterpart to that more ancient impersonation of evil which took its
origin from the theological sphere. The Devil, being the stronger
principle, naturally had use for the Vice as his agent or factor.
Hence we may discover in these two personages points of mutual
sympathy and attraction; and, in fact, it was in and through them that
the two species of drama met and coalesced.

In Moral-Plays the Devil and the Vice, or at least one of them, almost
always bore a leading part, though not always under those names. Most
commonly the two were retained together; there are cases however of
each figuring apart from the other. And no pains were spared to give
the Devil as hideous an aspect as possible: he was made an out-and-out
monster in appearance, all hairy and shaggy, with a "bottle nose" and
an "evil face," having horns, hoofs, and a long tail; so that the
sight had been at once loathsome and ludicrous, but for the great
strength and quickness of wit, and the fiendish, yet merry and waggish
malignity, which usually marked his conversation. Sometimes, however,
he was endowed with a most protean versatility of mind and person, so
that he could walk abroad as "plain devil," scaring all he met, or
steal into society as a prudent counsellor, a dashing gallant, or
whatever else would best work out his ends.

As for the Vice, he commonly acted the part of a broad, rampant jester
and buffoon, full of mad pranks and mischief-making, liberally dashed
with a sort of tumultuous, swaggering fun. He was arrayed in fantastic
garb, with something of drollery in its appearance, so as to aid the
comic effect of his action, and armed with a dagger of lath, perhaps
as symbolical that his use of weapons was but to the end of provoking
his own defeat. Therewithal he was vastly given to cracking ribald and
saucy jokes with and upon the Devil, and treating him in a style of
coarse familiarity and mockery; and a part of his ordinary business
was to bestride the Devil, and beat him till he roared, and the
audience roared with him; the scene ending with his being carried off
to Hell on the Devil's back. Much of the old custom in these two
personages is amusingly set forth in Ben Jonson's _Staple of News_,
where, at the end of each Act, we have some imaginary spectators
commenting on the performance. At the end of the first Act, one of
them expressing a fear that the play has no Fool in it, as the Vice
was often called, Gossip Tattle delivers herself thus: "My husband,
Timothy Tattle, God rest his poor soul! was wont to say there was no
play without a Fool and a Devil in't; he was for the Devil still, God
bless him! The Devil for his money, he would say; I would fain see the
Devil." It being asked, "But was the Devil a proper man?" Gossip
Mirth replies, "As fine a gentleman of his inches as ever I saw
trusted to the stage or anywhere else; and loved the commonwealth as
well as ever a patriot of them all: he would carry away the Vice on
his back, quick, to Hell, wherever he came, and reform abuses." Again,
at the end of the second Act, the question being put, "How like you
the Vice in the play?" Widow Tattle complains, "But here is never a
fiend to carry him away. Besides, he has never a wooden dagger! I
would not give a rush for a Vice that has not a wooden dagger, to snap
at everybody he meets." Whereupon Mirth observes, "That was the old
way, gossip, when Iniquity came in, like Hocus-Pocus, in a juggler's
jerkin, with false skirts, like the knave of clubs."[3]

[3] Shakespeare has several allusions to this old stage custom.
See the author's Harvard Edition of Shakespeare, vol. v. page
222, note 17; also, vol ix. pages 202, 203, notes 8 and 9.

The most ancient specimen of a Moral-Play known to have survived dates
as far back as the reign of Henry VI., which closed in 1461. It is
entitled _The Castle of Perseverance_, and is opened by Mundus,
Belial, and Caro descanting on their several gifts: Humanum Genus, who
represents mankind, then announces himself, just born, and naked;
while he is speaking Good Angel and Bad Angel appear on his right and
left, each claiming him as a follower. He prefers Bad Angel, who leads
him straight to Mundus; the latter orders his friends Voluptas and
Stultitia to take him in hand. Detractio, who calls himself Backbiter,
is also made one of his train, and procures him the acquaintance of
Avaritia, by whom he is introduced to the other Deadly Sins: not long
after, he meets with Luxuria, and falls in love with her. At all this
Bad Angel exults, but Good Angel mourns, and sends Confessio to
Humanum Genus, who repels him at first, as having come too soon.
However, Confessio at last reclaims him; he asks where he can live in
safety, and is told, in the Castle of Perseverance: so, thither he
goes, being at that time "forty Winters old." The Seven Cardinal
Virtues there wait upon him with their respective counsels. Belial,
after having beaten the Seven Deadly Sins for letting him escape,
heads them in laying siege to the Castle; but he appeals to "the Duke
that died on rood" to defend him, and the assailants retire
discomfited, being beaten "black and blue" by the roses which Charity
and Patience hurl against them. As he is now grown "hoary and cold,"
Avaritia worms in under the walls, and induces him to quit the Castle.
No sooner has he got well skilled in the lore of Avaritia, than
Garcio, who stands for the rising generation, demands all his wealth,
alleging that Mundus has given it to him. Presently Mors comes in for
_his_ turn, and makes a speech extolling his own power; Anima also
hastens to the spot, and invokes the aid of Misericordia:
notwithstanding, Bad Angel shoulders the hero, and sets off with him
for the infernal regions. Then follows a discussion in Heaven, Mercy
and Peace pleading for the hero, Verity and Justice against him: God
sends for his soul; Peace takes it from Bad Angel, who is driven off
to Hell; Mercy presents it to Heaven; and "the Father sitting in
judgment" pronounces sentence, which unfolds the moral of the

This analysis shows that the piece partakes somewhat the character of
a Miracle-Play. A list of the persons is given at the end; also a rude
sketch of the scene, showing a castle in the centre, with five
scaffolds for Deus, Belial, Mundus, Caro, and Avaritia. Bad Angel is
the Devil of the performance: there is no personage answering to the

The next piece to be noticed bears the title of _Mind, Will, and
Understanding_. It is opened by Wisdom, who represents the Second
Person of the Trinity; Anima soon joins him, and they converse upon
heavenly love, the seven sacraments, the five senses, and reason.
Mind, Will, and Understanding then describe their several qualities;
the Five Wits, attired as virgins, go out singing; Lucifer enters "in
a Devil's array without, and within as proud as a gallant," that is,
with a gallant's dress under his proper garb; relates the creation of
Man, describing Mind, Will, and Understanding as the three properties
of the soul, which he means to assail and corrupt. He then goes out,
and presently returns, succeeds in the attempt, and makes an exulting
speech, at the close of which "he taketh a shrewd boy with him, and
goeth his way crying"; probably snatching up a boy from the
audience,--an incident designed to "bring down the house." Lucifer
having gone out, his three victims appear in gay apparel; they dismiss
Conscience; Will dedicates himself to lust; all join in a song, and
then proceed to have a dance. First, Mind calls in his followers,
Indignation, Sturdiness, Malice, Hastiness, Wreck, and Discord. Next,
Understanding summons his adherents, Wrong, Slight, Doubleness,
Falseness, Ravin, and Deceit. Then come the servants of Will, named
Recklessness, Idleness, Surfeit, Greediness, Spouse-breach, and
Fornication. The minstrels striking up a hornpipe, they all dance
together till a quarrel breaks out among them, when the eighteen
servants are driven off, their masters remaining alone on the stage.
Just as these are about to withdraw for a carouse, Wisdom enters:
Anima also reappears, "in most horrible wise, fouler than a fiend,"
and presently gives birth to six of the Deadly Sins; whereupon she
perceives what a transformation has befallen her, and Mind, Will, and
Understanding learn that they are the cause of it. They having
retired, Wisdom opens his mouth in a long speech; after which the
three dupes of Lucifer return, renounce their evil ways, and Anima is
made happy in their reformation.

These two pieces have come down to us only in manuscript. _A Goodly
Interlude of Nature_ is a Moral-Play written by Henry Medwall,
chaplain to Archbishop Morton, which has descended to us in print. It
is in two parts, and at the end of the first part we learn that it was
played before Morton himself, who became Primate in 1486, and died in
1500. Like the two foregoing specimens, it was meant to illustrate the
strife of good and evil in man.

There are several other pieces in print dating from about the same
period. One of them, printed in 1522, and entitled _The World and the
Child_, represents man in the five stages of infancy,--boyhood, youth,
maturity, and infirmity. Another of them, called _Hick Scorner_,
deserves mention chiefly as being perhaps the earliest specimen of a
Moral-Play in-which some attempt is made at individual character. The
piece is somewhat remarkable, also, in having been such a popular
favourite, that the phrase "Hick Scorner's jests" grew into use as a
proverb, to signify the profane scurrility with which certain persons
treated the Scriptures in the reign of Elizabeth.

"_The Necromancer_, written by Master Skelton, Laureate," came from
the press in 1504, having been played before the King at Woodstock on
Palm Sunday. The piece is now lost; but a copy was seen by Warton, who
gave an account of it. As the matter is very curious, I must add a few
of its points. The persons are a Conjurer, the Devil, a Notary Public,
Simony, and Avarice. The plot is the trial of Simony and Avarice, the
Devil being the judge, and the Notary serving as assessor. The
Conjurer has little to do but open the subject, evoke the Devil, and
summon the court. The prisoners are found guilty, and ordered off
straight to Hell: the Devil kicks the Conjurer for waking him too
early in the morning; and Simony tries to bribe the Devil, who rejects
her offer with indignation. The last scene presents a view of Hell,
and a dance between the Devil and the Conjurer; at the close of which
the former trips up his partner's heels, and disappears in fire and

Another piece of Skelton's entitled _Magnificence_, and designed to
expose the vanity of worldly grandeur, has survived in print.
Magnificence, the hero, being eaten out of substance by his friends
and retainers, falls into the hands of Poverty and Adversity: in this
state he meets with Despair and Mischief, who furnish him with a knife
and halter; he is about killing himself, when Good-hope steps in and
stays his arm; Redress, Circumspection, and Perseverance then take him
in hand, and wean him from his former passion. The most note-worthy
feature of the thing is, that comic incident and dialogue are somewhat
made use of, to diversify and enliven the serious parts; which shows
the early disposition to weave tragedy and comedy together to one
dramatic web.

The play of _Every-man_, printed some time before 1531 opens with a
soliloquy by the Deity, lamenting that the people forsake Him for the
Seven Deadly Sins. He then summons Death, and sends him after
Every-man, who stands for the human race. Death finds him, delivers
the message, and tells him to bring his account-book; but allows him
to prove his friends. First, he tries Fellowship who, though ready to
murder any one for his sake, declines going with him on his long
journey. Next, he tries Kindred who excuses himself as having "the
cramp in his toe." Then he applies to Riches, who also gives him the
cold shoulder. At last he resorts to Good-deeds, whom he finds too
weak to stand; but she points him to the blank in his book of works.
However, she introduces him to Knowledge who takes him to Confession:
there he meets with Strength, Discretion, Beauty, and Five Wits, who
undertake to go with him. Arriving at the brink of the grave, he calls
on his friends to enter it with him. First, Beauty refuses, then
Strength, then Discretion, then Five Wits; even Knowledge deserts him;
Good-deeds alone having the virtue to stick by him.

Considering the ecclesiastical origin of the English Drama, it had
been something wonderful if, when controversies arose, different sides
had not used it in furtherance of their views. In the reign of Henry
the Eighth, Bishop Bale, as we have seen, wrote Miracle-Plays for the
avowed purpose of advancing the Reformation; and his plays were
printed on the Continent in 1538. This, no doubt, was because a royal
proclamation had been set forth some years before, forbidding any
plays to be performed, or any books printed, in the English tongue,
touching matters then in controversy, unless the same had been first
allowed by public authority. The King, however, was not at all averse
to the stage being used against the Reformers; the purpose of that
measure being, so far as regarded plays, to prevent any using of them
on the other side.

This is most aptly shown in a notable event that happened in November,
1527. Catholic Europe had just been scandalized beyond measure by the
course of Charles the Fifth, who had made war on the Pope, and had
actually captured the city of Rome; and who, moreover, was then
holding the children of Francis the First as prisoners in Spain. King
Henry was mightily stirred up against the Emperor on this account, and
was for going into a mortal buffeting with him in behalf of the Holy
See. The arrival of a French Embassy at the English Court was the
occasion of the event referred to. The Ambassadors were entertained
with great splendour by the King at Greenwich; a part of the
entertainment being a Moral-Play in Latin, performed by the boys of
St. Paul's School. The principal characters were as follows: Religio,
Ecclesia, and Veritas, like three widows, in garments of silk, and
suits of lawn and cypress; Heresy and False Interpretation, like
sisters of Bohemia, apparelled in silk of divers colours; the heretic
Luther, like a party friar, in russet damask and black taffety;
Luther's wife, like a frau of Spiers, in red silk; Peter, Paul, and
James, in habits of white sarcenet, and three red mantles; a Cardinal
in his apparel; the Dauphin and his brother, in coats of velvet
embroidered with gold; three Germans, in apparel all cut and holed in
silk; Lady Peace, in apparel white and rich; Lady Quietness and Dame
Tranquillity. The subject of the play was the captivity of the Pope
and the oppression of the Church. St. Peter put Cardinal Wolsey in
authority to free the Pope and restore the Church; and by his
intercession the Kings of England and France took part together, and
got the Pope delivered. Then the French King's children complained to
the Cardinal that the Emperor kept them as hostages, and desired him
to work for their deliverance, and he effected this also.

This matter is so very curious in several respects, that I give it
with more than usual fulness. Only three years later, King Henry
himself was quarrelling with the same Pope, and the Emperor was acting
as the Pope's champion.

In 1543, an Act of Parliament was passed for the restraining of
dramatic performances. The preamble states that divers persons,
intending to subvert the true and perfect doctrine of Scripture, have
presumed to use in that behalf not only sermons and arguments, but
printed books, plays, and songs; and the body of the statute enacts
that no person shall play in interludes, sing, or rhyme any matter
contrary to the Church of Rome; the penalty being a fine of L10 and
three months' imprisonment for the first offence; for the second,
forfeiture of all goods, and perpetual imprisonment.

When Edward the Sixth came to the throne, in 1547, legislation took a
new turn, and the Act of 1543 was repealed. There arose, however, so
great an excess on the part of printers and players, that in 1552 a
strong proclamation was issued, forbidding them to print or play any
thing without a special license under the sign manual, or under the
hands of six of the Privy Council, the penalty being imprisonment
without bail, and fine at the King's pleasure.

Soon after the accession of Mary, in 1553, was set forth a
proclamation against "busy meddlers in matter of religion, and for
redress of preachers, printers, and players"; the intent of which was
to prevent the printing or playing of any thing adapted to further the
Reformation. The thing seems to have been effectual for more than two
years, after which further measures were found necessary. But all
would not do; the restraints kept giving way. In 1557, "certain
naughty plays" broke loose even in London; and the Lord Mayor was
called upon by the Court to discover and arrest the players, and "to
take order that no play be made henceforth within the city, except the
same be first seen, and the players authorized." Nevertheless Mary
was far from discouraging plays and players: on the contrary, she kept
up the theatrical establishment of her father to the full. The old
Miracle-Plays, being generally of the right Roman Catholic stamp, were
revived under the patronage of the Court. In 1556, the play of
_Christ's Passion_ was presented at the Greyfriars in London, before
the Lord Mayor, the Privy Council, and many of the nobility. The next
year it was repeated at the same place; and also, on the feast of St.
Olave, the miraculous life of that Saint was performed as a stage-play
in the church dedicated to him.

Elizabeth succeeded to the crown, November 17, 1558; and in May
following she issued a proclamation forbidding any plays or interludes
to be performed in the kingdom without special license from the local
magistrates; and also ordering that none should be so licensed,
wherein either matters of religion or of State were handled. This was
probably deemed necessary in consequence of the strong measures which
had lately been used for putting down all plays that smacked of the

The Moral-Play of _Lusty Juventus_, printed some time after 1551, is
full of shots against what are called the superstitions of Rome. Its
arguments and positions are exceedingly scriptural, chapter and verse
being quoted or referred to with all the exactness of a theological
treatise. And the tenets of the new "gospellers" are as openly
maintained as those of Rome are impugned. Juventus, the hero, who is
bent on going it while he is young, starts out in quest of his
companions, to have a merry dance: Good Counsel meets him, warns him
of the evil of his ways, and engages him on the spot in a prayer for
grace to aid him in his purpose of amendment. Just at this moment
Knowledge comes up, and prevails on him to spend his time chiefly in
hearing sermons and reading the Scriptures. This puts the Devil in
great alarm; he has a soliloquy on the subject, then calls in
Hypocrisy, and sets him to work in the cause. While Juventus is on
his way to "hear a preaching," Hypocrisy encounters him, argues with
him against forsaking the traditions of his fathers, and diverts him
from his purpose. Some while after, Good Counsel finds him in the
lowest state of debauchery, and reclaims him; and God's Merciful
Promises undertakes to procure his pardon.

_The Longer Thou Livest the More Fool Thou Art_ is the title of a
piece probably written early in Elizabeth's reign. Moros, the hero, is
represented as an ignorant and vicious fool, thinking of nothing but
ballads and songs, and constantly singing scraps of them. Discipline
finds him venting this humour, and reproves him; Piety and Exercise
add their efforts to reform him, but discover him to be as much knave
as fool. The two latter hold him while Discipline lays on the whip,
till he affects contrition; but he is soon wheedled into a relapse by
Idleness, Incontinence, and Wrath, who, however, profess to hold him
in contempt. Wrath gives him the Vice's sword and dagger, and they all
promise him the society of Nell, Nan, Meg, and Bess. Fortune then
endows him with wealth; he takes Impiety, Cruelty, and Ignorance into
his service; Impiety stirs him up against "these new fellows," that
is, the Protestants, and he vows to "hang, burn, and kill" them
without remorse. When they are gone, People enters, complaining of the
hero's cruelty and oppression, but runs off in a fright as soon as he
returns. God's Judgment then comes and strikes him down; Confusion
follows; they strip off his "goodly gear," and put on him a fool's
coat. Being required by Confusion to go with him he replies,--

"If it please the Devil me to have,
Let him carry me away on his back."

We are left to infer that Confusion, who is the Devil of the piece,
takes him at his word.

_The Marriage of Wit and Science_ is the earliest known instance of a
Moral-Play regularly distributed into five Acts, and these again into
scenes. The allegory is quite elaborate and wire-drawn; and the piece
has something of humour in the matter, and of melody in the
versification. _Like Will to Like, Quoth the Devil to the Collier_,
printed in 1568, has some rude approaches to individual character;
which is my reason for noticing it. Nichol Newfangle, though in fact
the hero, enacts the Vice, and is armed with the wooden dagger; among
his friends are Ralph Royster, Tom Tosspot, Philip Fleming, Pierce
Pickpurse, and Cuthbert Cutpurse, who have some lines of individual
peculiarity. To these are added several allegorical personages, as
Good Fame, Severity, Virtuous Life, and Honour. Lucifer also figures
in the piece; Newfangle claims him as godfather, and is at last
carried off by him. _The Conflict of Conscience_ is worthy of notice
as being one of the earliest germinations of the Historical Drama. The
hero, though called Philologus, is avowedly meant for Francis Speira,
an Italian lawyer, who, it is said, "forsook the truth of God's
Gospel, for fear of the loss of life and worldly goods." The
characters of the piece are partly historical, partly allegorical.

If _The Conflict of Conscience_ deserves mention as an approach to
Tragedy, _Tom Tiler and his Wife_ equally deserves it as an early
sprout of Comedy. It contains a mixture of allegorical and individual
persons, the latter, however, taking the chief part of the action. Tom
Tiler has a spouse named Strife, who is not only a great scold, but
hugely given to drinking with Sturdy and Tipple. Tiler meets his
friend Tom Tailor, an artificer of shreds and patches, and relates his
sufferings. Tailor changes clothes with him; in this disguise goes to
Strife as her husband, and gives her such a drubbing that she submits.
Tiler then resumes his own clothes, goes home, and pities his wife,
who, ignorant of the trick, vows she will never love him again: to
appease her, he unwarily owns up; whereupon she snatches a stick, and
belabours him till he cries out for life; and she declares that Tailor
had better eaten her than beaten her. Tiler flies to his friend
Tailor, and tells him what has happened; Tailor then falls to beating
him; and the lady, coming up just at the time, goes to playing her
batteries on them both, until Patience arrives and restores harmony
all round, charming the discontent out of Tiler, and the fury out of

_Jack Juggler_, "a new interlude for children to play," is somewhat
remarkable, not only in that it carries still higher the effort at
individual character, but as being one of the oldest pieces founded on
a classic original; the author claiming, in his prologue, to have
taken "Plautus' first comedy" as his model. Master Bongrace sends his
lacquey Jenkin to Dame Coy, his lady-love; but Jenkin loiters to play
at dice and steal apples. Jack Juggler, who enacts the Vice, watches
him, gets on some clothes just like his, and undertakes to persuade
him "that he is not himself, but another man." The task proves too
much, till he brings fist-arguments to bear; when Jenkin gives up the
point, and makes a comical address to the audience, alleging certain
reasons for believing that he is not himself. The humour of the piece
turns mainly on this doubt of his identity.

We have many other specimens in the class of Moral-Plays; but, as they
are all cast in much the same mould, any further dwelling upon them
would accomplish little towards illustrating the progress of the


We have seen how the old Miracle-Plays gradually gave way to
Moral-Plays, first borrowing some of their materials, then thrown into
the background, and finally quite displaced by them. Yet both these
forms of the Drama were radically different from Comedy and Tragedy in
the proper sense of these terms: there was very little of character or
of human blood in them; and even that little was rather forced in by
external causes than a free outgrowth from the genius of the thing.
The first, in their proper idea and original plan, were but a
mechanical collocation of the events of Scripture and old legend,
carried on by a sort of personal representatives; the second, a mere
procession of abstract ideas rudely and inartificially personified,
with something of fantastical drapery thrown around them. So that both
alike stood apart from the vitalities of nature and the abiding
interests of thought, being indeed quite innocent of the knowledge of

Of course it was impossible that such things, themselves the offspring
of darkness, should stand the light. None but children in mind could
mistake them for truth, or keep up any real sympathy with such unvital
motions. Precluded from the endless variety of individual nature and
character, they could not but run into great monotony: in fact, the
whole thing was at best little more than a repetition of one
fundamental air under certain arbitrary variations. As the matter
shown was always much the same, the interest had to depend chiefly on
the manner of showing it; and this naturally generated a cumbrous and
clumsy excess of manner; unless indeed the thing drew beyond itself;
while in doing this it could scarce fail to create a taste that would
sooner or later force it to withdraw from the scene.

Accordingly, Moral-Plays, as we have seen, began, early in their
course, to deviate into veins foreign to their original design: points
of native humour and wit, and lines of personal interest were taken in
to diversify and relieve the allegorical sameness; and these grew more
and more into the main texture of the workmanship. As the new elements
gained strength, much of the old treasure proved to be mere refuge and
dross; as such it was discarded; while so much of sterling wealth as
had been accumulated was sucked in, retained, and carried up into the
supervening growth.

The beginnings, then, of English Comedy and Tragedy were made long
before these appeared in distinct formation. And the first known hand
that drew off the elements of Comedy, and moulded them up by
themselves, was John Heywood, who belonged to the theatrical and
musical establishment of Henry the Eighth. His pieces, however, have
not the form of regular comedies. He called them Interludes, a name in
use many years before, and probably adopted by him as indicating the
purpose to which he designed them, of filling the gaps or intervals of
banquets and other entertainments. They are short, not taking much
more time than a single act in an ordinary comedy. Yet they have the
substance of comedy, in that they give pictures of real life and
manners, containing much sprightliness of dialogue, and not a little
of humour and character, and varied with amusing incident and allusion
drawn fresh from the writer's observation, with the dews of nature
upon them.

Heywood's earliest piece, printed in 1533, is entitled _A merry Play
between the Pardoner and the Friar, the Curate and Neighbour Pratt_. A
Pardoner and a Friar have each got leave of the Curate to use his
church, the one to exhibit his relics, the other to preach a sermon.
The Friar comes first, and is about to begin his preachment, when the
other enters and disturbs him: each wants to be heard first; and,
after a long trial which has the stronger lungs, they fall into a
regular performance of mutual kicking and cuffing. The Curate, aroused
to the spot by the noise, endeavours to part them; failing of this, he
calls in Neighbour Pratt, and then seizes the Friar, leaving Pratt to
manage the other, the purpose being to put them both in the stocks.
But they get the worst of it altogether; so that they gladly come to
terms, allowing the Pardoner and Friar quietly to depart. As a sample
of the incidents, I may add that the Friar, while his whole sermon is
against covetousness, harps much on the voluntary poverty of his
order, and then gives notice of his intention to take up a collection.
In a like satirical humour, the Pardoner is made to exhibit some
laughable relics, such as "the great toe of the Holy Trinity," and the
"blessed jaw-bone" of all the saints in the Calendar. Of course his
purpose also is to bless money into his purse.

Another of Heywood's pieces, also printed in 1533, is called _A merry
Play between John the Husband, Tib the Wife, and Sir John the Priest_.
Here the comic vein runs out even more freely than in the former
piece, and has quite as much relish of home-made observation. Still
another of Heywood's pieces, also full of broad fun, and equally
smacking of real life, is called _The Four Ps_; while a fourth, called
_The Play of the Weather_, has something the character of a
Moral-Play, the Vice figuring in it under the name of Merry
Report.--Thus much must suffice for indicating the steps taken by
Heywood in the direction of genuine Comedy.

An anonymous interlude called _Thersites_, and written in 1537,
deserves mention as the oldest dramatic piece in English, with
characters purporting to be borrowed from secular history. The piece,
however, has nothing of historical matter but the names: it is merely
a piece of broad comedy in the vein of English life and manners.

The oldest known specimen of a regular English comedy is _Ralph
Roister Doister_, written as early as 1551. It was the work of
Nicholas Udall, a name distinguished in the early literature of the
Reformation; who, in 1534, was appointed Head-Master of Eton, then
famous for teaching the classics, became Prebendary of Windsor in
1551, was afterwards made Head-Master of Westminster School, and died
in 1556.

In his prologue the author refers to Plautus and Terence as his
models. The play is in five Acts, which are subdivided into scenes;
the scene is in London, the persons and manners all English. The hero
and heroine are Ralph Roister Doister and Dame Custance, a widow; in
the train of the former are Matthew Merrygreek and Harpax; of the
latter, Truepenny her man, Madge Mumblecrust her nurse, Tibet
Talkapace, and Annot Alyface. The play is opened by Matthew, who
enters singing, and expounds his mind in a soliloquy, dilating on his
patron's qualities and his own. Presently Ralph comes in talking to
himself, and calls on Matthew for counsel and help, as he is dying for
love of a lady whose name he does not at first remember, and who, he
hears, is engaged to a merchant named Goodluck. Matthew stuffs him
with the assurance that his figure is such as no woman can resist, and
that the people go into raptures over him as he passes in the streets;
all which he greedily swallows. Next, we have a scene of Madge, Tibet,
and Annot at their work, praising their good fare, rallying each
other, and singing snatches of song: Ralph overhears them, and takes
joy to think how happy he shall live with a wife who keeps such
servants; strikes up an acquaintance with them, and, after divers
comic passages, leaves with Madge a letter for her mistress. The next
day Dobinet Doughty comes from Goodluck with a ring and token, which
Madge refuses to deliver, she having been scolded for taking Ralph's
letter. He tells the servants he is a messenger from their lady's
intended husband, but does not mention his name: they are delighted at
the prospect of such a change in the family, and almost fall at strife
for the honour of carrying the presents to their mistress, who,
however, sharply reproves them for taking such things without knowing
whence they come.

In the third Act Matthew is sent to reconnoitre, when he learns that
the lady's hand is already engaged, and that she has not even read
Ralph's letter. Returning, he tells Ralph she will have nothing to do
with him, and how she abuses him with opprobrious terms; which puts
him to dying for love right on the spot; and Matthew, to help on the
joke, calls in the parish clerk and others to sing a mock requiem. As
Ralph does not succeed in dying, Matthew counsels him to put on a bold
face, and claim the lady's hand in person, after treating her to a
serenade. He agrees to this, and while the serenade is in progress the
lady enters; he declares his passion; she rejects him with scorn, and
returns his letter unread; whereupon Matthew reads it in her hearing,
but so varies the pointing as to turn the sense all upside down; and
Ralph denies it to be his. As soon as she has left them, Matthew goes
to refreshing him 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 most 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 uncertain 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

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

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 blank-verse, 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 Moral-Plays. 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 several years before. It was printed
in 1594, the title-page stating that it had been "acted sundry times
by Edward Alleyn and his company," and that it contained "Kempe's applauded
merriments of the men of Gotham."[4]

[4] Alleyn, the founder of Dulwich College, was the leading
actor of the Lord Admiral's company; and, after the death of
Tarlton in 1588, Kempe, who at a later period was of the same
company with Shakespeare, bore the palm as an actor of comic

The play is made up partly of allegorical personages, partly of
historical; the chief of the latter being King Edgar, St. Dunstan,
Ethenwald, Osrick, and his daughter Alfrida. From reports of Alfrida's
beauty, Edgar gets so enamoured of her, that he sends Ethenwald, Earl
of Cornwall, to court her for him. The Earl, being already in love
with the lady, wants to court her for himself. Introduced by her
father, his passion gets the better of his commission; he woos and
wins her, and has her father's consent. On his return, he tells Edgar
she will do very well for an earl, but not for a king: Edgar distrusts
his report, and goes to see for himself, when Ethenwald tries to pass
off the kitchen-maid as Alfrida: the trick is detected, Dunstan
counsels forgiveness, and Edgar generously renounces his claim. There
is but one scene of "Kempe's applauded merriments," and this consists
merely of a blundering dispute, whether a mock petition touching the
consumption of ale shall be presented to the King by a cobbler or a

As to the allegorical persons, it is worth noting that several of
these have individual designations, as if the author had some vague
ideas of representative character,--that is, persons standing for
classes, yet clothed with individuality,--but lacked the skill to work
them out. Such is the Bailiff of Hexham, who represents the iniquities
of local magistrates. He has four sons,--Walter, representing the
frauds of farmers; Priest, the sins of the clergy; Coney-catcher, the
tricks of cheats; and Perin, the vices of courtiers. Besides these, we
have Honesty, whose business it is to expose crimes and vices. The
Devil makes his appearance several times, and, when the old Bailiff
dies, carries him off. At last, Honesty exposes the crimes of all
classes to the King, who has justice done on their representatives.--The
piece is in blank-verse, and in respect of versification shows considerable
improvement on the specimens hitherto noticed.


* * * * *

Touching the general state of the Drama a few years before Shakespeare
took hold of it, our information is full and clear, not only in the
specimens that have survived, but in the criticisms of contemporary
writers. A good deal of the criticism, however, is so mixed up with
personal and polemical invective, as to be unworthy of much credit.
George Whetstone, in the dedication of his _Promos and Cassandra_,
published in 1578, tells us: "The Englishman in this quality is most
vain, indiscreet, and out of order. He first grounds his work on
impossibilities; then in three hours he runs through the world,
marries, makes children men, men to conquer kingdoms, murder monsters,
and bringeth gods from Heaven, and fetcheth devils from Hell. And,
that which is worst, many times, to make mirth, they make a clown
companion with a king; in their grave counsels they allow the advice
of Fools; yea, they use one order of speech for all persons,--a gross
indecorum."--In 1581, Stephen Gosson published a tract in which he
says: "Sometimes you shall see nothing but the adventures of an
amorous knight, passing from country to country for the love of his
lady, encountering many a terrible monster made of brown paper; and at
his return so wonderfully changed, that he cannot be known but by some
posy in his tablet, or by a broken ring, or a handkerchief, or a piece
of cockle-shell." And in another part of the same tract he tells us
that "_The Palace of Pleasure, The Ethiopian History, Amadis of
France_, and _The Round Table_, comedies in Latin, French, Italian,
and Spanish, have been thoroughly ransacked, to furnish the
play-houses in London." Which shows very clearly what direction the
public taste was then taking. The matter and method of the old dramas,
and all "such musty fopperies of antiquity," would no longer do: there
was an eager though ignorant demand for something wherein the people
might find or fancy themselves touched by the real currents of nature.
And, as prescription was thus set aside, and art still ungrown, the
materials of history and romance, foreign tales and plays, any thing
that could furnish incidents and a plot, were blindly pressed into the

Whatever discredit may attach to the foregoing extracts on the score
of prejudice or passion, nothing of the sort can hold in the case of
Sir Philip Sidney, whose _Defence of Poesy_, though not printed till
1595, must have been written before 1586, in which year the author
died. "Our tragedies and comedies," says he, "are not without cause
cried out against, observing rules neither of honest civility nor
skilful poetry. You shall have Asia of the one side, and Afric of the
other, and so many other under-kingdoms, that the player, when he
comes in, must ever begin with telling where he is, or else the tale
will not be conceived. Now you shall have three ladies walk to gather
flowers, and then we must-believe the stage to be a garden: by-and-by
we hear news of a shipwreck in the same place; then we are to blame if
we accept it not for a rock. Upon the back of that, comes out a
hideous monster with fire and smoke, and then the miserable beholders
are bound to take it for a cave; while in the mean time two armies fly
in, represented with four swords and bucklers, and then what hard
heart will not receive it for a pitched field? Now, of time they are
much more liberal; for ordinary it is, that two young princes fall in
love; after many traverses she is delivered of a fair boy; he is lost,
groweth a man, falleth in love, and all this in two hours' space:
which how absurd it is in sense, even sense may imagine, and art hath
taught, and all ancient examples justified. But, besides these gross
absurdities, all their plays be neither right tragedies nor right
comedies, mingling kings and clowns, not because the matter so
carrieth it, but thrust in the clown by head and shoulders, to play a
part in majestical matters with neither decency nor discretion."

From all which it is evident enough that very little if any heed was
then paid to dramatic propriety and decorum. It was not _merely_ that
the unities of place and time were set at nought, but that events and
persons were thrown together without _any_ order or law; unconnected
with each other save to the senses, while at the same time according
to sense they were far asunder. It is also manifest that the
principles of the Gothic Drama in respect of general structure and
composition, in disregard of the minor unities, and in the free
blending and interchange of the comic and tragic elements, were
thoroughly established; though not yet moulded up with sufficient art
to shield them from the just censure and ridicule of sober judgment
and good taste. Here was a great work to be done; greater than any art
then known was sufficient for. Without this, any thing like an
original or national drama was impossible. Sir Philip saw the chaos
about him; but he did not see, and none could foresee, the creation
that was to issue from it. He would have spoken very differently, no
doubt, had he lived to see the intrinsic relations of character and
passion, the vital sequence of mental and moral development, set forth
in such clearness and strength, the whole fabric resting on such solid
grounds, of philosophy, and charged with such cunning efficacies of
poetry, that breaches of local and chronological succession either
pass without notice, or are noticed only for the gain of truth and
nature that is made through them. For the laws of sense hold only as
the thoughts are absorbed in what is sensuous and definite; and the
very point was, to lift the mind above this by working on its
imaginative forces, and penetrating it with the light of relations
more inward and essential.

At all events, it was by going ahead, and not by retreating, that
modern thought was to find its proper dramatic expression. The
foundation of principles was settled, and stood ready to be built upon
whenever the right workman should come. Moreover public taste was
sharp for something warm with life, so much so indeed as to keep
running hither and thither after the shabbiest semblances of it, but
still unable to rest with them. The national mind, in discarding, or
rather outgrowing the older species of drama, had worked itself into
contact with Nature. And it was the uncritical, popular, living,
practical mind that was to give the law in this business: nothing was
to be achieved either by the word or the work of those learned folk
who would not be pleased unless they could parse their pleasure by the
rules of ancient grammar. But to reproduce nature in mental forms
requires great power of art, much greater, perhaps, than minds
educated amidst works of art can well conceive.

Which brings me to the matter of Shakespeare's SENIOR CONTEMPORARIES.
For here, again, the process was gradual. Neither may we affirm that
nothing had yet been done towards organizing the collected materials.
But the methods and faculties of art were scattered here and there;
different parts of the thing had been worked out severally; and it yet
remained to draw and knit them all up together. It is difficult,
perhaps impossible, to determine exactly by whom the first steps were
taken in this work. But all that was done of much consequence,
Shakespeare apart, may be found in connection with the three names of
George Peele, Robert Greene, and Christopher Marlowe.

* * * * *

PEELE took his first degree at Oxford in 1577, and became Master of
Arts in 1579. Soon after this, he is supposed to have gone to London
as a literary adventurer. Dissipation and debauchery were especially
rife at that time among the authors by profession, who hung in large
numbers upon the metropolis, haunting its taverns and ordinaries; and
it is but too certain that Peele plunged deeply into the vices of his

His first dramatic work, _The Arraignment of Paris_, was printed in
1584, the title-page stating that it had been played before the Queen
by the children of her chapel. The piece is vastly superior to any
thing known to have preceded it. It is avowedly a pastoral drama, and
sets forth a whole troop of gods and goddesses; with nothing that can
properly be called delineation of character. The plot is simply this:
Juno, Pallas, and Venus get at strife who shall have the apple of
discord which Ate has thrown among them, with directions that it be
given to the fairest. As each thinks herself the fairest, they agree
to refer the question to Paris, the Trojan shepherd, who, after mature
deliberation, awards the golden ball to Venus. An appeal is taken: he
is arraigned before Jupiter in a synod of the gods for having rendered
a partial and unjust sentence; but defends himself so well, that their
godships are at a loss what to do. At last, by Apollo's advice, the
matter is referred to Diana, who, as she wants no lovers, cares little
for beauty. Diana sets aside all their claims, and awards the apple to
Queen Elizabeth; which verdict gives perfect satisfaction all round.

The piece displays fair gifts of poetry; it abounds in natural and
well-proportioned sentiment; thoughts and images seem to rise up fresh
from the writer's observation, and not merely gathered at second hand;
a considerable portion is in blank-verse, but the author uses various
measures, in all which his versification is graceful and flowing.

_The Battle of Alcazar_, written as early as 1589, but not printed
till 1594, is a strange performance, and nearly as worthless as
strange; full of tearing rant and fustian; while the action, if such
it may be called, goes it with prodigious license, jumping to and fro
between Portugal and Africa without remorse. I have some difficulty in
believing the piece to be Peele's: certainly it is not in his vein,
nor, as to that matter, in anybody's else; for it betrays at every
step an ambitions imitation of Marlowe, wherein, as usually happens,
the faults of the model are exaggerated, and the virtues not reached.
Peele could hardly have been cast into such an ecstasy of disorder,
but from a wild attempt to rival the author of _Tamburlaine_, which is
several times referred to in the piece.

_King Edward the First_, printed in 1593, and probably written later
than the preceding, is much better every way. But its chief claim to
notice is as an early attempt in the Historical Drama, which
Shakespeare brought to such perfection. The character of Edward is
portrayed with considerable spirit and truth to history, and is
perhaps Peele's best effort in that line. On the other hand, Queen
Elinor of Castile is shockingly disfigured, and this, not only in
contempt of history, which might be borne with if it really enriched
the scene, but to the total disorganizing of the part itself; the
purpose being, no doubt, to gratify the bitter national antipathy to
the Spaniards. Peele seems to have been incapable of the proper grace
and delectation of comedy: nevertheless the part of Prince Lluellen,
of Wales, and his adherents, who figure pretty largely, and sometimes
in the disguise of Robin Hood and his merry men, shows something of
comic talent, and adds to the entertainment of the piece. The other
comic portions have nothing to recommend them.

_The Old Wives' Tale_, printed in 1595, is little worth mention save
as having probably contributed somewhat to one of the noblest and
sweetest poems ever written.--Two brothers are wandering in quest of
their sister, whom Sacrapant, an enchanter, has imprisoned: they call
her name, and Echo replies; whereupon Sacrapant gives her a potion
that induces self-oblivion. His magical powers depend on a wreath
which encircles his head, and on a light enclosed in glass which he
keeps hidden under the turf. The brothers afterwards meet with an old
man, also skilled in magic, who enables them to recover their sister.
A Spirit in the likeness of a young page comes to Sacrapant, tears off
his wreath, and kills him. Still the sister remains enchanted, and
cannot be released till the glass is broken and the light
extinguished; which can only be done by a Lady who is neither maid,
wife, nor widow. The Spirit blows a magical horn, and the Lady
appears, breaks the glass, and puts out the light. A curtain being
then withdrawn discovers the sister asleep; she is disenchanted, joins
her brothers, and the Spirit vanishes.--The resemblance to Milton's
_Comus_ need not be pointed out. The difference of the two pieces in
all points of execution is literally immense; Peele's work in this
case being all steeped in meanness and vulgarity, without a touch of
truth, poetry, or wit.

_The Love of King David and Fair Bethseba_ is commonly regarded as
Peele's masterpiece. And here, again, we breathe the genuine air of
nature and simplicity. The piece is all in blank-verse, which, though
wanting in variety, is replete with melody; and it has passages of
tenderness and pathos such as to invest it with an almost sacred
charm. There is perhaps a somewhat too literal adherence to the
Scripture narrative, and very little art used in the ordering and
disposing of the materials, for Peele was neither strong nor happy in
the gift of invention; but the characters generally are seized in
their most peculiar traits, and presented with a good degree of vigour
and discrimination; while at the same time their more prominent
features are not worked into disproportion with the other parts.

Peele's contributions to the Drama were mainly in the single article
of poetry: here his example was so marked, that it was bound to be
respected and emulated by all who undertook to work in the same field.
In the development of character, and in the high art of dramatic
composition and organization, he added very little; his genius being
far unequal to this high task, and his judgment still more so. And his
efforts were probably rendered fitful and unsteady by vicious habits;
which may explain why it was that he who could do so well sometimes
did so meanly. Often, no doubt, when reduced to extreme shifts, he
patched up his matter loosely and trundled it off in haste, to
replenish his wasted means, and start him on a fresh course of riot
and debauchery.

* * * * *

GREENE, inferior to Peele as a whole, surpassed him however in
fertility and aptness of invention, in quickness and luxuriousness of
fancy, and in the right seizing and placing of character, especially
for comic effect. In his day he was vastly notorious both as a writer
and a man;--a cheap counterfeit of fame which he achieved with
remarkable ease, and seems not to have coveted any thing better. He
took his first degree at Cambridge in 1578, proceeded Master of Arts
in 1583, and was incorporated at Oxford in 1588; after which he was
rather fond of styling himself "Master of Arts in both Universities."
Soon after 1585, if not before, he betook himself to London, where he
speedily sank into the worst type of a literary adventurer.
Thenceforth his life seems to have been one continual spasm, plunging
hither and thither in transports of wild profligacy and repentance. He
died in 1592, eaten up with diseases purchased by sin.

Much of Greene's notoriety during his lifetime grew from his prose
writings, which, in the form of tracts, were rapidly thrown off, and
were well adapted both in matter and style to catch a loud but
transient popularity. One of them had the honour of being laid under
contribution for _The Winter's Tale_. In these pieces, generally, the
most striking features are a constant affecting of the euphuistic
style which John Lily had rendered popular, and a certain incontinence
of metaphors and classical allusions, the issue of a full and ready
memory unrestrained by taste or judgment; the writer galloping on from
page to page with unflagging volubility, himself evidently captivated
with the rolling sound of his own sentences. Still, his descriptions
often have a warmth and height of colouring that could not fail to
take prodigiously in an age when severity or delicacy of taste was
none of the commonest. Several of his prose pieces are liberally
interspersed with passages of poetry, in which he uses a variety of
measures, and most of them with an easy, natural skill, while his cast
of thought and imagery shows him by no means a stranger to the
springs of poetic sweetness and grace, though he never rises to any
thing like grandeur.

_The History of Orlando Furioso_ was acted as early as 1591, and
probably written some time before. The plot was partly founded on
Ariosto's romance, partly invented by Greene himself. The action, or
what stands for such, is conducted with the wildest license, and shows
no sense or idea of dramatic truth, but only a prodigious straining
after stage effect; the writer trying, apparently, how many men of
different nations, European, African, and Asiatic, he could huddle in
together, and how much love, rivalry, and fighting he could put them
through in the compass of five Acts. As for the fury of Orlando, it is
as far from the method of madness as from the logic of reason; being
none other than the incoherent jargon of one endeavouring to talk
stark nonsense.

_Alphonsus, King of Arragon_, belongs, by internal marks, to about the
same period as the preceding, but is not known to have been printed
till 1597. Each Act opens with a chorus by Venus. Medea, also, is
employed to work enchantments, and raises Homer's Calchas, who comes
forth "clad in a white surplice and a cardinal's mitre." This play,
too, is crammed from first to last brimful of tumult and battle; the
scene changing between Italy and Turkey with admirable lawlessness;
and Christians of divers nations, Turks, and a band of Amazonian
warriors, bestriding the stage with their monstrous din.

Both of these pieces are mainly in blank-verse, with a frequent
interspersing of couplets. In the latter piece, allusion is made to
"the mighty Tamburlaine," thus indicating the height which Greene was
striving to reach, if not surpass. In fact, both pieces have plenty of
Marlowe's thunder, but none of his lightning. Even the blank-verse
reads like that of one accustomed to rhyme, and unable to get out of
his wonted rut. And the versification runs, throughout, in a stilted
monotony, the style being made thick and turgid with high-sounding
epithets; while we have a perfect flux of learned impertinence. As
for truth, nature, character, poetry, we look for them in vain; though
there is much, in the stage noise and parade, that might keep the
multitude from perceiving the want of them.

In _The Scottish History of James the Fourth_, probably written some
time after the two preceding, the author seems to have got convinced
that imitation of Marlowe was not his line, and that he could do best
by working his own native vein: accordingly, considerable portions of
it are in prose and rhyme; while the style throughout is disciplined
into a tolerable degree of sobriety and simplicity. Though purporting
to be a history, it has scarce any thing of historical matter. It
opens with a comic scene betwixt Oberon, King of Fairies, and Bohan,
an old Scottish lord, who, disgusted with the vices of Court, city,
and country, has withdrawn from the world with his two sons, Slipper
and Nano, turned Stoic, lives in a tomb, and talks broad Scotch. King
Oberon has nothing in common with the fairy king of _A Midsummer
Night's Dream_, except the name. The main plot of the drama is as

King James marries Dorothea, the daughter of Arius, King of England.
Before the wedding is fairly over, he falls in love with Ida, the
Countess of Arran's daughter, makes suit to her, and is rejected with
horror. He then sets himself to work to get rid of his Queen, turns
away from his old counsellors, and gives his ear to an unscrupulous
parasite named Ateukin. Through his influence, the King forms a scheme
for assassinating the Queen; who gets information of the plot,
disguises herself in male attire, and escapes, with Nano in her
company. The parasite's agent overtakes her, finds out who she is,
fights with her, and leaves her for dead. During the fight, Nano runs
for help, and soon returns with Sir Cuthbert Anderson, who takes her
to his house, where her wounds are healed, both Sir Cuthbert and his
wife supposing her all the while to be a man. Meanwhile Ida gives
herself in marriage to Lord Eustace, with whom she has suddenly fallen
in love upon his asking her hand. The King now begins to be devoured
by compunctions on account of the Queen, believing her to be dead. The
King of England also gets intelligence how his daughter has been
treated, and makes war on her husband. When they are on the eve of a
decisive battle, Dorothea makes her appearance, to the astonishment of
all the parties: she pleads tenderly for her repentant husband, and a
general reconciliation takes place; Ateukin and his abettors being
delivered over to their deserts.

This play has something of what may not unworthily be called
character. The parts of Ida and the Queen are not without delicacy and
pathos, showing that the author was not far from some right ideas of
what womanhood is. Ateukin's part, too, is very well conceived and
sustained, though the qualities of a parasite are made rather too
naked and bald, as would naturally result from the writer's ambition
being stronger than his love of nature and truth. The comic portions
are much beyond any thing we have met with in that line, since _Ralph
Roister Doister_ and _Misogonus_. The versification is endurably free
from gas, and the style in many parts may be pronounced rather tight
and sinewy.

_Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay_ was printed in 1594, but acted as early
as 1591. The hero is Edward, Prince of Wales, afterwards King Edward
the First; the heroine, Margaret, a keeper's daughter, known as "the
fair maid of Fressingfield." The Prince, who is out on a hunting
excursion with Lacy and several other friends, and Ralph Simnel, the
Court Fool, meets with Margaret, and his fancy is at once smitten with
her, while she has no suspicion who he is. At Ralph's suggestion, he
sends Lacy, in the disguise of a farmer's son, to court Margaret for
him, and sets out on a visit to Friar Bacon at Oxford, to learn from
the conjurer how his suit is going to speed. Lacy thinks the Prince's
aim is not to wed the girl, but to entrap and beguile her; besides,
his own heart is already interested; so he goes to courting her in
good earnest for himself. Meanwhile the Prince with his company, all
disguised, arrives at Friar Bacon's; and, through the conjurer's art,
learns what Lacy is doing. Soon after, he comes upon Lacy, poniard in
hand, meaning to kill him on the spot. Margaret, being present,
intercedes for her lover, and takes all the blame of his course to
herself. The Prince then lays siege to her in person, but she vows she
will rather die with Lacy than divorce her heart from his, and finally
reminds him of his own princely honour; whereupon he frankly resigns
her to his rival's hand.

Among other entertainments of the scene, we have a trial of national
skill between Bacon and Bungay on one side, and Vandermast, a noted
conjurer from Germany, on the other. First, Bungay tries his art, and
is thoroughly baffled by the German; then Bacon takes Vandermast in
hand, and outconjures him all to nothing. Bacon has a servant named
Miles, who, for his ignorant blundering in a weighty matter, is at
last carried off by one of his master's devils. The last scene is
concerned with the marriage of Prince Edward and Elinor of Castile,
and is closed by Bacon with a grand prophecy touching Elizabeth.

Here, again, we have some fair lines of characterization, especially
in the Prince, Lacy, Margaret, and Ralph. The heroine is altogether
Greene's masterpiece in female character; she exhibits much strength,
spirit, and sweetness of composition; in fact, she is not equalled by
any woman of the English stage till we come to Shakespeare, whom no
one has ever approached in that line. It scarce need be said that the
play is quite guiltless of any thing worthy to be named _dramatic
composition_. But it has a good deal of dramatic poetry, that would be
almost charming, had not Shakespeare spoilt every thing of the kind
that was done before he taught men how to do it.

The comedy of _George a Greene, the Pinner of Wakefield_, printed in
1599, is ascribed to Greene, but, it seems to me, not on very strong
grounds. I can hardly believe it his; certainly the style and
versification are much better than in any other of his plays; nor
does it show any thing of that incontinence of learning which he seems
to have been unable to restrain. The blank-verse, too, is far unlike
Greene's anywhere else.

The story of the piece is quite entertaining in itself, and is set
forth with a good deal of vivacity and spirit. Among the characters
are King Edward of England, King James of Scotland, the Earl of
Kendall, with other lords, and Robin Hood. George a Greene is the
hero; who, what with his wit, and what with his strength, gets the
better of all the other persons in turn. Withal he is full of high and
solid manhood, and his character is drawn with more vigour and life
than any hitherto noticed. The piece opens with the Earl of Kendall
and his adherents in rebellion against the State. The Earl sends Sir
Nicholas Mannering to Wakefield, to demand provision for his camp. Sir
Nicholas enters the town, and shows his commission: the magistrates
are at a loss what to do, till the hero comes amongst them, outfaces
the messenger, tears up his commission, makes him eat the seals, and
sends him back with an answer of defiance.

Greene was concerned, along with Thomas Lodge, in writing another
extant play, entitled _A Looking-Glass for London and England_. This
is little better than a piece of stage trash, being a mixture of
comedy, tragedy, and Miracle-Play; an Angel, a Devil, and the Prophet
Hosea taking part in the action. The verse parts are in Greene's
puffiest style, the prose parts in his filthiest.

Greene probably wrote divers other plays, but none others have
survived that are known to be his.

* * * * *

MARLOWE, the greatest of Shakespeare's senior contemporaries, was
baptized in St. George's church, Canterbury, on the 26th of February,
1564, just two months before the baptism of Shakespeare. He took his
first degree at Cambridge in 1583, became Master of Arts in 1587, and
was soon after embarked among the worst literary adventurers in
London, living by his wits, and rioting on the quick profits of his
pen. His career was brief, but fruitful,--fruitful in more senses than
one. He was slain by one Francis Archer in a brawl, on the 1st of
June, 1593.

His first dramatic work was _Tamburlaine the Great_, in two parts;
printed in 1590, but written before 1588. In this work, what Ben
Jonson describes as "Marlowe's mighty line" is out in all its
mightiness. The lines, to be sure, have a vast amount of strut and
swell in them, but then they also have a good deal of real energy and
force. Marlowe has had much praise, perhaps more than his due, as the
introducer of blank-verse on the public stage; it being alleged that
the previous use of it was only in what may be called private
theatricals. Be that as it may, he undoubtedly did much towards
_fixing_ it as the habit of English dramatic poetry. _Tamburlaine_ had
a sudden, a great, and long-continued popularity. And its success may
have been partly owing to its faults, inasmuch as the public ear, long
used to rhyme, needed some compensation in the way of grandiloquent
stuffing, which was here supplied in abundance.

The scene of these two plays, which are substantially one, takes in
the whole period of time from the hero's first conquest till his
death; so that the action ranges at large over divers kingdoms and
empires. Except the hero, there is little really deserving the name of
characterization, this being a point of art which Marlowe had not yet
reached, and which he never attained but in a moderate degree, taking
Shakespeare as the standard. But the hero is drawn with grand and
striking proportions, and perhaps seems the larger, that the bones of
his individuality stand out in undue prominence; the author lacking
that balance of powers which is requisite, to produce the symmetry and
roundness met with in the higher forms of Nature. And he knew not,
apparently, how to express the hero's greatness _in word_, but by
making him bethump the stage with tempestuous verbiage; which, to be
sure, is not the style of greatness at all, but only of one trying to
be great, and _trying_ to be so, because he is not so. For to talk big
is the instinct of ambitious littleness. But Tamburlaine is also
represented _in act_ as a most magnanimous prodigy: amidst his
haughtiest strides of conquest, we have strains of gentleness mingling
with his iron sternness; and he everywhere appears lifted high with
generous passions and impulses: if he regards not others, he is
equally ready to sacrifice himself, his ease, pleasure, and even life,
in his prodigious lust of glory.

As to the rest, this drama consists rather of a long series of
speeches than any genuine dialogue. And the persons all speak from one
brain, the hero talking just like the others, only more so; as if the
author had no way to discriminate character but by different degrees
of the same thing: in which respect the work has often reminded me of
divers more civilized stage preparations, such as Addison's _Cato_,
Young's _Revenge, et id genus omne_. For the proper constituent of
dramatic dialogue is, that the persons strike fire out of each other
by their sharp collisions of thought, so that their words relish at
once of the individual speaking and the individual spoken to. Moreover
the several parts of this work are not moulded together in any thing
like vital unity; the materials seem bundled up arbitrarily, and for
stage effect, instead of being assorted on any principle of organic
coherence; every thing thus going by the author's will, not by any law
of reason or art. But this is a high region, from which there was in
that age but one man big enough to be seen; so it's no use speaking of
the rest. Therewithal the work affects us, throughout, as a dead-level
of superlatives; everywhere we have nearly the same boisterous wind of
tragical storm-and-stress: so that the effect is much like that of a
picture all foreground, with no perspective, no proportionateness of
light and shade, to give us distinct impressions.

_The Jew of Malta_ shows very considerable advance towards a chaste
and sober diction, but not much either in development of character or
composition of parts. Barabas the Jew is a horrible monster of
wickedness and cunning, yet not without strong lines of individuality.
The author evidently sought to compass the effect of tragedy by
accumulation of murders and other hellish deeds; which shows that he
had no steady ideas as to wherein the true secret of tragic terror
lies: he here strives to reach it by overfilling the senses; whereas
its proper method stands in the joint working of the moral and
imaginative powers, which are rather stifled than kindled by causing
the senses to "sup full of horrors." The piece, however, abounds in
quick and caustic wit; in some parts there is a good share of dialogue
as distinguished from speech-making; and the versification is far more
varied and compact than in _Tamburlaine_. Still the work, as a whole,
shows little that can properly be called dramatic power as
distinguished from the general powers of rhetoric and wit.

_The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus_, probably written before
1590, exhibits Marlowe in a higher vein of workmanship. I think it
must be acknowledged that he here wields the right elements and
processes of tragic effect with no ordinary subtlety and power.
Faustus, the hero, is a mighty necromancer, who has studied himself
into direct communion with preternatural beings, and beside whom Friar
Bacon sinks into a tame forger of bugbears. A Good Angel and a Bad
Angel figure in the piece, each trying to win Faustus to his several
way. Lucifer is ambitious to possess "his glorious soul," and the hero
craves Lucifer's aid, that he may work wonders on the Earth. At his
summons, Mephistophilis, who acts as Lucifer's prime minister, visits
him to negotiate an arrangement. I must quote a brief passage from
their interview:

"_Faust_. Tell me, what is that Lucifer thy lord?

_Meph_. Arch-regent and commander of all spirits.

_Faust_. Was not that Lucifer an angel once?

_Meph_. Yes, Faustus, and most dearly lov'd of God.

_Faust_. How comes it, then, that he is Prince of Devils?

_Meph_. O, by aspiring pride and insolence!
For which God threw him from the face of Heaven.

_Faust_. And what are you that live with Lucifer?

_Meph_. Unhappy spirits that fell with Lucifer,
And are for ever damn'd with Lucifer.

_Faust_. Where are you damn'd?

_Meph_. In Hell.

_Faust_. How comes it, then, that thou art out of Hell?

_Meph. Why, this is Hell, nor am I out of it_:
Think'st thou that I, who saw the face of God,
And tasted the eternal joys of Heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells
In being depriv'd of everlasting bliss?
_O Faustus, leave these frivolous demands,
Which strike a terror to my fainting soul.

Faust_. What! is great Mephistophilis so passionate
For being deprived of the joys of Heaven?
Learn thou of Faustus manly fortitude,
And scorn those joys thou never shalt possess.
Go, bear these tidings to great Lucifer:
Seeing Faustus hath incurr'd eternal death,
Say, he surrenders up to him his soul,
So he will spare him four-and-twenty years,
Letting him live in all voluptuousness;
Having thee ever to attend on me,
To give me whatsoever I shall ask,
To tell me whatsoever I demand,
To slay mine enemies, and aid my friends,
And always be obedient to my will."

This passage, especially the hero's cool indifference in questioning
about things which the fiend shudders to consider, has often struck me
as not altogether unworthy to be thought of in connection with Milton.

The result of the interview is, that Faustus makes a compact with
Lucifer, draws blood from his own arm, and with it writes out a deed
of gift, assuring his soul and body to the fiend at the end of
twenty-four years. Thenceforth he spends his time in exercising the
mighty spells and incantations thus purchased: he has the power of
making himself invisible, and entering whatsoever houses he lists; he
passes from kingdom to kingdom with the speed of thought; wields the
elements at will, and has the energies of Nature at his command;
summons the Grecian Helen to his side for a companion; and holds the
world in wonder at his acts. Meanwhile the knowledge which Hell has
given him of Heaven haunts him; he cannot shake off the thought of
what the awful compact binds him to; repentance carries on a desperate
struggle in him with the necromantic fascination, and at one time
fairly outwrestles it; but he soon recovers his purpose, renews his
pledge to Lucifer, and finally performs it.

This feature of the representation suggests a great thought, perhaps I
should say, principle of man's moral being, which Shakespeare has more
than once worked upon with surpassing effect. For it is remarkable
that, in _Macbeth_, the thinking of the Weird Sisters (and he cannot
choose but think of them) fires the hero's moral and imaginative
forces into convulsive action, and thus causes him to shrink back from
the very deed to which the prophetic greetings stimulate him. So,
again, in _Hamlet_, the intimations of the Ghost touching "the secrets
of its prison-house" kindle the hero full of "thoughts beyond the
reaches of his soul," which entrance him in meditation, unstring his
resolution, and render him morally incapable of the office to which
that same Ghost has called him.

_The Jew of Malta_, has divers passages in a far higher and richer
style of versification than any part of _Tamburlaine_. The author's
diction has grown more pliant and facile to his thought; consequently
it is highly varied in pause and movement; showing that in his hand
the noble instrument of dramatic blank-verse was fast growing into
tune for a far mightier hand to discourse its harmonies upon. I must
add that considerable portions both of this play and the preceding are
meant to be comical. But the result only proves that Marlowe was
incapable of comedy. No sooner does he attempt the comic vein than his
whole style collapses into mere balderdash. In fact, though
plentifully gifted with wit, there was not a particle of real humour
in him; none of that subtle and perfusive essence out of which the
true comic is spun; for these choice powers can hardly live but in the
society of certain moral elements that seem to have been left out of
his composition.

_Edward the Second_, probably the latest, certainly much the best, of
Marlowe's dramas, was printed in 1598. Here, for the first time, we
meet with a genuine specimen of the English Historical Drama. The
scene covers a period of twenty years; the incidents pass with great
rapidity, and, though sometimes crushed into indistinctness, are for
the most part well used both for historic truth and dramatic effect;
and the dialogue, generally, is nervous, animated, and clear. In the
great article of character, too, this play has very considerable
merit. The King's insane dotage of his favourites, the upstart vanity
and insolence of Gaveston, the artful practice and doubtful virtue of
Queen Isabella, the factious turbulence of the nobles, irascible,
arrogant, regardless of others' liberty, jealous of their own, sudden
of quarrel, eager in revenge, are all depicted with a goodly mixture
of energy and temperance. Therewithal the versification moves,
throughout, with a freedom and variety, such as may almost stand a
comparison with Shakespeare in what may be called his earlier period;
as when, for instance, _King Richard the Second_ was written. It is
probable, however, that by this time, if not before, Marlowe had begun
to feel the power of that music which was to charm him, and all others
of the time, out of audience and regard. For we have very good
evidence, that before Marlowe's death Shakespeare had far surpassed
all of that age who had ever been competent to teach him in any point
of dramatic workmanship.

Marlowe is of consequence, _mainly_, as one of the first and greatest
improvers of dramatic poetry in so far as relates to diction and
metrical style; which is my reason for emphasizing his work so much in
that regard. But, as this is a virtue much easier felt than described,
I can best show what it is, by giving a taste of it; which however
must be brief:

"_Edw_. What, Lord Arundel, dost thou come alone?

_Arun_. Yea, my good lord, for Gaveston is dead.

_Edw_. Ah, traitors! have they put my friend to death?
Tell me, Arundel, died he ere thou cam'st,
Or didst thou see my friend to take his death?

_Arun_. Neither, my lord; for, as he was surpris'd,
Begirt with weapons and with enemies round,
I did your Highness' message to them all,
Demanding him of them, entreating rather,
And said, upon the honour of my name,
That I would undertake to carry him
Unto your Highness, and to bring him back.

_Edw_. And, tell me, would the rebels deny me that?

_Spen_. Proud recreants!

_Edw_. Yea, Spenser, traitors all!

_Arun_. I found them at the first inexorable:
The Earl of Warwick would not bide the hearing;
Mortimer hardly; Pembroke and Lancaster
Spake least; and when they flatly had denied,
Refusing to receive me pledge for him,
The Earl of Pembroke mildly thus bespake:
'My lords, because our sovereign sends for him,
And promiseth he shall be safe return'd,
I will this undertake, to have him hence,
And see him redeliver'd to your hands.'

_Edw_. Well, and how fortunes it that he came not?

_Spen_. Some treason or some villainy was cause.

_Arun_. The Earl of Warwick seiz'd him on the way;
For, being deliver'd unto Pembroke's men,
Their lord rode home, thinking the prisoner safe;
But, ere he came, Warwick in ambush lay,
And bare him to his death, and in a trench
Strake off his head, and march'd unto the camp.

_Spen_. A bloody part, flatly 'gainst law of arms!

_Edw_. O, shall I speak, or shall I sigh, and die?

_Spen_. My lord, refer your vengeance to the sword
Upon these barons; hearten up your men;
Let them not unreveng'd murder your friends;
Advance your standard, Edward, in the field,
And march to fire them from their starting-holes.

_Edw_. I will have heads and lives for him as many
As I have manors, castles, towns, and towers!--
Treacherous Warwick! traitorous Mortimer!
If I be England's king, in lakes of gore
Your headless trunks, your bodies will I trail,
That you may drink your fill, and quaff in blood,
And stain my royal standard with the same;
You villains that have slain my Gaveston!--
And, in this place of honour and of trust,
Spenser, sweet Spenser, I adopt thee here;
And merely of our love we do create thee
Earl of Gloucester and Lord Chamberlain.

_Spen_. My lord, here is a messenger from the barons,
Desires access unto your Majesty.

_Edw_. Admit him.

_Herald_. Long live King Edward, England's lawful lord!

_Edw_. So wish not they, I wis, that sent thee hither."

This, to be sure, does not read much like, for instance, Hotspur's
speech, beginning,

"O, then the earth shook to see the heavens on fire,"

nor is there any thing in Marlowe that does. In the passage quoted,
however, (and there are many more like it,) we have the rhymeless
ten-syllable iambic verse as the basis; but this is continually
diversified, so as to relieve the ear and keep it awake, by occasional
spondees, dibrachs, anapests, and amphibrachs, and by the frequent use
of trochees in all parts of the verse, but especially at the
beginning, and by a skilful shifting of the pause to any part of the
line. It thus combines the natural ease and variety of prose with the
general effect of metrical harmony, so that the hearing does not
surfeit nor tire. As to the general _poetic_ style of the performance,
the kindling energy of thought and language that often beats and
flashes along the sentences, there is much both in this and in
_Faustus_ to justify the fine enthusiasm of Drayton:

"Next, Marlowe, bathed in the Thespian springs,
Had in him those brave translunary things
That the first poets had: his raptures were
All air and fire, which made his verses clear;
For that fine madness still he did retain
Which rightly should possess a poet's brain."

Before leaving the subject, I must notice a remark by Charles
Lamb,--the dear, delightful Charley. "The reluctant pangs," says he,
"of abdicating royalty in Edward furnished hints which Shakespeare
scarce improved in his _Richard the Second_; and the death-scene of
Marlowe's king moves pity and terror beyond any scene, ancient or
modern, with which I am acquainted." Both the scenes in question have
indeed great merit, but this praise seems to me far beyond the mark.
Surely, there is more of genuine, pity-moving pathos in the single
speech of York,--"As in a theatre the eyes of men," etc.,--than in all
Marlowe's writings put together. And as to the moving of terror, there
is, to my mind, nothing in _Edward the Second_ that comes up to
_Faustus_; and there are a dozen scenes in _Macbeth_, any one of which
has more of the terrific than the whole body of _Faustus_. And in the
death-scene of Edward, it can hardly be denied that the senses are
somewhat overcrammed with images of physical suffering, so as to give
the effect rather of the horrible than the terrible.

Others, again, have thought that Marlowe, if he had lived, would have
made some good approach to Shakespeare in tragic power. A few years
more would no doubt have lifted him to very noble things, that is,
provided his powers could have been kept from the eatings and
cripplings of debauchery; still, any approach to that great Divinity
of the Drama was out of the question for him. For, judging from his
life and works, the moral part of genius was constitutionally
defective in him; and, with this so defective, the intellectual part
cannot be truly itself; and his work must needs be comparatively weak
in those points of our being which it touches, because it does not
touch them all: for the whole must be moved at once, else there can be
no great moving of any part. No, no! there was not, there could not
have been in Marlowe, great as he was, a tithe of Shakespeare, for
tragedy, nor any thing else. To go no further, he was, as we have
seen, destitute of humour; the powers of comedy evidently had no place
in him; and these powers are indispensable to the production of high
tragedy: a position affirmed as long ago as the days of Plato; sound
in the reason of the thing; and, above all, made good in the instance
of Shakespeare; who was _Shakespeare_, mainly because he had _all_ the
powers of the human mind in harmonious order and action, and _used_
them all, explicitly or implicitly, in every play he wrote.

* * * * *

Shakespeare had one or two other senior contemporaries of whom I must
say a few words, though it is not likely that they contributed much,
if any thing, towards preparing him. John Lily, born in 1554, and
Master of Arts in 1576, has considerable wit, some poetry; withal a
certain crisp, clever, conceited mannerism of style, which caused him
to be spoken of as "eloquent and witty"; but nothing that can be
properly termed dramatic talent. His persons all speak in precisely
the same vein, being indeed but so many empty figures or puppets,
reflecting or propagating the motions of the author himself. His
dramatic pieces, of which we have nine, seven in prose, one in rhyme,
and one in blank-verse, seem to have been designed for Court
entertainments, but were used more or less on the public stage,
chiefly by the juvenile companies. They are all replete with that
laboured affectation of fine writing which was distinguished at the
time as Euphuism. One of his main peculiarities stands in using, for
images and illustrations, certain imaginary products of a sort of
artificial nature, which he got up especially for that purpose; as if
he could invent better materials for poetic imagery than ancient
Nature had furnished! Still, it is not unlikely that we owe to him
somewhat of the polish and flexibility of the Shakespearian dramatic
diction: that he could have helped the Poet in any thing beyond mere
diction it were absurd to suppose.

I have already spoken of Thomas Lodge as joint author with Greene of a
good-for-nothing play. We have one Other play by him, entitled _The
Wounds of Civil War_, and having for its subject "the true tragedies
of Harms and Sylla," written before 1590, but not printed till 1594.
It is in blank-verse; which however differs from the most regular
rhyming ten-syllable verse in nothing but the lack of consonous
endings.--Lodge is chiefly memorable in that one of his prose pieces
was drawn upon for Shakespeare's _As You Like It_.

* * * * *

We have now reached the time when Shakespeare's hand had learnt its
cunning, so far at least as any previous examples could teach it.
Perhaps I ought to add, as showing the prodigious rush of life and
thought towards the drama in that age, that, besides the authors I
have mentioned, Henslowe's _Diary_ supplies the names of thirty other
dramatists, most of whom have propagated some part of their
workmanship down to our time. In the same document, during the twelve
years beginning in February, 1591, we have the titles recorded of no
less than two hundred and seventy pieces, either as original
compositions, or as revivals of older plays. As all these entries have
reference only to Henslowe's management; and as, during that period,
except for some short intervals, he was concerned with the affairs of
but a single company; we may thence conceive how vastly fertile the
age was in dramatic production.

After all, it is hardly possible for us to understand how important a
part dramatic exhibitions played in the life of "merry England in the
olden time." From a very early period, the interest in them was deep,
general, and constant; it grew with the growth of civilization; it
became complicated with all the mental, moral, and social habitudes of
the people; and, in fact, whatever "seed-points of light" got planted
in the popular mind had no way but to organize themselves into that
shape. Those old plays, such as they were, with their rude, bold
attempts to combine religion and mirth, instruction and sport, may
almost be described as having been the nerves upon which the whole
mental character of the nation formed itself. The spirit which began
so early to work in them kept on asserting itself more and more
strongly from age to age, till the Drama became emphatically a popular
passion; as indeed must always be the case before any thing deserving
the name of a National Drama can possibly arise. And it is quite
surprising how long this spirit, so universal and so intense, was
restrained from putting on so much of institutional form and
expression as is implied in having buildings erected or adapted for
its special use and service. For we have thus far heard of nothing in
the character of temples provided for the liturgies of the Dramatic

The spirit in question, however, did at last reach such a measure of
strength, that it could no longer be restrained from issuing in a
provision of that sort. The play-house known as the _Blackfriars_ was
established in 1576, and was owned and run by the company to which
Shakespeare afterwards belonged. Two others, called _The Theatre_ and
_The Curtain_, were probably started about the same time, as we find
them in operation in 1577. Before the end of the century, the city and
suburbs of London had at least eight more in full blast. And there
were, besides, ever so many strolling companies of players carrying
the mysteries of their craft into nearly all parts of the kingdom. So
that the Drama may well be judged to have been, in the Poet's time,
decidedly a great institution. In fact, it was a sort of fourth estate
of the realm; nearly as much so, indeed, as the Newspaper Press is in
our time. Practically, the Government was vested in King, Lords,
Commons, and Dramatists, including in the latter both writers and
actors; the Poet thus having far more reason than now exists for
making Hamlet say to the old statesman, "After your death you were
better have a bad epitaph, than their ill report while you live."

* * * * *

The foregoing review, brief and inadequate as it is, may answer the
purpose of imparting some just notion of the growth and progress of
the English Drama till it reached the eve of its maturity. The
allegorical drama had great influence, no doubt, in determining the
scope and quality of the proper drama of comedy and tragedy; since, by
its long discipline of the popular mind in abstract ideas, or in the
generalized forms of ethical thought, it did much towards forming that
public taste which required and prompted the drama to rise above a
mere geography of facts into the empyrean of truth; and under the
instructions of which Shakespeare learned to make his persons
embodiments of general nature as well as of individual character. For
the excellences of the Shakespearian Drama were probably owing as much
to the mental preparation of the time as to the powers of the
individual man. He was in demand before he came; and it was that
pre-existing demand that taught and enabled him to do what he did. If
it was the strength of his genius that lifted him to the top of the
heap, it was also the greatness of the heap that enabled him to reach
and maintain that elevation. For it is a great mistake to regard
Shakespeare as standing alone, and working only in the powers of his
individual mind. In fact, there never was any growth of literature or
art that stood upon a wider basis of collective experience, or that drew
its form and substance from a larger or more varied stock of
historical preparation.[5]

[5] Since the passage in the text was written, I have met with
some well-drawn remarks of a like drift in Froude's _History of
England_, Chapter I.: "The chroniclers have given us many
accounts of the masques and plays which were acted in the Court,
or in the castles of the noblemen. Such pageants were but the
most splendid expression of a taste which was national and
universal. As in ancient Greece, generations before the rise of
the great dramas of Athens, itinerant companies wandered from
village to village, carrying their stage furniture in their
little carts, and acted in their booths and tents the grand
stories of the mythology; so in England the mystery-players
haunted the wakes and fairs, and in barns or taverns, tap-rooms,
or in the farm-house kitchen, played at saints and angels, and
transacted on their petty stage the entire drama of the
Christian Faith. We allow ourselves to think of Shakespeare or
of Raphael or of Phidias as having accomplished their work by
the power of their own individual genius; but greatness like
theirs is never more than the highest degree of an excellence
which prevails widely round it, and forms the environment in
which it grows. No single mind in single contact with the facts
of nature could have created out of itself a Pallas, a Madonna,
or a Lear: such vast conceptions are the growth of ages, the
creations of a nation's spirit; and artist and poet, filled full
with the power of that spirit, have but given them form, and
nothing more than form. Nor would the form itself have been
attainable by any isolated talent. No genius can dispense with

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