Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

moment invidious to ask if they are symme- the interludes became prevalen trically united into a whole. Succeeding gene- reign of Henry VIII. I rations have acknowledged the pathos and Lord Sackville's Gorboduc, firs richness of his strains, and the new contour in 1561-2, and Still's Gammer Gui and enlarged dimensions of grace which he about 1566, were the earliest, gave to English poetry. He is the poetical draughts of our regular tragedy a father of a Milton and a Thomson. Gray They did not, however, immediat habitually read him when he wished to frame the taste for the allegorical mora his thoughts for composition ; and there are few ville even introduced dumb show eminent poets in the language who have not to explain the piece, and he wa been essentially indebted to him,

of the old dramatists who did so.

conceive the explanation of alle “ Hither, as to their fountain, other stars Repair, and in their urns draw golden light."

personages to be a natural comp

audience ; but there is somethi The publication of “The Fairy Queen,” and ingenious in making allegory ex the commencement of Shakspeare's dramatic and the dumb interpret for the career, may be noticed as contemporary events; speak. In reviewing the rise o for by no supposition can Shakspeare's ap Gammar Gurton's Needle, and Sa pearance as a dramatist be traced higher than boduc, form convenient resting-1 1589 *, and that of Spenser's great poem was memory; but it may be doubted in the year 1590. I turn back from that date riority over the mysteries and to an earlier period, when the first lineaments half so great as their real dist of our regular drama began to show them- affecting tragedy, or an exhilara selves.

The main incident in Gammer Gu Before Elizabeth's reign we had no dramatic

is the loss of a needle in a man's s authors more important than Bale and Hey † Warton also mentions Rastell, the wood the Epigrammatist. Bale, before the

Sir Thomas More, who was a printer ; bu

by the historian of our poetry to have bee titles of tragedy and comedy were well dis

and to have made the moralities in some tinguished, had written comedies on such of science and philosophy. He publish subjects as the Resurrection of Lazarus, and

new interlude on The Nature of the F

which The Tracts of America lately dis the Passion and Sepulture of our Lord. IIe

manners of the natives are describe was, in fact, the last of the race of mystery- Annals, vol. ii. p. 319.] writers. Both Bale and Heywood died about [8 Sackville became a statesman, and fo the middle of the sixteenth century, but flou

paths of poetry; nor does he appear to h

in others; for in an age rife with poetica rished (if such a word can be applied to them)

he seems to have drawn but one solitary as early as the reign of Henry VIII. Until attached to a book where praises were m the time of Elizabeth, the public was contented

Faerie Queene." He died, and received

from Abbot, but no tears of regret fror with mysteries, moralities, or interludes, too

who should have been a second Pembroke humble to deserve the name of comedy. The Still took to the church and became a first of these, the mysteries, originated almost

before the creator of our comedy had writi

letter that, for acting at Cambridge, a I as early as the Conquest, in shows given by be preferred to an English one.) the church to the people. The moralities t, (l Speaking of Gammer Gurton, Scot which were chiefly allegorical, probably arose

piece of low humour; the whole jest turi

and the recovery of the needle with wh about the middle of the fifteenth century, and

ton was to repair the breeches of her mi (* It is clear that before 1591, or even 1592, Shakspeare

point of manners, it is a great curios had no celebrity as a writer of plays; he must, therefore,

supellex of our ancestors is scarcely a

described." “ The unity," he continues, have been valuable to the theatre chiefly as an actor; and

and action, are observed through the 1 if this was the case, namely, that he speedily trode the stage with some respectability, Mr. Rowe's tradition that

curacy of which France might be jeal. he was at first admitted in a mean capacity must be taken

alluding to Gorboduc, “It is remarkable with a bushel of doubt.-CAMPBELL, Life of Shakspeare,

English tragedy and comedy are both wor 8vo. 1838, p. xxii. ]

merit; that each partakes of the distinc

class; that the tragedy is without interm [+ The Mysteries Mr. Collier would have called Miracle

the comedy without any intermixture of Plays, and the Moralities, Morals or Moral-Plays.] Prose Works, vol. vi. p. 333.)

to see,

Gorboduc has no interesting plot or impas- stone, the author of “ Promos and Cassandra,” sioned dialogue ; but it dignified the stage with [1578], in which piece there is a partial antimoral reflection and stately measure. It first cipation of the plot of Shakspeare's Measure introduced black verse instead of ballad rhymes for Measure. Another is that of Preston, in the drama. Gascoigne gave a farther popu whose tragedy of Cambyses t is alluded to by larity to blank verse by his paraphrase of Shakspeare, when Falstaff calls for a cup of Jocasta, from Euripides, which appeared in sack, that he may weep“ in King Cambyses' 1566. The same author's “ Supposes,” trans vein I." There is, indeed, matter for weeping lated from Ariosto, was our earliest prose in this tragedy; for, in the course of it, an comedy. Its dialogue is easy and spirited. elderly gentleman is flayed alive. To make Edward's Palamon and Arcite was acted in the skinning more pathetic, his own son is the same year, to the great admiration of Queen witness to it, and exclaims, Elizabeth, who called the author into her pre « What child is he of Nature's mould could bide the same sence, and complimented him on having justly

His father fleaed in this wise? O how it grieveth me!" drawn the character of a genuine lover. Ten tragedies of Seneca were translated

It may comfort the reader to know that this into English verse at different times, and by theatric decortication was meant to be allegodifferent authors, before the year 1581.

One rical ; and we may believe that it was perof these translators was Alexander Neyvile, formed with no degree of stage illusion that afterwards secretary to Archbishop Parker, could deeply affect the spectators. whose Oedipus came out as early as 1563 ; and In the last twenty years of the sixteenth though he was but a youth of nineteen, his century, we come to a period when the instyle has considerable beauty. The following creasing demand for theatrical entertainments lines, which open the first act, may serve as a

produced play-writers by profession. The specimen.

earliest of these appears to have been George

Peele, who was the city poet and conductor of “ The night is gone, and dreadful day begins at length t'

the civil pageants.

His “ Arraignment of And Phæbus, all bedimm'd with clouds, himself aloft doth

Paris" came out in 1584. Nash calls him an

Atlas in poetry. Unless we make allowance And, gliding forth, with deadly hue and doleful blaze in skies,

for his antiquity, the expression will appear Doth bear great terror and dismay to the beholder's eyes. hyperbolical; but, with that allowance, we Now shall the houses void be seen, with plague devoured

may justly cherish the memory of Peele as quite, And slaughter which the night hath made shall day bring

the oldest genuine dramatic poet of our lanforth to light.

guage.

Hlis “ David and Bethsabe" is the Doth any man in princely thrones rejoice? O brittle joy!

earliest fountain of pathos and harmony that How many ills, how fair a face, and yet how much annoy In thee doth lurk, and hidden lies what heaps of endless

can be traced in our dramatic poetry. His

fancy is rich and his feeling tender, and his They judge amiss, that deem the Prince to have the happy conceptions of dramatic character have no in

considerable mixture of solid veracity and In 1568 was produced the tragedy of “ Tan- ideal beauty. There is no such sweetness of cred and Sigismunda,” by Robert Wilmot, and

† In the title-page it is denominated “ A lamentable four other students of the Inner Temple. It

Tragedy, mixed full of pleasant Mirth." is reprinted in Reed's plays; but that reprint (1 The Tamerlanes and Tamer-chams of the late age is taken not from the first edition, but from

had potbing in them but the scenical strutting, and furious

vociferation, to warrant them to the ignorant gapers.one greatly polished and amended in 1592*.

BEN JONSON. (Gifford, vol. ix. p. 180.) Considered as a piece coming within the verge I suspect that Shakspeare confounded King Cambyses of Shakspeare's age, it ceases to be wonderful. with King Darius. Falstaff's solemn fustian bears not

the slightest resemblance, either in metre or in matter, Immediately subsequent to these writers we

to the vein of King Cambyses. Kyng Daryus, whose meet with several obscure and uninteresting doleful strain is here burlesqued, was a pithie and plesaunt dramatic names, among which is that of Whet Enterlude, printed about the middle of the sixteenth

century.-GIFFORD. Note on Jonson's Poctaster, Works, (* Neuly rerired, and polished according to the decorum vol. ii. p. 455.] of these days. That is, as Mr. Collier supposes, by the [$ The stage direction excites a smile. Flea him with a removal of the rhymes to a blank verse fashion.]

false skin.)

appear,

rear:

strife!

life."

[ocr errors]

versification and imagery to be found in our with great dignity and energy blank verse anterior to Shakspeare*. David's of Joab. When informed by character-the traits both of his guilt and sen death of his son, David exclaims sibility—his passion for Bethsabe-his art in

David. Thou man of blood ! thou sepu inflaming the military ambition of Urias, and Whose marble breast entombs my bowel his grief for Absalom, are delineated with no

Did I not charge thee, nay, entreat thy

Even for my sake, to spare my Absalom vulgar skill. The luxuriant image of Beth

And hast thou now, in spite of David's b sabe is introduced by these lines :

And scorn to do my heart some happines Come, gentle Zephyr, trick'd with those perfumes

Given him the sword, and spilt his purpThat erst in Eden sweeten'd Adarn's love,

Joab. What! irks it David, that he vi
And stroke my bosom with thy gentle fan:

That Juda, and the fields of Israel
This sbade, sun-proof, is yet no proof for thee.

Should cleanse their faces from their ch
Thy body, smoother than this waveless spring,

What! art thou weary of thy royal rule And purer than the substance of the same,

Is Israel's throne a serpent in thine eyes Can creep through that his lances cannot pierce.

And he that set thee there, so far from t Thou and thy sister, soft and sacred Air,

That thou must curse his servant for his Goddess of life, and governess of health,

Hast thou not said, that, as the morning Keeps every fountain fresh, and arbour sweet.

The cloudless morning, so should be thi No brazen gate her passage can refuse,

And not as flowers, by the brightest rain Nor bushy thicket bar thy subtle breath:

Which grow up quickly, and as quickly Then deck thee with thy loose delightsome robes,

Hast thou not said, the wicked are as th And on thy wings bring delicate perfumes,

That cannot be preserved with the hand To play the wanton with us through the leaves.

And that the man shall touch them mu David. What tunes, what words, what looks, what

With coats of iron, and garments made wonders pierce

Or with the shaft of a defenced spear? My soul, incensed with a sudden fire ?

And art thou angry he is now cut off, What tree, what shade, what spring, what paradise,

That led the guiltless swarming to their Enjoys the beauty of so fair a dame?

And was more wicked than an host of m Fair Eva, placed in perfect happiness,

Advance thee from thy melancholy den. Lending her praise-notes to the liberal heavens,

And deck thy body with thy blissful rol Strook with the accents of archangels' tunes,

Or, by the Lord that sways the Ileaven, Wrought not more pleasure to her husband's thoughts,

I'll lead thine armies to another king, Than this fair woman's words and notes to mine.

Shall cheer them for their princely chiv May that sweet plain, that bears her pleasant weight,

And not sit daunted, frowning in the da Be still enamelld with discolour'd flowers!

When his fair looks, with oil and wine r That precious fount bear sand of purest gold;

Should dart into their bosoms gladsome And, for the pebble, let the silver streams

And fill their stomachs with triumphan Play upon rubies, sapphires, chrysolites;

That, when elsewhere stern War shall s The brims let be embraced with golden curls

And call another battle to the field, Of moss, that sleeps with sound the waters make;

Fame still may bring thy valiant soldiei For joy to feed the fount with their recourse

And for their service happily confess Let all the grass that beautifies her bower

She wanted worthy trumps to sound the Bear manna every morn instead of dew.

Take thou this course, and live ;-Refus *

Lyly, Peele, Greene, Kyd, Na
Joab thus describes the glory of David :

Marlowe, were the other writer
Beauteous and bright is he among the tribes;
As when the sun, attired in glistering robe,

stage, a part of whose career pr Comes dancing from his oriental gate,

Shakspeare *. Lyly, whose drai And, bridegroom-like, hurls through the gloomy air

[t An interesting subject of inquir; His radiant beams: such doth King David show,

literary history, is the state of our drar Crown'd with the honour of his enemies' town,

he began to alter and originate Englis Shining in riches like the firmament,

his time mere mysteries and miracle The starry vault that overhangs the earth;

Adam and Eve appeared naked, in wl So looketh David, King of Israel.

played his horns and tail, and in which At the conclusion of the tragedy, when David

the patriarch's ears before entering th

comparatively into disuse, after a pa gives way to his grief for Absalom, he is roused

centuries; and, in the course of the s [* Mr. Dyce, in his edition of Peele, bas quoted this pas

the clergy were forbidden by orders fr sage from Mr. Campbell, “ & critic," he styles him, “ who

form in them. Meanwhile « Morali is by no means subject to the pardonable weakness of made their appearance about the middl discovering beauties in every writer of the olden time." century, were also hastening their re p. xxxviii.

those pageants and masques in honour It is quoted too by Mr. Hallam (Lit. Hist. vol. ii. p. 378), nevertheless aided the introduction of th who concurs with Mr. Collier in thinking these compli owe our first regular dramas to the uni ments excessive.]

of court, and public seminaries. The

*

*

[ocr errors]

*

muse

is prose, has traits of genius which we should of Kyd is fairly rivalled in rant and blasphemy not expect from his generally depraved taste, by the hero Rasni, King of Nineveh, who and he has several graceful interspersions of boasts “sweet lyric song." But his manner, on the “Great Jewry's God, that foil'd stout Benhadab, whole, is stilted. “ Brave Marlowe, bathed in Could not rebate the strength that Rasni brought;

For be he God in Heaven, yet viceroys know the Thespian springs *," of whose "mighty

Rasni is God on earth, and none but he." Ben Jonson himself speaks reverentially, had powers of no ordinary class, and

In the course of the play, the imperial swageven ventured a few steps into the pathless gerer marries his own sister, who is quite as sublime. But his pathos is dreary, and the consequential a character as himself; but findterrors of his Muse remind us more of Mi- ing her struck dead by lightning, he deigns to nerva's gorgon than her countenance. The

espouse her lady-in-waiting, and is finally confirst sober and cold school of tragedy, which

verted after his wedding, by Jonah, who soon

afterwards arrives at Nineveh. It would be began with Lord Sackville's Gorboduc, was succeeded by one of headlong extravagance. perhaps unfair, however, to assume this traKyd’s bombast was proverbial in his own day. gedy as a fair test of the dramatic talents of With him the genius of tragedy might be said

either Greene or Lodge. Ritson recommended to have run mad ; and, if we may judge of one the dramas of Greene as well worthy of being work, the joint production of Greene and

collected. The taste of that antiquary was not Lodge, to have hardly recovered her wits in exquisite, but his knowledge may entitle his the company of those authors. The piece to

opinion to consideration t. which I allude is entitled “A Looking-glass

Among these precursors of Shakspeare we for London ” [1594). There, the Tamburlane

may trace, in Peele and Marlowe, a pleasing

dawn of the drama, though it was by no means establishments engaged in free translations of classical dramatists, though with so little taste, that Seneca was

a dawn corresponding to so bright a sunrise one of their favourites. They caught the coldness of that as the appearance of his mighty genius. lle model, however, without the feeblest trace of his slender

created our romantic drama, or if the assertion graces; they looked at the ancients without understanding them; and they brought to their plots neither unity,

is to be qualified, it requires but a small qualidesign, nor affecting interest. There is a general simila fication 1. There were, undoubtedly, prior rity among all the plays that preceded Shakspeare in their ill-conceived plots, in the bombast and dulness of

it His Dramas and Poems were printed together in 1831 tragedy, and in the vulgar buffoonery of comedy.

by Mr. Dyce. “ In richness of fancy Greene," says Mr. Of our great Poet's immediate predecessors, the most

Dyce, “is inferior to Peele; and with the exception of distinguished were Lyly, Peele, Greene, Kyd, Nash, Lodge,

luis amusing comedy Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay,

there is, perhaps, but little to admire in his dramatic and Marlowe. Lyly was not entirely devoid of poetry,

productions.") for we have some pleasing lyrical verses by him; but in the drama he is cold, mythological, and conceited, and († Untaught, unpracticed, in a barbarous age, he even polluted for a time the juvenile age of our

I found not, but created first the stage,literature with his abominable Euphuism. Peele has left

And if I draind no Greek or Latin store, some melodious and fanciful passages in his “ David and 'Twas that my own abundance gave me more. Bethsabe." Greene is not unjustly praised for his comedy

DRYDEN Of Shakspeare. “ Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay." Kyd's “Spanish The English stage might be considered equally without Tragedy" was at first admired, but, subsequently, quoted rule and without model when Shakspeare arose. The only for its samples of the mock sublime. Nash wrote no effect of the genius of an individual upon the taste of a poetry except for the stage ; but he is a poor dramatic poet nation is mighty ; but that genius, in its turn, is formed —though his prose satires are remarkably powerful. Lodge according to the opinions prevalent at the period when it was not much happier on the stage than Nash; his prose conies into existence. Such was the case with Shakspeare. works are not very valuable ; but he wrote one satire in Had he received an education more extensive, and posverse of considerable merit, and various graceful little sessed a taste refined by the classical models, it is probable lyrics. Marlowe was the only great man among Shak- that he also, in admiration of the ancient Drama, might speare's precursors; his conceptions were strong and have mistaken the form for the essence, and subscribed to original; his intellect grasped his subject as a whole: no those rules which had produced such masterpieces of art. doubt he dislocated the thews of his language by over Fortunately for the full exertion of a genius, as comprestrained efforts at the show of strength, but he delineated hensive and versatile as intense and powerful, Shaksperire character with a degree of truth unknown to his prede had no access to any models of which the commanding cessors: his " Edward the Second " is pathetic; and his merit might have controlled and limited his own exertions. « Faustus" has real grandeur. If Marlowe had lived, He followed the path which a nameless crowd of obscure Shakspeare might have had something like a competitor. writers had trodden before him ; but he moved in it with -CAMPBELL, Life of Shakspeare, p. xxiii.]

the grace and majestic step of a being of a superior order ; [* Drayton.)

and vindicated for ever the British theatre from a pedantic

occupants of the dramatic ground in our lan- ) is easy-In facili causa cuiris licet ess guage ; but they appear only like unprosperous to make a special, full, and accus settlers on the patches and skirts of a wilder of his imperfections would requi ness, which he converted into a garden. He and comprehensive discrimination is, therefore, never compared with his native thor which are almost as seldo predecessors. Criticism goes back for names one man as the powers of Shaksp worthy of being put in competition with his, He is the poet of the world. Th to the first great masters of dramatic inven- of his genius puts it beyond all pri tion ; and even in the points of dissimilarity to set defined limits to the admira between them and him, discovers some of the due to it. We know, upon the wh highest indications of his genius. Compared sum of blemishes to be deducte with the classical composers of antiquity, he merits is not great +, and we sho is to our conceptions nearer the character of be thankful to one who should be a universal poet; more acquainted with man make it. No other poet triumph in the real world, and more terrific and be lously over eccentricities and pec witching in the preternatural. He expanded composition which would appear the magic circle of the drama beyond the li- others; so that his blemishes a mits that belonged to it in antiquity; made it have an affinity which we are jeal embrace more time and locality; filled it with ing any hand with the task of sepa larger business and action—with vicissitudes of dread the interference of criticisn gay and serious emotion, which classical taste cination so often inexplicable by c had kept divided with characters which deve- and justly apprehend that any ma loped humanity in stronger lights and subtler ing between us and Shakspeare m movements and with a language more wildly, pretended spots upon his disk only more playfully diversified by fancy and passion, of his own opacity. than was ever spoken on any stage. Like Still it is not a part even of that Nature herself, he presents alternations of the creed, to believe that he has no exe gay and the tragic ; and his mutability, like the ture of the tragic and comic, no E suspense and precariousness of real existence, language in the elliptical throng an often deepens the force of our impressions. pressure of his images, no irreg He converted imitation into illusion. To say | plot and action, which another that, magician as he was, he was not faultless, would avoid, if “nature had not is only to recal the flat and stale truism, that mould in which she made him everything human is imperfect. But how to should come back into the world t estimate his imperfections * ! To praise him perience with inspiration I. restriction to classical rule. Nothing went before Shak

when he describes anything, you more th

feel it too. Those who accuse him to have speare which in any respect was fit to fix and stamp the character of a national Drama ; and certainly no one will

ing, give bim the greater commendation : succeed him capable of establishing, by mere authority, | rally learned; he needed not the spectacl a form more restricted than that which Shakspeare used. read nature; he looked inwards, and fou -Sir WALTER SCOTT, Misc. Pr, Works, vol. iii. p. 336. I cannot say he is everywhere alike;

Shakspeare began his literary career by alterations and should do him injury to compare him wit adaptations of former dramas and copyright pieces to more

of mankind. He is many times flat, insip popular and poetical purposes. He seems to have ex

wit degenerating into clenches, his seriou tended his desire for emendation to the works of living

bombast. But he is always great, when gr writers; and, taught by nature, to have done for the writ

presented to him; no man can say he ever ings of University Men what Pope did (with equal ject for his wit, and did not then raise hi offence) for the rhymes and lines of Wycherley. It was

above the rest of poetsthe common practice of his age to call in the pen of Quantum lenta solent inter viburna ce a living writer to aid with additions the Muse of a fellow dramatist. He soon, however, learned to depend on his (t If Shakspeare's embroideries were bur: own myriad-minded genius, on his own thousand

would still be silver at the bottom of the tongued soul.]

DRYDEN, Malone, vol. ii. p. 295.] [• He (Shakspeare) was the man who of all modern,

[+ of the learning of Shakspeare, Mr. and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most com

elsewhere: “There is not a doubt that he prehensive soul. All the images of nature were still pre glorious fancy at the lamp of classical myti

to him, and he drew them not laboriously but luckily: Hyperion's curls—the front of Jove hin

[ocr errors]
« PředchozíPokračovat »