Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

'KING JOHAN' AND OTHERS.

183

science, Rumour, Comfort, Reward, Memory, and Doctrine, are intermingled with the mortal personages. The same hybrid character distinguishes Preston's 'Cambyses. Here, the Vice is styled Ambidexter ; and a crowd of abstractions jostle with clowns and courtiers—Huff and Ruff, Hob and Lob, Smirdis and Sisamnes, Praxaspes and the Queen. Neither of these clumsy attempts at tragedy invites a close analysis. It is enough to have mentioned them as intermediate growths between the Moral Play and the emancipated drama,

CHAPTER V.

THE RISE OF COMEDY.

1. Specific Nature of the Interlude-John Heywood— The Farce of

Johan the Husband'-"The Pardoner and the Friar.'- 11. Heywood's Life and Character.—111. Analysis of “The Four P's'-Chaucerian Qualities of Heywood's Talent.-IV. Nicholas Udall and “Ralph Roister Doister’-Its Debt to Latin Comedy.–V. John Still—Was He the Author of Gammer Gurton's Needle'?-Farcical Character of this Piece-Diccon the Bedlam.-VI. Reasons for the Early Development of Comedy.

N.B. The three pieces reviewed in this chapter will be found in Hazlitt's Dodsley, vols. i. and iii.

[ocr errors]

I.

The passage from Moral Plays to Comedy had been virtually effected in such pieces as Calisto and Melibæa' and · The Disobedient Child,' both of which are wrought without the aid of allegories. In dealing with the origins of the Drama, it would, however, be impossible to omit one specifically English form of comedy, which appeared contemporaneously with the later Moralities, and to which the name of Interlude has been attached. The Interlude, in this restricted

, sense of the term, was the creation of John Heywood, a genial writer in whom the spirit of Chaucer seems to have lived again. In some of his productions, as · The Play of the Weather' and 'The Play of Love,' he adhered to the type of the Morality. Others are simple dialogues, corresponding in form to the Latin

THE INTERLUDE.

185

6

Disputationes, of which mention has been made above. But three considerable pieces, “The Merry Play between Johan the Husband, Tyb his Wife, and Sir John the Priest,' •The Four P's,' and 'The Merry Play between the Pardoner and the Friar, the Curate and Neighbour Pratt,' detach themselves from any previous species, and constitute a class apart. The first is a simple farce, in which a henpecked husband sits by fasting, while his wife and the jovial parish priest make a good meal on the pie which was provided for the dinner of the family. It contains abundance of broad humour, and plenty of coarse satire on the equivocal position occupied by the parson in Johan's household. The third has no plot of any kind. Its point consists in the rivalry between a Pardoner and a Friar, who try to preach each other down in church, vaunting their own spiritual wares with voluble and noisy rhetoric. The speeches are so managed that when the Pardoner has begun a sentence, it is immediately intercepted by the Friar, with a perpetual crescendo of mutual interruptions and confusing misconstructions, till the competition ends in a downright bout at fisticuffs. Then the Curate interferes, protesting that his church shall not be made the theatre of such a scandal. He calls Pratt to his assistance; and each of them tackles one of the antagonists. But Pratt and the Curate find themselves too hardly matched ; and at length they send both Pardoner and Friar to the devil with the honours of the fray pretty equally divided. It may be incidentally mentioned that Heywood has incorporated some fifty lines of Chaucer's · Pardoner's Prologue' almost verbatim in the exordium of his Pardoner—a proof, if any proof were needed, of the close link between his art and that of the father of English poetry.

II.

John Heywood was a Londoner, and a choir boy of the Chapel Royal. When his voice broke, he

" proceeded in due course to Oxford, and studied at Broadgate Hall, now Pembroke College. Sir John More befriended him, and took a kindly interest, we hear, in the composition of his first work, a collection of epigrams. Early in his life Heywood obtained a fixed place at Court in connection with the exhibition of Interludes and Plays. It is probably due to this fact that he has been reckoned among the King's jesters; and if he was not actually a Yorick of the Tudor Court, there is no doubt that he played a merry part there, and acquired considerable wealth by the exercise of his wit. After Henry's death he fell under suspicion of disaffection to the Government, and only escaped, says Sir John Harrington, 'the jerk of the six-stringed whip’ by special exercise of Edward's favour. Heywood was a staunch Catholic, and his offence seems to have been a too sturdy denial of the royal supremacy in spiritual affairs. When Mary came to the throne, he was recalled to Court, where he

1 I take this on the faith of Mr. Julian Sharman's Introduction to his edition of The Proverbs of John Heywood (London : George Bell, 1874). Heywood is there stated to have held a place among the Children of the Chapel in 1515. It is not altogether easy, however, to bring this detail into harmony with the little that we know about his early life, especially with the circumstance that he owned land at North Mims.

LIFE OF JOHN HEYWOOD.

187

exercised his dramatic talents for the Queen's amusement, and lived on terms of freedom with her nobility. After Mary's death, being a professed enemy of the Reformed Church, Heywood left England, and died about the year 1565 at Mechlin. One of his sons, Jasper Heywood, played a part of some importance in the history of our drama, as we shall see when the attempted classical revival comes to be discussed.

The vicissitudes of Heywood's life are not without their interest in connection with his Interludes. During the religious changes of four reigns, he continued faithful to the creed of his youth. Yet, though he suffered disgrace and exile for the Catholic faith, he showed himself a merciless satirist of Catholic corruptions. Though he was a professional jester, gaining his livelihood and taking his position in society as a recognised mirth-maker, he allowed no considerations of personal profit to cloud his conscience. He remained an Englishman to the backbone, loyal to his party and his religious convictions, outspoken in his condemnation of the superstitions which disgraced the Church of his adoption. This manliness of attitude, this freedom from time-service, this fearless exposure of the weak points in a creed to which he sacrificed his worldly interests, give a dignity to Heywood's character, and prepossess us strongly in favour of his writings. Their tone, like that of the man, is homely, masculine, downright, and English, in the shrewdness of the wit, the soundness of the sense, and the jovial mirth which pervades each scene.

« PředchozíPokračovat »