« PředchozíPokračovat »
DUMB SHOWS AND CHORUS.
several confidants to make war, each upon the other. In the third act, while Gorboduc is asking the gods whether they are not satisfied with Troy's destruction, a Messenger informs him that Ferrex has died by his brother's hand. In the fourth act Videna lashes herself up to vengeance in a monologue of eighty-one lines, goes off the stage, and after a short interval her inurder of Porrex is announced. In the fifth act a conversation between privy councillors and noblemen informs us that Gorboduc and Videna have been assassinated by their subjects, that the rebels have been crushed, and that a Civil War of Succession is in progress. The speeches average some fifty lines.
Each act is concluded with a Chorus, spoken by 'four ancient and sage men of Britain,' into whose mouths some of the best poetry of the play is put. They comment on the situations, and draw forth the moral, as thus :
Blood asketh blood, and death must death requite;
O happy wight that suffers not the snare
In order to acquaint the audience beforehand with the motive of each act, Dumb Shows were devised, which digested the meaning of the play in five successive scenes of metaphorical pantomime. The first act, for
instance, was ushered in by stringed music, ‘during which came in upon
stage six wild men, clothed in leaves.' One of these “bare on his back a faggot of small sticks, which they all, both severally and together, essayed with all their strengths to break, but it could not be broken by them. At last, one of the wild men pulled out a stick, and broke it. He was followed by the rest, and the whole faggot fell to pieces. This Dumb Show was meant to signify that ‘a State knit in unity doth continue strong against all force, but being divided is easily destroyed.' We are not surprised to find that the Dumb Shows in Gorboduc' required a commentary. Standing by themselves, they were little better than allegorical charades, and did not serve to elucidate the action. The custom of prefacing the acts of a play with Dumb Shows, which prevailed widely in the first period of our Drama, had, however, its excellent uses. These pageants were not always allegorical. They frequently set forth the pith of the action in a series of tableaux, appealing vividly to the spectator's eyesight, and preparing him to follow the dialogue with a clearer intelligence and a more composed mind. They enriched the simple theatre of the sixteenth century with exhibitions corresponding to the Masques which then enjoyed great popularity in England. In the case of serious plays like 'Gorboduc,' they relieved the dull solemnity of the performance, and gave frivolous spectators something to look forward to in the intervals of those dreary scenes.
Gorboduc,' as we have seen, was written by a learned lawyer and a lettered courtier.
It was performed at Whitehall before the Queen's Majesty by SCHOLASTIC STYLE OF GORBODUC.'
Gentlemen of the Inner Temple on January 17, 1561. Authors and actors, alike, were men of birth and culture, striving to please a royal mistress, famous for her erudition. These circumstances account in no small measure for the character of the tragedy. With the example of Seneca and the Italians before their eyes, they did not aim at presenting a play as we now understand that word. Marlowe and Shakspere had not yet taught them what a play might be. They chose a tragic story, rich in serious moral lessons. Omitting the action, they uttered grave reflections on the benefits of strong government, the horrors of division in a realm, and the disorders introduced by violence of
passion into human life. The fable, with its terrible episodes, catastrophes, and scenes of bloodshed, lurked like a lurid background in the imagination of the spectators. Those
Those grave debating personages on the stage supplied their minds with food for thought and meditation. That very little scope was left for histrionic action, mattered not. We may even doubt whether the Gentlemen of the Inner Temple could have done justice to Cordelia or King Lear, supposing that Norton and Sackville had been able to treat their similar subject with a Shakspere's genius for the drama.
What gives its chief interest to ‘Gorboduc,' has not yet been mentioned. Not only is this the first regular tragedy in English. It is also the first play written in Blank Verse. Surrey adapted the metre from the Versi Sciolti of the Italians, and used it in his translation of the second and fourth Books of the ·Æneid.' Norton and Sackville brought it into dra
matic literature—tame as yet in cadence and mono-
Murderer, I thee renounce ! Thou art not mine.
Surrey, in his version of Dido's address to Æneas, had already written :
Faithless, forsworn ! no goddess was thy dam !
Marcella's apostrophe to Videna, upbraiding her for the murder of Porrex, combines declamation and description in verses which are not deficient in dramatic vigour :
O queen of adamant, О marble breast !
le BIRTH OF BLANK VERSE.
And that most cruel hand the wretched weapon
Then her memory reverts to the young bravery of
Ah, noble prince, how oft have I beheld
The Misfortunes of Arthur,' like Gorboduc,' was written by learned men, and acted by the members of a legal society before the Queen. The Gentlemen of Gray's Inn produced it at Greenwich on the 8th of February, 1587. The author of the tragedy was Thomas Hughes. The choruses, dumb shows, argument, induction, and some extra speeches—all the setting of the play in short—are ascribed to other students of the Inn. Among these occurs the name of Francis Bacon. The future Lord Verulam was at that time in his twenty-third year. The subject of the * Misfortunes of Arthur' was well chosen. The Arthurian legend, here presented to us, is a truly Thyestean history of a royal house devoted for its crimes of inso