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ARTHUR AND MORDRED.
A fearful vision of my former guilt,
Cador, an attendant noble, compares Mordred in his fate to the ‘hot-spurred' and aspiring Phaethon. Arthur resumes his lamentation :
What ruth, ah, rent the woeful father's heart,
Something magnanimous in Arthur's attitude toward his dead son, something noble in his meditation on their common crime, the playing with antitheses, the covert allusion to Guenevora's guilty love, the natural and dignified movement of the dying hero's apostrophes to fate—all these points of style seem to me to indicate a study of the Greek at first hand. The • Misfortunes of Arthur,' superior in all respects to 'Gorboduc,' has this particular superiority, that it breathes in parts the air of an Euripidean tragedy.
The tragedies of what I have called the pseudoclassic school differ in very essential points from the type of the true English drama. Their authors, men of birth, culture, and position, were unable to stem the tide of popular inclination. They could not persuade play-goers to prefer the measured rhetoric of Seneca to the stirring melodrama and varied scenes of the romantic poets. It remains, however, to be asked what
, these workers in an unsuccessful style, permanently achieved for our dramatic literature. The answer is not far to seek. Their efforts, arguing a purer taste and a loftier ideal than that of the uncultivated English, forced principles of careful composition, gravity of diction, and harmonious construction, on the attention of contemporary playwrights. They compelled men of Marlowe's mental calibre to consider whether mature reflection might not be presented in the form of dramatic action. The earlier romantic playwrights regarded the dramatisation of a tale as all-important. The classical playwrights contended for grave sentences and weighty matter. To the triumph of the romantic style the classics added this element of studied thought. Mere copies of Latin tragedy were doomed to deserved unpopularity with the vulgar. Yet these plays had received the approbation of the Court and critics; and the approbation of the higher social circles is rarely without influence. Thus, though themselves of little literary value and of no permanent importance, they taught certain lessons of regularity and sobriety in
tragic art, by which the poets of the romantic drama did not fail to profit. We have cause to be thankful that no Richelieu, with a learned Academy at his back, was at hand in England to stereotype this pseudo-classic style; and that the Queen who patronised our theatre in its beginnings, was very far from being a purist in dramatic matters. Else Marlowe, like Corneille, might have been forced to walk in the fetters which Sidney and Sackville sought to forge, and the Shaksperian drama might never have been England's proudest boast in literature. But, while recording our gratitude for these mercies, we should not refuse their due meed to the School of Seneca. It is no slight thing moreover to have given blank verse to the English stage; and dramatic blank verse was certainly the discovery of Norton, Sackville, Hughes, and Gascoigne. These followers of Seneca and the Italians familiarised the reading public with this metre in their ‘Gorboduc' (1561), * Jocasta' (1566), and · Misfortunes of Arthur' (1587). The first of these works was printed at least twenty years before the production of Marlowe’s • Tamburlaine.' The last of them was printed three years before Marlowe sent that play to press.
TRIUMPH OF THE ROMANTIC DRAMA.
I. Fifty-two Plays at Court-Analysis of their Subjects—The Court
follows the Taste of the People—The 'Damon and Pithias' of Edwards— Romeo and Juliet '-'Tancred' and 'Gismunda'- Promos and Cassandra.'-II. Contemporary Criticisms of the Romantic Style -Gosson-Whetstone—Sidney.-III. Description of the English Popular Play-The Florentine Farsa-Destinies of this Form in England.
THOUGH the pseudo-classical or Italian type of Tragedy engaged the attention of learned writers, it must not therefore be imagined that the Court was exclusively addicted to this kind of entertainment. From Minutes of the Revels between 1568 and 1580, Mr. Collier has published a list of fifty-two plays; eighteen of which bear antique titles, while twenty-one appear to have been Dramatised Romances, six Moral Plays, and seven Comedies. None of these survive. Composed by unknown playwrights only to be acted, they perished in thumbed MSS. together with the other properties of their itinerant possessors, before arriving at the honours of the press. Only Gentlemen of Gray's Inn or the Middle Temple, amateur authors and dilettante actors could afford the luxury of printing their performances. Only tragedies put on the stage with the éclat of 'Gorboduc,' tempted publishers to acts of piracy.
That the fifty-two plays, cited by Collier as having been exhibited at Court during those twelve years, failed to struggle into print, proves that the life of the popular drama was exaberantly vigorous. Men of birth and erudition might translate or copy Seneca, with the view of elevating English taste; and such men had a direct reason for publishing their works. But those numerous professional artists who now catered for the public-strolling players, setting up their booths in the yards of hostelries or knocking at great men's gates in seasons of festivity-actors with temporary licence from the local magistrates-superior companies with licence from the Queen -- Lord Leicester's Servants, Lord Derby's Servants, the Lord Chamberlain's Servants, Lord North's Servants—these men plied their trade with no further object in view than full houses, fair receipts, and the approbation of mixed audiences. Permanent theatres were already established in more than one quarter of the suburbs; and the people had become the patrons of the stage. It was not to the interest of such professional players to produce their repertories in a printed form. A popular piece was valuable property, and was jealously guarded by the company which owned it. Moreover, it is highly probable that the rudimentary dramas of this epoch existed in single copies, from which the leading actor taught his troop, or that they were * Plat-form'sketches filled in by extemporisation.
Though the titles of these fifty-two plays are both curious and instructive, it would serve no useful purpose to attempt to classify them. Orestes' and the ‘History of Cynocephali ;' 'Duke of Milan' and