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THE drama before the time of Shakspeare was so
little cultivated, or so ill understood, that to many it I may appear unnecessary to carry our theatrical researches
higher than that period. Dryden has truly observed, that he “ found not, but created first the stage;" of which no one can doubt, who considers, that of all the plays iffued from the press antecedent to the year 1592, when there is reason to believe he commenced a dramatick writer, the titles are scarcely known, except to antiquaries; nor is there one of them that will bear a second perufal. . Yet these, contemptible and few as they are, we may suppose to have been the most popular productions of the time, and the best that had been exhibited before the appearance of Shakspeare'.
"There are but thirty-eight plays, (exclufive of myfteries, moralities, interludes, and translated pieces,) now extant, written antecedent to, or in, the year 1592. Their titles are as follows: Acolaus Ferrex and Porrex
1561 Ganimer Gurten eredie} 1875 Damon and Pyrbias 1562 Promos and Cassandra 1578 Tancred and Gismund
1568 Arraignment of Paris Cambyses, no date, but pro
Sappbo and Play
1584 bably written before 1570 Alexander and Campospe
Misfortunes of Aribur, 1587 VOL, I, Part II. * B
tris} 1591 Dr. Fauftus
A minute investigation, therefore, of the origin and
1588 Alpbonjus king of Arra .
James IV. king of Score
London and England
before Houses of Yorke and Lan. Friar Bacon and Friar
1592 cafter, in or before
Jew of Malta
Masacre of Paris
Between the years 1592 and 1600, the following plays were printed
Woman in the Moon
1597 Edward I.
Tbe virtuous Octavia
Blind Beggar of Alex 1598
Every Man in bis Humour
Pinner of Wakefield
Warning for fair Women
Two angry women of A.
T be Case is akered 1599
Every Man out of bis
The Trial of Cbevalry
Humorous day's mirib
Summer's last Will and
Mr. Warton in his elegant and ingenious History of English Poetry has given so accurate an account of our earlieft dramatick performances, that I shall make no apology for extracting from various parts of his valuable work, fuch particulars as fuit my present purpose.
The earliest dramatick entertainments exhibited in England, as well as every other part of Europe, were of a religious kind. So early as in the beginning of the twelfth century, it was customary in England on holy festivals to represent, in or near the churches, either the lives and miracles of saints, or the most important stories of Scripture. From the subject of these spectacles, which, as has been observed, were either the miracles of saints, or the more mysterious parts of holy writ, such as the incarnation, passion, and resurrection of Christ, these scriptural plays were denominated Miracles, or Myfteries. At what period of time they were first exhibited in this country, I am unable to ascertain. Undoubtedly, however, they are of very great antiquity; and Riccoboni, who has contended that the Italian theatre is the most ancient in Europe, has claimed for his country an honour to which it is not entitled. The era of the earliest representation in Italy, founded on holy writ, he has placed in the year 1264, when the fraternity del Gonfalone was established; but we had fimilar exhibitions in England above 150 years before that time. In the year 1110, as Dr. Percy and Mr. Warton have observed, the Miracle-play of Saint Catharine, written by Geoffrey, a learned Norman, (afterwards Abbot of St. Alban's,) was acted, probably by his fcholars, in the abbey of Dunstable; perhaps the first spectacle of this kind exhibited in England 3. William Fitz-Stephen, a monk of Canterbury, who according
2 The French theatre cannot be traced higher than the year 1398, when the Myftery of the Paffion was represented at St. Maur.
3“ Apud Dunestapliamquendam ludum de sancta Katerina (quem MIRACULA vulgariter appellamus) fecit. Ad quæ decoranda, petiit a sacrifta san&i Albani, ut fibi capa chorales accommodarentur, et obtinuit." Vitæ Abbat, ad calc. Hift. Mat. Paris, folio, 1639. p. 56.
* B 2
to the best accounts composed his very curious work in 1174, about four years after the murder of his patron Archbishop Becket,and in the twenty-first year of the reign of King Henry the second, mentions, that “ London, for its theatrical exhibitions, has religious plays, either the representations of miracles wrought by holy confeffors, or the sufferings of martyrs 4.”!
Mr. Warton has remarked, that “ in the time of Chaucer Plays of Miracles appear to have been the common resort of idle gossips in Lent:'
4 “ Lundonia pro fpe&taculis theatralibus, pro ludis feenicis, ludos habit sanctiores, repræsentationes miraculorum quæ sancti confeflores operati sunt, seu repræsentationes paflionum, quibus claruit conftantia martyrum." Descriptio nobiliffimæ civitatis Lundonia. Fitz-Stephen's very curious defcription of London is a portion of a larger work, entitled Vita fan&i Tboma, Archiepiscopi et Martyris, i. e. Thomas a Becket. It is ascertained to have been written after the murder of Becket in the year 1170, of which Fitz-Stephen was an ocular witness, and while King Henry Il. was yet living. A modern writer with great probability supposes it to have been composed in 1174, the author in one passage mentioning that the church of Saint Paul's was formerly metropolitical, and that it was thought it would become so again, “ should the citizens return into the inand." In 1174 King Henry Jl. and his sons had carried over with them a considerable number of citizens to France, and many English had in that year also gone to Ireland. See Dissertation prefixed to Fitz. Stephen's Defcriprion of London, newly translated, &c. 4to. 1772, p. 16.- Near the end of his Description is a pallage which ascertains it to have been written before the year 1182: “ Lundonia et modernis temporibus reges illuftros magnificosque peperit; imperatricem Ma. tildam, Henricum regem tertium, et beatum Thomam" (Thomas Becket). Some have supposed that instead of tertium we ought to read fecundum, but the text is undoubtedly right; and by tertium, FitzStephen must have meant Henry, the second son of Henry the Second, who was born in London in 1156.7, and being heir apparent, after the death of his elder brother William, was crowned king of England in his father's life-time, on the 15th of July, 1170. He was frequently styled rex filius, rex juvenis, and sometimes he and his father were denominated Reges Anglia. The young king, who occasionally exercised all the rights and prerogatives of royalty, died in 1182. Had he not been living when Fitz-Stephen wrote, he would probably have added nuper defuntium. Neither Henry II. nor Henry III. were born in London.' See the Dissertation above.cited, p. 12.