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scene of The Merry Wives of Windsor. The genuineness of the former may be doubted; but the ridicule in the plays betokens a latent hostility to the Lucy family which is unaccountable except upon the supposition that the deer-stealing foray is founded on facts.
Whatever the motive,-fear, distress, or ambition,-Shakespeare, it is believed, left Stratford about 1586, and found employment at some theatre in London ; 33 but we have no direct proof of the year when he left his home, or of that in which he took up his abode in the metropolis. According to a document introduced by Mr. Collier, as discovered in Lord Ellesmere's muniments, he was a sharer in the Blackfriars Theatre in 1589, but this memorial, like the rest of the Shakesperian papers from the same collection, has been shown to be a rank fabrication.34 In fact, from the baptism of his twins in 1584–5, to the latter end of the year 1592, when Green alludes to him in A Groatsworth of Wit, &c. his history is a blank.
It does not come within the scope of this brief memoir to enter at large into the subject of the Elizabethan theatre, but a few words respecting it are indispensable. Shakespeare in all likelihood originally joined the company playing at the Blackfriars Theatre. This company afterwards (in 1594) built another theatre, called The Globe, on the south bank of the Thames; using the latter, which was partially open to the air, in summer; and the former, which was a private or enclosed house, for winter performances. The Blackfriars playhouse stood in an opening still called Playhouse Yard, between Apothecaries' Hall and Printing-house Square. Besides these two, there were several theatres in London during Shakespeare's residence there. The principal appear to have been, The Theatre (so denominated probably from being the first building erected specially for scenic performances) and The Curtain, in Shoreditch; The Paris Garden, The Rose, The Hope, The Swan, on the Bankside, Southwark ; The Fortune, in Golden Lane, Cripplegate ; The Red Bull, St. John Street, Smithfield; The Whitefriars, near to where the
gas works now stand, between the Temple and Blackfriars Bridge ; and a summer theatre at Newington Butts. 35
33 Rowe says,
" He was received into the company then in being, at first in a very mean rank;" and this tallies with the statement made by Dowdall in 1693 (See P. xx.),
In a work entitled, Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland, 1753, there is a life of Shakespeare, in which, for the first time, we meet with the incredible tradition of his having held the horses of gentlemen who visited the play :
"I cannot forbear relating a story which Sir William Davenant told Mr. Betterton, who communicated it to Mr. Rowe; Rowe told it to Mr. Pope, and Mr. Pope told it to Dr. Newton, the late editor of Milton, and from a gentleman who beard it from him, 'tis here related. Concerning Shakespear's first appearance in the playhouse. When he came to London, he was without money and friends, and being a stranger, he knew not to whom to apply, nor by what means to support himself. At that time, coaches not being in use, and as gentlemen were accustomed to ride to the playhouse, Shakespear, driven to the last necessity, went to the playhouse door, and pick'd up a little money, by taking care of the gentlemen's horses who came to the play: he became eminent even in that profession, and was taken notice of for his diligence and skill in it; he had soon more business than he himself could manage, and at last hired boys under him, who were known by the name of Shakespear's boys. Some of the players, accidentally conversing with him, found him so acute, and master of so fine a conversatio that, struck therewith, they [introduced) and recommended bim to the house, in which he was first admitted in a very low station, but he did not long remain so, for he soon distinguished himself, if not as an extraordinary actor, at least as a fine writer."
34 It is as follows:-" These are to sertifie yor right honorable Ll that he Mates poore playeres, James Burbidge, Richard Burbidge, John Laneham, Thomas Greene, Robert Wilson, John Taylor, Anth. Wadeson, Thomas Pope, George Peele,“ Augustine Phillippes, Nicholas Towley, William Shakespeare, William Kempe, William Johnson, Baptiste Goodale, and Robert Armyn, being all of them sharers in the blacke Fryers playehouse, have never giuen cause of displeasure, in that they haue brought into their playes maters of state and Religion, vnfitt to be handled by them or to be presented before lewde spectators ; neither hath anie complainte in that kinde ever bcene preferred against them or anie of them. Wherefore they truste moste humblie in yor Ll consideracon of their former good behaiuour, beinge at all ymes readie and willing to yeelde obedience to anie comaund whatsoever your Ll in your wisedome maye thinke in such case moete, &c.
“ Novr. 1589." 35 The Phoenix, which had formerly been a Cockpit, in Drury Lane, was not converted into a playhouse until after Shakespeare's retirement from London.
Edmund Howes, in his Continuation of Stow's chronicle, gives a curious summary of playhouse incidents extending over the whole of Shakespeare's time. After describing the burning of the Globe in 1613, the destruction of the Fortune by a like accident four years after, the rebuilding of both, and the erection of "a new fair playhouse near the Whitefriars," he says, writing in 1631, “And this is the seventeenth stage, or comm on playhouse, which hath been new made within the space of three score years within London and the suburbs, viz. five inns, or conimon hostelries turned to playhouses, one cockpit, St. Paul's singing school, one in the Blackfriars, one in the Whitefriars, which was built last of all, in the year one
Before the erection of established theatres, and long afterwards, plays were also acted in the yards of certain inns, such as the The Bell Savage, on Ludgate Hill; The Cross Keys, in Gracechurch Street; and The Bull, in Bishopsgate Street.
With respect to the regular theatre we are not very intimately acquainted with the details of its structure, but the interior economy appears to have resembled that of the old inn yards, and it was evidently provided with different accommodation to suit different classes of visitors. There were tiers of galleries or scaffolds, and small rooms beneath, answering to the modern boxes. There was the pit, as it was called in the private theatres, or yard, as it was named at the public ones. In the former, spectators were provided with seats; in the latter they were obliged to stand throughout the performance.36 The critics, wits, and gallants were allowed stools upon the stage, for which the price was sixpence or a shilling each, according to the eligibility of the situation, and they were attended by pages, who supplied them with pipes and tobacco; smoking, drinking ale, playing cards, and eating nuts and apples, always forming a portion of the entertainment at our early theatres.
The stage appliances were extremely simple. At the back of the stage there was a permanent balcony, about eight feet from the platform, in which scenes supposed to take place on towers or upper chambers were represented. 38 Suspended in front of it were curtains, and these were opened or closed as the performance required.39 The sides and back of the stage, with the exception of that part occupied by the balcony, were hung with arras tapestry, and sometimes pictures, and the internal roof with blue drapery, except on the performance of tragedy, when the sides, back, and roof of the stage were covered with black.40 The stage was commonly strewed with rushes, though on particular occasions it was matted over.
The performance commenced at three o'clock, in the public theatres, the signal for beginning being the third sounding or flourish of trumpets.41 It was customary for the actor who spoke the prologue to be dressed in a long velvet cloak. In the early part of Shakespeare's theatrical career, the want of scenery appears to have been supplied by the primitive expedient of hanging out a board, on which was written the place where the action was to be understood as taking place. Sometimes when a change of scene was requisite, the audience were left to imagine that the actors, who still remained on the stage, had removed to the spot mentioned. 42 During the performance, the clown would frequently indulge in extemporaneous buffoonery.
thousand six hundred and twenty nine. All the rest not named were erected only for common playhouses, besides the new-built Bear Garden, which was built as well for plays, and fencer's prizes, as bull-baiting ; besides one in former time at Newington Butts. Before the space of three score years above said [i.e. before 1571, when Shakespeare was seven years of age] I neither knew, heard, nor read of any such theatres, set stages, or playhouses, as have been purposely built within man's memory.”
36 Hence they are termed groundlings by Shakespeare, and understanding gentlemen of the ground by Ben Jonson.
37 According to Malone, but there is much uncertainty on the point, the prices of admission to the best rooms, or boxes, was, in Shakespeare's day, a shilling ; that to the galleries and pit, in the chief theatres, sixpence, in the inferior ones, twopence, and sometimes only a penny. “ It appears,"
“ from the stagedirections given in The Spanish Tragedy, that when a play was exhibited within a play (if I may so express myself), as is the case in that piece and in Hamlet, the court or audience before whom the interlude was performed sat in the balcony, or upper stage already described ; and a curtain or traverse being hung across the stage, for the nonce, the performers entered between that curtain and the general audience, and on its being drawn, began their
piece, addressing themselves to the balcony, and regard. less of the spectators in the theatre, to whom their backs must have been turned during the whole of the performance."--Historical Account of the English Stage, p. 108.
39 I am of opinion that during Shakespeare's time there were no curtains across the proscenium.
40 The covering of the internal roof, or the roof itself, was technically termed the heavens. See note (1), p. 332. Vol. II.
41 There was an interval of some minutes between each sounding. See the Induction to Ben Jonson's Poetaster and Cynthia's Revels.
42 “ The simplicity of the old stage in this respect, may also be clearly shown by a reference to R. Greene's Pinner of Wakefield, printed in 1599, where Jenkin is struck by the Shoe-maker in the street. Jenkin challenges him to come to the towns-end to fight it out; and, after some farther parley, the professor of the gentle craft' reminds Jenkin of his challenge :
Come, sir, will you come to the town's-end now?
Jenkin. Aye, Sir, come.'--
Now we are at the town's-end.'
There was always music between the acts, and sometimes singing and dancing. And at the end of the play, after a prayer for the reigning monarch, offered by the actors on their knees,43 the clown would entertain the audience by descanting on any theme which the spectators might supply, or by performing what was called a jig, a farcical doggrel improvisation, accompanied by dancing and singing.
During the reign of Elizabeth, plays were acted every day in the week, 44 but in the time of James I., though dramatic entertainments on Sundays were allowed at court, they were prohibited in the public theatres. As there were two sorts of theatres, there were two classes of actors. There were the regular companies, acting in the name and under the auspices of the Crown or of a man of rank and influence, such as the Queen's servants (of whom Shakespeare was one),4 the Earl of Leicester's players ; those of Lord Warwick, Lord Worcester, Lord Pembroke, &c. There were also certain private adventurers who acted without official licence, and were the subjects of prohibitory enactments. The Act of the 14th of Elizabeth (1572) operated as a protective law to the authorized companies. It was entitled an act " for the punishment of vagabonds, and for the relief of the poor and impotent.” One of its provisions extends the meaning of rogues and vagabonds to "all fencers, bearwards, common-players in interludes, and minstrels, not belonging to any Baron of this realm or towards any other honorable personage of greater degree; all jugglers, pedlars, tinkers, and petty chapmen, which said fencers, bearwards, common-players in interludes, minstrels, jugglers, pedlars, tinkers, and petty chapmen shall wander abroad, and not have licence of two justices of the peace at the least, whereof one to be of the quorum, where and in what shire they shall happen to wander.” This act effected no material restriction on the number of actors, for, while its provisions were evaded by numerous jugglers, minstrels, and interlude players, various companies were enrolled in the service of the nobility. The growing Puritanism of the time occasioned many attempts to be made at suppressing the drama on the part of civic authorities, both in London and elsewhere,46 but the theatre maintained its ground through the reign of Elizabeth and for many years afterwards.
43 “At the end of the piece, the actors, in noblemen's houses and in taverns, where plays were frequently performed, prayed for the health and prosperity of their patrons ; and in the publick theatres, for the king and queen. This prayer sometimes made part of the epilogue. Hence, probably, as Mr. Steevens has observed, the addition of Vi cant rex et regina to the modern play bills.” --MALONE,
4 In 1580, the magistrates of the city of London obtained from the queen a prohibition against plays on the Sabbath, which seems, however, to have continued in force but a short time.
45 “ Comedians and stage-players of former time were very poor and ignorant in respect of these of this time; but being now  growne very skilfull and exquisite actors for all matters, they were entertained into the service of divers great lords: out of which companies there were twelve of the best chosen, and, at the request of Sir Francis Walsingham, they were sworn the queenes servants, and were allowed wages and liveries as groomes of the chamber : and until this year 1583, the queene had no players. Among these twelve players, were two rare men, viz. Thomas Wilson, for a quicke, delicate, refined, extemporall witt, and Richard Tarleton, for a wondrous plentifull pleasant extemporall wit, he was the wonder of his tyme. He lieth buried in Shoreditch Church."-Slow's Chronicle, sub 1583, ed. 1615.
# A few years ago, Sir Frederic Madden published the following interesting illustration of the pertinacity with which the authorities of the city of London resisted the admission of stage-players within the city. It is an original letter, preserved among the Cottonian charters, froin the Mayor and Alderman to the Earl of Sussex,
Lord Chamberlain, dated March 22, 1573, refusing their consent to his lordship's request in favour of a Mr. Holmes, that he should be allowed to appoint places for plays and interludes within the city; and intimating that some previous applications of the same kind had met with a similar refusal.
[Cart. Cott. xxvi. 41.] “ To the right honorable our singular good Lord the Erle
of Sussex, Lord Chamberlan of the Quenes Maties most
honorable household. Our dutie to yor good L. humbly done, where yor L. hath made request in favor of Mr. Holmes, for our assent that he might have the apointement of places for playes and entreludes within the citie. It may please yor L. to receive undouted assurance of or redinesse to gratifie in any thing that we reasonably may, any persone whome yor L. shal favor and comend. Howbeit this case is such and so nere touching the governance of this citie in one of the greatest maters therof, namely the assemblies of multitudes of the Quenes people ; and in regard to be had to sondry inconveniences wherof the peril is continually upon everie occasion to be foreseen by the rulers of this citie, that we can not with our duties, byside the president farr extending to the hart of our liberties, well assent that the sayd apointement of places be comitted to any private persone.
For which and other resonable consideracons, it hath long since pleased yor good L., among the rest of her Maties most honorable counsell, tó rest satisfied with our not craunting the like to 'such persone as by their most honorable lettres was heretofore in like case comended unto us. Byside that if it might with reasonable convenience be graunted, great offres have ben and be made for the same, to the relefe of the
The "followship” whirl Shakespeare is supposed to have joine] was originally attached to the Fail of Leicester. In 1574, it was distinguished by more illustrious patronage, a writ bring imxad that year to the Keeper of the Great Seal," commanding him to set forth letters Jistent aldroexsused to all ju-tices of the peace, licensing and authorizing James Burbadge, John Purkyn, John Lanham, William Johnson, and Robert Wylon, servants of the Earl of Leicester, “to use, exrris and occupie the art and faculty of playeing comedies, tragedies, enterludes, stageplayas, and such other like as they have alrely used and studied, as well for the recreacion of our loving subjects, as for our solace and pleasure, when we shall think good to see them as well within our Cyty of London and the liberties of the same as throughout the realm of England.” This admonition was opposed by those charged with the liberties of the City of London, and in 1575 the Common Council passed what in civic language was called an “ Act,” in which they Kuldled their licence with a condition, that the players should contribute half their receipts to charitable purpos(. But in the same year Burbadge and his fellow-servants of the Earl of Licentar, through the powerful influence of their patron, obtained a patent for the erection of a thratre at Blackfriars; close to the city wall, though beyond the jurisdiction of the city authorities. Shortly afterwards they took some large premises in the precinct of the dissolved Black-friars monastery, and in spite of a vigorous opposition on the part of the inhabitants in the neighbourhood, converted them into the very theatre of which it is presumed Shakespeare became a fellow, not long after his arrival in London.
Shakespeare's first connexion with the company in the Blackfriars was probably as an actor. Of his qualifications and line of performance in this art, scarcely anything is known, though, wcording to Aubrey, “he did act exceedingly well.”48 Rowe says, “ His name is printed, as the custom was in those times, amongst those of the other players, before some old plays, but without any particular account of what sort of parts he used to play; and though I have inquired, I could never meet with any further account of him this way, than that the top of his performance was the Ghost in his own Hamlet.”' 49
Downes, the writer of the Roscius Anglicanus, who was prompter at one of the London theatres in 1662, speaking of Sir William Davenant's theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields, between 1662 and 1665, remarks, “ The tragedy of Hamlet, Hamlet being performed by Mr. Betterton. Sir William having seen Mr. Taylor of the Blackfryars company act it, who being instructed by the author, Mr. Shakespear, taught Mr. Betterton in every particle of it ; which, by his exact performance of it, gained him esteem and reputation superlative to all other players."
In like manner he speaks of Betterton's having been instructed by Sir William to play Henry VIII., after the fashion of “old Mr. Lowen,” who had been taught by Shakespeare
pooro in the hospitallos, which we hold us assured that yo' l. will woll allow that we preferre before the benefit of any private persone. And so we comitt yor L, to the tuition of Almighty God. At London, this second of Maroh, 1573.
Yor L. humble
John Ryvers, Mayor. Nicholas Woodrof. Row laywirde, Alder.
Thomas Ramsey. Jolin Branche. William Allyn, Alderman.
John Olyffe. Anthony Gamage. I onell Duckett, Alder.
Rychard Pype. Wyllin Rymptone....llawys, Aldarman.
Wim. Box. Wolstan Diae. Ambrose Nichas, Ald.
Thomas Blanke. Jhon Langley, Al.I." 47 (i There is a material difference between the warrant under the privy sonl, and the patent under the great seal, granted upon this occasion : the former gives the players a right to perforin'as well within the city of London
and liberties of the same, as elsewhere ; but the latter (dated three days afterwards, viz. 10 May, 1574), omits this paragraph ; and we need entertain little doubt that it was excluded at the instance of the Corporation of London, always opposed to theatrical performances.' COLLIER. Life of Shakespeare.
45 Mus, Ashmol. Oron.
49 Life of Shakspeare. Capell, 1779, relates that “ traditional story was current some years ago about Stratford, that a very old man of that place, of weak intellects, being asked by some of his neighbours what he remember'd about him, answer'd that he saw him once brought on the stage upon another man's back, which answer was applied by the hearers to his having performed in this scene [Sc. 7, Act II of As You Like It) in the part of Adam.” For a more circumstantial account of the saine legend, see the Introduction to As You Like It, Vol. II. p. 1:5.
himself. On this authority, it appears that if Shakespeare, as Rowe asserts, was not a brilliant actor, he was at any rate a skilful teacher of acting. But the testimony of Chettle, who must have seen him perform, is of far more weight than the hearsay evidence of Rowe and others; and he, in the preface to his Kind-Harts Dreame, which we shall have to notice presently, expressly declares that he was “excellent in the quality he professed.”
The earliest conjectural allusion to Shakespeare as a dramatist which has yet been discovered in print, is contained in Spenser's Teares of the Muses, a poem forming part of a collection published in 1591.50 In this poem, the Muse Thalia is introduced, lamenting the decline of the drama. After reciting how “the sweete delights of learnings treasure” have disappeared from the stage ; how "unseemly Sorrow," "ugly Barbarisme," and "brutish lgnorance" in the minds of men “now tyrannize,” whereas “fine Counterfesaunce,” “unhurtful Sport, Delight and Laughter” used to reign supreme,
“ And he, the man whom Nature selfe had made
To mock herselfe, and Truth to imitate
In the first edition of his Life of Shakspeare, Rowe tells us "Mr. Dryden was always of opinion that these verses were meant of Shakespear:” though in a subsequent impression of the memoir Rowe omitted the statement Modern authorities are not agreed upon the point, but the prevailing opinion is that Shakespeare could not have been the writer referred to by Spenser. The reasons for this opinion are, firstly, that he had not at the time attained a rank such as would justify the encomiums; secondly, because there is no probability of his having subsided into the condition of inertness described, and thirdly, because there are grounds for supposing the verses in question were composed before he even began to write. 52
Without entering into the last consideration, there appears to me sufficient evidence to prove that the expressions in this poem, however suitable to the character of Shakespeare, and accordant with those employed by his contemporaries when speaking of him, were intended for
50 Complaints. Containing sundrie small Poemes of the Worlds Vanitie, &c,
51 That is, to compose, to invent.
62 Todd, in his edition of Spenser's works, conjectures from the following address, prefixed to the collection of poems in question by the publisher, that The Teares of the Muses was composed about 1580 :-“Since my late setting foorth of the Faerie Queene, finding that it hath found a favourable passage amongst you ; I have sithence
endeavoured by all good meanes (for the better encrease and accomplishment of your delights), to get into my handes such smale poemes of the same authors, as I heard were disperst abroad in sundrie hands, and not easie to bee come by, by himselfe; some of them having bene diverslie imbeciled and purloyned from him since his departure over Sea. Of the uchich I have by good meanes gathered togeather these fewe parcels present, which I have caused to bee imprinted altogeather," &c.