« PreviousContinue »
It is a bright spring day in London in 1600. The clock of St. Paul's Cathedral, not the cathedral of to-day but that which burned down in 1660, has just struck one o'clock. The great court-yard of the cathedral, made by St. Paul's on one side and a row of houses on the other three, is full of movement and noise. People of all ranks pass and repass. There is the hum of voices, the sound of cries and laughter. From underneath St. Paul's comes the noise of coopers at work at their trade in the old disused church of St. Faith's in the vaults of the cathedral. In and out of the great transept door of St. Paul's men, women, and children go and come. Watch them. Two figures that have just come slowly down the steps and now pause at the foot to discuss something will fix your attention. The passers-by stare at them as they stand talking, for though dressed in fashions distinctly different, both are so richly clad as to be noticeable. One is clearly enough an Englishman of means and rank, for not only are his blue satin doublet and cloak, and his great-topped boots, of the newest fashion and cut, but he has the bearing of the man at ease in society and accustomed to control. But who is the other ? Not English surely. Draw a little nearer. These men will not mind our staring ; they are evidently accustomed to it, so unaware are they that the passers-by are looking at them. Listen ; the second is speaking. Why, of course, his accent tells the story : he is a German, and his friend is showing him London. Now the Englishman speaks.
“Well, now that you have seen St. Paul's, what shall we do-go home to rest ? Very well ; but as we go out to the street I want you to notice the book-stalls that line this court-yard. It is the centre of the book-trade in this city. You will find here all the famous books of the past, and all the new publications,—the witch-stories that you Germans are so fond of and send over to us in such quantities, the translations from all the Continental tongues, the accounts of our last successes at sea or in the New World, all the new poems and plays. Speaking of plays, I see a poster over there at that stall with the sign of a bear which may interest you. It looks like an announcement of a play. Yes, it is. “This day, April 20, 1600, shall be acted by the Lord Chamberlain's Players, at the Globe Theatre, Bankside, a play, A Midsummer Night's Dream, by William Shakspere.' There, I am glad we came over to this. That is a play you ought to see. Have you heard of it? No? Why, it is very famous. We think it is one of the best Shakspere has written thus far. What ! you don't know Shakspere? Well, well! You Germans don't half know what we Englishmen are doing. Come, let us cross to the opposite shore of the Thames—we call it Bankside —and go to the Globe to see this play. We shall have time to take something to eat at the Falcon Inn, near the Globe, for the play does not begin until three o'clock. Our easiest way will be to be ferried over, for London Bridge, the only connection between the two shores, is too far below
We can go down to the Thames by this lane just here at the left as we come out into the street.
“As we go along let me tell you something of this William Shakspere, whom we think the foremost of our writers for the stage to-day. He is the son of a tradesman, and was born in Stratford-on-Avon in 1564. I have never heard much of his early life. They say he married young -between eighteen and nineteen—a woman seven or eight
years older than he. He has had three children, but the only son has died. He and his wife were not happy together, and some eight or ten years ago he came up to London. Since then he has been very productive as a writer of poems and plays. At those book-stalls we have just left you can get for sixpence anyone of a dozen plays of his. He writes comedies, tragedies, almost anything dramatic, and in a way that is his own. He has not had, however, an easy way to make, for when he came up to London the players were not so successful as they now are. You see, there are two parties among us about play-giving. We of the court–indeed all the men of birth and breeding, I think-wish to have plays given wherever may be most convenient for us and the players, but most of the Puritans won't have plays given within the city walls, if they can
That is the reason why the Theatre and the Curtain, built soon after, our first regular theatres (built in 1576) were put down there outside the city wall, on the way to Westminster. Yes, that is the city wall, about five hundred yards away, just at the foot of this Ludgate Hill on which we are standing. I suppose that some day all the land on both sides of this road which runs from St. Paul's to Westminster will be covered with houses. It certainly will, if the city grows as it has been growing lately. It is hard to imagine such a change now, isn't it, when only the side between the street and the river is thickly covered, and not all the way to Westminster. You saw, as we came down from Gray's Inn to the Temple this morning, what fine fields there are on the upper side of the road. Is the reason for the feeling of the Puritans about the plays because we give them on Sundays as well as week-days?' Yes, partly, I think ; but it is more because they believe that all play-going is sinful, and because the fact is that some of these play-writers,—Robert Greene, George Peele, and Christopher Marlowe-Do you know Marlowe's plays ? No.
You ought to—made their money fast and spent it faster, and were not very reputable. The Puritans think that everything connected with the stage is like those men.
“ Pretty narrow this lane, isn't it? I sometimes fancy, when I look down one of these crooked old lanes of houses with stories overhanging the street, some buildings tipping this way and some that, but all on one side bending toward those on the other, that if could come at the dead of night I should find the houses dancing a stately pavin-you have seen that dance at court, haven't you ?to the music of the wind soughing through their eaves. This is Paul's Wharf. It is well we are early, for just before the theatres on the Bankside open these “ stairs’ are crowded. Where are all the boatmen to-day ? Usually there are any number idling about these stairs or paddling lazily up and down. Hullo-oa! Boat, a boat for Paris Garden ! Paris Garden is over there by the Globe. There, that man heard us. See those two fellows race to see who shall get to us first. They are a sturdy set. No, don't pay him now, he will ask you too much. They always overcharge strangers. I have not the right change, but never mind.
You will trust me, boatman, won't you? I thought so. You see when we pay, we overpay. They know that, and so trips like this they do not count as any loss. They are a good-natured lot. What did that boatman who passed us say? Westward, ho? Yes, and there is another crying Northward, ho.' Those are their cries to show where they are going, just as those Venetian gondoliers you and I had at Venice cried · Stali.'
“You get a good view of the city from here. There is the Tower, down the river at your right, and the steeples of the churches in the business centre about Broad and Threadneedle Streets. St. Paul's, you see, stands up above everything,-finely placed, isn't it? There is the Temple, just above us, where those steps come down to the water
from a door in a wall—the Temple Stairs.
You can see the trees of the garden that lies between the wall and the buildings of the Temple. Those stairs' just this side lead up to the Whitefriars region. Don't risk yourself there late at night, for the inhabitants are a bad lot. They and their next neighbors, the Templars, are forever fighting in the narrow alleys that lie between their quarters. Those towers way off to the left, beyond the bend in the river, are Westminster. You see how thinly peopled is the region between the Temple and Westminster.
“Do you see those round buildings with two shedlike structures on their tops? Well, those are the Rose, the Swan, and the Globe theatres. Paris Garden is there, too, but that is only a place for fighting bears. There isn't any play at the Rose to-day, or you would see a flag flying above one of the sheds on its roof. Whenever a play is to be given at one of these Bankside theatres a flag is run up above it early in the day, that theatre-goers on the other side of the Thames may see it and make their plans. How
many theatres have we ? Well, really only four public theatres—the Globe, the Rose, the Swan, and the old Curtain. You see, Burbadge took the material of the Theatre over to the Bankside when he built the Globe last year. The Curtain and the Swan are not used regularly for acting. There are some other places where the actors appear occasionally, but they are not important.
“ There are but two chief companies, the Lord Chamberlain's and the Lord Admiral's. They are so called because they are under the protection of Lord Hunsdon, Lord Chamberlain, and of the Earl of Nottingham, Lord Admiral. Richard Burbadge is the manager and chief actor in the first company, and Shakspere is a prominent sharer in it. You see, every company is made up of actors who share the profits and are of the first importance, and of men and boys whom they hire to act, who have no share in the re