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closely some pieces from the Latin stage. Moliere nothing but its povelty could have occasioned, for was endowed by nature with a rich fund of comic there is little real merít in the composition. Fredhumour, which is nowhere more apparent than in erick of Prussia, and other admirers of the old theathose light pieces that are written upon the plan of trical school, were greatly scandalized at so daring the Italian masked comedy. in these he has intro: an innovation on the regular French comedy. The duced the jealous old pantaloon; the knavish and circumstances which followed have prevented Beau- . mischievous servant, and some of its other charac- marchai's example from being imitated; and the
In his regular comedy he soared to a higher laughers have consoled themselves with inferior pitch. Before his time, the art had sought its re- departments of the Drama. Accordingly, we find sources in the multiplicity and bustle of intrigue, the blank supplied by farces, comic operas, and draescape, and disguise, --or at best, in a comic dialogne, matic varieties, in which plots of a light, flimsy, and approaching to mere buffoonery. Moljere's satire grotesque character, are borne out by the comic huaued at a nobler prey; he studied mankind for the mour of the author and comic skill of the actor. purpose of attacking those follies of social life which Brunet, a comedian of extraordinary powers in this are best exposed by ridicule. The aim of few sati. cast of interludes, has at times presumed so far upon rists has been so legitimate, or pursued with such his popularity as to season his farce with political
Female vanity, learned pedantry, unrea- allusions. It will scarce be believed, that he aimed sonable jealousy, the doating and disgraceful pas- several shafts at Napoleon when in the height of sions of old men, avarice, coquetry, slander, the his power. The boldness, as well as the wit of the quacks who disgrace medicine, and the knaves who actor, secured him the applause of the audience; and prostitute the profession of the law, were the marks such a hold had Brunet of their affections, that an at which his shafts were directed.
imprisonment of a few hours was the greatest punMoliere's more regular comedies are limited by ishment which Bonaparte ventured to inflict upon the law of unities, and finished with great diligence. him. But whatever be the attachment shown to It is true, the author found it sometimes necessary the art in general, the French, like ourselves, rest tacitly to elude the unity of place, which he durst the character of their theatre chiefly upon the annot openly violate; bui, in general, he sacrifices cient specimens of the Drama; and the regular traprobability to system. In the Ecolé des l'ommes, gedy, as well as comedy, seems declining in that Arnolph brings his wife into the street, out of the kingdom. room in which his jealousy has imprisoned her, in As the Drama of France was formed under the pas order to lecture her upon the circumspection due to her tronage of the monarch, and bears the syrongest character; which absurdity he is guilty of, that the proofs of its courtly origin, that of England, which scene may not be shifted from the open space before was encouraged by the people at large, retains equally his door to her apartment. In general, however, it unequivocal marks of its popular descent. Its history may be noticed, that the critical unities impose musi naturally draw to some length, as being that much less hardship upon the comic than upon the part of our essay likely to be most interesting to the tragic poet. It is much more easy to reconcile the reader. In pari, however, we have paved the way incidents of private life to the unities of time and for it by the details common to the rise of dramatic place, than to compress within their limits the ex art in the other nations of Europe. We shall distintensive and prolonged transactions which compre- guish the English Drama as divided into four periods, hend the revolution of kingdoms and the fate of premising that this is merely a general and not a monarchs. What influence, however, these rules precise division. The taste which governed each do possess, must operate to cramp and embarrass period, and the examples on which it is grounded, the comic as well as the tragic writers; to violate will usually be found to have dawned in the period and disunite those very probabilities which they preceding that in which it was received and estabaffect to maintain; and to occasion a thousand lished. real absurdities, rather than grant a conventional I. From the revival of the theatre until the great license, which seems essential to the freedom of the Civil War. Drama.
II. From the Restoration to the reign of Queen The later comic authors of France seem to have Anne. abandoned the track pointed out by Moliere, as if in III. From the earlier part of the last century down despair of approaching his excellence. Their comedy, to the present reign. compared with that of other nations, and of their IV. The present state of the British Drama. greai predecessor, is cramped, and tame, and limit I. The Drama of England commenced, as we ed. In this department, as in tragedy, the stage has have already observed, upon the Spanish model. experienced the inconvenience arising from the in Ferrix and Porrer was the first composition apfluence of the Court. The varied and unbounded proaching to a regular tragedy; and it was acted field of comic humour which the passions and pecu- before Queen Elizabeth, upon the 18th of January, liarities of the lower orders present, was prohibited, 1561, by the gentlemen of the Inner Temple. It paras containing subjects of exhibition too low and takes rather of the character of an historical than of vulgar for a monarch and his courtiers; and thus a classical Drama ; although more nearly allied to the natural, fresh, and varied character of comedy the latter class, than the chronicle plays which asterwas flung aside, while the heartless vices and polish wards took possession of the stage. We have alrea. ed follies of the great world were substituted in its dy recorded Sir Philip Sidney's commendation of place. Schlegel has well observed, that the object this play, which he calls by the name of Gorboduc, of French comedy "is no longer life, but society; from one of the principal characters. Acted by a that perpetual negotiation between contlicting vani- learned body, and written in great part by Lord ties which never ends in a sincere treaty of peace. Sackville, ihe principal author of the Mirror for The embroidered dress, the hat under the arm, and Magistrates, the firsi of English tragedies assumed the sword by the side, essentially belong to them; in some degree the honours of the learned buskin ; and the whole of the characterization is limited but although a Chorus was presented according to to the folly of the men and the coquetry of the the classical model, the play was free from the ob
servance of the unities; and contains many irregularIt is scarce in nature that a laughter-loving people ities severely condemned by the regular critics. should have remained satisfied with an amusement English comedy, considered as a regular composiso dull and insipid as their regular comedy. A few tion, is said to have commenced with Gammer Guryears preceding the Revolution, and while the causes ton's Needle. This "right pithy, pleasant, and of that event were in full fermentation, the Mar- merry comedy," was the supposed composition of riage of Figaro appeared on the stage. It is a John Still, Master of Arts, and afterwards Bishop comedy of intrigue; and the dialogue is blended of Bath and Wells. It was acted in Christ-Church with traits of general and political satire, as well as College, Cambridge, 1575. It is a piece of low huwith a tone or licentiousness, which was till then a mour; the whole jest turning upon the loss and restranger to the French stage. It was received with covery of the needle with which Gammer Gurton a degree of enthusiastic and frantic popularity which I was to repair the breeches of her man Hodge; buty
VOL. I.--5 s
in point of manners, it is a great curiosity, as the 'The taste and judgment of the author himseli was curta suppeller of our ancestor is scarcely any where very different. During the whole scene, Falstaff so well described. The popular characters also, the gives only once, and under irresistible temptation, Sturdy Beggar, the Clown, the Country Vicar, and the rein to his petulant wit, and it is instantly the Shrew, of the sixteenth century, are drawn in checked by the prince; to whom, by the way, and colours taken from the life. The unity of time, place, not to the king, his words ought to be addressed. and action, are observed through the play with an The English stage might be considered mually accuracy of which France might be jealous. The without rule and without model. when Shakspeare time, is a few hours-the place, the open square of arose. The effect of the genius of an individual upthe village before Gammer Gurton's door-ihe ac on the taste of a nation is mighty; but that senius, tion, the loss of the needle-and this, followed by in its turn, is former according to the opinions prethe search for and final recovery of that necessary valent at the period when it comes into existence. implement, is intermixed with no other thwarting Such was the case with Shakspeare. Had he receior subordinate interest, but is progressive from the ved an education more extensive, and possessed a commencement to the conclusion.
taste refined by the classical models, it is probable It is remarkable, that the earliest English tragedy that he also, in admiration of the ancient Drama, and comedy are both works of considerable merit; might have mistaken the form for the essence, and that each partakes of the distinct character of its subscribed to those rules which had produced svrch class; that the tragedy is without intermixture of masterpieces of art. Fortunately for the full exercomedy; the comedy without any intermixture of tion of a genius, as comprehensive and versaule as tragedy.
intense and powerful, Shakspeare had no access to These models were followed by a variety of others, any models of which the coinmanding merit might in which no such distinctions were observed. Nu have controlled and limited his own exertions. He merous theatres sprung up in different parts of the followed the path which a nameless crowd of obmetropolis, opened upon speculation by distinct scure writers had trodden before him ; but he moved troops of performers. Their number shows how in it with the grace and majestic step of a being of much they interested public curiosity; for men a superior order; and vindicated for ever the British never struggle for a share in a losing profession. theatre from a pedantic restriction to classical They acted under licenses, which appear to have rule. Nothing went before Shakspeare which in been granted for the purpose of police alone, not of any respect was fit to fix and stamp the character exclusive privilege or monopoly; since London con- of a national Drama; and certainly no one will tained, in the latter part of ihe sixteenth century, no succeed him capable of establishing, by mere authofewer than fourteen distinct companies of players, rity, a forin more restricted than that which Shakwith very considerable privileges and remunerations. speare used. See Drake's Shakspeare and his Times, vol. 2. p. Such is the action of existing circumstances upon 205.
genius, and the reaction of genius upon future cirThe public, therefore, in the widest sense of the cumstances. Shakspeare and Corneille was each word, was at once arbiter and patron of the Drama. the leading spirit of his age; and the difference beThe companies of players who iraversed the country, tween them is well marked by the editor of the larmight indeed assume the name of some peer or ba- ter :-" Corneille est in gal comme Shakespeare, e! ron, for the sake of introduction or protection; þut plein de genie comme lui : mais le genie de Corneille those of the metropolis do not, at this early period of toit à celui de Shakespeare ce qu'un seigncur est our dramatic history, appear to have re-ted in any l'egard d'un homme de peuple nearec le m me ess considerable degree upon learned or aristocratic pri- prit que lui.” This distinction is strictly accurate, and vilege. Their license was obtained from the crown, contains a compliment to the English author which, but their success depended upon the voice of the assuredly, the critic did not intend to make. Corpeople; and the pieces which they brought forward neille wrote as a courtier, circumscribed within the were, of course, adapted to popular taste. It fol- imaginary rules and ceremonies of a court, as a lowed necessarily that histories and romantic Dra- chicken is by a circle of chalk drawn round it. mas were the favourites of the period. A general Shakspeare, composing for the amusement of the audience in an unlearned age requires rather amuse- public alone, had within his province, not only the ment than conformity to rules, and is more displea- inexhaustible field of actual lite, but the whole ideal sed with a tiresome uniformity than shocked with world of tancy and superstition ;--inore favourable the breach of all the unities. The players and dra- to the display of poetical genius ihan even existing matists, before the rise of Shakspeare, followed, of realities. Under the circumstances of Corneille, consequence, the taste of the public; and dealt in Shakspeare must have been restricted to the same the surprising, elevating, and often bombastic inci- dull, regular, and unvaried system. He must have dents of tragedy, as well as in the low humour and written, not according to the dictates of his own grotesque situations of the comic scene. Where genius, but in conforinity to the mandate of some these singly were found to lack attraction, they min-Intendant des menus plaisirs; or of some minister gled them together, and dashed their tragic plot of state, who, like Cardinal Richelieu, thought he with an under-intrigue of the lowest butfoonery, with- could write a tragedy because he could govern a out any respect to taste or congruity.
kingdom. It is not equally clear to what height The clown was no stranger to the stage ; he in- Corneille might have ascended, had he enjoyed the terfered, without ceremony, in the most heart-rend- national immunities of Shakspeare. Each pitched ing scenes, to the scandal of the more learned down a land-mark in his art. The circle of Shakspectators.
speare was so extensive, that it is with advantage Now lest such frightful shows of fortune's fall,
liable to many restrictions; that of Corneille incluAnd bloody tyrant's rage should chance appall
ded a narrow limit, which bis successors have deernThe death-struck audience, 'midst the silent rout,
ed it unlawful to enlarge. Comes leaping in a self-misformed lout, And laughs and grins, and frames his mimic face,
It is not our intention, within the narrow spare to And jostles straight into the prince's place
which our essay is necessarily limited, to enlarge Then doth the theatre echo all aloud,
upon the character and writings of Shakspeare. With glaulsome noise of that applauding crowd,
We can only notice his performances as events in A goodly hotchpotch, where vile russettings Are matched with monarchs and with mighty kings,
the history of the theatre-of a gigantic character,
indeed, so far as its dignity, elevation, and importAn ancient stage-trick, illustrative of the mixture ance are considered ; but, in respect of the mere of tragic and comic action in Shakspeare's ume was practice of the Drama, rather fixing and sanctioning, long preserved in the theatre. Henry IV. holding than altering or reforming, those rules and forms council before the battle of Shrewsbury, was always which he found already established. This we know represented as seated on a drum; and when he rose for certain, that those historical plays or chronicles and came forward to address his nobles, the place in which Shakspeare's muse has thrown a neverwas occupied by Falstaff; a practical jest which fading light upon the history of his country, did, alseldom failed to produce a laugh from the galleries. I most every one of them, exist before him in the
rude shape of dry dialogue and pitiful buffoonery, , while he is tempted to suppose it constantly with: stitched into scenes by the elder play-wrights of the in his reach. In a word, Jonson is distinguished stage. His romantic Dramas exhibit the same con- by his strength and stature, even in those days tenipt of regularity which was manifested by Marc when there were giants in the land; and afiords low, and oiher writers; for where there was abuse the model of a close, animated, and characterisor extreme license upon the stage, the example of tic style of comedy, abounding in moral satire, and Shakspeare may be often quoted as its sanction, distinguished at once by force and art, which was never as tending to reform it. In these particulars afterwards more cultivated by English dramatists, the practice of our immortal bard was contrasted than the lighter, more wild, and more fanciful dewith that of Ben Jonson, a severe and somewhat partment in which Shakspeare moved beyond the pedantic scholar;-a man whose mind was coarse, reach of emulation. though possessing both strength and elevation, and The general opinion of critics has assigned gewhose acute perception of comic humour was tinctu- nius as the characteristic of Shakspeare, and art red with vulgarity.
as the appropriate excellence of Jonson; noi, sureJonson's tragic strength consists in a sublime, ly, that Jonson was deficient in genius, but that and sometimes harsh, expression of moral senti art was the principal characteristic of his laboriment; but displays little of tumultuous and ardent ous scenes. We learn from his own confession, passion, still less of tenderness or delicacy; although and from the panegyrics of his friends, as well as there are passages in which he seems adequate to the taunts of his enemies, that he was a slow comexpressing them. He laboured in the mine of the poser: The natural result of laborious care is jeaclassics, but overloaded himself with the ore, which lousy of fame; for that which we do with labour, he could not, or would not, refine. His Catiline we value highly when achieved. Shakspeare, on and Sejanus are laboured translations from Cicero, the other hand, appears to have compostd rapidly Sallust, and Tacitus, which his own age did not en- and carelessly; and, sometimes, even without condure, and which no succeeding generation will be sidering, while writing the earlier acts, how the probably much tempted to revive. With the stern catastrophe was to be huddled up, in that which superiority of learning over ignorance, he asserted was to conclude the piece. We may fairly conclude himself a better judge of his own productions, than him to have been indifferent about fame, who would the public which condemned hiin, and haughtily take so little pains to win it. Much, perhaps, might claimed the laurel which the general suffrage have been achieved by the union of these opposed often withheld; but the world has as yet shown no qualities, and by blending the art of Jonson with disposition to reverse the opinion of their prede- the fiery invention and fluent expression of his great
contemporary. But such a union of opposite excelIn comedy, Jonson made some efforts, partaking lences in the same author was hardly to be expectof the character of the older comedy of the Gre- ed; nor, perhaps, would the result have proved altocians. In his Tule of a ?'ub, he follows the path gether so favourable, as might at first view be conof Aristophanes, and lets his wit run into low buf. ceived. We should have had more perfect specimens foonery, that he might bring upon the stage Inigo of the art; but they must have been much fewer in Jones, his personal enemy. In Cynthia's Rerells, number; and posterity would certainly have been and The Slaple of Neus, we find him introducing deprived of that rich luxuriance of dramatic excelthe doll personification of abstract passions and lences and poetic beauties, which, like wild Powers qualities, and turning legitimate comedy into an al- upon a cominon field, lie scattered profusely among legorical mask. What interest can the reader have the unacted plays of Shakspeare. in such characters as the three Penny boys, and Although incalculably superior to his contempotheir transactions with the Lady Pecunia ? Some raries. Shakspeare had successful imitators, and the of Jonson's more legitimate coinedies may be also art of Jonson was not unrivalled. Massinger apfaxed here with filthiness of language; of which pears to have studied the works of both, with the disgusting attribute his works exhibit more instances, intention of uniting their excellences. He knew than those of any English writer of eminence, ex- the strength of plot; and although his plays are al.
cepting Swift. Let us, however, be just to a mas together irregular, yet he well understood the adIter-spirit of his age. The comic force of Jonson vantage of a strong and defined interest; and in
was strong, marked, and peculiar; and he excelled unravelling the intricacy of his intrigues,' he often
even Shakspeare himself in drawing that class of displays the management of a master. Art, theres truly English characters, remarkable for peculiarity fore, not perhaps in its technical, but in its most va
of humour ;- that is, for some mode of thought, luable sense, was Massinger's as well as Jonson's; • speech, and behaviour, superinduced upon the natu- and, in point of composition, many passages of his s ral disposition, by profession, education, or fantastic plays are no: unworthy of Shakspeare. Were we to
cal affectation of singularity. In blazoning these distinguish Massinger's peculiar excellence, we forth with their natural attributes, and appropriate should name that first of dramatic attributes, a full language, Ben Jonson has never been excelled; and conception of character, a strength in bringing out, his works every where exhibit a consistent and man- and consistency in adhering to it. He does not, inly moral, resulting naturally from the events of the deed, always introduce his personages to the audi
ence, in their own proper character; it dawns forth It must also be remembered, that, although it was gradually in the progress of the piece, as in the hypoJonson's fate to be eclipsed by the superior genius, critical Luke, or in the heroic Marullo. But, upon energy, and taste of Shakspeare, yet those advanta-looking back, we are always surprised and delighted ges which enabled him to maintain an honourable to trace from the very beginning, intimations of though an unsuccessful struggle, were of high ad- what the personage is to prove, as the play advances. Vantage to the Drama. Jonson was the first who There is often a harshness of outline, however, in showed, by exampie, the infinite superiority of a the characters of this dramatist, which prevents well-conceived plot, all the parts of which bore upon their approaching to the natural and easy portraits
each other, and forwarded an interesting conclusion, bequeathed us by Shakspeare. & over a tissue of detached scenes, following without Beaumont and Fletcher, men of remarkable ta
necessary connexion or increase of interest. The lent, seemed to have followed Shakspeare's mode of plot of 'The For is admirably conceived; and that composition, rather than Jonson's, and thus to have of The Alchymist, though faulty in the conclusion, altogether neglected that art which Jonson taught, is nearly equal to it. In the two comedies of Erery and which Massinger in some sort practised. They Man in his Humour, and Erery Man out of his may, indeed, be rather said to have taken for their Humour, the plot deserves much less praise, and model the boundless license of the Spanish stage, is deficient at once in interest and unity of action; from which many of their pieces are expressly and but in that of The Silent Iloman, nothing can avowedly derived. The acts of their plays are so exceed the art with which the circumstance upon detached from each other, in substance and consistwhich the conclusion turns, is, until the very last ency, that the plot scarce can be said to hang togescene, concealed from the knowledge of the reader, Ither at all, or to have, in any sense of the word, a
beginning, progress, and conclusion. It seems as if the varied and contrasted feelings with which the the play began, because the curtain rose, and ended, audience of ancient and that of modern days attend because it fell; the author, in the mean time, exerting the progress of the scene. his genius for the amusement of the spectators, Nothing, indeed, is more certain, than that the pretty much in the same manner as in the Scenario general cast of theatrical composition must receive of the Italians, by the actors filling up, with their its principal bent and colouring from the taste of the extempore wit, the scenes chalked out for them. audience: To compensate for this excess of irregularity, the The Drama's laws, the Drama's patrons gire: plays of Beaumont aud Fletcher have still a high For those who live to please, must please to live. poetical value. If character be sometimes violated, But though this be an undeniable, and in some reprobability discarded, and the interest of the plot spects a melancholy truth, it is not less certain, that neglected, the reader is, on the other hand, often genius, labouring in behalf of the public, possesses gratified by the most beautiful description, the most the power of re-action, and of infiuencing, in its tender and passionate dialogue; a display of bril-turn, that taste to which it is in some respects ohliant wit and gayety, or a feast of comic humour. liged to conform; while, on the other hand, the These attributes had 'so much effect on the public, play-wright, who aims only to catch the pareng that, during the end of the seventeenth and begin- plaudit and the profit of a season, by addressing himning of the eighteenth centuries, many of Beaumont self exclusively to the ruling predilections of the and Fletcher's plays had possession of the stage audience, degrades the public taste still further, by while those of Shakspeare were laid upon the shelf. the gross food which he ministers to it; unless it
Shirley, Ford, Webster, Decker, and others, add shall be supposed that he may contribute in voluptaed performances to the early treasures of the Eng- rily to rouse it from its degeneracy, by crammingit lish Drama, which abound with valuable passages. even to satiety and loathing. This action, therefore, There never, probably, rushed into the lists of lite- and re-action of the taste of the age on dramatic rary composition together, a band more distinguish writing, and vice versa, must both be kept in view, ed for talent. If the early Drama be inartificial and when treating of the difference betwixt the days of unequal, no nation, at least, can show so many de- Shakspeare and our own. tached scenes, and even acts, of high poetical merit. Perhaps it is the leading distinction betwixt One powerful cause seems to have produced an ef- the ancient and modern audiences, that the former fect so marked and distinguished; to wit, the uni- came to listen, and to admire; to fling the reins of versal favour of a theatrical public, which daily and their imaginations into the hands of the author and nightly thronged the numerous theatres then open actors, and to be pleased, like the reader to whom in the city of London.
Sterne longed to do homage, "they knew not wby, In considering this circumstance, it must above and cared not wherefore." The novelıy of dramaall be remembered, that these numerous audiences tic entertainments (for there elapsed only about crowded, not to feast their eyes upon show and twenty years betwixt the date of Gammer Gurton's scenery, but to see and hear the literary production Needle, accounted the earliest English play, ard of the evening. The scenes which the stage exhi- the rise of Shakspeare,) must have had its natural bited, were probably of the most paltry description. effect upon the audience. The sun of Shakspeare Some rude helps to the imagination of the audience arose almost without a single gleam of intervening might be used, by introducing the gate of a castle or twilight: and it was no wonder that the audience, intown ;-the monuments of the Capulets, by sinking troduced to this enchanting and seductive ari at a trap-door, or by thrusting in a bed. The good- once, under such an effulgence of excellence, should natured audience readily received these hints, with have been more disposed to wonder than to criticise; that conventional allowance, which Sir Philip Sid to admire--or rather to adore-than to measure the ney had ridiculed, and which Shakspeare himself height, or ascertain the course, of the luminary has alluded to, when he appeals from ihe poverty of which diffused such glory around him. The great theatrical representation to the excited imagination number of theatres in London, and the profusion of of his audience.
varied talent which was dedicated to this service, Can this cockpit hold
attest the eagerness of the public 10 enjoy the enter; The vasty fields of France ? Or may we cram
tainments of the scene. The ruder amusements of Within this wooden 0, the very casques
the age lost their attractions; and the royal bearThat did aflright the air at Agincourt! 0, pardon! since a crooked figure may
ward of Queen Elizabeth lodged a formal complant Attest, in little space, a million ;
at the feet of her majesty, that the play-houses bad And let us, ciphers to this great account,
seduced the audience from his periodical bear-bait. On your imaginary forces work ;
ings! This fact is worth a thousand conjectures ; Suppose, within the girdle of those walls n'd two mighty monarchies,
and we can hardly doubt, that the converts, transWhose bigh upreared and abutting fronts
ported by their improving taste from the bear-garden The perilous nartu w ocean parts asunder;
to the theatre, must, generally, speaking, have felt Printing their proud hoofs i'the receiving earth, For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
their rude minds subdued and led captive by the Carry them here and there ; jumping o'er times;
superior intelligence, which not only placed on the Turning the accomplishment of many years
stage at pleasure all ranks, all ages, all tempers, all Into an hour-glass.
passions of mere humanity, but extended its powers Such were the allowances demanded by Shak- beyond the bounds of time and space, and sexined speare and his contemporaries from the public of to render visible to mortal eyes the secrets of the in their day, in consideration of the imperfect means visible world. We may, perhaps, form the best and appliances of their theatrical machinery. Yet guess of the feelings of Shakspeare's contemporary the deficiency of scenery and show, which, when audience, by recollecting the emotions of any rural existing in its utmost splendour, divides the interest friend, of rough, but sound sense, and ardent felof the piece in the mind of the ignorant, and rarely ings, whom we have had the good fortune to con: affords much pleasure to a spectator of taste, may duct to a theatre for the first time in his life. It have been rather an advantage to the infant Dra may be well imagined, that such a spectator thinks ma. The spectators, having nothing to withdraw little of the three dramatic unities, of which Arscotheir attention from the immediate business of the tle says so little, and his commentators and followpiece, gave it their full and uninterrupted attention. ers talk so much; and that the poet and the per: And here it may not be premature to inquire into the formers have that enviable influence over his inan. characteristical difference between the audiences of nation, which transports him from place to place at the present day, and of those earlier theatrical ages, pleasure; crowds years into the course of hours, and when the Drama boasted not only the names of interests him in the business of each scene, however Shakspeare, of Massinger, of Jonson, of Beaumont disconnected from the others. His eyes are rivelled and Fletcher, of Shirley, of Ford; but others of su to the stage, his ears drink in the accents of the bordinate degree, the meanest of whom shows occa- speakers, and he experiences in his mature age, what sionally more fire than warms whole reams of mo we have all felt in childhood-a sort of doubt dern plays. This will probably be found to rest on I whether the beings and business of the scene be
Are now con
real or fictitious. In this state of delightful fascina- 1 "I went,” says the excellent Evelyn, in his Diary, tion, Shakspeare and the gigantic dramatic cham-, 5th May, 1056to see a new opera after the Italian pions of his age, found the British public at large; way; in recitation, music, and scenes, much interior and how they availed themselves of the advantages to the Italian composure and magnificence; but it which so favourable a temper afforded them, their was prodigious that in such a time of public consterworks will show so long as the language of Britain nation, such a variety should be kept up or permitted, continues to be read. It is true, that the enthusias- and being engaged with company, could not decently tic glow of the public admiration, like the rays of a resist the going to see it, though my heart smoie me tropical sun daried upon a rich soil, called up in for it." Davenant's theatrical enterprise, abhorred profusion weeds as well as flowers; and that, spoil- by the fanaticism of the one party, and ill adapted to ed in some degree by the indulgent acceptation the dejected circumstances of ihe other, was not which attended ibeir efforts, even our most admired probably very successful. writers of Elizabeth's age not unfrequently exceed II. With royalty, the stage revived in England. ed the bounds of critical nicety, and even of common But the theatres in the capital were limited to two, taste and decorum. But these eccentricities were a restriction which has never since been extended. atoned for by a thousand beauties, to which, fetter. This was probably by the advice of Clarendon, who ed by the laws of the classic Drama, the authors endeavoured, though vainly, to stem at all points would hardly have aspired, or, aspiring, would hard- the food of idle gayety and dissipation which broko ly have attained. All of us know and feel how much in after the Restoration. The example of France the exercise of our powers, especially those which might reconcile Charles to this exertion of royal rest on keen feelings and self-confidence, is dependent authority. With this restoration of the Drama, as upon a favourable reception from those for whom they well as of the crown, commences the second part are put in action. Every one has observed how a of English dramatic history. cold brow can damp the brilliancy of wit and ferter Charles II. had been accustomed to enjoy the the flow of eloquence; and how both are induced foreign stage during his exile, and had taste enough to send forth sallies corresponding in strength and to relish its beauties. It is probable, however, that fire, upon being received by the kindred enthusiasm his judgment was formed upon the French model, of those whom they have addressed. And thus, if | for few of the historical or romantic Dramas were we owe to the indiscriminate admiration with which revived at the Restoration. So early as 261h Nothe Drama was at first received, the irregularities of vember, 1662, the Diary of Evelyn contains this the authors by whom it was practised, we also stand entry: "I sav: Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, played, indebted to it, in all probability, for many of its | but now the old plays began to disgust this retined beauties, which became of rare occurrence, when, age, since his Majesty has been so long abroad." by a natural, and indeed a necessary change, sa- | Dryden, Howard, and others, who obtained possestiated admiration began to give way to other feel- sion of the stage, introduced what was for some ings.
time called Heroic Plays, written in couplets, and When a child is tired of playing with a new toy, turning upon the passions of love and honour. In the its next delight is to examine how it is constructed; dialogue, these pieces resembled that of the French and, in like manner, so soon as the first burst of pub- stage, where the actors declaim alternately in the lie admiration is over with respect to any new mode best language, and in the finest thoughts, which the of composition, the nextimpulse prompts us to ana poet can supply; but without much trace of natural lyze and to criticise what was at first the subject of passio! or propriety of character. But though vague and indiscriminate wonder. In the first in French in dialogue and sentiment, the heroic plays stance, the toy is generally broken to pieces; in the were English in noise and bustle, and the lack of other, while the imagination of the authors is sub- truth and nature was supplied by trumpets and temjected to the rigid laws of criticism, the public ge- pesis, vietories and processions. An entertainment nerally lose in genius what they may gain in point of a character so forced and unnatural, was obviof taste. The author who must calculate upon ously of foreign growth, and flowed from the court. severe criticism, turns his thoughts more to avoid Dryden himself has assured us, "that the favour faults than to attain excellence; as he who is afraid which heroic plays had acquired upon the stage, was 10 stumble must avoid rapid motion. The same entirely owing to the countenance which they had process takes place in all the fine arts: their first received at court; and that the most eminent perproductions are distinguished by boldness and sons for wit and humour in the royal circle had so irregularity; those which succeed by a better and far honoured them, that they judged no way so fit more correct taste, but also by inferior and less origi as verse to entertain a noble audience, or express a nal genius.
noble passion." In these pieces the unities were The original school founded by Shakspeare and not observed; but in place of the classical restricBen Jonson, continued by Massinger, Beaumont tions, there were introduced certain romantic whimand Fletcher, Shirley, Ford, and others, whose com sical limitations of the dramatic art, wluch, had they positions are distinguished by irregularity as well as been adopted, must soon have destroyed all its powgenius, was closed by the breaking out of the great ers of pleasing. The characters were avowedly civil war in 1642. The stage had been the constant formed upon ihe model of the French romance, object of reprobation and abhorrence on the part of where honour was a sort of insane gasconading exthe Puritans, and its professors had no favour to travagance, and who seem to have made a vow expect at their hands if victorious. We read, there- never to speak or think of any thing but love; and fore, with interest, but without surprise, that almost that in language sometimes ingeniously metaphysiall the actors took up arms in behalf of their old cal, sometimes puerile to silliness, sometimes mad master King Charles, in whose service most of them even to raving, but always absurd, unnatural, and perished. Robinson, a principal actor at the Black- extravagant. In point of system it was stated, that friars, was killed by Harrison in cold blood, and un an heroic play should be an imitation of an heroic der the application of a text of scripture, -"Cursed poem. The laws of such compositions did not, it is he that doeth the work of the Lord negligently." was said, dispense with those of the elder drama, A few survivors endeavoured occasionally to prac. but exalted them, and obliged the poet to draw ail tise their art in secrecy and obscurity, but were so things as far above the ordinary proportion of the frequently discovered, plundered, and stripped by the stage, as the stage itself is beyond the common soldiers, that, “ Enter the red-coat, Exit hat and words and actions of human life. The effects which cloak," was too frequent a stage direction. Sir Wild an heroic play, constructed upon such an overstrained liam Davenant endeavoured to evade the severe model, produced, is well described by Mrs. Evelyn), zealots of the time, by representing a sort of opera, wife of ihe author of that name already quoted, in a said to have been the first Drama in which moveable letter to Jr. Bohun, written in 1671: "Since my scenery was introduced upon the stage. Even the last to you, I have seen the Siege of Grenada, a play cavaliers of the more grave sort disapproved of the so full of ideas, that the most refined romance I ever revival of these festive entertainments during the read is not to compare with it. Love is made so unstable and melancholy period of the interregnum. I pure, and valour so mice, that one would imagine it