The Theatre.

I. The public—The stage. II. Manners of the sixteenth century—Violent and complete expansion of nature. III. English manners-Expansion of the energetic and gloomy character. IV. The poets-General harmony between the character of a poet and that of his

age-Nash, Decker, Kyd, Peele, Lodge, Greene- Their condition and life -Marlowe-His life-His works-Tamburlaine--The Jew of Malta

Edward II.-Faustus-His conception of man. V. Formation of this drama--The process and character of this art-Imitative

sympathy, which depicts by expressive specimens-Contrast of classical and Germanic art-Psychological construction and proper sphere of these

two arts. VI. Male characters-Furious passions-Tragical events-Exaggerated characters

- The Duke of Milan by Massinger-Ford's Annabella-Webster's Duchess of Malfi and Vittoria-Female characters-Germanic idea of love and marriage-Euphrasia, Bianca, Arethusa, Ordella, Aspasia, Amoret, in Beaumont and Fletcher — Penthea in Ford — Agreement of the moral and physical type.

E must look at this world more closely, and beneath the ideas

which are developed seek for the men who live; it is the theatre especially which is the original product of the English Renaissance, and it is the theatre especially which will exhibit the men of the English Renaissance. Forty poets, amongst them ten of superior rank, and the greatest of all artists who have represented the soul in words; many hundreds of pieces, and nearly fifty masterpieces; the drama extended over all the provinces of history, imagination, and fancy,-expanded so as to embrace comedy, tragedy, pastoral and fanciful literature-to represent all degrees of human condition, and all the caprices of human invention—to express all the sensitive details of actual truth, and all the philosophic grandeur of general reflection ; İthe stage disencumbered of all precept and freed from all imitation, given up and appropriated in the minutest particulars to the reigning taste and the public intelligence : all this was a vast and manifold work, capable by its flexibility, its greatness, and its form, of receiving and preserving the exact imprint of the age and of the nation."

1 Shakspeare, “The very age and body of the time, his form and pressure.'

Let us try, then, to set before our eyes this public, this audience, and this stage—all connected with one another, as in every natural and living work; and if ever there was a living and natural work, it is here. There were already seven theatres in Shakspeare's time, so brisk and universal was the taste for representations. Great and rude contrivances, awkward in their construction, barbarous in their appointments; but a fervid imagination readily supplied all that they lacked, and hardy bodies endured all inconveniences without difficulty. On a dirty site, on the banks of the Thames, rose the principal theatre, the Globe, a sort of hexagonal tower, surrounded by a muddy ditch, surmounted by a red flag. The common people could enter as well as the rich: there were sixpenny, twopenny, even penny seats; but they could not see it without money. If it rained, and it often rains in London, the people in the pit, butchers, mercers, bakers, sailors, apprentices, receive the streaming rain upon their heads. I suppose they did not trouble themselves about it; it was not so long since they began to pave the streets of London; and when men, like them, have had experience of sewers and puddles, they are not afraid of catching cold. While waiting for the piece, they amuse themselves after their fashion, drink beer, crack nuts, eat fruits, howl, and now and then resort to their fists; they have been known to fall upon the actors, and turn the theatre upside down. At other times they have gone in disgust to the tavern to give the poet a hiding, or toss him in a blanket; they were rude jokers, and there was no month when the cry of Clubs' did not call them out of their shops to exercise their brawny arms.) When the beer took effect, there was a great upturned barrel in the pit, a peculiar receptacle for general use. The smell rises, and then comes the cry, · Burn the juniper!') They burn some in a plate on the stage, and the heavy smoke fills the air. Certainly the folk there assembled could scarcely get disgusted at anything, and cannot have had sensitive noses. In the time of Rabelais there was not much cleanness to speak of. Remember that they were hardly out of the middle-age, and that in the middle-age man lived on the dunghill.

Above them, on the stage, were the spectators able to pay a shilling, the elegant people, the gentlefolk. These were sheltered from the rain, and if they chose to pay an extra shilling, could have a stool. To this were reduced the prerogatives of rank and the devices of comfort: it often happened that stools were lacking; then they stretched themselves on the ground: they were not dainty at such times. They play cards, smoke, insult the pit, who give it them back without stinting, and throw apples at them into the bargain. As for the gentlefolk, they gesticulate, swear in Italian, French, English ;' crack

Ben Jonson, Every Man in his Humour; Cynthia's Revels.

aloud jokes in dainty, composite, high-coloured words: in short, they have the energetic, original, gay manners of artists, the same humour, the same absence of constraint, and, to complete the resemblance, the same desire to make themselves singular, the same imaginative cravings,

the shape of a fan, a spade, the letter T, gaudy and expensive dresses, copied from five or six neighbouring nations, embroidered, laced with gold, motley, continually heightened in effect, or changed for others : there was, as it were, a carnival in their brains as on their backs.

With such spectators illusions could be produced without much trouble: there were no preparations or perspectives; few or no moveable scenes: their imaginations took all this upon them. A scroll in big letters announced to the public that they were in London or Constantinople; and that was enough to carry the public to the desired place. There was no trouble about probability. Sir Philip Sidney writes :

“You shall have Asia of the one side, and Africke of the other, and so many other under-kingdomes, that the Plaier when hee comes in, must ever begin with telling where hee is, or else the tale will not be conceived. Now shall you have three Ladies walke to gather flowers, and then wee must beleeve the stage to be a garden. By and by wee heare newes of shipwracke in the same place, then wee are to blame if we accept it not for a rocke; ... while in the meane time two armies flie in, represented with foure swordes and bucklers, and then what hard heart will not receive it for a pitched field ? Now of time they are much more liberall. For ordinary it is, that two young Princes fall in love, after many traverses, shee is got with childe, delivered of a faire boy, hee is lost, groweth a man, falleth in love, and is readie to get another childe; and all this in two houres space.'? Doubtless these enormities were somewhat reduced under Shakspeare ; with a few hangings, rude representations of animals, towers, forests, they assisted somewhat the public imagination. But in fact, in Shakspeare's plays as in all others, the public imagination is the great contriver; it must lend itself to all, substitute all, accept for a queen a young boy whose beard is beginning to grow, endure in one act twelye changes of place, leap suddenly over twenty years or five hundred miles, take half a dozen supernumeraries for forty thousand men, and to have represented by the rolling of the drums all the battles of Cæsar, Henry V., Coriolanus, Richard 11. All this, imagination, being 80 overflowing and so young, does accept! Recall your own youth ; for my part, the deepest emotions I have had at a theatre were given to me by an ambling bevy of four young girls, playing comedy and drama on a stage in a coffeehouse; true, I was eleven years old. So in this theatre, at this moment, their souls were fresh, as ready to feel everything as the poet was to dare everything.

[ocr errors]

II. These are but externals ; let us try to advance further, to observe the passions, the bent of mind, the inner man : it is this inner state which raised and modelled the drama, as everything else; invisible inclinations are everywhere the cause of visible works, and the interior shapes the exterior. What are these townspeople, courtiers, this public, whose taste fashions the theatre? what is there particular in the structure and condition of their mind ? The condition must needs be particular; for the drama flourishes all of a sudden, and for sixty years together, with marvellous luxuriance, and at the end of this time is arrested so that no effort could revive it. The structure must be particular; for of all theatres, old and new, this is distinct in form, and displays a style, action, characters, an idea of life, which are not found in any age or any country beside. This particular feature is the free and complete expansion of nature.

What we call nature in men is, man such as he was before culture and civilisation had deformed and re-formed him. Almost always, when a new generation arrives at manhood and consciousness, it finds a code of precepts which it imposes on itself, with all the weight and authority of antiquity. A hundred kinds of chains, a hundred thousand kinds of ties, religion, morality, manners, every legislation which regulates sentiments, morals, manners, fetter and tame the creature of impulse and passion which breathes and frets within each of us. There is nothing like that here. It is a regeneration, and the curb of the past is wanting to the present. Catholicism, reduced to external ceremony and clerical chicanery, had just ended; Protestantism, arrested in its endeavours, or straying into sects, had not yet gained the mastery ; the religion of discipline was grown feeble, and the religion of morals was not yet established ;|\men ceased to listen to the directions of the clergy, and had not yet spelt out the law of conscience. The church was turned into an assembly room, as in Italy; the young fellows came to St. Paul's to walk, laugh, chatter, display their new cloaks; the thing had even passed into a custom. They paid for the noise they made with their spurs, and this tax was a source of income to the canons ;7 pickpockets, the girls of the town, came there by crowds ; these latter struck their bargains while service was going on. Imagine, in short, that the scruples of conscience and the severity of the Puritans were odious things, and that they ridiculed them on the stage,

Strype, in his Annals of the Reformation (1571), says: “Many now were wholly departed from the communion of the church, and came no more to hear divine service in their parish churches, nor received the holy sacrament, according to the laws of the realm.' Richard Baxter, in his Life, published in 1696, says: “We lived in a country that had but little preaching at all. . . . In the village where I lived the Reader read the Common Prayer briefly; and the rest of the day, even till dark night almost, except Eating time, was spent in Dancing under a Maypole

and judge of the difference between this sensual, unbridled England, and the correct, disciplined, stern England of our own time. Ecclesiastical or secular, we find no signs of rule. In the failure of faith, reason had not gained sway, and opinion is as void of authority as tradition. The imbecile age, which has just ended, continues buried in scorn, with its ravings, its verse-makers, and its pedantic text-books; and out of the liberal opinions derived from antiquity, from Italy, France, and Spain, every one could pick as it pleased him, without stooping to restraint or acknowledging a superiority. There was no model imposed on them, as nowadays; instead of affecting imitation, they affected originality. Each strove to be himself, with his own oaths, fashions, costumes, his specialties of conduct and humour, and to be unlike every one else. They said not, “So and so is done,' but “I do so and so.' Instead of restraining themselves, they expanded. There was no etiquette of society; save for an exaggerated jargon of chivalresque courtesy, they are masters of speech and action on the impulse of the moment. You will find them free from decorum, as of all else. In this outbreak and absence of fetters, they resemble thorough-bred horses let loose in the meadow. Their inborn instincts have not been tamed, nor muzzled, nor diminished.

On the contrary, they have been preserved intact by bodily and military training; and escaping as they were from barbarism, not from civilisation, they had not been acted upon by the inner softening and hereditary tempering which are now transniitted with the blood, and civilise a man from the moment of his birth. This is why man, who for three centuries has been a domestic animal, was still almost a savage beast, and the force of his muscles and the strength of his nerves increased the boldness and energy of his passions. Look at these uncultivated men, men of the people, how suddenly the blood warms and rises to their face; their fists double, their lips press together, and those vigorous bodies are hurried at once into action. The courtiers of that age were like our men of the people. They had the same taste for the exercise of their limbs, the same indifference toward the inclemencies of the weather, the same coarseness of language, the same undisguised sensuality. They were carmen in body and gentlemen in sentiment, with the dress of actors and the tastes of artists. At fourtene,' says John Hardyng, a lordes sonnes shalle to felde hunte the dere, and catch an hardynesse. For dere to hunte and slea, and see them blede, ane hardyment gyffith to his courage. . . . At sextene yere, to werray and to wage, to juste and ryde, and castels to assayle ... and every

and a great tree, not far from my father's door, where all the Town did meet together. And though one of my father's own Tenants was the piper, he could not restrain him nor break the sport. So that we could not read the Scripture in our family without the great disturbance of the Taber and Pipe and noise in the street.'

Ben Jonson, Every Man in his Humour.

« ElőzőTovább »