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you have happened upon the most excellent own, but the stain of all other nations and vocation in the world for money; they come languages; for it may be boldly averred, not north and south to bring it to our playhouse; one indiscretion hath branded this paper in and for honours, who of more report than all the lines, this being the authentic wit Dick Burbage and Will Kempe? He is not that made Blackfriars an academy, where the counted a gentleman that knows not Dick | three hours' spectacle, while Beaumont and Burbage and Will Kempe: there 's not a Fletcher were presented, was usually of more country wench that can dance Sellenger's advantage to the hopeful young heir, than Round, but can talk of Dick Burbage and a costly, dangerous, foreign travel, with the Will Kempe." Here we have a testimony assistance of a governing monsieur or signor to the wide-spread popularity of two of the to boot; and it cannot be denied but that the original representatives of Shakspere's clowns young spirits of the time, whose birth and and heroes. Kempe died before Shakspere; quality made them impatient of the sourer Burbage within three years after him. ways of education, have, from the attentive Burbage is almost identified with some of hearing these pieces, got ground in point of Shakspere's greatest characters, and espe- wit and carriage of the most severely emcially with Richard III.; and yet the at- ployed students, while these recreations were traction of the great tragic plays died not digested into rules, and the very pleasure with Burbage. Before the suppression of did edify. How many passable discoursing the theatres this actor had his immediate dining wits stand yet in good credit, upon successors; and during the eighteen years in the bare stock of two or three of these single which the theatres were closed, the original scenes!” This is a low estimate of the power hits and points of the Richards, and Hamlets, and capacity of the drama; and one which and Macbeths, and Lears, were diligently re- is a sufficient evidence of a declining taste corded; and immediately after the Restora- amongst those who were perforce contented tion actors again arose, ambitious to realize with reading plays during the silence of the mighty conceptions of the great master the stage. From “ the greatest monument of the dramatic art. During the period when of the scene that time and humanity have the theatres were shut, the readers of plays produced,” was to be learned what was of would still be numerous, and they probably more advantage“ than a costly, dangerous, would be most found among the younger foreign travel.” Hence were to be acquired men who had a vivid recollection of the re “wit and carriage,” and “dining wits stand presentations of the successors of Shakspere. yet in good credit” by passing off the reWe can understand what the later taste was, partees of these dramatists as their own. by the mode in which Shirley, in his pre- Shirley knew the character of those whom face to the collated edition of Beaumont and he addressed in this preface. Fletcher, in 1647, speaks of these writers :- tentions of that tragical age few of the se“Whom but to mention is to throw a cloud rious thinkers would open a play-book at all. upon all former names, and benight posterity; To the gay cavaliers, Beaumont and Fletcher this book being, without flattery, the greatest would perhaps be more welcome than Shakmonument of the scene that time and hu- spere; and Shirley tells us the grounds upon manity have produced, and must live, not which they were to be admired. only the crown and sole reputation of our 1 suredly this is not oblivion of Shakspere.
In the con
The theatres were thrown open at the of his own documents, for, when he gives us one Restoration. Malone, in his ‘Historical list, he points out that there are only three Account of the English Stage, informs us, plays of Shaksperem“a melancholy proof” of that, “in the latter end of the year 1659, his decline; and at another list he shakes his some months before the restoration of King head, reciting “the following plays of ShakCharles II., the theatres, which had been speare, and these only.” Now it appears to us suppressed during the usurpation, began to that, if any proof were wanting of the wonrevive, and several plays were performed at derful hold which Shakspere had taken of the the Red Bull in St. John's Street, in that English mind, under circumstances the most and the following years, before the return of adverse to his continued popularity, it would the King.” He then adds, that in June, be found in these imperfect lists, which do 1660, three companies seem to have been not extend over more than eight or nine formed, including that of the Red Bull ; and years. Here are absolutely fourteen plays of he enters into a history of the contests Shakspere revived—for that is the phrasebetween the Master of the Revels, and in an age which was prolific of its own Killigrew and Davenant, who had received authors, adapting themselves to a new school a patent from the king for the exclusive of courtly taste. All the indirect testimony, performance of dramatic entertainments. It however meagre, exhibits the enduring popuis scarcely necessary for us to pursue the larity of Shakspere. Killigrew's new theatre details of this contest, which, as is well in Drury Lane is opened with Henry IV. known, terminated in the permanent esta- Within a few months after the Restoration, blishment of two theatres only in London. when heading and hanging are going forward, Malone has ransacked the very irregular Pepys relates that he went to see 'Othello.' series of papers connected with the office of In 1661, he is attracted by Romeo and Juliet;' Sir Henry Herbert, who appears to have kept and, in 1662, we have an entry in his diary, an eye upon theatrical performances with a with his famous criticism : “To the King's view to demanding his fees if he should be Theatre, where we saw‘Midsummer's Night's supported by the higher powers. From Dream,' which I had never seen before, nor these, and other sources, such as the List of shall ever again, for it is the most insipid Downes, the prompter of the principal plays ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life.” acted by Killigrew's company, Malone infers, Here, upon unquestionable authority, we that “such was the lamentable taste of have a fifteenth play added to the fourteen those times that the plays of Fletcher, previously cited. But why need we search Jonson, and Shirley were much oftener ex- amongst such chance entries for evidence of hibited than those of Shakspere.” The plays the reputation of Shakspere immediately acted by this company, as he collects from after the Restoration ? Those who talk of these documents, were 'Henry IV.,''Merry Shakspere as emerging some century ago into Wives of Windsor,' "Othello,' and 'Julius celebrity after having fallen into neglect for Cæsar.' At Davenant's theatre, which boasted a lengthened period ; those who flippantly of the great actor Betterton, we learn, from affirm, that “the preface of Pope was the Malone, that the plays performed were 'Pe- first thing that procured general admiration ricles,' 'Macbeth,' The Tempest,''Lear,' for his works,” are singularly ignorant of “Hamlet,' 'Romeo and Juliet,' 'Henry VIII.,' the commonest passages of literary history. "Twelfth Night,"Taming of the Shrew,''Henry To the vague and random assertions and V.' Malone does not do justice to the value assumptions, whether old or new, about the
neglect into which Shakspere had fallen as competitors; formed for the mutual assistance a popular dramatist, may be opposed the and illustration of each other's genius. How most distinct testimony of one, especially, Shakespeare wrote, all men who have a taste who was a most accurate and minute for nature may read, and know; but with chronicler of the public taste. COLLEY CIBBER, what higher rapture would he still be read, who himself became an actor, in 1690, in the could they conceive how Betterton played one privileged company of London, of which him!” Whenever Cibber speaks of BetterBetterton was the head-a company formed ton's wondrous excellence, it is always in out of the united strength of the two connection with Shakspere: “Should I tell companies which had been established at the you that all the Othellos, Hamlets, Hotspurs, Restoration-describes the state of the stage Macbeths, and Brutuses whom you may have at the period of the first revival of dramatic seen since his time, have fallen far short of performances: “Besides their being thorough him, this still should give you no idea of his masters of their art, these actors set forward particular excellence.” For some years after with two critical advantages, which perhaps the Restoration it seems to have been difficult may never happen again in many ages.” to satiate the people with the repetition of One of the advantages he mentions, but a Shakspere’s great characters and leading secondary one, was, “that before the Restora- plays, in company with some of the plays of tion no actresses had ever been seen upon the Jonson and Fletcher. The two companies English stage.” But the chief advantage had an agreement as to their performances : was, “their immediate opening after the so “All the capital plays of Shakespeare, long interdiction of plays during the civil Fletcher, and Ben Jonson were divided bewar and the anarchy that followed it.” He tween them by the approbation of the court, then goes on to say, “What eager appetites and their own alternate choice.
So that, from so long a fast must the guests of those when Hart was famous for Othello, Betterton times have had to that high and fresh variety had no less a reputation for Hamlet." Still, of entertainments !” Provided by whom? | the test of histrionic excellence was ShakBy the combined variety of Jonson, and spere. So far from Shakspere being neglected Fletcher, and Massinger, and Ford, and at this period, it is almost evident that the Shirley, and a host of other writers, whose performance of him was overdone ; for every attactive fare was to be presented to the one knows that a theatrical audience, even eager guests after so long a fast ? No. The in the largest city, is, in a considerable high entertainment and the fresh variety degree, composed of regular frequenters of was to be provided by one man alone,—the the theatre, and that novelty is therefore an man who we are told was neglected in his indispensable requisite to continued success. own age, and forgotten in that which came The plays of Shakspere were better acted by after him. “What eager appetites from so the company of which Betterton was the long a fast must the guests of those times head, than by the rival company ; and this, have had to that high and fresh variety of according to Cibber, led to the introduction entertainments which Shakespeare had left of a new taste : “ These two excellent prepared for them! Never was a stage so companies were both prosperous for some few provided. A hundred years are wasted, and years, till their variety of plays began to be another silent century well advanced *, and exhausted. Then, of course, the better actors yet what unborn age shall say Shakespeare (which the King's seem to have been allowed) has his equal! How many shining actors could not fail of drawing the greater audihave the warm scenes of his genius given to
Sir William Davenant, therefore, posterity! Betterton is idolized as master of the Duke's company, to make head actor, as much as the old man venerates against their success, was forced to add Shakspere : “ Betterton was an actor, as spectacle and music to action, and to intro Shakespeare was an author, both without duce a new species of plays, since called * Cibber is writing as late as 1740.
dramatic operas, of which kind were “The
Tempest,' 'Psyche,' 'Circe,' and others, all several angels holding the King's arms, as if set off with the most expensive decorations they were placing them in the midst of that of scenes and habits, with the best voices compass-pediment. Behind this is the scene, and dancers.
which represents a thick cloudy sky, a very “ This sensual supply of sight and sound rocky coast, and a tempestuous sea in percoming into the assistance of the weaker petual agitation. This tempest (supposed to party, it was no wonder they should grow too be raised by magic) has many dreadful hard for sense and simple nature, when it is objects in it, as several spirits in horrid considered how many more people there are shapes flying down amongst the sailors, then that can see and hear than think and judge. rising in the air. And, when the ship is So wanton a change of the public taste, sinking, the whole house is darkened, and a therefore, began to fall as heavy upon the shower of fire falls upon 'em. This is King's company as their greater excellence in accompanied with lightning, and several action had before fallen upon their competitors. claps of thunder, to the end of the storm.” Of which encroachment upon wit several In the alterations of this play, which were good prologues in those days frequently made in 1669, and which continued to possess complained."
the English stage for nearly a century and a There can be no doubt that most of the half, it is impossible now not to feel how original performances of Shakspere, imme- false was the taste upon which they were diately after the Restoration, were given built. Dryden says of this play, that Davefrom his unsophisticated text. The first nant, to put the last hand to it, “designed improvements that were perpetrated upon the counterpart to Shakespeare's plot, namely, this text resulted from the cause which that of a man who had never seen a woman; Cibber has so accurately described. Davenant, that by this means those two characters of to make head against the success of the innocence and love might the more illustrate King's company “was forced to add spectacle and commend each other.” Nothing can be and music to action.” What importance weaker and falser in art than this mere Davenant attached to these novelties, we may duplication of an idea. But still it was not learn from the description of the opening done irreverently. The prologue to this scene of "The Enchanted Island ;' that altered Tempest (of his own part of which alteration of “The Tempest,' by himself and Dryden says, “I never writ anything with Dryden, to which Cibber refers :-“ The front more delight”) is of itself an answer to the of the stage is opened, and the band of asinine assertion that Dryden, in common twenty-four violins, with the harpsicals and with the public of his day, was indifferent to theorbos which accompany the voices, are the memory of Shakspere :placed between the pit and the stage. While the overture is playing, the curtain rises,
“ As, when a tree's cut down, the secret root and discovers a new frontispiece joined to
Lives underground, and thence new branches
shoot; the great pilasters on each side of the stage. This frontispiece is a noble arch, supported
So, from old Shakespear's honour'd dust, this
day by large wreathed columns of the Corinthian
Springs up and buds a new reviving play. order; the wreathings of the columns are beautified with roses wound round them, and
Shakespear, who (taught by none) did first
impart several Cupids flying about them. On the
To Fletcher wit, to labouring Jonson art. cornice, just over the capitals, sits on either
He, monarch like, gave those his subjects side a figure, with a trumpet in one hand
law, and a palm in the other, representing Fame. And is that nature which they paint and A little farther on the same cornice, on each
draw. side of a compass pediment, lie a lion and a Fletcher reached that which on his heights unicorn, the supporters of the royal arms of England. In the middle of the arch are Whilst Jonson crept and gather'd all below.
This did his love, and this his mirth digest: ages. But 'tis almost a miracle that much One imitates him most, the other best. of his language remains so pure ; and that If they have since out-writ all other men, he who began dramatic poetry amongst us, 'Tis with the drops which fell from Shake- untaught by any, and, as Ben Jonson tells speare's pen.
us, without learning, should, by the force of The storm which vanish'd on the neighbʼring his own genius, perform so much, that in a shore
manner he has left no praise for any who Was taught by Shakespear's Tempest first to
came after him."
Dryden had the notion, in which ShaftesThat innocence and beauty which did smile In Fletcher, grew on this Enchanted Isle.
bury followed him, that the style of ShakBut Shakespear's magic could not copied be,
spere was obsolete, although we have just Within that circle none durst walk but he.
seen that he says,
6 'Tis almost a miracle I must confess 'twas bold, nor would you
that much of his language remains so pure.”
Yet with this notion, which he puts forward That liberty to vulgar wits allow,
as an apology for tampering with Shakspere, Which works by magic supernatural things : he never ceases to express his admiration of But Shakespear's power is sacred as a king's. him; and, what is of more importance, to Those legends from old priesthood were re show how general was the same feeling. ceiv'd,
The preface to. "Troilus and Cressida’ thus And he then writ, as people then believ'd.
begins :-“ The poet Æschylus was held in
the same veneration by the Athenians of Of Dryden's personal admiration of Shak- after-ages as Shakspeare is by us.” In this spere, of his profound veneration for Shak- preface is introduced the Grounds of Critispere, there is abundant proof. He belonged cism in Tragedy,' in which the critic applies to the transition period of English poetry. a variety of tests to the art of Shakspere, His better judgment was sometimes held in which only show that he did not understand subjection to the false taste that prevailed the principles upon which Shakspere worked : around him. He attempted to found a school but still there is everywhere the most unof criticism, which should establish rules of qualified admiration ; and in the prologue art differing from those which produced the to the altered play, which, being addressed drama of Shakspere, and yet not acknow- to the people, could scarcely deal with such ledging the supremacy of the tame and rules and exceptions for the formation of a formal school of the French tragedians. He judgment, we have again the most positive did not perfectly understand the real nature testimony to the public sense of Shakspere. of the romantic drama. He did not see This prologue is “spoken by Mr. Betterton, that, as in all other high poetry, simplicity representing the ghost of Shakspeare.” was one of its great elements. He was of those who would "gild refined gold.” But
“See, my lov'd Britons, see your Shakespear
rise, for genial hearty admiration of the great
An awful ghost confess'd to human eyes ! master of the romantic drama no one ever
Unnam'd, methinks, distinguish'd I had been went beyond him. Take, for example, the
From other shades, by this eternal green, conclusion of his preface to 'All for Love:'
Above whose wreaths the vulgar poets strive, -“In my style I have professed to imitate
And with a touch their wither'd bays rethe divine Shakespear ; which that I might
vive. perform more freely, I have disencumbered
Untaught, unpractis'd, in a barbarous age, myself from rhyme. Not that I condemn
I found not, but created first, the stage. my former way, but that this is more proper
And, if I drain'd no Greek or Latin store, to my present purpose. I hope I need not
'Twas, that my own abundance gave me to explain myself that I have not copied my author servilely. Words and phrases must On foreign trade I needed not rely, of necessity receive a change in succeeding Like fruitful Britain, rich without supply.