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tain and the general audience, and on its being drawn, began their piece, addressing themselves to the balcony, and regardless of the spectators in the theatre, to whom their backs must have been turned during the whole of the performance.
From a plate prefixed to Kirkman's Drolls, printed in 1672, in which there is a view of a theatrical booth, it should seem that the stage was formerly lighted by two large branches, of a form similar to those now hung in churches; and from Beaumont's Verses prefixed to Fletcher's Faithful Shepherdess, which was acted before the year 1611, we find that wax lights were used.
These branches having been found incommodious, as they obstructed the sight of the spectators, gave place at a subsequent period to small circular wooden frames, furnished with candles, eight of which were hung on the stage, four at either side ; and these within a few years were wholly removed by Mr. Garrick, who, on his return from France in 1765, first introduced the present commodious method of illuminating the stage by lights not visible to the audience.
The body of the house was illuminated by cressets, or large open lanterns of nearly the same size with those which are fixed in the poop of a ship.
If all the players whose names are enumerated in the first folio edition of our author's works, belonged to the same theatre, they composed a numerous company; but it is doubtful whether they all performed at the same period, or always continued in the same house. Many of the companies, in the infancy of the stage, certainly were so thin, that the same person played two or three parts; and a battle on which the fate of an empire was supposed to depend, was decided by half a dozen combatants. It appears to have been a common practice in their mock engagements, to discharge small pieces of ordnance on or behind the stage.
Before the exhibition began, three flourishes were played, or, in the ancient language, there were three soundings. Musick was likewise played between the acts. The instruments chiefly used, were trumpets, cornets, hautboys, lutes, recorders, viols, and organs. The band, which, I believe, did not consist of more than eight or ten performers, sat (as I have been told by a very ancient stage-veteran, who had his information from Bowman, the contemporary of Betterton,) in an upper balcony, over what is now called the stagebox.
From Sir Henry Herbert's Manuscript I learn, that the
musicians belonging to Shakspeare's company were obliged to pay the Master of the Revels an annual fee for a licence to play in the theatre.
Not very long after our poet's death the Blackfriars' band was more numerous; and their reputation was so high as to be noticed by Sir Bulstrode Whitelocke, in an account which he has left of the splendid Masque given by the four Inns of Court on the second of February, 1633-4, entitled The Triumph of Peace, and intended, as he himself informs us, sto manifest the difference of their opinion from Mr. Prynne's new learning, and to confute his Histriomastix against interludes."
A very particular account of this masque is found in his Memorials; but that which Dr. Burney has lately given in his very curious and elegant History of Musick, from a manuscript in the possession of Dr. Moreton, of the British Museum, contains some minute particulars not noticed in the former printed account, and among others an eulogy on our poet's band of musicians.
“ For the Musicke," says Whitelocke, “ which was particularly committed to my charge, I gave to Mr. Ives, and to Mr. Lawes, 1001. a piece for their rewards : for the four French gentlemen, the queen's servants, I thought that a handsome and liberall gratifying of them would be made known to the queen, their mistris, and well taken by her. I therefore invited them one morning to a collation att St. Dunstan's taverne, in the great room, the Oracle of Apollo, where each of them had his plate lay'd by him, covered, and the napkin by it, and when they opened their plates, they found in each of them forty pieces of gould, of their master's coyne, for the first dish, and they had cause to be much pleased with this surprisall.
“ The rest of the musitians had rewards answearable to their parts and qualities; and the whole charge of the musicke came to about one thousaud pounds. The clothes of the horsemen reckoned one with another at £100 a suit, att the least, amounted to £10,000.—The charges of all the rest of the masque, which were borne by the societies, were accounted to be above twenty thousand pounds.
“I was so conversant with the musitians, and so willing to gain their favour, especially at this time, that I composed an aier my selfe, with the assistance of Mr. Ives, and called it Whitelock's Coranto; which being cried up, was first played publiquely by the Blackefryars Musicke, who
were then esteemed the best of common musitians in London. Whenever I came to that house, (as I did sometimes in those dayes, though not often,) to see a play, the musitians would presently play Whitelocke's Coranto: and it was so often called for, that they would have it played twice or thrice in an afternoone. The queen hearing it, would not be persuaded that it was made by an Englishman, bicause she said it was fuller of life and spirit than the English aiers used to be ; butt she honoured the Coranto and the maker of it with her majestyes royall commendation. It grew to that request, that all the common musitians in this towne, and all over the kingdome, gott the composition of itt, and played it publiquely in all places for above thirtie years after.”
The stage, in Shakspeare's time seems to have been separated from the pit only by pales. Soon after the Restoration, the band, I imagine, took the station which they have kept ever since, in an orchestra placed between the stage and the pit.
The person who spoke the prologue, who entered immediately after the third sounding, usually wore a long black velvet cloak, which, I suppose, was considered as best suited to a supplicatory address. Of this custom, whatever may have been its origin, some traces remained till very lately; a black coat having been, if I mistake not, within these few years, the constant stage-!abiliment of our modern prologuespeakers. The complete dress of the ancient prologuespeaker is still retained in the play exhibited in Hamlet, before the king and court of Denmark.
An epilogue does not appear to have been a regular appendage to a play in Shakspeare's time; for many of his dramas had none; at least, they have not been preserved. In All's well that ends well, A Midsummer Night's Dream, As you like it, Troilus and Cressida, and The Tempest, the epilogue is spoken by one of the persons of the drama, and adapted to the character of the speaker; a circumstance that I have not observed in the epilogues of any other author of that age. The epilogue was not always spoken by one of the performers in the piece; for that subjoined to The Second Part of King Henry IV. appears to have been delivered by a dancer.
The performers of male characters frequently wore periwigs which in the age of Shakspeare were not in common use. It appears from a passage in Puttenham's Arte of English Poesie, 1589, that vizards were on some occasions used by the actors of those days; and it may be inferred from
a scene in one of our author's comedies, that they were sometimes worn in his time, by those who performed female characters. But this, I imagine, was very rare. Some of the female part of the audience likewise appeared in masks.
Both the prompter, or book-holder, as he was sometimes called, and the property-man, appear to have been regular appendages of our ancient theatres.
The stage-dresses, it is reasonable to suppose, were much more costly in some playhouses than others. Yet the wardsobe of even the king's servants at The Globe and Blackfriars was, we find, but scantily furnished; and our author's dramas derived very little aid from the splendour of exhibition.
It is well known, that in the time of Shakspeare, and for many years afterwards, female characters were represented solely by boys or young men. Nashe in a pamphlet published in 1592, speaking in defence of the English stage, boasts that the players of his time were “not as the players beyond sea, a sort of squirting bawdie comedians, that have whores and common curtizans to play women's parts.' What Nashe considered as an high eulogy on his country, Prynne has made one of his principal charges against the English stage; having employed several pages in his bulky volume, and quoted many hundred authorities, to prove that “ those playes wherein any men act women's parts in woman's apparell must needs be sinful, yea, abominable unto christians.” The grand basis of his argument is a text in scripture; Deuteronomy, xxii. 5; “ The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto man, neither shall a man put on a woman's
's garment :” a precept, which Sir Richard Baker has justly remarked, is no part of the moral law, and ought not to be understood literally. “Where," says Sir Richard, “ finds he this precept? Even in the same place where he finds also that we must not weare cloaths of linsey-woolsey: and seeing we lawfully now wear cloathes of linsey-woolsey, why may it not be as lawful for men to put on women's garments?"
It may perhaps be supposed, that Prynne, having thus vehemently inveighed against men’s representing female characters on the stage, would not have been averse to the introduction of women in the scene; but sinful as this zealot thought it in men to assume the garments of the other sex, he considered it as not less abominable in women to tread the stage in their own proper dress: for he informs us, “ that
some Frenchwomen, or monsters rather, in Michaelmas term, 1629, attempted to act a French play at the playhouse in Blackfriers,” which he represents as “an impudent, shameful, unwomanish, graceless, if not more than whorish attempt.”
Soon after the period he speaks of, a regular French theatre was established in London, where without doubt women acted. They had long before appeared on the Italian as well as the French stage. When Coryate was at Venice, (July, 1608,] he tells us, he was at one of their playhouses, and saw a comedy acted.
“ The house (he adds) is very beggarly and base, in comparison of our stately playhouses in England; neither can their actors compare with us for apparell, shewes, and musicke. Here I observed certaine things that I never saw before ; for I saw women act, a thing that I never saw before, though I have heard that it hath been some times used in London ; and they performed it with as good a grace, action, gesture, and whatsoever convenient for a player, as ever I saw any masculine actor."
The practice of men's performing the parts of women in the scene is of the highest antiquity. On the Grecian stage no woman certainly ever acted. From Plutarch's Life of Phocian, we learn, that in his time (about three hundred and eighteen years before the Christian era) the performance of a tragedy at Athens was interrupted for some time by one of the actors, who was to personate a queen, refusing to come on the stage, because he had not a suitable mask and dress, and a train of attendants richly habited; and Demosthenes in one of his orations, mentions Theodorus and Aristodemus as having often represented the Antigone of Sophocles. This fact is also ascertained by an anecdote preserved by Aulus Gellius. A very celebrated actor, whose name was Polus, was appointed to perform the part of Electra in Sophocles's play; who in the progress of the drama appears with an urn in her hands, containing, as she supposes, the ashes of Orestes. The actor having some time before been deprived by death of a beloved son, to indulge his grief, as it it should seem, procured the urn which contained the ashes of his child, to be brought from his tomb; which affected him so much, that wher: he appeared with it on the scene, he embraced it with unfeigned sorrow, and burst into tears.
That on the Roman stage also female parts were represented by men in tragedy, is ascertained by one of Cicero's