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banished poetry and the sister arts from England; and dramatic poetry, especially, was proscribed by a blind fanaticism, wholly and irredeemably, without discrimination between its elevating and its debasing influence upon the public morals. Milton himself had left "a calm and pleasing solitariness, fed with cheerful and confident thoughts, to embark in a troubled sea of noises and hoarse disputes." Let us retrace our steps, and glance a little at the prelude to this period.
In 1633 was published the celebrated 'Histrio-Mastix, the Player's Scourge,' of William Prynne. In the epistle dedicatory to the benchers of Lincoln's Inn, he says, that about seven years before ho had set down all the play-condemning passages which he recollected in the Fathers and other authors, and that he had since enlarged the intended bulk of this discourse, "because j I saw the numbers of players, play-books, play-haunters, and play-houses still increasing, there being above forty thousand playbooks printed within these two years, as stationers inform me." In his address to the Christian reader he has a distinct allusion to the popularity of Shakspere's collected works: "Some play-books since I first undertook this subject are grown from quarto into folio, which yet bear so good a price and sale, that I cannot but with grief relate it, they are now new printed in far better paper than most octavo or quarto bibles, which hardly find such vent as they." The two folio editions of Shakspere are the only play-books grown from quarto to folio to which the zealous puritan can allude, with the exception of Jonson's own edition of his plays, completed in 1631; those of Beaumont and Fletcher were not collected till 1647. The very fact of the publication of the first two folios of Shakspere is a proof of his popularity with general readers. They were not exclusively the studies of the scholar, such as Milton, or of the playhaunters whom Prynne denounces. A letter in the Bodleian Library, written by a Dr. James, about this period, testifies how generally they were read: "A young gentle lady of your acquaintance, having read the
works of Shakspere, made me this question," &c.* When the London theatres were provided with novelties in such abundance that, according to Prynne, "one study was scarce able to hold the new play-books," the plays of Shakspere were still in such demand for tho purposes of the stage, that his successors in the theatrical property of the Globe and Blackfriars found it their interest to preserve the monopoly of their performance (which they had so long enjoyed), by a handsome gratuity to the Master of the Revels. There is this entry in the officebook of Sir Henry Herbert, in 1627: "Received from Mr. Heming, in their company's name, to forbid the playing of Shakespeare's plays to the Red Bull Company, five pounds." The people clearly had not yet forgotten the "delight and wonder of the stage." Fletcher, Massinger, Shirley, were newer favourites; but the people could not forget Shakspere. Neither was he forgotten by the great. In the very year of the publication of Prynne's book—when St. James's and Whitehall were brilliant with the splendid revelries of an elegant court, and the queen herself took part in the masques and pageantries,—the indecent allusion to which cost Prynne his ears—tho name of Shakspere was as familiar to the royal circle as in the days of James. From the seventeenth of November to the sixth of January, there were eight performances at St. James's and Whitehall, three of which were plays of Shakspere: namely, Richard III., Taming of the Shrew, and Cymbeline; and Sir Henry Herbert records of the last, "well liked by tho king."t These office accounts have great lacunv; but, wherever we find them during the reign of Charles, there we find a record of the admiration of Shakspere.
Dryden lived near enough to the times of Charles I. to be good evidence as to the judgment which the higher circles formed of Shakspere; after the Restoration he was intimate with men who had moved in those circles. His 'Essay on Dramatic Poesy,' which was first printed in 1668, contains the
* Sec Mr. Halliwell's ' Character of FalstafT," p. 19. t See Malone's 'Historical Account of the English Stage.
following passage, which has been often cited. Dryden is speaking in his own person, in an imaginary conversation in which the Earl of Dorset bears a part: "To begin, then, with Shakspeare. He was the man who of all modern, and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul. All the images of nature were still present to him, and he drew them not laboriously, but luckily: when he describes anything, you more than see it, you feel it too. Those who accuse him to have wanted learning give him the greater commendation: ho was naturally learned ; he needed not the spectacles of books to read nature; he looked inwards, and found her there. I cannot say he is everywhere alike; were he so, I should do him injury to compare him with the greatest of mankind. He is many times flat, insipid, his comic wit degenerating into clenches, his serious swelling into bombast. But he is always great when some great occasion is presented to him; no man can say he ever had a fit subject for his wit, and did not then raise himself as high above the rest of the poets,
'Quantum lenta solent inter viburna cupressi.'
The consideration of this made Mr. Hales of Eton say, that there was 'no subject of which any poet ever writ, but he would produce it much better done in Shakspeare;' and, however others are now generally preferred before him, yet the age wherein he lived, which had contemporaries with him, Fletcher and Jonson, never equalled them to < him in their esteem: and in the last king's court, when Ben's reputation was at highest, Sir John Suckling, and with him the greater part of the courtiers, set our Shakspeare far above him." No testimony can be more positive than this, that the two greatest contemporaries of Shakspere never equalled him in the public estimation during his own time; and that in the succeeding period of Charles I., when the reputation of Jonson was at the highest, Suckling, one of the wittiest and sprightliest of men, and the greater part of the courtiers, set Shakspere far above him. But it was not the gay alone, according to Dryden, who thus re
verenced Shakspere. He tells us what was the opinion of "Mr. Hales of Eton." John Hales, a Fellow of Eton, is known as the "learned" Hales, and the "ever-memorable" Hales; and of him, Aubrey says, "When the court was at Windsor the learned courtiers much delighted in his company." His opinion of Shakspere is given with more particularity by Gildon, in an Essay addressed to Dryden in 1694, in which he appeals to Dryden himself as the relator of the aneedote. It is not because Gildon is satirized in 'The Dunciad ' that his veracity is to be questioned *:—" But to give the world some satisfaction that Shakspeare has had as great veneration paid his excellence by men of unquestioned parts as this I now express for him, I shall give some account of what I have heard from your mouth. Sir, about the noble triumph he gained over all the ancients, by the judgment of the ablest crities of that time. The matter of fact, if my memory fail me not, was this. Mr. Hales of Eton affirmed, that he would show all the poets of antiquity outdone by Shakspeare, in all the topies and common places made use of in poetry. The enemies of Shakspeare would by no means yield him so much excellence; so that it came to a resolution of a trial of skill upon that subject. The place agreed on for the dispute was Mr. Hales's chamber at Eton. A great many books were sent down by the enemies of this poet; and on the appointed day my Lord Falkland, Sir John Suckling, and all the persons of quality that had wit and learning, and interested themselves in the quarrel, met there; and upon a thorough disquisition of the point, the judges chosen by agreement out of this learned and ingenious assembly, unanimously gave the preference to Shakspeare, and the Greek and Roman poets were adjudged to veil at least their glory in that to the English hero.''
From the death of Shakspere to the shutting up of the theatres in 1642, a period is embraced of twenty-six years. We have seen the prodigious activity in the production of novelties which existed ten years before the suppression of the theatres. There is
* See Gilford's ' Memoirs of Jonson.' p. eels.
too much reason to know that the stage had acquired a more licentious tone after Shakspere's time; and although the puritans were over-zealous in their indiscriminating violence against all theatrical performances, there is just cause to believe that the senses of the people were stimulated by excitements of plot and character, mingled with profane and licentious language, much more than I in the days when Shakspere rested for his I attractions on a large exhibition of natural passion and true wit; and when he produced play after play, history, comedy, tragedy— "works truly excellent and capable of enj larging the understanding, warming and purifying the heart, and placing in the centre of the whole being the germs of noble and manlike actions."* The nation was much divided then, as it was long afterwards, between the followers of extreme opinions in morals—the over-strict on one hand, the wholly careless on the other. Prynne tells us that, upon his first arrival in London, he had "heard and seen in four several plays, to which the pressing importunity of some ill acquaintance drew me whiles I was yet a novice, such wickedness, such lewdness, as then made my penitent heart to loathe, my conscience to abhor, all stage-plays ever since." Prynne left Oxford and came to London after 1620. Fletcher was then the living idol of the theatre; and any one who is acquainted with his plays, full of genius as they are, must admit that Prynne had too much cause for his disgust. In the officebook of Sir Henry Herbert, in 1633, we find the following curious entry: "The comedy called 'The Young Admiral,' being free from oaths, profaneness, or obsceneness, hath given me much delight and satisfaction in the reading, and may serve for a pattern to other poets." The play was Shirley's. But six months after there is a still more curious entry in the same book: "This morning, being the 9th of January, 1633 , the king was pleased to call me into his withdrawing chamber to the window, where he went over all that I had crossed in Davenant's play-book, and, allowing of faith and slight to be asseverations only and no oaths, marked * Coleridge.
them to stand, and some other few things, but in the greater part allowed of my reformations. This was done upon a complaint of Mr. Endymion Porter's, in December. The king is pleased to take faith, death, flight, for asseverations, and no oaths, to which I do humbly submit as my master's judgment; but under favour conceive them to be oaths, and enter them here, to declare my opinion and submission." But it was not the striking out of the asseveration, or even of the oaths, which could purify the plays of that period. Their principal demoralizing power consisted in their false representations of human character and actions. Take for example "the frightful contrasts," as they have justly been called, between the women of Beaumont and Fletcher and those of Shakspere. He kept at all times in the high road of life. He "has no innocent adulteries, no interesting incests, no virtuous vice; he never renders that amiable which religion and reason alike teach us to detest, or clothes impurity in the garb of virtue, like Beaumont and Fletcher, the Kotzebues of the day."* But this very truth and purity of Shakspere must have greatly diminished his attractions, amidst a crowd who wrote upon opposite principles. Nothing but the unequalled strength of his artistical power could have preserved the unbroken continuance of his supremacy.
And this leads us to the consideration of another cause why the popular admiration of him would have been diminished and interrupted within a very few years after his death, and certainly long before the suppression of the theatres, if his excellences had not so completely triumphed over every impediment to his enduring popular fame. His plays were to a certain extent mixed up with the reputation of the actors by whom they were originally represented. In that curious play 'The Return from Parnassus,' which was acted by the students in St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1606, and which was clearly written by an academical person inclined to satirize the popular poets and players of his day, Kempe is thus made to address two scholars who want lessons in the histrionic art: "Be merry, my lads;
* Coleridge's * Literary Remains,' vol. il. p. 79
you have happened upon the most excellent vocation in the world for money; they come north and south to bring it to our playhouse; and for honours, who of more report than Dick Burbage and Will Kompe 1 He is not counted a gentleman that knows not Dick Burbage and Will Kempe: there's not a country wench that can dance Sellenger's Round, but can talk of Dick Burbage and Will Kempe." Here we have a testimony to the wide-spread popularity of two of the original representatives of Shakspere's clowns and heroes. Kempe died before Shakspere; Burbage within three years after him. Burbage is almost identified with some of Shakspere's greatest characters, and especially with Richard III.; and yet the attraction of the great tragic plays died not with Burbage. Before the suppression of the theatres this actor had his immediate successors; and during the eighteen years in which the theatres were closed, the original bits and points of the Richards, and Hamlets, and Macbeths, and Lean, were diligently recorded; and immediately after the Restoration actors again arose, ambitious to realize the mighty conceptions of the great master of the dramatic art. During the period when the theatres were shut, the readers of plays would still be numerous, and they probably would be most found among the younger men who had a vivid recollection of the representations of the successors of Shakspere. We can understand what the later taste was, by the mode in which Shirley, in his preface to the collated edition of Beaumont and Fletcher, in 1647, speaks of these writers:— "Whom but to mention is to throw a cloud upon all former names, and benight posterity; this book being, without flattery, the greatest monument of the scene that time and humanity have produced, and must live, not only the crown and sole reputation of our
own, but the stain of all other nations and languages; for it may be boldly averred, not one indiscretion hath branded this paper in all the lines, this being the authentic wit that made Blackfriars an academy, where the three hours' spectacle, while Beaumont and Fletcher were presented, was usually of more advantage to the hopeful young heir, than a 'costly, dangerous, foreign travel, with the assistance of a governing monsieur or signer to boot; and it cannot be denied but that the young spirits of the time, whose birth and quality made them impatient of the sourer ways of education, have, from the attentive hearing these pieces, got ground in point of wit and carriage of the most severely employed students, while these recreations were digested into rules, and the very pleasure did edify. How many passable discoursing dining wits stand yet in good credit, upon the bare stock of two or three of these single scenes!" This is a low estimate of the power and capacity of the drama; and one which is a sufficient evidence of a declining taste amongst those who were perforce contented with reading plays during the silence of the stage. From "the greatest monument of the scene that time and humanity have produced," was to be learned what was of more advantage "than a costly, dangerous, foreign travel." Hence were to be acquired "wit and carriage," and "dining wits stand yet in good credit" by passing off the repartees of these dramatists as their ownShirley knew the character of those whom he addressed in this preface. In the contentions of that tragical age few of the serious thinkers would open a play-book at all. To the gay cavaliers, Beaumont and Fletcher would perhaps be more weleome than Shakspere; and Shirley tells us the grounds upon' which they were to be admired. But assuredly this is not oblivion of Shakspere.
Thb theatres were thrown open at the Restoration. Malone, in his 'Historical Account of the English Stage,' informs us, that, "in the latter end of the year 1659, some months before the restoration of King Charles II., the theatres, which had been suppressed during the usurpation, began to revive, and several plays were performed at the Red Bull in St. John's Street, in that and the following years, before the return of the King." He then adds, that in June, 1660, three companies seem to have been formed, including that of the Red Bull; and he enters into a history of the contests between the Master of the Revels, and Killigrew and Davenant, who had received a patent from the king for the exclusive performance of dramatic entertainments. It is scarcely necessary for us to pursue the details of this contest, which, as is well known, terminated in the permanent establishment of two theatres only in London. Malone has ransacked the very irregular series of papers connected with the office of Sir Henry Herbert, who appears to have kept an eye upon theatrical performances with a view to demanding his fees if he should be supported by the higher powers. From these, and other sources, such as the List of Dowries, the prompter of the principal plays acted by Killigrew's company, Malone infers, that "such was the lamentable taste of those times that the plays of Fletcher, Jonson, and Shirley were much oftener exhibited than those of Shakspere." The plays acted by this company, as he collects from these documents, were 'Henry IV.,' 'Merry Wives of Windsor,' 'Othello,' and 'Julius Caesar.' At Davenant's theatre, which boasted of the great actor Betterton, we learn, from Malone, that the plays performed were ' Pericles,' 'Macbeth,' 'The Tempest,' 'Lear,' 'Hamlet,' 'Romeo and Juliet,' 'Henry VIII.,' 'Twelfth Night,'' Taming of the Shrew,'' Henry V.' Malone does not do justice to the value
of his own documents, for, when he gives us one list, he points out that there are only three plays of Shakspere—" amelancholy proof" of his decline; and at another list he shakes his head, reciting "the following plays of Shakspeare, and these only." Now it appears to us that, if any proof were wanting of the wonderful hold which Shakspere had taken of the English mind, under circumstances the most adverse to his continued popularity, it would be found in these imperfect lists, which do not extend over more than eight or nine years. Here are absolutely fourteen plays of Shakspere revived—for that is the phrase— in an age which was prolific of its own authors, adapting themselves to a new school of courtly taste. All the indirect testimony, however meagre, exhibits the enduring popularity of Shakspere. Killigrew's new theatre in Drury Lane is opened with Henry IV. Within a few months after the Restoration, when heading and hanging are going forward, Pcpys relates that he went to see 'Othello.' In 1661, he is attracted by' Romeo and Juliet;' and, in 1662, we have an entry in his diary, with his famous criticism: "To the King's Theatre, where we saw' Midsummer's Night's Dream,' which I had never seen before, nor shall ever again, for it is the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life." Here, upon unquestionable authority, wo have a fifteenth play added to the fourteen previously cited. But why need we search amongst such chance entries for evidence of the reputation of Shakspere immediately after the Restoration? Those who talk of Shakspore as emerging some century ago into celebrity after having fallen into neglect for a lengthened period; those who flippantly affirm, that "the preface of Pope was the first thing that procured general admiration for his works," are singularly ignorant of the commonest passages of literary history. To the vague and random assertions and assumptions, whether old or new, about the