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« that looks like a regular comedy;" that is, the first play that was neither Mystery nor Morality, and in which some humour and discrimination of character may be found. In 1561-2, Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, and Thomas Norton, joined in writing the tragedy of Ferrex and Porrex, which was exhibited on the 18th of January in that year, by the Students of the Inner Temple, before Queen Elizabeth, at Whitehall. Neither of these pieces appears to have been acted on a publick theatre, nor was there at that time any building in London constructed solely for the purpose of representing plays. Of the latter piece, which, as Mr. Warton has observed, is perhaps “ the first specimen in our language of an heroick tale written in verse, and divided into acts and scenes, and cloathed in all the formalities of a regular tragedy,” a correct analysis may be found in The HISTORY OF English POETRY, and the play itself within these few years has been accurately reprinted.
It has been justly remarked by the same judicious writer, that the early practice of performing plays in schools and universities greatly contributed to the improvement of our drama. “ While the people were amused with Skelton's Trial of Simony, Bale's God's Promises, and Christ's Descent into Heil, the scholars of the times were composing and acting plays on historical subjects, and in imitation of Plautus and Terence. Hence ideas of legitimate fable must have been imperceptibly derived to the popular and vernacular drama."
In confirmation of what has been suggested, it may be observed, that the principal dramatick writers, before Shakspeare appeared, were scholars. Greene, Lodge, Peele, Marlowe, Nashe, Lily, and Kyd, had all a regular university education. From whatever cause it may have arisen, the dramatick poetry about this period certainly assumed a better, though still an exceptionable, form. The example which had been furnished by Sackville, was quickly followed,
great number of tragedies and historical plays was produced between the years 1570 and 1590; some of which are still extant, though by far the greater part is lost. This, I apprehend, was the great era of those bloody and bombastick pieces, which afforded subsequent writers perpetual topicks of ridicule: and during the same period were exhibited many Histories, or historical dramas, formed on our English Chronicles, and representing a series of events simply in the order of time in which they happened. Some have supposed that Shakspeare was the first dramatick poet
that introduced this species of drama ; but this is an undoubted error. I have elsewhere observed that every one of the subjects on which he constructed his historical plays, appears to have been dramatized, and brought upon the scene, before his time. The historical drama is by an elegant modern writer supposed to have owed its rise to the publication of The Mirrour for Magistrates, in which many of the most distinguished characters in English history are introduced, giving a poetical narrative of their own misfortunes. Of this book three editions, with various alterations and improvements, were printed between 1563 and 1587.
At length about the year 1591) the great luminary of the dramatick world blazed out, and our poet produced those plays which have now for two hundred years been the boast and admiration of his countrymen.
Our earliest dramas, as we have seen, were represented in churches or near them by ecclesiasticks : but at a very early period, I believe, we had regular and established players, who obtained a livelihood by their art. So early as in the year 1378, as has been already noticed, the singing-boys of St. Paul's represented to the King, that they had been at a considerable expence in preparing a stage representation at Christmas. These, however, cannot properly be called comedians, nor am I able to point out the time when the profession of a player became common and established. It has been supposed that the license granted by Queen Elizabeth to James Burbage and others, in 1574, was the first regular license ever granted to comedians in England; but this is a mistake, for Heywood informs us that similar licenses had been granted by her father King Henry the Eighth, King Edward the Sixth, and Queen Mary. Stowe records, that " when King Edward the Fourth would shew himself in state to the view of the people, he repaired to his palace at St. John's, where he was accustomed to see the City Actors.” In two books in the Remembrancer's office in the Exchequer, containing an account of the daily expences of King Henry the Seventh, are many articles; from which it appears, that at that time players, both French and English, made a part of the appendages of the court, and were supported by regal establishment.
And it appears that there was then not only a regular troop of players in London, but also a royal company. The intimate knowledge of the French language and manners which Henry must have acquired during his long sojourn in
foreign courts, (from 1471 to 1485,) accounts for the article relative to the company of French players.
In a manuscript in the Cottonian Library in the Museum, a narrative is given of the shews and ceremonies exhibited at Christmas in the fifth year of this king's reign, 1490 : “ This Cristmass I saw no disgysynys, and but right few plays; but ther was an abbot of mis-rule, that made muchie sport, and did right well his office.-On Candell Mass day, the king, the the qwen, my ladye the king's moder, with the substance of al the lordes temporell present at the parlement, &c. wenten a procession from the chapell into the hall, and soo into Westmynster Hall :-The kynge was that daye in a riche gowne of purple, pirled withie gold, furred wythe sabuls :--At nyght the king, the qwene, and my ladye the kyngs moder, came into the Whit hall, and ther had a pley.”-On Newyeeres day at nyght, says the same writer, speaking of the year 1488,) ther was a goodly disgysyng, and also this Cristmass ther wer many and dyvers playes.'
A proclamation which was issued out in the year 1547 by King Edward the Sixth, to prohibit for about two months the exhibition of “any kind of interlude, play, dialogue, or other matter set forth in the form of a play, in the English tongue,” describes plays as a familiar entertainment, both in London and in the country, and the profession of an actor as common and established. “ For as much as great number of those that be common players of interludes and playes, as well within the city of London as elsewhere within the realme, doe for the most part play such interludes as contain matter tending to sedition,” &c. By common players of interludes here mentioned, I apprehend, were meant the players of the city, as contradistinguished from the king's own servants. In a manuscript which I saw some years ago, and which is now in the library of the Marquis of Lansdown, are sundry charges for the players belonging to King Edward the Sixth ; but I have not preserved the articles. And in the house-hold book of Queen Mary, in the Library of the Antiquarian Society, is an entry which shows that she also had a theatrical establishment : “ Eight players of interludes, each 66s. 8d. 261. 138. 4d.
It has already been mentioned that originally plays were performed in churches. Though Bonner Bishop of London issued a proclamation to the clergy of his diocese in 1542, prohibiting “all manner of common plays, games, or interludes, to be played, set forth, or declared within their churches, chappels,” &c. the practice seems to have been
continued occasionally during the reign of Queen Elizabeth ; for the author of The Third Blast of Retrait from Plays and Players complains, in 1580, that “the players are permitted to publish their mammetrie in every temple of God, and that throughout England;" &c. and this abuse is taken notice of in one of the Canons of King James the First, given soon after his accession in the year 1603. Early, however, in Queen Elizabeth's reign, the established players of London began to act in temporary theatres constructed in the yards of inns; and about the year 1570, I imagine, one or two regular playhouses were erected. Both the theatre in Blackfriars and that in Whitefriars were certainly built before 1580; for we learn from a puritanical pamphlet published in the last century, that soon after that year, “ many goodly citizens and well disposed gentlemen of London, considering that playhouses and dicing-houses were traps for young gentlemen, and others, and perceiving that many inconveniencies and great damage would ensue upon the long suffering of the same,-acquainted some pious magistrates therewith,—who thereupon made humble suite to Queene Elizabeth and her privy-councell, and obtained leave from her majesty to thrust the players out of the citty, and to pull down all playhouses and dicing-houses within their liberties; which accordingly was effected, and the playhouses in Gracious-street, Bishopsgate-street, that nigh Paul's, that on Ludgate-hill, and the White-friers, were quite pulled down and suppressed by the care of these religious senators.” The theatre in Blackfriars, not being within the liberties of the city of London, escaped the fury of these fanaticks. Elizabeth, however, though she yielded in this instance to the frenzy of the time, was during the whole course of her reign a favourer of the stage, and a frequent attendant upon plays. So early as in the year 1569, as we learn from another puritanical writer, the children of her chapel, (who are described as “her majesty's unfledged minions,”) “ Haunted it in their silkes and sattens," and acted plays on profane subjects in the chapel-royal. In 1574 she granted a licence to James Burbage, probably the father of the celebrated tragedian, and four others, servants to the Earl of Leicester, to exhibit all kinds of stage-plays, during pleasure, in any part of England, “ as well for the recreation of her loving subjects, as for her own solace and pleasure when she should think good to see them ;” and in the year 1583, soon after a furious attack had been made on the stage by the puritans, twelve of the principal comedians of that time, at the earnest request of Sir Francis Walsingham, were se.
lected from the companies then subsisting, under the licence and protection of various noblemen, and were sworn her majesty's servants. Eight of them had an annual stipend of 3). 6s. 8d. each. At that time there were eight companies of comedians, each of which performed twice or thrice a week.
King James the First appears to have patronized the stage with as much warmth as his predecessor. In 1599, while he was yet in Scotland, he solicited Queen Elizabeth (if we may believe a modern historian) to send a company of English comedians to Edinburgh; and very soon after his accession to the throne, granted a licence to the company at the Globe, which is found in Rymer's Federa.
HAVING now, as concisely as I could, traced the History
of the English Stage, from its first rude state to the period of its maturity and greatest splendor, I shall endeavour to exhibit as accurate a delineation of the internal form and economy of our ancient theatres, as the distance at which we stand, and the obscurity of the subject, will permit.
The most ancient English playhouses of which I have found any account, are, the playhouse in Blackfriars, that in Whitefriars, the Theatre, of which I am unable to ascertain the situation, and The Curtain, in Shoreditch. The Theatre, from its name, was probably the first building erected in or near the metropolis purposely for scenick exhibitions.
In the time of Shakspeare there were seven principal theatres : three private houses, namely, that in Blackfriars, that in Whitefriars, and The Cockpit or Phænix, in Drury Lane ; and four that were called publick theatres; viz. The Globe on the Bankside, The Curtain in Shoreditch, The Red Bull, at the upper end of St. John's Street, and The Fortune in Whitecross Street. The last two were chiefly frequented by citizens. There were, however, but six companies of comedians; for the playhouse in Blackfriars, and the Globe, belonged to the same troop. Beside these seven theatres, there were for some time on the Bankside three other publick theatres; The Swan, The Rose, and The Hope: but The Hope being used chiefly as a bear-garden, and The Swun and The Rose having fallen to decay early in King James's