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rated 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. Music was likewise played between the acts. The instruments chiefly used, were trumpets, cornets, hautboys, lates, 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 stage-box.
From Sir Henry Herbert's manuscript 1 learn, that the musicians belonging to Shakspeare's company were obliged to pay the master of the Revels an annual fee for a license 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, intitled The Triumph of Peace, and intended, as he himself informs us, "to 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 Music, 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 Whitelock, "which was particularly committed to my charge, I gave to Mr. Ives, and to Mr. Lawes, 1007. a piece for their rewards for the four French
gentlemen, the queen's servants, I thought a handsome and liberall gratifying of them would be made known to the queen, their mistriss, 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 answerable to their parts and qualities; and the whole charge of the musicke came to about one thousand pounds. The clothes of the horsemen, reckoned one with another at 1001. a suit, att the least, amounted to 10,000l.-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 mustians, and so willing to gain their favour, especially at this time, that I composed an aire myselfe, 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 musilians 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 Whitelock's Coranto and it was so often called for, that they would have i' 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 aires 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-habiliment of our modern prologue-speakers. The complete dress of the ancient-prologue speaker, 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 Puttanham'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 wardrobe 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 a 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 deeds 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 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 weare 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 notless 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 Blackfriars," 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 same practice prevailed in the time of the emperors; for in the list of parts which Nero, with a preposterous ambition, acted in the public theatre, we find that of Canace, who was represented in labour on the stage. In the interludes exhibited between the acts undoubtedly women appeared. The elder Pliny informs us, that a female named Lucceïa acted in these interludes for an hundred years; and Galeria Copiola for above ninety years; having been first introduced on the scene in the fourteenth year of her age, in the year of Rome 672, when Caius Marius the younger, and Cneius Carbo were consuls, and having performed in the 104th year of her age, six years before the death of Augustus, in the consulate of C. Poppæus and Quintus Sulpicius, A. U. C. 762.
The practice of men's performing the parts | day when Arbuscula exhibited with the highest 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 press, and a train of attendants richly habited; and Demosthenes, in one of his orations, mentions Theodorus and Aristodemus as have lag 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 should seem, procured the urn which contained the ashes of his child, to be brought from his tomb; which affected him so much, that when he appeared with it on the scene, he embraced it with unfeigned sorrow, and burst into
Eunuchs also sometimes represented women on the Roman stage, as they do at this day in Italy; for we find that Sporus, who made so conspicuous a figure in the time of Nero, being appointed in the year 70 [A. U. C. 823], to personate a nymph, who, in an interlude exhibited before Vitellius, was to be carried off by a ravisher, rather than endure the indignity of wearing a female dress on the stage, put himself to death; a singular end for one, who about ten years before had been publicly es
been carried through one of the streets of Rome by the side of that monster, in the imperial robes of the empresses, ornamented with a profusion of jewels.
That on the Roman stage also female parts were represented by men in tragedy, is ascer-poused to Nero, in the hymeneal veil, and had tained by one of Cicero's letters to Atticus, in which he speaks of Antipho, who performed the part of Andromache; and by a passage in Horace, who informs us, that Jusius Phocæus being to perform the part of Ilione, the wife of Polymnestor, in a tragedy written either by Accius or Pacuvius, and being in the course of the play to be awakened out of sleep by the cries of the shade of Polydorus, got so drunk, that he fell mto a real and profound sleep, from which no noise could rouse him.
Horace indeed mentions a female performer, ralled Arbuscula; but as we find from his own authority that men personated women on the Roman stage, she probably was only an emboliaria, who performed in the interludes and dances exhibited between the acts and at the end of the play. Servius calls her mima, but that may mean nothing more than one who acted in the times, or danced in the pantomime dances; and this seems the more probable from the manner in which she is mentioned by Cicero, from bom we learn that the part of Andromache was performed by a male actor on that very
Thus ancient was the usage, which, though not adopted in the neighbouring countries of France and Italy, prevailed in England from the infancy of the stage. The prejudice against women appearing on the scene continued so strong, that till near the time of the Restoration, boys constantly performed female characters: and, strange as it may now appear, the old practice was not deserted without many apologies for the indecorum of the novel usage. In 1656, or 1660, in imitation of the foreign theatres, women were first introduced on the scene. In 1656, indeed, Mrs. Coleman, represented Ianthe in the First Part of D'Avenant's Siege of Rhodes; but the little she had to say was spoken in recitative. The first woman that appeared in any regular drama on a public stage performed the part of Desdemona; but who the lady was I am unable to ascertain. The play of Othello is enumerated by Downes as one of the stock-plays
of the king's company on their opening their theatre in Drury-Lane in April, 1663; and it appears from a paper found with Sir Henry Herbert's Office-book, and indorsed by him, that it was one of the stock-plays of the same company from the time they began to play without a patent at the Red Bull in St. John-Street. Mrs. Hughs performed the part of Desdemona in 1663, when the company removed to DruryLane, and obtained the title of the king's servants; but whether she performed with them while they played at the Red Bull, or in VereStreet, near Clare-Market, has not been ascertained. Perhaps Mrs. Saunderson made her first essay there, though she afterwards was enlisted in D'Avenant's company. The received tradition is, that she was the first English actress. The verses which were spoken by way of introducing a female to the audience, were written by Thomas Jordan, and being only found in a very scarce miscellany, I shall here transcribe them:
"A Prologue, to introduce the first Woman that came to act on the Stage, in the Tragedy called The Moor of Venice.
"I come, unknown to any of the rest,
'Tis possible a virtuous woman may
Abhor all sorts of looseness, and yet play;
"But, gentlemen, you that as judges sit
You'd think they were some of the guard disguis'd:
With bone so large, and nerve so incompliant,
"A Royal Harbour of Loyal Poesie," by Thomas Jordan, no date, but printed, as Mr. Malone believes, in 1662. Jordan was an actor as well as a poet.
The Epilogue, which consists of but twelve lines, is in the same strain of apology:
"And how do you like her? Come, what is't ye drive a
From a paper in Sir Henry Herbert's handwriting, I find that Othello was performed by the Red Bull company (afterwards his majesty's servants), at their new theatre in Vere-Street, near Clare-Market, on Saturday, December 8, 1660, for the first time that winter. On that day, therefore, it is probable an actress first appeared on the English stage. This theatre was opened on Thursday, November 8, with the play of King Henry the Fourth. Most of Jordan's prologues and epilogues appear to have been written for that company.
It is certain, however, that for some time after the Restoration men also acted female parts; and Mr. Kynaston, even after women had assumed their proper rank on the stage, was not only endured, but admired; if we may believe a contemporary writer, who assures us, "that being then very young, he made a complete stage-beauty, performing his parts so well (particularly Arthiope and Aglaura), that it has since been disputable among the judicious, whether any woman that succeeded him, touched the audience so sensibly as he."
In D'Avenant's company, the first actress that appeared was probably Mrs. Saunderson, who performed Ianthe in The Siege of Rhodes, on the opening of his new theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields, in April, 1662. It does not appear from Downes's account, that while D'Avenant's company performed at the Cockpit in DruryLane during the years 1659, 1660, and 1661, they had any female performer among them: or that Othello was acted by them at that period.
In the infancy of the English stage it was customary in every piece to introduce a Clown, "by his mimic gestures to breed in the less capable mirth and laughter." The privileges of the Clown were very extensive; for, between the acts, and sometimes between the scenes, he claimed a right to enter on the stage, and to excite merriment by any species of buffoonery that struck him. Like the Harlequin of the Italian comedy, his wit was often extemporal,
and he sometimes entered into a contest of raillery and sarcasm with some of the audience. He generally threw his thoughts into hobbling doggrel verses, which he made shorter or longer as he found convenient; but, however irregular his metre might be, or whatever the length of his verses, he always took care to tag them with words of corresponding sound; like Dryden's DOEG,
He fagotted his notion as they fell,
And if they rhym'd and rattled, all was well." Thomas Wilson and Richard Tarleton, both sworn servants to Queen Elizabeth, were the most popular performers of that time in this department of the drama, and are highly praised by the Continuator of Stowe's Annals, for their wondrous plentiful, pleasant, and extemporal wit." Tarleton, whose comic powers were so great, that, according to Sir Richard Baker, "he delighted the spectators before he had spoken a word," is thus described in a very rare nid pamphlet: The next, by his sute of russet, his buttoned cap, his taber, his standing on the loe, and other tricks, I knew to be either the body or resemblance of Tarleton, who living, for his pleasant conceits was of all men liked, and, dying, for mirth left not his like." In 1611 was published a book entitled his Jeasts, in which some specimens are given of the extempore wit which our ancestors thought so cellent. As he was performing some part "at the Bull in Bishops-gate-Street, where the Queenes players oftentimes played," while he was "kneeling down to aske his father's blessing," a fellow in the gallery threw an apple at him, which hit him on the cheek. He immediately took up the apple, and advancing to the audience, addressed them in these lines:
*Gentlemen, this fellow, with his face of mapple, Instead of a pippin hath throwne me an apple; But as for an apple he hath cast a crab,
So instead of an honest woman God hath sent him a drab."
The people," says the relater, "laughed heartily; for the fellow had a quean to his wife." Another of these stories, which I shall give in the author's own words, establishes what I have already mentioned, that it was customary for the Clown to talk to the audience or the artors ad libitum.
"At the Bull at Bishops-gate, was a play of Henry the V. [the performance which preceded Shakspeare's] wherein the judge was to take a box on the eare; and because he was absent that should take the blow, Tarleton himselfe ever rward to please, tooke upon him to play the
same judge, besides his own part of the clowne; and Knel, then playing Henry the Fifth, hit | Tarleton a sound box indeed, which made the people laugh the more, because it was he: but anon the judge goes in, and immediately Tarlton in his clownes cloathes comes out, and asks the actors, What news? O, saith one, had'st thou been here, thou shouldest have seen Prince Henry hit the judge a terrible box on the eare. What, man, said Tarlton, strike a judge! It is true, i'faith, said the other. No other like, said Tarlton, and it could not be but terrible to the judge, when the report so terrifies me, that methinks the blowe remains still on
my cheeke, that it burnes againe. The people laught at this mightily, and to this day I have heard it commended for rare; but no marvell, for he had many of these. But I would see our clownes in these days do the like. No, I warrant ye; and yet they thinke well of themselves too."
The last words show that this practice was not discontinued in the time of Shakspeare, and we here see that he had abundant reason for his
precept in Hamlet: "Let those that play your clowns, speak no more than is set down for them; for there be of them, that will of themselves laugh, to set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh too; though in the mean time some necessary question of the play be then to be considered."
This practice was undoubtedly coeval with the
English stage; for we are told that sir Thomas More, while he lived as a page with Archbishop Moreton (about the year 1490), as the Christmas plays were going on in the palace, would sometimes suddenly step upon the stage, "without studying for the matter," and exhibit a part of his own, which gave the audience much more entertainment than the whole performance besides.
But the peculiar province of the Clown was to entertain the audience after the play was finished, at which time themes were sometimes given to him by some of the spectators, to descant upon; but more commonly the audience were entertained by a jig. A jig was a ludicrous metrical composition, often in rhyme, which was sung by the Clown, who likewise, I believe, occasionally danced, and was always accompanied by a tabor and pipe. In these jigs more persons than one were sometimes introduced. The original of the entertainment which this buffoon afforded our ancestors between the acts and after the play, may be traced to the satirical interludes of Greece, and the Attellans and