Abbildungen der Seite

administered to him by a monk. This drama resembles a moral play in the introduction of abstract impersonations, and a historical play in the adaptation of a portion of our national annals, with real characters, to the purposes of the stage. Though performed in the reign of Elizabeth, we may carry back the first composition and representation of “Kynge Johan” to the time of Edward VI.; but, as it has been printed by the Camden Society, it is not necessary that we should enlarge upon it.

The object of Bale's play was, as we have stated, to advance the Reformation under Edward VI.; but in the reign of his successor a drama of a similar description, and of a directly opposite tendency, was written and acted. It has never been mentioned, and as it exists only in manuscript of the time, it will not be out of place to quote its title, and to explain briefly in what manner the anonymous author carries out his design. He calls his drama “Respublica,” and he adds that it was “made in the year of our Lord 1553, and the first year of the most prosperous reign of our most gracious Sovereign, Queen Mary the First.” He was supposed to speak the prologue himself, in the character of “a Poet;” and although every person he introduces is in fact called by some abstract name, he avowedly brings forward the Queen herself as “Nemesis, the Goddess of redress and correction,” while her kingdom of England is intended by “Respublica,” and its inhabitants represented by “ People:” the Reformation in the Church is distinguished as “ Oppression;" and Policy, Authority, and Honesty, are designated “ Avarice,”

“ Insolence,” and “ Adulation.” All this is distinctly stated by the author on his title-page, while he also employs the impersonations of Misericordia, Veritas, Justitia, and Pax, (agents not unfrequently

& In the library of Mr. Hudson Gurney, to whom we beg to express our obligations for the use of it.

resorted to in the older miracle-plays) as the friends of “Nemesis,” the Queen, and as the supporters of the Roman Catholic religion in her dominions.

Nothing would be gained by a detail of the import of the tedious interlocutions between the characters, represented, it would seem, by boys, who were perhaps the children of the Chapel Royal; for there are traces in the performance that it was originally acted at court. Respublica is a widow greatly injured and abused by Avarice, Insolence, Oppression, and Adulation; while People, using throughout a rustic dialect, also complain bitterly of their sufferings, especially since the introduction of what had been termed “Reformation” in matters of faith: in the end Justitia brings in Nemesis, to effect a total change by restoring the former condition of religious affairs; and the piece closes with the delivery of the offenders to condign punishment. The production was evidently written by a man of education; but, although there are many attempts at humour, and some at variety, both in character and situation, the whole must have been a very wearisome performance, adapted to please the court by its general tendency, but little calculated to accomplish any other purpose entertained by the writer. In all respects it is much inferior to the “Kynge Johan” of Bale, which it followed in point of date, and to which, perhaps, it was meant to be a counterpart.

In the midst of the performance of dramatic productions of a religious or political characer, each party supporting the views which most accorded with the author's individual opinions, John Heywood, who was a zealous Roman Catholic, and who subsequently suffered for his creed under Edward VI. and Elizabeth, discovered a new species of entertainment, of a highly humorous, and not altogether of an uninstructive kind; which seems to have been very acceptable to the sovereign and nobility, and to have obtained for the author a distinguished character as a court dramatist, and ample rewards as a court dependent”. These were properly called “interludes,” being short comic pieces, represented ordinarily in the interval between the feast and the banquet; and we may easily believe that they had considerable influence in the settlement of the form which our stage-performances ultimately assumed. Heywood does not appear to have begun writing until after Henry VIII. had been some years on the throne; but, while Skelton was composing such tedious elaborations as his Magnificence,” which, without any improvement, merely carries to a still greater length of absurdity the old style of moral plays, Heywood was writing his “ John Tib and Sir John,” his “ Four Ps,” his “Pardoner and Friar," and pieces of that description, which presented both variety of matter and novelty of construction, as well as considerable wit and drollery in the language. He was a very originál writer, and certainly merits more admiration than any of his dramatic contemporaries.

To the commencement of the reign of Elizabeth we may refer several theatrical productions which make approaches, more or less near, to comedy, tragedy, and history, and still retain many of the known features of moral plays. “Tom Tiler and his Wife” is a comedy in its incidents; but the allegorical personages, Desire, Destiny, Strife, and Patience, connect it immediately with the earlier species of stage-entertainment. “The Conflict of Conscience,” on the other hand, is a tragedy on the fate of an historical personage; but Conscience, Hypocrisy, Avarice, Horror, &c., are called in aid of the purpose of the writer. “Appius and Virginia” is in most respects a history, founded upon facts; but Rumour, Comfort, and Doctrine, are importantly concerned in the representation. These, and other productions of the same class, which it is not necessary to particularize, show the gradual advances made towards a better, because a more natural, species of theatrical composition. Into miracle-plays were gradually introduced allegorical personages, who finally usurped the whole stage; while they in turn yielded to real and historical characters, at first only intended to give variety to abstract impersonations. Hence the origin of comedy, tragedy, and history, such as we find them in the works of Shakespeare, and of some of his immediate predecessors.

7 John Heywood, who flourished in the reign of Henry VIII., is not to be confounded, as some modern editors of Shakespeare have confounded him, with Thomas Heywood, who became a dramatist more than half a century afterwards, and who continued a writer for the stage until near the date of the closing of the theatres by the Puritans. John Heywood, in all probability, died before Thomas Heywood was born.

What is justly to be considered the oldest known comedy in our language is of a date not much posterior to the reign of Henry VIII., if, indeed, it were not composed while he was on the throne. It has the title of “Ralph Roister Doister," and it was written by Nicholas Udall, who was master of Eton school in 1540, and who died in 1557'. It is on every account a very remarkable performance; and as the scene is laid in London, it affords a curious picture of metropolitan manners. The regularity of its construction, even at that early date, may be gathered from the fact, that in the single copy which has descended to us it is divided into acts and scenes. The story is one of common, every-day life; and none of the characters are such as people had been accustomed to find in ordinary dramatic entertainments. The piece takes its name from its hero, a young town-gallant, who is mightily enamoured of himself, and who is encouraged in the good opinion he entertains of his own person and accomplishments by Matthew Merrygreek, a poor relation, who attends him in the double capacity of companion and servant. Ralph Roister Doister is in love with a lady of property, called Custance, betrothed to Gawin Goodluck, a merchant, who is at sea when the comedy begins, but who returns before it concludes. The main incidents relate to the mode in which the hero, with the treacherous help of his associate, endeavours to gain the affections of Custance. He writes her a letter, which Merrygreek reads without a due observance of the punctuation, so that it entirely perverts the meaning of the writer: he visits her while she is surrounded by her female domestics, but he is unceremoniously rejected: he resolves to carry her by force of arms, and makes an assault upon her habitation; but with the assistance of her maids, armed with mops and brooms, she drives him from the attack. Then, her betrothed lover returns, who has been misinformed on the subject of her fidelity, but he is soon reconciled on an explanation of the facts; and Ralph Roister Doister, finding that he has no chance of success, and that he has only been cajoled and laughed at, makes up his mind to be merry at the wedding of Goodluck and Custance.

6 One of the latest pieces without mixture of history or fable, and consisting wholly of abstract personages, is,“ The Tide tarryeth no Man,” by George Wapul, printed in 1576 : only a single copy of it has been preserved, and that is in the library of the Duke of Devonshire. The principal persons introduced into it have the following names :—Painted-profit, No.good-neighbourhood, Wastefulness, Christianity, Correction, Courage, Feigned-furtherance, Greediness, Wantonness, and Authority-in-despair.

9 A very interesting epistle from Udall is to be found in Sir Henry Ellis's volume (edited for the Camden Society)“ Original Letters of Eminent Literary Men." That of Udall is the first in the series.

1 This single copy is without title-page, so that the year when it was printed cannot be ascertained ; but Thomas Hacket had a licence in 1566 for the publication of “a play entitled Rauf Ruyster Duster,” as it is called on the registers of the Stationers' company. We may presume that it was published in that year, or in the next.

In all this we have no trace of anything like a moral play, with the exception, perhaps, of the character of Matthew Merrygreek, which, in some of its features, its love of mischief and its drollery, bears a resemblance to the Vice of the older drama?. Were the dialogue

[ocr errors]

2 By “ the older drama," we mean moral plays, into which the Vice was introduced for the amusement of the spectators : no character so called, or with

« ZurückWeiter »