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THE drama before the time of Shakspeare was so little cultivated, or so ill understood, that to many it may appear unnecessary to carry our theatrical researches higher than that period. Dryden has truly observed, that he "found not, but created first the stage;" of which no one can doubt, who considers, that of all the plays issued from the press antecedent to the year 1592, when there is reason to believe he commenced a dramatick writer, the titles are scarcely known, except to antiquaries; nor is there one of them that will bear a second perusal. Yet these, contemptible and few as they are, we may suppose to have been the most popular productions of the time, and the best that had been exhibited before the appearance of Shakspeare.1
! There are but thirty-eight plays, (exclusive of mysteries, moralities, interludes, and translated pieces,) now extant, written antecedent to, or in, the year 1592. Their titles are as follows:* Acolastus 1540 | Tancred and Gismund Cambyses, no date, but probably written before 1570
Ferrex and Porrex
To this list may be added a piece hitherto mentioned in no catalogue, nor to be found in any library, except that of the Duke of Bridgewater, entitled, "The rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune. Plaide before the Queene's most excellent Maiesty; wherein are manye fine conceites with
Between the years 1592 and 1600, the following plays were printed or exhibited; the greater part of which, probably, were written before our author commenced play-wright:
great delight. At London. Printed by E. A. for Edward White, and are to be solde at the little Northe doore of St. Paules Church, at the signe of the Gunne. 1589." 4to. REED.
and progress of the drama in England, will scarcely repay the labour of the inquiry. However, as the best introduction to an account of the internal economy and usages of the English theatres in the time of Shakspeare, (the principal object of this dissertation,) I shall take a cursory view of our most ancient dramatick exhibitions, though I fear I can add but little to the researches which have already been made on that subject.
Mr. Warton in his elegant and ingenious History of English Poetry has given so accurate an account of our earliest dramatick performances, that I shall make no apology for extracting from various parts of his valuable work, such particulars as suit my present purpose.
The earliest dramatick entertainments exhibited in England, as well as every other part of Europe, were of a religious kind. So early as in the beginning of the twelfth century, it was customary in England on holy festivals to represent,in or near the churches, either the lives and miracles of saints, or the most important stories of Scripture. From the subject of these spectacles, which, as has been observed, were either the miracles of saints, or the more mysterious parts of holy writ, such as the incarna
A Knack to know an honest Man, 1596.
Two valiant Knightes, Clyomon and Clamydes, 1599.
Several dramatick pieces are also entered on the books of the Stationers' Company, within the above period, which have not been printed. Their titles may be found in Herbert's edition of Ames, and Egerton's Theatrical Remembrancer. REED.
tion, passion, and resurrection of Christ, these scriptural plays were denominated Miracles, or Mysteries. At what period of time they were first exhibited in this country, I am unable to ascertain. Undoubtedly, however, they are of very great antiquity; and Riccoboni, who has contended that the Italian theatre is the most ancient in Europe, has claimed for his country an honour to which it is not entitled. The era of the earliest representation in Italy, founded on holy writ, he has placed in the year 1264, when the fraternity del Gonfalone was established; but we had similar exhibitions in England above 150 years before that time. In the year 1110, as Dr. Percy and Mr. Warton have observed, the Miracle-play of Saint Catharine, written by Geoffrey, a learned Norman, (afterwards Abbot of St. Alban's,) was acted, probably by his scholars, in the abbey of Dunstable; perhaps the first spectacle of this kind exhibited in England.3 William Fitz-Stephen, a monk of Canterbury, who according to the best accounts composed his very curious work in 1174, about four years after the -murder of his patron Archbishop Becket, and in the twenty-first year of the reign of King Henry the Second, mentions, that "London, for its theatrical exhibitions, has religious plays, either the representations of miracles wrought by holy confessors, or the sufferings of martyrs."
The French theatre cannot be traced higher than the year 1398, when the Mystery of the Passion was represented at St. Maur.
Apud Dunestapliam--quendam ludum de sancta Katerina (quem MIRACULA vulgariter appellamus) fecit. Ad quæ decoranda, petiit a sacrista sancti Albani, ut sibi capæ chorales accommodarentur, et obtinuit." Vitæ Abbat. ad calc. Hist. Mat. Paris, folio, 1639, p. 56.
Lundonia pro spectaculis theatralibus, pro ludis scenicis,