Abbildungen der Seite

** Sometimes you shall see nothing but the adventures of an amorous knight, passing from country to country for the love of his lady, encountering many a terrible monster made of browsi paper; and at his return is so wonderfully changed, that he cannot be known but by some posy in his tablet, or by a broken ring, or a handkerchief, or a piece of a cockleshell.” Again, he refers to the mode of treating historical subjects, thus: “If a true history be taken in hand, it is made like our shadows, longest at the rising and falling of the sun, shortest of all at high noon. For the poets drive it most commonly unto such points as may best show the majesty of their pen in tragical speeches, or set the hearers agog with discourses of love, or paint a few antics to fit their own humours with scoffs and taunts, or bring in a show to furnish the stage when it is bare: when the matter of itself comes short of this, they follow the practice of the cobbler and set their teeth to the leather to pull it out."

In another part of the same tract, he gives the following account of the sources whence dramatic writers commonly derived their plots and stories : “I may boldly say it, be cause I have seen it, that The Palace of Pleasure, The Golden Ass, the Ethiopian History, Amadis of France, and The Round Table, bawdy comedies in Latin, French, Italian, and Spanish, have been thoroughly ransacked, to furnish the play-houses in London." This shows very clearly what direction the public taste was then taking ; that the matter and method of the old dramas, and all “such musty fopperies of antiquity,” would no longer go; and that there was an eager and pressing demand, not knowing exactly what to seek, nor how to come by it, for something wherein men might find, or at least fancy, themselves touched by the real vital currents of nature. And, as prescription was thus set aside, and art still ungrown, the materials of history and romance, foreign tales and plays, any thing that could furnish incidents and a plot, were blindly and ignorantly pressed into the service.

In the case of Gosson, some allowance may be due for the exaggerations of puritanical invective. But no such drawback can attach to the statements of Sir Philip Sidney, whose Apology for Poetry, though not printed till 1595, must have been written before 1586, in which year the author died. On the subject of dramatic poetry, he has the following:

"Our tragedies and comedies are not without cause cried out against, observing neither rules of honest civility nor skilful poetry, excepting Gorboduc, (again I say, of those that I have seen,) which notwithstanding it is full of stately speeches and well-sounding phrases, climbing to the height of Seneca's style, and as full of notable morality, which it doth most delightfully teach, and so obtain the very end of poesy; yet, in truth, it is very defectious in the circumstances ; which grieves me, because it might not remain as an exact model of all tragedies : for it is faulty both in place and time, the two necessary companions of all corporal actions. . .

“ But, if it be so in Gorboduc, how much more in all the rest, where you shall have Asia of the one side, and Afric of the other, and so many other under kingdoms, that the player, when he comes in, must ever begin with telling where he is, or else the tale will not be conceived. Now you shall have three ladies walk to gather flowers, and then we must believe the stage to be a garden : by and by we hear news of shipwreck in the same place; then we are to blame if we accept it not for a rock. Upon the back of that, comes out a hideous monster with fire and smoke, and then the miserable beholders are bound to take it for a cave ; while in the mean time two armies fly in, represented with four swords and bucklers, and then what hard heart will not receive it for a pitched field ? Now, of time they are much more liberal: for ordinary it is, that two young princes fall in love, after many traverses she is got with child, delivered of a fair boy; he is lost, groweth a man, falleth in love, and is ready to get another child, and all this in two hours' space : which how absurd it is in sense, even sense may imagine, and art hath taught, and all examples justified.. . .

“But, besides these gross absurdities, how all their plays be neither right tragedies nor right comedies, mingling kings and clowns, not because the matter so carrieth it, but thrust in the clown by head and sl.rulders to play a part in majestical : itters with neither decency nor discretion ; so as neither admiration and commiseration nor right sportfulness is by their mongrel tragi-comedy obtained.".

From all these extracts it is evident enough that very little if any heed was then paid to the rules of dramatic pro priety and decorum. It was not merely that the unities of time and place were set at nought, but that events and persons were thrown together without any order or law, bundled up as it were at random ; unconnected with each other save to the senses, while at the same time according to sense they stood far asunder. It is also manifest that the principles of the Gothic Drama in respect of general structure and composition, in disregard of the minor unities, and in the free blending and interchange of the comic and tragic elements where “the matter so carrieth it,” were thoroughly established ; though as yet those principles were not moulded up with sufficient art to shield them from the just censure and ridicule of sober judgment and good taste. Here was a great triumph to be achieved ; greater, perhaps, than any art then known was sufficient for. Without this, any thing like an original or national Drama was impossible : all was bound to be mere mechanical repetition of what, elsewhere and in its day, had been a living thing. Sir Philip saw the chaos about him ; but he did not see, and none could foresee, the creation that was to issue from it. He would have spoken very differently, no doubt, had he lived to see the intrinsic relations of character and passion, the vital scquence of mental and moral development, set forth in such clearness and strength, the whole fabric resting on such soliil grounds of philosophy, and charged with such cunning efficacies of poetry, that breaches of local or temporal succession either pass without notice, or are noticed only for the gain of truth and nature that is made through them. For the laws of sense hold only as the thoughts are absorbed in what is sensuous and definite ; and the very point was, to lift the mind above this by working on its imaginative forces, and penetrating it with the light of relations more inward and essential.

At all events, it was by going ahead, and not by backing out, that modern thought was to find its proper dramatic expression. The foundation of principles was settled, and stood ready to be built upon whenever the right workman should come. Moreover, public taste was eager for something warm with life, so much so indeed as to keep running hither and thither after the shabbiest semblances of it, though still unable to set up its rest with them. The national mind, in discarding, or rather outgrowing the old species of drama, had worked itself into contact with nature, and found its way to the right sort of materials. But to reproduce nature in mental forms, requires great power of art, much greater, perhaps, than minds educated amidst works of art can well conceive. This art was the thing still wanting.

Which brings us to the subject of Shakespeare's immediate predecessors. For here, again, the process was a gradual one, and various hands were required to its completion. Veither may we affirm that nothing had yet been done to wards organising the collected materials ; far from it: bu: the methods and faculties of art were scattered here and there ; different parts of the thing had been hit upon severally, and worked out one by one ; so that it yet remained to draw them all up and carry them on together. It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to determine exactly by whom the first steps were taken in this operation. But all of much consequence, trat was effected before we come to Shake speare, may be ound in connection with the three names of George Peele, Robert Greene, and Christopher Marlowe

The time and place of Peele's birth have not been fully ascertained. But it appears from the matriculation-books of the University that he was a member of Pembroke Col. lege, Oxford, in 1564; so that his birth could not well have been later than 1552 or 1553. He took his first degree in 1577, and became Master of Arts in 1579. Anthony Wood tells us that "he was esteemed a most noted poet in the University.” Soon after taking his master's degree, he is supposed to have gone to London as a literary adventurer. Dissipation and debauchery were especially rife at that time among the authors by profession, who hung in large numbers upon the metropolis, and haunted its taverns and ordinaries ; and it is but too certain, that Peele plunged deeply into the vices of his class. That he tried himself more or less on the stage, is probable, though Mr. Dyce is very confident that he was never engaged as a regular actor. The date of his death is unknown, but Meres, in his Palladis Tamia, 1598, tells us that “as Anacreon died by the pot, so George Peele by the pox.”

Peele's Arraignment of Paris was printed in 1584, the title-page informing us that it had been “presented before the Queen's Majesty by the children of her Chapel.” That it was his first dramatic piece we learn from Thomas Nash, who, in an epistle prefixed to Greene's Menaphon, 1587, after referring to Peele adds the following: “I dare commend him unto all that know him, as the chief supporter of pleasance now living, the Atlas of poetry, and primus verborum artifer ; whose first increase, the Arraignment of Paris, might plead in your opinions his pregnant dexterity of wit and manifold variety of invention, wherein, me judice, he goeth a step beyond all that write.” The piece is indeed vastly superior to any thing that preceded it. It is avowedly a pastoral drama, and sets forth a whole troop of gods and goddesses : there is nothing in it that can properly be called delineation of character ; but it displays large powers of poetry; it abounds in natural and well-proportioned senti

« ZurückWeiter »