Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

Sir John Davies, that one o'clock was the usual time for the commencement of the play:

4 Puscus doth rise at ten, and at eleven

He goes to Gyls, where he doth eat till one,

Then sees a play;" and, in 1609, when Decker published his Gull's Horn-book, the hour was thrown back to three, nor did it become later until towards the close of the seventeenth century. The time usually consumed in the exbibition appears, from the prologue to Henry the Eighth, to have been only two hours:

« Those that come I'll undertake may see away their shilling

Richly in two short hours." The mention of payment in this passage, leads to the consideration of the Prices of Admission, and the sum here specified, contemporary authority informs us, was demanded for entrance into the best rooms or boxes.* Sixpence also, and sometimes a shilling, was paid for seats or stools on the stage. Sixpence was likewise the price of admission to the pit and galleries of the Globe and Blackfriars; but at inferior houses, a penny, or at nost two-pence, gave access to the "groundling," or the "gallery-commoner.” Dramatic poets, as in the present day, were admitted gratis. We may also add, that, from some verses addressed to the memory of Ben Jonson, by Jasper Mayne, and alluding to his Volpone or the Fox, acted in 1605, it is allowable to infer, that the prices of admission were, on the first representation of a new play, doubled, and even sometimes trebled.

There is every reason to suppose, that while Shakspeare wrote for the stage, the number of plays performed in one day, seldom, if ever, exceeded one tragedy, comedy, or history, and that the entertainment was varied and protracted, either by the extempore humour and tricks of the Clown aster the play was over, or by anging, dancing, or ludicrous recitation, between the acts.

The house appears to have been pretty well supplied with Lights; the stage bring illuminated by two large branches; the body of the house by cresset lights, formed of ropes wreathed and pitched, and placed in open iron lanterns, and these were occasionally assisted by the interspersion of wax tapers among the boxes.

The Amusements of the Audience before the Play commenced seem to have been amply supplied by themselves, the only recreation provided by the theatre, during this tedious interval, being the music of the band, which struck up thrice, playing three flourishes, or, as they were then called, three soundings, before the performance began; but these were of course short, being principally intended as announcements, similar to those which we now receive from the prompter's bell. To kill time, therefore, reading and playing cards were the resources of the genteeler part of the audience: “Before the play begins," says Decher to his gallant, “fall to cards; you may win or lose, as fencers do in a prize, and beat one another by confederacy, yet share the money when you meet at supper: notwithstanding, to gull the ragamuflins that stand aloof gaping at you, throw the cards, having first torn four or five of them, round about the stage, just upon the third sound, as though you had lost." +

Of the less refined amusements of these gaping ragamuffins, “the youths that thunder at a play-house, and light for bitter apples,” I we find numerous traces in Decker, Jonson, and their contemporaries, which enable us to assert, that they chielly consisted in smoking tobacco, drinking ale, cracking nuts, and eating fruit, which were regularly supplied by men attending in the theatre, and whose vociferation and clamour, or, as a writer of that time expresses it, “ to be made adder-deal with pippin-cry," were justly considered as grievous nuisances; more especially the use of tobacco, which must have been intolerable to those unac• Decker's Gull's llorn-book, reprint, p. 18. note. + Gull's Horn-book, reprist, p. 146. Henry VIIlact y sc. 3.

customed to its odour, and, indeed, occasionally drew forth the execration of individuals: thus in a work entitled, “Dyets Dry Dinner," we find the author commencing an epigram on the wanton and excessive use of tobacco, in the following terms:

“ It chaunc'd me gazing at the Theater,

To spie a Dock-Tabacco-Chevalier,
Clouding the loathing ayr with foggie sume
Or Dock - Tabacco;
I wisht the Roman lawes severity:

Who smoke selleth, with smoke be done to dy.” * The most rational of the amusements which occupied the impatient audience, was certainly that of reading, and this appears to have been supplied by a custom of hawking about new publications at the theatre; at least this may be inferred from the opening of an address to the public, prefixed by William Fennor, to ar production of his, entitled “Descriptions," and published in 1616. “To the Gentlemen readers, worthy gentlemen, of what degree soever, I suppose this pamphlet will hap into your hands, before a play begin, with the importunate clamour of “Buy a New Booke,” by some needy companion, that will be glad to furnish you with worke for a turn'd teaster.” *

As soon as the third sounding had finished, it was usual for the person whose province it was to speak the Prologue, immediately to enter. As a diffident and supplicatory manner were thought essential to this character, who is termed by Decker, “the quaking Prologue,” it was the custom to clothe him in a long black velvet cloak, to which Shirley adds, a little beard, a starch'd face, and a supple leg.

On withdrawing the curtain, the stage was generally found strewed with rushes, which, in Shakspeare's time, as hath been already remarked formed the common covering of floors, from the palace to the cottage ; but, og splendid occasions, it was matted entirely over; thus, Sir Henry Wotton, in a letter which describes the conflagration of the Globe Theatre, in 1613, savs, that on the night of the accident, “the King's Players had a new play, called "* All is true," representing some principal pieces of the reign of Henry the Eichith. which was set forth with many extraordinary circumstances of pomp and majesty, even to the matting of the stage.”

The performance of tragedy appears to have been attended with some peculiar preparations; one of which was hanging the stage with black, a practice whirli dwelt on Shakspeare's recollection when, in writing his Rape of Lucrece, he speaks of

Black stage for tragedies, and murthers fell;" I and is put out of dispute by a passage in the Induction to an anonymous tragedy, entitled, “ A Warning for fair Women,” 1599, where History, addressing Comedy, says:

“ Look, Comedie, I mark'd it not till now,

The stage is hung with blacke, and I perceive

The auditors prepar’d for tragedie :" to which Comedy replies :

Nay then, I see she shall be entertain'd;
These ornaments beseem not thee and me.”



[ocr errors]

Dyets Dry Dinner : consisting of eight several courses. I. Fruites. 2 Hearbes. 3. Flesh. Fiske 5. Whitmeats. 6. Spice. 7. Sauce. 8. Tabacco. All served in after the order of time universal. Bu

a Fennors Descriptions, cor al true relation of certaine and divers speeches, spken before the and Queene's most excellent Majestie, the prince his highnesse, and the Lady Elizabeth's Grace. By William Fennor, his Majestie's Servant. London, 1616.” 4to.

† Malone's Supplement, vol. i. p. 517.-" The hanging, however, was,” remarks the editor, “ I suppress no more than one piece of black baize placed at the back of the stage, in the room of the tapestry which was the common decoration when comedies were acted."

[ocr errors]

If the decorations of the stage itself could boast but little splendour, the wardrobe, even of the Globe and Blackfriars, could not be supposed either richly or amply furnished ; in fact, even Jonson, in 1625, nine years after Shakspeare's death, betrays the poverty of the stage-dresses, when he exclaims in the Induction to his “Staple of News,” “O curiosity, you come to see who wears the new suit to-day; whose clothes are best pen'd, etc. -- what king plays without cuffs, and his queen without gloves: who rides post in stockings, and dances in boots." It is evident, therefore, that the dramas of our great poet could derive little attraction from magnificence of attire, though it appears, from a passage in Jonson, that not only was there a prompter, or book-holder, but likewise a property, or tire-man, belonging to each theatre, in 1601.7 Periwigs, which came into fashion about 1596, were often worn on the stage by male characters, whence Hamlet is represented calling a ranting player, “a robustious periwig-pated follow." (Act iii. sc. 2.) Masks or vizards were also sometimes used by those who personated female characters; thus Quince tells Flute, in the Midsummer Night's Dream, on his objecting to perform a woman's part, that he “ shall play it in a mask.” Act i. sc. 2.

Female characters, indeed, were on the old English stage, as they had been on the Grecian and Roman, always personated by men or boys, a practice which continued with us until near the period of the Restoration. Italy and France long preceded us in the introduction of women on the theatric boards; for Coryate writing from Venice in 1608, and describing one of the theatres of that city, says, " the house is very beggarly and base, in comparison of our stately play-houses in England;" and he then adds, what must give us a wretched idea of ihe state of the stage at that time in Italy, “ neither can their actors compare with us for apparell, shewes, and musicke. Here," he continues, “I observed certaine things that I never saw before; for I saw women act, a thing that I never saw before." I

The mode of expressing dislike of, or censuring a play, was as decided in the days of Shakspeare as in the present age, and sometimes effected by the same means. Decker gives us two methods of expressing disapprobation; one, by leaving the house with as many in your train as you can collect, the other, by staying, in order to interrupt the performance : "you shall disgrace him (the poet) worse," he observes, " than by tossing him in a blanket, or giving him the bastinado in a tavern, if, in the middle of his play, be it pastoral or comedy, moral or tragedy, you rise with a screwed and discontented face from your stool to be gone;" -and * salute all your gentle acquaintance, that are spread either on the rushes, or on stools about you :" and draw what troop you can from the stage after you :" but, " is either the company, or indisposition of the weather bind you to sit it out; -mew at passionate speeches; blare at merry; find fault with the musick; whew at the children's action; whistle at the songs;"S modes of annoyance sufficiently provoking, and occasionally very effectual toward the final condemnation of a play, as Ben Jonson experienced in more instances than one."

It was usual also for the critics and coxcombs of the day, either from motives of curiosity, vanity, or malevolence, to carry to the theatre table-books, made of small plates of slate bound together in duodecimo, and to take down passages from the play, for the purpose either of retailing them in taverns and parties, or with the view of ridiculing and degrading the author; “ to such, wherever they sit concealed," says the indignant Jonson in 1601, “ let them know, the author delies them and their writing-tables." **

An Epilogue, sometimes spoken by one of the Dramatis Persone, and some

Whalley's Works of Ben Jonson ; Prologue in Induction. + Whalley's Jonson ; ( ynthia's Revels, Induction.

Crudities, 410, 1611, p. 247. & Gull's Klorn-book, reprint, p. 147-149.

Sejanus, Catiline, and The New Inn, were all condemned. +1 " There is reason to believe,” remarks Mr. Malone, " that the imperfect and mutilated copies of one

iwo of Shakspeare's dramas, which are yet extant, were taken down by the ear, or in short-liand, during the exhibition."

times by an extra character, was not uncommon at this period; and, when employed, generally terminated, if, in a public theatre, with a prayer for the king or queen; is, in a private one, for the lord of the mansion. The prayer, however, was, almost always, a necessary form, whether an epilogue were adopted or not ; and, on these occasions, whatever may have been the nature of the preceding drama, the players, kneeling down, solemnly addressed themselves to their devotions: thus Shakspeare concludes his Epilogue to the Second Part of King Henry the Fourth, by telling his audience, “ I will bid you good night: and so kneel down before you ;—but, indeed, to pray for the queen;" and Sir John Harrington closes his “Metamorphosis of Ajax, 1596, with the following sarcastic mention of this custom as retained in private theatres :—“But I will neither end with sermon nor prayer, lest some wags liken me to my L. ( players, who, when they have ended a baudie comedy, as though that were a preparative to devotion, kneele down solemnly, and pray all the companie to pray with them for their good lord and maister.” Considering the place chosen for its display, this is, certainly, a custom

“ More honour'd in the breach, tha the observance." With regard to the Remuneration of Actors, during the age of Shakspeare, it has been ascertained, that, aster deducting forty-five shillings, which were the usual nightly, or rather daily, expenses at the Globe and Blackfriars, the nel receipt never amounted to more than twenty pounds, and that the average receipt, after making a similar deduction, may be estimated at about nine pounds. This sum Mr. Malone supposes to have been in our poet's time “divided into forty shares, of which fifteen were appropriated to the house-keepers or proprietors

, three to the purchase of copies of new plays, stage-habits, etc., and twenty-two to the actors.” He further calculates, that, as the acting season lasted forty weeks, and each company consisted of about twenty persons, six of whom probably were principal, and the other subordinate performers, if we suppose two shares to have been the reward of a principal actor; one share that of a second class composed of six, and half a share the portion of the remaining eight, the performer who had two shares, would, on the calculation of nine pounds clear per night, receive nine shillings as his nightly dividend, and, at the rate of five plays a week, his weekly profit would amount to two pounds five shillings. "On all these dato, adds Mr. Malone, “ I think it may be safely concluded, that the performers of the first class did not derive from their profession more than ninety pounds a-year at the utmost. Shakspeare, Heminge, Condell, Burbage, Louin, and Taylor had without doubt other shares as proprietors or leaseholders; but what the different proportions were which each of them possessed in that rishit, it is now impossible to ascertain. If we consider, however, the value of moner during the reign of Elizabeth, and the relative prices of the necessary articles of life, it will be found that these salaries were not inadequate to the purposes comfortable subsistence.

The profits accruing to the original source of the entertainment, or, in other words, the Remuneration given to the Dramatic Poet, was certainly, if we compare the claims of genius between the two parties, on a scale inferior to that which fell to the lot of the actor.

The author had the choice of two modes in the disposal of his property; he either sold the copy-right of his play to the theatre, or retained it in his ok? hands. In the former instance, which was frequently had recourse to in the age of Shakspeare, the only emolument was that derived from the purchase made by the proprietors of the theatre, who took care to secure the performance of the piece exclusively to their own company, and whose interest it was to deter its publication as long as possible; in the latter instance, not only had the pret the right of publication and the benefit of sale in his own option, but he had lihenise a claim upon the theatre for a benefit. This, towards the termination of the

sixteenth century, took place on the second day, * but was soon afterwards, as early indeed as 1612, postponed to the third day. +

From a publication of Robert Greene's, dated 1592, it appears, that the price of a drama, when disposed of to the public players, was twenty nobles, or six pounds thirteen shillings and four pence; but that private companies would sometimes give double that sum. It has been recorded, indeed, by Oldys, in one of his manuscripts, but upon what authority is not mentioned, that Shakspeare received but live pounds for bis Hamlet !

What a bookseller gave for the copyright of a play at this period is unknown ; but we have sufficient foundation, that of the bookseller's Preface to the quarto edition of our poet's Troilus and Cressida in 1609, for asserting, that sixpence was the sale price of a play when published. It may also be affirmed, on grounds of equal security, that forty shillings formed the customary compliment for the flattery of a dedication.S

To these notices concerning the pecuniary rewards of poets and performers, may be added the conjecture of Mr. Malone, that Shakspeare, “as author, actor, and proprietor, probably received from the theatre about two hundred pounds a vear.

From this description of the architecture, economy, and usages of the Shakspearean Stage, it must be evident, how trilling were the obligations of our great pret to the adventitious aid of scenery, machinery, and decoration, notwithstanding we have admitted these to be somewhat more elaborate than is usually allowed. The Art of Acting, however, had, during the same period, made very rapid strides towards perfection, and dramatic action and expression, therefore, coadjutors of infinitely more importance than the most splendid scenical apparatus, exhibited, we have reason to believe, powers in a great degree competent to the task of doing justice to the imperishable productions of this unrivalled bard of pity and of terror.


A Brief View of Dramatic Poetry, from the Birth of Shakspeare to the Period of his Commence

ment as a Writer for the Stage, about the Year 1590; with Critical Notices of the Dramatic Poets who flourished during that luterval.

It is remarkable that the era of the birth of Shakspeare should occur in almost intermediate contact with those periods which mark the first appearance of what may be termed legitimate tragedy and comedy. In 1561-2, was exhibited the tragedy of “ Ferrex and Porrex," written by Thomas Norton, and Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, “ the first specimen,” observes Mr. Warton, “ in our lan• In Davenant's “ Play-house to be Let,” occurs the following passage :

“ There is an old tradition,
That in the times of mighty Tamberlane,
Of conjuring Faustus and the Beauchamps bold,

You poets used to have the second day.” † On the authority of Decker's Prologue to one of his comedies entitled “ If this be not a good Play the Ilevil's in't,” 1612 :

“ Not caring, so he gains

A cram'd third day." † “ Master R G., would it not make you blush-if you sold Orlando Furioso to the queenes players for wenty nobles, and when they were in the country, sold the same play to Lord Admirals men, för as much are -- Defence of Coney-catching, 1592.

$" I did determine not to have dedicated my play to any body, because forty shillings I care not for ; 'd above, few or none will be slow on these matters.”-Dedication to “ A Womau's a Weathercock,” a utedy by N. Field, 1612.

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »