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guage of an heroic tale written in verse, and divided into acts and scenes, and clothed in all the formalities of a regular tragedy;"* in 1564, as is well known, the leading object of our work, the great poet of nature, was born; and, in 1566, was acted at Christ's College, Cambridge, under the quaint title of “Gammer Gurton's Needle," the first play, remarks Wright, "that looks like a regular comedy." +

Previous to the exhibition of these pieces, the public had been contented with Mysteries, Moralities, and Interludes; the first of these, exclusively occupied by miracles and scriptural narratives, originated with the ecclesiastics so far back as the eleventh century; the second, consisting chiefly of allegorical personification, seems to have arisen about the middle of the fifteenth century; and the third, a species of farce, or, as Jonson defines them, something played at the intervals of festivity, became prevalent during the reign of Henry the Eighth.

The examples, however, which were now furnished by Sackville and Still, in the production of "Gorboduc," and "Gammer Gurton," were not lost upon their age; and to the ideas of legitimate fable emanating from these sources, are also to be added those derived from the now frequent custom of acting plays in the schools and universities, in imitation of the dramas of Plautus and Terence. To these co-operating causes may be ascribed the numerous tragedies and plays which appeared between the years 1566 and 1590, principally written by men who had been educated at the universities, and who, in the serious drama, endeavoured to support the stately and declamatory style of Gorboduc.

It is to this period, also, that we must refer for the epoch of the historical drama, or, what were called, in the language of their times, Histories, a gradual improvement, it is true, on the allegorical Dramatis Personæ of the moralities, but which, in the interval elapsing between 1570 and 1590, received a consistency and form, a materiality and organisation, which only required the animating fire of Shakspeare's muse to kindle into life and immortality.

For the prevalence and popularity of this species of play, anterior to the productions of our poet, we are probably indebted to the publication of "The Mirrour for Magistrates," a poetical miscellany, of which four editions were printed between 1564 and 1590, and where the most remarkable personages in English history are brought forward relating the story of their own disasters.

Another and very popular species of dramatic composition, at this era, may be satisfactorily deduced from the strong attachment still existing for the ancient moralities, in which the most solemn and serious subjects were often blended with the lowest scenes of farce and broad humour; for though the taste of the educated part of the public was chastened and improved by the classical tragedy of Sackville, and by the translations also of Gascoigne, who, in 1566, presented his countrymen with "Jocasta" from Euripides, and "The Supposes," a regular comedy, from Ariosto, yet the lower orders still lingered for the mingled buffoonery of their old stage, and tragi-comedy became necessary to catch their applause. This apparently heterogeneous compound was long the most fascinating entertainment of the scenical world; nor were even the wildest features of the allegorical drama unrepresented; for the interlude and, subsequently, the masque were fre quently lavish in the creation of personages equally as extravagant and grotesque as any which the fifteenth century had dared to produce.

To this enumeration of the various kinds of dramatic poetry with preceded the efforts of Shakspeare, one more, of a very singular nature, must be added, the production of Richard Tartelon, the celebrated jester and comedian, who, previous to 1589, or during the course of that year, exhibited a play in two parts, called "The Seven Deadlie Sins." The piece itself has perished, but the Platt, or groundwork, of the Second Part, having been preserved, we find that the pre• Warton's Hist. of English Poetry, vol. iii. p. 355. + Vide Historia Histrionica

+ See Ancient British Drama, vol. i. both for this play and Gammer Gurton's Needle, as edited by Sir Walter Scott.

ceding portion had been occupied in exemplifying the sins of Pride, Gluttony, Wrath, and Avarice, while Envy, Sloth, and Lechery, were reserved for its sucressor. The plan which Tarleton pursued, in illustrating the effects of these sins, was by selecting scenes and passages from the plays of various authors, and Combining them into a whole by the connecting medium of chorusses, interlocutors, and pantomimic show. Thus the Second Part is composed from three plays, namely, Sackville's" Gorboduc," and two, now lost, entitled "Sardanapalus and Tereus," while the moralisation and connection are introduced and suppported by alternate monologues in the persons of Henry the Sixth, and Lidgate, the monk of Bury. This curious specimen of scenic exhibition may not unaptly receive the appellation of the Composite Drama.

After this short general sketch of the progress of dramatic poetry from 1564 to 1591, it will be necessary to descend to some particular criticism on the chief productions which graced the stage during this interval; an attempt which we shall conduct chronologically, under the names of their respective authors.

1. SACKVILLE, THOMAS. Though the tragedy of Sackville was exhibited before Queen Elizabeth at Whitehall, on the 18th of January, 1561-2, it did not reach the press until 1565, when a spurious edition was published under the title of "The Tragedie of Gorboduc." This piracy brought forth a legitimate copy in 1571, from the press of John Daye, which was now called "The Tragedie of Ferrex and Porrex;" but the nomenclature was again altered in a third edition printed for Edward Alde, in 1590, re-assuming its first and more popular denomination of "The Tragedie of Gorboduc."

The first and third editions inform us in their title-pages, that "three acts were written by Thomas Norton, and the two last by Thomas Sackville," a co-partnership which, but for this intimation, would not have been suspected, for the whole has the appearance, both in matter and style, of having issued from one and the

same pen.

If the mechanism of this play, which Warton justly calls the "first genuine English Tragedy," approximate in the minor parts of its construction to a classical type, being regularly divided into acts and scenes, with a chorus of British sages closing every act save the last, yet does it evince, in many other respects, the infancy of dramatic art in this country. Every act is preceded by an elaborate Dumb Show, allegorically depicting the business of the immediately succceeding scenes, a resource, the crude nature of which sufficiently points out the stage of poetry that gave it birth. Nor is the conduct of the fable less inconsistent with the exterior formalities of the piece, the unities of time and place being openly violated, and the chronological detail of history, or rather of the fabulous annals of the age, closely followed. The plot, too, is sterile and uninteresting, and the passions are touched with a feeble and ineffective hand.

The great merit, indeed, of Gorboduc, is in its style and versification, in its moral and political wisdom, qualities which recommended it to the notice and encomium of Sir Philip Sidney, who tells us, that "Gorboduc is full of stately speeches, and well sounding phrases, climbing to the height of Seneca his style, and as full of notable morality, which it doth most delightfully teach." Declamation and morality, however, are not the essentials of tragedy; the first, indeed, is a positive fault, and the second should only be the result of the struggle and collision of the passions. We must, therefore, limit the beneficial example of Sackville to purity and perspicuity of diction, to skill in the structure of his numbers, and to truth and dignity of sentiment. If to these virtues of composition, though occasionally encumbered by a too unbending rigidity of style, his contemporaries had paid due attention, we should have escaped that torrent of tumor and bombast which, shortly afterwards, inundated the dramatic world, and which continued

* Defence of Poesie, p. 561, 562.--Vide Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia, folio. 7th edit. 1629

to disgrace the national taste during the whole period to which this chapter is confined.

2. EDWARDS, RICHARD. This poet, one of the gentlemen of Queen Elizabeth's chapel, and master of the children there, was the author of two plays, under the titles of Damon and Pithias," and "Palamon and Arcite." The former of 1 these was acted before the Queen, at court, in 1562, and first published in 1571, 4 by Richard Jones, who terms it "The excellent comedie of two the moste 4 faithfullest freendes Damon and Pithias;" it is an early specimen of tragi-comedy, and written in rhyme, the inferior characters exhibiting a vein of coarse humour, and the more elevated, some touches of pathos, which the story, indeed, could scarcely fail to elicit, and some faint attempts at discrimination of character. The versification is singular, consisting generally of couplets of twelve syllables, but frequently intermixed with lines varying upwards from this number, even as far as eighteen. "Palamon and Arcite," which was considered as far surpassing his first drama, had the honour also of being performed before Elizabeth, at Christ-Church Hall, Oxford, in 1566; it is likewise termed a comedy, and is said to have gratified Her Majesty so highly, that, sending for the author, after the play was finished, she greatly commended his talents, thanked him for the entertainment which his muse had afforded her, and promised to befriend him more substantially hereafter, an intention, however, which was frustrated by the death of the poet during the course of that very year.

Edwards appears to have been very popular, and highly estimated as a writer. Puttenham has classed him with those who "deserve the highest price for comedy and interlude," and Thomas Twine calls him, in an epitaph on his death,

"The flowre of all our realme,

And Phoenix of our age,"

assigning him immortality expressly on account of his dramatic productions.* 3. STILL, JOHN, a prelate to whom is ascribed, upon pretty good foundation, the first genuine comedy in our language. He was Master of Arts of Christ's College, Cambridge, at the period of producing "Gammer Gurton's Needle," and subsequently became rector of Hadleigh, in the county of Suffolk, archdeacon of Sudbury, master of St. John's and Trinity Colleges, and lastly bishop of Bath and Wells.

"Gammer Gurton's Needle," which, as we have already remarked, had been first acted in 1566, was committed to the press in 1575, under the following title:"A ryght pithy, pleasant, and merie Comedy, intytuled Gammer Gurton's Nedle; played on the stage not longe ago in Christes Colledge, in Cambridge. Made by Mr. S. master of art. Imprented at London in Fleetestreat, beneth the Conduit, at the signe of S. John Evangelest, by Thomas Colwell."

The humour of this curious old drama, which is written in rhyme, is broad, familiar, and grotesque; the characters are sketched with a strong, though coarse, outline, and are to the last consistently supported. The language, and many of the incidents, are gross and indelicate; but these, and numerous allusions to obsolete customs, mark the manners of the times, when the most learned and polished of the land, the inmates of an University, could listen with delight to dialogue often tinctured with the lowest filth and abuse. It must be confessed. however, that this play, with all its faults, has an interest which many of its im mediate, and more pretending successors, have failed to attain. It is evidently the production of a man of talents and observation, and the second act opens with a drinking song, valuable alike for its humour, and the ease and spirit of its versification.

4. GASCOIGNE, GEORGE. At the very period when Still produced his comedy

⚫ Chalmers's English Poets, vol. ii. Turberville's Poems, p. 620.


in rhyme, Gascoigne presented the public with a specimen of the same species of drama in prose. This is a translation from the Italian entitled, “The Supposes. A comedie written in the Italian tongue by Ariosto, Englished by George Gascoigne of Graies-inn, esquire, and there presented, 1566."

The dialogue of this comedy," observes Warton," is supported with much ease and spirit, and has often the air of a modern conversation. As Gascoigne was the first who exhibited on our stage a story from Euripides, so in this play he is the first that produced an English comedy in prose."


The translation from the" Phoenise of" Euripides, or, as Gascoigne termed it, "Jocasta," was acted in the refectory of Gray's Inn, in the same year with the Supposes." It was the joint production of our poet and his friend Francis Kinwelmersh, the first and fourth acts being written by the latter bard. Jocasta is more a paraphrase than a translation, and occasionally aspires to the honours of original composition, new odes being sometimes substituted for those of the Greek chorus. The dialogue of this play is given in blank verse, forming one of the earliest specimens of this measure, and, like Gorboduc, each act is preceded by a dumb show, and closed by a long ode, in the composition of which, both Gascoigne and his coadjutor have evinced considerable lyric powers.

Shakspeare seems to have been indebted to the Supposes of Gascoigne for the name of Petruchio, in the Taming of the Shrew, and for the incident which closes the second scene of the fourth act of that play.

5. WAGER, LEWIS, the author of an Interlude, called "Mary Magdalen, Her Life and Repentance," 1567, 4to. This, like most of the interludes of the same age, required, as we are told in the title-page, only four persons for its performance. The subject, which is taken from the seventh chapter of St. Luke, had been a favourite with the writers of the ancient Mysteries, of which pieces one, written in 1512, is still preserved in the Bodleian Library.

6. WILMOT, ROBERT, a student of the Inner Temple, the publisher, and one of the writers of an old tragedy, intitled "Tancred and Gismund, or Gismonde of Salerne," the composition of not less than five Templers, and performed before Elizabeth in 1568. Each of these gentlemen, says Warton, "seems to have taken an act. At the end of the fourth is "Composuit Chr. Hatton," or Sir Christopher Hatton, undoubtedly the same that was afterwards exalted by the Queen to the office of lord keeper for his agility in dancing."

Wilmot, who is mentioned with approbation in Webbe's "Discourse of English Poetrie," corrected and improved, many years after the first composition, the united labours of himself and his brother Templers, printing them with the following title: "The Tragedie of Tancred and Gismond. Compiled by the Gentlemen of the Inner Temple, and by them presented before Her Majestie. Newly revived and polished according to the decorum of these daies. By R. W. London. Printed by Thomas Scarlet, and are to be solde by E. C. R. Robinson. 1592." In a dedication to his fellow-students, the editor incidentally fixes the era of the first production of his drama:

"I am now bold to present Gismund to your sights, and unto your's only, for therefore kave 1 conjured her by the love that hath been these twenty-four years betwixt us, that she wax Tot so proud of her fresh painting, to straggle in her plumes abroad, but to contain herself within the walls of your house; so am I sure she shall be safe from the tragedian tyrants of ur time, who are not ashamed to affirm that there can no amorous poem favour of any sharpness of wit, unless it be scasoned with scurrilous words."

From a fragment of this play as originally written, and inserted in the Censura Literaria, it appears to have been composed in alternate rhyme, and, we may add, displays both simplicity in its diction, and pathos in its sentiment. An imperfect copy of Wilmot's revision, and perhaps the only one in existence, is in the Garrick Collection.

7. GARTER, THOMAS. To this person has been ascribed by Coxeter, "The

Commody of the moste vertuous and godlye Susanna;" it was entered on the Stationers' books in 1568, and probably first performed about that period; its being in black letter, in metre, and not divided into acts, are certainly strong indications of its antiquity. It was reprinted in 4to, 1578.

8. PRESTON, THOMAS, was master of arts, and fellow of King's College, Cambridge, and afterwards doctor of laws, an master of Trinity-Hall. Taking a part in the performance of John Ritwise's Latin tragedy of " Dido," got up for the entertainment of the Queen when she visited Cambridge in 1564, Her Majesty was so delighted with the grace and spirit of his acting, that she conferred upon him a pension of twenty pounds a year, being rather more than a shilling a day; a transaction which Mr. Steevens conceives to have been ridiculed by Shakspeare in his Midsummer-Night's Dream, where Flute, on the absence of Bottom, exclaims, "O sweet bully Bottom! Thus hath he lost sixpence a-day during his life; he could not have 'scaped sixpence a-day: and the duke had not given him sixpence a-day for playing Pyramus, I'll be hanged; he would have deserved it: sixpence a-day, in Pyramus, or nothing." Act iv. sc. 2.


Nor was this the only sly allusion which Preston experienced from the pen of Shakspeare. Langbaine, Theobald, and Farmer consider the following speech of Falstaff as referring to a production of this writer:-" Give me a cup of sack," says the Knight, "to make mine eyes look red, that it may be thought I have wept; for I must speak in passion, and I will do it in king Cambyses' vein."

The play satirised under the name of this monarch, is entitled," A Lamentable Tragedy, mixed ful of pleasant Mirth, conteyning the Life of Cambises, King of Percia, from the beginning of his Kingdome unto his Death, his one good deed of execution; after that many wicked deeds, and tirannous murders committed by and through him; and last of all, his odious Death, by God's justice appointed. Don in such order as followeth, by Thomas Preston." Imprinted at London, by Edwarde Allde. 4to. B. 1.

This curious drama, which was written and published about 1570, being in the old metre, a species of ballad stanza, the allusion in Shakspeare must have been rather to the effect, than to the form, of King Cambyses' vein, perhaps referring solely, as Dr. Farmer observes, to the following marginal direction,-" At this tale tolde, let the queen weep."

From the Division of the Parts, as given by Mr. Beloe, this very scarce tragicomedy seems to have been partly allegorical, and, from the specimen produced in the Biographia Dramatica, to have justly merited the ridicule which it was its fate to excite.*

9. WAPUL, GEORGE, the author of a play called "Tide Tarrieth for No Man. A most pleasaunte [and merry Comedie, ryght pithy and fulle of delighte." It was entered on the Stationers' books in October, 1576, and reprinted in 1611, 4to. B. 1. This drama appears to be irrecoverably lost, as we can find no trace of it, save the title.

10. LUPTON, THOMAS. Of this writer nothing more is known, than that be wrote one play, which is to be found in the Collection of Mr. Garrick, and under the appellation of "A Moral and Pitieful Comedie, entitled All for Money. Plainly representing the Manners of Men and Fashion of the World nowe adaies. Compiled by T. Lupton. At London, printed by Roger Warde and Richard Munder, dwelling at Temple Barre. Anno 1578." It is written in rhyme, printed in black letter, the pages unnumbered, and the style very antique and peculiar. The characters are altogether figurative and allegorical, and form one of the most grotesque examples of Dramatis Personæ extant. We have "Learning with Money, Learning without Money, Money without Learning, and Neither Money nor Learning;" we have also "Mischievous Helpe, Pleasure, Prest for Pleasure, Sinne, Swift to Sinne, Damnation, Satan, Pride, and Gluttonie;" again, "Gre

* Vide Beloe's Anecdotes of Literature, vol. i. p. 323.

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