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decessors had been. The absence of so essential an article of theatrical furniture is a proof, above all others, decisive of the excessive poverty of the first dramatic establishments, since the account books of Queen Elizabeth's master of the revels for 1571, and several subsequent years, clearly demonstrate the use of four varieties of scenery in almost every masque or play exhibited at court. 1. Temporary erections on the stage; 2. paintings on canvass stretched on frames; 3. mechanical contrivances; and, 4. furniture and properties generally 1).
Scarcely a representation took place in the royal presence without the introduction of a "castell" or "battlement." Houses, arbours, prisons, senate-houses, altars, tombs, rocks and caves, devices for hell and hell-mouth, were in constant requisition. On one occasion a "church" is specified, which appears, by a subsequent item in the account, to have contained a light. Trees, "hollow," and "of holly," appeared in painting or in effigy, and for the representation of a "wilderness" the axe was laid to the root, and the requisite proportion of timber removed in a waggon from the place of its growth to the revel-hall at court. The notice of such rural scenery forms a natural introduction to the mention of an exhibition little to have been expected on the ancient stage; "hunters that made cry after the fox (let loose in the coorte,) with their hounds, hornes, and hallowing in the play of Narcissus, which crye was made of purpose even as the words then in utterance, and the parte then played did requier." The appearance of these realities was, however, the exception rather than the rule. Notices elsewhere appear of "hobby horses ;" and from the perpetual charges throughout the accounts for lions, dragons, and fish, it is evident that the representation of animals was very common.
The suspension of the sun, in a cloud likewise suspended, must have been skilfully executed indeed, if it did not carry with it the appearance of absurdity; but the sun certainly was exhibited in that way before her majesty, who, in the masque of Janus, witnessed with delight the descent of "flakes of yse, hayle stones, and snow-balls," delicately composed of "sugar plate, musk, kumfets, corianders prepared, clove cumfetts, synnamon cumfetts, ginger cumfetts, rosewater, spike-water, etc." The royal ear and eye were occasionally also recreated with artificial thunder, and its natural precursor, lightning. An instance is afforded, by the description of a chariot in these accounts, of the ponderous and complicated machinery and properties sometimes used in masques. "A charrott of 14 foote long and 8 foote brode, with a rocke upon it, and a fountayne therein, for Apollo and the Nine Muzes.
The contrast afforded to the ample equipment of the royal stage by the destitute state of the public theatres is striking. A simple hanging of arras or tapestry was all the ornament the stage could boast, and this, as it became decayed or torn, was clumsily repaired by the display of pictures over the fractured places. A plain curtain hung up in a corner, separated distant regions. A board inscribed with the name of a country or a city, indicated the scene of action, the varieties of which were proclaimed by the removal of one board and the substitution of another: a table with a pen and ink thrust in, signified that the stage was a counting house; if these were withdrawn, and two stools put in their places, it was then a tavern. It was not always thought necessary to clear the stage previous to the execution of these inartificial contrivances. The Dramatis Personae frequently remained immoveable during two or three shiftings of boards, stools, and tables, and were thus transferred, without the trouble of removal, to as many different places in succession. An endeavour was, indeed, sometimes made to rectify so striking an incongruity by the use of curtains, called traverses, which were suspended across the stage, and being withdrawn, discovered a person in a place distinct from that where the scene had hitherto been laid; and this constituted a transfer of all the persons present to the new locality.
When the theatres were entirely destitute of scenery, the protruded board indicated that the empty stage was to be considered as a city, a house, a wood, or any other place. When scenes were first introduced, the board was not imme
1) Note L.
diately discontinued, but was used to denote that the painting exhibited to the audience represented such a particular city, wood, or house. It was a long while indeed before the theatres were rich enough to afford a separate scene for every change of place throughout a play, so that it was frequently the lot of one painting, in the space of a few hours, to represent the metropolis of different countries. Temporary erections on the stage, for the purposes of the scene, were very common. In the last act of Romeo and Juliet the interest centres entirely in the descent of the hero into a tomb; and in the historical plays, so much in favour on the early stage, the frequent mention of the walls of towns, attacks upon the gates, the appearance of citizens and others on the battlements, made some representation of the places named absolutely indispensable. A very inartificial crection in the front of the balcony would answer the principal purposes required; firm footing for those who were to appear above, and ingress or egress beneath, by means of a door or gate.
Many old plays require in their representation the use of somewhat complicated machinery. To mention only those of Shakspeare. In the Tempest, Ariel enters "like a harpy, claps his wings on the table, and with a quaint device the banquet vanishes." In another scene of the same play Juno "descends." In Cymbeline, Jupiter "descends" in thunder and lightning, sitting upon an eagle. The "cauldron sinks," and apparitions rise at the bidding of the witches in Macbeth. There were of course trap-doors; the subterraneous region to which they led was known by the name of hell, in opposition to the ceiling of the stage, which represented the heavens. Azure hangings from the roof indicated the presence of day; a more sombre drapery represented the shades of night. A "hell mouth" is enumerated among the articles belonging to the Admiral's company, and mention of the same delectable avenue very frequently occurs in the Revel Account Books.
It is impossible to mark the introduction of scenery on the public stage, or to describe its actual state at any specific period. In the forty years, or more, between the erection of the first playhouse and the death of Shakspeare, considerable advancement, it appears, had been made in scenic decoration. The mention of a few particulars of the properties actually belonging to the Lord Admiral's company in 1598, may probably, however, give rise to ideas that have not been already suggested. After the mention of rocks, tombs, coffins and altars; lions, dragons, dogs and horses, Phacton's chariot, and oh, lamentable fall! a bedstead; the articles most indicative of the adoption of scenery, and a gradual improvement in its use, are, "2 stepells, and 1 chyme of belles, and 1 beacon," "the sittic of Rome," a "raynbowe," and the "cloth of the Sone and Mone." Nor should the trees of "gowlden apelles," and of "Tantelouse" be omitted.
In the representation of masques and regular dramatic pieces at court, the dresses worn by the performers were remarkable for their elegance and splendour. Gold, silver, silk, satin, velvet, and feathers, in every variety of colour and combination, were exhausted in adorning the actors. Nor was splendour the only consideration: considerable pains were bestowed, and expense incurred, in the provision of dresses, attributes, and ornaments, appropriate to the characters represented.
However cramped by poverty, various causes combined to enable the theatres to emulate the bravery of the royal stage. The customary habits of the noble and wealthy were splendid; and their rejected wardrobes found ready sale at the theatre, where a slight diminution of lustre was immaterial, and casual soils were well compensated by cheapness of acquisition. As plays or masques were not frequently acted more than once at court, little necessity existed for the preservation of the dresses which were used; and they, of course, readily found their way into the possession of the only persons to whom they could be valuable. Like the scenery, the dresses of the theatres would vary, in quality and variety, with the opulence or poverty of their treasuries; but it is certain, that at most of the principal playhouses the apparel was various, appropriate, and elegant. Kings figured in crowns, imperial, plain, or surmounted with a sun; and globes
and sceptres graced their hands. Neptune had his garland and his trident, and Mercury his wings. Armour was in common use on the stage. A great quantity of the theatrical wardrobe was of satin, velvet, taffety, and cloth of gold; ornamented with gold and silver lace, or embroidery, probably producing an effect little inferior to what is now witnessed 1). Greene introduces a player, in his Groats worth of Wit, boasting that his share in the stage apparel could not be sold for two hundred pounds.
The theatre being thus furnished for the reception of an audience, the next care of the manager was to announce to the public the entertainment prepared for them. For this purpose he availed himself of the multiplicity of posts, which formerly encumbered the streets of the metropolis: their conspicuousness being extremely favourable to the display of bills of the performance. The name of the play to be acted was printed without any list of the characters, or of the persons who were to personate them.
The hour of performance varied at different theatres from between one to three o'clock in the afternoon.
The situation of the Globe, and other places of public amusement on the side of the Thames opposite to the city, has made us acquainted with a point of our ancestors' manners. It was the very acme of gentility to be rowed across the river by a pair of oars: the employment of a sculler was carefully shunned by the fine gentleman as plebeian and ignoble. The company found their way to Blackfriars, and the theatres in Middlesex, on foot, on horseback, or in coaches.
No distinction seems to have been made in any of the theatres between the company frequenting the upper galleries or scaffolds, and the pit or yard. The "groundling" and "gallery commoner" paid alike for admission to the places which they severally occupied, though that price varied with the rank and reputation of the theatre they went to: at the Blackfriars and the Globe they gave sixpence; at the Fortune twopence, and, at some of the inferior houses, as little as one penny. The best rooms, or boxes, at the Globe, were a shilling; at Blackfriars, apparently, sixpence more, and the price was subsequently raised even as high as half-a-crown. Such were the ordinary terms of admission to the theatres; but on the first night of a new play the prices were doubled, and, occasionally, trebled. Dramatic poets were admitted gratis. Nine or ten pounds was the average, and double that sum a very extraordinary receipt at either the Globe or Blackfriars theatres 2).
It was customary in the theatres denominated private, to admit that class of spectators who frequented the boxes, on the stage, where they were accommodated with stools, for which they paid, according to the comparative eligibility of their situation, either sixpence or a shilling. Here the fastidious critic was usually to be met with, the wit ambitious of distinction, and the gallant studious of the display of his apparel, or his person. Either seated, or else reclining on the rushes on the floor, they regaled themselves with the pipes and tobacco which their attendant pages furnished. The felicity of their situations excited envy, or their affectation and impertinence disgust, among the less polished part of the audience, who frequently vented their spleen in hissing, hooting, and throwing dirt at the intruders on the stage: it was the cue of these gallants to display their high breeding by an entire disregard of the proceedings of the ill-mannered rabble. Numerous methods were devised to wile away the tedious hour previous to the commencement of the performance: books and cards, nuts and apples, bottled ale and pipes, were placed in requisition by the varying tastes of the motley assemblage. A band, composed of trumpets, cornets, hautboys, lutes, recorders, viols, and organs, attended in the theatre, and by flourishes or soundings, at short intervals, announced the near approach of the commencement of the entertainment: the third sounding was the signal for the entrance of "the Prologue, invariably dressed in a long black velvet cloak: his humble demeanour, and sup
1) Inventory of the properties of the Lord Admiral's Company, 1598.
2) The Globe was much the largest theatre, but its prices being less, its receipts did not exceed those of the Blackfriars house.
plicatory aspect and address, confessed the entire submission of the managers and. actors to the public will. Only one dramatic piece was exhibited, but relief and variety were given to the entertainment by the feats of dancers, tumblers, and conjurers, and the introduction of music between the acts. To what further extent the orchestra was made use of, is uncertain. Many old plays furnish instances of "enter music with a song," without the preservation of the song itself, and we are left to conjecture whether the songs were characteristic, or popular airs adopted for the occasion. Perhaps the earliest regular vocal character was that of Valerius, in Heywood's Rape of Lucrece, 1608: emboldened by success, the author continually augmented the number of the songs. Sir William Davenant appears to have been the first introducer of operatic pieces.
If the magnitude of his preparation was justly indicative of the importance of his occupation, the business of the critic was momentous. In aid of his natural acumen, he armed himself with a table-book, in which he maliciously noted down during the performance, passages for criticism; not forgetting, at the same time, to preserve such jests and crumbs of wit as would bear retailing in coffeehouses, and at the tables of the great, as appropriate opportunities occurred for their display. It was in vogue among these witlings to affect disgust at the performance by significant signs, and indecent indications of contempt:
"How monstrous and detested is't to see
In nature of a vice, to wrest and turn
The good aspect of those that shall sit near him,
They commonly also laughed aloud in the most serious scene of a tragedy, or rose, and quitted the theatre in scorn. The boisterous manifestations of dislike, hisses, howls, whistles, and imitations of the mewing of a cat, were more effectual in the condemnation of a new play, which then, as now, had final sentence passed on it the first time of its performance.
An epilogue was a usual, but not an invariable, appendage to a play. Sometimes, as in several of Shakspeare's dramas, it was spoken by one of the performers, and adapted to the character he had personated. In representations at noblemen's houses, a prayer for the patron of the company, and at the public theatres, for the king and queen, closed the performance. The prayer was sometimes interwoven in the epilogue. The actors paid this ostentatious piece of flattery on their knees before the audience, whose edification was, doubtless, commensurate with the piety that dictated the action.
The transition of the drama from sacred to profane subjects effected a gradual change in the performers of theatrical pieces, as well as in the place of performance. As the clergy receded from, the scholars and choir-boys advanced upon, the stage, and under the designation of "children" became, in the reigns of Elizabeth and James, proficient and popular performers. Their establishments were regarded as important, for it is no less true than extraordinary, that the masters of the schools and chapels were not only authorised by patent to educate children as comedians, but empowered to take up, and retain by force, such children as they deemed suitable to their purpose.
The earliest mention of professional players appears to be that of the "City Actors," in the time of Edward the Fourth. Henry the Seventh had a company of players. Henry the Eighth, and his successors, Edward and Mary, granted licences to comedians for the performance of all kinds of stage plays; and during those reigns, and indeed until the time of James, it was a common practice of the nobility to retain a few comedians for their occasional private recreation. The badge and livery of the noblemen whose servants these players were, protected them from the penalties of Elizabeth's act for the suppression of vagrancy in their
1) Jonson's Every Man Out of his Humour.
strollings through the country, and, when theatres were erected in the metropolis, the same signs of noble service were their protection. Elizabeth patronised the drama very warmly. It was her constant practice, throughout her reign, to summon the children of the public schools and chapels, Paul's, Merchant Taylor's, Westminster, and Windsor, to entertain her with plays at court; and her progresses through the country were always attended by a company of comedians. In 1574 she granted to four of the Earl of Leicester's servants a licence for the performance of every species of dramatic entertainment throughout England; and, in 1588, twelve of the principal actors were selected from the companies of various noblemen, and sworn her Majesty's servants, with an allowance of wages and liveries as grooms of the chamber: eight of them had an annual stipend of 31. 6s. 8d. each.
The influence of the drama over the opinions and feelings of society was early discovered, and its importance acknowledged by the attention of government to its progress. As early as the reign of Henry VIII. there were legislative enactments upon the subject, royal proclamations, and orders of privy council were frequently promulgated, for the restraint of the licentiousness of the players, the interdiction of blasphemy on the stage, and the prohibition of performances at the public theatres on Sundays, in the season of Lent, and in times of common plague.
From the first entertainment of royal companies by English sovereigns, the actors were subject to the authority of the Lord Chamberlain, as general superintendent of the recreations of the court. Henry VIII., however, gave a predominant importance to masques, music, plays, and pageants, by the appointment of a special officer, called the Master of the Revels, for their superintendence. Elizabeth, ever anticipating danger, extended his jurisdiction; and in granting a licence to Burbage and others, in 1574, for the exhibition of plays of every sort, they "being before seen and allowed by the Master of the Revels," she placed an effectual check on the bad purposes to which theatrical entertainments are convertible. Blasphemous and indecent words were erased, and doctrines, political or religious, inimical to the views or faith of the court, were altered or omitted by his directions: his command suspended the performance or closed the doors of the theatres; and both actors and authors were amenable to his authority, fór offences individually or collectively committed.
When Elizabeth granted her licence to Burbage, no idea appears to have been entertained of theatrical representations being incompatible with the duties of religion, restriction only being placed on performances during "the hours of prayer." Only four years afterwards the privy council forbad the acting of plays in Lent, and subsequently, on Sundays. It will not create surprise that little attention was paid to these mandates, and that successive endeavours were, vain, made for their enforcement, when it is found, that masques and plays were constantly exhibited in the courts, and in the presence of Elizabeth and James, on Sundays, and days of religious festivity. The virtue of the Master of the Revels relaxed on the payment of a stipulated fee, and performances in Lent were only deemed profane when not exhibited under the protection of his special licence. Though they were associated under the authority of royalty itself, and extensively patronised by the nobility, the theatrical companies of the sixteenth century laboured under difficulties which are now only to be met with amidst the poverty of the meanest strollers. Between the number of characters to be represented, and the corps of actors, a lamentable disproportion often existed, and the Protean qualities of the buskined hero were not uncommonly tasked by the assumption of two, and sometimes even three characters in the same play. Masques were occasionally resorted to for the concealment of such incongruities, as well as of an equally inherent defect in the constitution of the old theatrical companies, the entire absence of female performers; no woman appearing on the stage till after the restoration.
The actors on the old stage were divided into two classes, sharers and hirelings. The sharer was remunerated by a proportion of the profits of the theatre, and an allowance of four, five, six shillings a week was given to his boy who