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Francis Bacon, the lawyer, and William Shakspere, the actor, are unconscious each of the greatness of the other. The difference of their rank probably prevents that communication which might have told each something of the other's power. Master Penroodock and Master Lancaster may perhaps solicit a little of the professional advice of Burbage and his men; and the other gentlemen who penned the dumb-shows may have assisted at the conference. A flash of wit from William Shakspere may have won a smile from the Reader of Gray's Inn; and he may have dropped a scrap of that philosophy which is akin to poetry, so as to make the young actor reverence him more highly than as the son of Elizabeth's former honest Lord Keeper. But the signs of that freemasonry by which great minds know each other could scarcely be exchanged. They would go their several ways, the one to tempt the perils and the degradations of ambition, and to find at last a refuge in philosophy; the other to be content with a well-earned competence, and gathering amidst petty strifes and jealousies, if such could disturb him, something more than happiness in the culture of that wondrous imagination which had its richest fruits in his own unequalled cheerful wisdom.
Elizabeth, the Queen, is now in her fifty-fifth year. She is ten years younger than when Paul Hentzner described her, as he saw her surrounded with her state in this same palace. The wrinkles of her face, oblong and fair, were perhaps not yet very marked. Her small black eyes, according to the same authority, were pleasant even in her age. The hooked nose, the narrow lips, and the discoloured teeth, were perhaps less noticeable when Shakspere looked upon her in his early days. The red hair was probably not false, as it afterwards was. The small hand and the white fingers were remarkable enough of themselves; but, sparkling with rings and jewels, the eye rested upon them.
The young poet, who has been ately sworn her servant, has stood in the backward ranks of the presence-chamber to see his dread mistress pass to chapel. The room is thronged with councillors and courtiers. The inner doors are thrown open, and the gentlemen-pensioners, bearing their gilt battle-axes, appear in long file. The great officers of the household and ministers of state are marshalled in advance. The procession moves. When the Queen appears, sudden and frequent are the genuflexions: "Wherever she turned her face as she was going along, everybody fell down upon their knees." But she is gracious, according to the same authority: "Whoever speaks to her it is kneeling; now and then she raises some with her hand." As she moves into the ante-chapel, loud are the shouts of "Long live Queen Elizabeth." The service is soon ended, and then to dinner. While reverence has been paid to "the only Ruler of princes," forms as reverent in their outward appearance have been offered even to the very place where the creature comforts of our everyday life are to be served up to majesty. Those who cover the table with the cloth kneel three times with the utmost veneration; so do the bearers of
the salt-cellar, of the plate, and of the bread. A countess, dressed in white silk, prostrates herself with the same reverence before the plate, which she rubs with bread and salt. The yeomen of the guard enter, bearing the dishes; and the lady in white silk, with her tasting-knife, presents a portion of each dish to the lips of the yeomen, not in courtesy but in suspicion of poison. The bray of trumpets and the clang of kettle-drums ring through the hall. The Queen is in her inner chamber; and the dishes are borne in by ladies of honour with silent solemnity. When the Queen has eaten, the ladies eat. Brief is the meal on this twenty-eighth of February, for the hall must be cleared for the play.
The platform in the hall at Greenwich, which was to esound with the laments of Arthur, was constructed by a cunning workman, so as to be speedily erected and taken down. It was not so substantial an affair as the "great stage, containing the breadth of the church from the one side to the other," that was built in the noble chapel of King's College, Cambridge, in 1564, for the representation before the Queen of a play of Plautus. Probably in one particular the same arrangement was pursued at Greenwich as at Cambridge on that occasion : A multitude of the guard had every man in his hand a torch-staff; and the guard stood upon the ground by the stage-side holding their lights." But there would be some space between the stage and the courtly audience. Raised above the rushes would the Queen sit upon a chair of state. Around her would stand her honourable maids. Behind, the eager courtiers with the ready smile when majesty vouchsafed to be pleased. Amongst them is the handsome captain of the guard, the tall and bold Raleigh-he of the high forehead, long face, and small piercing eye. His head is ever and anon inclined to the chair of Elizabeth. He is as good as a chorus," and he can tell more of the story than the induction "penned by Nicholas Trotte, gentleman." He has need, however, to tell little as the play proceeds. The plot does not unravel itself; the incidents arise not clearly and naturally; but some worthy person amongst the characters every now and then informs the audience, with extreme politeness and with a most praiseworthy completeness of detail, everything that has happened, and a good deal of what will happen; and thus the unities of time and place are preserved according to the most approved rules, and Mr. Thomas Hughes eschews the offences which were denounced by the lamented Sir Philip Sidney, of having "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."† The author of 'The Misfortunes of Arthur' avoids this by the somewhat drowsy method of substituting the epic narrative for the dramatic action. The Queen whispers to Raleigh that the regular players are more amusing.
A day or two passes on, and her Majesty again wants diversion. She bends
"He had a most remarkable aspect, an exceeding high forehead, long-faced, and sour eyelidded-a kind of pig eye."-AUBREY.
+ Defence of Poesy.
her mind manfully to public affairs, and it is a high and stirring time; but, if it only be to show her calmness to her people, she will not forego her accustomed revels. Her own players are sent for; and the summons is hasty and peremptory for some fitting novelty. Will the comedy which young Shakspere has written for the Blackfriars, and which has been already in rehearsal, be suited for the Court? The cautious sagacity of old Burbage is willing to confide in it. Without attempting too close an imitation of Court manners, its phrases he conceives are refined, its lines are smooth. There are some slight touches of satire, at which it bethinks him the Queen will laugh: but there is nothing personal, for Don Armado is a Spaniard. The verse, he holds, sounds according to the right stately fashion in the opening of the play :
"Let fame that all hunt after in their lives
The young poet is a little licentious, however, in the management of his verse as he proceeds; he has not Marlowe's lofty cadences, which roll out so nobly from the full mouth. But the lad will mend. Truly he has a comic vein. If Kempe takes care to utter what is put down for him in Costard, her Majesty will forget poor Tarleton. And then the compliments to the ladies :
"They are the books, the arts, the academes,
Elizabeth will take the compliments to herself.
The young man's play shall
It is a bright sparkling morning-"the first mild day of March"-as the Queen's barge waits for Burbage and his fellows at the Blackfriars Stairs. They are soon floating down the tide. Familiar as that scene now is to him, William Shakspere cannot look upon it without wonder and elation of heart. The venerable Bridge, with its hundred legends and traditions; the Tower, where scenes have been acted that haunt his mind, and must be embodied some day for the people's instruction. And now, verses, some of which he has written in the quiet of his beloved Stratford, characters that he has drawn from the stores of his youthful observation, are to be presented for the amusement of a Queen. But with a most modest estimate of his own powers, he is sure that he has heard some very indifferent poetry, which nevertheless has won the Queen's approbation; with many jokes at which the Queen has laughed, that scarcely have seemed to him fitting for royal ears. If his own verses are not listened to, perhaps the liveliness of his little Moth may command a smile. At any rate, there will be some show in his pageant of the Nine Worthies. He will meet the issue courageously.
The Queen's players have now possession of the platform in the Hall. Burbage has ample command of tailors, and of stuff out of the store. Pasteboard and buckram are at his service in abundance. The branches are garnished; the arras is hung. The Queen and her Court are seated. But the experiment of the new play soon ceases to be a doubtful one. Those who can judge, and the Queen is amongst the number, listen with eagerness to something different to the feebleness of the pastoral and mythological stories to which they have been accustomed. "The summer's nightingale' "* himself owns that a real poet has arisen, where poetry was scarcely looked for. Queen commands that rewards, in some eyes more precious than the accustomed gloves, should be bestowed upon her players. Assuredly the delightful comedy of 'Love's Labour's Lost,' containing as it does in every line the evidence of being a youthful work, was very early one of those
* Raleigh is so called by Spenser.