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MARSTON'S Comedy, as it appears by the edition of 1605, was then played by Shakspere's company, "the King's Majesty's Servants;" but it had been previously played by another company, as we learn from the very singular Induction, in which some of the most eminent of Shakspere's fellows come upon the stage in their own characters. We have here William Sly, Harry Condell, and Dick Burbage; with Sinklow (of whom little is known beyond his twice being mentioned by accident instead of the dramatic character in the folio of Shakspere) and John Lowin, famous for his performance of Falstaff. The Induction itself presents so curious a picture of the theatre in Shakspere's time, that we may properly fill a little space with a portion of it :
"Enter W. SLY; a Tire-man following him with a stool.
Tire-man. Sir, the gentlemen will be angry if you sit here.
Sly. Why, we may sit upon the stage at the private house. Thou dost not take me for a country gentleman, dost? Dost thou fear hissing? I'll hold my life thou took'st me for one of the players.
Tire-man. No, sir.
Sly. By God's-slid, if you had I would have given you but sixpence for your stool. Let them that have stale suits sit in the galleries. Hiss me! He that will be laughed out of a tavern, or an ordinary, shall seldom feed well, or be drunk in good company. Where's Harry Condell, Dick Burbage, and William Sly? Let me speak with some of them. Tire-man. An't please you to go in, sir, you may.
Sly. I tell you no; I am one that hath seen this play often, and can give them intelligence for their action. I have most of the jests here in my table-book.
Sinklow. Save you, coz.
Sly. O! cousin, come, you shall sit between my legs here.
Sinklow. No indeed, cousin; the audience then will take me for a viol de gambo, and think that you play upon me. Sly. Nay, rather that I work upon you, coz.
Sinklow. We staid for you at supper last night at my cousin Honeymoon's, the woollen-draper. After supper we drew cuts for a score of apricots; the longest cut still to draw an apricot; by this light, 't was Mrs. Frank Honeymoon's fortune still to have the longest cut. I did measure for the women. What be these, coz?
Sly. The players. God save you.
Enter D. BURBAGE, H. CONDELL, and J. LowIN.
Sly. I pray you know this gentleman, my cousin; 't is Mr. Doomsday's son, the usurer.
Condell. I beseech you, sir, be cover'd.
Sly. No, in good faith, for mine ease; look you, my hat's the handle to this fan: God's so, what a beast was I, I did not leave my feather at home! Well, but take an order with you. [Puts a feather in his pocket.
Burbage. Why do you conceal your feather, sir?
Sly. Why! do you think I'll have jests broken upon me in the play to be laughed at? This play hath beaten all young gallants out of the feathers. Blackfriars hath almost spoiled Blackfriars for feathers.
Sinklow. God's so! I thought 'twas for somewhat our gentlewomen at home counselled me to wear my feather to the play; yet I am loath to spoil it.
Sly. Why, coz?
Sinklow. Because I got it in the tilt-yard: there was a herald broke my pate for taking it up. But I have worn it up and down the Strand, and met him forty times since, and yet he dares not challenge it.
Sly. Do you hear, sir? this play is a bitter play.
Condell. Why, sir, 't is neither satire nor moral, but the mere passage of an history: yet there are a sort of discontented creatures that bear a stingless envy to great ones, and these will wrest the doings of any man to their base, malicious appliment; but should their interpretation come to the test, like your marmoset, they presently turn their teeth to their tail and eat it.
Sly. I will not go far with you; but I say any man that hath wit may censure, if he sit in the twelve-penny room: and say again, the play is bitter.
Burbage. Sir, you are like a patron that, presenting a poor scholar to a benefice, enjoins him not to rail against anything that stands within compass of his patron's folly. Why should not we enjoy the ancient freedom of poesy? Shall we protest to the ladies, that their painting makes them angels ? or to my young gallant, that his expense in the brothel should gain him reputation? No, sir, such vices as stand not accountable to law should be cured as men heal tetters, by casting ink upon them. Would you be satisfied in anything else, sir?
Sly. Ay, marry would I: I would know how you came by this play?
Condell. Faith, sir, the book was lost; and because 'twas pity so good a play should be lost, we found it, and play it. Sly. I wonder you play it, another company having interest in it."
ABOUT the close of the year 1599, the Blackfriars Theatre was remarkable for the constant presence of two men of high rank, who were there seeking amuse ment and instruction as some solace for the bitter mortifications of disappointed ambition. "My Lord Southampton and Lord Rutland came not to the Court; the one doth but very seldom: they pass away the time in London merely in going to plays every day."* Essex had arrived from Ireland on the 28th of September, 1599-not
"Bringing rebellion broached on his sword,"-
not surrounded with swarms of citizens who
"Go forth, and fetch their conquering Cæsar in,"-
Letter of Rowland Whyte to Sir Robert Sydney, in the Sydney Papers.
but a fugitive from his army; one who in his desire for peace had treated with rebels, and had brought down upon him the censures of the Court; one who knew that his sovereign was surrounded with his personal enemies, and who in his reckless anger once thought to turn his army homeward to compel justice at their hands; one who at last rushed alone into the Queen's presence, full of dirt and mire," and found that he was in the toils of his foes. From that Michaelmas till the 26th of August, 1600, Essex was in the custody of the Lord Keeper; in free custody as it was termed, but to all intents a prisoner. It was at this period that Southampton and Rutland passed away the time in London merely in going to plays every day." Southampton in 1598 had married Elizabeth Vernon, a cousin of Lord Essex. The marriage was without the consent of the Queen; and therefore Southampton was under the ban of the Court, having been preremptorily dismissed by Elizabeth from the office to which Essex had appointed him in the expedition to Ireland. Rutland was also connected with Essex by family ties, having married the daughter of Lady Essex, by her first husband, the accomplished Sir Philip Sidney. The season when these noblemen sought recreation at the theatre was one therefore of calamity to themselves, and to the friend who was at the head of their party in the state. At Shakspere's theatre there were at this period abundant materials for the highest intellectual gratification. Of Shakspere's own works we know that at the opening of the seventeenth century there were twenty plays in existence. Thirteen (considering Henry IV. as two parts) are recorded by Meres in 1598; Much Ado About Nothing, and Henry V. (not in Meres' list), were printed in 1600; and we have to add the three parts of Henry VI., The Taming of the Shrew, and the original Hamlet, which are also wanting in Meres' record, but which were unquestionably produced before this period. We cannot with extreme precision fix the date of any novelty from the pen of Shakspere when Southampton and Rutland were amongst his daily auditors; but there is every reason to believe that As You Like It belongs as nearly as possible to this exact period. It is pleasant to speculate upon the tranquillizing effect that might have been produced upon the minds of the banished courtiers, by the exquisite philosophy of this most delicious play. It is pleasant to imagine Southampton visiting Essex in the splendid prison of the Lord Keeper's house, and there repeating to him from time to time those lessons of wisdom that were to be found in the woods of Arden. The two noblemen who had once revelled in all the powers and privileges of Court favouritism had now felt by how precarious a tenure is the happiness held of
"That poor man that hangs on princes' favours."
The great dramatic poet of their time had raised up scenes of surpassing loveliness, where happiness might be sought for even amidst the severest penalties of fortune ::
Now, my co-mates, and brothers in exile.
It was for them to feel how deep a truth was there in this lesson :
"Sweet are the uses of adversity."
Happy are those that can feel such a truth;
"That can translate the stubbornness of fortune
Into so quiet and so sweet a style."
And yet the same poet had created a character that could interpret the feelings of those who had suffered undeserved indignities, and had learnt that the greatest crime in the world's eye was to be unfortunate. There was one in that play
who could moralize the spectacle of
"A poor sequester'd stag,
That from the hunter's aim had ta'en a hurt,”
and who thus pierced through the hollowness of " this our life:"
We could almost slide into the belief that As You Like It had an especial reference to the circumstances in which Essex and Southampton were placed in the spring of 1600. There is nothing desponding in its tone, nothing essentially misanthropical in its philosophy. Jaques stands alone in his railing against mankind. The healing influences of nature fall sweetly and fruitfully upon the exiled Duke and his co-mates. But, nevertheless, the ingratitude of the world is emphatically dwelt upon, even amidst the most soothing aspects of a pure and simple life "under the greenwood tree." The song of Amiens has perhaps a deeper meaning even than the railing of Jaques :
Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,
As friend remember'd not."
There was one who had in him much of the poetical temperament—a gorgeous imagination for the externals of poetry-upon whose ear, if he ever sought common amusement in the days of his rising power, these words must have fallen like the warning voice that cried "woe." There was one who, when Essex in the days of his greatness had asked a high place for him and had