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it moves forward through its gradual development, and onwards to the catastrophe, in a sufficiently bustling, lively manner; and some of the situations, though the humour is rather farcical than comic, are very cleverly conceived and managed. The language also may
GAMMER GURTON'S NEEDLE. Ralph Roister Doister is in every way a very superior production to Gammer Gurton's Needle, which, before the discovery of Udall's piece, had the credit of being the first regular English comedy. At tie same time it must be admitted that the superior antiquity assigned to Ralph Roister Doister is not very conclusively made out. All that we know with certainty with regard to the date of the play is, that it was in existence in 1551. The oldest edition of Gammer Gurton's Needle is dated 1575: but how long the play may have been composed before that year is uncertain. The title-page of the 1575 edition describes it as “played on the stage not long ago in Christ's College in Cambridge;" and Warton, on the authority of a manuscript memorandum by Oldys, the eminent antiquary of the early part of the last century, says that it was written and first printed in 1551.* Wright also, in his Historia Histrionica, first printed in 1699, states it as his opinion that it was written in the reign of Edward VI. In refutation of all this it is alleged that “ it could not have been produced so early, because John Still (afterwards bishop of Bath and Wells), the author of it, was not born until 1543; and, consequently, in 1552, taking Warton's latest date, would only have been nine years old.t But the evidence that Bishop Still was the author of Gununer Gurton's Needle is exceedingly slight. The play is merely stated on the title-page to have been made by Mr. S., Master of Arts ;” and even if there was, as is asserted, no other master of arts of Christ's College whose name began with S. at the time when this title-page was printed, the author of the play is not stated to have been of that college, nor, if he were, is it necessary to assume that he was living in 1575. On the whole, therefore, while
* History of English Poetry,' iv. 32. He adds, that it
soon afterwards acted at Christ's College in Cambridge." And elsewhere (iii. 205) he says, that it was acted in that society about the year 1552. We do not understand how Mr. Collier (ii. 444) collects from a comparison of these two passages that “ Warton states in one place that • Gammer Gurton's Needle' was printed in 1557, and in another that it was not written till 1552.” Mr. Collier, it may be perceived, is also mistaken in adding, that Warton seems to have had no other evidence for these assertions than the opinion of Wright, the author of the Historia Histrionica."
+ Collier, ii. 444.
there is no proof that Ralph Roister Doister is older than the year 1551, it is by no means certain that Gammer Gurton's Needle was not written in that same year.
This “right pithy, pleasant, and merie comedie,” as it is designated on the title-page, is, like Udall's play, regularly divided into acts and scenes, and, like it too, is written in rhyme—the language and versification being, on the whole, perhaps rather more easy and flowing-a circumstance which, more than any external evidence that has been produced, would incline us to assign it to a somewhat later date. But it is in all respects a very tame and poor performance—the plot, if so it can be called, meagre to insipidity and silliness, the characters only a few slightly distinguished varieties of the lowest life, and the dialogue in general as feeble and undramatic as the merest monotony can make it. Its merriment is of the coarsest and most boisterous description, even where it is not otherwise offensive ; but the principal ornament wherewith the author endeavours to enliven his style is a brutal filth and grossness of expression, which is the more astounding when we consider that the piece was the production, in all probability, of a clergyman at least, if not of one who afterwards became a bishop, and that it was certainly represented before a learned and grave university. There is nothing of the same high seasoning in Ralph Roister Doister, though that play seems to have been intended only for the amusement of a common London audience. The Second Act of Gammer Gurton's Needle is introduced by a song,
I cannot eat but little meat,
My stomach is not goud, &c. which is the best thing in the whole play, and which is
well known from having been quoted by Warton, who
* See · Account of Skelton and his Writings,' vol. i. pp. 7-9. Mr. Dyce states that the MS. from which he has printed the song is certainly of an earlier date than the oldest known cdition of the play (1575).
+ Diccon is the ancient abbreviation of Richard. It may be noticed that there is an entry in the Stationers' Books of a play entitled Diccon of Bedlam, under the year 1563, which is in all probability the same piece we are now considering. If so, this fact affords an additional presumption that Gammer Gurton's "Needle was printed, or at least written, some years before the date of the earliest edition of it Low extant.
Yet came my foote never within those doore cheekes,
staye? They aunswer not at all, but alacke and welaway! When I saw it booted not, out at doores I hyed mee, And caught a slyp of bacon, when I saw none spyed mce, Which I intend not far hence, unles my purpose fayle, Shall serve for a shoing horne to draw on two pots of ale."
Probably of earlier date than Gammer Gurton's Needle is another example of the regular drama, which, like Ralph Roister Doister, has been but lately recovered, a play entitled Misogonus, the only copy of which is in manuscript, and is dated 1577. An allusion, however, in the course of the dialogue would seem to prove that the play must have been composed about the year 1560. To the prologue is appended the name of Thomas Rychardes, who has therefore been assumed to be the author. The play, as contained in the manuscript, consists only of the unusual number of four acts, but the story, nevertheless, appears to be completed. For a further account of Misogonus we must refer the reader to Mr. Collier's very elaborate analysis ;* only
* Hist. Dram. Poet., ii. 463-481.