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· THE reader, I have no doubt, will be gratified in the perusal of the following letter, from Mr. Burke to to Mr. Malone; which I have subjoined as an introduction to this Essay. It was written in 1790, upon receiving Mr. Malone's edition of Shakspeare, which was publislied in that year:
! « My dear Sir,;.
No date. ) • Upon my coming to my new habitation in town, I found your valuable work upon my table. I take it as a very good earnest of the instruction and pleasure which may be yet reserved for my declining years.
Though I have had many little arrangements to make, both of a public and private nature, my occupations were not able to overrule my curiosity, nor to prevent me from going through almost the whole of your able, exact, and interesting History of the Stage. A history of the Stage is no trivial thing to those who wish to study human nature in all shapes and positions. It is of all things the most instructive, to see not only the reflection of manners and characters at several periods, but the modes of making their reflection, and the manner of adapting it at those periods to the taste and disposition of mankind. The Stage indeed may be considered as the republic of active literature, and its history as the history of that state. The great events of political history, when not combined with the same helps towards the study of the manners and characters of men, must be a study of an inferior nature.
“ You have taken infinite pains, and pursued your inquiries with great sagacity, not only in this respect, but in such of your notes as hitherto I have been able to peruse. You have earned your repose by publicspirited labour. But I cannot help hoping, that when
you have given yourself the relaxation which you will find necessary to your health, if you are not called to exert your great talents, and employ your great acquisitions, in the transitory service to your country which is done in active life, you will continue to do it that permanent service which it receives from the labours of those who know how to make the silence of their closets more beneficial to the world than all the noise and bustle of courts, senates, and camps.
“I beg leave to send you a pamphlet which I have lately published. It is of an edition more correct, I think, than any of the first; and rendered more clear in points where I thought, in looking over again what I had written, there was some obscurity. Pray do not think my not having done this more early was owing to neglect or oblivion, or from any want of the highest and most sincere respect to you; but the truth is (and I have no doubt you will believe me), that it was a point of delicacy which prevented me from doing myself that honour. I well knew that the publication of your Shakspeare was hourly expected; and I thought if I had sent that small donum, the fruit of a few weeks, I might [have] subjected myself to the suspicion of a little Diomedean policy, in drawing from you a return of the value of an hundred cows for my nine. But you have led the way; and have sent me gold, which I can only repay you in my brass. But pray admit it on your shelves; and you will shew yourself generous in your acceptance, as well as your gift. Pray present my best respects to Lord and Lady Sunderlin, and to Miss Malone. I am, with the most sincere affection and gratitude, my dear Sir, your most faithful and obliged humble servant,
6 EDM. BURKE."
THE ENGLISH STAGE.
THE drama before the time of Shakspeare was so little cultivated, or so ill understood, that to many it may appear unnecessary to carry our theatrical researches higher than that period. Dryden has truly observed, that he “ found not, but created first the stage;" of which no one can doubt, who considers, that of all the plays issued from the press antecedent to the year 1592, about which time there is reason to believe he commenced a dramatick writer, the titles are scarcely known, except to antiquaries; nor is there one of them that will bear a second perusal'. Yet
i I must be permitted to dissent from this sweeping censure passed upon all the predecessors of our great dramatick poet. The contempt with which they, and even his contemporaries in general, are usually mentioned by Mr. Steevens and Mr. Malone, may perhaps be thus explained : that having only referred to them with a view to discover what light they might throw upon the language and allusions of Shakspeare, their attention was constantly called to the inferiority of their productions to those of that matchless writer with whom they were brought into direct comparison. But since a taste for our ancient literature has sprung up to a greater degree than at any former period, they have met with a more candid judgment, and many have been found worthy of being valued for their own substantive merit, and not merely as subsidiary to the illustration of another. Ferrex and Porrex ought surely not to have been included in Mr. Malone's proscribed list :
The plays of Marlowe give frequent evidence of no common genius, however little they may have been regulated by taste, which, had a more prolonged life made him acquainted with
these, contemptible and few as they are, we may supa
pose to have been the most popular productions of · the time, and the best that had been exhibited be
fore the appearance of Shakspeare ?
better models, gave promise of a high degree of excellence ; and I cannot but think that Nestor himself must have found his gravity relaxed by more, than a second perusal of Gammer Gurton's Needle. - Boswell. .
2 There are but thirty-eight plays, (exclusive of mysteries, moralities, interludes, and translated pieces,) now extant, written antecedent to, or in, the year 1592. Their titles are as follows * : Acolastus - - - - 1540 Houses of Yorke and Ferrex and Porrex • - 1561 Lancaster, in or before 1590 Damon and Pythias - 1562 King John, in two parts L OT Tancred and Gismund 1568 Endymion Cambyses, no date, but Soliman and Perseda
in or probably written before 1570 Midas
before Appius and Virginia ) Galathea
(1592 Gam. Gurton's Nee- >1575 Arden of Feversham J
ragon Sappho and Phao
James IV. King of Scot
>1584 Alexander and Cam- |
A Lookinglass for LonMisfortunes of Arthur - 1587 don and England Jeronimo
Friar Bacon and Friars be
"? 1592 Spanish Tragedy, or
Bungay - Hieronimo is mad > 1588 Jew of Malta again
* To this list may be added a piece hitherto mentioned in no catalogue, nor to be found in any library, except that of the Duke of Bridgewater, (now in the possession of the Marquis of Stafford,} entitled, “ The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune. Plaide before the Queene's most excellent Maiesty; wherein are manye fine conceites with great delight. At London. Printed by E. Á. for Edward White, and are to be solde at the little Northe doore of St. Paules Church, at the signe of the Gunne. 1589." 4to.
A minute investigation, therefore, of the origin and progress of the drama in England, will scarcely repay the labour of the inquiry. However, as the best introduction to the History of the Stage during the reigns of Elizabeth and James the First, and to an account of the internal economy and usages of the English theatres in the time of Shakspeare, (the principal objects of this dissertation,) I shall take a cur. sory view of our most ancient dramatick exhibitions,
Between the years 1592 and 1600, the following plays were printed or exhibited; the greater part of which, probably, were written before our author commenced play-wright: Cleopatra
| Woman in the Moon - 1597 Edward I,
Mucedorus Battle of Alcazar
The Virtuous Octavia Wounds of Civil War
Blind Beggar of Alex- 1598 Selymus, Emperor of
andria the Turks
Every Man in his Hu*Cornelia
mour Mother Bombie
Pinner of Wakefield
David and Bethsabe > 1599 King Leir
Two Angry Women of Taming of a Shrew
Abingdon An old Wives Tale
The Case is Altered Maid's Metamorphoses
Every Man Out of His 51599 Love's Metamorphoses
Humour Pedler's Prophecy
The Trial of Chevalry Antonius
Humorous Day's Mirth Edward III.
1595 Summer's Last Will and >1599 Wily Beguiled
* Also the following:
A Knack to Know a Knave, 1594.
Two Valiant Knightes, Clyomon and Clamydes, 1599. Several dramatick pieces are also entered on the books of the Stationers' Company, within the above period, which have not been printed. Their titles may be found in Herbert's edition of Ames, and Egerton's Theatrical Remembrancer. Reep..