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elegant or more intelligible. These corruptions I have often silently rectified; for the history of our language, and the true force of our words, can only be preserved, by keeping the text of authors free from adulteration. Others, and those very frequent, smoothed the cadence, or regulated the measure; on these I have not exercised the same rigour; if only a word was transposed, or a particle inserted or omitted, I have sometimes suffered the line to stand; for the inconstancy of the copies is such, as that some liberties may be easily permitted. But this practice I have not suffered to proceed far, having restored the primitive diction wherever it could for any reason be preferred.
The emendations, which comparison of copies supplied, I have inserted in the text; sometimes, where the improvement was slight, without notice, and sometimes with an account of the reasons of the change.
Conjecture, though it be sometimes unavoidable, I have not wantonly nor licentiously indulged. It has been my settled principle, that the reading of the ancient books is probably true, and therefore is not to be disturbed for the sake of elegance, perspicuity, or mere improvement of the sense. For though much credit is not due to the fidelity, nor any to the judgment of the first publishers, yet they who bad the copy before their eyes were more likely to read it right, than we who read it only by imagination. But it is evident that they have often made strange mistakes by ignorance or negligence, and that therefore something may be properly attempted by criticism, keeping the middle way between presumption and timidity.
Such criticism I have attempted to practise, and where any passage appeared inextricably perplexed, have endeavoured to discover how it may be recalled to sense, with least violence. But my first labour is, always to turn the old text on every side, and try if there be any interstice, through which light can find its way; nor would Huetius himself condemn me, as refusing the trouble of research for the ambition of alteration. In this modest industry 1 have not been unsuccessful. I have rescued many lines from the violations of temerity, and secured many scenes from the inroads of correction. I have adopted the Roman sentiment, that it is more honourable to save a citizen, than to kill an enemy, and have been more careful to protect than to attack.
I have preserved the common distribution of the plays into acts, though I believe it in almost all the plays void of authority. Some of those which are divided in the later editions have no division in the first folio, and some that are divided in the folio have no division in the preceding copies. The settled mode of the theatre requires four intervals in a play, but few, if any, of our author's compositions can be properly distributed in that manner. An act is so much of the drama as passes without intervention of time, or change of place. A pause makes a new act. In every real, and therefore in every imitative action, the intervals may be more or fewer, the restriction of five acts being accidental and arbitrary. This Shakspeare knew, and this he practised; his plays were written, and at first printed in one unbroken continuity, and ought now to be exhibited with short pauses, interposed as often as the scene is changed, or any considerable time is required to pass. This method would at once quell a thousand absurdities.
In restoring the author's works to their integrity, I have considered the punctuation as wholly in my power; for what could be their care of colons and commas, who corrupted words and sentences? Whatever could be done by adjusting points, is therefore silently performed, in some plays with much diligence, in others with less; it is hard to keep a busy eye steadily fixed upon evanescent atoms, or a discursive mind upon evanescent truth.
The same liberty has been taken with a few particles, or other words of slight effect. have sometimes inserted or omitted them without notice. I have done that sometimes which
the other editors have done always, and which indeed the state of the text may sufficiently justify.
The greater part of readers, instead of blaming us for passing trifles, will wonder that on mere trifles so much labour is expended, with such importance of debate, and such solemnity of diction. To these I answer with confidence, that they are judging of an art which they do not understand; yet cannot much reproach them with their ignorance, nor promise that they would become in general, by learning criticism, more useful, happier, or wiser.
As I practised conjecture more, I learned to trust it less; and after I had printed a few plays, resolved to insert none of my own readings in the text. Upon this caution I now congratulate d
and wish that I could confidently produce my | I should feel little solicitude about the sentence, commentary as equal to the encouragement were it to be pronounced only by the skilful and which I have had the honour of receiving. Every the learned.
work of this kind is by its nature deficient, and
tracting from various parts of his valuable work, such particulars as suit my present purpose.
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, when there is reason to believe he commenced a dramatic writer, the titles are scarcely known, except to antiquaries; nor is there one of them that will bear a second perusal. Yet these, contemptible and few as they are, we may suppose to have been the most popular productions of the time, and the best that had been exhibited before the ap-doubtedly, however, they are of very great antipearance of Shakspeare.*
A minute investigation, therefore, of the origin and progress of the drama in England, will scarcely repay the labour of the enquiry. However, as the best introduction to an account of the internal economy and usages of the English theatres in the time of Shakspeare (the principal object of this dissertation), I shall take a cursory view of our most ancient dramatic exhibitions, though I fear I can add but little to the researches which have already been made on that subject.
The earliest dramatic entertainments exhibited in England, as well as every other part of Europe, were of a religious kind. So early as in the beginning of the twelfth century, it was customary in England on holy festivals to represent, in or near the churches, either the lives and miracles of saints, or the more mysterious parts of Holy Writ, such as the incarnation, passion, and resurrection of Christ. From the subject of these spectacles, these scriptural plays were denominated Miracles, or Mysteries. At what period of time they were first exhibited in this country, I am unable to ascertain. Un
quity; and Riccoboni, who has contended that the Italian theatre is the most ancient in Europe, has claimed for his country an honour to which it is not entitled. The era of the earliest representation in Italy founded on Holy Writ, he has placed in the year 1264, when the fraternity del Gonfalone was established; but we had similar exhibitions in England above 150 years before that time. In the year 1110, as Dr. Percy and Mr. Warton have observed, the Miracle-play of Saint Catharine, written by Geoffrey, a learned Norman (afterwards Mr. Warton in his elegant and ingenious abbot of St. Alban's), was acted, probably by History of English Poetry has given so accurate his scholars, in the abbey of Dunstable; peran account of our earliest dramatic poetry perhaps the first spectacle of this kind exhibited in formances, that I shall make no apology for ex- England. William Fitz-Stephen, a monk of Canterbury, who according to the best accounts composed his very curious work in 1174, about four years after the murder of his patron Archbishop Becket, and in the twenty-first year of the reign of King Henry the Second, mentions, that "London, for its theatrical exhibitions,
* Mr. Reed gives a list of seventy-five plays now extant, written from the year 1540 to 1600. These are exclusive of mysteries, moralities, interJudes, and translated pieces, and of some dramatic pieces which were entered on the books of the Stationers' Company, but have not been printed.
has religious plays, either the representations | rivalled the popularity of the professed players.
of miracles wrought by holy confessors, or the sufferings of martyrs."
Mr. Warton has remarked, that "in the time of Chaucer, Plays of Miracles appear to have been the common resort of idle gossips in Lent.
"And in Pierce Plowman's Creed, a piece, perhaps, prior to Chaucer, a friar Minorite mentions these Miracles as not less frequented than market-towns and fairs:
'We haunten no taverns, ne hobelen about,
The elegant writer, whose words I have just quoted, has given the following ingenious account of the origin of this rude species of dramatic entertainment :
"About the eighth century trade was principally carried on by means of fairs, which lasted several days. Charlemagne established many great marts of this sort in France, as did William the Conqueror, and his Norman successors in England. The merchants who frequented these fairs in numerous caravans or companies, employed every art to draw the people together. They were therefore accompanied by jugglers, minstrels, and buffoons; who were no less interested in giving their attendance, and exerting all their skill on these occasions. As now but few large towns existed, no public spectacles or popular amusements were established; and as the sedentary pleasures of domestic life and private society were yet unknown, the fair-time was the season for diversion. In proportion as these shows were attended and encouraged, they began to be set off with new decorations and improvements; and the arts of buffoonery being rendered still more attractive, by extending their circle of exhibition, acquired an importance in the eyes of the people. By degrees the clergy observing that the entertainments of dancing, music, and mimickry, exhibited at these protracted annual celebrities, made the people less religious, by promoting idleness and a love of festivity, proscribed these sports, and excommunicated the performers. But finding that no regard was paid to their censures, they changed their plan, and determined to take these recreations into their own hands. They turned actors; and instead of profane mummeries, presented stories taken from legends or the Bible. This was the origin of sacred comedy. The death of Saint Catharine acted by the monks of Saint Dennis
Music was admitted into the churches, which served as theatres for the representation of holy farces. The festivals among the French, called La Fête des Foux, de l'Ane, and des Innocens, at length became greater favourites, as they certainly were more capricious and absurd, than the interludes of the buffoons at the fairs. These are the ideas of a judicious French writer now living, who has investigated the history of human manners with great comprehension and sagacity.”
"Voltaire's theory on this subject is also very ingenious, and quite new. Religious plays, he supposes, came originally from Constantinople; where the old Grecian stage continued to flourish in some degree, and the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides were represented, till the fourth century. About that period Gregory Nazianzen, an archbishop, a poet, and one of the fathers of the church, banished pagan plays from the stage at Constantinople, and introduced stories from the Old and New Testament. As the ancient Greek tragedy was a religious spectacle, a transition was made on the same plan; and the chorusses were turned into Christian hymns. Gregory wrote many sacred dramas for this purpose, which have not survived those inimitable compositions over which they triumphed for a time: one, however, his tragedy called Xpiros asxwv, or Christ's Passion, is still extant. In the prologue it is said to be an imitation of Euripides, and that is the first time the Virgin Mary had been introduced on the stage. The fashion of acting spiritual dramas, in which at first a due degree of method and decorum was preserved, was at length adopted from Constantinople by the Italians; whe framed, in the depth of the dark ages, on this foundation, that barbarous species of theatrical representation called MYSTERIES, or sacred comedies, and which were soon after received in France. This opinion will acquire probability, if we consider the early commercial intercourse between Italy and Constantinople; and although the Italians, at the time when they may be supposed to have imported plays of this nature, did not understand the Greek language, yet they could understand, and consequently could imitate, what they saw.
"In defence of Voltaire's hypothesis, it may be further observed, that The Feast of Fools and of the Ass, with other religious farces of that sort, so common in Europe, originated at
Constantinople. They were instituted, although perhaps under other names, in the Greek church, about the year 990, by Theophylact, patriarch of Constantinople, probably with a better design than is imagined by the ecclesiastical annalists; that of weaning the minds of the people from the pagan ceremonies, by the substitution of Christian spectacles partaking of the same spirit of licentiousness.-To those who are accustomed to contemplate the great picture of human follies, which the unpolished ages of Europe hold up to our view, it will not appear surprising, that the people who were forbidden to read events of the sacred history in the Bible, in which they were faithfully and beautifully related, should at the same time be permitted to see them represented on the stage, disgraced with the grossest improprieties, corrupted with inventions and additions of the most ridiculous kind, sullied with impurities, and expressed in the language of the lowest farce.
On the whole, the Mysteries appear to have originated among the ecclesiastics, and were most probably first acted with any degree of form by the monks. This was certainly the case in the English monasteries. I have already mentioned the play of Saint Catharine, performed at Dunstable Abbey, by the novices in the eleventh century, under the superintendence of Geoffrey, a Parisian ecclesiastic; and the exhibition of the Passion by the mendicant friars of Coventry and other places. Instances have been given of the like practice among the French. The only persons who could now read were in the religious societies; and various circumstances, peculiarly arising from their situation, profession, and institution, enabled the monks to be the sole performers of these representations."
As learning increased, and was more widely disseminated, from the monasteries, by a natural and easy transition, the practice migrated to schools and universities, which were formed on the monastic plan, and in many respects resembled the ecclesiastical bodies."
Candlemas-Day, or The Slaughter of the Innocents, written by Ihan Parfre, in 1512, Mary Magdalene, produced in the same year, and The Promises of God, written by John Bale, and printed in 1538, are curious specimens this early species of drama. But the most ancient as well as most complete collection of this kind is, The Chester Mysteries, which were written by Ralph Higden, a monk of the Abbey of Chester, about the year
1328; of which a particular account will be found below.
*MSS. Harl. 2013, &c. "Exhibited at Chester in the year 1327, at the expense of the different trading companies of that city. The Fall of Lucifer, by the Tanners. The Creation, by the Drapers. The Deluge, by the Dyers. Abraham, Melchisedeck, and Lot, by the Barbers. Moses, Balak, and Balaam, by the Cappars. The Salutation and Nativity, by the Wrightes. The Shepherds feeding their Flocks by Night, by the Painters and Glaziers. The three Kings, by the Vintners. The Oblation of the three Kings, by the Mercers. The Killing of the Innocents, by the Goldsmiths. The Purification, by the Blacksmiths. The Temptation, by the Butchers. The last Supper, by the Bakers. The blind Men and Lazarus, by the Glovers. Jesus and the Lepers, by the Corchers, and Ironmongers. Descent into Hell, by vesarys. Christ's Passion, by the Bowyers, Fletthe Cooks and Innkeepers. The Resurrection, by the Skinners. The Ascension, by the Taylors. The Election of St. Mathias, sending of the Holy Ghost, &c. by the Fishmongers. Antichrist, by the Clothiers. Day of Judgment, by the Websters. The reader will perhaps smile at some of these combinations. This is the substance and order of the former part of the play: God enters creating the world; he breathes life into Adam, leads him into Paradise, and opens his side while sleeping. and the old serpent enters lamenting his fall. He Adam and Eve appear naked, and not ashamed, converses with Eve. She eats of the forbidden fruit, and gives part to Adam. They propose, according to the stage-direction, to make themselves subligacula a foliis quibus tegamus pudenda. Cover their nakedness with leaves, and converse with God. God's curse. The serpent exit hissing. They are driven from Paradise by four angels and the cherubim with a flaming sword. Adam appears digging the ground, and Eve spinning. Their
children Cain and Abel enter: the former kills his brother. Adam's lamentation. Cain is banished," &c. Warton's History of English Poetry, vol. i. p. 243.
[Since the publication of our last edition, the history of the " illustrated by James Heywood Markland, Esq. Chester Mysteries" has been ably who, in 1818, printed a specimen of them for private distribution among a select number of friends, the members of the Roxburghe club. To this specimen Mr. Markland has prefixed an elaborate dissertation, in which, with equal candour and acuteness, he has rectified the mistakes of Messrs. Warton, Malone, &c. We owe to Mr. Markland's researches, that Higden could not have been the author of these Mysteries, but that there are good
grounds to degard them as the production of an
earlier ecclesiastic of Chester Abbey, of the name of Randal-that they were in all probability first represented between the years 1268 and 1276 (consequently, that the opinion of Mr. Roscoe, which would place them as late as the commencement of the 16th century, is widely erroneous), and lastly, that they were not revived or acted after the year 1574. C.]