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the seat of his trousers; but the characters and setting are English, and the dialogue is a faithful reproduction of peasant life of the day.
The First Theatres. The interludes, and the early plays just described, were not performed on the pageant wagons of the later miracle plays. Until 1576 they were given in inn-yards, on public lands in towns, or in any kind of building that could be had. In the year named the first building designed solely for the acting of plays was erected in London, and was called merely "The Theatre." When Shakspere left London some thirty years later, there were probably ten or twelve theatres, in two of which the Globe and the Blackfriars the dramatist was a shareholder.
In the pit, where now
Structure of the Elizabethan Theatre. Continued research has brought out much information regarding the structure of these buildings, and the manner of presentation of plays in them about 1590-1610. There was no roof except over the stage and the balconies. are the most desirable seats in a theatre, there were no seats, and the spectator had to stand unless he carried a box or stool along with him. Here would be found the laborers and servants, who not infrequently engaged in fist fights over choice positions or purloined seats.
Balconies and Stage. The better classes of society had seats in the balconies extending around three sides of the building, though some of the young "sports" were allowed, on paying an extra fee, to sit on the stage. Instead of being shut off from the auditorium by a curtain such as is used to-day, the stage extended out into the room. At the rear was a raised portion used as Juliet's balcony, as the walls of a city, or as a hill from which a distant view might be had.
Costumes and Scenery. -The actors' costumes, though often elaborate, made no pretence of appropriateness. Very little scenery was used; a bed, a throne, a desk, or a few trees in wooden tubs indicated the place of the action. The absence of realistic appeals to the eye resulted in a greater demand on the imagination. To this situation, perhaps, are due many of the superb descriptions in Elizabethan drama, such, for example, as that of Dover Cliff in King Lear, or Duncan's description of Macbeth's castle.
Since there was no artificial lighting in the house, performances were given in the afternoon. A flag flying from the roof was the notice that a performance was to take place; but one had to come near enough to read the sign on the building to know what play was to be performed.
Women in the Theatre. - Probably the fact most surprising to an investigator is that there were few women in an Elizabethan theatre. Respectable women in the audience wore masks; and more remarkable still, there were no women on the stage. Women's parts were taken by boys until after the middle of the seventeenth century; and strange as it may seem to think of a boy playing Lady Macbeth or Portia or Ophelia, these parts were apparently played with real
Chief Dramatists before Shakspere. - Of the chief dramatists belonging to the two decades preceding the beginning of Shakspere's work (about 1570-1590) very brief mention is sufficient. George Peele wrote Edward I, worthy of note in the development of the chronicle-history play; and David and Bethsabe, based on the Biblical story, and containing passages of admirable poetry. Robert Greene's Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay is a pure English comedy carrying forward the tradition of Gammer Gurton's Needle; and
his James IV contains a theme worked out delightfully several times by Shakspere- a heroine leaving home in the disguise of a man to avoid some unwelcome situation. Thomas Kyd, in his Spanish Tragedy, produced a play which has striking points of resemblance to Hamlet, and which one can but think the greater dramatist studied when writing his play. John Lyly's comedies have been mentioned as important forerunners of the best type of Shaksperean comedy.
CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE, 1564-1593
Life. The greatest name in drama before Shakspere is Christopher Marlowe, son of a shoemaker, born a few months before Shakspere in Canterbury, County of Kent. By the aid of influential friends he attended Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, from which he was graduated in 1583. Four years later, at the early age of twenty-three, his first play was produced in London. In the six years between this and his death, Marlowe wrote six more plays, a few notable lyrics, and the intense love-narrative in verse, Hero and Leander. Like many of his profession in his day, he led a wild life; and his death in 1593 resulted from a tavern brawl.
Character of Marlowe's Plays. Four of Marlowe's plays are, by general consent, assigned an important place in English dramatic history - Tamburlaine, Doctor Faustus, The Jew of Malta, and Edward II. A feature common to them all is the presentation of a particular ambition in exaggerated form. Tamburlaine aspires to be the world's master; and in each of nine acts (the play is in two parts) he conquers an empire. The ambition of Faustus is for knowl edge, in the pursuit of which he sells his soul to the devil.
Barabbas the Jew, prototype of Shylock, desires wealth and commits a series of crimes to attain his desire. In Edward II the ambition which causes the tragedy is for affection, presumably received by the King from an unscrupulous follower and rewarded by power wrongly used.
The device of making the action turn on one large central character helped to a unity of interest which preceding dramas had lacked. The high-sounding rhetorical style of Mar
Contributions to English Drama. For these two features - unity of interest and forceful style - Marlowe, despite the structural defects and over-emphasis of his plays, holds a high place in the development of the drama. It is manifest that he exerted a good influence on Shakspere; and a graceful though slight acknowledgment of indebted
ness is found in a passage in As You Like It (3. 5. 82), where
"Dead shepherd, now I find thy saw of might,
The "saw" (i.e., saying) which Phebe found" of might (i.e., true) is taken from Marlowe's Hero and Leander.
WILLIAM SHAKSPERE, 1564-1616
Concerning the life and works of the greatest figure of the greatest literary period in English literature thousands of books and essays have been written. Theories almost without number have been advanced which have very slight claims to consideration. In the sketch here given effort is made to state as facts only what are known to be such, and to refrain from even a mention of many possibilities often mentioned, but resting on very slight evidence.