Imagini ale paginilor

fantastic wilderness, resembling the aboriginal woods of America -this vigorous luxuriance of soil, in which his dramas have their lowest roots.

I mean, that the chief characteristic of the earlier dramatic poetry of England lies not so much in its single creations, as rather in this general spirit of youthful energy and fresliness, which expresses itself therein and in the general form of the art. In the latter respect it may be named negative rather than positive. For it may unquestionably be taken as the distinctive feature of these poets, that, notwithstanding many of them were well acquainted with the dramatic laws of the ancients, they still refused to imitate the classical Drama in these respects. Even here the spirit of the christian romantic poetry unconsciously and involuntarily made itself felt. As Christianity had emancipated the human mind from the chains of the finite and the temporal, so christian art set itself loose from the fetters which were nothing else than the consequence and the continuation of the former. Ancient poesy, in its sensuousness, its outward definiteness and plastic regularity of form, its adherence to the idea of a destiny by which man is placed beneath the sway of a physical and moral law, and its stern necessity, demanded such a constraint; since this dependence on the material and spiritual laws of man's earthly nature, which is intimately implied in the essence of the classical drama, naturally required to be exhibited in its outward form also. Christian or romantic poetry, on the other hand, whose very spirit is liberty, must as necessarily reject it. It must bring the rules of an outward, sensuous, and consequently a plastic rather than a poetic beauty of form, in subjection to the laws of spiritual beauty. Instead of a merely sensible, i. e. numerical unity, an ideal unity of action, i.e. an unity of idea, or a single view of life and history, such as may manifest itself in any arbitrary number of actions and events, became the principle of the romantic drama. For the unity of a sensuously perceptible period, such as is measured by the rising and setting of the sun, it substituted the unity of mental time, the ideal succession and consequence of things, and in the same way, instead of the unity of external place, christian art had to observe that of intellectual space—i. e. of mental correlation and the ideal co-existence of things. It is in the observance of these laws that genuine artistic form and true dramatic construction consists, and which, in its greatest perfection, Shakspeare exhibits in all his pieces, while the moral as well as æsthetical difficulty of making a right use of this liberty, led the earlier poets into license and anarchy. But this was a result of the very construction of the human mind, according to which liberty invariably expresses itself negatively at first, i. e. assumes the appearance of caprice and extravagance.

From the same cause did that mixture of Tragedy and Comedy which has, from the earliest times, invariably prevailed in the national Drama of England and Spain, appear in the earlier poets to be arbitrary and accidental. Yet it was the necessary consequence of the properly christian development of mind which in England and Spain, being undisturbed by any foreign influence, determined the shape and manner of the evolution of art. In the ancient view a physical and moral necessity stood in direct and irreconcileable opposition to human freedom. Now, if the former be the province of Tragedy, and the latter of Comedy, (see Section III.) it follows at once that the dramatic poetry of the ancients, even though within itself it combined all the branches of art (poesy, music, statuary) into an organic and articulate whole, must insist even the more strictly on the separation of the Tragic and the Comic. On the other hand, the wall of separation between the two inevitably fell as soon as in obedience to the christian view the limits between necessity and freedom were dissolved, and the two merged into each other, as nothing more than different aspects of one and the same idea, and being exalted into manifestations of the Divine love and justice, they subordinated themselves under the one idea of the free grace of God. In order to establish this profounder view, and, at the same time, to furnish the justification of this blending of Tragedy and Comedy, there was truly need of so great and profound a genius as Shakspeare. This consideration alone must be our justification for reserving the closer examination of this whole point to our exposition of the general poetical view which Shakspeare entertained. In the present place we must content ourselves with observing, that the language of the older dramas exhibits a similar combination, and so was in perfect harmony with the union of the Tragic and the Comic. I allude to the

free intermixture of prose with poetry—of rhyming with blank verse, which at first followed no rule, although subsequently the latter was generally used in scenes of extrinsic or intrinsic grandeur and elevation, while the former was reserved for the comic parts, or scenes of every-day life, and for characters of low birth and station, servants and others. The union of the two

appears quite unforced and natural, and raises rather than lowers the poetical effect wherever the versification is not strictly metrical throughout, but rather rhythmical, and so what is lost of the music and melody of the verse, adds to the force and gravity of the language by the rising and falling of the rhythm.

Such were the general principles of composition which Shakspeare and his earlier contemporaries found already established in the character and shape of the national Drama. Their establishment was no little advantage to him, since, in spite of his great genius and powerful talents, his authority would have been insufficient for their introduction, and without them he could never have accomplished what, with them, he has been able to effect. As we shall afterwards see, it was not so much in the numerous separate pieces of his immediate predecessors and early contemporaries, which may perhaps have served him for models, that the genius of Shakspeare found its stay and support, as in the general spirit and form of dramatic art which had been long previously developed and established.

On a similar, perhaps still lower grade, stood all the material of the theatre,-stage, scenery, decorations, &c., before the time of Shakspeare. The ancient custom of employing churches and chapels as theatres was not discontinued even in the last years

of Elizabeth's reign, when dramatic representations were sometimes, though not frequently, exhibited in them by the privileged players. But as soon as the choir-boys began to relieve the clergy of their histrionic duties, and kings and nobles began to keep troops of players in their service, (it is certain that as early as in the reign of Edward IV. Richard Duke of Gloucester maintained such a company), these representations generally took place in schoolrooms, halls of audience and justice, and the spacious innyards, or the seats of the gentry and castles of the nobles, where temporary stages were erected for the purpose. Such, too, was

the practice with the strolling companies, which, from this date, itinerated through the country. The first building designed exclusively for dramatic exhibitions, and for that reason called, preeminently, the Theatre, was the (probably wooden) playhouse in Shoreditch, near to the priory of St. Jolin the Baptist. In the same neighbourhood stood the Curtain, which was erected about the same period. These two, which were the oldest theatres of London, were probably built between 1573 and 1576. About the latter date, James Burbage, the manager of the Duke of Leicester's patent company, purchased a site in the precinct of Blackfriars, on which he erected the Blackfriars' Theatre, which, in the history of Shakspeare, we shall have frequent occasion to mention. To the same date perhaps, certainly not much later, may be assigned the erection of the Whitefriars. (Collier : New Facts,&c. p.44.) The occasion of the erection of this building was a resolution of the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of the City, in 1575, which was passed in consequence of the excesses and disorders to which the

representations in the inn-yards had led, and required not merely the revision and special licensing by their officer of every piece to be represented in the City, but also, in spite of supplication and remonstrance, strictly enjoined that the players in the City should confine themselves to private representations, and should not play at all on Sundays, and only in the evening on festivals. Soon afterwards six or seven more theatres were built, among which was the Globe (with the figure of Hercules supporting the world, and bearing the inscription : Totus mundus agit histrionem,") built, according to Collier, 1594, by the Lord Chamberlain's Company, but, in all probability, not licensed till some time afterwards. The Red Bull, the Fortune, and the Cockpit or Phænix (in Drury-lane) were the principal. Altogether there were about seventeen theatres either newly erected or rebuilt in the reigns of Elizabeth and her successor, so that London possessed at that time far more than it does at present, when its size has been more than quadrupled. However, plays were not acted in all at the same time, some being open only in the winter, and others during the summer : in the latter, the galleries, approaches, and stage, were alone roofed, while the pit was open and exposed to the weather. To these belonged the Globe, of which Shakspeare was one of the

proprietors during the height of his dramatic carcer—a plain, heavy building, almost entirely without windows, in which representations were given in the day-time; while the Blackfriars, the second theatre with which Shakspeare was principally connected, was open during winter only, and in the evening.

The oldest theatres, like the stages in the schools, inns of court, and inn-yards, were at first without scenic decorations. The only ornament of the stage was a simple piece of tapestry, which remained unchanged, and when torn, the rents were supplied by rude painting. A curtain across a corner of the stage served to separate the more remote places. A board set up, with the name of the county or city, indicated the place of action, the change of which was signified by the erection of another board. A flag, of bright blue, hung out from the roof, denoted day, while night was marked by one of a somewhat darker hue. A table, with pen and ink, converted the stage into a council-chamber, while two stools, in place of the table, changed it into an inn. The players frequently remained on the stage, while these symbols were removed and changed, and thus they travelled from place to place with the greatest possible ease; and even when scenery began to be employed, the board was still retained for the purpose of designating the particular city, country, forest, &c., introduced, since as yet there were no different scenes for objects of the same kind. In the centre of the stage, and not far from the Proscenium, a sort of balcony was erected, supported by two pillars, standing on broad steps. The latter led to a smaller interior stage, consisting of the space beneath the projecting balcony and between its pillars, and was employed for a great variety of purposes (it was, for instance, the theatre wherein the play in Hamlet was exhibited before the King and Queen), while two flights of stairs on the right and left gave access to the balcony. “By these stairs," as Tieck particularises, “Macbeth ascended, as well as Falstaff, in the Merry Wives of Windsor ; on the balcony above stood the citizens when they held parley with King John and Philip Augustus below, and raised on the steps, sat the King and Queen in Hamlet, and here was Macbeth's festive board when Banquo's ghost appeared.”

Such, nearly — for precise chronological information on this point we do not possess-may have been the state of stage

« ÎnapoiContinuați »