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It is not the purpose of this introduction to trace the history of English drama from its origin, but rather to present as briefly as may be the conditions in which that marvellous production of Elizabethan days came forth. We must pass by the old liturgical plays, the mysteries, miracles, interludes, and masks that served as forerunners of the perfected form. The lines between tragedy and comedy had been fixed, and the struggle between classic and romantic types was well on when Marlowe “of the mighty line” went to London - to find his fortune, not to make it."

The causes of that tremendous burst of lyrical and dramatic splendor are in part conjectural. Literature is an expression of life, national and individual; and whenever there comes to the individual or to society a realization and recognition of self, there comes also the expression of that idea. Neither conception nor expression can be dragged or driven, cajoled or coaxed. Conditions and men are equally essential.

In the days of Elizabeth, England awoke to a new consciousness of her greatness and power. The person was reborn and became an individual, confident of his own and of his country's strength. The world was large, but Drake had sailed around it and brought safely back his treasure-laden vessel. What limit could be placed to man's effort ? Mighty issues were at stake; the days were full of adventure; ambition was almost boundless. New lands were discovered. A bold commerce brought not only the merchandise but the bewildering legends from the people of the East. The sway of one religion had passed and men governed themselves by new beliefs. The courtier, the poet, the statesman, the philosopher, the soldier, lived in one man. The versatility of Sidney, Bacon, Raleigh and a host of others bears amazing testimony. Men were stirred as they had never been before nor since. Romance seemed reality, and life romantic.

The spirit thus engendered demanded a free course and full expression. The accomplishment of the reformation, the repulse of Spain, and the enlightenment of the renaissance made its power resistless. The new learning took quick root, sprang up, and flourished. Classical study was adapted to modern thought; translations of the Bible were developing a perfection of English speech; and English travellers and students seized eagerly the lore and legends of Italy, France, and Germany. Every source was laid under contribution. Materials were thus collected for a splendid art of some sort : what that art should be, the national conditions and native genius of the English people soon determined. The stage for the display of the new-found knowledge was found in the romantic drama which from the first was close to the hearts of the people and soon displaced other forms of art,

painting, sculpture, architecture. The drama in England was the main outlet for the energy acquired from the renaissance of the South and the reformation of the North.

In answer to this call, a host of playwrights made their way to London. Kyd, Nash, Peele, Greene, Marlowe, Munday, Lodge, Chettle, Jonson, Beaumont, Fletcher, Shakspere -- where shall such a catalogue

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end? They were authors and actors alike, bound in good fellowship and genial feeling; hale fellows, all of them, rich while a shilling remained in pocket, careless alike of poverty or wealth, and never anxious beyond the moment. They drank too much, lived lives all too fast, and their short years were quickly run. Liberty still meant ugly license, and life was careless, exuberant, unrestrained, lawless. Many a tavern reëchoed to rollicking songs through many a merry night. Most famous is the “Mermaid," where the literary clique gathered for the common carousal of wine and wit.

“ What things have we seen
Done at the Mermaid! heard words that have been
So nimble and so full of subtle flame,
As if that every one from whence they came
Had meant to put his whole wit into a jest,
And had resolved to live a fool the rest
Of his dull life.”

The business of playwright was the only lucrative literary occupation of the day. The demand for plays exceeded the supply so that a ready market awaited every product. Prices were not high, it is true, but money was worth more then than now. In the early days, four pounds, from twenty-five to thirty now, was an average price. Later ten pounds were given, and this according to one of Ben Jonson's characters 2 became the customary price. The author was closely connected with some one theatre and company of actors. All that he wrote belonged to the theatre and formed a part of its library — its most valuable property.

1 Kyd died at thirty-eight, Nash at thirty-four, Peele at thirty-nine, Greene at thirty-two, Marlowe at twenty-nine.

2 Chrisoganus, in Histriomastix,


Piracy was of course exceedingly common; indeed, the theft of his work by some rival company or unprincipled publisher was one of the chief vexations of the Elizabethan dramatist. He had but little security against the theft and no redress if the crime were committed. Of the early group, those commonly called Shakspere's predecessors all, with the exception possibly of Peele, were actors. Their business had the cordial approval and support of queen and court, and they were no less popular with the varied classes of people who made up an Elizabethan audience.

A motley crowd assembled in “ the fields." These were London's suburbs, where stood the Globe, the Curtain, the Rose, and Blackfriars, forced beyond the immediate rule of the Lord Mayor by Puritan dissatisfaction. But the distance and discomfort mattered nothing. 'Prentices, journeymen, fops, courtiers, and noblemen came to see and hear. For the play was the thing, rich in fervid eloquence and beautiful description. A penny gained admission and twopence would buy a place among the groundlings or “stinkards," as the poorer frequenters of public theatres were called. Among them, apples, nuts, and beer circulated freely. The wealthier and more fastidious might for sixpence sit in a box above, or perchance might give a shilling and have a three-legged stool or “ tripod” upon the stage--a custom annoying to both actors and spectators, for the gallants who followed this plan had consideration for no one. Performances began about three in the afternoon and continued until five or thereabouts.

On days when plays were to be presented a flag was floated from the theatre roof. As the hour approached drums were beaten, and as a final signal


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there was a flourish of trumpets. Playbills were used to announce the show, those in red letters indicating tragedy. The Prologue, in a black mantle, with a flowing wig and crowned with bays, ambled on the stage and begged attention, even then grudgingly given. There were many interruptions in the nature of fights between the tripod fops and the stinkards. Curses were exchanged and apples hurled back and forth. Card-playing whiled away time until the play itself began.

The stage and the theatre were themselves poor affairs, hardly conceivable in these later days of elegant mountings and wonderful settings. Even court performances, upon which vast sums of money were expended, rested largely for effect upon dance-groupings, tableaux, and processions. There was barely any scenery and only the simplest sort of setting was known. The stage was narrow, and projected out into the yard, so that the actors were surrounded by the spectators. There was no perspective, no illusion; the event presented became a reality shared equally by audience and actor. The action was adorned by no art of stage-craft.

Under such unfavorable conditions was created a dramatic literature, equalled but once and never surpassed. The old traditions of dramatic construction would not answer. The defenders of Aristotle, Seneca, Plautus, and Terence fought valiantly, but their cause in England was hopeless from the beginning. The earliest dramas, and indeed all the critics including Sidney, favored the form which obeyed the classic laws. Stage limitations likewise defended the same structure; but the people preferred romance, and the people always win. In France the struggle was pro

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