Page images


THE present Volume, entitled 'Studies of Shakspere,' will consist of a republication, with additions and corrections, of the critical Notices that are scattered through my editions of Shakspere, known as 'the Pictorial' and 'the Library.' These Notices are not included in my edition in one volume, nor in my 'Cabinet' edition.

It may appear somewhat presumptuous that I should devote a volume of a 'National Library of Select Literature' to a republication of my own writings. I have seriously weighed this possible objection, and I thus meet it. There are very few readers who have not access to some edition of the works of "the greatest in our literature-the greatest in all literature." But there are a vast number who have no aids in the proper appreciation of Shakspere's excellence, dependent as such a judgment is upon an adequate comprehension of his principles of art. In developing those principles I have felt it necessary, on the one hand, to combat some opinions of former editors which were addressed to an age nearly without poetry; which looked upon the age of Shakspere as equally remarkable for the rudeness as for the vigour of its literature; and which considered Shakspere himself under the vulgar aspect of the miraculous,—a genius perfectly untaught and unregulated. On the other hand, I have as sedulously brought forward and enforced the doctrines of that more recent school of æsthetics which holds that "the Englishman who, without reverence, a proud and affectionate reverence, can utter the name of William Shakspere, stands disqualified for the office of critic." These Essays, therefore, are not to be received as the opinions of an individual, but as an embodiment of the genial spirit of the new school of Shaksperean criticism, as far as a humble disciple may interpret that spirit.

But even to those who are familiar with critical editions of Shakspere, and with the great mass of critical writings upon Shakspere, the present volume will have the value of a comprehensive arrangement. It will exhibit the rude beginnings of the Drama previous to Shakspere's appearance; it will trace the growth of his powers, as far as can be gathered from positive and circumstantial evidence, in his earliest works; it will carry forward the same analysis through the second period of his meridian splendour; it will show, in like manner, the glory of his mature day, and the sober lustre of his evening. In each of these periods the characters and productions of his dramatic contemporaries will be examined. The reader will proceed step by step in a systematic knowledge of the Shaksperean Art,


and view it in connection with the circumstances which attended it in each successive stage of its advancement.

Since the completion of my larger editions of Shakspere many new materials for the History of our Dramatic Literature have been published by 'The Shakespeare Society,' and by individual critics and antiquaries. It will be my duty to consult these authorities, so that this work may be rendered of some additional value to those friends who, possessing my 'Pictorial' or 'Library' editions, have expressed a desire to see the 'Notices' of each play in a collected form, and sold at a cheap rate, so as to form a Companion Volume to the many thousand copies of Shakspere which are diffused amongst our countrymen.

JANUARY 1, 1849.






THE city of Coventry, within a moderate | In the play of 'The Fall,' Eve sang—

"In this garden I will go see
All the flowers of fair beauty,
And tasten the fruits of great plenty
That be in Paradise;"

In the same play we have a hymn of Abel,
very sweet in its music:-

"Almighty God, and full of might,

By whom all thing is made of nought, To thee my heart is ready dight,

For upon thee is all my thought."

In the play of 'Noah,' when the dove returned to the ark with the olive-branch, there was a joyful chorus:

distance of Stratford upon Avon, was amongst the last places which retained the ancient pageants. Before the Reformation, these pageants, "acted with mighty state and reverence by the friars of this house [the Grey Friars], had theatres for the several scenes, very large and high, placed upon wheels, and drawn to all the eminent parts of the city for the better advantage of spectators; and contained the story of the New Testament composed into old English rhyme, as appeareth by an ancient manuscript, entitled Ludus Corporis Christi, or Ludus Coventria." Henry V. and his nobles took great delight in seeing the pageants; Queen Margaret, in the days of her prosperity, came from Kenilworth to Coventry privily to see the play, and saw all the pageants played save one, which could not be played because night drew on; the triumphant Richard III. came to see the Corpus Christi plays; and Henry VII. much commended themt. In these Corpus Christi plays there were passages which had a vigorous simplicity, fit for the teaching of an uninstructed people. In the play of 'The Creation,' the pride of Lucifer disdained the wor-tary games, and contentions of mere brute ship of the angels, and he was cast down

"With mirth and joy never more to mell." * Dugdale.

↑ See Sharp's quotations from the manuscript Annals of Coventry, Dissertation,' page 4.

"Mare vidit ct fugit,

Jordanis conversus est retrorsum,
Non nobis, Domine, non nobis,
Sed nomini tuo da gloriam."

These ancient Coventry plays were fortythree in number. The general spread of knowledge might have brought other teaching, but they familiarized the people with the great scriptural truths; they gave them amusements of a higher nature than mili

force. In the boyhood of Shakspere the same class of subjects was handled by rude artificers Let us attempt to describe such

See the Ludus Coventriæ,' published by the 'Shakespeare Society.'

a scene as the great city of the Black Prince would have presented during the boyhood of Shakspere.

The morning of Corpus Christi comes, and soon after sunrise there is stir in the streets of Coventry. The old ordinances for this solemnity require that the Guilds should be at their posts at five o'clock. There is to be a solemn procession-formerly, indeed, after the performance of the pageant-and then, with hundreds of torches burning around the figures of our Lady and St. John, candlesticks and chalices of silver, banners of velvet and canopies of silk, and the members of the Trinity Guild and the Corpus Christi Guild bearing their crucifixes and candlesticks, with personations of the angel Gabriel lifting up the lily, the twelve apostles, and renowned virgins, especially St. Catherine and St. Margaret. The Reformation has, of course, destroyed much of the ceremonial; and, indeed, the spirit of it has in great part evaporated. But now, issuing from the many ways that lead to the Cross, there is heard the melody of harpers and the voice of minstrelsy; trumpets sound, banners wave, riding-men come thick from their several halls; the mayor and aldermen in their robes, the city servants in proper liveries, St. George and the Dragon, and Herod on horseback. The bells ring, boughs are strewed in the streets, tapestry is hung out of the windows, officers in scarlet coats struggle in the crowd while the procession is marshalling. The crafts are getting into their ancient order, each craft with its streamer and its men in harness. There are

"Fysshers and Cokes,-Baxters and Milners, -Bochers,-Whittawers and Glovers,-Pynners, Tylers, and Wrightes,-Skynners,Barkers, Corvysers,-Smythes,-Wevers, Wirdrawers, Cardemakers, Sadelers, Peyntours, and Masons,-Gurdelers,-Taylours, Walkers, and Sherman,-Deysters,-Drapers, Mercers.' At length the procession is arranged. It parades through the principal lines of the city, from Bishopgate on the north to the Grey Friars' Gate on the south, and from Broadgate on the west to Gosford Gate on the east. The crowd is thronging

* Sharp's Dissertation,' page 160.

to the wide area on the north of Trinity Church and St. Michael's, for there is the pageant to be first performed. There was a high house or carriage which stood upon six wheels; it was divided into two rooms, one above the other. In the lower room were the performers; the upper was the stage. This ponderous vehicle was painted and gilt, surmounted with burnished vanes and streamers, and decorated with imagery; it was hung round with curtains, and a painted cloth presented a picture of the subject that was to be performed. This simple stage had its machinery, too; it was fitted for the representation of an earthquake or a storm; and the pageant in most cases was concluded in the noise and flame of fireworks. It is the pageant of the company of Shearmen and Tailors, which is to be performed, the subject the Birth of Christ and Offering of the Magi, with the Flight into Egypt and Murder of the Innocents. The eager multitudes are permitted to crowd within a reasonable distance of the car. There is a moveable scaffold erected for the more distinguished spectators. The men of the Guilds sit firm on their horses. Amidst the sound of harp and trumpet the curtains are withdrawn, and Isaiah appears, prophesying the blessing which is to come upon the earth. Gabriel announces to Mary the embassage upon which he is sent from Heaven. Then a dialogue between Mary and Joseph, and the scene changes to the field where shepherds are abiding in the darkness of the night-a night so dark that they know not where their sheep may be; they are cold and in great heaviness. Then the star shines, and they hear the song of "Gloria in excelsis Deo." A soft melody of concealed music hushes even the whispers of the Coventry audience; and three songs are sung, such as may abide in the remembrance of the people, and be repeated by them at their Christmas festivals. "The first the shepherds sing :”—

"As I rode out this enders + night,

Of three jolly shepherds I saw a sight,
And all about their fold a star shone bright;

tEnders night-last night.

« PreviousContinue »