An Introduction to Shakespeare
by H. N. MacCracken
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[Frontispiece: TITLE-PAGE OF THE FIRST FOLIO, 1628 The first collected edition of Shakespeare's Plays (From the copy in the New York Public Library)]









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Set up and electrotyped. Published September, 1910. Reprinted April, December, 1911; September, 1912; July, 1913; July, 1914; December, 1915; November, 1916; May, 1918; July, 1919; November, 1920; September, 1921; June, 1923; January, 1925.

Norwood Press

J. S. Cushing Co.—Berwick & Smith Co.

Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.



The advances made in Shakespearean scholarship within the last half-dozen years seem to justify the writing of another manual for school and college use. The studies of Wallace in the life-records, of Lounsbury in the history of editions, of Pollard and Greg in early quartos, of Lee upon the First Folio, of Albright and others upon the Elizabethan Theater, as well as valuable monographs on individual plays have all appeared since the last Shakespeare manual was prepared. This little volume aims to present what may be necessary for the majority of classes, as a background upon which may be begun the study and reading of the plays. Critical comment on individual plays has been added, in the hope that it may stimulate interest in other plays than those assigned for study.

Chapters I, VIII, IX, X, and XIII are the work of Professor MacCracken; chapters V, VI, VII, XII, and XIV are by Professor Pierce; and chapters II, III, IV, and XI are by Dr. Durham. The authors have, however, united in the criticism and the revision of every chapter.




AN OUTLINE OF SHAKESPEARE'S LIFE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1


ENGLISH DRAMA BEFORE SHAKESPEARE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20


THE ELIZABETHAN THEATER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35


ELIZABETHAN LONDON . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51


SHAKESPEARE'S NONDRAMATIC WORKS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60


THE SEQUENCE OF SHAKESPEARE'S PLAYS . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73







HOW SHAKESPEARE GOT INTO PRINT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 113






THE PLAYS OF THE THIRD PERIOD—TRAGEDY . . . . . . . . . . . . 172


THE PLAYS OF THE FOURTH PERIOD—ROMANCE . . . . . . . . . . . 196







Our Knowledge of Shakespeare.—No one in Shakespeare's day seems to have been interested in learning about the private lives of the dramatists. The profession of play writing had scarcely begun to be distinguished from that of play acting, and the times were not wholly gone by when all actors had been classed in public estimation as vagabonds. While the London citizens were constant theatergoers, and immensely proud of their fine plays, they were content to learn of the writers of plays merely from town gossip, which passed from lip to lip and found no resting place in memoirs. There were other lives which made far more exciting reading. English sea-men were penetrating every ocean, and bringing back wonderful tales. English soldiers were aiding the Dutch nation towards freedom, and coming back full of stories of heroic deeds. At home great political, religious, and scientific movements engaged the attention of the more serious readers and thinkers. It is not strange, therefore, that the writers of plays, whose {2} most exciting incidents were tavern brawls or imprisonment for rash satire of the government, found no biographer. After Shakespeare's death, moreover, the theater rapidly fell into disrepute, and many a good story of the playhouse fell under the ban of polite conversation, and was lost.

Under such conditions we cannot wonder that we know so little of Shakespeare, and that we must go to town records, cases at law, and book registers for our knowledge. Thanks to the diligence of modern scholars, however, we know much more of Shakespeare than of most of his fellow-actors and playwrights. The life of Christopher Marlowe, Shakespeare's great predecessor, is almost unknown; and of John Fletcher, Shakespeare's great contemporary and successor, it is not even known whether he was married, or when he began to write plays. Yet his father was Bishop of London, and in high favor with Queen Elizabeth. We ought rather to wonder at the good fortune which has preserved for us, however scanty in details or lacking in the authority of its traditions, a continuous record of the life of William Shakespeare from birth to death.

Stratford.—The notice of baptism on April 26, 1564, of William, son of John Shakespeare, appears in the church records of Stratford-on-Avon in Warwickshire. Stratford was then a market town of about fifteen hundred souls. Under Stratford Market Cross the farmers of northern Warwickshire and of the near-lying portions of Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, and Oxfordshire carried on a brisk trade with the thrifty townspeople. The citizens were accustomed to boast {3} of their beautiful church by the river, and of the fine Guildhall, where sometimes plays were given by traveling companies. Many of their gable-roofed houses of timber, or timber and plaster, are still to be found on the pleasant old streets. The river Avon winds round the town in a broad reach under the many-arched bridge to the ancient church. Beyond it the rich pasture land rises up to green wooded hills. Not far away is the famous Warwick Castle, and a little beyond it Kenilworth, where Queen Elizabeth was entertained by the Earl of Leicester with great festivities in 1575. Coventry and Rugby are the nearest towns.

Birth and Parentage.—The record of baptism of April 26, 1564, is the only evidence we possess of the date of Shakespeare's birth. It is probable that the child was baptized when only two or three days old. The poet's tomb states that Shakespeare was in his fifty-second year when he died, April 23, 1616. Accepting this as strictly true, we cannot place the poet's birthday earlier than April 23, 1564. There is a tradition, with no authority, that the poet died upon his birthday.

John Shakespeare, the poet's father, sold the products of near-by farms to his fellow-townsmen. He is sometimes described as a glover, sometimes as a butcher; very likely he was both. A single reference, half a century later than his day, preserves for us a picture of John Shakespeare. The note reads: "He [William Shakespeare] was a glover's son. Sir John Mennes saw once his old father in his shop, a merry-cheekt old man, that said, 'Will was a good honest {4} fellow, but he durst have crackt a jesst with him att any time.'"[1]

John Shakespeare's father, Richard Shakespeare, was a tenant farmer, who was in 1550 renting his little farm at Snitterfield, four miles north of Stratford, from another farmer, Robert Arden of Wilmcote. John Shakespeare married Mary Arden, the daughter of his father's rich landlord, probably in 1557. He had for over five years been a middleman at Stratford, dealing in the produce of his father's farm and other farms in the neighborhood. In April, 1552, we first hear of him in Stratford records, though only as being fined a shilling for not keeping his yard clean. Between 1557 and 1561 he rose to be ale tester (inspector of bread and malt), burgess (petty constable), affeeror (adjuster of fines), and finally city chamberlain (treasurer).

Eight children were born to him, the two eldest, both daughters, dying in infancy. William Shakespeare was the third child, and eldest of those who reached maturity. During his childhood his father was probably in comfortable circumstances, but not long before the son left Stratford for London, John Shakespeare was practically a bankrupt, and had lost by mortgage farms in Snitterfield and Ashbies, near by, inherited in 1556 by his wife.

Education.—William Shakespeare probably went to the Stratford Grammar School, where he and his {5} brothers as the sons of a town councilor were entitled to free tuition. His masters, no doubt, taught him Lilly's Latin Grammar and the Latin classics,—Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Cicero, Seneca, and the rest,—and very little else. If Shakespeare ever knew French or Italian, he picked it up in London life, where he picked up most of his amazing stock of information on all subjects. Besides Latin, he must have read and memorized a good deal of the English Bible.

Marriage.—In the autumn of 1582 the eighteen-year-old Shakespeare married a young woman of twenty-six. On November 28, of that year two farmers of Shottery, near Stratford, signed what we should call a guarantee bond, agreeing to pay to the Bishop's Court L40, in case the marriage proposed between William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway should turn out to be contrary to the canon—or Church—law, and so invalid. This guarantee bond, no doubt, was issued to facilitate and hasten the wedding. On May 26, 1583, Shakespeare's first child, Susanna, was baptized. His only other children, his son Hamnet and a twin daughter Judith, were baptized February 2, 1584-5[2]. It is probable that soon after this date Shakespeare went to London and began his career as actor, and afterwards as writer of plays and owner of theaters.


Anne Hathaway, as we have said, was eight years older than her husband. She was the daughter of a small farmer at Shottery, a little out of Stratford, whose house is still an object of pilgrimage for Shakespeare lovers. We have really no just ground for inferring, from the poet's early departure for London, that his married life was unhappy. The Duke in Twelfth Night (IV, iii) advises Viola against women's marrying men younger than themselves, it is true; but such advice is conventional. No one can tell how much the dramatist really felt of the thoughts which his characters utter. Who would guess from any words in I Henry IV, for instance, a play containing some of his richest humor and freest joy in life, that, in the very year of its composition, Shakespeare was mourning the death of his little son Hamnet, and that his hopes of founding a family were at an end? Another piece of evidence, far more important, is the fact that Shakespeare does not mention his wife at all in his will, except by an interlined bequest of his "second-best bedroom set." But here, again, it is easy to misread the motives of the man who makes a will. Such omissions have been made when no slight was intended, sometimes because of previous private settlements, sometimes because a wife is always entitled to her dower rights. The evidence is thus too slight to be of value.

Some other motive, then, than unhappiness in married life ought to be assigned for Shakespeare's departure to London. No doubt, the fact that his father was now a discredited bankrupt, against whom suits were pending, had something to do with his {7} decision to better his family fortunes in another town. Traveling companies of players may have told him of London life. Possibly some scrape, like that preserved in the deer-stealing tradition and the resultant persecution, made the young man, now only twenty-one, restive and eager to be gone.

The Tradition concerning Deer Stealing.—Nicholas Howe, in 1709, in his edition of Shakespeare says: "He had by a misfortune common enough to young fellows fallen into bad company, and among them, some that made a frequent practice of deer stealing, engaged him with them more than once in robbing a park that belonged to Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote near Stratford. For this he was persecuted by that gentleman, as he thought, somewhat too severely; and, in order to revenge that ill-usage, he made a parody upon him; and though this, probably the first essay of his poetry, be lost, yet it is said to have been so very bitter that he was obliged to leave his business and family in Warwickshire and shelter himself in London." Archdeacon Davies of Saperton, Gloucestershire, in the late seventeenth century testifies independently to the same tradition. Justice Shallow in the Merry Wives of Windsor is on this latter authority to be identified with Sir Thomas Lucy. He is represented in the play as having come from Gloucester to Windsor. He "will make a Star Chamber matter of it" that Sir John Falstaff has "defied my men, killed my deer, and broke open my lodge." He bears on his "old coat" (of arms) a "dozen white luces" (small fishes), and there is a lot of chatter about "quartering" this coat, which is without point unless a pun is intended. {8} Now "three luces Hauriant argent" were the arms of the Charlecote Lucys, it is certain. There is some reason then, for connecting Shallow with Sir Thomas Lucy, and an apparent basis for the deer-stealing tradition, although the incident in the play may, of course, have suggested the myth. Davies goes on to say that Shakespeare was whipped and imprisoned; for this there is no other evidence.

Early Life in London.—The earliest known reference to Shakespeare in the world of London is contained in a sarcastic allusion from the pen of Robert Greene, the poet and play writer, who died in 1592. Greene was furiously jealous of the rapidly increasing fame of the newcomer. In a most extravagant style he warns his contemporaries (Marlowe, Nash, and Peele, probably) to beware of young men that seek fame by thieving from their masters. They, too, like himself, will suffer from such thieves. "Yes, trust them not; for there is an upstart crow beautified with our feathers that, with his Tygers heart wrapt in a Players hide, supposes he is as well able to bumbast out a blank verse as the best of you; and being an absolute Johannes Factotum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shakescene in a countrie ... but it is pittie men of such rare wit should be subject to the pleasures of such rude grooms." The reference to "Shakescene" and the "Tygers heart," which is a quotation from III Henry VI,[3] makes it almost certain that Shakespeare and his play are referred to. Greene's attack was, however, an instance of what Shakespeare would {9} have called "spleen," and not to be taken as a general opinion. His hint of "Johannes Factotum" (Jack-of-all-Trades) probably means that Shakespeare was willing to undertake any sort of dramatic work. Later on in the same letter (A Groatsworth of Witte Bought with a Million of Repentance)[4] he calls the "upstart crow" and his like "Buckram gentlemen," and "peasants."

Henry Chettle, a friend of Greene's, either in December, 1592, or early in 1593,[5] published an address as a preface to his Kind-Harts Dreame, making a public apology to Shakespeare for allowing Greene's letter to come out with this insulting attack. He says: "With neither of them that take offence was I acquainted, and with one of them I care not if I never be. The other [generally taken to be Shakespeare] whome at one time I did not so much spare as since I wish I had, for that, as I have moderated the heate of living writers, and might have usde my owne discretion—especially in such a case, the author beeing dead,—that I did not I am as sory as if the originall fault had beene my fault, because myself have seene his demeanor no lesse civill, than he exelent in the qualitie he professes;—besides divers of worship have reported his uprightness of dealing, which argues his honesty, and his facetious grace in writing, that aprooves his art...."

There is, then, testimony from two sources that by 1592 Shakespeare was an excellent actor, a graceful poet, and a writer of plays that aroused the envy of {10} one of the best dramatists of his day. Obviously, all this could not have happened in a few months, and we are therefore justified in believing that Shakespeare came to London soon after 1585, very likely in 1586.

Later Allusions.—In 1593 the title-page of Venus and Adonis shows that a great English earl and patron of the arts was willing to be godfather "to the first heyre" of Shakespeare's "invention," his first published poem. In 1594 Shakespeare also dedicated to Southampton his Lucrece, in terms of greater intimacy, though no less respect. On December 27, 1595, Edmund Spenser's Colin Clout's Come Home Againe contained a reference which is now generally believed to allude to Shakespeare.

"And there, though last not least, is Aetion; A gentler shepheard may nowhere be found; Whose Muse, full of high thoughts' invention, Doth like himselfe heroically sound."

The next important reference is from Palladis Tamia, by Francis Meres (1598):—

"As the soule of Euphorbus was thought to live in Pythagoras, so the sweete wittie soule of Ovid lives in mellifluous and hony-tongued Shakespeare; witness his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, his sugred Sonnets among his private friends &c. As Plautus and Seneca are accounted the best for comedy and Tragedy among the Latines, so Shakespeare among the English is the most excellent in both kinds for the stage; for comedy, witnes his Gentlemen of Verona, his Errors, his Loves Labors Lost, his Love Labours Wonne, his Midsummer Night Dreame, and his Merchant of Venice; for tragedy his Richard the 2., Richard the 3., Henry the 4., {11} King John, Titus Andronicus, and his Romeo and Juliet. As Epius Stolo said that the Muses would speake with Plautus tongue, if they would speak Latin, so I say that the Muses would speak with Shakespeare's fine filed phrase, if they would speak English. And as Horace saith of his; Exegi monumentum aere perennius, Regalique situ pyramidum altius.

"Quod non imber edax: Non Aquilo impotius possit diruere: aut innumerabilis annorum series et fuga temporum: so say I severally of Sir Philip Sidneys Spencers Daniels Draytons Shakespeares and Warners workes."

This is the earliest claim for the supremacy of Shakespeare in the English theater, a claim never seriously disputed from that day to this. The numerous other contemporary allusions to Shakespeare's fame, which fill the Shakespeare Allusion Book,[6] add nothing to our purpose; but merely confirm the statement that throughout his life his readers knew and admitted his worth. The chorus of praise continued from people of all classes. John Weever, the epigrammatist, and Richard Camden, the antiquarian, praised Shakespeare highly, and Michael Drayton, the poet, called him "perfection in a man." Finally, Ben Jonson, his most famous competitor for public applause, crowned our poet's fame with his poem, prefixed to the first collected edition of Shakespeare's famous First Folio of 1623: "To the Memory of my beloved, the author, Mr. William Shakespeare, and what he hath left us.


"He was not of an age, but for all time!"

Shakespeare as an Actor.—The allusion quoted above of Henry Chettle praises Shakespeare's excellence "in the qualitie he professes." Stronger evidence is afforded by some of the title-pages of plays printed during the poet's life. Thus Ben Jonson's Every Man in his Humour says on its title-page: "Every One in his Umor. This comedie was first Acted in the yeere 1598 by the then L. Chamberleyne his servants. The principal comedians were Will. Shakespeare, Aug. Philips, Hen. Condel, Will. Slye, Will. Kempe, Ric. Burbadge, Joh. Hemings, Tho. Pope, Chr. Beeston, Joh. Dyke, withe the allowance of the Master of Reuells."

Before this his name had appeared between those of Kemp and Burbage (named in the above list), the one the chief comedian, the other the chief tragedian of the time, in comedies which were acted before the Queen on December 27 and 28, 1594, at Greenwich Palace. The titles of these comedies are not given in the Treasurer's Accounts of the Chamber, from which we take the list of players.

In 1603, Shakespeare shared with Burbage the headline of the list of actors in Ben Jonson's tragedy Sejanus. That he thoroughly understood the technique of his art and was interested in it, is evident from Hamlet's advice to the players. Throughout his life in London, Shakespeare was a member of the company usually known as the Lord Chamberlain's Company.[7]


Shakespeare and the Mountjoys.—The most important addition of recent years to the life records of Shakespeare is that made by an American scholar, Professor Charles William Wallace. He has unearthed in the Public Record Office at London a notable bundle of documents—twenty-six in all. They concern a lawsuit in which the family of Christopher Mountjoy, Shakespeare's landlord in London, was engaged; and in which the poet himself appeared as a witness. Mountjoy, it appears, was a prosperous wigmaker and hairdresser, and, no doubt, had good custom from the London actors. Shakespeare had lodgings in Mountjoy's house in the year 1604, and at Madame Mountjoy's request acted as intermediary in proposing to young Stephen Bellott, a young French apprentice of Mountjoy's, that if he should marry his master's daughter Mary, he would receive L50 as dowry and "certain household stuff" in addition. The marriage took place, and the quarrel which led to the lawsuit in 1612 was chiefly about the fulfillment—or non-fulfillment—of the marriage settlements. Shakespeare's testimony on the matter is clear enough in regard to his services as the friend of both parties; but his memory leaves him when specific information is required touching the exact terms of the dowry. Evidently he had no mind that his old landlord should suffer from the claims of his unruly son-in-law.

Mountjoy's house was situated in an ancient and most respectable neighborhood in Cripplegate ward, on the corner of Silver Street and Mugwell, or Muggle Street. Near by dwelt many of Shakespeare's fellow-actors and dramatists. St. Paul's Cathedral, the heart {14} of London, lay five minutes' walk to the southwest. The length of Shakespeare's residence with the worthy Huguenot family is not to be learned from the recent discoveries; but his testimony to Bellott's faithful service as apprentice throughout the years of apprenticeship—1598-1604—makes it strongly probable that during these years, when the poet was writing his greatest plays, he lodged with Mountjoy. In 1612 Mountjoy, according to another witness, had a lodger—a "sojourner"—in his house; this may mean that Shakespeare was still in possession of his rooms in the house on Silver Street. If it be so, no spot in the world has been the birthplace of a greater number of masterpieces.

It is interesting to note, in passing, that the various witnesses in the Mountjoy lawsuit who have occasion to speak of Shakespeare always refer to him most respectfully. The poet was evidently high in the esteem of his neighbors.

Shakespeare's Income and Business Transactions.—Shakespeare was a shrewd and sensible man of business. He amassed during his career in London a property nearly, if not quite, as great as any made by his profession at the time. In addition to profits from the sale of his plays to managers (he probably derived no income from their publication), and his salary as an actor, Shakespeare enjoyed an ample income from his shares in the Blackfriars and Globe theaters, of which he became joint owner with the Burbage brothers and other fellow-actors in 1597 and 1599. Professor Wallace has discovered a document which helps, though very slightly, to enable us to judge what his income {15} from these sources may have been.[8] In 1615-1616 the widow of one of the proprietors of the two theaters, whose share, like Shakespeare's, was one-seventh of the Blackfriars, one-fourteenth of the Globe, brought suit against her father. She asked for L600 damages for her father's wrongful detention of her year's income, amounting to L300 from each theater.

But damages asked in court are always high, and include fees of lawyers and other items. The probability is that Shakespeare's yearly income from these sources was never over L500. To this, though the figures cannot be ascertained with any degree of certainty, we might add L100 for salary and L25 for plays yearly. The total would amount to fully L600 a year from 1599 on till 1611, about which date Shakespeare probably retired to Stratford. If we reckon by what money will buy in our days, we may say that Shakespeare's yearly income at the height of success was $25,000, in round numbers. This is certainly a low estimate, and does not include extra court performances and the like, from which he must certainly have profited.

Shakespeare's Life in London.—What with the composition of two plays a year, continual rehearsals, and performances of his own and other plays, Shakespeare's life must have been a busy one. Tradition, however, accords him an easy enjoyment of the pleasures of the time; and his own sarcastic remarks against Puritans in his plays may indicate a hatred of puritanical restraint. He must have joined in many a merry feast with the other actors and writers of the day, and with court gallants. The inventory of property left by him {16} at his death indicates that while he had accumulated a good estate, he had also lived generously.

Stratford Affairs and Shakespeare's Return.—While William Shakespeare was thus employed in London in building up name and fortune for himself, his father was in financial straits. As early as January, 1586, John Shakespeare had no property on which a creditor could place a lien. In September of the same year, he was deprived of his alderman's gown for lack of attention to town business. During the next year he was sued for debt, and had to produce a writ of habeas corpus to keep himself out of jail. In 1899 he tried to recover his wife's mortgaged property of Ashbies from the mortgagee's heir, John Lambert, but the suit was not tried till eight years later. Soon after this the son must have begun to send to Stratford substantial support. In 1592 John Shakespeare was made an appraiser of the property of Henry Field, a fellow-townsman. Henry Field's son Richard published Venus and Adonis for Shakespeare in 1593, from his shop in St. Paul's Churchyard. From this time John Shakespeare seems to have lived in comfort. His ambition to secure the grant of a coat of arms was almost successful at his first application for one in October, 1596; three years later the grant was made, and his son and he were now "Gentlemen."

In May, 1597, William Shakespeare bought New Place, a handsome house in the heart of Stratford, and at once became an influential citizen. From that time to his death he is continually mentioned in the town records. His purchases included 107 acres in {17} Old Stratford (May 1, 1602), for L320; the right to farm the Stratford tithes (July 24, 1605), for L440; an estate of the Combe family (April 13, 1610), and minor properties. In all his dealings, so far as we can tell, he seems to have been shrewd and business-like.

Little is known of Shakespeare's children during these years. Hamnet, his only son, was buried August 11, 1596. Susanna, the eldest daughter, married a physician, Dr. John Hall, of Stratford, June 5, 1607; Judith married Thomas Quiney, son of an old Stratford friend of Shakespeare's, February 10, 1616, two months before her father's death. Shakespeare's father had died long before this, in September, 1601.

Shakespeare's retirement from London to his native town is thought to have taken place about 1611, though there is no real evidence for this belief, except that his play writing probably ceased about this date. In 1614 a Puritan preacher stopped at New Place and was entertained there by the poet's family. It is certain that Shakespeare visited London from time to time after 1611. One such visit is recorded in the diary of his lawyer, Thomas Greene, of Stratford. As late as March 24, 1613, there occurs an entry in the accounts of the Earl of Rutland of a payment to Shakespeare and Richard Burbage of 44 shillings each in gold for getting up a dramatic entertainment for the Earl of Rutland.

In 1616 Shakespeare's health failed. On January 25, a copy of his will was drawn, which was executed March 25. On April 23, 1616, he died, and two days later was buried in the chancel of Stratford church.


Shakespeare's Portraits, Tomb, and Descendants.—Two portraits, the "Ely Palace" and the "Flower" portraits, so called from former possessors, are thought to have better claims to authenticity than others. New discoveries are announced, periodically, of Shakespeare's portrait; but these turn out usually to be forgeries. The engraving by Martin Droeshout prefixed to the First and later Folios, though to us it seems unanimated and unnatural, is still the only likeness vouched for by contemporaries. It is thought by many to be a copy of the "Flower" portrait, which bears the date 1609, and which it certainly very closely resembles. If the Stratford bust which was placed in a niche above Shakespeare's tomb in Stratford church before 1623 was accurately reproduced in Dugdale's Warwickshire, then the present bust is a later substitution, since it shows differences in detail from that sketch. It is coming to be believed that the eighteenth-century restoration so altered the bust as to make it quite unlike its former appearance.

Shakespeare's grave is in the chancel of Stratford church. A dark, flat tombstone bears the inscription, which early tradition ascribes to the poet:—

"Good frend, for Iesvs sake forbeare To digg the dvst enclosed heare: Bleste be y^e man y^t spares thes stones, And curst be he y^t moves my bones."

The monument to Shakespeare, with the bust on the north wall, is facing the tomb.

In his will, Shakespeare provided that much the larger portion of his estate should go to his eldest daughter, Susanna Hall and John Hall, Gent., her husband, including New Place, Henley Street and Blackfriars houses, and his tithes in Stratford and near-by villages. This was in accordance with custom. To Judith, his younger daughter, the wife of Thomas Quiney, he left three hundred pounds, one hundred as a marriage portion, fifty more on her release of her right in a Stratford tenement, and the rest to be paid in three years, the principal to be invested, the interest paid to her, and the principal to be divided at her death.


Shakespeare left his sister, Joan Hart, L20 and his wearing apparel, and her house in Stratford rent-free till her death, at a shilling a year. His plate he divided between his daughters. The minor bequests, which include L10 to the Stratford poor, are chiefly notable for the bequest of money (26s. 8d.) for rings to "my fellowes, John Hemynges, Richard Burbage, and Henry Cundell." These were fellow-actors in the Lord Chamberlain's Company.

Within half a century Shakespeare's line was extinct. His wife died August 6, 1623. His daughter Susanna left one daughter, Elizabeth, who married, April 22, 1626, Thomas Nashe, who died April 4, 1647. On June 5, 1649, she married John Barnard of Abington, Northamptonshire, afterwards knighted. She left no children by either marriage. Her burial was recorded February 17, 1669-70. Shakespeare's daughter Judith had three sons,—Shakespeare, baptized November 23, 1616, buried May 8, 1617; Richard, baptized February 9, 1617-8, buried February 16, 1638-9; Thomas, baptized January 23, 1619-20, buried January 1638-9. Judith Shakespeare survived them all, and was buried February 9, 1661-2. Shakespeare's sister, Joan Hart, left descendants who owned the Henley Street House up to the time of its purchase, in 1847, by the nation.

The best books on the life of Shakespeare: J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps, Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare, tenth edition, London, 1898 (the greatest collection of sources and documents); Sidney Lee, A Life of William Shakespeare (New York, Macmillan, 1909), (the best extended life, especially valuable for its study of the biographical value of the sonnets); Professor Wallace's articles referred to in the text.

[1] This reference was discovered among the Plume Mss. (1657-1663) of Maldon, Essex, by Dr. Andrew Clark, in October, 1904. Sir John Mennes was, however, not a contemporary of John Shakespeare, but doubtless merely passed on the description from some eyewitness.

[2] The dates between January 1 and March 25, previous to 1752, are always thus written. In 1752 England and its colonies decided to begin the year with January 1 instead of March 25, as formerly. Thus for periods before that date between January 1 and March 25, we give two figures to indicate that the people of that time called it one year and we call it a year later. Thus, Judith Shakespeare would have said she was baptized in 1584, while by our reckoning her baptism came in 1585.

[3] "O tiger's heart wrapped in a woman's hide." This line is also in the source of Shakespeare's play. See p. 133.

[4] Printed first in 1596, but written shortly before Greene's death in 1592.

[5] Registered Dec., 1592, but printed without date.

[6] These may be seen, as well as all others up to 1700, in the re-edited Shakespeare Allusion Book, ed. J. Munro, London, 1909.

[7] See p. 48.

[8] See the New York Times for October 3, 1909.




The history of the drama includes two periods of supreme achievement, that of fifth-century Greece and that of Elizabethan England. Between these peaks lies a broad valley, the bottom of which is formed by the centuries from the fifth to the ninth after Christ. From its culmination in the tragedies of AEschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, and in the comedies of Aristophanes, the classic drama declined through the brilliantly realistic comedies of Menander to the coldly rhetorical tragedies of the Roman Seneca. The decay of culture, the barbarian invasions, and the attacks of the Christian Church caused a yet greater decadence, a fall so complete that, although the old traditions were kept alive for some time at the Byzantine court, the drama, as a literary form, had practically disappeared from western Europe before the middle of the sixth century. For this reason the modern drama is commonly regarded as a new birth, as an independent creation entirely distinct from the art which had preceded it. A new birth and an independent growth there certainly was, but it must not be forgotten that the love of the dramatic did not disappear with the literary drama, that the entertainment of mediaeval {21} minstrels were not without dramatic elements, that dialogues continued to be written if not acted, and that the classical drama of Rome, eagerly studied by the enthusiasts of the Renaissance, had no slight influence upon the course which the modern drama took. If we make these qualifications, we may fairly say that the old drama died and that a new drama was born.

The Beginnings of Modern Drama.—When we search for the origin of the modern drama, we find it, strangely enough, in the very institution which had done so much to suppress it as an invention of the devil; for it made its first appearance in the services of the Church. From a very early period, the worship of the Church had possessed a certain dramatic character. The service of the Mass recalled and represented by symbols, which became more and more definite and elaborate, the great sacrifice of Christ. And this tendency manifested itself in other ways, such as the letting fall, on Good Friday, of the veil which had concealed the sanctuary since the first Sunday in Lent, thus recalling the veil of the Jewish temple rent in twain at the death of Christ. But all this was rather the soil in which the drama could grow than the beginning itself. The latter came in the ninth century, when an addition was made to the Mass which was slight in itself, but which was to have momentous consequences. Among the words fitted to certain newly introduced melodies were those of which the following is a translation:—

"Whom seek ye, O Christians, in the sepulcher? Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, O ye dwellers in Heaven. He is not here; he is risen as he foretold. Go and carry the tidings that he is risen from the sepulcher."


At first these words were sung responsively by the choir, but before the end of the tenth century they were put into the mouths of monks or clergy representing the Maries and the angel. By this time the dialogue had been removed to the first services of Easter morning, and had been connected with the ceremonies of the Easter sepulcher. In many churches it was then customary on Good Friday to carry a crucifix to a representation of a sepulcher which had previously been prepared somewhere in the church, whence the crucifix was secretly removed before Easter morning. Then, at the first Easter service, the empty sepulcher was solemnly visited, and this dialogue was sung.[1] The participants wore ecclesiastical vestments, and the acting was of the simplest character, but the amount of dialogue increased as time went on, and new bits of action were added; so that before the end of the twelfth century some churches presented what may fairly be called a short one-act play. Meanwhile, around the services of Good Friday and the Christmas season, other dramatic ceremonies and short dialogues had been growing up, which gave rise to tiny plays dealing with the birth of Christ, the visits of the shepherds and the Wise Men, and the Old Testament prophecies of {23} Christ's coming. Although the elaboration of individual plays continued, the evolution of the drama as part of the Church's liturgy was practically complete by the middle of the thirteenth century.

The Earlier Miracle Plays.—The next hundred years brought a number of important changes: the gradual substitution of English for Latin, the removal from the church to the churchyard or market-place, and the welding together of the single plays into great groups or cycles. The removal from the church was made possible by the growth of the plays in length and dramatic interest, which rendered them independent of the rest of the service; and it was made inevitable by the enormous popularity of the plays and by the more elaborate staging which the developed plays required. The formation of more or less unified cycles was the result of a natural tendency to supply the missing links between the plays already in existence, and to write new plays describing the events which led up to those already treated. Just as Wagner in our day after writing his drama on The Death of Siegfried felt himself compelled to write other plays dealing with his hero's birth and the events which led to this birth, so the unknown authors of the great English cycles were led to write play after play until they had covered the significant events of Biblical history from the creation of the world to the Last Judgment. This joining together of isolated plays necessitated taking them away from the particular festivals with which they had originally been connected and presenting them all together on a single day, or, in the case of the longer cycles, on successive days. After 1264, {24} when the festival of Corpus Christi was established in honor of the sacrament of Holy Communion, this day was the favorite time of presentation. Coming as it did in early summer on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, it was well suited for out-of-door performances, besides being a festival which the Church especially delighted to honor.

The Great English Cycles.—Of the great cycles of miracle plays, only four have come down to us: those given at York and at Chester, that in the Towneley collection (probably given at or near Wakefield), and the cycle called the Ludus Coventriae or Hegge plays, of which the place of presentation is uncertain. The surviving fragments of lost cycles, however, taken together with the records of performances, show that religious plays were given with more or less regularity in at least one hundred and twenty-five places in England. The cycle which has been most completely preserved is that of York, forty-eight plays of which still exist. It originally included fifty-seven plays, while the number of Biblical incidents known to have been treated in plays belonging to one cycle or another includes twenty-one based on the Old Testament or on legends, and sixty-eight based on the New Testament.

Even while the religious plays were still a part of the Church services, they contained humorous elements, such as the realistically comic figure of the merchant who sold spices and ointment to the Maries on their way to the tomb of Christ. In the later plays these interpolations developed into scenes of roaring farce. When Herod learned of the escape of the Wise Men, he would rage violently about the stage and even among {25} the spectators. Noah's wife, in the Chester play of The Deluge, refuses point-blank to go into the Ark, and has to be put in by main force. The Second Shepherds' Play of the Towneley cycle contains an episode of sheep stealing which is a complete and perfect little farce. Nor were the scenes of pathos less effective. The scene in the Brome play of Abraham and Isaac where the little lad pleads for his life has not lost its pathetic appeal with the passage of centuries. While many of the miracle plays seem to us stiff and perfunctory, the best of them possess literary merit of a very high order.

As the development of the plays called for an increasing number of actors, the clergy had to call upon the laity for help, so that the acting fell more and more into the hands of the latter, until finally the whole work of presenting the plays was taken over, in most cases, by the guilds, organizations of the various trades which corresponded roughly to our modern trades unions. Each guild had its own play of which it bore the expense and for which it furnished the actors. Thus the shipwrights would present The Building of the Ark, the goldsmiths, The Adoration of the Wise Men. Sometimes the plays would be presented on a number of tiny stages or scaffolds grouped in a rectangle or a circle; more often they were acted on floats, called pageants, which were dragged through the streets and stopped for performances at several of the larger squares. These pageants were usually of two stories, the lower used for a dressing-room, the upper for a stage. The localities represented were indicated in various ways—Heaven, for instance, by a beautiful {26} pavilion; Hell, by the mouth of a huge dragon. The costumes of the actors were often elaborate and costly, and there was some attempt at imitating reality, such as putting the devils into costumes of yellow and black, which typified the flames and darkness of Hell.

Fairly complete cycles were in existence as early as 1300; they reached the height of their perfection and popularity in the later fourteenth and in the fifteenth centuries; and they began to decline in the sixteenth century. After 1550 the performances became more and more irregular, until, at the accession of King James I, they had practically ceased.

The Moralities.—Of somewhat later origin than the miracle plays, but existing contemporaneously with them, were the moralities. In a twelfth-century miracle play characters had been introduced which were not the figures of Biblical story, but personified abstractions, such as Hypocrisy, Heresy, Pity. By the end of the fourteenth century there had come into existence plays of which all the characters were of this type. These, however, were probably not direct descendants of the miracles; but rather the application of the newly learned dramatic methods to another sort of subject matter, the allegory, a literary type much used by poets and preachers of the time. Such plays were called 'moral plays' or 'moralities.' Unlike the miracle plays, these remained independent of each other, and showed no tendency to grow together into cycles. The most beautiful of them, written at the end of the fifteenth or the beginning of the sixteenth century, is that called The Summoning of Everyman. It represents a typical man compelled to enter upon the long, {27} inevitable journey of death. Kindred and Wealth abandon him, but long-neglected Good-deeds, revived by Knowledge, comes to his aid. At the edge of the grave Everyman is deserted by Beauty, Strength, and the Five Senses, while Good-deeds alone goes with him to the end. Moralities of this type aimed at the cultivation of virtue in the spectators, just as the miracle plays had aimed at the strengthening of their faith. Another type of morality dealt with controversial questions. In one of these, King Johan, written about 1538, historical personages are put side by side with the allegorical abstractions, thus foreshadowing the later historical plays, such as Shakespeare's King John. Another comparatively late type of morality sought to teach an ethical lesson by showing the effect of vice and virtue upon the lives of men and women. Nice Wanton (c. 1550), for instance, represents the consequence of good and evil living, not only by the use of such allegorical characters as Iniquity and Worldly Shame, but also by means of the human beings, Barnabas and Ishmael and their sister Dalila. Thus, although the more abstract moralities persisted until late in the sixteenth century, these other types at the same time helped lead the way to the drama which depicts actual life.

The Interlude.—Both miracle play and morality were written with a definite purpose, the teaching of a lesson, religious, moral, or political; the interlude, on the other hand, was a short play intended simply to interest or to amuse. The original meaning of the word "interlude" is a matter of controversy. It may have meant a short play introduced between other {28} things, such as the courses of a banquet, or it may have meant simply a dialogue. Be that as it may, the interlude seems to have had its origin in the dramatic character of minstrel entertainments and in the dramatic character of popular games, such as those, especially beloved of our English ancestors, which celebrated the memory of Robin Hood and his fellow-outlaws of Sherwood forest. The miracle plays set the example of dramatic composition, an example soon followed in the interlude, which put into dramatic forms that became more and more elaborate popular stories and episodes, both serious and comic. Although there had been comic episodes in miracle plays and moralities, it was as interludes that the amusing skit and the tiny farce achieved an independent existence. The first real interlude which has come down to us is that called De Clerico et Puella, Of the Cleric and the Maiden, which was written not later than the early fourteenth century. This is little more than a dialogue depicting the attempted seduction of a maiden by a wanton cleric. The only other surviving fourteenth-century interlude, that of Dux Maraud, is, on the other hand, the dramatization of a tragic tale of incest and murder. This is, however, somewhat exceptional, and may perhaps be regarded as belonging rather to a type of miracle play not common in England, in which the intervention of some heavenly power affects the lives of men. At any rate, it is probable that the interlude was not often so serious an affair, and it developed rapidly in a way that gave us, in the sixteenth century, the interludes of John Heywood (1497-1577), which are really short farces, {29} and no bad ones at that. By reason of its character and the small number of actors which it required, the interlude was usually given by professional entertainers, who were either kept by persons of high rank, or traveled from town to town. We find, therefore, in the acting of interludes the conditions which gave rise to modern comedy and to the modern traveling company.

Classical Influences.—In the preceding paragraphs we have considered the early modern drama as an independent growth, but the influence of the classical drama, particularly the Latin tragedies of Seneca and the Latin comedies of Plautus and Terence, showed itself in the later moralities and interludes, and was to appear again and again in the later course of English drama. That great revival of interest in classical learning which gave the Renaissance its name, was a mighty force in the current of English thought throughout the sixteenth century. The old Latin tragedies and comedies were revived and were produced in the original and in translation at schools and colleges. It was an easy step from this to the writing of English comedies after Latin models. The earliest of such attempts which we know is the comedy of Ralph Roister Doister, written by Nicholas Udall for Eton boys at some time between 1534 and 1541. This, commonly called the first English comedy, is little more than a clever adaptation of Plautus to English manners and customs; but a comedy written soon after, Gammer Gurton's Needle, is really an Interlude cast in the Plautean mold. The first English tragedy, Gorboduc, closely imitative of Seneca, but on {30} a mythical British subject and written in English blank verse, did not appear until 1562, nearly a quarter of a century later. Seneca's tragedies had little action, slight characterization, and many extremely long speeches, which often display, however, much brilliant rhetoric. Gorboduc has all these qualities except the brilliance. The history, the third of the types into which the editors of the First Folio were to divide Shakespeare's plays, was also affected by Senecan influence. We have already seen how the historical figure of King John appeared in a morality, one which shows little trace of classical tradition; and the history, with its general formlessness and its mixture of the comic with the serious, remained a peculiarly English product. Nevertheless, in the second half of the sixteenth century, subjects from English history were treated after the manner of Latin tragedy, and the long, rhetorical speeches of the later historical plays are more suggestive of Seneca than are most Elizabethan tragedies.

The classical type of drama, with its strict observance of the three unities,[2] was not congenial to the {31} English temperament. Its fetters were soon thrown off, and, with the notable exception of Ben Jonson (1573-1637), few Elizabethan playwrights conformed to its rules. Its influence, however, was not confined to its imitators. From the classical drama the Elizabethans gained a sense for form and for the value of dramatic technique, which did much to make the Elizabethan drama what it was.

Three Predecessors of Shakespeare.—The development of the English drama from the first attempts at comedy, tragedy, and history was extremely rapid. When Shakespeare came to London, he found there dramatists who were far on the road toward mastery of dramatic form, and who were putting into that form both great poetry and a profound knowledge of human nature. A complete list of these dramatists would include a number of names which have a permanent place in the history of English literature, such as those of Thomas Lodge, Thomas Nash, George Peele, and Robert Greene. Among these names three deserve especial prominence, not only because of the great achievements of these men, but because of their influence on Shakespeare. These men were Marlowe, Kyd, and Lyly.

It was Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) who first gave to English blank verse those qualities which make it an extraordinarily perfect medium of expression. Before him, blank verse had no advantages to offer in compensation for the abandonment of rime. It was stiff, monotonous, and cold. Marlowe began to vary the position of the pauses within the line, and to do away with the pause at the end of some lines by {32} placing the breaks in thought elsewhere. Thus he gave to his verse ease, flexibility, and movement, and he put into it the warmth and vividness of his own personality. Upon such verse as this Shakespeare could hardly improve. But this by no means sums up his debt to Marlowe. His characterization of Richard III, for instance, was distinctly affected by that of Marlowe's hero Tamburlaine, a character to which the poet had given a passionate life and an energy that made him more than human. In other ways less easy to define, Shakespeare must have been stimulated by Marlowe's fire. The latter's greatest tragedies, Tamburlaine, Dr. Faustus, and Edward II, contain poetry so beautiful, feeling so intense, and a promise of future achievement so remarkable, that his early death may fairly be said to have deprived English literature of a genius worthy of comparison with that of Shakespeare himself.

Although Thomas Kyd (1558-1594) was far from the equal of Marlowe, he was a playwright of real ability and one whose tragedies were unusually popular. Influenced greatly by Seneca, he brought to its climax the 'tragedy of blood'—a type of drama in which ungovernable passions of lust and revenge lead to atrocious crimes and end in gruesome and appalling murders. His famous Spanish Tragedy was the forerunner of many similar plays, of which Titus Andronicus was one. He probably wrote the original play of Hamlet, which was elevated by Shakespeare out of its atmosphere of blood and horror into the highest realms of thought and poetry.

John Lyly (c. 1554-1606) was a master in an {33} entirely different field, that of highly artificial comedy. He brought court comedy to a hitherto unattained perfection of form and style, and in his best work, Endymion, he displayed a lovely delicacy of thought and expression which has kept his reputation secure. He is best known, however, for his prose romance, Euphues, which gave its name to the style of which it was the climax. Euphuism is a manner of writing marked by elaborate antithesis and alliteration, and ornamented by fantastic similes drawn from a mass of legendary lore concerning plants and animals.[3] This style, which nowadays seems labored and inartistic, was excessively admired by the Elizabethans. Shakespeare imitated it to some extent in Love's Labour's Lost, and parodied it in Falstaff's speech to Prince Hal, I Henry IV, II, iv. Several of Shakespeare's earlier comedies show Lyly's influence for good and ill—ill, in that it made for artificiality and strained conceits; good, in that it made for perfection of dramatic form and refinement of expression.

The Masque.—Somewhat apart from the main current of dramatic evolution is the development of the masque, which became extremely popular in the reign of James I. The English masque was an entertainment, dramatic in character, made up of songs, dialogue, and dances. It originated in masked balls given by the nobility or at court. To John Lydgate, working about 1430, is probably due the credit for introducing into such {34} disguisings a literary element, while the later course of the masque owes much to Italy. In the developed masque there were two classes of participants: noble amateurs, who wore elaborate costumes and danced either among themselves or with the spectators; and professional entertainers, who spoke and sang. The later masques had elaborate scenery and costumes, with just as much plot as would serve to string together the lyrics and dances. Sometimes an anti-masque of grotesque figures was introduced to serve as contrast to the beautiful figures of the masque. The masques were produced with the utmost lavishness, the most extravagant one of which we know costing over L20,000. Some of them, such as those written by Ben Jonson, contain charming poetry; but their chief interest to the student of Shakespeare lies in the fact that their great popularity caused Shakespeare to introduce short masques into some of his plays, notably Henry VIII, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest. In similar allegorical dances often given between the acts of Italian plays, has been sought the origin of the 'dumb-show,' which was occasionally introduced into English tragedies, and which appears in the Mouse-Trap given in Hamlet.

The most useful general histories of this period are: F. E. Schelling, Elizabethan Drama (Houghton Mifflin, 1908); E. K. Chambers, The Mediaeval Stage (Oxford, 1903); and Creizenach, Geschichte des neueren Dramas (Halle, 1893-1909, and not yet complete). Some of the best Miracles, Moralities, and Interludes are easily accessible in Everyman with other Interludes (Everyman's Library) and J. M. Manly's Specimens of the Pre-Shakespearean Drama (Ginn & Co., 1897).

[1] An extract from the Concordia Regularis, a tenth-century appendix to the monastic "rule" of St. Benedict, describes this ceremony. "While the third respond is chanted, let the remaining three follow [one of the brethren, vested in an alb, had before this quietly taken his place at the sepulcher], and let them all, vested in copes, and bearing in their hands thuribles with incense, and stepping delicately, as those who seek something, approach the sepulcher. These things are done in imitation of the angel sitting in the monument, and the women with spices coming to anoint the body of Jesus."

[2] The three unities of action, place, and time are usually believed to have been formulated by Aristotle, who is supposed to have said that a tragedy should have but a single plot and that the action should be confined to a single day and a single place. As a matter of fact, Aristotle is responsible for only the first of these, and this he presented as an observation on the actual condition which prevailed in Greek tragedy rather than as a dramatic principle for all time. The other principles, which were later deduced from the general practice of the Greeks,—a practice arising from the manner in which their plays were staged,—were, together with the first, elevated by the Romans to the dignity of fixed dramatic laws.

[3] The following quotation from Euphues (ed. Bond, i, 289) illustrates this style: "Hee that seeketh ye depth of knowledge is as it were in a Laborinth, in which the farther he goeth, the farther he is from the end: or like the bird in the limebush which the more she striveth to get out, ye faster she sticketh in." With this cf. Hamlet, III, iii, 69; I Henry IV, II, iv, 441.




In 1575 London had no theaters; that is, no building especially designed for the acting of plays. By 1600 there were at least six, among which were some so large and beautiful as to arouse the unqualified admiration of travelers from the continent. It is the purpose of this chapter to give in outline the history of this rapid development of a new type of building; to describe, as accurately as may be, the general features of these theaters; and to indicate the influence which these features exerted upon the Shakespearean drama. But before doing this it is necessary to point out the causes which made the first Elizabethan theater what it was.

The Predecessors of the Elizabethan Theater.[1]—Of these, the most important was the innyard. As soon as the acting of plays ceased to be merely a local affair, as soon as there were companies of actors which traveled from town to town, it became necessary to find some place for the public presentation of plays other than the pageants of the guilds or the temporary scaffolds sometimes erected for miracle plays. Such a place was offered by the courtyard of an inn. The larger inns of {36} this period were, for the most part, built in the form of a quadrangle surrounding an open court. Opening directly off this court were the stables, the kitchen, and other offices of the inn; above these were from one to three stories of bedrooms and sitting rooms, entered from galleries running all round the court. When such a courtyard was used for theatrical performances, the actors erected a platform at one end to serve as a stage; the space back of this, shut off by a curtain, they used as a dressing-room; and the part of the gallery immediately over it they employed as a second stage which could represent the walls of a city or the balcony of a house. In the courtyard the poorer class of spectators stood; in the galleries the more wealthy sat at their ease. These conditions made the innyards much better places for play acting than were the city squares, while they were given still another advantage from the actors' point of view by the fact that the easily controlled entrance gave an opportunity for charging a regular admission fee—a fee which varied with the desirability of the various parts of the house. Thus the innyards made no bad playhouses, and they continued to be used as such even after theaters were built.

They had, however, one obvious disadvantage; their long, narrow shape made a large number of the seats and a large proportion of the spaces available for standing room distinctly bad places from which to see what was happening on the stage. To remedy this defect, the builders of the theaters took a suggestion from the bull-baiting and bear-baiting rings. These rings, of which a considerable number already existed {37} in the outskirts of London, had been built for fights between dogs and bulls or bears, sports vastly enjoyed by the Elizabethans. The rings, like the innyards, had galleries in which spectators could sit and an open yard in which they could stand, and they possessed the added merit of being round. Very possibly these rings, like the Cornish rings used for miracle plays, originated in the stone amphitheaters built by the Romans during their occupation of Britain, buildings occasionally used, even in the sixteenth century, for the performance of plays. It is hardly necessary, nevertheless, to look farther than the bear ring to find the cause which determined the shape of the Elizabethan public theater.

The History of the Public Theaters.—With such models, then, James Burbage—the father of Richard Burbage, later the great actor manager of Shakespeare's company—built the first London theater in 1576. It was erected not far outside the northern walls of the city, and was called simply the Theater. Not far away, a second theater, the Curtain, was soon put up, so called not from any curtain on the stage, but from the name of the estate on which it was built. The next theater, the Rose, was situated in another quarter, on the Surrey side of the Thames, where the bear-baiting rings were. This was constructed, probably in 1587, by Philip Henslowe, a prominent theatrical manager. Some time after 1594, a second theater, the Swan, was put up in this same region, commonly called the Bankside. The suitability of the Bankside as a location for theaters is still further attested by the removal thither of the Theater in the winter of 1598-1599. The owner of the land on which the Theater had originally been {38} built had merely leased it to Burbage—who had since died,—and, when the lease expired, he attempted to raise the rent, probably believing that the Burbage heirs were receiving large profits from the building. Being unwilling to pay this increased rent, the Burbages took down the building, and reerected it on the Bankside, this time calling it the Globe. The last to be built of the great public theaters was the Fortune, which Henslowe erected in 1600. The situation of the Fortune outside Cripplegate, although a considerable distance west of the Curtain, was, roughly, that of the earlier theaters, the northern suburbs of the city.

This list does not include all the theaters built or altered between 1576 and 1600, nor did such building stop at the latter date,—the Globe, for instance, was burnt and again rebuilt in 1613,—but the sketch is complete enough for our purposes. By the end of 1600 all the more important public theaters were open, and after that date, so far as we know, no important changes in construction were made. The next real step—which was to do away altogether with this type of theater—did not come until after the Restoration.

The Buildings.—Before describing the buildings themselves, it is necessary to make one qualification. It is impossible to speak of the 'Elizabethan theaters' or of the 'Elizabethan stage' as if there were one type to which all theaters and stages conformed. The Fortune was undoubtedly a great improvement over the Theater, the outcome of an evolution which could be traced through the other theaters if we had the necessary documents. If the various theaters did not differ from each other as some of our modern theaters do, they {39} still did differ in important points. For example, while the Globe and the Curtain were round, other theaters were hexagonal or octagonal, and the Fortune was square. Likewise, there were certainly differences in size. In spite of these facts, it is, however, still possible to describe the theaters, in general terms which are sufficiently accurate for our present purpose.

An Elizabethan theater was a three-story building of wooden or half-timber construction. The three stories formed three galleries for spectators. The first of these was raised a little above the level of the ground, while the yard, or 'pit,' in which the lower class of spectators stood, seems to have been somewhat sunken. The galleries were supported by oaken columns, often handsomely carved and ornamented. They were roofed and ceiled, but the yard was open to the weather. Although we know that the Fortune was eighty feet square outside, and that the yard within was fifty-five feet square, we are left in uncertainty about the seating capacity. From fifteen hundred to eighteen hundred is, however, the most convincing estimate. There were two boxes, or 'gentlemen's rooms,' presumably in the first balcony on either side of the stage. Besides these, there were other, cheaper boxes, and the rest of the balcony space was filled with seats. The better seats were most comfortably cushioned, and the whole theater anything but the bare rude place which people often imagine it. Coryat, a widely traveled Englishman of the period, writes of the theaters which he saw in Venice that they were "bare and beggarly in comparison of our stately playhouses in England; neither can their actors compare with us for stately apparel, {40} shows, or music." That this was no mere British prejudice is shown by the similar statements of foreigners traveling in England.

The most striking difference between Elizabethan and modern theaters was in the position of the stage, which was not back of a great proscenium frame, but was built out as a platform into the middle of the yard. At the Fortune, the stage was forty-three feet wide,—wider, that is, than most modern stages.[2] Jutting out from the level of the top gallery, and extending perhaps ten feet over the stage, was a square structure called the 'hut,' which rose above the level of the outside walls. Built out from the bottom of this, a roof, or 'shadow,' extended forward over a large part of the stage. The front of this 'shadow' was borne, in the better theaters, on two columns. The shadow and the hut, taken together, are often referred to as the 'heavens.'

The Stage.—When we turn from these general features of the theaters to the stage, we shall find it convenient to speak of a front and a rear stage, but this does not imply any permanent line of demarcation between the two, or that they were not often used together as a single field of action. The rear stage is simply that part of the stage which could be shut off from the spectators by curtains; the other, that part which lay in front of the curtains. In other words, the front stage is that portion of the stage which was built out into the yard, for the curtains continued the line made around the rest of the house by the front {41} of the galleries. In both front and rear stages were traps out of which ghosts or apparitions could rise and into which such properties as the caldron in Macbeth could sink. From the 'heavens,' actors representing gods or spirits—as Jupiter in Cymbeline or Ariel in The Tempest—could be lowered by means of a mechanical contrivance.



The arrangement of the rear stage may have differed considerably in the various theaters, but the typical form may best be described as an alcove in front of which curtains could be drawn. This alcove was by no means so small as the word may seem to imply, but must have been about half as wide as the front stage and perhaps a quarter as deep. In its rear wall was a door through which the actors could enter without being seen when the curtains were drawn, and it seems to have had side doors as well. To the right and left of it were doors for such entrances to the front stage as could not properly be made through the curtains. This part of the stage was used for such scenes as the caves in Cymbeline or The Tempest, for the tomb in Romeo and Juliet, and for scenes in which characters concealed themselves behind the arras, as in I Henry IV or Hamlet. Since the front stage could not be concealed from the spectators, most heavy properties were placed on the back stage, so that this part of the stage was generally used for scenes which required such properties. For many of these scenes, however, both parts of the stage were used, the actors spreading out over the front stage soon after the beginning of the scene.

The space between the top of the back stage and the {42} heavens formed a balcony, like the balcony already described as part of the stage as arranged in the inn-yards. This balcony could also be curtained off when occasion required. To the right and left of it, over the doors leading to the front stage, some of the theaters had window-like openings, which were probably not in line with the balcony, but, like the doors below them, projected at an oblique angle. At one of these windows Jessica appeared in the second act of The Merchant of Venice; from the balcony Romeo took leave of Juliet. Thus the Elizabethan dramatist had three fields of action—a front, rear, and upper stage—which he could use singly, together, or in various combinations.

Settings and Costumes.—In order to understand the way in which this stage was utilized, the student must dismiss from his mind two widespread errors. The Elizabethan stage was by no means a bare, unfurnished platform, nor did the managers substitute for a setting placards reading "This is a Forest," or "This is a Bedroom." The difference between that age and this is not one between no settings and good ones; it is even possible to doubt whether Shakespeare's plays were not put on more effectively then than in most of our modern theaters. The difference is one of principle, and even this difference may easily be exaggerated. When we say that Elizabethan stagings were 'symbolic,' whereas ours are pictorial, we mean that on the former the presence of a few selected objects suggested to the mind of the spectator all the others which go to make up the kind of scene presented. When a few trees were placed upon the stage, the audience supplied in {43} imagination the other objects that belong in a forest; when a throne was there, they saw with the mind's eye a room of state in a palace. But our modern stage also demands the help of the imagination. It is very far from presenting a completely realistic picture. We see three sides of a room and accept the room as complete, although none of us live in rooms which lack a side. We see a great cathedral painted on a back drop, and are hardly disturbed by the fact that an actor standing near it is twice as high as one of the doors. The difference between the two stages really simmers down to this: our symbols are of painted canvas, the Elizabethans' were of another sort. It is extremely unlikely that the Elizabethans used painted scenes in their public theaters. If they ever did, such 'painted cloths' were of the simplest sort, and not pictures painted in perspective. Instead, they relied for their effects upon solid properties—sometimes quite elaborate ones—such as trees, tombs, wells, beds, thrones, etc. These, as has been said, were usually set on the rear stage, although some of them, such as couches and banquet tables, were occasionally brought forward during the course of a scene.

There were, however, scenes which were acted without any setting. The Elizabethans did not feel it necessary to have every scene definitely localized. Consequently, many scenes which are described in our modern editions of Shakespeare as 'A Street,' 'A Place before the Castle,' etc., were not definitely assigned to any place, and were usually acted without settings on the front stage before the closed curtains. In order that no time should be lost while properties were {44} being changed, such scenes were commonly inserted between scenes requiring properties, so that a certain alternation between set and unset scenes resulted. The fourth act of the Merchant of Venice, for example, begins with the court-room scene, which demanded the whole stage, the properties for the court-room being set on the back stage, with perhaps some moved toward the front. The fifth act takes place in Portia's garden, which also took up the whole stage, with garden properties set on the rear stage. Between these two scenes comes the one in the street, which was acted before the closed curtains and required no properties. The arrangement is somewhat like that followed in many modern melodramas, where a scene not requiring properties is acted in front of a drop scene while scenery is being set behind. The raising of the drop—which corresponds to the opening of the Elizabethan curtains—not only reveals the setting behind, but also makes the whole stage, including that part which was in front of the drop, the scene of the action which follows.[3]



The costumes on Shakespeare's stage were very elaborate, but there was no desire to make them characteristic of any historical period. Indeed, the striving after historical accuracy of costume is so much a modern notion that it was nearly two centuries later when Macbeth and Julius Caesar began to appear in costumes appropriate to their respective periods. On the other hand, there probably was some attempt to distinguish the dress of different nationalities. Some notion of how elaborate the costumes of Elizabethan actors were is given by the fact that Henslowe's {45} diary[4] has an entry of L4 14s. paid for a pair of hose, and L20 for a cloak. In connection with this it must be remembered that money was worth then about eight times what it is now, and that a playwright of the time rarely received more than L8 for a play. Another indication is given in Henslowe's list of the costumes belonging to the Lord Admiral's men, which included some eighty-seven garments, for the most part of silk or satin, ornamented with fringe and gold lace.

The Private Theater.—In the preceding sections the type of theater described has been referred to as 'public.' This has been done to distinguish it from the 'private' theater, a type which, although similar in so far as the general principles of staging employed are concerned, differed from the public theater in important particulars. The private theater is so called because it originated in the performances given before the invited guests of royalty, the nobility, or the universities. Since these performances were given in great halls, the type of theater which resulted was completely roofed, was lighted by candles, and had seats in the pit as well as in the galleries—when there were galleries. As soon as such theaters were built, admission was, of course, no longer by invitation, but the prices were so much higher than those of the public theaters that the audiences remained much more select. The first of these theaters was the Blackfriars, the remodeled hall of the former monastery of the Blackfriars, done over by Burbage in 1596. Others {46} were those in which the 'Children of Paul's' acted, the Cockpit, and the Salisbury Court. The Blackfriars was at first under royal patronage, the actors being the 'Children of the Chapel Royal.' These choir boys were carefully trained in acting and dancing as well as singing, and were subsidized by royalty, so that their performances tended to be much more spectacular than those of the public theaters. The performances at the Blackfriars seem to have retained this characteristic even after 1608, when Shakespeare's company took over the theater. Probably because of the patronage and interest of royalty, it was in the private theaters that painted scenes, already used in court masques, were first introduced. Thus these roofed theaters are really the forerunners, so far as England is concerned, of our modern playhouses.

Effect of Stage Conditions on the Drama.—When studied in the light of Elizabethan stage conditions, many characteristics of the plays written by Shakespeare and his contemporaries cease to be surprising or puzzling. A complete conception of all the effects which these conditions had upon the drama can only be gained by a careful study of all the plays. Here, moreover, we are obliged to pass over many points of more general character, such as the impossibility of representing night by darkness when the performances were given by daylight in a theater open to the sun. Two or three are, however, especially important. For instance, since it was possible to leave many scenes indefinitely localized, and since there was no necessity of long pauses for the change of heavy scenery, the dramatists were not limited as ours are to a {47} comparatively small number of scenes. This was an advantage in that it gave great freedom and variety to the action; but it was also a disadvantage in that it led to a scattering of effect and to looseness of construction. So in Antony and Cleopatra there are forty-two scenes, some of which are only a few lines long, and in consequence the play loses the intense, unified effect which it might otherwise have produced. Again, the absence of a front curtain made it impossible to end an act or play with a grand climax or an impressive tableau. Instead, the scenes gradually die away; the actors leave the stage one by one, or go off in procession. Whether this was gain or loss is a debatable question. At any rate, this caused the Elizabethan plays to leave on the spectator an impression totally different from that left by ours. Finally, the absence of pictorial scenery forced the dramatists to use verbal description far more than is customary to-day. To this fact we owe some passages of poetry which are among the most beautiful in all dramatic literature.

Theatrical Companies.—During Shakespeare's lifetime there were in existence more or less continuously some twenty theatrical companies, at least four or five of which, during the greater part of this period, played contemporaneously in London. We have already seen how great nobles, before the end of the fifteenth century, maintained small companies of men as players of Interludes. When not wanted by their patrons, these men traveled about the country, and their example was followed by other groups whose legal position was a much less certain quantity. As a result, a law was passed in 1572 which required that {48} all companies of actors should be under the definite protection of some noble. As time went on, this relation became one of merely nominal patronage, but the companies continued to be known by the name of their patron. Thus the company to which Shakespeare belonged was known successively as Lord Strange's, the Earl of Derby's, first and second Lord Hunsdon's (or, because of the office which the Hunsdons held, as the Lord Chamberlain's), and as the King's company. At various times it appeared at the Theater, the Curtain, the Globe, and the Blackfriars, its greatest triumphs being associated with the Globe. By 1608, if not before, it was unquestionably the most successful company in London. It had the patronage of King James, and it controlled and acted in what were respectively the most popular public and private theaters, the Globe and the Blackfriars. When not acting in London, it made tours to other cities. Its number included several actors of well-known ability, among them Richard Burbage, the greatest tragic actor of the time.

The most formidable rivals to this company were the Admiral's men and the children's companies. The former company was managed by Richard Henslowe; had, after 1600, a permanent home in the Fortune theater; and included among its number Edward Alleyn, next to Burbage the most famous Elizabethan actor. The two great children's companies were those made up of the choir boys of the Chapel Royal and of St. Paul's. The former had begun to give dramatic performances as early as 1506. They were well trained, had the advantage of royal patronage, and were {49} extraordinarily popular, becoming very serious rivals of the men's companies. The performances of the Children of the Chapel Royal at the Blackfriars between 1596 and 1608 were the most fashionable in London. The children's companies were finally suppressed about 1609.

The members of the men's companies were divided into four classes: those who had shares in the house and in the company, those who had shares only in the company, hired actors, and apprentices. The third of these classes received a fixed salary, the last were cared for by the individual actors to whom they were apprenticed. The profits of the theaters were derived from entrance money and the additional fees received for the better seats. All of the first and half of the second was divided between the members of the first and second classes of shareholders. The members of the first received in addition shares in the other half of the additional fees.[5]

Because female parts were always taken by men or boys, it is sometimes assumed that Elizabethan acting must have been crude. On the contrary, we have every reason to believe that most parts, particularly the less important ones, were acted better than they are usually acted to-day. Some of the actors, such as Burbage and Alleyn, were undoubtedly men of great genius. All of them had the advantage of regular and consistent training—a thing only too often lacking in these days when an actor of ability is almost immediately made a 'star,' although he frequently knows pitifully little of the art of acting. One of the most interesting testimonies to the ability of Elizabethan actors is Ben {50} Jonson's tribute to the memory of the boy actor, Salathiel Pavy:—

"Weep with me, all you that read This little story; And know, for whom a tear you shed Death's self is sorry. 'Twas a child that so did thrive In grace and feature, As Heaven and Nature seem'd to strive Which owned the creature. Years he number'd scarce thirteen When Fates turn'd cruel, Yet three fill'd zodiacs had he been The stage's jewel; And did act (what now we moan) Old men so duly, As sooth the Parcae thought him one, He play'd so truly. So, by error, to his fate They all consented; But, viewing him since, alas, too late! They have repented; And have sought, to give new birth, In baths to steep him; But, being so much too good for earth, Heaven vows to keep him."

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