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THE drama before the time of Shakspeare was
fo little cultivated, or fo ill understood, that to many it may appear unneceffary to carry our theatrical researches higher than that period. Dryden has truly obferved, that he "found not, but created firft the ftage ;" of which no one can doubt, who confiders, that of all the plays iffued from the prefs antecedent to the year 1592, when there is reafon to believe he commenced a dramatick writer, the titles are fcarcely known, except to antiquaries; nor is there one of them that will bear a fecond perufal. Yet thefe, contemptible and few as they are, we may fuppofe to have been the moft popular productions of the time, and the beft that had been exhibited before the appearance of Shakspeare.1
There are but thirty-eight plays, (exclufive of myfteries, moralities, interludes, and tranflated pieces,) now extant, written antecedent to, or in, the year 1592. Their titles are as follows: * Acolaftus
Ferrex and Porrex
Tancred and Gifmund 1568 Cambyfes, no date, but probably written before 1570
To this lift may be added a piece hitherto mentioned in no catalogue, nor to be found in any library, except that of the Duke of Bridgewater, entitled, "The rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune. Plaide before the Queene's moft excellent Maiefty; wherein are manye fine conceites with
Between the years 1592 and 1600, the following plays were printed or exhibited; the greater part of which, probably, were written before our author commenced play-wright:
great delight. At London. Printed by E. A. for Edward White, and are to
be folde at the little Northe doore of St. Paules Church, at the tigne of the Gunne. 1589." 4to. REED.
and progrefs of the drama in England, will scarcely repay the labour of the inquiry. However, as the beft introduction to an account of the internal economy and ufages of the English theatres in the time of Shakspeare, (the principal object of this differtation,) I fhall take a curfory view of our most ancient dramatick exhibitions, though I fear I can add but little to the researches which have already been made on that subject.
Mr. Warton in his elegant and ingenious Hiftory of English Poetry has given fo accurate an account of our earliest dramatick performances, that I fhall make no apology for extracting from various parts of his valuable work, fuch particulars as fuit my present purpose.
The earlieft dramatick entertainments exhibited in England, as well as every other part of Europe, were of a religious kind. So early as in the beginning of the twelfth century, it was customary in England on holy festivals to reprefent, in or near the churches, either the lives and miracles of faints, or the most important ftories of Scripture. From the fubject of these spectacles, which, as has been observed, were either the miracles of faints, or the more myfterious parts of holy writ, fuch as the incarna
The Cafe is altered
The Trial of Chevalry)
* Alfo the following!
Humorous Day's Mirth
A Knack to know a Knave, 1594.
Jack Straw's Life and Death, 1594.
A Knack to know an honest Man, 1596.
Two valiant Knightes, Clyomon and Clamydes, 1599.
Several dramatick pieces are alfo entered on the books of the Stationers" Company, within the above period, which have not been printed. Their titles may be found in Herbert's edition of Ames, and Egerton's Theatrical Remembrancer, REED.
tion, paffion, and refurrection of Chrift, thefe fcriptural plays were denominated Miracles, or Myfteries. At what period of time they were firft exhibited in this country, I am unable to ascertain. Undoubt
edly, however, they are of very great antiquity; and Riccoboni, who has contended that the Italian theatre is the most ancient in Europe, has claimed for his country an honour to which it is not entitled. The era of the earliest representation in Italy, founded on holy writ, he has placed in the year 1264, when the fraternity del Gonfalone was eftablished; but we had fimilar exhibitions in England above 150 years before that time. In the year 1110, as Dr. Percy and Mr. Warton have obferved, the Miracle-play of Saint Catharine, written by Geoffrey, a learned Norman, (afterwards Abbot of St. Alban's,) was acted, probably by his scholars, in the abbey of Dunftable; perhaps the first spectacle of this kind exhibited in England.3 William Fitz-Stephen, a monk of Canterbury, who according to the beft accounts compofed his very curious work in 1174, about four years after the murder of his patron Archbishop Becket, and in the twenty-first year of the reign of King Henry the Second, mentions, that "London, for its theatrical exhibitions, has,religious plays, either the representations of miracles wrought by holy confeffors, or the fufferings of martyrs."4
2 The French theatre cannot be traced higher than the year 1398, when the Mystery of the Paffion was reprefented at St. Maur.
3 Apud Duneftapliam-quendam ludum de fan&ta Katerina (quem MIRACULA vulgariter appellamus) fecit. Ad quæ decoranda, petiit a facrifta fancti Albani, ut fibi capæ chorales accommodarentur, et obtinuit." Vitæ Abbat. ad calc. Hift. Mat. Paris, folio, 1639, p. 56.
"Lundonia pro fpectaculis theatralibus, pro ludis fcenicis,