Page images

pastoral or comedy, moral or tragedy, you rise with a screwed and discontented face from your stool to be gone;" _ and “ salute all your gentle acquaintance, that are spread either on the rushes, or on stools about you ; and draw what troop you can from the stage after you :" but, “ if either the company, or indisposition of the weather bind you

to sit it out;- mew at passionate speeches; blare at merry; find fault with the musick ; whew at the children's action ; whistle at the songs * ;” modes of annoyance sufficiently provoking, and occasionally very effectual toward the final condemnation of a play, as Ben Jonson experienced in more instances than one. +

It was usual also for the critics and coxcombs of the day, either from motives of curiosity, vanity, or malevolence, to carry to the theatre table-books, made of small plates of slate bound together in duodecimo, and to take down passages from the play, for the purpose either of retailing them in taverns and parties, or with the view of ridiculing and degrading the author; “ to such, wherever they sit concealed,” says the indignant Jonson in 1601, “ let them know, the author defies them and their writing-tables.I

An Epilogue, sometimes spoken by one of the Dramalis Persona, and sometimes by an extra character, was not uncommon at this period; and, when employed, generally terminated, if in a public theatre, with a prayer for the king or queen ; if, in a private one, for the lord of the mansion. The prayer, however, was, almost always, a necessary form, whether an epilogue were adopted or not; and, on these occasions, whatever may have been the nature of the preceding drama, the players, kneeling down, solemnly addressed themselves to their devotions : thus Shakspearé concludes his Epilogue to the Second Part of King Henry the Fourth, by telling his audience,

* Gull's Horn-book, reprint, pp. 147—149.
+ Sejanus, Catiline, and The New Inn, were all condemned.

I “ There is reason to believe," remarks Mr. Malone, “ that the imperfect and mutilated copies of one or two of Shakspeare's dramas, which are yet extant, were taken down by the ear, or in short-hand, during the exhibition." - Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iii. p. 15).



will bid you good night: and so kneel down before you ; - - but, indeed, to pray for the queen *;" and Sir John Harrington closes his Metamorphosis of Ajax, 1596, with the following sarcastic mention of this custom as retained in private theatres :-“But I will neither end with sermon nor prayer, lest some wags liken me to my L ( ) players, who when they have ended a baudie comedy, as though that were a preparative to devotion, kneele down solemnly, and pray all the companie to pray with them for their good lord and maister.” Considering the place chosen for its display, this is, certainly, a



« More honour'd in the breach, than the observance."

[ocr errors]

With regard to the Remuneration of Actors, during the age of Shakspeare, it has been ascertained, that, after deducting forty-five shillings, which were the usual nightly, or rather daily, expenses at the Globe and Blackfriars, the net receipt never amounted to more than twenty pounds, and that, the average receipt, after making a similar deduction, may be estimated at about nine pounds. This sum Mr. Malone supposes to have been in our poet's time “ divided into forty shares, of which fifteen were appropriated to the house keepers or proprietors, three to the purchase of copies of new plays, stagehabits, &c. and twenty-two to the actors.” He further calculates, that, as the acting season lasted forty weeks, and each company consisted of about twenty persons, six of whom probably were principal, and the others subordinate performers, if we suppose two shares to have been the reward of a principal actor ; one share that of a second class composed of six, and half a share the portion of the remaining eight, the performer who had two shares, would, on the calculation of nine pounds clear per night, receive nine shillings as his nightly dividend, and, at the rate of five plays a week, his weekly profit would amount to two pounds five shillings.

[ocr errors]

« On all these data,"

* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. xii. p. 263.

adds Mr. Malone, “ I think it may be safely concluded, that the performers of the first class did not derive from their profession more than ninety pounds a year at the utmost. Shakspeare, Heminge, Condell, Burbadge, Lowin, and Taylor had without doubt other shares as proprietors or leaseholders ; but what the different proportions were which each of them possessed in that right, it is now impossible to ascertain.” * If we consider, however, the value of money during the reign of Elizabeth, and the relative prices of the necessary articles of life, it will be found that these salaries were not inadequate to the purposes of comfortable subsistence.

The profits accruing to the original source of the entertainment, or, in other words, the Remuneration given to the Dramatic Poet, was certainly, if we compare the claims of genius between the two parties, on a scale inferior to that which fell to the lot of the actor.

The author had the choice of two modes in the disposal of his property; he either sold the copy-right of his play to the theatre, or retained it in his own hands. In the former instance, which was frequently had recourse to in the age of Shakspeare, the only emolument was that derived from the purchase made by the proprietors of the theatre, who took care to secure the performance of the piece exclusively to their own company, and whose interest it was to defer its publication as long as possible; in the latter instance, not only had the poet the right of publication and the benefit of sale in his own option, but he had, likewise, a claim upon the theatre for a benefit.

This, towards the termination of the sixteenth century, took place on the second day t, but

[ocr errors]

* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iii. p. 190.


. + In Davenant's Play-house to be Let, occurs the following passage:

“ There is an old tradition,
That in the times of mighty Tamberlane,
Of conjuring Faustus and the Beauchamps bold,
You poets used to have the second day.”

but upon


was soon afterwards, as early indeed as 1612, postponed to the third day. *

From a publication of Robert Greene's, dated 1592, it appears, that the price of a drama, when disposed of to the public players, was twenty nobles, or six pounds thirteen shillings and four pence; but that private companies would sometimes give double that † sum. It has been recorded, indeed, by Oldys, in one of his manuscripts,

what authority is not mentioned, that Shakspeare received but five pounds for his Hamlet ! I What a bookseller

gave for the copyright of a play at this period is unknown; but we have sufficient foundation, that of the bookseller's Preface to the quarto edition of our poet's Troilus and Cressida in 1609, for asserting, that sixpence was the sale price of a play when published. ♡ It may also be affirmed, on grounds of equal security, that forty shillings formed the customary compliment for the flattery of a dedication. I

To these notices concerning the pecuniary rewards of poets and performers, may be added the conjecture of Mr. Malone, that Shakspeare, as author, actor, and proprietor, probably received from the theatre about two hundred pounds a year.


* On the authority of Decker's Prologue to one of his comedies entitled, If this be not a good Play the Devil's in't, 1612 :

“ Not caring, so he gains A cram'd third day."

[ocr errors]

+ “ Master R. G., would it not make you blush — if you sold Orlando Furioso to the queenes players for twenty nobles, and when they were in the country, sold the same play to Lord Admirals men, for as much more ?– Defence of Coney-catching, 1592.

| Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iii. p. 172.

$ “ Had I time I would comment upon it, though I know it needs not, (for so much as will make


your testerne well bestowd) but for so much worth, as even poore I know to be stuft in it.”— Reed's Shakspeare, vol. xv. p. 226.

ll “ I did determine not to have dedicated my play to any body, because forty shillings I care not for; and above, few or none will bestow on these matters.” -- Dedication to A Woman's a Weathercock, a comedy by N. Field, 1612.

9 Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iii. p. 191.

[blocks in formation]

From this description of the architecture, economy, and usages of the Shakspearean Stage, it must be evident, how trifling were the obligations of our great poet to the adventitious aid of scenery, machinery, and decoration, notwithstanding we have admitted these to be somewhat more elaborate than is usually allowed. The Art of Acting, however, had, during the same period, made very rapid strides towards perfection, and dramatic action and expression, therefore, coadjutors of infinitely more importance than the most splendid scenical apparatus, exhibited, we have reason to believe, powers in a great degree competent to the task of doing justice to the imperishable productions of this unrivalled bard of pity and of terror.

« PreviousContinue »