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discrimination of character. The versification is singular, consisting generally of couplets of twelve syllables, but frequently intermixed with lines varying upwards from this number, even as far as eighteen. Palamon and Arcite, which was considered as far surpassing his first drama, had the honour also of being performed before Elizabeth, at Christ-Church Hall, Oxford, in 1566 ; it is likewise termed a comedy, and is said to have gratified Her Majesty so highly, that, sending for the author, after the play was finished, she greatly commended his talents, thanked him for the entertainment which his muse had afforded her, and promised to befriend him more substantially hereafter, an intention, however, which was frustrated by the death of the poet during the course of that very year.
Edwards appears to have been very popular, and highly estimated as a writer. Puttenham has classed him with those who “deserve the highest price for comedy and interlude*,” and Thomas Twine calls him, in an epitaph on his death,
assigning him immortality expressly on account of his dramatic productions. †
3. Still, John, a prelate to whom is ascribed, upon pretty good foundation, the first genuine comedy in our language. He was Master of Arts of Christ's College, Cambridge, at the period of ducing Gammer Gurton's Needle, and subsequently became rector of Hadleigh, in the county of Suffolk, archdeacon of Sudbury, master of St. John's and Trinity Colleges, and lastly bishop of Bath and Wells.
Gammer Gurton's Needle, which, as we have already remarked, had been first acted in 1566, was committed to the press in 1575, under
* Arte of English Poesie, reprint, p. 51. + Chalmers's English Poets, vol. ii. Turberville's Poems, p. 620.
the following title :-“ A ryght pithy, pleasant, and merie Comedy, intytuled Gammer Gurton's Nedle; played on the stage not longe ago in Christes Colledge, in Cambridge. Made by Mr. S. master of art. Imprented at London in Fleetestreat, beneth the Conduit, at the signe of S. John Evangelest, by Thomas Colwell."
The humour of this curious old drama, which is written in rhyme, is broad, familiar, and grotesque; the characters are sketched with a strong, though coarse, outline, and are to the last consistently supported. The language, and many of the incidents, are gross and indelicate ; but these, and numerous allusions to obsolete customs, mark the manners of the times, when the most learned and polished of the land, the inmates of an University, could listen with delight to dialogue often tinctured with the lowest filth and abuse. It must be confessed, however, that this play, with all its faults, has an interest which many of its immediate, and more pretending successors, have failed to attain. It is evidently the production of a man of talents and observation, and the second act opens with a drinking song, valuable alike for its humour, and the ease and spirit of its versification.
4. GASCOIGNE, GEORGE. At the very period when Still produced his comedy in rhyme, Gascoigne presented the public with a specimen of the same species of drama in prose. This is a translation from the Italian, entitled, “ The Supposes. A comedie written in the Italian tongue by Ariosto, Englished by George Gascoigne of Graies-inn esquire, and there presented, 1566."
“ The dialogue of this comedy,” observes Warton, “ is supported with much ease and spirit, and has often the air of a modern conversation. As Gascoigne was the first who exhibited on our stage a story from Euripides, so in this play he is the first that produced an English comedy in prose.” *
The translation from the Phænissæ of Euripides, or, as Gascoigne
History of English Poetry, vol. ij. p. 474.
termed it, Jocasta, was acted in the refectory of Gray's Inn, in the same year with the Supposes. It was the joint production of our poet and his friend Francis Kinwelmersh, the first and fourth acts being written by the latter bard. Jocasta is more a paraphrase than a translation, and occasionally aspires to the honours of original composition, new odes being sometimes substituted for those of the Greek chorus. The dialogue of this play is given in blank verse, forming one of the earliest specimens of this measure, and, like Gorboduc, each act is preceded by a dumb show, and closed by a long ode, in the composition of which, both Gascoigne and his coadjutor have evinced considerable lyric powers.
Shakspeare seems to have been indebted to the Supposes of Gascoigne for the name of Petruchio, in the Taming of the Shrew, and for the incident which closes the second scene of the fourth act of that play. *
5. Wager, Lewis, the author of an Interlude, called Mary Magdalen, Her Life and Repentance, 1567. 4to. This, like most of the interludes of the same age, required, as we are told in the title-page, only four
persons for its performance. The subject, which is taken from the seventh chapter of St. Luke, had been a favourite with the writers of the ancient Mysteries, of which pieces one, written in 1512, is still preserved in the Bodleian Library. +
6. Wilmot, ROBERT, a stuaent of the Inner Temple, the publisher, and one of the writers of an old tragedy, intitled Tancred and Gismund or Gismonde of Salerne, the composition of not less than five Templers, and performed before Elizabeth in 1568. Each of these gentlemen, says Warton, “ seems to have taken an act.
. At the end of the fourth is Composuit Chr. Hatton, or Sir Christopher Hatton, undoubtedly the same that was afterwards exalted by the Queen to the office of lord keeper for his agility in dancing." +
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ix. p. 144. note by Farmer. + MS. Digb. 133. # Hist. of English Poetry, vol. iii. p. 376. note.
Wilmot, who is mentioned with approbation in Webbe's “ Discourse of English Poetrie *,” corrected and improved, many years after the first composition, the united labours of himself and his brother Templers, printing them with the following title : “ The Tragedie of Tancred and Gismond. Compiled by the Gentlemen of the Inner Temple, and by them presented before Her Majestie. Newly revived and polished according to the decorum of these daies. By R. W. London. Printed by Thomas Scarlet, and are to be solde by E. C. R. Robinson. 1592.”
In a dedication to his fellow-students, the editor incidentally fixes the era of the first production of his drama : “ I am now bold to present Gismund to your sights, and unto your's only, for therefore have I conjured her by the love that hath been these twenty-four years betwixt us, that she wax not so proud of her fresh painting, to straggle in her plumes abroad, but to contain herself within the walls of your house; so am I sure she shall be safe from the tragedian tyrants of our time, who are not ashamed to affirm that there can no amorous poem favour of any sharpness of wit, unless it be seasoned with scurrilous words."
From a fragment of this play as originally written, and inserted in the Censura Literaria, it appears to have been composed in alternate rhyme, and, we may add, displays both simplicity in its diction, and pathos in its sentiment. An imperfect copy of Wilmot's revision, and perhaps the only one in existence, is in the Garrick Collection. +
7. GARTER, THOMAS. To this person has been ascribed by Coxeter, The Commody of the moste vertuous and godlye Susanna ; it was entered on the Stationers' books in 1568, and probably first performed about that period; its being in black letter, in metre, and not divided into acts, are certainly strong indications of its antiquity. It was reprinted in 4to. 1578.
Sign. C 4. + Vide Censura Literaria, vol. vii. p. 305. et seq.; and Dodsley's Old Plays, by Reed, vol. ii. p. 154.
8. Preston, THOMAS, was master of arts, and fellow of King's College, Cambridge, and afterwards doctor of laws, and master of TrinityHall. Taking a part in the performance of John Ritwise's Latin tragedy of Dido, got up for the entertainment of the Queen when she visited Cambridge in 1564, Her Majesty was so delighted with the grace and spirit of his acting, that she conferred upon him a pension of twenty pounds a year, being rather more than a shilling a day; a transaction which Mr. Steevens conceives to have been ridiculed by Shakspeare in his Midsummer-Night's Dream, where Flute, on the absence of Bottom, exclaims, “ O sweet bully Bottom ! Thus hath he lost sixpence a-day during his life; he could not have ’scaped sixpence a-day: an the duke had not given him sixpence a-day for playing Pyramus, I'll be hanged; he would have deserved it : sixpence a-day, in Pyramus, or nothing." *
Nor was this the only sly allusion which Preston experienced from the pen of Shakspeare. Langbaine, Theobald, and Farmer consider the following speech of Falstaff as referring to a production of this writer :-“ Give me a cup of sack," says the Knight, “ to make mine eyes look red, that it may be thought I have wept; for I must speak in passion, and I will do it in king Cambyses' vein.” †
The play satirised under the name of this monarch, is entitled, “ A Lamentable Tragedy, mixed ful of pleasant Mirth, conteyning the Life of Cambises, King of Percia, from the beginning of his Kingdome, unto his Death, his one good deed of execution ; after that many wicked deeds, and tirannous murders committed by and through him; and last of all, his odious Death, by God's justice appointed. Don in such order as followeth, by Thomas Preston.” Imprinted at London, by Edwarde Allde. 4to. B. L.
This curious drama, which was written and published about 1570, being in the old metre, a species of ballad stanza, the allusion in Shakspeare must have been rather to the effect, than to the form, of
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. iv. p. 461. Act iv. sc. 2.