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Upon the back of that, comes out a hideous monster with fire and smoke, and then the miserable beholders are bound to take it for a cave. While in the mean-time two armies fly in, represented with four swords and bucklers, and then what hard heart will not receive it for a pitched field? Now of time they are much more liberal, for ordinary it is that two young princes fall in love. After many traverses, she is got with child, delivered of a fair boy, he is lost, groweth a man, falls in love, and is ready to get another child; and all this in two hours' space: which how absurd it is in sense, even sense may imagine, and art hath taught, and all ancient examples justified, and at this day the ordinary players in Italy will not err in. Yet will some bring in an example of Eunuchus in Terence, that containeth matter of two days, yet far short of twenty years. True it is, and so was it to be played in two days, and so fitted to the time it set forth. And though Plautus hath in one place done amiss, let us hit with him, and not miss with him. But they will say, how then shall we set forth a story, which containeth both many places and many times? And do they not know, that a tragedy is tied to the laws of poesy, and not of history? not bound to follow the story, but having liberty either to feign a quite new matter, or to frame the history to the most tragical conveniency. Again many things may be told which cannot be shewed, if they know the difference betwixt reporting and representing. As for example, I may speak (though I am here) of Peru, and in speech digress from that to the description of Calicut but in action, I cannot represent it without Pacolet's horse and so was the manner the ancients took, by some Nuncius to recount things done in former time, or other place. Lastly, if they will represent an history, they must not (as Horace saith) begin ab ovo, but they must come to the principal of that one action which they will represent. By example this will be best expressed. I have a story of young Polidorus, delivered for safety's sake, with great riches, by his father Priamus to Polimnestor king of Thrace, in the Trojan war time he after some years, hearing the overthrow of Priamus, for to make the treasure his own murdered the child: the body of the child is taken up by Hecuba: she the same day findeth a slight to be revenged most cruelly of the tyrant. Where now would one of our tragedy writers begin, but with the delivery of the child? Then should he sail over into
Thrace, and so spend I know not how many years, and travel numbers of places. But where doth Euripides? Even with the finding of the body, leaving the rest to be told by the spirit of Polidorus. This need no further to be enlarged; the dullest wit may conceive it.
But besides these gross absurdities, how all their plays be neither right tragedies nor right comedies: mingling kings and clowns, not because the matter so carrieth it, but thrust in clowns by head and shoulders, to play a part in majestical matters, with neither decency nor discretion. So as neither the admiration and commiseration nor the right sportfulness is by their mongrel tragi-comedy obtained. I know Apuleius did somewhat so, but that is a thing recounted with space of time, not represented in one moment: and I know the ancients have one or two examples of tragi-comedies, as Plautus hath Amphitrio, but if we mark them well, we shall find, that they never or very daintily match horn-pipes and funerals. So falleth it out, that having indeed no right comedy, in that comical part of our tragedy we have nothing but scurrility, unworthy of any chaste ears, or some extreme shew of doltishness, indeed fit to lift up a loud laughter and nothing else: where the whole tract of a comedy should be full of delight, as the tragedy should be still maintained in a well-raised admiration. But our comedians think there is no delight without laughter; which is very wrong, for though laughter may come with delight, yet cometh it not of delight, as though delight should be the cause of laughter: but well may one thing breed both together; nay, rather in themselves they have as it were a kind of contrariety. For delight we scarcely do but in things that have a conveniency to ourselves or to the general nature. Laughter almost ever cometh of things most disproportioned to ourselves and nature. Delight hath a joy in it, either permanent or present. Laughter hath only a scornful tickling....
But I have lavished out too many words of this play matter. I do it because as they are excelling parts of poesy, so is there none so much used in England and none can be more pitifully abused: which like an unmannerly daughter, shewing a bad education, causeth her mother Poesy's honesty to be called in question.
SIR PHILIP SIDNEY, An Apologie for Poetrie 1595 (written in 1581)
The writers of our time are so led away with vainglory, that their only endeavour is to pleasure the humour of men; and rather with vanity to content their minds, than to profit them with good ensample. The notablest liar is become the best poet; he that can make the most notorious lie, and disguise falsehood in such sort that he may pass unperceived, is held the best writer. For the strangest comedy brings greatest delectation and pleasure. Our nature is led away with vanity, which the author perceiving frames himself with novelties and strange trifles to content the vain humours of his rude auditors, feigning countries never heard of; monsters and prodigious creatures that are not, as of the Arimaspi, of the Grips, the Pigmies, the Cranes, and other such notorious lies. And if they write of histories that are known, as the life of Pompey, the martial affairs of Caesar and other worthies, they give them a new face, and turn them out like counterfeits to show themselves on the stage. It was therefore aptly applied of him who likened the writers of our days unto tailors, who having their shears in their hand, can alter the fashion of anything into another form; and with a new face make that seem new which is old. The shreds of whose curiosity our historians have now stolen from them, being by practice become as cunning as the tailor to set a new upper body to an old coat, and a patch of their own to a piece of another.
A second and third blast of retrait from plaies and Theatres 1580
The argument of tragedies is wrath, cruelty, incest, injury, murder, either violent by sword or voluntary by poison; the persons, gods, goddesses, furies, fiends, kings, queens and mighty men. The ground-work of comedies, is love, cozenage, flattery, bawdry, sly conveyance of whoredom; the persons, cooks, queans, knaves, bawds, parasites, courtezans, lecherous old men, amorous young men. Therefore Plautus in his prologue before the comedy of The Captives, desiring to curry favour with his auditors, exhorteth them earnestly to mark that play, because it shall cast no such stench of impurity into their noses as others do. There is in it (saith he) neither forsworn bawd, nor harlot, nor bragging soldier. Why could he not
give this commendation to all the rest? Because it was the practice of the devil, to weave in a thread of his own spinning. Why is this rather purged of filthiness than the rest? Because it is the juggling of the devil, to turn himself sometimes to an angel of light, to deceive us the sooner. The best play you can pick out, is but a mixture of good and evil, how can it be then the schoolmistress of life? The beholding of troubles and miserable slaughters that are in tragedies drive us to immoderate sorrow, heaviness, womanish weeping and mourning, whereby we become lovers of dumps and lamentation, both enemies to fortitude. Comedies so tickle our senses with a pleasanter vein, that they make us lovers of laughter and pleasure, without any mean, both foes to temperance. What schooling is this? Sometime you shall see nothing but the adventures of an amorous knight, passing from country to country for the love of his lady, encountering many a terrible monster made of brown paper, and at his return is so wonderfully changed, that he cannot be known but by some posy in his tablet, or by a broken ring, or a handkercher, or a piece of a cockle shell. What learn you by that? When the soul of your plays is either mere trifles, or Italian bawdry, or wooing of gentlewomen, what are ye taught? Peradventure you will say, that by these kind of plays the authors instruct us how to love with constancy, to sue with modesty, and to loath whatsoever is contrary unto us. In my opinion, the discipline we get by plays is like to the justice that a certain schoolmaster taught in Persia, which taught his scholars to lie and not to lie, to deceive and not to deceive, with a distinction how they might do it to their friends, and how to their enemies; to their friends, for exercise; to their foes, in earnest. Wherein many of his scholars became so skilful by practise, by custom so bold, that their dearest friends paid more for their learning than their enemies. I would wish the players to beware of this kind of schooling, lest that whilst they teach youthful gentlemen how to love and not to love, how to woo and not to woo, their scholars grow as cunning as the Persians.
STEPHEN GOSSON, Playes Confuied in five Actions 1582
§ 2. Playhouses and Bear-gardens
But pardon, gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that have dar'd
Henry V., I. chorus, 8-14
The earliest London public theatres, erected 1575-1576 [Before this plays had mostly been performed in the inn-yards of the city.]
This priory [of Holywell] was valued at the suppression to have lands two hundred and ninety-three pounds by the year, and was surrendered 1539, the 31st of Henry VIII. The church thereof being pulled down, many houses have been built for the lodgings of noblemen, of strangers born and others. And near thereunto, are builded two public houses for the acting and shew of comedies, tragedies and histories, for recreation. Whereof the one is called the Curtain, the other the Theater: both standing on the south-west side towards the field.
JOHN STOW, A Survey of London 1598
A German describes English theatres and bear-gardens Without the city are some theatres, where English actors represent almost every day comedies and tragedies to very numerous audiences; these are concluded with variety of dances, accompanied by excellent music and the excessive applause of those that are present. Not far from one of these theatres, which are all built of wood, lies the royal barge, close to the river Thames. It has two splendid cabins, beautifully ornamented with glass windows, painting and gilding; it is kept upon dry ground, and sheltered from the weather.
There is still another place, built in the form of a theatre, which serves for the baiting of bears and bulls. They are fastened behind, and then worried by those great English dogs and mastiffs, but not without great risk to the dogs from the teeth of the one and the horns of the other; and it sometimes