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a false miscreant, who had forsaken his true lady Fidessa. The messenger turned out to be the old enchanter Archimago, still trying to separate Una and the Red Cross Knight; but he was now taken prisoner, and shut up in the deepest dungeon, and bound with iron chains. The knight abode some time with his bride; but he did not forget that there was still work to be done in the world, and that he was bound to the service of Gloriana, and must still fight the good fight against error and sin. And thus ends the first book of the “Faerie Queene ”
Now, strike your sails, ye jolly mariners,
ELIZABETHAN LITERATURE-PLAYS AND PLAY-WRITERS
The reign of Queen Elizabeth is not only remarkable for the vigorous life of the older forms of literature, but also for the introduction and growth of forms new in England. The most powerful of these was the drama, or play.
The acting of stories and the assuming of different characters is one of the first amusements of childhood; and this natural fondness for imitating life had found expression in England long before the Elizabethan time. As early as the twelfth century, stories from the Bible. and legends of saints were represented in the churches, and were called miracle plays. Latin was the language first used in these plays; but before long they were acted in English by the tradespeople of a town, and the stage was set up in the street, or in some public open place. Somewhat later the acting of allegories, or moralities, as they were called, became a very favourite entertainment. But both the miracle plays and the moralities were constructed different principles from the Elizabethan play, and as forms of literature are quite distinct from it. The form of the Elizabethan play was taken from the ancient Greek and Latin plays, and the English drama owes its rise at this time to the revival of learning and the study of Greek and Latin plays at the universities. According to the Greeks, a play must be the story of some one action, which is to be worked out so as to show its
consequent results. In order to know what the recessary consequences of certain actions would be, a play-writer must discover and understand the laws which govern life; for if he were ignorant of these he might make the effects of an action quite different from what they would be in real life, and the whole play would be a blunder. When the action which forms the subject of a play is such that the necessary consequences of it must be disastrous, the play is called a tragedy; and when the action is such as must be followed by happy results, the play is called a comedy. The method of treating the subject, the characters in the play, and the style, would in the first case be serious and earnest, and in the second lively and hopeful. The greatest play-writers have been those who could take a story of life in which things seemed to go wrong, and show in the working of it out how all was in perfect obedience to the highest laws of life. Such a play-writer was the Greek Æschylus; and to this height Shakespeare attained. But there was this difference between them : the Greeks scarcely rose above the discovery of the laws governing life, which they called Destiny or Necessity; whereas Shakespeare saw that they were the laws of God our Father, by which all things work together for good, and he could therefore trust even beyond his sight.
After the revival of learning in Europe, Greek and Latin plays were not only studied at the universities, but were often acted on great occasions; and on the model of these, new Latin plays were sometimes written. The practice spread from the universities to the public schools; and on breaking-up days, a Latin play would be acted by the boys for the gratification, if not for the amusement, of the visitors. The first English play was written by a schoolmaster, Nicholas Udall. Between the years 1534 and 1541 he was head-master of Eton; and although it is not quite certain that the play was written for his boys to act, yet there are many things which make it extremely probable; and, indeed, we can scarcely imagine why he should have written an English play at all, when there were no actors in England but students and school-boys, unless it had been for his own pupils; so Eton boys may not unfairly claim the honour for their school of having performed the first English play. It was a comedy called Ralph Roister Doister. The Greek comedies were pictures of Athenian manners and life at the time, and Ralph Roister Doister is a picture of London life and manners at that time. The action of the play is the story of a self-conceited, vain-glorious young man, and the result is consequent ridicule and loss of respect which he draws upon himself. There is plenty of fun in the play, such as boys would enter into; and the schoolmaster took the opportunity to give a merry lesson on the “minding of stops” in reading; for Dame Custance has some verses (which Ralph had written) read aloud to her, and the reader, by stopping at the end of every line, turns all Ralph's compliments into insulting remarks upon the lady.
In 1561 the first English tragedy was written by two members of the Inner Temple. Latin plays had been acted by the law-students of the Inns of Court, as well as by the students of the universities; and Sackville and Norton wrote together an English tragedy on the model of the tragedies of Seneca It was called Gorboduc. The story was taken from Geoffrey of Monmouth's old Chronicle. The action of the play is the strife going on in the family of King Gorboduc; and the result of these divisions is very strongly shown in the ruin and misery of the kingdom. This is how the story is set forth by the two writers themselves—"Gorboduc, King of Britain, divided his realm in his lifetime between his sons Ferrex and Porrex. The sons fell to dissensions. The younger killed the elder. The mother, that more dearly loved the elder, for revenge killed the younger. The people, moved by the cruelty of the act, rose up and killed both father and mother. The nobility, enraged at the rebellion of the people, most terribly destroyed the rebels ; then afterwards fell to civil war among themselves as to the succession of the crown. In this war both they and their children were slain, and the land remained for a long time almost desolate, and miserably wasted.”
One wonders how after this there could be any future history of Britain ; but it was intended to put the evils of disunion very strongly forward, in order that all might understand and take the lesson to heart, for there was danger to England at the time Sackville and Norton wrote their tragedy from the strife of political and religious divisions in the country, and Gorboduc was a call to all Englishmen to unite as one nation around their queen, and support her government. It was with this purpose, perhaps, that the members of the Inner Temple chose to act for the first time an English tragedy, which all could understand, instead of a Latin play, at their Christmas festivities. A fortnight afterwards, by the command of Queen Elizabeth, they acted Gorboduc again at Whitehall, before the queen and her Court.
Now that plays began to be acted in English, the power of a good play and the pleasure which it gives were at once felt. Translations of Greek and Latin plays were made and acted, and clever young men at the universities followed Udall, Sackville, and Norton in writing English plays. These were still at first acted by the students of the universities and the Inns of Court, but soon great nobles had their servants or retainers taught to act; and in 1574 the Earl of Leicester obtained a patent for his servants, giving them permission to act within the city of London, or any other city at any time excepting “the time of common prayer or of great and common plague.” But there was still no theatre, and the place usually chosen for the performance