Copyright
William John Lawrence.

The Elizabethan playhouse and other studies online

. (page 17 of 22)
Online LibraryWilliam John LawrenceThe Elizabethan playhouse and other studies → online text (page 17 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


(because the plot is continued in it), is the tag in The
Adventures of Five Hours (1 662). 2 Although of rare occur-
ence the multiple tag persisted throughout the eighteenth
century, and relics of it are still to be found in provincial
pantomime of the old-fashioned order.

It has been said that " regarded genealogically, the tag is
the offspring of the epilogue, which, in older times, consti-

1 Cf. Fleay, Biog. Chron. Eng. Drama, i. 72-3.

2 As printed in Hazlitt's Dodsley.



1 82 The Persistence of Elizabethan Conventionalisms

tuted so marked a feature in dramatic entertainments." 1
In a sense there may be truth in this, but it must be pointed
out that the moralizing tag could not have been the offspring
of the conventional epilogue, for at no time in its history
was it the mission of the epilogue to moralize the play. 2 On
the other hand, if it could be assumed that the moralizing
tag 3 was directly descended from the tag of simple appeal,
then the epilogue might be fittingly placed at the head of the
genealogical tree. The point is somewhat puzzling, but
the primitive tag seems to have been arrived at by attempts
to incorporate the epilogue with the play, as in AWs Well
that Ends Well; As Ton Like It and A Midsummer Night's
Dream. The most ingenious tag-epilogue of this order is
to be found in The Pleasant Historie of the Two Angrie
Women of Aldington, as acted at the Rose, circa 1596. Here
Mall Barnes' closing speech begins thoroughly in character
and, developing into a disquisition on goose, ends in an
appeal to the audience not to indulge in hissing. 4

Although a few earlier examples might be found (such
as the Bastard's magnificent peroration in King John), the
principle of the moralizing tag dates as a convention from
the beginning of Charles the First's reign. But frequently
as it then occurs the moralizing tag seldom attains distinc-
tion, and is rarely beyond the level of Shirley's maxim in
The Witty Fair One : —

When all things have their trial, you shall find
Nothing is constant but a virtuous mind. 5

Once the tag had reached its ultimate, or aphoristic, stage
its tenure was assured. Unmoved by all the ebbs and flows

1 The Era Almanack, 1874, p. 70, article on "Tags," by William Sawyer. This
is principally interesting for the examples it gives of latter-day tags.

2 Cf. G. S. Bower's article on "The Prologue and Epilogue in English Literature,"
in Co/burn's Neiv Monthly Magazine, February, 1882, pp. 182-3.

3 Note that when it came into vogue it did not immediately supersede the primi-
tive form. Tags of simple appeal are to be found in The Parliament of Love (1624);
The Great Duke of Florence (1627) ; A New Way to Pay Old Debts (1633) and The
Parson's Wedding (1640).

4 In the argot of the wings "goose" or "to get the bird" is still the common
term for hissing.

5 For other Caroline examples, see The Roman Actor ; The Picture ; The Unnatural
Combat; A Match at Midnight and The Cardinal.



The Persistence of Elizabethan Conventionalisms 183

of dramatic evolution, it maintained its pride of place
for wellnigh two hundred and fifty years, and only disap-
peared within living memory. So grateful, indeed, was the
idea of the tag in its quiddity that a gradual extension of
its elementary principles became a distinguishing charac-
teristic of Post-Restoration dramaturgy. In process of time
tags were not only appended to intermediate acts 1 but to
intermediate scenes. In this happy way terminal speech
was rounded to a close, and the well-graced actor given
opportunity to make effective exit. Tags of this secondary
order were mostly in rhyme, and in prose comedies and
blank-verse tragedies told by contrast. Now and again the
poet fashioned a brilliant couplet, and one at least has gained a
widespread popularity, that with which Congreve concludes
the third act of The Mourning Bride : —

Heaven has no rage, like love to hatred turned,
Nor hell a fury, like a woman scorned.

Only a well-seasoned actor could exploit the idea to its
fullest possibilities, and thus it is that what was perhaps the
most effective of all intermediate tags occurs at the end of
the third act of Cibber's comedy, The Comical hovers (1707),
where Florimel says : —

So have I seen in tragick scenes, a lover
With dying eyes his parting pains discover,
While the soft Nymph looks back to view him far
And speaks her anguish with her Handkercher.
Again they turn, still ogling as before,
Till each gets backward to the distant Door ;
Then, when the last, last look their grief betrays,
The act is ended, and the Musick plays.

The humour of this travesty lay in the fact that as Florimel
delivered the lines he and Celadon suited the action to the
word, gradually backing towards the proscenium doors. No
sooner was the last line uttered than they made rapid simul-
taneous departure. By this period, the meridian of the

1 The Gentleman Dancing Master (167 3), passim ,• Lee's Nero, Emperor of Rome (1675)
and The Rival Queens (1677) ; D'Urfey's The Fond Husband (1676) ; Dryden's Troilus
and Cressida (1679).



184 The Persistence of Elizabethan Conventionalisms

Augustan era, the tag had attained its full development. In
the plays of Mrs. Centlivre, tags not only conclude interme-
diate scenes, 1 but are occasionally bestowed upon characters
which leave the stage in the middle of a scene. Little by
little, however, as the sense of realism grew and stage rhetoric
began to lose its hold, these extensions of the fundamental
principle wasted away, until nothing was left but the final
aphoristic tag. 2

We come now to the sturdy persistence of a convention
whose roots were firmly embedded in later Elizabethan
comedy, a convention essentially Shakespearean, although
largely the prerogative of the young eyases and their especial
private-theatre drama: the principle of the neatly led-up-to
terminal dance. One finds the germinal idea in A Mid-
summer Night's Dream and Much Ado About Nothings but for
its flowering one has to turn to the prevailing scheme of
dramatic construction at the Blackfriars a year or two later, to
comedies like Sir Giles Goosecap and May Day. At a subse-
quent period the occasional concluding dance crystallized
into a regular convention at the private theatres by way of
compensation for the exclusion of the public-theatre " Jig ",
whose characteristics were too gross for a refined audience.
Sometimes when a principle was well established, no refer-
ence was made to its observance. In the Caroline period,
absence of stage-directions cannot be taken to imply that the
terminal dance was not regularly given. In some cases an
intelligent reading of the text will prove obedience to the
ruling law. Thus, in Shirley's The Lady of Pleasure^ as acted
at the Cockpit in 1635, no terminal direction occurs, but Sir
Thomas Bornwell finishes by saying : —

Our pleasures cool. Music! and when our ladies
Are tired with active motion, to give
Them rest, in some new rapture to advance
Full mirth, our souls shall leap into a dance.

1 Cf. The Provoked Husband (1727), v. 2, end, where Lady Townly has a rhyming
tag of six lines.

2 Dutton Cook dwells on the essentially British characteristics of the tag, and
notes its absence from the foreign stage. See his A Book of the Play, Chapter on
" Epilogues".



The Persistence of Elizabethan Conventionalisms 185

The preservation, in comedy, of this terminal dance by
the characters after the Restoration led, if not to sameness of
plot, at least to sameness of denouement. There could be no
footing it at the end unless wedding bells were imminent
or a truce declared to the game of cross-purposes. It took
some moral courage on the part of the dramatist to flout
routine and run counter to popular desire; but on occasion
a scheme of plot was devised which precluded the possibility
of the rejoicings of dance at the close. 1 A typical case in
point was Congreve's second comedy, The Double Dealer, as
produced at Drury Lane in 1694. One wonders whether
the initial ill-success of the play was in anywise owing to the
necessary elimination of the regulation dance. It may be
that that great baby the Public pouted over being deprived
of its toy. Colour is given to this idea by the fact that the
dance was restored to its pride of place in Congreve's two
later comedies.

In the last act of The Wild Gallant (1 663), Dry den makes
quaint allusion to the popularity of the practice. Isabella
says, " Come, Nuncle, 'tis in vain to hold out now 'tis past
remedy : Tis like the last act of a Play, when people must
marry ; and if Fathers will not consent then, they should
throw Oranges at 'em from the Galleries; why should you
stand offand keep us from a Dance ?" Dryden could afford to
risk the suggestion on this occasion, because Nunkey relents
and the play ends with the usual dance. In point of delight-
ing the many-headed beast with the expected, Tragedy was
at a serious disadvantage ; but the chances are that when
the sterner Muse inspired the bill, a jig was given after
the epilogue. On 7 March, 1666-7, when Pepys went to
Lincoln's Inn Fields to see Caryl's new tragedy, The English
Princess; or the Death of Richard the Third, he records :

To the duke's playhouse, where little Miss Davis did dance a
jig after the end of the play, in boy's clothes; and the truth is 3
there is no comparison between Nell's dancing the other day at

1 So far as one can judge from the absence of textual indications the final dance
was omitted in Otway's Friendship in Fashion and The Soldier's Fortune, although given
in his version of The Cheats of Scapin.



1 86 The Persistence of Elizabethan Conventionalisms

the king's house in boy's clothes and this, this being infinitely
beyond the other.

As time went on, writers of comedy were hard put to it
to lend variety to the terminal dance, and at the same time
effect the usual neatness of dovetailing. Pressure from
without, however, was never serious, for the public rarely
wearied of the regulation country dance by all the characters.
-Even when the eighteenth century had got well under
"* .weigh, one finds the country dance written into the last
act of many plays, notably of Mrs. Centlivre's The Platonick
Lady (1706) and The Wonder (17 14). One of the earliest
departures from routine was made by Shadwell in The
Sullen hovers (1668), where a clever boy was introduced
made up as Punchinello, who danced so well in character
that good Master Pepys wrote of it in his whole-souled
way as "the best that ever anything was done in the world."
Exactly thirty years later Farquhar introduced "an Irish
entertainment of three Men and three Women, dressed
after the Fingallian Fashion " into his Drury Lane comedy,
Love and a Bottle. This was in all probability a dance. 1 Subse-
quently the masquerade dance had some little vogue. One
finds it introduced at the close of Cibber and Vanbrugh's
long popular comedy, The Provoked Husband (1727), as
also in The Miser in 1732. It gives no room for surprise
that the latter is the only example of the terminal dance in
Fielding, seeing that the convention was then seriously on
the wane. It seems to have preserved its popularity much
longer on the Dublin stage than in London. Writing of
Henry Brown, the actor-manager of Smock Alley in 1 758-
60, one of the ablest comedians of his time, John O'Keeffe
says :

Brown's best parts were Perez, the Copper Captain; Don John
in The Chances ; Benedick, Bayes, Sir John Restless, and Barnaby
Brittle. At those times, in Ireland, every comedy and comic opera
ended with a country dance by all the characters, which had a
charming and most exhilarating effect, both to the dancers and

1 Thirty years later a certain Fingallian Dance enjoyed great popularity on the
Dublin staoje.



The Persistence of Elizabethan Conventionalisms 187

the lookers-on. A particular tune, when he danced, was called
"Brown's Rant". In the course of the dance, as he and his
partner advanced to the lamps at the front of the stage, he had a
peculiar step which he quaintly tipped off to advantage ; and the
audience always expecting this, repaid him with applause. 1

One interesting item of evidence points to the fact that by
1776, so far as the London stage was concerned, the vogue
of the terminal dance had wholly disappeared. John Bell in
that year issued an edition of standard plays "as performed
at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane," and "regulated from
the Prompt-Books by permission of the Managers, by
Mr. Hopkins, Prompter." The reprints of The Provoked
Husband, Love Makes a Man and The Miser indicate in each
case by inverted commas the omission of the terminal dance,
and of all dialogue leading up to or referring to it. Can it be
that specialization of function was once more showing its
potency, and that the players looked upon it as infra digni-
tatem to foot it ? 2

In the English theatres of the seventeenth century there
does not appear to have been any official whose duties
exactly corresponded to those of the Orator of the contem-
porary French stage. 3 Indeed, but for a chance simile, we
should be wholly unaware that the custom of giving out the
next play and the day of acting originated in Pre-Restora-
tion times. In the Folio edition of Beaumont and Fletcher's
works, published in 1647, one finds some preliminary lines
by H. Moseley, entitled "The Stationer," which begin : —

As after th' Epilogue there comes some one
To tell spectators what shall next be shown ;
So here am I.

If evidence as to the continuance of the practice in
Restoration days is equally meagre, it is none the less
satisfactory. Once more the invaluable Pepys comes nobly
to our rescue. On 15 September, 1 668, the diarist paid a

1 O'Keeffe's Recollections, i. p. 49.

2 For a suggestive French analogy, see V. Fournel, Curiosite's The'atrales, p. 134.

3 For an interesting account of the duties of the Orator, with details of some dis-
tinguished holders of the office, see Mantzius, A History of Theatrical Art, iv. pp. 87-91.
Cf. A. Bouchard, La Langue Tbeatrale, p. 20 under "annonce".



1 8 8 The Persistence of Elizabethan Conventionalisms

visit to the Theatre Royal to see Dryden's indifferent new
comedy, The Ladies a la Mode. He is careful to record that
when Beeston came on at the end to announce a repetition
of the piece on the following day both he and the audience
"fell a-laughing," which was not surprising, for thin as the
house was then, it was likely to be thinner at subsequent
performances. But one wonders what Moliere's comrades
would have said if he, as Orator, had gone over so frankly
to the enemy.

Before the days of newspaper advertisements and regu-
lated dramatic criticism these oral announcements were of
manifold utility. So far as new productions were concerned,
they relieved author and player alike of the burden of
uncertainty. Assuming that the play was heard out to the
(often bitter) end, its fate could be determined by the degree
of acceptance with which the announcement of its repetition
was received. Thus, when, after the first performance of
the pseudo-Shakespearean play of Vortigern at Drury Lane
on 2 April, 1 796, Barrymore came on to announce its repeti-
tion, the uproar was so great that he found it impossible to
gain a hearing. Even when John Kemble came forward
immediately afterwards to give out 'The School for Scandal
for the following Monday, the audience for long refused to
listen to him, thinking he was anxious to plead the cause of
the spurious play. But, like the ringing of church bells on
Sundays, the practice of giving out plays long survived the
necessity which called it into being. In France, where an
almost equal conservatism reigned, the office of Orator was
abolished in 1793. 1 In the United Kingdom the custom of
giving out the play survived for another half century. With
it passed away the last of the Elizabethan conventionalisms.

1 Victor Fournel, Curiosites The'dtrales, p. 130.



Irish Players at Oxford in 1677



Irish Players at Oxford in 1677

Although much given in remoter times to the acting of
Latin plays, Oxford, up to a period within living memory,
was remarkable for its profound distrust of the professional
player. To win a patient hearing from the University in
Elizabethan days was so notable an achievement that the
fact that Hamlet had been acted there by the Globe company
shortly after its first production was proudly blazoned on
the title-page of one of the early quartos. For long the
visits of the London players were confined to a few days in
the summer during that Saturnalian period known as "the
Act". Fixed to begin on the first Monday after 7 July,
the Act consisted of the ultimate, but merely ceremonious
exercises for the degrees of Master of Arts and Doctor of
the Faculties. It was a period marked by relief of tension,
when the Terrae Filii were allowed to crack their coarse,
often stupid, jokes, and to afford academic precedent for the
quips and cranks of Bones and Massa Johnson. After the
puritanical repressions of the interregnum the Act never
wholly recovered its joyousness, but in July, 1661, "to
spite the Presbyterians," the players were allowed to return.
Unfortunately, the new histrionic conditions which came in
with the Restoration brought a seriously disturbing element
into the almost monastic seclusion of the University. In
journeying to Oxford to play twice daily on a stage erected
in the yard of the King's Arms at Halywell, the Red Bull
company brought with them several actresses, the first ever
seen at the University, and the innovation caused much
troubling of the waters. Writes Anthony Wood : "These
players, wherein women acted (among which was Roxilana,
married to the Earl of Oxon.), made the scholars run mad,
run after them, later ill courses — among which Hyde of
Allsoul's, A.B., afterwards hanged." 1 Under the circum-

1 The Life and Times of Anthony Wood, antiquary of Oxford, 163 2-1695, described
by himself, collected and edited by Andrew Clark, i. 405-6.



192 Irish Players at Oxford in 1677

stances it is not surprising to find that for a considerable
period no further visits of the players were permitted. At
last, however, in July, 1669, the Duke's company from
Lincoln's Inn Fields were allowed to attend the Act, and
by their performances in the Guildhall Yard cleared the
respectable sum of £ 1 , 500. One is not astonished to learn
of the amount, when one also learns from Wood that "the
scholars pawn'd books, blankets, bedding to see them." 1

A few years later it became customary for the King's
players from the Theatre Royal, Bridges Street, to visit
Oxford in the summer, and to signalize their advent by
addressing the University in a prologue written by Dryden
and generally spoken by Hart. But in 1 674 their behaviour
during their sojourn was so reprehensible that further visits
were forbidden. They had already been punished in their
pockets, for, on 2 8 July, 1 674, we find Humphrey Prideaux,
writing to John Ellis :

The players parted from us with small gains, not having gained so
much, after all things payed, to make a divident of 10/ to the chiefe
sharers ; which I hope will give them noe encouragement to come
again. Neither, I suppose, will the University for the future permit
them here, if they can be kept out, since they were guilty of such
great rudenesses before they left us, going about the town in the
night breakeing of windows, and committeing many other unpar-
donable rudenesses. 2

But the Act was shorn of more than half its gaiety by the
absence of the players, and the town soon longed to have
them back. Ill disposed to pardon those who had offended
so deeply, James, first Duke of Ormond, who had been
Chancellor since August, 1 669, eventually saw a way out of
the difficulty. In 1677, when he was also Lord Lieutenant
of Ireland, he solved the problem by bringing across the
Channel the first Irish troupe of players that had ever visited
England, a troupe long under considerable indebtedness to
him for his patronage. These Irish players hailed from the
Dublin Drury Lane, or, in other words, from that Theatre

1 Wood, ii. 165.

2 Letters of Humphrey Prideaux to John Ellis (Camden Society, 1875), p. 5.



Irish Players at Oxford in 1677 193

Royal, Smock Alley, which had been built and opened by
John Ogilby, the histriographer, in 1662. Very little now
is known concerning them; nothing, indeed, of any conse-
quence save that Joseph Ashbury was their leader. Born in
London in 1638, Ashbury was related, through his mother,
to Sir Walter Raleigh, and, as an ensign, had fought in
Ireland under Ormonde in the closing months of Oliver
Cromwell's rule. Chetwood, the prompter, who saw him
on the stage in his extreme old age — in or about 17 18 —
was highly pleased with his acting :

His Person was of an advantageous Height, well proportioned and
manly ; and, notwithstanding his great Age, erect ; a Countenance
that demanded a reverential Awe, a full and meaning Eye, piercing,
tho' not in its full Lustre; and yet I have seen him read Letters, and
printed Books, without any Assistance from Art ; a sweet-sounding
manly Voice, without any Symptoms of his Age in hisSpeech. Ihave
seen him acquit himself in the Part of Care/ess in the Committee so
well, that his Years never struck upon Remembrance. And his
Person, Figure, and Manner in Don Quixote were inimitable. The
Use of a short Cloak in former Fashions on the Stage seem'd habitual
to him, and in Comedy he seemed to wear it in Imagination, which
often produced Action, tho' not ungraceful, particular and odd to
many of the Audience ; yet in Tragedy those Actions were left off,
and every Motion manly, great, and proper. 1

Notwithstanding the remarkable picturesqueness of its
annals, the Dublin Stage has been from first to last painfully
derivative and parasitic. It is only within the last decade
that Ireland has set herself to repair this fault and to lay the
foundations of a national drama. But it may be noted that by
the time of the visit of the Irish players to Oxford in 1677,
Smock Alley had already acquired some little reputation
as an originating theatre. In 1663, Katharine Philips's
tragedy, Pompey, had been produced there under distin-
guished auspices ; and in 1 67 1 and 1 674 two tragi-comedies
from the pen of John Dancer, an accomplished servitor of
the Duke of Ormonde, had won some acceptance. All
three were taken from the French, Pompey and Nicomede

1 W. R. Chetwood, A General History of the Stage, etc. (London, 1749), p. 85.
O



194 Irish Players at Oxford in 1677

from Corneille, and Agrippa, King of Alba from Quinault.
Unfortunately, history is silent as to what the Irish players
presented at Oxford, but, although audiences at the Act
favoured comedy rather than tragedy, it seems not unlikely,
all things considered, that one (or both) of Dancer's plays
was given during their stay. One matter is reasonably certain
— Ormonde is not likely to have hazarded his reputation as
a man of taste and judgment by bringing to the University
under his aegis a troupe of barnstormers. It is necessary
to emphasize this point, because, as will shortly be seen, the
greatest English dramatic poet of the time, a genius whose
pronouncements on things literary and dramatic still have
potency, saw fit, in his partisanship, to bespatter the Smock
Alley troupe with ridicule. If the Dublin players were really
as vile as Dryden makes them out to be, it is singular that
no inkling of their inefficiency has come down to us. Even
in their earliest days, when some crudities might naturally
have been expected, skilled opinion preponderated in their
favour. Writing to Poliarchus from Dublin on 3 December,
1662, only a month or two after Smock Alley was first
opened, Orinda, "the matchless", says :

But I refer it wholly to you and will now change my subject, and
tell you that we have plays here in the newest mode, and not ill-
acted ; only the other day, when Othello was play'd, the Doge of
Venice and all his Senators came upon the stage with Feathers in
their Hats, which was like to have chang'd the Tragedy into a
Comedy, but that the Moor and Desdemona acted their parts well. x

" In the newest mode " doubtless meant " with scenery ".
On previous 19 October, Orinda had informed the same
correspondent, " we have a new Playhouse here, which in my
opinion is much finer than D'Avenant's; but the Scenes are
not yet made." As no consideration had then been given
throughout Europe to the question of accurate costuming,
we may assume thatOrinda's "with Feathers in their Hats"


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 17 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryWilliam John LawrenceThe Elizabethan playhouse and other studies → online text (page 17 of 22)