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then that deathless valour, "Ye good yeomen, whose bones were made in England!" There is a noble patriotism in it. . . . There is a sound in it like the ring of steel.' The reason is, not only that Shakespeare was one of the great poets of the world, but also that he lived at a great time in our history. England had faced a terrible danger, but the courage of her leaders and the loyal hearts of her people had saved her. So the king in the play is much more than the Henry whom we read of in history books: he is the highest and most heroic Englishman that the poet was able to draw, and he leads his people to victory because he puts his own great spirit into theirs. Shakespeare thought of his own time when he wrote the play, and there were men in England then whose lives and deeds would help the people in the theatre to understand it. When they heard King Henry say before the battle,
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
they would understand how a king and a man in the ranks could be comrades if they thought of Philip Sidney dying on the field of Zutphen and passing on to a wounded soldier the cup of water which he needed himself. And for a band of brothers' they had only to look to the seamen of the time, men like Drake who sailed into the Pacific, which Spain thought closed to Englishmen ; Frobisher and Davis whose names are on the map where they pushed their way into the Arctic ice; Richard Grenville who fought the great fight of the one ship against the fifty-three; Lord Howard of Effingham who destroyed the proud fleet of Spain. Men like these stirred the nation with a belief that Englishmen could go anywhere and do anything, and they honoured the deeds of their fathers all the more because they had proud memories of their own. Henry V's famous victory specially touched them; perhaps that was because of Shakespeare's play. The greatest war-song of the time was written only a few years later; it was Michael Drayton's Ballad of Agincourt. And in 1599, the year when Henry V was acted, Thomas Heywood's play of Edward IV was published; and it shows us quite by accident what people thought on the subject. In a scene which is given in this book (XVI, scene 1), the King goes disguised to the house
of a tanner at Tamworth, who has asked him to supper, thinking that he is the King's butler. Kings like to do this-it is their idea of fun; and the jolly tanner, among other things which he does to entertain his guest, takes part in a song with his daughter and his servant. Agincourt, Agincourt!' the three voices ring out, 'know ye not Agincourt?' and even more than the great verse of Shakespeare that homely scene helps us to feel the spirit of the time. You do not get fine writing in a comedy, especially when it is about simple people, and here is a comic writer who thought that song the most natural thing to hear in an English cottage. But Heywood, though he is interesting and amusing, is not a great poet. When Shakespeare tells us of Agincourt, it is as if England herself were speaking to us, and the words will stir the blood of Englishmen as long as our race endures. The famous Duke of Marlborough learned from Shakespeare's plays all the history he knew. We expect our generals to read more history than that; but the Duke had a great lesson-book and the noblest of all teachers.
II. SHAKESPEARE'S THEATRE
It is not enough to read Shakespeare; you must see him acted. Only in that way will you really understand how great he was. Plays are put on the stage now at great cost, and the scenery is very beautiful. If you go to The Merchant of Venice or Julius Caesar, you will have before you pictures, as true as the stage-painter can make them, of Venice with its seaways and Rome with its marble palaces and temples. In Shakespeare's day the theatre was simpler; the same scene would have done equally well, one day for Venice, and the next for Rome or London. The only difference would be that a board would be hung up to tell you what town it was. The great Sir Philip Sidney laughs at this, and asks 'What child is there that, coming to a play, and seeing" Thebes" written in great letters upon an old door, doth believe that it is Thebes?' The answer is that, as the piece went on, the power of a great poet, helped by the playing of a good actor, would make us believe anything: we should forget about the 'old door', keep a sharp eye upon
the actors, and think of the play itself, not of the way it was staged.
If we had been living in seventeenth-century London, and wished to see a play, we should first of all have looked in the morning at one of the posts on which managers set their bills. When Duke Theseus wants a play at court some papers, or bills, are put into his hands, and he reads one of them
A tedious brief scene of young Pyramus And his love Thisbe; very tragical mirth. (XVIII, iii. 17, 18.) Shakespeare is here making fun of the way in which plays were advertised. Sometimes a title-page reads as if it were one of these bills. In the year 1600 a famous play of Shakespeare was published; with this title The excellent history of the Merchant of Venice. With the extreme cruelty of Shylock the Jew towards the said Merchant in cutting a just pound of his flesh. And the obtaining of Portia by the choice of three caskets.' With the date and the name of the theatre put in, that would make a very good bill.
There were not many theatres in London, and they were just outside the City or on the Surrey side of the Thames. A famous one for us was the Globe, built in 1599 on the Bankside in Southwark, where Barclay's brewery is now; many of Shakespeare's pieces were played there, and he acted there himself. Suppose we were going to the Globe. The performance began early in the afternoon. If we were poor, I expect we should have walked over old London Bridge. But it was the fashion to go by water, and then we should have gone down to some 'stairs' or landing-stage, and looked across the river to see if the silk flag was flying from the roof of the theatre; if so, it meant a performance, and we should have engaged a waterman'. A number of old sailors got their living by rowing people over to the places of amusement in what is now South London—not only to the theatres, but also to the Bear Garden in Southwark where bears were baited, and the archery ground of Newington Butts. Rich people took a pair of oars' (that is, two boatmen), others a sculler (or one man pulling sculls). We should land near the theatre.
As we went in, we should pay the 'gatherer 'who stood at the door with his box. The price was not the same everywhere; often it was only a penny, but we read of sixpence as the lowest price, perhaps for a first performance, when the manager put the prices up. We should find ourselves in the yard' or 'ground', the cheapest part of the house and open to the sky. It had no seats, and the people stood right up to the stage. They enjoyed themselves with apples, nuts, and bottled ale, and they smoked. They annoyed the actors by cracking the nuts during the play; and sometimes they found another use for the apples than eating them. Vulgar, noisy, excitable -especially on a holiday afternoon when the City apprentices were there-such were the 'groundlings', as they were called; and you can fancy what the poets thought of them. Ben Jonson has a sly cut at them as 'the understanding gentlemen of the ground', as if standing under the stage was the only way they would ever understand anything: that joke would amuse them. Another writer of plays, Thomas Dekker, calls them the 'penny stinkards'; but he did not say that in a play. If he had, all the apples in London would not have been enough to pelt the actors with. There would have been a riot, and if the groundlings had not wrecked the building, they would have given the magistrates, who disliked plays, a good excuse for interfering and saying that the theatre was dangerous and ought to be closed.
If we did not like the 'ground', we could pay more and go into the galleries-' the twopenny room' at the top, not very convenient for seeing, or the lower galleries, sixpence or a shilling, or at most half-a-crown. But suppose we had a new suit of silk and velvet and a showy feather and a gold chain, we should like a more striking position than the galleries. In some theatres we could go on the stage and sit there while the performance went on! Entering the theatre by the stage-door and passing through the 'tiring-house' or actors' dressing-room, we should step out on the stage, call for a stool (price sixpence or a shilling) and sit down at the side; then we should take out our pipes and tobacco (three kinds of tobacco, for that was the height of fashion, and two pipes); next we should get a flint and really 'strike' a light, and after all this fuss settle down to criticize, puffing smoke through
our noses rather than our mouths. We could also show off by making a face, spitting and crying' Filthy!' after a good bit of acting, and finally annoy the poet by walking out before the play was over to prove that we could stand no more of it.
It is time to look at the stage itself. In the year 1596 a Dutchman named John de Witt visited London, made notes of what he saw, and sketched the Swan Theatre on the Bankside, then new, and, he says, the finest in London. We have a copy which one of his friends made of this sketch; it is the frontispiece of this book. The stage comes out into the yard' and rests on strong supports of timber. Acting is going on in front. The back part is covered over by a tiled roof resting on two large pillars; this was called 'the heavens or the shadow'. Actors often wore very rich dresses, and this space would be useful if a shower came on suddenly. At the back of all is the 'tiring-house'; it has two doors below, and people are looking out from a five-pillared gallery above. Over the 'heavens' is a kind of attic from the top of which floats the flag of the Swan; at a small door is an actor blowing a trumpet. Below, on either side of the stage, are the entrances to the galleries.1
Just before a play began, a trumpet was sounded three times; this explains the trumpeter at the top. After the third sounding' an actor wearing a black cloak would come in and speak the 'prologue' or first speech. In the sketch, however, a scene is shown: a lady is sitting on a bench, with her waiting-woman behind her, and a man coming to them. We do not know the scene, but we may imagine, from the way in which he is walking, that it is a comedy. The two doors in the background are often mentioned in old plays. They were very useful, on that simple stage, to show that the people entering belonged to different parties. You will see in A King's Defiance (the second piece in this book) that the British King, Queen, and Lords enter 'at one door', the Roman Ambassador and his Attendants at another '. So in
The Latin words in the picture mean-planities sive arena, the ground or yard; proscenium, the front part of the stage; mimorum aedes, the actors' house; ingressus, the entrance to the galleries; orchestra, the chief seats; porticus, the gallery; and tectum, the roof.