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kneeling in the straw, sprinkled the Tower with their blood; one after the other they marched past, stretched out their necks; the Duke of Buckingham, Queen Anne Boleyn, Queen Catherine Howard, the Earl of Surrey, Admiral Seymour, the Duke of Somerset, Lady Jane Grey and her husband, the Duke of Northumberland, Mary Stuart, the Earl of Essex, all on the throne, or on the steps of the throne, in the highest rank of honors, beauty, youth, and genius; of the bright procession nothing is left but senseless trunks, marred by the tender mercies of the executioner. Shall I count the funeral pyres, the hangings, living men cut down from the gibbet, disemboweled, quartered, their limbs cast into the fire, their heads exposed on the walls ? There is a page in Holinshed which reads like a death register:
“The five and twentith daie of Maie (1535), was in saint Paules church at London examined nineteene men and six women born in Holland, whose opinions were (heretical). Fourteene of them were condemned, a man and a woman of them were burned in Smithfield, the other twelve were sent to other townes, there to be burnt. On the nineteenth of June were three moonkes of the Charterhouse hanged, drawne, and quartered at Tiburne, and their heads and quarters set up about London, for denieng the king to be supreme head of the church. Also the one and twentith of the same moneth, and for the same cause, doctor John Fisher, bishop of Rochester, was beheaded for denieng of the supremacie, and his head set upon London bridge, but his bodie buried within Barking churchyard. The pope had elected him a cardinall, and sent his hat as far as Calais, but his head was off before his hat was on: so that they met not. On the sixt of Julie, was Sir Thomas Moore beheaded for the like crime, that is to wit, for denieng the king to be
supreme head.” 2
None of these murders seem extraordinary; the chroniclers mention them without growing indignant; the condemned go quietly to the block, as if the thing were perfectly natural. Anne Boleyn said seriously, before giving up her head to the executioner: “I praie God save the king, and send him long to reigne over you, for a gentler, nor a more mercifull prince was there
Society is, as it were, in a state of siege, so incited that beneath the idea of order every one entertained the idea of the scaffold. They saw it, the terrible machine, planted on all the highways of human life; and the byways as well as the highways led to it. A sort of martial law, introduced by conquests into civil affairs, entered thence into ecclesiastical matters, 4 and
1 “When his heart was torn out he uttered a deep groan.”—Execution of Parry; Strype,
2 Holinshed, Chronicles of England, iii. p. 793. 4 Under Henry IV. and Henry V.
3 Ibid. iii. p. 797.
social economy ended by being enslaved by it. As in a camp, expenditure, dress, the food of each class, are fixed and restricted; no one might stray out of his district, be idle, live after his own devices. Every stranger was seized, interrogated; if he could not give a good account of himself, the parish-stocks bruised his limbs; as in time of war he would have passed for a spy
and an enemy, if caught amidst the army. Any person, says the law, found living idly or toiteringly for the space of three days, shall be marked with a hot iron on his breast, and adjudged as a slave to the man who shall inform against him. This one "shall take the same slave, and give him bread, water, or small drink, and refuse meat, and cause him to work, by beating, chaining, or otherwise, in such work and labour as he shall put him to, be it never so vile.” He may sell him, bequeath him, let him out for hire, or trade upon him “after the like sort as they may do of any other their moveable goods or chattels,” put a ring of iron about his neck or leg; if he runs away and absents himself for fourteen days, he is branded on the forehead with a hot iron, and remains a slave for the whole of his life; if he runs away a second time, he is put to death. Sometimes, says More, you might see a score of thieves hung on the same gibbet.
In one year forty persons were put to death in the county of Somerset alone, and in each county there were three or four hundred vagabonds who would sometimes gather together and rob in armed bands of sixty at a time. Follow the whole of this history closely, the fires of Mary, the pillories of Elizabeth, and it is plain that the moral tone of the land, like its physical condition, is harsh by comparison with other countries. They have no relish in their enjoyments, as in Italy; what is called Merry England is England given up to animal spirits, a coarse animation produced by abundant feeding, continued prosperity, courage, and self-reliance; voluptuousness does not exist in this climate and this race. Mingled with the beautiful popular beliefs, the lugubrious dreams and the cruel nightmare of witchcraft make their appearance. Bishop Jewell, preaching before the queen, tells her that witches and sorcerers within these last few years are marvelously increased. Some ministers assert
“That they have had in their parish at one instant, xvij or xviij witches; meaning such as could worke miracles supernaturallie; that they work spells
2 In 1547
1 Froude, i. 15. VOL. I.
3 In 1596.
by which men pine away even unto death, their colour fadeth, their flesh rotteth, their speech is benumbed, their senses are bereft; that instructed by the devil, they make ointments of the bowels and members of children, whereby they ride in the aire, and accomplish all their desires. When a child is not baptized, or defended by the sign of the cross, then the witches catch them from their mothers sides in the night ... kill them ...
or after buriall steale them out of their graves, and seeth them in a caldron, untill their flesh be made potable. . . . It is an infallible rule, that everie fortnight, or at the least everie moneth, each witch must kill one child at the least for
Here was something to make the teeth chatter with fright. Add to this revolting and absurd descriptions, wretched tomfooleries, details about the infernal caldron, all the nastinesses which could haunt the trite imagination of a hideous and driveling old woman, and you have the spectacles, provided by Middleton and Shakespeare, and which suit the sentiments of the age and the national humor. The fundamental gloom pierces through the glow and rapture of poetry. Mournful legends have multiplied; every churchyard has its ghost; wherever a man has been murdered his spirit appears. Many people dare not leave their village after sunset. In the evening, before bed-time, men talk of the coach which is seen drawn by headless horses, with headless postilions and coachmen, or of unhappy spirits who, compelled to inhabit the plain, under the sharp north-east wind, pray for the shelter of a hedge or a valley. They dream terribly of death:
“ To die and go we know not where;
Imagine howling: 'tis too horrible!” 1 The greatest speak with a sad resignation of the infinite obscurity which embraces our poor, short, glimmering life, our life, which is but a troubled dream ;2 the sad state of humanity,
1 Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, Act iii. 1. See also The Tempest, Hamlet, Mac. beth.
2 “We are such stuff
which is but passion, madness, and sorrow; the human being who is himself, perhaps, but a vain phantom, a grievous sick man's dream. In their eyes we roll down a fatal slope, where chance dashes us one against the other, and the inner destiny which urges us onward, only shatters after it has blinded us. And at the end of all is “the silent grave, no conversation, no joyful tread of friends, no voice of lovers, no careful father's counsel; nothing's heard, nor nothing is, but all oblivion, dust, and endless darkness.” 1 If yet there were nothing. “ To die, to sleep; to sleep, perchance to dream.” To dream sadly, to fall into a nightmare like the nightmare of life, like that in which we are struggling and crying to-day, gasping with hoarse throat !this is their idea of man and of existence, the national idea, • which fills the stage with calamities and despair, which makes a display of tortures and massacres, which abounds in madness and crime, which holds up death as the issue throughout. A threatening and sombre fog veils their mind like their sky, and joy, like the sun, only appears in its full force now and then. They are different from the Latin race, and in the common Renaissance they are regenerated otherwise than the Latin races. The free and full development of pure nature which, in Greece and Italy, ends in the painting of beauty and happy energy, ends here in the painting of ferocious energy, agony, and death,
IV. Thus was this theatre produced; a theatre unique in history, like the admirable and fleeting epoch from which it sprang, the work and the picture of this young world, as natural, as unshackled, and as tragic as itself. When an original and national drama springs up, the poets who establish it carry in themselves the sentiments which it represents. They display better than other men the feelings of the public, because those feelings are stronger in them than in other men. The passions which surround them, break forth in their heart with a harsher or a juster cry, and hence their voices become the voices of all. Chivalric and Catholic Spain had her interpreters in her enthusiasts and her Don Quixotes : in Calderon, first a soldier, afterwards a priest; in Lope de Vega, a volunteer at fifteen, a passionate lover, a wandering duelist, a soldier of the Armada, finally, a
1 Beaumont and Fletcher, Thierry and Theodoret, Act iv. 1.
priest and familiar of the Holy Office; so full of fervor that he fasts till he is exhausted, faints with emotion while singing mass, and in his flagellations stains the walls of his cell with blood Calm and noble Greece had in her principal tragic poet one of the most accomplished and fortunate of her sons: 1 Sophocles, first in song and palæstra; who at fifteen sang, unclad, the pæan before the trophy of Salamis, and who afterwards, as ambassador, general, ever loving the gods and impassioned for his state, presented, in his life as in his works, the spectacle of the incomparable harmony which made the beauty of the ancient world, and which the modern world will never more attain to. Eloquent and worldly France, in the age which carried the art of good manners and conversation to its highest pitch, finds, to write her oratorical tragedies and to paint her drawing-room passions, the most able craftsman of words, Racine, a courtier, a man of the world; the most capable, by the delicacy of his tact and the adaptation of his style, of making men of the world and courtiers speak. So in England the poets are in harmony with their works. Almost all are Bohemians; they sprang from the people, were educated, and usually studied at Oxford or Cambridge, but they were poor, so that their education contrasts with their condition. Ben Jonson is the step-son of a bricklayer, and himself a bricklayer; Marlowe is the son of a shoemaker; Shakespeare of a wool merchant; Massinger of a servant of a noble family. They live as they can, get into debt, write for their bread, go on the stage. Peele, Lodge, Marlowe, Ben Jonson, Shakespeare, Heywood, are actors; most of the details which we have of their lives are taken from the journal of Henslowe, a retired pawnbroker, later a money-lender and manager of a theatre, who gives them work, advances money to them, receives their manuscripts or their wardrobes as security. For a play he gives seven or eight pounds; after the year 1600 prices rise, and reach as high as twenty or twenty-five pounds. It is clear that, even after this increase, the trade of author scarcely brings in bread.
Διεπονήθη δ' εν παισι και περί παλαίστραν και μουσικήν, εξ ών αμφοτέρων έστεφανώθη ... Φιλαθηναιότατος και θεοφιλής.-Scholiast. 2 Except Beaumont and Fletcher.
Hartley Coleridge, in his Introduction to the Dramatic Works of Massinger and Ford, says of Massinger's father : “We are not certified of the situation which he held in the noble household (Earl of Pembroke), but we may be sure that it was neither menial nor inean, Service in those days was not derogatory to gentle birth.”—TR.