« AnteriorContinua »
Was William Shakspere at Kenilworth in that summer of 1575, when the great Dudley entertained Elizabeth with a splendour which annalists have delighted to record, and upon which one of our own days has bestowed a fame more imperishable than that of any annals? Percy, speaking of the old Coventry Hock-play, says, “Whatever this old play or storial show was at the time it was exhibited to Queen Elizabeth, it had probably our young Shakspere for a spectator, who was then in his twelfth year, and doubtless attended with all the inhabitants of the surrounding country at these 'princely pleasures of Kenilworth,' whence Stratford is only a few miles distant."* The preparations for this celebrated entertainment were on so magnificent a scale, the purveyings must have been so enormous, the posts so unintermitting, that there had needed not the flourishings of paragraphs (for the age of paragraphs was not as yet) to have roused the curiosity of all mid-England. Elizabeth had visited Kenilworth on two previous occasions. In 1565, after she had created Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester, she bore her sunshine to the possessions she had given to her favourite; and passing through Coventry “ she was honourably received by the mayor and citizens with many fair shows and pageants.” It was on this occasion that Humphrey Brownell, the Mayor, must have delighted the Queen with his impromptu speech, worth a hundred
• “On the Origin of the English Stage :'— Reliques, vol. i.
of the magnificent orations of John Throgmorton the Recorder. Elizabeth had a ready hand for the rich gifts of her subjects ; and when on their knees the Corporation of Coventry presented her Majesty a heavy purse, her satisfaction broke out into the exclamation, “A good gift
, a hundred pounds in gold! I have but few such gifts !" The words were addressed to her lords; but the honest Mayor boldly struck in, “ If it please your grace, there is a great deal more in it.” “What is that?” said the Queen. “The hearts of all your loving subjects,” replied the Mayor.* Elizabeth on this occasion departed from Kenilworth offended with Leicester. Had he been too bold or too timid? In the summer of 1572 the royal progress was again for Warwickshire. “The weather having been very foul long time before, and the way much stained with carriage,” the Queen was conveyed into her good town of Warwick through bye-ways not quite so miry; but the bailiff and the burgesses knelt in the dirt, and her Majesty's coach was brought as near to the said kneelers as it could be. The long oration, and the heavy purse, of course followed. During this visit to Kenilworth in 1572 two important state affairs were despatched. Thomas Percy Earl of Northumberland was beheaded at York; and the offer of marriage of Francis Duke of Alençon was definitively rejected. In the previous June, Leicester wrote touching this proposal,—“ It seems her Majesty meaneth to give good ear to it.” There was a counsellor at Kenilworth in the following August who would possess the Queen's“ good ear” in a more eminent degree than Montmorenci, the French ambassador. In 1575, when Robert Dudley welcomed his sovereign with a more than regal magnificence, it is easy to believe that his ambition looked for a higher reward than that of continuing a queen's most favoured servant and counsellor. It appears to us that the exquisite speech of Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream is founded upon a recollection of what the young Shakspere heard of the intent of the princely pleasures of Kenilworth, and is associated with some of the poetical devices which he might have there beheld :
“ Obe. My gentle Puck, come hither : Thou rememberst
* See Nichols's Progresses,' vol. i., p. 192.
The most remarkable of the shows of Kenilworth were associated with the mythology and the romance of lakes and seas. “Triton, in likeness of a mermaid, came towards the Queen's Majesty." “ Arion appeared sitting on a dolphin's back.” So the quaint and really poetical George Gascoigne, in his * Brief Rehearsal, or rather a true Copy of as much as was presented before her Majesty at Kenilworth.' But the diffuse and most entertaining coxcomb Laneham describes a song of Arion with an ecstasy which may justify the belief that the “dulcet and harmonious breath” of “the sea-maid's music" might be the echo of the melodies heard by the young poet as he stood beside the lake at Kenilworth :—“Now, Sir, the ditty in metre so aptly endited to the matter, and after by voice deliciously delivered; the song, by a skilful artist into his parts so sweetly sorted; each part in his instrument so clean and sharply touched ; every instrument again in his kind so excellently tunable; and this in the evening of the day, resounding from the calm waters, where the presence of her Majesty, and longing to listen, had utterly damped all noise and din, the whole harmony conveyed in time, tune, and temper thus incomparably melodious; with what pleasure (Master Martin), with what sharpness of conceit, with what lively delight this might pierce into the hearers' hearts, I pray ye imagine yourself, as ye may.” If Elizabeth be the “fair vestal throned by the west,” of which there can be no reasonable doubt, the most appropriate scene of the mermaid's song would be Kenilworth, and “that very time” the summer of 1575.
Percy, believing that the boy Shakspere was at Kenilworth, has remarked, with his usual taste and judgment, that “the dramatic cast of many parts of that superb entertainment must have had a very great effect upon a young imagination, whose dramatic powers were hereafter to astonish the world.” Without assuming with Percy that “our young bard gained admittance into the castle” on the evening when “after supper was there a play of a very good theme presented ; but so set forth, by the actors' well handling, that pleasure and mirth made it seem very short, though it lasted two good hours and more ;" * yielding not our consent to Tieck’s fiction, that the boy performed the part of Echo' in Gascoigne's address to the Queen, and was allowed to see the whole of the performances by the especial favour of her Majesty,—we shall run over the curious narratives of Laneham and of Gascoigne, to show that, without being a favoured spectator, William Shakspere with his friends might have beheld many things on this occasion which “must have had a very great effect upon a young imagination,” and have assisted still further in giving it that dramatic tendency which, as we have endeavoured already to point out, was a peculiar characteristic of the simplest and the commonest festivals of his age.
It was eight o'clock in the evening of Saturday the 9th of July when, after “great cheer at dinner,” at a place seven miles from Kenilworth, and“ pleasant pastime in hunting by the way after,” Elizabeth arrived within “a flightshoot” of the first gate of the castle. The open space before that gate would be crowded with spectators, some, worn out with long waiting, stretched beneath the trees of the park, others gazing upon the leads and battlements, where stood “six trumpeters hugely advanced, much exceeding the common stature of men in this age, who had likewise huge and monstrous trumpets counterfeited, wherein they seemed to sound.”+ But before the real trumpeters hidden behind them sounded, Sibylla, “comely clad in a pall of white silk, pronounced a proper poesy in English rhyme and metre.” | Sibylla would, we are sure, repeat to the crowd what she had addressed to the Queen ; for Master Hunnis, master of her Majesty's chapel, would desire all honour for his pleasant
“The rage of war bound fast in chains
Shall never stir nor move;
Increasing subjects' love. It was through the gate of the tilt-yard, on the south side of the castle, and not by the great gate-house on the north, that Elizabeth entered. Little would the crowd hear therefore of the speech of the mighty porter, " tall of person, big of limb, and stern of countenance," who met the Queen at the gate of Mortimer's Tower, which led into the base-court; and, indeed, even for ourselves, Gascoigne and Laneham might have spared their descriptions, for a mightier than they has described this part of the ceremonial after his own fashion. The • Laneham.
Gascoigne. Laneham. As we shall quote fragments from each writer, it will be scarcely necessary to refer to them on every occasion.
gate closes upon the train, when the Lady of the Lake, “ from the midst of the pool, where, upon a moveable island, bright blazing with torches, she floated to land, met her Majesty with a well-penned metre.” The wearied Queen had yet more to endure: there were Latin verses to be pronounced before she could be conveyed up to her chamber; and then “after did follow so great a peal of guns, and such lightning by firework,” that “the noise and flame were heard and seen twenty miles off.”
Sunday was a day of rest; but Monday brought another of the store of dramatic devices-open-air recitations, which Elizabeth would be best pleased to hear with the people crowding around her. In the evening of a hot day the Queen rode into the chase “to hunt the hart of force ;” and upon her return by torchlight there came forth out of the woods a savage man, “ with an oaken plant, plucked up by the roots, in his hand, himself foregrown all in moss and ivy; who, for personage, gesture, and utterance beside, countenanced the matter to very good liking.” The savage man, and his attendant Echo, may appear to us a rude device, and there would be little dramatic propriety in the “all in ivy" pouring forth such verses as,
“ The winds resound your worth,
The rocks record your name,
These fields pronounce your fame.”
masque were not yet come; the drama had almost wholly to be created. But the writer of these lines, a man of considerable talent, was evidently proud of his invention of the savage man and his echo, for he says, with a laughable humility, “ These verses were devised, penned, and pronounced by Master Gascoigne; and that (as I have heard credibly reported) upon a very great sudden.” To William Shakspere such representations, rude as they were, must have been exceedingly impressive. The scene was altogether one of romance. That magnificent castle, its stately woods, its pleasant lake, its legends of King Arthur, its histories of the Montforts and the Mortimers, its famous revivals of the Round Table, the
presence of a real Queen, the peaceable successor of the fiery Yorkists and Lancastrians who had once inhabited it,-would stir his imagination even though he saw not the devices and heard not the poetry. The enthusiasm of Master Gascoigne, when he pronounced the wild man's address, bordered a little upon the extravagant, according to Laneham: “ As this savage, for the more submission, broke his tree asunder, and cast the top from him, it had almost light upon her Highness's horse's head; whereat he startled, and the gentleman much dismayed." The recollection of the savage man's ecstacy might have slept in the mind of the young poet till it shaped itself into the passion of Biron :
“ Who sees the heavenly Rosaline, That, like a rude and savage man of Inde,
At the first opening of the gorgeous east, Bows not his vassal head; and, strucken blind,
Kisses the base ground with obedient breast?”.
* Love's Labour's Lost, Act 1v., Scene 1.