Abbildungen der Seite

ings. At Whitehall the play began about eight, and often lasted till near midnight.

The general organisation of Pepys's auditorium was much as it is to-day. It had improved in

many particulars since Shakespeare died. The pit was the most popular part of the house; it covered the floor of the building, and was provided with seats; the price of admission was 2s. 6d. The company there seems to have been extremely mixed; men and women of fashion often rubbed elbows with City shopkeepers, their wives, and apprentices. The first gallery was wholly occupied by boxes, in which seats could be hired separately at 4s. apiece. Above the boxes was the middle gallery, the central part of which was filled with benches, where the seats cost 1s. 6d. each, while boxes lined the sides. The highest tier was the 1s. gallery, where footmen soon held sway. As Pepys's fortune improved, he spent more on his place in the theatre. From the 1s. gallery he descended to the 1s. 6d., and thence came down to the pit, occasionally ascending to the boxes on the first tier.

In the methods of representation, Pepys's period of play-going was coeval with many most important innovations, which seriously affected the presentation of Shakespeare on the stage. The chief was the desirable substitution of women for boys in the female rôles. During the first few months of Pepys's theatrical experience, boys were still taking the women's parts. That the practice survived in the first days of Charles II.'s reign we know from the well-worn anecdote that when the King sent behind the scenes to inquire why the play of Hamlet, which he had come to see, was so late in commencing, he



was answered that the Queen was not yet shaved. But in the opening month of 1661, within five months of Pepys's first visit to a theatre, the reign of the boys ended. On January 3rd of that year, Pepys writes that he "first saw women come upon the stage.” Next night he makes entry of a boy's performance of a woman's part, and that was the final record of boys masquerading as women in the English theatre. I believe the practice now survives nowhere except in Japan. This mode of representation has always been a great puzzle to students of Elizabethan drama. Before, however, Pepys saw Shakespeare's work on the stage, the usurpation of the boys was over.

It was after the Restoration, too, that scenery, rich costume, and scenic machinery became, to Pepys's delight, regular features of the theatre. When the diarist saw Hamlet done with scenes' for the first time, he was most favourably impressed. Musical accompaniment was known to pre-Restoration days; but the orchestra was now for the first time placed on the floor of the house in front of the stage, instead of in a side gallery, or on the stage itself. The musical accompaniment of plays developed very rapidly, and the methods of opera were soon applied to many of Shakespeare's pieces, notably to The Tempest and Macbeth.

Yet at the side of these innovations, one very important feature of the old playhouses, which gravely concerned both actors and auditors, survived throughout Pepys's lifetime. The stage still projected far into the pit in front of the curtain. The actors and actresses spoke in the centre of the house, so that, as Colley Cibber put it, “the most distant ear had scarce the least doubt or difficulty in hearing what fell from the weakest utterance ... nor was the minutest motion of a feature, properly changing with the passion or humour it suited, ever lost, as they frequently must be, in the obscurity of too great a distance.” The platform-stage, with which Shakespeare was familiar, suffered no curtailment in the English theatres till the eighteenth century, when the fore-edge of the boards was for the first time made to run level with the proscenium.

1 For a fuller description of this theatrical practice see pages 41-43 supra.

III One of the obvious results of the long suppression of the theatres during the Civil Wars and Commonwealth was the temporary extinction of play-writing in England. On the sudden reopening of the playhouses at the Restoration, the managers had mainly to rely for sustenance on the drama of a long-past age. Of the one hundred and forty-five separate plays which Pepys witnessed, fully half belonged to the great period of dramatic activity in England, which covered the reigns of Elizabeth, James I., and Charles I. John Evelyn's well-known remark in his Diary (November 26, 1661): "I saw Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, played; but now the old plays begin to disgust this refined age,” requires much qualification before it can be made to apply to Pepys's records of playgoing. It was in “the old plays” that he and all average playgoers mainly delighted.

Not that the new demand failed quickly to create a supply of new plays for the stage. Dryden and D'Avenant, the chief dramatists of Pepys's day, were rapid writers. To a large extent they



carried on, with exaggeration of its defects and diminution of its merits, the old Elizabethan tradition of heroic romance, tragedy, and farce. The more matter-of-fact and lower-principled comedy of manners, which is commonly reckoned the chief characteristic of the new era in theatrical history, was only just beginning when Pepys was reaching the end of his diary. The virtual leaders of the new movement—Wycherley, Vanbrugh, Farquhar, and Congreve-were not at work till long after Pepys ceased to write. He records only the first runnings of that sparkling stream. He witnessed some impudent comedies of Dryden, Etherege, and Sedley. But it is important to note that he formed a low opinion of all of them. Their intellectual glitter did not appeal to him. Their cynical licentiousness seemed to him to be merely “silly.” One might have anticipated from him a different verdict on the frank obscenity of Restoration drama. But there are the facts. Neither did Mr Pepys, nor (he is careful to remind us) did Mrs Pepys, take “any. manner of pleasure in” the bold indelicacy of Dryden, Etherege, or Sedley.

When we ask what sort of pieces Pepys appreciated, we seem to be faced by further perplexities. His highest enthusiasm was evoked by certain plays of Ben Jonson, of Beaumont and Fletcher, and of Massinger. Near the zenith of his scale of dramatic excellence he set the comedies of Ben Jonson, which are remarkable for their portrayal of eccentricity of character. These pieces, which incline to farce, give great opportunity to what is commonly called character-acting, and character-acting always appeals most directly to average humanity. Pepys called Jonson's Alchemist "a most incomparable play,” and he found in Every Man in his Humour "the greatest propriety of speech that ever I read in my life.” Similarly, both the heroic tragedies and the comedies of Beaumont and Fletcher, of which he saw no less than nineteen, roused in him, as a rule, an ecstatic admiration. But of all dramatic entertainments which the theatre offered him, Pepys was most “taken” by the romantic comedy from the pen of Massinger, which is called The Bondman. “There is nothing more taking in the world with me than that play,” he writes.

Massinger's Bondman is a well-written piece, in which an heroic interest is fused with a genuine spirit of low comedy. Yet Pepys's unqualified commendation of it presents a problem. Massinger's play, like the cognate work of Fletcher, offers much episode which is hardly less indecent than those early specimens of Restoration comedy of which Pepys disapproved. A leading character is a frowsy wife who faces all manner of humiliation, in order to enjoy, behind her elderly husband's back, the embraces of a good-looking youth.

Pepys is scarcely less tolerant of Fletcher's more flagrant infringements of propriety. In the whole of the Elizabethan drama there was no piece which presented so liberal a mass of indelicacy as Fletcher's Custom of the Country. Dryden, who was innocent of prudery, declared that there was "more indecency” in that drama “than in all our plays together.” This was one of the pieces which Pepys twice saw performed after carefully reading it in his study, and he expressed admiration for the rendering of the widow's part by his pretty friend,

« ZurückWeiter »