小说搜索     点击排行榜   最新入库
首页 » 英文短篇小说 » South London » CHAPTER XI THE SHOW FOLK
选择底色: 选择字号:【大】【中】【小】
Southwark was a city of a various population. It had great Houses for nobles and for Ecclesiastics: it had fair inns for the reception of merchants, coming up from Kent and the south country: it had a riverside people of fishermen and watermen living up stream on the Lambeth bank or down stream at Bermondsey or Rotherhithe: it had a great number of residents who worked in the orchards and the gardens which spread over the whole of the rich low-lying land now embanked, secure from floods and the highest tides. It contained, besides, a large number of rogues and vagabonds, fugitives from justice, lying here in so-called sanctuary, where the officers of the law did not dare to present themselves. In spite of the powers granted to the City over Southwark, the place remained a receptacle and a refuge 'down to the end of the last century, when the so-called Liberties of the Mint'—the last place of sanctuary—were finally abolished and only a slum remained to mark the site of a sanctuary.

Beside all these people Southwark contained the Show Folk of Bankside. When the Show Folk began to live in Bankside I know not: their settlement originally was in Westminster outside the King's Palace, where there was always a great demand for music, dancing, tumbling, mumming and such recreative performances; they were also, however, in great request in London by City Church, city company, and city tavern. Now there was no place for them within the walls: they had no company: there was neither a Musicians'; nor a Dancers'; nor a Singers'; nor a Mummers';{207} nor a Tumblers' Company. There was no company which would admit them; there was no ward where they could get a street for themselves: they were gently but firmly pushed out. And not only were they a class apart but they were a class in contempt. It was always held contemptible to{208} provide amusement. No one, as yet, had made of music or of acting a fine art; no gentleman, as yet, and for a long time after, would take part in the buffoonery which the actor had then to exhibit: an atmosphere of disrepute attached to the calling, to those who followed the calling, and to the place where they lived: in the City, Aldermen had a way of connecting nocturnal disorders with these children of melody: where they resorted the taverns would carry on their revelries after curfew, even to midnight: if the street was alarmed by nocturnal ramblers it would prove to be after an evening with the dancers and the tumblers: the Church, especially the Church Puritanic, set her face against those who devised entertainments, on the ground that the devisers were an ungodly and dissolute crew. Therefore they crossed the river. On Bankside, in the Liberty of the Clink, where the City could not interfere, they 'went as they pleased.' They were dissolute, if they chose—Heaven knows whether they did choose—without reproach: their taverns kept open house as long as they would stop to drink: there was singing every day without interference: there was merriment without the rebuke of the sour face: there was no fear of being haled before the Lord Mayor, for making people laugh: there was no terror of pillory, and no man on their side of the river was 'put in stocks o' Monday, for kissing of his wife o' Sunday.' It was the Bishop of Winchester's Liberty, but he was content, on the whole, to leave the residents unmolested and in the possession of their guitars, their fiddles, their songs and their plays.
(From the Crace Collection)

When the Show Folk were wanted in the City it was easy for them to go across: they were ready at a moment's notice to arrange a pageant, or to take part in one: they could provide the beauteous maidens in white with long fair tresses who stood on platforms in Chepe and scattered gold rose nobles made of paste on the heads of the crowd: they found hermits, and constructed caves for those godly men in the{209} midst of Gracious Street: they found the music for the dragging of the traitor on a hurdle: for the march of the rogue to the pillory: for the riding of the Lord Mayor: for the procession of the Company on its feast day. For a miracle play they presented the parish church with the Fall of Man: the Raising of Lazarus: the Pilgrims of Emmaus: David and Goliath: or any other episode from the Bible—how many excellent players there were among them whose names have long since been forgotten! They knew how to present a Masque—not, perhaps, with the same splendour as one by{210} Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones—who commanded the King's purse—but a neat and creditable affair, with dresses appropriate, full of surprises, and furnished with mythological characters, for the Hall of a City Company on the day of the Annual Feast. For young gentlemen of the more debauched kind they had another kind of entertainment, with singing, dancing girls, tumbling and posturing; with rare jests—pity they were not rarer—and excellent fooling by their clowns. The modern art of acting did not begin at the Globe Theatre: there has never been any time when the actor was unknown: the only difference is that he was not formerly allowed to be anything but a buffoon: that he had little but buffoonery in his répertoire: and now he is an artist and scorns the tricks of the buffoon. Nor is the art of entertainment of modern invention. The Company of Parish Clerks, for instance, were great promoters of sacred plays. Their poets—whose names are entirely lost—provided the words and arranged the scenes; the members of the company played the parts: the Show Folk 'mounted' the piece: they provided the monsters; the red flames for the mouth of Hell; the troops of angels or of devils, the stage business and the music. Many of the Parish Churches had their annual play on their Saint's Day. Thus the Parish Church of St. Margaret, which was taken down when St. Mary Overies' became St. Saviour's, had its play on St. Margaret's Day (July 20), and often another on the Day of St. Lucy (December 13) as well. We have already observed that the Londoner of old never made any difference in the matter of Play or Pageant whether the time was summer or winter. He was like the Scythian, face all over: he felt no cold: he held his Riding, or his Coronation Procession, quite as readily in December as in July.

Another kind of Show Folk, but rougher and more brutal, were the people who looked after the bears and the dogs. Bull baiting, bear baiting, sometimes horse baiting, together with badger baiting, duck hunting, cock throwing, dog{211} fighting and cock fighting, were the chosen and common sports of the people. Baiting of every kind there was wherever there were dogs and bulls and badgers, but the centre and headquarters of the sport was South London, in the place called Paris Gardens. The popularity of the sport is shown by the simple facts that there was not only bull and bear baiting in Paris Gardens, but also two rings or amphitheatres for bull and bear baiting outside the gardens behind Bankside, and that in the High Street itself, nearly opposite St. George's Church, there was permanently established the bull ring to which an animal could be tied whenever one was found fit for the purpose of affording an hour's sport by the madness of his rage or the agonies of his death.

The present Blackfriars Bridge Road cuts through the site of Paris Gardens, leaving a portion on either side. They extended to the distance of about a quarter of a mile south of the river: sluggish streams and ditches ran across and round the gardens, which were so thickly planted with trees as to be dark in the summer. Both in summer and winter the place was noisome with exhalations from the marshy soil. These gardens were the chief home of the rough and cruel sports already mentioned: here were kept under the King's bearward the King's dogs; the Mayor's dogs; and the bears whom they baited. It does not appear that bulls were also kept here: for baiting purposes it was generally a young bull that was chosen, and he was baited to death. The bears were not killed, they were all known to the people by name, such as Harry Hunks and Sackerson, and were valued in proportion to the sport they afforded. The dogs, who with the bears were fed upon the offal and refuse brought over every day from the Shambles of Newgate, were incredibly fierce and savage. In these days we hardly know what a savage dog is, even the bull dog has become peaceful: formerly, the best defender of the house was the dog who was unloosed at night: they fed him chiefly on meat: he was{212} trained to fly at the throat of a stranger: he was a terror to wayfarers—remember the dog in the second part of the 'Pilgrim's Progress:' he was always biting and rending some one: he had the ferocity of the wolf redeemed only by affection for his master: we have no such dogs in these days. Accompanied by one or two such fierce mastiffs or bull dogs who feared no one but their master, a man might journey from end to end of the country armed with nothing but a club. Such a dog would fight and would overcome a man. Kept in the kennels, with insufficient exercise, with stimulating food, the creatures became fiercer than wolves and stronger than tigers. The bull they loved to bait: he had horns and hoofs to dodge: but the bear afforded the best sport both for man and dog: he presented a nose and ears and a thick fur on which to spring, and to fasten the canine teeth upon. What joy to hang on to those ears, torn and bleeding, the whole dog quivering with rapture even though in the end one stroke of the bear's hind paw dragged out the inside of the dog, with the heart and the breath of life!

It was a Royal sport, a sport offered to ambassadors. In a contemporary Diary it is related that the French Ambassadors, on May 25, 1559, were entertained at Court with a dinner, and after dinner with a bull and bear baiting, the Queen herself looking on from a gallery: the next day they were taken down the river to see the bull and bear baiting at Paris Gardens. Forty years later James the First entertained the Spanish Ambassador after dinner with the bears fighting with greyhounds and with a bull baiting. About the same time the Duke of Wirtemberg paid a visit to London and saw the baiting at Paris Gardens:

'On the 1st of September his Highness was shown in London the English dogs, of which there were about 120, all kept in the same enclosure, but each in a separate kennel.

'In order to gratify his Highness, and at his desire, two bears and a bull were baited; at such times you can perceive the breed and mettle of the dogs, for although they{213} receive serious injuries from the bears, are caught by the horns of the bull, and tossed into the air so as frequently to fall down again upon the horns, they do not give in, [but fasten on the bull so firmly] that one is obliged to pull them back by the tails, and force open their jaws. Four dogs at once were set on the bull; they, however, could not gain any advantage over him, for he so artfully contrived to ward off their attacks that they could not well get at him; on the contrary, the bull served them very scurvily by striking and butting at them.'

And another contemporary account of a bear baiting is furnished by Hentzner in 1598:

'There is still another place, built in the form of a Theatre, which serves for the baiting of bears and bulls: they are fastened behind, and then worried by those great English dogs (quos lingua vernacula "Docken" appellant), and mastiffs, but not without great risks to the dogs from the teeth of the one and the horns of the other, and it sometimes happens they are killed on the spot: fresh ones are immediately{214} supplied in the places of those that are wounded or tired. To this entertainment there often follows that of whipping a blinded bear, which is performed by five or six men, standing in a circle with whips, which they exercise upon him without any mercy; although he cannot escape from them because of his chain, he nevertheless defends himself vigorously, throwing down all who come within his reach and are not active enough to get out of it, tearing the whips out of their hands and breaking them. At these spectacles, and everywhere else, the English are constantly smoking the Nicotian weed, which in America is called Tobaca—others call it P?tum—[i.e. Petun, the Brazilian name for Tobacco, from which the allied beautiful plant 'Petunia' derives its appellation,] and generally in this manner: they have pipes on purpose made of clay, into the farther end of which they put the herb, so dry that it may be rubbed into powder, and lighting it, they draw the smoke into their mouths, which they puff out again through their nostrils like funnels, along with it plenty of phlegm and defluxion from the head. In these Theatres, fruits, such as apples, pears and nuts, according to the season, are carried about to be sold, as well as wine and ale.'

Bear baiting was so popular that fellows roamed about the country leading a bear which they offered to be baited for so much an hour at the inns which they passed. The master of the 'King's Game' had power to seize upon any mastiff dogs, bears, or bulls for the King's service and to bait in any place within his dominions. Henslow and Alleyn, both actors, were also masters of the King's Game: they had licence to apprehend all vagrants travelling with bears and bulls.

There was another place where the refining influence of the bear baiting might be enjoyed. Its site is still preserved in the lane called Bear Garden Alley. In Agas's map of 1560 an amphitheatre is shown called the 'Bear Baiting:' a little to the west another amphitheatre is seen called the 'Bull{215} Baiting.' Whether these places were the only buildings erected for this amusement or whether they were put up in addition to the place in Paris Gardens is a point for the antiquary. It is learnedly discussed by Mr. Ordish ('Early London Theatres'). The Spanish Ambassador in 1544 describes a bear baiting—but he does not say exactly where he saw it. 'On the other side of the town' is vague. I think, however, that he must mean Paris Gardens:

'On the other side of the town we have seen seven bears, some of them very large; they are driven into a circus, where they are confined by a long rope, while large and courageous dogs are let loose upon them as if to be devoured, and a fight takes place. It is not bad sport to witness the conflict. The large bears contend with three or four dogs, and sometimes one is victorious and sometimes the other; the bears are ferocious and of great strength, and not only defend themselves with their teeth, but hug the dogs so closely with their forelegs, that, if they were not rescued by their masters, they would be suffocated. At the same place a pony is baited, with a monkey on its back, defending itself against the dogs by kicking them; and the shrieks of the monkey, when he sees the dogs hanging from the ears and neck of the pony, render the scene very laughable.'

In the year 1550 Crowley, the author of certain 'Epigrams' against abuses, mentions Paris Gardens (see Stow and Strype, 1758, vol. ii. p. 8).
Every Sunday they will spend One penny or two, the bearward's living to mend. At Paris Gardens each Sunday, a man shall not fail To find two or three hundred for the bearward's vale.

Later on there was certainly an amphitheatre in Paris Gardens, because an accident happened there.

'The same 13th day of Januarie, being Sunday about foure of the clock in the afternoon, the old and under-propped scaffolds round about the Beare Garden, commonly called{216} Paris Garden, on the south side of the great river Thames over against the citie of London, over-deluged with people, fell suddenly downe, whereby to number of eight persons, men and women, were slaine and many others sore hurt and bruised to the shortening of their lives. A friendly warning to all that delight themselves in the cruelties of beastes than in the workes of mercy, the fruits of a true, professed faith, which ought to be the Sabbath dayes exercise.' (Stow's 'Annals,' continued by Hawes.)

The amphitheatre would hold a thousand people.

The sport had other dangers: the bear, for instance, might get loose. Once the blind bear got loose: it was on December 9, 1554, and on the Bankside, probably at the amphitheatre outside Paris Gardens. He caught a serving man by the leg 'and bytt a grate pesse away, and after by the hokyll bone, that within iii days after he ded' (Machyn).

Wherever such sports were carried on there must needs spring up a rabble rout who made their living by them: the bearward, the serving man who kept the kennels, fed the dogs, exercised the dogs, fed the bears, looked after the amphitheatre, took the money, and above all provided the drink. In the little lane now called the Bear Garden, there is a small square place which I take to be the survival of an open court in front of the circus. There is here a small tavern: the house itself is not ancient, but I believe that it stands on the site of the house which provided wine and beer for the spectators of the bear baiting. These sports, with others such as wrestling and fighting: these great crowds of people gathering together: the music which accompanied everything: caused the creation of taverns and drinking-places. Another attraction to the place may be only hinted at in these pages. Suffice it to say that all the profligate, all the debauched, all the rowdy, all the lovers of sport among the citizens of London crossed over to Bankside every evening in the summer and every Sunday in the winter, and{217} there they frolicked, drank, sang, quarrelled, fought, and tortured animals to their hearts' content.

It is pleasant to think of Bankside and the fields beyond it—the pleasure garden of London. It was easy to get into the open country on every side of the City walls, but there was no place so pleasant as the Lambeth Marsh and the Bankside: none that offered so many and such various attractions. The flag flying over the Theatre proclaimed that a play was forward: the number of those who loved the play more than the baiting increased daily: there was never a time when the citizens did not love the green fields and the woods: and these lay behind Paris Gardens and the Bank, beyond the barking of the dogs and the roar of the crowd and the blare of the music and the stink of the kennels. Every summer evening the river was crowded with the boats taking the people across to the stairs upon the Bank between St. Mary Overies and Old Barge House Stairs: innumerable were the boats. As for the watermen, John Taylor, the water poet, says that there were 40,000 of them plying between Windsor and Gravesend, while the number of people who were carried over every day to the plays on Bankside was three or four thousand. Forty thousand seems an enormous number, but we must remember that there were no docks: that ships were laden and unladen in mid stream by barges and boats: that the Thames was the highway between London and all riverside places; between London and Westminster; between London and Southwark, because even if one lived close to the bridge it was easier and quicker to be taken across by a boat than to walk over the bridge. The conveyance of three or four thousand people across the river every day would not want more than a thousand boats or two thousand watermen: at the same time the loss of their custom, which happened when the people went to Blackfriars instead of the Bank for their play, would be felt by the whole fraternity of watermen.

We have arrived at the time when the bear baiting{218} attracted less than the play acting: when the amphitheatres were turned into theatres: and when Bankside became the residence of the poets and the players. They came; unfortunately the other people did not go away. There remained the tribe of them who made the music and found the dancers and the tumblers, the mummers and the conjurers: there remained the men—a rough and brutal lot—who looked after the bears and the dogs: the men who wielded quarterstaff and showed sword play, a swaggering and bullying company: there remained the young bloods who came over from their peaceful shops and warehouses to enjoy the sport and the conversation and talk of the place: there remained the ribald crew of men and women who naturally belong to such gatherings. There was another population at Westminster outside the King's House like unto this at Southwark: these, too, existed for the amusement of the King's courtiers and men-at-arms. The Southwark folk existed for the amusements of not the highest class of London City. The poets came, therefore, to this place in order to be near these theatres: they brought no improvement in example, in morals, or in manners: they lived among the people, and their lives were mostly as disorderly and their morals as loose as the company among whom they walked and talked.

Southwark in the early sixteenth century, it may be noted, consisted of two parts, the one wholly distinct from the other. The first part was the High Street with its four churches of St. George's, St. Margaret's, St. Olave's, and St. Mary Overies: in the High Street were the two Debtors' Prisons: in the High Street was the ancient hospital: there also was the long succession of inns, stately, ample, frequented by merchants and capable of stabling an immense number of packhorses, and of receiving as many waggons as could fill the courtyard. The Palaces were mostly gone, turned into inns or tenements. The whole place was a great House of{219} Call. It had no industries, it had no crafts: it had no civic or corporate existence. But it was respectable.

The other part lay on the west of the High Street, stretching along the river nearly as far as Lambeth. This was the disreputable quarter, the place of amusement: the people who lived there, one and all, made the providing of amusement, pleasure and excitement their means of livelihood. It was like a never-ending fair where nothing was sold, and there were no booths except those of Ursula, with roast sucking pig, black puddings, custards, and gingerbread. From every tavern all day long came the tinkling of the guitar and the trolling of some lusty voice and the silvery notes of a girl who sang like the wood pigeon because nature taught her. Here marched along the bear rolling his head from side to side, a monkey chattering on his back, the tabor and pipe going before him. After him came the dogs straining at the chain which held them, barking madly in anticipation of the fight. Or it was a young bull who was led by two men to the ring where he would defend his life as long as the dogs allowed; or it was the arrival at Falcon Stairs of boats by the dozen, each turning out its complement of citizens and their wives, who made for the theatre where the flag was flying. On the open bank were placed tables for those who drank: the balladmonger sang his songs and sold them afterwards: the posturer spread his carpet and went through his performance: the boys cried nuts and apples: the drawer ran about and filled his cans. In no other part of London was there a scene of greater animation and cheerfulness than on Bankside, on an afternoon or evening in the summer. And then to go home again across the broad and peaceful river at full tide, when the sun was set, and the river, like the sky, was aglow, and the people sang softly in the boats, and still from Bankside came the dying snatches of music, the soft breath of the cornet, and the tingling touch of the harp,{220} and the voices of those who sang, and the baying of the hounds from Paris Gardens.

The early history of the playhouses on the Bank involves many questions, and may be safely left to the antiquarian historian. The reader will find most of these questions raised and settled in a book, already quoted here, by Mr. T. Fairman Ordish ('Early London Theatres'). It appears, however, that there were players, if not playhouses, here as early as 1547. After the death of Henry VIII. Gardiner proposed to have a solemn dirge in memory of the King, but, he complained to the Council, the players of Southwark say that they also will have a 'solemn playe to trye who shall have most resorts, they in game, or I in earnest.'

Whether these players had a regular theatre, or whether they acted in the courtyard of an inn, or whether they had a moveable stage, I do not know. It is, however, quite certain that before the end of the sixteenth century there were four theatres in Bankside—the Rose, whose site was somewhere in Rose Alley: the Hope in Bear Garden Lane: the Swan in Paris Gardens—that is, on the west side of the Blackfriars Road, not far from the Bridge: and the Globe. The site of the Globe is generally allowed to have been at a spot 150 feet south of Park Street, close to the Southwark Bridge Road, and on the east of it. For twenty years, more or less, the stream of playgoers was turned steadily and continuously to the Theatres in Bankside, and poet and player lived beside the theatre, and the place was the pleasure resort of the people, and the haunt of sporting men, and the school of the citizens, in history at least: and the pride and glory of London for its dramatists, if the people knew: and the sink and shame of London for the iniquities and villanies practised there: the debauchery and the shamelessness of those who lived upon the Bank.

The Plague, not only of 1603 and of 1625, but those{221} milder attacks which threatened from time to time were a deadly enemy to the players, for then the theatre must be closed and the Bear Garden too, for in crowds there was infection. Think what it meant to close these places of resort. The Elizabethan theatres maintained almost as many persons as our own: there were the players proper—the Company: there were the servants 'in the front' and the servants behind, the 'supers,' the money takers, the boys who went round selling nuts and cakes, wine and ale, new books and tobacco: there were the watermen required to carry the audience to and fro. Why, the shutting of the Theatres must have thrown out of employ many hundreds of men, and, if we consider their wives and families, many thousands of people. Can we wonder if the players, one and all, were Cavaliers, and were ready to fight for the side which allowed them their daily bread?
The Bear Garden and Hope Theatre 1616 The Bear Garden and Hope Theatre, 1616

But Fortune was against them. The Puritanic spirit prevailed. When the Parliament conquered, the theatres were doomed. And in 1655, by command of Thomas Pride, High Sheriff of Surrey, the seven bears of Paris{222} Gardens were shot by a company of soldiers. In the same year it is mentioned that the Hope Theatre had been destroyed to make room for tenements.

The profession of actor in a time when the Puritanic spirit was rapidly growing stronger could not possibly be held in good repute. There was dancing in it: music: mockery: merriment: satire: low comedy: all these things the misguided flock enjoyed and the shepherd deplored. The Mayor, long before the Theatres were suppressed, would never allow a theatre to be set up within his jurisdiction: had that jurisdiction extended beyond the various Bars: had there not, fortunately, happened to exist certain illogical and absurd Liberties and Precincts, in which the Mayor had no authority, there would have been no theatres in the neighbourhood of London, and therefore no Elizabethan drama, no Shakespeare, no Ben Jonson, no Massinger, no Fletcher. As things happened, we have to note the very remarkable fact that while the popular love for the theatre increased year by year; while the theatre became the teacher of history, the satirist of manners, the home of music and of poetry; the ministers and preachers thundered perpetually against it, yet prevailed not at all, until the Civil War broke out, and the power fell into the hands of the Puritans. For instance, one John Field, the father of one of the most famous players, Nathan Field, wrote to the Earl of Leicester as early as 1585 reviling him for having interfered 'on the behalf of evil men as of late you did for players, to the great griefe of all the godly,' and adjuring him not to encourage their wickedness, and 'the abuses that are wont to be nourished by those impure interludes and plays.' And the same divine, two years later, wrote an attack upon the theatre in consequence of the accident at Paris Gardens which has been already mentioned. The theatre was forcibly suppressed in the Civil War, but it was never forgotten, and the moment that the Restoration allowed it was opened again. But to our day the old Puritanism{223} continues, in a now feeble and impotent way, to consider the Theatre as the chosen home of the Devil.

Nathan Field, though the son of such a father, was ready to meet all comers in defence of the stage. In 1616 one Sutton, Preacher at St. Mary Overies, denounced the Theatre and all connected with it. Field answered him manfully, telling him plainly that he, the preacher, is disloyal, in preaching from his pulpit against people who are licensed and{224} patronised by the King. The players were at all times equal to the task of covering the preacher with derision; but derision seldom convinces or converts.

The general opinion of players remains that they have at all times been a penniless tribe, eating the 'corn in the green;' borrowing; spending their money in riotous living. This opinion is not by any means always true. The musician, the mummer, the dancer, and the tumbler were all regarded much in the same light; they were despised; they did not fight like the soldier; they did not produce like the craftsman; they did not, like the priest, say mass and forgive sins; they did not heal the sick; they knew no law; their only function in the world was to amuse; to make men laugh. It is very remarkable that directly the players ceased to be dependent on noble lords, as soon as they appealed to the public and received money from those who came to see them perform, they became prudent men of business. They may have been a cheerful tribe; they were, however, well to do, and, so far as can be learned, a thrifty tribe. They made money, not by writing plays, nor by acting them, but by being shareholders in the company with which they played. Burbage, Alleyn, Heminge, Sly, Field, Schanke, not to speak of Shakespeare, all appear to have lived in comfort, and to have died possessed of moderate fortunes.

The poets, certainly, continued, as poets have always been, penniless and in debt. By the end of the sixteenth century the earliest of the dramatic poets, Marlowe, Peele, Nash, Greene—that turbulent roystering profligate band whom everybody loved while everybody reproved—had passed away. The early extravagance vanished. The later poets, Ben Jonson, Beaumont, Fletcher, Massinger, led more godly lives. Yet they were often harassed for want of money. Three of them, Massinger, Field and Daborne, write to Henslow asking for an advance of 5l. on the security of a play which is worth ten pounds in addition to what they have had. All those, in{225} fact, were poor, and remained poor, who attempted to live by poetic literature alone.

The poets have had enough attention paid to them: let us consider the Company of Actors who played at the Globe and the Rose, the Hope and the Lion, and lived on and near the Bankside. The books of St. Saviour's (see Rendle's 'Southwark,' App. p. 26) are full of references to the actors who died and were buried here, whose children were baptised here or buried here. The name of William Shakespeare, unfortunately, does not occur. Among the actors, and first and chief, was Richard Burbage—like Shakespeare, a Warwickshire man. In person he was under the middle stature, and grew fat and scant of breath. But no actor of the time had so great a power over his audience. It was his father who built the very first permanent theatre—called The Theatre at Shoreditch. In consequence of a dispute with the landlord, he pulled down the house, carried the timbers across the river to Bankside, and set up the Globe.

There was Kempe, the low comedian, who succeeded Tarlton in that line. He was a great dancer: on one occasion he danced all the way from Norwich to London, taking nine days for the work: he was accompanied by one Thomas Sly, who played the tabor and the pipe for him. As he passed through the villages the girls came running out to dance with him along the road till he tired them out. He was a fellow of infinite drollery, with jokes and acting such as pleased the 'groundlings' well. There was a kind of entertainment popular at the time called a jig. It was a monologue for the most part, but might be played by two or more, in which the words were interrupted by songs and dances: the jig was like the farce which used to be played after the tragedy. This worthy lived in Bankside, but I believe there is no record of his death.

Another excellent player was John Lowin or Lewin. He also lived in the Liberty of the Clink. But he lived too long.{226} He survived the suppression of Theatres, and in his old age had no craft or art or mastery by which to earn his bread save that which was proscribed. He wrote for assistance to a patron, and he quoted the lover's words applied to the beggar:
Silence in love betrays more woe Than words, though ne'er so witty; The beggar that is dumb, you know, Deserves a double pity.

Among the low comedians Robert Armin must not be forgotten. He attracted Tarlton's attention when a mere boy. The veteran comedian adopted him and taught him. I know not whether he, or Kempe, was the true successor to that unrivalled buffoon. He is described by some rhymester as—
Honest gamesome Robert Armin, That tickles the spleen like a harmless vermin.

I have already mentioned Nathan Field the player: he was also Nathan Field the dramatist. He brought into the latter profession the carelessness about money that belonged to the former. There are indications—only indications, it is true—that there was in him something of the temperament of a Micawber, or a Harold Skimpole, a constitutional inability to understand the meaning of addition and subtraction or the translation of money into its equivalent in eating and drinking. He took a wife when he was no longer quite young, and he became jealous. Hence the epigram, 'De Agello et Othello:'
Field is, in sooth, an actor: all men know it; And is the true Othello of the poet: I wonder if 'tis true, as people tell us, That like the character he is most jealous. If it be so, and many living sweare it, It takes not little from the actor's merit, Since, as the Moor is jealous of his wife, Field can display the passion to the life. {227}

Who remembers John Schanke? He, like Kempe and Armin, carried on the traditions of low comedy. He was great in the invention of 'jigs.' A notable 'jig' was that called 'Schanke's Ordinary,' in which several performers took part. There is an odd story told by Collier of a 'Schanke, a player.' It was in the year 1642. There came galloping to London three of the Lord General's officers with the news that there had been a great battle in which the London Companies had been cut to pieces, and 20,000 men had fallen on both sides. They spread their news as they rode through the villages: they spread it abroad in the city. It was ascertained on inquiry that there had not been any battle at all, but that those three men—Captain Wilson, Lieutenant Whitney, and one Schanke, a player—were simply runaways. Therefore they were all clapped in the Gatehouse, and brought to undergo punishment according to martial law 'for their base cowardliness.'

One remarks that the race of comic actors or low comedians never becomes extinct. That power of always seizing on the comic side in everything, of always being able to make an audience laugh throughout a whole piece, is never, happily, taken away from a world which would be too sad without it. Great poets do not occur more than once in a century: great novelists not more than twice: but the low comedian, the comic man, whose face, whose voice, whose carriage, are as humorous as his words, never fails us. Tarlton is followed by Kempe, Kempe by Armin, Armin by Schanke. So Robson follows Liston, and Toole follows Robson, with lesser lights besides.

There are many other actors. The painstaking Collier finds out what parts they played and where they lived. Alas! He tells us no more. Perhaps there is no more to tell. The rank and file of the theatrical company are never a very interesting collection. Underwood, Toovey, Eccleston, Cowley, Cooke, Sly, Argan—they are shadows that have long since{228} passed out, made an exit, and so an end. They were forgotten by the audience the day after they were dead. Why seek to revive their memory when there is not a single solitary fact to go upon? A bone would be something: out of the skull of Yorick we might perhaps reconstruct his life, with all the adventures, love-making, disappointments, distresses and triumphs.

We know the place where they all lived; the place of a continual Fair without any booths, yet everything offered for sale: the music to cheer your heart—you could command it had you money in purse; the wine to raise your courage—you could call for it; the dancing to charm your eye—any girl would dance for you if you paid her; the new play to fill you with lofty thoughts—but you must pay for your seat; the jig to bring you back to the level of earth—or perhaps a little lower—you could buy it; the eyes of Dalilah at the sign of the Swan in the Hoope were directed to your purse; the ruffians belonging to the kennels and the bear garden; the drawers of the taverns and the sack and the tobacco, the boats and the boatmen, were all at your service. The players lived in this riot and racket, themselves a part: we catch glimpses of them, we can discern them amid the crowd: sometimes one of their women is ducked for a shrew; one of them is clapped in the Clink Prison: some are haled before the Bishop for acting in Lent—these unreasonable people really object to starving in Lent! And the place and the people and their manners and customs are deplorable but delightful; they are picturesque to the highest degree, but they are equally reprehensible. I wish we could go back four hundred years and see and listen for ourselves: but with all our admiration for the Elizabethan drama, I do not think that I should like to be one of the Show Folk or to live with them in that jovial colony on the Bankside in the days of the Globe and the Rose, the Hope and the Swan.


©英文小说网 2005-2010

有任何问题,请给我们留言,管理员邮箱:tinglishi@gmail.com  站长QQ :点击发送消息和我们联系56065533