Reference > Cambridge History > The Drama to 1642, Part One > Early English Comedy > Influence of the Southern Stage
  The Bugbears Strength of the native dramatic instinct  


The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume V. The Drama to 1642, Part One.

V. Early English Comedy.

§ 23. Influence of the Southern Stage.

The influence of the southern stage, and the southern novel (new and old), upon the English theatre, is attested by the statement of Stephen Gosson in Playes Confuted in Five Actions (1582):
I may boldely say it because I have seene it, that the Palace of pleasure, the Golden Asse, the Aethiopian historie, Amadis of France, the Rounde table, baudie Comedies, in Latine, French, Italian and Spanish, have been thoroughly ransackt to furnish the Playe houses in London.
  Gosson further mentions that, in his unregenerate days, he had himself been the author of “a cast of Italian devices, called, the Comedie of Captain Mario.   37
  In the list of plays mentioned in the revels’ accounts  32  occur several that are inspired by Italian themes. The three Systers of Mantua (1578) and The Duke of Millayn and the Marques of Mantua (1579) were acted by professional players, and Ariodante and Genevora (1583), as already mentioned, was performed by the Merchant Taylors’ boys. Italian players, it is noticeable, had, in 1574, followed the queen’s progress, “and made pastyme fyrst at Wynsor and afterwardes at Reading.” From the list of properties supplied for the performance at Reading, it is evident that the foreigners acted a pastoral.   38
  Probably, except for some school plays, the pieces performed before the queen, even when they were on Italian, or, as was more frequently the case, on classical and mythological, subjects, were not cast in the mould of Ariosto or of Terence. Written, for the most part, to be acted by professional companies before popular audiences, they did not follow the classic or neo-classic conventions the influence of which has been traced in the preceding pages. They adhered instinctively to the freer lines of native English drama, inherited from miracle and morality plays.  33  A few of them, in fact, as may be inferred from their titles, were belated moralities; a large number treated fabulous and romantic themes; 34  at least two, The Creweltie of a Stepmother and Murderous mychaell, seem to be early specimens of the drama of domestic life. 35    39

Note 32. See Documents relating to the Office of the Revels in the time of Queen Elizabeth, ed. Feuillerat, A. (vol. XXI of Bang’s Materialien). [ back ]
Note 33. One play of this type, not mentioned, however, in the revels’ accounts, has recently been brought to light. It is The Plaie of Pacient Grissell, written by John Phillip and printed by T. Colwell, to whom, in all probability, it was licensed for publication in 1565/6 and 1568/9. A unique copy found in lord Mostyn’s library was sold in 1907, and from this the play has been reprinted by the Malone Society (1909). The plot is taken from the closing tale of the Decameron, probably through an intermediate source, though some of the episodes and the form of the proper names make it unlikely that this source was Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale. The comedy covers the whole lengthy history of Grissell’s marriage, her sufferings, her abasement, and her restoration to her husband and her dignities. The author shows some skill in grouping his materials, but the characterisation is weak, and the “fourteeners,” in which the serious passages are mainly written, are monotonous, though the piece contains some pretty lyrics. The most interesting feature of Pacient Grissell is that it mingles with the personages of the Italian story a number of allegorical figures, of which the chief is “Politicke perswasion,” the nimble-tongued Vice, who acts as the evil genius of the marquis. Thus, more than thirty years before Chettle, Dekker and Haughton’s similarly named comedy (as to which cf. Vol. VI, Chap. II) was written, the story of “pacient Grissell,” always a favourite with playwrights (cf. Ward, A. W., Eng. Dram. Lit. vol. I, pp. 428–430 and ante, p. 16), had appeared in vernacular dramatic form. [ back ]
Note 34. Similar plays, not performed before the queen, but still extant, are Common Conditions (imperfect) and The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune. [ back ]
Note 35. Cf. post, Chap. XIII. [ back ]

  The Bugbears Strength of the native dramatic instinct  

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