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Their Majesties' Servants. Annals of the English Stage (Complete)

Dr. John Doran

188 pages
Library of Alexandria
The period of the origin of the drama is an unsettled question, but it has been fixed at an early date, if we may accept the theory of a recent writer, who suggests that Moses described the Creation from a visionary pictorial representation, which occupied seven days from the commencement to the close of the spectacle! Among the most remote of the Chinese traditions, the theatre holds a conspicuous place. In Cochin-China there is at this day a most primitive character about actors, authors, and audience. The governor of the district enjoys the least rude seat in the sylvan theatre; he directs the applause by tapping with his fingers on a little drum, and as at this signal his secretaries fling strings full of cash on to the stage, the performance suffers from continual interruption. For the largesse distributed by the patron of the drama, and such of the spectators as choose to follow his example, the actors and actresses furiously scramble, while the poor poet stands by, sees his best situations sacrificed, and is none the richer—by way of compensation. In Greece the profession of actor was accounted honourable. In Rome it was sometimes a well-requited, but also a despised vocation. During the decade of years when that aristocratic democrat Pisistratus held power, the drama first appeared (it is said) at Athens. It formed a portion of the religion of the State. The theatre was a temple in which, rudely enough at first, the audience were taught how the will, not only of men but of gods, must necessarily submit to the irresistible force of Destiny. This last power, represented by a combination of the lyric and epic elements, formed the drama which had its origin in Greece alone. In such a sense the Semitic races had no drama at all, while in Greece it was almost exclusively of Attic growth, its religious character being especially supported on behalf of the audience by the ever-sagacious, morally, and fervently-pious chorus. Lyric tragedy existed before the age of Thespis and Pisistratus; but a spoken tragedy dates from that period alone, above five centuries earlier than the Christian era; and the new theatre found at once its Prynne and its Collier in that hearty hater of actors and acting, the legislative Solon.