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"Quel talent! C'est le fils de Vestris, et ce n'est pas le mien! Helas I je ne l'ai manque que d'un quart d'heure I"
LXXXVI. PRYNNE'S HISTRIO-MASTIX.
The work of William Prynne, a barrister of Lincoln's Inn, for which Archbishop Laud cut oil' his ears, written against the immoral tendency of the stage-plays of his age, since it must be considered as representing the opinion of a large, and that the more sober and reflecting, portion of his countrymen, shows that the English dramatic literature of Prynne's age was by many considered as 'immoral as the French novel and dramatic literature of the present day (not without reason) hare been lately represented as being in the Quarterly Review. Prynne's work to which we allude is the 'Histrio-Mastix; the Players' Scourge, or Actors' Tragedie; wherein he attempts to show by divers arguments, and by the authority of sundry texts of Scripture; of the whole primitive Church; of 55 synods and councils; of 71 Fathers and Christian writers before the year of our Lord 1200; of above 150 foreign and domestic Protestant and Popish authors since; of 40 Heathen philosophers, &c.; and of our own English stitutes, magistrates, universities, writers, preachers; that popular stage-plays are sinful, lewd, ungodly spectacles, and most pernicious corruptions.'* We shall confine our extracts to the English authorities.
After quoting the testimonies of thirty fathers of the church, that stage-plays foment those carnal lusts which draw both actors and spectators on to actual uncleanness, to their eternal ruin; and so, by necessary consequence, are utterly unlawful for Christians to act, to see, to hear; Prynne thus proceeds :—
"If any stage-frequenting, play-adoring Christian be so incredulous as not to give credit to these alleaged fathers; let him then listen to some councels, some modern Christian authors, some ancient Pagans, who averre
* The edition from which we quote is that of London, 1633.
the self-same truth, whose joynt concurrent authorities he cannot deny."
Of the reign of Elizabeth and James he cites the following authors, among which it is to be remarked are several church dignitaries, and two or three bishops; which proves that the opinions were held by some of" what the Quarterly Review would admit to be the respectable classes of society, and were not entirely confined to the "low puritanical rabble." We give part of the quotations, which are curious, omitting certain passages which are not much to the point.
"Doctor Reinolds, in his preface to his 6 Theses, and in his overthrow of Stage-players thorowout: Printed 1599, and now reprinted, 1629. Doctor Sparkes, in his Rehearsall Sermon at Paul's Crosse, April 29, 1579. Master Perkins, in his Treatise of Conscience, c. 3, and on the 7th Commandment. Master Stubs, in his Anatomy of Abuses, pages 101 to 107. Master Northbrooke, in his Treatise against Vaine Playes and Enterludes, page 57 to 77. A booke intituled The Church ofevill men and women, whereof Lucifer is the head, and the members are all dissolute Players and Sinners. Printed by Richard Pinson, in 8°. A Treatise of Dances printed in 8°. 1581; wherein it is showed that dances are as it were accessaries, or dependants, or things annexed unto whoredome: where also by the way is proved that playes are joyned and knit together in a ranke with them. The second and third Blast of Retrait from Players and Theaters, pag. 1, 2, 3, 4, 43, 44, 53. 54, 55, 66, 89, 92, 96, 98, to 103 (all pregnant places to our purpose) : Printed by authority, London, 1580. Master Gosson, in his Schoole of Abuse. Two bookes, the one intituled, The Myrror for Magistrates of Cittes; the other, The Counter-blast to Stage-playes: by an uncertaine Author. John Field, in his Declaration of God's Judgment shewed at Paris Garden, January the I3th 1587: Printed by Henry Carre, 1588. J. G., in his refutation of Haywood's Apologie for Actors. Master Thomas Beard, in his Theater of God's Judgments, cap. 34. Master Elton and Master Dod, on the 7 Command
ment. Bishop Baily, in his preface to the Practice of Piety. Bishop Hall, in his Epistles; Decad. 6. Epist. 6. J. P. Minister of Feversham, in his booke intitled The Covenant betweene God and Man. Exposition on the 7 Commandment. Doctor Layton, in his Speculum Bellicari, cap. 45. Master Brinsly, in his True Watch; part 3, Abomination 19, p. 73, 74. Master John Downham, in his Guide to Godlinesse, lib. 3, cap. 21, sect. 5; and in his Summe of Divinity, lib. 1, cap. 11, page 203. And Richard Rawledge, in his Scourging of Piplers, pag. 2, 3, 4. Passing by all these," continues Prynne, '' with a briefe quotation of their names and workes, to which you may resort, as being too tedious to recite at large; I shall onely relate unto you what four other authors of our owne have written concerning the lewde effects of stage-playes.
"The first of them is reverend Bishop Babingtoh, who writes thus of playes.* 'These prophane and wanton stages-playes or enterludes, what an occasion they are of adultery and uncleannesse by gesture, by speech, by convayances, by devices to attaine to so ungodly desires, the world knoweth by too much hurt, by long experience. They corrupt the eyes with alluring gestures; the eyes, the heart; and the heart, the body; till all be horrible before the Lord. "Histrionicis gestibus inquinantur omnia" (saith Chrysostome). These players' behaviour polluteth all things; and of their playes he saith: They are the feasts of Satan, the inventions of the devill, &c. Councels have decreed very sharply against them; and polluted bodies by these filthy occasions have on their death-beds confessed the danger of them, lamented their owne foule and grievous faults, and left their warning for ever with us to beware of them. But I referre you to them that, upon good knowledge of the abominations of them, have written largely and, well against them. If they be dangerous in the day-time, more dangerous are they in the night certainly; if on a
* Exposition upon the Commandments: Com. 7. In his works at large, printed at London, 1622; the last part, p. 60 and 67,
VOL. II. L
stage and in open courts, much more in chambers and private houses :* for there are many roomes besides that where the play is; and peradventure the strangenesse of the place, and lacke of light to guide them, causeth error in their way, more then good Christians should in their houses suffer.' Thus this right godly prelate of our church, who makes stage-playes a breach of the 7 commandment, because they are the frequent occasions both of contemplative and actual fornication, and the inducement to it.
"The second is one Master Stephen Gosson (once a professed play poet; yea, a great patron and admirer of playes and players,f as himselfe confesseth, till God had called him to repentance, and opened his eyes to see their abominablenesse), who, among other things writeth thus of stage-playes :J 'As I have already discovered the corruption of playes, by the corruption of their causes,—the efficient, the matter, the forme, the end; so will I conclude the effects that this poyson workes among us. The devill is not ignorant how mightily these outward spectacles effeminate and soften the hearts of men; vice is learned with beholding; sinne is tickled, desire pricked, and those impressions of minde are secretly conveyed over to the gazers, which the players counterfeit on the stage. As long as we know ourselves to be flesh beholding those examples in theatres that are incident to flesh, we are taught by other men's examples how to fall, and they that come honest to a play may depart infected. * * *
"' Mine eyes throughly beheld the manner of theatres when I wrote playes myselfe,§ and found them to be the very markets of b* * *y; where choyce without shame hath beene as free, as it is for your money in the
*" Note this well, O yee lascivious persons, who harbour players in your private houses."
t " In his Anatomy of Abuses ; in his Epistles prefixed to his Playes Confuted in five actions; and so thorowout these bookes of his."
J '' Playes Confuted, action 5."
§ " Note this, and note it so as to believe it, because the author testifieth it from his owne experience."
Royall Exchange to take a short stocke or a long, a faling band or a French ruffe. The first building of theatres was to ravish the Sabines; and that they were continued in w* * *m ever after, Ovid confesseth in these words:—
Scilicet ex illo solenia more theatra,
De Arte Amandi, lib. 1.
As at the first, so now; theatres are snares for faire women. And as I told you long ago, in my Schoole of Abuses,* our theatres and play-houses in London are as full of secret adultery as they were in Rome.' * * "The third of them is Master John Brinsly, an eminent worthy divine; who writes thus of stage-playes.f 'But to passe over these also, with all other unlawful flockings and lewde sports upon the Sabbath, by every of which the worke of the Lord is hindered, as every one must needs acknowledge, what defence can we make for that concourse that is ordinary to those wanton playes in such places even upon that day? in which are the continual! sowings of all atheisme, and throwing the very firebrands of all filthy and noysome lusts into the hearts of poore simple soules, the stirring up and blowing the coales of concupiscence to kindle and increase the fire thereof, to breake out into an hideous flame until it % burne downe to Hell. Aske but your owne hearte as in the presence of the Lord, and you will need no further witnesse. And how can it be otherwise? how can you take these firebrands of Hell into your bosomes, and not be burnt? Is not every filthy speech, every w * *h gesture, such a firebrand cast by Satan into the heart of every wanton beholder, as a brand cast into a bundle of tow, or into a barrell of gunpowder, to sett all on fire
* " Quod nota."
+ "The 3 part of the True Watch, edit. 2. London, 1623. ch. ii. abomination, 30, pag. 302."
\ "Concourse to plays and the vileness of them. The inevitable danger of frequenters of plays."