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Entertainment Shakespeare Stage

Why was this not call’d the Tragedy of the Handkerchief?

These fragments come from the 17th century author and literary critic Thomas Rymer (1642-1713).  Rymer’s A Short View of Tragedy, published in 1692, casts a critical eye over several well-known plays, but his remarks on Othello, to which he devotes an entire chapter, are so entertaining I decided to share a few of them here.

From all the Tragedies acted on our English Stage, Othello is said to bear the Bell away.

What ever rubs or difficulty may stick on the Bark, the Moral, sure, of this Fable is very instructive.  First.  This may be a caution to all Maids of Quality how, without their Parents consent, they run away with Blackamoors.  Secondly.  This may be a warning to all good Wives, that they look well to their Linnen.  Thirdly.  This may be a lesson to Husbands, that before their Jealousie be Tragical, their proofs may be Mathematical.

This Fable is drawn from a Novel, compos’d in Italian by Giraldi Cinthio, who also was a Writer of Tragedies.  And to that use employ’d such of his Tales, as he judged proper for the Stage.  But with this of the Moor, he meddl’d no farther.  Shakespear alters it from the Original in several particulars, but always, unfortunately, for the worse.  He bestows a name on his Moor; and styles him the Moor of Venice: a Note of pre-eminence, which neither History nor Heraldry can allow him.  Cinthio, who knew him best, and whose creature he was, calls him simply a Moor.  We say the Piper of Strasburgh; the Jew of Florence; And, if you please, the Pindar of Wakefield: all upon Record, and memorable in their Places.  But we see no such Cause for the Moors preferment to that dignity.  And it is an affront to all Chroniclers, and Antiquaries, to top upon ‘um a Moor, with that mark of renown, who yet had never faln within the Sphere of their Cognisance.

Then is the Moors Wife, from a simple Citizen, in Cinthio, dress’d up with her Top knots, and rais’d to be Desdemona, a Senators Daughter.  All this is very strange.  The Character of the Senate is to employ strangers in their Wars; But shall a Poet thence fancy that they will set a Negro to be their General; or trust a Moor to defend them against the Turk?  With us, a Black-amoor might rise to be a Trumpeter; but Shakespeare would not have him less than a Lieutenant-General.  With us, a Moor might marry some drab or small-coal wench: Shakespeare would provide him the Daughter of some great Lord or Privy Councellor.

Nothing is more odious in Nature than an improbable lye; And, certainly, never was any Play fraught, like this of Othello, with improbabilities.  The characters or Manners, which are the second part in a Tragedy, are not less unnatural and improper, than the Fable was improbable and absurd.

There is a long rabble of Jack pudden farce betwixt Iago and Desdemona, that runs on with all the little plays, jingle, and trash below the patience of any Country kitchin-maid with her Sweet-heart.  The Venetian Donna is hard put to’t for pastime!  And this is all, when they are newly got on shoar, from a dismal Tempest, and when every moment she might expect to hear her Lord (as she calls him) that she runs so mad after, is arriv’d or lost.

Never in the World had any Pagan Poet his Brains turn’d at this Monstrous rate.  But the ground of all this Bedlam-Buffoonry we saw in the case of the French Strollers, the Company for Acting Christs Passion,  or the Old Testament, were Carpenters, Coblers, and illiterate fellows; who found that the Drolls, and Fooleries interlarded by them, brought in the rabble, and lengthened their time, so they got Money by the bargain.  Our Shakespeare, doubtless, was a great Master in this craft.  These Carpenters and Coblers were the guides he followed.  And it is then no wonder that we find so much farce and Apocryphal Matter in his Tragedies.  Thereby un-hallowing the Theatre, profaning the name of Tragedy; And instead of representing Men and Manners, turning all Morality, good sence, and humanity into mockery and derision.

So much ado, so much stress, so much passion and repetition about an Handkerchief!  Why was not this call’d the Tragedy of the Handkerchief?  What can be more absurd.  Desdemona dropt the Handkerchief, and missed it that very day after her Marriage.  It might have been rumpl’d up with her Wedding sheets: And this Night that she lay in her wedding sheets, the Fairey Napkin (whilst Othello was stifling her) might have started up to disarm his fury, and stop his ungracious mouth.  Then might she (in a Traunce for fear) have lain as dead.  Then might he, believing her dead, touch’d with remorse, have honestly cut his own Throat, by the good leave, and with the applause of all the Spectators.  Who might thereupon have gone home with a quiet mind, admiring the beauty of Providence; fairly and truly represented on the Theatre.

But from this Scene to the end of the Play we meet with nothing but blood and butchery, described much-what to the style of the last Speeches and Confessions of the persons executed at Tyburn: with this difference, that there we have the fact, and the due course of Justice, whereas our Poet against all Justice and Reason, against all Law, Humanity and Nature, in a barbarous arbitrary way, executes and makes havock of his subjects, Hab-nab, as they come to hand.  Desdemona dropt her Handkerchief; therefore she must be stifl’d.  Othello, by law to be broken on the Wheel, by the Poet cunning escapes with cutting his own throat.  Cassio, for I know not what, comes off with a broken shin.  Iago murders his Benefactor Roderigo, as this were poetical gratitude.  Iago is not yet kill’d, because there yet never was such a villain alive.

There is in this Play, some burlesk, some humour, and ramble of Comical Wit, some shew, and some Mimickry to divert the spectators: but the tragical part is plainly none other than a Bloody Farce, without salt or savour.

© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved
Christmas Custom Entertainment Food Household

We Were All Merry

These fragments come from the water poet John Taylor, and offer a glimpse into typical Christmas Day celebrations in 17th century England.  I’ve also included a carol, published in 1688, which provides further insight into festive food and the all-importance of Ale.  I’d like to thank everyone who has taken the time to visit Fragments in the last twelve months, and to wish you all a very merry Christmas!

I was presented with a cup of browne Ale, seasoned with Sinamon, Nutmegs, and Sugar.  When dinner was ready, I was set at the upper end of the Table, my owne company set round about me, and the rest ate with the servants.  We had Brawne of their owne feeding, Beefe of their owne killing; we had brave plum broth in bowle-dishes of a quart.  The White-loafe ranne up and downe the Table, like a Bowle in an Alley, every man might have a fling at him.  The March Beere marched up and downe, and we were all merry without the helpe of any Musicians.  We had good cheere, and good welcome which was worth all, for the Good-man of the house did not looke with a sour or stoicall brow, but was full of mirth and alacrity, so that it made the house merry.

Dinner being done, Grace being said, the Cloth taken away, the poore refreshed, we went to the fire, before which lay a store of Apples piping hot, expecting a bowl of Ale to coole themselves in.  Evening Prayer drew nigh, so we all repaired to Church, so went I home againe and passed the time away in discourse while supper, which being ended, we went to Cards. Some sung Carrols, merry songs, some againe to waste the long nights, would tell Winter-tales.  At last came in a company of Maids with Wassell, Wassell, jolly Wassell. I tasted of their Cakes, and supped of their Bowl, and for my sake, the White-loafe and Cheese were set before them, with Mince-Pies, and other meats.  These being gone, the jolly youths and plaine dealing Plow-swaines, being weary of Cards, fell to dancing; from dancing to shew me some Gambols.  Some ventured the breaking of their shinnes to make me sport, some the scalding of their lippes to catch at Apples tied at the end of a sticke, having a lighted candle at the other; some shod the wilde Mare; some at hotcockles, and the like. These Country revels expiring with the night, early in the morning we all tooke our leave of them, being loth to be too troublesome; and rendering them unfained thanks for our good cheere (who still desired that we would stay with them a little longer) we instantly travelled towards the City.

Being entered into it, we saw very few look with a smiling countenance on us, but a few Prentices or Journeymen that were tricked up in their Holiday cloathes. At last the Bells began to ring, every house-holder began to bestirre himselfe, the Maid-servants we saw hurrying to the Cookes shops with Pies, and before we were aware, whole Parishes of people came to invite us to dinner.

 Father Christmas, 1653

(For those who may wonder, nappy, in the context of this carol, means having a foaming head!)

A Carrol for Christmas-day at Night
To the Tune of My Life, and my Death

My Master your Servants
and Neighbours this Night,
are come to be merry,
with love and delight.
Now therefore be Noble,
and let it appear,
that Christmas is still
the best time of the Year.
To sit by the fire,
rehearse an old tale,
and taste of a bumper
of nappy old Ale.

It flows from the Barley,
that fruit of the Earth,
which quickens the fancy,
for pastime and mirth.
And therefore be jolly,
now each bonny Lad,
for we have no reason
at all to be sad.
Remember the season,
and then you’ll ne’er fail,
to bring in a bumper
of nappy brown Ale.

Now some of your dainties
let us freely taste,
my Stomach is ready,
I am now in haste.
And therefore sweet Mistris
I hope you’ll be brief,
to bring out the Sirloin
or Ribs of Roast Beef.
With other choice dainties
I hope you’ll not fail
at this happy season
with nappy brown Ale.

And now let me tell you
what dainties I prize,
I long to be doing
with curious minced-pies,
where plums in abundance
lie crowding for room.
If I come but near it
I’ll tell you its doom,
I’d soon part the quarrel
but hold, let’s not fail
to think of a bumper
of nappy old Ale.

The Pig, Goose and Capon
I’d like to forgot
but yet I do hope they’ll
come all to my lot.
We’ll lay a close siege
to the walls of the Goose,
and storm her strong castle,
there is no excuse
shall hinder our fury,
therefore let’s not fail
to have a full bumper
of nappy old Ale.

All those that are willing
to honour this day,
I hope that they never
will fall to decay;
but always be able
their Neighbours to give,
and keep a good Table
as long as they live.
That love, peace and plenty
with them may ne’er fail
and we may ne’er miss
of good nappy Ale.

Nativity Scene
© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved
Custom Entertainment London

Whores, Pimps and Panders – Bartholomew Fair

These fragments follow on from the post on tumbling and rope-tricks at Bartholomew Fair, and come from a curiously grumpy little pamphlet which takes its reader on a guided tour of the fair in order to highlight its dangers.

Bartholomew Faire begins on the twenty fourth day of August, and is then of so vast an extent that is contained in no lesse than four parishes, namely Christ Church, Great and Little Saint Bartholomewes, and Saint Sepulchres.  Hither resort people of all sorts, High and Low, Rich and Poore, from cities, townes, and countreys.  And all conditions, good and bad, vertuous and vitious, Knaves and fooles, Cuckholds and Cuckoldmakers, Bauds, Whores, Pimps and Panders, Rogues and Rascalls, the little loud-one and the witty wanton.

And now that we may the better take an exact survey of the whole Faire.  First let us enter in to Christ Church Cloysters which are now hung so full of pictures that you would take that place or rather mistake it for Saint Peters in Rome. Being arrived through the long walke to Saint Bartholomewes hospital, that place appeares to me a fucking Exchange, and may be so termed not unfitly, for there many a handsome wench exchanges her maidenhead for a small favour.  She comes not hither with her sweet-heart, to serve her owne turne only, but also to satisfie his desire; according to the old saying one good turne deserves another.

Let us now make a progresse into Smith-field, which is the heart of the Faire, where in my heart I think there are more motions in a day to be seene, than are in a terme in Westminster Hall to be had.  But whilst you take notice of the severall motions there, take this caution along with you, let one eye watch narrowly that no one make a motion into your pocket.  The Faire is full of gold and silver drawers, just as Lent is to the Fishmonger so is Bartholomew Faire to the Pickpocket.  The Citty-Marshalls are as dreadfull to these youngsters as the Plague is to our London actors, that refraines them from playing, so they hinder them from working. You may quickly know these nimble youths and likely find them very busie bodies in quarrells, sometimes in discourse with their wenches for most part to be found in a crowd or throng of people.  Their buttocks walke up and down the Faire very demurely.

It is remarkable and worth your observation to behold the strange sights and confused noise of the Faire.  Here a Knave in a fools costume with a trumpet sounding, or on a drumme beating, invites you and would perswade you to see his puppets.  There’s a Rogue like a wild woodman desires your company to view his motion; on the other side Hocus Pocus with three yards of ribbin in his hand shewing his art.  You shall see a gray goose-cap with a larke in his mouth, standing in his boothe shaking a rattle or scraping a fiddle with which children are taken.  All these together make such a distracted noise that you would think Babell were not comparable to it.  Here there are also your gamesters in action. Some turning of a whimsey, others throwing for pewter, who can quickly dissolve a round shilling into a three half penny saucer.

Well fare the Ale houses therein, yet better may a man fare in the pig markets of Pasty Nooke or Pye corner where pigges are in all houres of the day on the stalls piping hot, and would cry come eate me, but they are so damnable deare, and the reckonings for them are so saucy that a man had as good licke his fingers in a baudy house, as at this time come into one of those houses, where the fat greasy Hostesse instructs Nick Froth her tapster to aske a shilling more for a pigs head of a woman big with child, than of another ordinary customer.

Farewell to the Faire. Preserve your Purses, whilst you please your eyes.

© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved

Custom Entertainment London

A jig upon the rope

These snippets are from an advertisement for rope trick entertainments at Bartholomew Fair, an annual event which took place at Smithfield and began on the eve of St Bartholomew’s Day, 24th August.

At Mr Barnes’s Booth, between the Crown-Tavern and the Hospital-Gate over-against the Cross Daggers in West Smithfield, where you will see the English flag out on top of the Booth, during the time of Bartholomew-Fair, is to be seen the Famous Rope-Dancers in Europe. By these incomparable Companies (all joyn’d in one Booth) will be presented the Variety of Agility of Body, as Dancing, Tumbling, Vaulting and Walking the Slack Rope, the like was never seen since the Age of Man.

1. You will see the Morocco Woman and her Company who Vault upon the High Rope to admiration.

2. You will see the French Company who perform things too tedious here to relate.

3. You will see the two Famous High-German Children who are the Wonder of the World of their Sex performing such things the like was never seen before.

4. You will see the English Company, Mr Appleby and Mr Barnes who are the two Only Famous Men in the whole World for Tumbling and Rope Dancing; where Mr Barnes dances with a Child standing on his shoulders and two at his feet, with Rolls, Baskets, Boots, and dances a Jig upon the Rope with such Variety of steps that few or no Dancing Masters in England exceed him on the ground, keeping exact time to the Musick.  He likewise walks the Slack Rope, not bigger than a Penny Chord, and swings himself several Yards distance, standing upright, with the Pole in his hand.  Also you will see such Tumbling performed by the English Company as throwing Hoops over Halbards, over 16 mens Heads, over an Horse with a Man on his back, and two Boys standing upright on his Shoulders.  In short there is no Agility of Body, as Walking, Vaulting or Tumbling, but what is performed in this Booth.

You will likewise be entertained with Good Musicke and the Merry Conceits of Pickle-Herring and his son Punch. 

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