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Massinger, Milton, And The Italian Theatre
by [?]

Thus, I think, we have sufficient evidence of an intercourse subsisting between the English and Italian theatres, not hitherto suspected; and I find an allusion to these Italian pantomimes, by the great town-wit Tom Nash, in his “Pierce Pennilesse,” which shows that he was well acquainted with their nature. He indeed exults over them, observing that our plays are “honourable and full of gallant resolution, not consisting, like theirs, of pantaloon, a zany, and a w—- e, (alluding to the women actors of the Italian stage;[3]) but of emperors, kings, and princes.” My conviction is still confirmed, when I find that Stephen Gosson wrote the comedy of “Captain Mario;” it has not been printed, but “Captain Mario” is one of the Italian characters.[4]

Even at a later period, the influence of these performances reached the greatest name in the English Parnassus. One of the great actors and authors of these pieces, who published eighteen of these irregular productions, was Andreini, whose name must have the honour of being associated with Milton’s, for it was his comedy or opera which threw the first spark of the Paradise Lost into the soul of the epic poet–a circumstance which will hardly be questioned by those who have examined the different schemes and allegorical personages of the first projected drama of Paradise Lost: nor was Andreini, as well as many others of this race of Italian dramatists, inferior poets. The Adamo of Andreini was a personage sufficiently original and poetical to serve as the model of the Adam of Milton. The youthful English poet, at its representation, carried it away in his mind. Wit indeed is a great traveller; and thus also the “Empiric” of Massinger might have reached us from the Bolognese “Dottore.”

The late Mr. Hole, the ingenious writer on the Arabian Nights, observed to me that Moliere, it must be presumed, never read Fletcher’s plays, yet his “Bourgeois Gentilhomme” and the other’s “Noble Gentleman” bear in some instances a great resemblance. Both may have drawn from the same Italian source of comedy which I have here indicated.

Many years after this article was written, has appeared “The History of English Dramatic Poetry,” by Mr. Collier. That very laborious investigator has an article on “Extemporal Plays and Plots,” iii. 393. The nature of these “plats”or “plots” he observes, “our theatrical antiquaries have not explained.” The truth is that they never suspected their origin in the Italian “scenarios.” My conjectures are amply confirmed by Mr. Collier’s notices of the intercourse of our players with the Italian actors. Whetstone’s Heptameron, in 1582, mentions “the comedians of Ravenna, who are not tied to any written device.” In Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy the extemporal art is described:—

The Italian tragedians were so sharp of wit,
That in one hour of meditation
They would perform anything in action.

These extemporal players were witnessed much nearer than in Italy–at the Theatre des Italiens at Paris–for one of the characters replies–

I have seen the like,
In Paris, among the French tragedians.

Ben Jonson has mentioned the Italian “extemporal plays” in his “Case is Altered;” and an Italian commediante his company were in London in 1578, who probably let our players into many a secret.

[Footnote 1:
I refer the reader to Steevens’s edition, 1793, vol. ii. p. 495, for a sight of these literary curiosities. ]

[Footnote 2:
The commencement of the “Platt” of the “Seven Deadly Sinnes,” believed to be a production of the famous Dick Tarleton, will sufficiently enlighten the reader as to the character of the whole. The original is preserved at Dulwich, and is written in two columns, on a pasteboard about fifteen inches high, and nine in breadth. We have modernised the spelling:–

“A tent being placed on the stage for Henry the Sixth; he in it asleep. To him the lieutenant, and a pursuivant (R. Cowley, Jo. Duke), and one warder (R. Pallant). To them Pride, Gluttony, Wrath, and Covetousness at one door; at another door Envy, Sloth, and Lechery. The three put back the four, and so exeunt.

“Henry awaking, enter a keeper (J. Sincler), to him a servant (T. Belt), to him Lidgate and the keeper. Exit, then enter again–then Envy passeth over the stage. Lidgate speakes.”

[Footnote 3:
Women were first introduced on the Italian stage about 1560–it was therefore an extraordinary novelty in Nash’s time. ]

[Footnote 4:
That this kind of drama was perfectly familiar to the play-goers of the era of Elizabeth, is clear from a passage in Meres’ “Palladis Tamica,” 1598; who speaks of Tarleton’s extemporal power, adding a compliment to “our witty Wilson, who, for learning and extemporal wit, in this faculty is without compare or compeer; as to his great and eternal commendations, he manifested in his challenge at the Swan, on Bank-side.” The Swan was one of the theatres so popular in the era of Elizabeth and James I., situated on the Bankside, Southwark. ]