Home  »  Volume V: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part One  »  § 23. Influence of the Southern Stage

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

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.”

    In the list of plays mentioned in the revels’ accounts 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.

    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. A few of them, in fact, as may be inferred from their titles, were belated moralities; a large number treated fabulous and romantic themes; at least two, The Creweltie of a Stepmother and Murderous mychaell, seem to be early specimens of the drama of domestic life.