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rate power, but a comic actor, whose mimickry made Cardinals and Popes (as he himself expresses it) • smascellarsi della risa.' How delightedly might a historian of private theatres dwell on all the details of the correspondence between Guicciardini and Machiavel, respecting the plan of the former to induce his friend to visit him at Modena, by getting up a representation of the Mandragora, for his amusement! The supper of Machiavel at Florence, with the cantatrice, la Barbera ;-his proposals to her to accompany him to the Carnival at Modena, and his anxiety for her assistance in the cast of his comedy,—all these little details derive a preciousness from the reputation of the men concerned in them, and from that charm which genius communicates to everything connected with its name.
Nor was it only among the profane ones of the world that this rage for private acting diffused itself. Even the recesses of the monastery and the convent
were not sacred from the ó soft infection, and the mask of Thalia was often found in the same wardrobe with the cowl and the veil. The wit of Plautus was not thought too coarse for the lips of the monks of S. Stefano, and even the fair nuns of Venice were allowed to pour forth their souls in tragedy.I As might be expected, however, some of these sequestered young actresses showed a disposition to convert their fictitious loves into real ones, and an order was accordingly issued, prohibiting all such performances in convents, per l'indécenza della rappresentazione e delle maschere,' and restraining the poor stage-struck nuns, in future, to the innocent indulgence of a dull oratorio.
As this passion for private acting increased, new inventions and new luxuries were devised, to give a zest to the pursuit. The theatrical dilettanti of Vicenza, not content with their temporary stage in the Palazzo della ragione, applied to their brother academician, Palladio, to furnish them with the design of a theatre, worthy of the classic objects of their institution ;-ad• dattata ai loro geniali esercizi, fra quali v'era quello delle tragiche ' rappresentazioni.' In the beautiful structure which he planned for them, was performed, in the year 1585, the tragedy of Edipus; and the interest of the representation was, we are told,
* The historian, who was then Governor of Modena.
+ There is a published translation of the Asinaria of Plautus, which, as appears from the title-page, was ' rappresentata nel monastero di S. Stefano in Venezia, 1528.'
| Addison speaks of the theatrical amusements of the nuns at the time when he visited Venice, 1901,
most touchingly increased by the circumstance of the sightless king being played by Luigi Groto, the blind man of Adria,' as he was called,-himself
a dramatic poet of no ordinary celebrity and power.
But it was not alone amid the pomp of a ducal hall, or surrounded by the forms of Palladian architecture, that these worshippers of the Drama indulged their devotions. That fine canopy, which the evening sky of Italy affords, not unfrequently formed their only theatre. For pastoral subjects, such as the Aminta and the Pastor Fido, the natural scenery of gardens and groves was thought to be the most appropriate; and vesti
of one of these rural theatres, in which the sweet dialogue of Ariosto and Tasso was recited by the 'donne' and ' cavalieri' of old, might, till very lately, be traced in the garden of the Villa Madama at Rome,
It is not within the scope of our present design to do more than merely intimate the many interesting details, into which a more extended research on this subject would lead. To the brilliant names, therefore, already mentioned, as having thrown a lustre over the annals of private acting, we shall content ourselves with adding a few more, as they occur to our recollection, without attending very much to form in the enumeration, or dwelling, at any great length, on the peculiar merits or histories of the personages.
Lorenzo de Medici, on the marriage of his daughter Maddalena, wrote a Sacred Drama, called • S. Giovanni e S. Paolo,' which was performed in his palace, by his own children,
Cinthio, the novelist, to whom Shakspeare was indebted for some of his stories, had a private theatre, we are told, in his own house, where the most celebrated of all his own tragedies, Orbacche,' was performed, with splendid scenic decorations, before Hercules II., Duke of Ferrara.
About the same period, Luigi Cornaro, of vivacious celebrity, -having not yet, we presume, taken to measuring his wine by ounces-gave a dramatic fête under his own roof, at which one of the plays of L'Anguillara was performed.
Chiabrera, misnamed the Pindar of Italy, was one of a classic society at Rome, called the Humorists,' who devoted themselves (says Muratori) to the composition and performance of • beautiful and ingenious comedies. The Sala, in which their meetings were held, still existed in the time of Muratori,
Beolco, one of the academic fraternity of the Infiammati, is said, by the historian of Padua, to have surpassed Plautus in composing comedies, and Roscius in representing them. The talent, indeed, of this Infiammato for acting, was thought worthy
of being commemorated, even on his tomb :- Nullis in scribendis agendisque comædiis, ingenio, facundia, aut arte, secundo.'
Salvator Rosa was, it appears, a comic actor of infinite vivacity; and his personation of Formica, and of the Coviello of the ancient farces, is said to have thrown the Immortal City into convulsions of gaiety.* Another Neapolitan painter, of much less celebrity, Andria Belvedere, was, about the beginning of the 18th century, at the head of a society of theatrical amateurs at Naples, and diffused such a zeal for the drama among his fellow-citizens, that (says M. Amaury Duval)+ • l'on vit * plusieurs seigneurs, par amour pour cet art, éléver dans leurs • palais des théâtres particuliers.'
The Duke Annibale Marchase, who resigned his government of Salerno in the year 1740, and retired to the Monastery of the Holy Fathers of the Oratory at Naples, I is said to have written his Sacred Dramas for the privato theatre of that holy retreat, from whose performances the Oratorio, or Scriptural Opera, derives both its origin and name,
Coming down to a still later period, we find the Serse' of Bettinelli acted, for the first time, in a private theatre at Verona; the principal character of the piece being performed by the Marquis Albergati, who was, himself, the author of various comedies, and so accomplished an actor, that Goldoni says of him, • non vi era in Italia comico ne dilettante chi rappresentasse al * pari di lui gli eroi tragici e gli amorosi nelle commedie.'
Lastly, we have Alfieri, the great boast of the Italian stage, performing in his own Antigone at Rome, with the beautiful and majestic Duchess of Zagarolo-establishing afterwards his little theatre on the Lungo d'Arno, near the Ponte S. Trinita, at Florence, where he acted successively the parts of Filippo, Carlo, and Saul, in his own plays; and, finally, taking his leave for ever of the boards at the feast of the Ilumination at Pisa, where (says the poet) ebbi la pueril vanagloria di andarvi, e • là recitai per una sola volta, e per l'ultima, la mia diletta . parte del Saul, e là rimasi, quanto al teatro, morto da Re.'
In France, as well as in Italy, it was on the boards of Private Theatres that the first glimmerings, the primus oriens,' of the
* See Lady Morgan's lively account of these exhibitions in her Life of this Painter.
+ Mémoires sur le Royaume de Naples.—Belvedere was followed by Amenta, the comic poet, who died in 1719. Comme Belvedere,' says M. Duval, il faisait jouer chez lui ses propres pièces par des • amateurs qu'il avoit formés à l'art du Théâtre.
| L'Oratorio de' PP. di S. Filippo Neri.
Drama appeared. The only difference was, that, in Italy, as we have seen, the originators of the art were scholars and nobles, while in France they were humble bourgeois and priests. C'est • à la lettre (says Suard) que l'on peut dire que nôtre comédie • naquit dans le sein de l'Eglise.'* Excited by the example of those religious shows, which, in the fourteenth century, were exhibited in different parts of Europe by the Pilgrims who had returned from the Holy Land, some pious citizens of Paris formed themselves into a society (on the model of the Christian Theatre, instituted by Gregory Nazianzene) for the purpose of improving upon these rude spectacles. Having established a sort of theatre at St Maur, near Vincennes, they there continued for some time to attract audiences of the faithful, and even to wean away crowds of good Christians from less amusing places of devotion.
Voltaire, who has thought proper, in an unusual fit of charity, to vindicate the scriptural dramas of this period from the charges of absurdity brought against them, assures us that they were performed with a solemnity not unworthy of their sacred subjects; - il y avait (he says) sur le théâtre beaucoup plus de pompe et d'appareil que nous n'en avons jamais vus.
La troupe • bourgeoise était composée de plus de cent acteurs, indépend' amment des assistans, des gagistes, et des machinistes.'
The priests, naturally becoming a little jealous of these showy competitors, thought it the safest policy at length to court an alliance with them. The hours of prayer were altered so as to suit those of the theatre; reverend pens volunteered to dramatise new subjects from the Scriptures; and priests not only became managers of this devotional theatre, but condescended without scruple to appear as actors on its stage. It was not long, however, before this union between the Church and the Drama was dissolved ; and it is perhaps on the principle of family quarrels being invariably the most violent, that actors and priests have continued on such deadly terms of hostility ever since.
The Drama, being thus disengaged from Religion, soon • stooped its wing towards an humbler and more congen region, and in the affairs of this world found its most legitimate quarry. A society of private actors, styling themselves · Enfans sans soucy,' was instituted about the beginning of the reign of Charles VI., and still flourished, after an interval of a hundred years, in the time of Marot, the poet. The professed object of their representations—which were called Sotties, or
* Mélanges de Littérature,
Sottises, and answered probably to our idea of farces-was to satirize good-humouredly the manners and vices of the age, and particularly those of the classes always most obnoxious, the Nobility and higher Clergy.
The most brilliant period of this merry fraternity was under the gentle reign of Louis XII., who had the good sense to tolerate their sallies, even when directed against himself. To judge from Marot's description of them—this charming French poet having apparently lived much in their society—they were, in general, young men of wealth and condition, and must have contributed, in no small degree, to prepare the way for the birth of a regular Theatre in France.
During the long interval that elapsed between these rude beginnings and the sudden maturity of the Drama in the beginning of the seventeenth century, when the Muse of Tragedy sprung at once, full-armed, from the brain of Corneille, all the essays in this department of literature were confined to the private theatres and universities. The plays acted in the colleges of Paris were a source of constant irritation to the higher powers; and we find decrees without end, not only from the Principals of the University, but from the Parliament, forbidding (particularly at the annual return of the Fête des Rois) the representation of any • farces, momeries, ni sottises,' among the students. The reason given for these anti-dramatic interferences was one which, in all times and in all countries, has been made the pretext for the incursions of power upon intellect :- La • précaution étoit d'autant plus necessaire, que les exemples du • passé faisoient craindre, que, dans ces jeux folâtres, on ne • s'emancipât à parler contre le gouvernement, et contre les premières personnes de l'Etat.' Sometimes these collegiate performances were made the medium of theological satire; as in the instance + of a Comedy played at the College of Navarre, in which Marguerite de Valois (on account of the supposed leaning of that celebrated Princess towards the Reformation) was represented under the shape of a Fury of Hell,-a piece of priestly pleasantry for which, on a complaint to the King, the learned amateurs were forthwith cast into prison.
Few names of any distinguished celebrity appear among the private actors of this period; but there is one worth whole milsions of university pedants, who will be read as long as racy
* Histoire de l'Université de Paris, tom. i. p.
191. † Another instance may be seen in Bayle, Art. · Schorus.'