Source: Edmund Gayton, Pleasant Notes upon Don Quixot (London, 1654)
Text: And although the only Laureat of our stage (having compos’d a Play of excellent worth, but not of equall applause) fell downe upon his knees, and gave thanks, that he had transcended the capacity of the vulgar; yet his protestation against their ignorance, was not sufficient to vindicate the misapplication of the argument; for the judicious part of that Auditory condemn’d it equally with those that did not understand it, and though the Comaedy wanted not its
prodesse, & delectare,
Had it been exhibited to a scholastick confluence; yet men come not to study at a Play-house, but love such expressions and passages, which with ease insinuate themselves into their capacities. Lingua, that learned Comaedy of the contention betwixt the five senses for the superiority, is not to be prostituted to the common stage, but is only proper for an Academy; to them bring Iack Drumm’s entertainment, Greens tu quoque, the Devill of Edmunton, and the like; or if it be on Holy dayes, when Saylers, Water-men, Shoomakers, Butchers and Apprentices are at leisure, then it is good policy to amaze those violent spirits, with some tearing Tragaedy full of fights and skirmishes: As the Guelphs and Guiblins, Greeks and Trojans, or the three London Apprentises, which commonly ends in six acts, the spectators frequently mounting the stage, and making a more bloody Catastrophe amongst themselves, then the Players did. I have known upon one of these Festivals, but especially at Shrove-tide, where the Players have been appointed, notwithstanding their bils to the contrary, to act what the major part of the company had a mind to; sometimes Tamerlane, sometimes Iugurth, sometimes the Jew of Malta, and sometimes parts of all these, and at last, none of the three taking, they were forc’d to undresse and put off their Tragick habits, and conclude the day with the merry milk-maides. And unlesse this were done, and the popular humour satisfied, as sometimes it so fortun’d, that the Players were refractory; the Benches, the tiles, the laths, the stones, Oranges, Apples, Nuts, flew about most liberally, and as there were Mechanicks of all professions, who fell every one to his owne trade, and dissolved a house in an instant, and made a ruine of a stately Fabrick. It was not then the most mimicall nor fighting man, Fowler, nor Andrew Cane could pacifie; Prologues nor Epilogues would prevaile; the Devill and the fool were quite out of favour. Nothing but noise and tumult fils the house, untill a cogg take ‘um, and then to the Bawdy houses, and reforme them; and instantly to the Banks side, where the poor Beares must conclude the riot, and fight twenty dogs at a time beside the Butchers, which sometimes fell into the service; this perform’d, and the Horse and Jack-an-Apes for a jigge, they had sport enough that day for nothing.
Comments: Edmund Gayton (1608-1666) was an English physician and writer. His Pleasant notes upon Don Quixot, known as also as Festivous Notes upon Don Quixot is a rambling study of Don Quixote which many asides anecdotes, including observations on the theatre. It was published in 1654, when theatrical performances in England were banned under Cromwell’s regime, so his recollections of the misbehaviour of audiences at theatrical performances during Shrovetide probably refers to the 1630s. The plays referred to include The Merry Devil of Edmonton, John Marston’s Jack Drum’s Entertainment, Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta and Tamburlaine the Great, William Boyle’s Jugurth (possibly), and presumably Thomas Heywood’s The Four Prentices of London.