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Thursday, the fourteenth of July, saw a change in the Queen's diversions. There were thirteen bears in the inner court of Kenilworth, and a great sort of ban-dogs" in the outer. They were brought together, and set face to face. "It was a sport," says the coxcomb-historian, "very pleasant of these beasts: to see the bear with his pink eyes leering after his enemies' approach, the nimbleness and wait of the dog to take his advantage, and the force and experience of the bear again to avoid the assault: If he was bitten in one place how he would pinch in another to get free; that if he was taken once then what shift, with biting, with clawing, with roaring, tossing, and tumbling, he would work to wind himself from them; and when he was loose, to shake his ears twice or thrice, with the blood and the slaver about his visnomy, was a matter of a goodly relief." Oh, Master Laneham, is it you, " always among the gentlewomen by my good will," is it you, with your dancing, your gittern, your cittern, your virginals, your high reaches, your fine feigning, your deep diapason, your wanton warblings, when the ladies flock about you like bees to honey, that can write thus of these cruelties? And truly in this matter of the bears we believe you speak more according to the fashion of the polite than "Cousin Abraham Slender," when he said "Women, indeed, cannot abide 'em." They came into the inner court for the diversion of the Queen and her ladies; they were brought especially from London; the masters of her Majesty's games had the Chamberlain's warrant to travel peaceably with the bears, and to press all ban-dogs that should be needful; they were the lawful tenants of Paris Garden, before the glories of the Globe Theatre, and they divided the town with Hamlet even in that theatre's most palmy days. When the young Shakspere heard the roaring and the barking he knew not that his most obstinate rivals were at their vocation;-rivals that even his friend Alleyn would build his best profits upon in future days, and found a college out of their blood and
slaver. But let us not forget that they were the especial amusements of the town; and that forty years after, the sovereign of a debauched and idle court, although he could enjoy the comedies of Shakspere and the masques of Jonson, is petitioned by Philip Henslowe and Edward Alleyn for some gratuity, seeing the great diminution of profits they sustain by the restraint against baiting "on the Sundays in the afternoon, after divine service," more particularly on account of the loss of divers of these beasts, as before the King of Denmark, which lost a goodly bear called George Stone; and at our last being before your Majesty were killed four of our best bears, which in your kingdom are not the like to be had." Laneham tells us not that the country-folks were recreated with the bears:-" As this sport was held at day-time in the castle, so was there abroad at night very strange and sundry kinds of fireworks."
The bear-tragedy of Thursday was succeeded by the enactment of a most extraordinary farce on Sunday. "After divine service in the parish-church for the Sabbath-day, and a fruitful sermon there in the forenoon," Elizabeth was recreated with a mockery of the simple ceremonials of her people, on one of the most joyful and yet serious occasions of human life. A village-bridal was to be burlesqued—a “merry marriage," as Gascoigne calls it. A procession was set in order in the tilt-yard to make its show in the Castle before the Great Court. "Sixteen wights, riding-men, and well beseen," and then "the bridegroom foremost in his father's tawny worsted jacket (for his friends were fain that he should be a bridegroom before the Queen), a fair straw hat with a capital crown, steeple-wise on his head; a pair of harvest-gloves on his hands, as a sign of good husbandry; a pen and inkhorn at his back, for he would be known to be bookish; lame of a leg that in his youth was broken at foot-ball; well-beloved of his mother, who lent him a new muffler for a napkin, that was tied to his girdle for losing it. It was no small sport to mark this minion in his full appointment; that, through good tuition, became as formal in his action as had he been a bridegroom indeed." Then came the morris-dancers, Maid Marian, and the Fool; bride-maids, " as bright as a breast of bacon, of thirty years old apiece;" a freckled-faced, red-headed lubber with the bride-cup; the "worshipful bride, thirty-five years old, of colour brown-bay, not very beautiful indeed, but ugly, foul, and ill-favoured;" and, lastly, a dozen other damsels "for bride-maids, that for favour, attire, for fashion and cleanliness, were as meet for such a bride as a tureen-ladle for a porridge-pot." We must do Elizabeth the justice to believe that such a mummery was scarcely agreeable to her; it could not have been agreeable to her people. In that Court, as in other Courts, must there have dwelt that heartless exclusiveness which finds subjects for ridicule in what delights the earnest multitudes. Many a bridal procession had gone forth from the happy cottages of Kenilworth to the porch of that old parish-church, amidst song and music, with garlands of rosemary and wheat-ears, parents blessing, sisters smiling in tears; and then the great lord the heartless lord, as the peasants might whisper, whose innocent wife
* Collier's Memoirs of Edward Alleyn,' p. 75.
perished untimely is to make sport of their homely joys before their Queen. There was,
perhaps, one in the crowd on that Sunday afternoon who was to see the very heaven of poetry in such simple rites-who was to picture the shepherd thus addressing his mistress in the solemnity of the troth-plight :
"I take thy hand; this hand As soft as dove's down, and as white as it;
Or Ethiopian's tooth, or the fann'd snow
That's bolted by the northern blasts twice o'er." *
He would agree not with Master Laneham--" By my troth 't was a lively pastime: I believe it would have moved a man to a right merry mood, though it had been told him that his wife lay dying." Leicester, as we have seen, had procured abundance of the occasional rhymes of flattery to propitiate Elizabeth. This was enough. Poor Gascoigne had prepared an elaborate masque, in two acts, of Diana and her Nymphs, which for the time is a remarkable production. "This show," says the poet," was devised and penned by Master Gascoigne, and being prepared and ready (every actor in his garment) two or three days together, yet never came to execution. The cause whereof I cannot attribute to any other thing than to lack of opportunity and seasonable weather." It is easy to understand that there was some other cause of Gascoigne's disappointment. Leicester, perhaps, scarcely dared to set the puppets moving who were to conclude the masque with these lines:
"A world of wealth at will
You henceforth shall enjoy
O queen, O worthy queen,
But when the Queen laughed at the word marriage, the wily courtier had his impromptu device of the mock bridal. The marriages of the poor were the marriages to be made fun of. But there was a device of marriage at which Diana would weep, and all the other Gods rejoice, when her Majesty should give the word. Alas, for that crowning show there was "lack of opportunity and seasonable weather."
It is difficult to imagine anything more tedious than the fulsome praise, the mythological pedantries, the obscure allusions to Constancy and Deep-Desire, which were poured into the ears of Elizabeth during the nineteen days of Kenilworth. There was not, according to the historians of this visit, one fragment of our real old poetry produced to gratify the Queen of a nation that had the songs and ballads of the chivalrous times still fresh upon its lips. There were no Minstrels at Kenilworth; the Harper was unbidden to its halls. The old English spirit of poetry was dead in a scheming court. It was something
higher that in a few years called up Spenser and Shakspere. We have many evidences besides the complaint of poor Richard Sheale that the courtly and the rich had begun to hold the travelling depositaries of the old traditionary lore of England in unwise contempt. A few years after, and they were proscribed by statute:—
Laneham gives an account of "a ridiculous device of an ancient minstrel and his song, prepared to have been proffered, if meet time and place had been found for it." This is not the minstrel himself, but a travestie of him. He was "a Squire Minstrel of Middlesex;" and an absurd narrative is put into his mouth of "the worshipful village of Islington, well known to be one of the most ancient and best towns in England next London, at this day." Laneham goes on to describe how "in a worshipful company" the "fool" who was to play the Minstrel was put out of countenance by one cleverer than himself— Master Laneham perhaps; and how "he waxed very wayward, eager, and sour." But he was pacified with fair words, and sack and sugar; and after a little warbling on his harp came forth with a "solemn song, warranted for story out of King Arthur's acts, the 1st book and 26th chapter." Percy prints The Minstrel's Sonnet' in his Reliques,' under the title of King Ryence's Challenge,' saying "This song is more modern than many of them which follow it, but is placed here for the sake of the subject. It was sung before Queen Elizabeth at the grand entertainment at Kenilworth Castle in 1575, and was probably composed for that occasion." Not so. Laneham says expressly, "it was prepared to have been proffered." It is remarkable that Percy does not state what is so evident that this ballad was intended to be a burlesque upon the Romances of Chivalry. If all Laneham's conceited description of the Minstrel did not show this, the following stanza is decisive enough; being the answer to the messenger of King Ryence, who came to demand, in the language of the 'Morte Arthur,' the beard of the British king, "for king Ryence had purfeled a mantell with kings' beards, and there lacked for one a place in the mantell:"
'Beggars they are with one consent,
"But say to sir Ryence, thou dwarf, quoth the king,
And shortlye with basins and pans will him ring
On the Sunday afternoon, after the presentation of The Merry Marriage,' followed, according to Laneham, "as good a sport, methought, presented in an historical cue by certain good-hearted men of Coventry, my lord's neighbours there." They "made petition that they might renew now their old storial show: of argument how the Danes, whilom here in a troublous season, were for
With swords and not razors quickly shall trye
And therewith he shook his good sword Excalàbor."