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Title: Shakespeare's Christmas Gift to Queen Bess
Author: McMahan, Anna Benneson
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Shakespeare's Christmas Gift to Queen Bess" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

[Illustration: Queen Elizabeth going to Whitehall through
London Streets]

                           Christmas Gift To
                              Queen Bess

                           In the year 1596

                         Anna Benneson McMahan

                  [Illustration: THE MERMAID TAVERN]

                          A.C. McClurg & Co.


                      Published October 12, 1907

                          The Lakeside Press
                     R.R. DONNELLEY & SONS COMPANY

                            822.33 HN8 1907
                        McMahan, Anna (Benneson)
                      Shakespeare's Christmas gift

                           To my sister Lina
                              in memory of
                   the Christmases of our childhood.

                    "All, though feigned, is true."


      I   At the Mermaid                                            11

     II   At the Queen's Palace                                     33

    III   A Christmas Carol of the Olden Time                       65



    Queen Elizabeth going to Whitehall
        through London Streets                  Frontispiece

    At the Mermaid                                                  13

    The River Avon at Stratford                                     14

    Birthplace of Mary Arden, Mother of Shakespeare                 16

    Warwickshire House of the Tudor Period                          18

    Old Graves in Trinity Churchyard, Stratford                     20

    Old Warwickshire Cottages                                       24

    A Group of Morris Dancers                                       26

    Garden View of Shakespeare's Birthplace, Stratford              30

    Queen Elizabeth going to Whitehall by the Thames                35

    Portrait of the Earl of Essex                                   36

    Portrait of the Earl of Southampton                             40

    Queen Elizabeth listening to the Play                           44

    "Observance to a morn of May"                                   46

    Woods near Stratford                                            50

    Earl of Leicester receiving Queen Elizabeth
        at Kenilworth                                               54

    Portrait of Queen Elizabeth in her Later Years                  58

    A Dance of the Sixteenth Century                                62


                           At the Mermaid.

     Thus Raleigh, thus immortal Sidney shone
     (Illustrious names!) in great Eliza's days.

                           --Thos. Edwardes.

[Illustration: At the Mermaid]

                     CHRISTMAS GIFT TO QUEEN BESS


                           At the Mermaid.

The numberless diamond-shaped window panes of the Mermaid Tavern are
twinkling like so many stars in the chill December air of London. It is
the last meeting of the Mermaid Club for the year 1596, and not a member
is absent. As they drop in by twos and threes and gather in groups about
the room, it is plain that expectation is on tip-toe. They call each
other by their Christian names and pledge healths. Some are young,
handsome, fastidious in person and dress; others are bohemian in
costume, speech, and action; all wear knee breeches, and nearly all have
pointed beards. He of the harsh fighting face, of the fine eye and
coarse lip and the shaggy hair, whom they call Ben, although one of the
youngest is yet plainly one of the leaders both for wit and for wisdom.

[Illustration: The River Avon at Stratford

     "I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
     Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows."

That grave and handsome gentleman whose lordly bearing and princely
dress mark his high rank, is another favourite. He has written
charming poems, has fought gallantly on many fields, has voyaged
widely on many seas, has founded colonies in distant America, is a
favourite of the Queen. But in this Mermaid Club his chief glory is
that he is its founder and leader, the one whose magnetism and
personal charm has summoned and cemented in friendship all these
varied elements.

At last the all-important matter of the yearly Christmas play at court
has been settled; the Master of the Revels has chosen from the rich
stores of his manuscripts "_The Midsummer Night's Dream_", graciously
adding that "for wit and mirth it is like to please her Majesty
exceedingly." A high honor, indeed, for its author. For, not then, as
now, were plays written primarily for the recreation and approval of the
audience of the theatre. True, the public stage was fostered, and
attracted its daily audience, but rather as a dress rehearsal, its main
purpose being to train the players for the court presentations at one of
her Majesty's palaces. The secret spur to both players and playwright
was the hope of being among the chosen for the festivities at Richmond,
Whitehall, or Greenwich, as the Queen might fancy to hold her court.

[Illustration: Birthplace of Mary Arden, Mother of Shakespeare

     "Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine
     With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine."

[Illustration: Warwickshire House of the Tudor Period]

Disappointment, soreness, jealousy, not seldom followed the award of the
coveted distinction, but not so on this occasion. For now the successful
candidate is one of the youngest and best beloved of this jolly coterie,
and their pride in him is shown by the eagerness with which they await
his coming to read to them the changes in the manuscript of his play
since its former presentation. Ah! hear the burst of applause that
greets his late arrival--a high-browed, sandy-haired man of thirty-two,
lithe in figure, of middle height, with a smile of great sweetness, yet
sad withal. On his face, one may read the lines of recent sorrow, and
all know that he has returned but recently to London from the mournful
errand which took him to his Stratford home--the burial of his dearly
beloved and only son, Hamnet. The plaudits for the author of the most
successful play of the season--"_Romeo and Juliet_," which was then
taking the town by storm at the Curtain Theatre--were little heeded by
the grief-stricken father as he urged his horse over the rough roads of
the four days' journey, arriving just too late for a parting word from
dying lips. But private sorrows are not for those who are called to
public duties; a writer must trim his pen not to his own mood, but to
the mood of the hour. And Queen Elizabeth, old in years, but ever young
in her love of fun and frolic and flattery, must be made to forget the
heaviness of time and the infirmities of age. If she may no longer take
part in out-door sports--the hunting, the hawking, the
bear-baiting,--she still may command processions, fêtes, masques, and
stage-plays. It pleases her now to see this wonderful fairy piece, of
which she has heard so much since, two years ago, it graced the nuptials
of the Earl of Derby. Does she not remember also that pretty impromptu
verse of the author when acting the part of King in another man's play,
two years ago at Greenwich? Did she not twice drop her glove near his
feet in crossing the stage? And how happily had he responded to the
challenge! True to the character as well as to the metre of his part, he
had picked up the glove, presenting it to its owner with the words:--

     "And though now bent on this high embassy,
     Yet stoop we to take up our cousin's glove."

[Illustration: Old Graves in Trinity Churchyard, Stratford]

Seats are taken, the manuscript is opened, and the club becomes a
green-room conference. The play is not to be recast entirely, the
changes from the early version being mainly to introduce certain
touches to flatter the royal ears, and to suit it to the more
elaborate equipment of the Whitehall stage. Quill in hand, the reader
as he proceeds crosses out from his manuscript everything that clogs
the movement or detracts from the playfulness; giving free rein to his
luxuriant imagination, he scatters the choicest flowers of fancy to
create a vivid and animated picture. The lovers meet and part with
pretty rhymes and repartee; the hard-handed men--the tradesmen and
tinkers--bring their clumsy efforts to serve the wedding-feast; the
fairies, graceful, lovely, enchanting, dance amidst the fragrance of
enameled meadows.

[Illustration: Old Warwickshire Cottages

     "And all things shall be peace."

His fellow writers feel the charm. No one of them can do work in so
many kinds nor of such kind in each. They recognise their master, they
are under his magic spell; the familiar stories from Plutarch and
Chaucer and Ovid take on a new meaning; the very holly on the walls
seems alive with the fairy folk, as indeed it should be, according to
the pretty, old superstition that elves and fairies hover about all
Christmas fêtes. Hence, branches are hanging in hall and bower in
order that these invisible guests may "hang in each leaf and cling on
every bough." The holly, its prickly leaves symbolic of the crown of
thorns, and its red berries of the blood of Christ, banishes the ivy
and other greens, and becomes the popular favourite that it has since
remained, for Christmas decoration.

[Illustration: A Group of Morris Dancers

     "The quaint-mazes in the wanton green,
      For lack of tread, are undistinguishable."

A responsive audience truly. Roars of laughter greet the rollicking
humour of the clowns and their rude burlesque of things theatrical.
But longest and loudest is the applause over the new touches--those
portions that have been written in to please the court and the Queen.
To remodel a play written for a marriage celebration so that it shall
seem to praise the virginity of the Queen were surely no slight task,
but it has been accomplished.

Though the scene is laid in Greece, yet the play is full of the
English life that all know so well. "Merrie England" and not classic
Greece has given the poet the picture of the sweet country
school-girls working at one flower, warbling one song, growing
together like a double cherry. Of England, is the picture of the
hounds with "ears that sweep away the morning dew"; from England, all
this out-door woodland life, the clown's play and the clowns
themselves,--Bottom with his inimitable conceit, and his fellows,
Snug, Quince, and the rest. English is all Puck's fairy lore, the
cowslips tall, the red-hipt humble-bee, Oberon's bank, the pansy
love-in-idleness, and all the lovely imagery of the verse. English is
the whole scenic background, and the "Wood near Athens" is plainly the
Stratford boy's idealised memory of the Weir Brake that he knows so

Mayhap, in very truth, on some mid-summer night the young poet, even
then of "imagination all compact," did indeed dream a dream or see a
vision like unto this, bringing it from Stratford to London partly
written, but foregoing its completion for labour that would find
readier acceptance at the theatre.

[Illustration: Garden View of Shakespeare's Birthplace, Stratford

     "An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds."

However that may be, certain it is that this is a red-letter night at
the Mermaid. The genius of "gentle Will" has taken a new point of
departure and shines as it has not shone before either in his making
over of other men's plays, or in his few original works. He has
conquered a new realm of art; the phantoms of the fairy world for the
first time have been endowed with a genuine and sustained dramatic
interest. Small wonder that no one ventures to interrupt as the pages
are turned; even at the close, only one, the Silenus-faced Ben, offers a
criticism. Being well versed in classic lore, he protests against the
characterisation of Theseus, Duke of Athens, saying it is too modern,
and has in fact nothing of the antique or Grecian in its composition.

But he is over-ruled speedily, and as the meeting breaks up one of the
younger fellows whispers to another, "Shakespeare was sent us from
Heaven, but Jonson from--College."


                        At the Queen's Palace.

     Those flights upon the banks of Thames
     That so did take Eliza and our James.

                                  --Ben Jonson.

[Illustration: Queen Elizabeth going to Whitehall by the Thames

     "But, noble Thames, whilst I can hold a pen,
      I will divulge thy glory unto men."

                        John Taylor, the "Water Poet."


                       At the Queen's Palace.

It is Christmas night. Lords, ladies, and ambassadors have been
summoned to Whitehall Palace to witness the play for which author,
actors, and artists of many kinds have been working so industriously
during the past few weeks. The Banqueting Hall, with a temporary stage
at one end, has been converted into a fine auditorium.

Facing the stage, and beneath her canopy of state, sits Queen Elizabeth,
in ruff and farthingale, her hair loaded with crowns and powdered with
diamonds, while her sharp smile and keen glance take note of every
incident. Nearest her person and evidently the chief favourite of the
moment, is the man who has long been considered the Adonis of the Court.
He is now also its hero, having but recently returned from the wars in
Spain, where his gallantry and promptitude at Cadiz have won new glories
for Her Majesty. In five short years more, his head will come to the
block by decree of this same Majesty; but this no one can foresee and
all voices now unite in praises for the brave and generous Essex.

[Illustration: Earl of Essex]

Another conspicuous favourite is a blue-eyed, pink-cheeked young
fellow of twenty-three, whose scarcely perceptible beard and
moustache, and curly auburn hair falling over his shoulders and
half-way to his waist, would suggest femininity except for his martial
manner and tall figure. His resplendent attire is notable even in this
gorgeously arrayed company. His white satin doublet has a broad
collar, edged with lace and embroidered with silver thread; the white
trunks and knee-breeches are laced with gold; the sword-belt,
embroidered in red and gold, is decorated at intervals with white
silk bows; purple garters, embroidered in silver thread, fasten the
white stockings below the knee. As one of the handsomest of
Elizabeth's courtiers, and also one of the most distinguished for
birth, wealth, and wit, he would be a striking figure at any time; but
to-night he has the added distinction of being the special friend and
munificent patron of the author of the play that they have come to
witness. To him had been dedicated the author's first appeal to the
reading public--a poem called "Venus and Adonis," published some three
years since; also, a certain "sugared sonnet," privately circulated,

     "For to no other pass my verses tend
     Than of your graces and your gifts to tell."

And through the patronage of this man--the gracious Karl of
Southampton--the actor-author was first brought to the Queen's notice,
finally leading to the present distinction at her hands.

[Illustration: Earl of Southampton]

But now the stage compels attention. The silk curtains are withdrawn,
disclosing a setting of such elaboration and illusion as never before
has been witnessed by sixteenth century eyes. Never before has the
frugal Elizabeth consented to such an expenditure for costumes,
properties, lights, and music. In vain the audience awaits the coming
of the author; he is behind the scenes, an anxious and watchful
partner with the machinist in securing the proper working of these new
mechanical appliances, and the smoothness of the scene shifting. The
Queen is a connoisseur in these matters, and there must be no

The stage is divided horizontally between the roof and floor, the
upper part concealed from the audience, while the lower section
represents the interior of a royal palace at Athens. Three soundings
of the cornet announce the opening of the play with its stately
dialogue, in which Theseus, Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, Queen of
the Amazons, anticipate their approaching nuptials. Egeus enters with
his daughter Hermia to bring complaint to the Duke that she will not
marry Demetrius, the husband he has selected for her, but is bewitched
with love for Lysander. The Duke reasons with Hermia; but the maiden
is still obdurate and demands to know the worst that may befall if
she refuses to wed Demetrius. The Duke pronounces sentence:--

     "Either to die the death, or to abjure
     Forever the society of men.
     Therefore, fair Hermia, question your desires.
     Know of your youth, examine well your blood,
     Whether, if you yield not to your father's choice,
     You can endure the livery of a nun,
     For aye to be in shady cloister mew'd,
     To live a barren sister all your life,
     Chanting faint hymns to the cold, fruitless moon,
     Thrice blessed they that master so their blood,
     To undergo such maiden pilgrimage;
     But earthlier happy is the rose distill'd
     Than that which withering on the virgin thorn
     Grows, lives, and dies in single blessedness."

[Illustration: Queen Elizabeth listening to the Play]

The tributes to the "maiden pilgrimage" and "single blessedness" win
from the Queen's countenance a glow which age has had no power to
diminish. The highway to favour with the Virgin Queen, as every
courtier and every writer knows, lies through praises of her voluntary
state of celibacy.

Thus threatened, Hermia is urged by Lysander to a clandestine

     "If thou lov'st me then,
     Steal forth thy father's house to-morrow night,
     And in the wood, a league without the town,
     Where I did meet thee once with Helena
     To do observance to a morn of May,
     There will I stay for thee."


     "In the wood, a league without the town To do
     observance to a morn of May."

Hermia, hearing these words, feels her heart leap with joy. She tries
to answer soberly, in the same measure used by her lover; but as her
words become impassioned she breaks into rhyme.

                   My good Lysander!
     I swear to thee by Cupid's strongest bow,
     By his best arrow with the golden head,
     By the simplicity of Venus doves,
     By that which knitteth souls and prospers loves,
     And by that fire which burn'd the Carthage green,
     When the false Trojan under sail was seen;
     By all the vows that ever men have broke,
     In number more than ever woman spoke,
     In that same place thou hast appointed me,
     To-morrow truly will I meet with thee.

A scene of homely prose follows. The tradesmen and tinkers of Athens
are planning to turn actors and to play "Pyramus and Thisbe" for the
Duke's wedding feast. It is full of "local hits," which are not lost
upon the audience. In the practical jokes, the melodrama, the ranting
bombast, and Bottom's ambition to play "a tyrant's vein," they
recognise a satire on the amateur theatricals of the trades-guilds,
the clownish horseplay of the "moralities" so-called. These crude
plays, once so popular, have become the jest of an audience who pride
themselves on a drama of higher ideals and greater art.

A sudden fall of the upper curtain, and the lower stage is concealed,
the upper one breaking upon the view of the delighted spectators and
announcing Act II of the play. It is a night scene in a wood near
Athens; mossy banks and green trees; clouds and twinkling stars in the
heavens; forms of fairies sitting about like humming birds, or resting
in nodding fern leaves. They sing in quick, short rhymes, suiting the
tempo to their actions:--

[Illustration: Woods near Stratford

     "Met we on hill, in dale, forest or mead,
      By paved fountain or by rushy brook,
      Or in the beached margent of the sea,
      To dance our ringlets to the whistling wind."

     Over hill, over dale,
     Thorough flood, thorough fire,
     Over park, over pale,
     Thorough flood, thorough fire,
     I do wander everywhere,
     Swifter than the moon's sphere;
     And I serve the Fairy Queen,
     To dew her orbs upon the green.

The fairy Queen and King appear, engaged in a very human quarrel.
Titania, like any mortal woman, is little disposed to yield to the
demands of her lord and master one of her cherished treasures. They
part in anger, and Oberon summons Puck, the arch mischief maker, and
sets on foot the punishment of the rebellious lady. The audience, easy
believers in spells, magic, and witchcraft, are in full sympathy with
Puck's mission to secure the potion whose magic power will create love
or cause infidelity and hatred. Never had poetry been fuller of
imagery or sweeter in verification than in the lines spoken by
Oberon; nor had Queen Elizabeth ever received a more graceful

                 "Thou rememberest
     Since once I sat upon a promontory,
     And heard a mermaid on a dolphin's back
     Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath
     That the rude sea grew civil at her song,
     And certain stars shot madly from their spheres,
     To hear the sea maid's music.
     That very time I saw, but thou could'st not,
     Flying between the cold moon and the earth,
     Cupid all arm'd; a certain aim he took
     At a fair vestal throned by the West,
     And loosed his love-shaft smartly from his bow.
     As it should pierce a hundred thousand hearts;
     But I might see young Cupid's fiery shaft
     Quench'd in the chaste beams of the watery moon,
     And the imperial votaress passed on,
     In maiden meditation, fancy free.
     Yet marked I where the bolt of Cupid fell;
     It fell upon a little western flower,
     Before milk-white, now purple with love's wound,
     And maidens call it love-in-idleness.
     Fetch me that flower."

[Illustration: Earl of Leicester receiving Queen Elizabeth at Kenilworth

     "And the imperial votaress passed on
      In maiden meditation fancy free."

Mark the Queen's flushed cheek and parted lips! The "mermaid on the
dolphin's back" is no fancy picture, but an exact description of one
of the pageants at the festivities in her honour at Kenilworth.
Although twenty years have passed, memory still loves to linger about
those days when she visited her favourite, the fascinating Earl of
Leicester, on her royal progress, before state policy and private
pique had combined to create strife and alienation.

From memory also was the verse-picture painted. The lad of eleven, who
had made light of the fifteen miles between Kenilworth and Stratford
by tearing across ditch and hedge and meadow, could not easily forget
the sights of that memorable day. Little then could he foresee the
present hour; but rightly now does he judge that these reminiscences
of the olden days will please Her Majesty.

Rightly also does he judge that the ridiculous situations between the
lovers will not be displeasing. A Queen whose whole reign has been
marked by warfare against the marriage of her courtiers and her
clergy, whose own mother's marriage had been so unhappy, will
sympathise with Puck when he says of the lovers:--

     "Those things do best please me
      That fall out preposterously,"


     "Lord! What fools these mortals be!"

A mad frolic now begins in fairyland. Puck stirs up all sorts of
complications by squeezing the magic flower juice on the wrong eyes with
such sad results that Titania falls in love with the weaver, Bottom,
with the ass's head on his shoulders; the two friends, Hermia and
Helena, rail at each other over the seeming desertion of their lovers.
But in the morning, the spell having been removed and each lover
restored to his proper relations, the rivals become once more true
friends. The fairy King and Queen also have become reconciled, and
prepare to celebrate the double wedding of the mortals with sports and
revels throughout their fairy kingdom.

[Illustration: Queen Elizabeth in her Later Years]

The fifth act restores the lower stage and the palace of Theseus. His
wedding festivities have begun. The hard-handed men of Athens perform
their crude interlude, made all the more grotesque by the awkwardness
of Francis Flute, the bellows-mender. In the character of Thisbe, it
is his part to fall upon the sword and die, thus ending the play.
Imagine the delight of the courtly auditors when the clumsy man in the
part of the disconsolate lady falls, not upon the blade, but upon the
scabbard of the unfamiliar weapon!

But laughter and applause are arrested by the appearance of a bright,
transparent cloud. It reaches from heaven to earth, and bourne in upon
it, with music and with song, are Oberon, Titania, and their elfin
train. The cloud parts, and Puck steps forth to speak the epilogue:--

      "If we shadows have offended
      Think but this, and all is mended.
      That you have but slumber'd here
      While these visions did appear."

The Christmas play is over, but not over the Christmas fun. Lords and
ladies are but human, and have devised a "stately dance," in which
they themselves participate until nearly sunrise, the Queen herself
joining at times, and never so happy as when assured of her "wondrous
majesty and grace."

Did they--did any one--at this Christmas play of three hundred years ago
feel the full charm and glory of this immortal creation of the poet? Did
its lines ring in their ears the next day, and the next, and the next?
Did they foresee how its rhythm would dance down the ages and abide in
these present days, and in this present speech of ours?

But this is something that I, your truthful reporter, cannot answer

[Illustration: A Dance of the Sixteenth Century

     "A fortnight hold we this solemnity.
      In nightly revels and new jollity."



                    An Old-Time Christmas Carol.

                Sung to the Queen in the Presence at
                        Whitehall MDXCVI.

     I sing of a maiden
       That is makeless.[1]
     King of all kings
       To her son she ches.[2]
     He came al so still
       There his mother was,
     As dew in April
       That falleth on the grass.
     He came al so still
       To his mother's bower,
     As dew in April
       That falleth on the flower.
     He came al so still
       There his mother lay,
     As dew in April
       That falleth on the spray.
     Mother and maiden
       Was never none but she;
     Well may such a lady
       God's mother be.

[1] Matchless.

[2] Chose.

                                Ye End.

[Illustration: Decorative Emblem]

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