Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
The Evils of Stage Plays
By Stephen Gosson (15541624)
From An Apology of the School of Abuse
PLAYS are so tolerable, that Lactantius condemneth them flatly, without any manner of exception, thinking them, the better they are penned, or cunninglier handled, the more to be fled; because that by their pleasant action of body and sweet numbers flowing in verse, we are most enchanted. And Tully, a heathen, crying out against poetry, for placing bawdy Cupid among the gods, uttereth these words in the end: De comædia loquor, quæ si hæc flagitia non probaremus, nulla esset omnino; I speak of plays, which, if ourselves did not love this filthiness, should never be suffered. If players take a little more counsel of their pillow, they shall find themselves to be the worst, and the dangerousest people in the world. A thief is a shrewd member in a commonwealth, he empties our bags by force, these ransack our purses by permission; he spoileth us secretly, these rifle us openly; he gets the upper hand by blows, these by merry jests; he sucks our blood, these our manners; he wounds our body, these our soul; O God, O men, O heaven, O earth, O times, O manners, O miserable days! he suffereth for his offence, these strut without punishment under our noses; and like unto a consuming fire are nourished still with our decay. Lacon thought it impossible for him to be good, that was not bitter to the wicked, then how shall we be persuaded of players, which are most pleasant to abominable livers? Diogenes said, that it was better to be a man of Magaraes ram,1 than his son, because he provideth a shepherd to look to his fold; but seeketh no instructor to teach his child; he hath a care that his sheep be well tendered and washed, but never regardeth his sons discipline; he forbiddeth the one to run in danger of the wolf, but keeps not the other from the devils claws; and if Diogenes were now alive, to see the abuses that grow by plays, I believe he would wish rather to be a Londoners hound than his apprentice, because he rateth his dog for wallowing in carrion, but rebukes not his servant for resorting to plays, that are rank poison. So corrupt is our judgment in these matters, that we account him a murderer, whom we see delight in shedding of blood; and make him a jester, that woundeth our conscience; we call that a slaughter house where brute beasts are killed; and hold that a pastime, which is the very butchery of Christian souls. We perceive not that trouble and toil draw us to life, ease and idleness bring destruction; that sorrow and anguish are virtuous books, pleasure and sport the devils baits; that honest recreation quickeneth the spirits and plays are venomous arrows to the mind; that hunters deceive most, when seeming to walk for their delight, they craftily fetch the deer about; that players counterfeiting a shew to make us merry, shoot their nets to work our misery; that when comedy comes upon the stage, Cupid sets up a springe for woodcocks, which are entangled ere they descry the line, and caught before they mistrust the snare.