G. Gregory Smith, ed. Elizabethan Critical Essays. 1904.
George Whetstone (1544?1587?)
The Dedication to Promos and Cassandra 1578
[The text of the Dedication to The right excellent and famous Historye of Promos and Cassandra, 1578, is printed from the copy in the British Museum (C 34. e. 42).]
To His Worshipfvll Friende and Kinseman, William Fleetewoode Esquier, Recorder of London.
SYR, (desirous to acquite your tryed frendships with some token of good will) of late I perused diuers of my vnperfect workes, fully minded to bestowe on you the trauell of some of my forepassed time. But (resolued to accompanye the aduenturous Captaine Syr Humfrey Gylbert in his honorable voiadge) I found my leysure too littel to correct the errors in my sayd workes. So that (inforced) I lefte them disparsed amonge my learned freendes, at theyr leasure to polish, if I faild to returne: spoyling (by this meanes) my studdy of his necessarye furnyture. Amonge other vnregarded papers I fownde this Discource of Promos and Cassandra; which for the rarenesse (and the needeful knowledge) of the necessary matter contained therein (to make the actions appeare more liuely) I deuided the whole history into two Commedies, for that, Decorum vsed, it would not be conuayed in one. The effects of both are good and bad: vertue intermyxt with vice, vnlawfull desyres (yf it were posible) queancht with chaste denyals: al needeful actions (I thinke) for publike vewe. For by the rewarde of the good the good are encouraged in wel doinge: and with the scowrge of the lewde the lewde are feared from euill attempts: mainetayning this my oppinion with Platoes auctority. Nawghtinesse commes of the corruption of nature, and not by readinge or hearinge the liues of the good or lewde (for such publication is necessarye), but goodnesse (sayth he) is beawtifyed by either action. And to these endes Menander, Plautus, and Terence, them selues many yeares since intombed, (by their Commedies) in honour liue at this daye. The auncient Romanes heald these showes of suche prise that they not onely allowde the publike exercise of them, but the graue Senators themselues countenaunced the Actors with their presence: who from these trifles wonne morallytye, as the Bee suckes honny from weedes. But the aduised deuises of auncient Poets, disc[r]edited with tryfels of yonge, vnaduised, and rashe witted wryters, hath brought this commendable exercise in mislike. For at this daye the Italian is so lasciuious in his commedies that honest hearers are greeued at his actions: the Frenchman and Spaniarde folowes the Italians humor: the Germaine is too holye, for he presentes on euerye common Stage what Preachers should pronounce in Pulpets. The Englishman in this quallitie is most vaine, indiscreete, and out of order: he fyrst groundes his worke on impossibilities; then in three howers ronnes he throwe the worlde, marryes, gets Children, makes Children men, men to conquer kingdomes, murder Monsters, and bringeth Gods from Heauen, and fetcheth Diuels from Hel. And (that which is worst) their ground is not so vnperfect as their workinge indiscreete: not waying, so the people laugh, though they laugh them (for theyr follyes) to scorne. Manye tymes (to make mirthe) they make a Clowne companion with a Kinge; in theyr graue Counsels they allow the aduise of fooles; yea, they vse one order of speach for all persons: a grose Indecorum, for a Crowe wyll yll counterfet the Nightingales sweete voice; euen so affected speeche doth misbecome a Clowne. For, to worke a Commedie kindly, graue olde men should instruct, yonge men should showe the imperfections of youth, Strumpets should be lasciuious, Boyes vnhappy, and Clownes should speake disorderlye: entermingling all these actions in such sorte as the graue matter may instruct and the pleasant delight; for without this chaunge the attention would be small, and the likinge lesse.
But leaue I this rehearsall of the vse and abuse of Commedies, least that I checke that in others which I cannot amend in my selfe. But this I am assured, what actions so ever passeth in this History, either merry or morneful, graue or lasciuious, the conclusion showes the confusion of Vice and the cherising of Vertue. And sythe the end tends to this good, although the worke (because of euel handlinge) be vnworthy your learned Censure, allowe (I beseeche you) of my good wyll, vntyl leasure serues me to perfect some labour of more worthe. No more, but that almightye God be your protector, and preserue me from dainger in this voiadge, the xxix of July, 1578.