If This Be Not a Good Play – Prologue

Return to Dramatis Personæ

Would ‘twere a custom that at all new plays
The makers sat o’th’ stage, either with bays
To have their works crown’d, or beaten in with hissing,
Pied and bold idiots, durst not then sit kissing
A muse’s cheek.  Shame would base changeling’s wean
From sucking the mellifluous Hypocrene,
Who write as blind men shoot, by hap, not aim.
So, fools, by lucky throwing, oft win the game.
Phœbus has many bastards, true sons few.
I mean of those, whose quick clear eyes can view
Poesy’s pure essence, it being so divine,
That the sun’s fires, even when they brightest shine,
Or lightening, when most subtle Jove does spend it,
May as soon be approach’d, weighed, touch’d, or comprehended.
But ‘tis with poets now, as ‘tis with nations,
Th’ ill-favoured vices are the bravest fashions.
A play whose rudeness, Indians would abhor
If’t fill a house with fishwives, rare, they all roar.
It is not praise that is sought for, not, but pence,
Though dropp’d from greasy apron audience.
Clapp’d may he be with thunder that plucks bays
With such foul hands, and with squint eyes does gaze
On Pallas’ shield, not caring, so he gains
A cram’d third-day, what filth drops from his brains.
Let those that love Pan’s pipe dance still to Pan;
They shall but get long ears by it.  Give me that man
Who, when the plague of an impostum’d brains,
Breaking out, infects a theatre and hotly reigns,
Killing the hearers hearts, that the vast rooms
Stand empty, like so many dead men’s tombs,
Can call the banish’d auditor home, and tie
His ear, with golden chains, to his melody,
Can draw with adamantine pen, even creatures
Forg’d out of th’ hammer, on tiptoe, to reach up
And, from rare silence, clap their brawny hands
T’applaud what their charm’d soul scarce understands.
That man give me, whose breast fill’d by the muses,
With raptures, into a second, them infuses,
Can give an actor sorrow, rage, joy, passion,
Whilst he again, by self same agitation,
Commands the hearers, sometimes drawing out tears,
Then smiles, and fills them both with hopes and fears.
That man give me.  And to be such-a-one,
Our poet, this day, strives, or to be none,
Lend not, him, hands for pity, but for merit,
If he please, he’s crown’d; if not, his fate must bear it.

Proceed to the first scene


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