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Shepherds, the shepherds are three English boors, who meet with a variety of the most coarsely comical adventures in their journey to Bethlehem; who, just before the star in the east appears, get into a quarrel and fight, after having feasted on Lancashire jammocks and Halton ale; and who, when they arrive at their destination, present three gifts to the infant Saviour, namely, a bird, a tennis-ball, and a bob of cherries.

The Miracle Plays were very popular, and did not altogether die out before the reign of James. In some of them personified abstractions came to be blended with the persons of the drama; and in the fifteenth century a new class of dramatic performances arose, called Moral Plays, in which these personified abstractions pushed persons out of the piece, and ethics supplanted theology. There is, in some of these Moral Plays, a great deal of ingenuity displayed in the impersonation and allegorical representation of qualities. They took strong hold of the English mind. Pride, gluttony, sensuality, worldliness, meekness, temperance, faith, in their single and in their blended action, were often happily characterized; and, though they were eventually banished from the drama, they reappeared in the pageants of Elizabeth and in the poetry of Spenser. But their popularity was doubtless owing more to their fun than their ethics; and the two

characters of the Devil and Vice, the laughable monster and the laughable buffoon, were the darlings of the multitude. In Ben Jonson's "Staple of News," Gossip Tattle exclaims: "My husband, Timothy Tattle, God rest his soul! was wont to say that there was no play without a fool and a Devil in 't: he was for the Devil still, God bless him! The Devil for his money, he would say ; I would fain see the Devil."

Nearer to the modern Play than either the Miracle or the Moral, was the Interlude, so called from its being acted in the intervals of a banquet. It was a farce in one act, and devoted to the humorous and satirical representation of contemporary manners and character, especially professional character. John Heywood, the jester of Henry VIII., was the best maker of these Interludes.

At the time that all of these three forms of the drama were more or less in esteem, Nicholas Udall, a classical scholar, produced, about the year 1540, the first English comedy, “Ralph Roister Doister," - very much superior, in incident and characterization, to "Gammer Gurton's Needle," written twenty years afterwards, though neither rises above the mere prosaic delineation, the first of civic, the last of country life. The poetic element, which was afterwards so conspicuous in the Elizabethan drama, did not even appear in the first English


tragedy, "Gorboduc," though it was written by Thomas Sackville, the author of the Induction to the "Mirror of Magistrates," and the only great poet that arose between Chaucer and Spenser. "Gorboduc" was acted before Queen Elizabeth at Whitehall, by the Gentlemen of the Inner Temple, in January, 1562. It was received with great applause; but it appears, as read now, singularly frigid and unimpassioned, with not even, as Campbell says, "the unities of space and time to circumscribe its dulness." It has all the author's justness, weight, and fertility of thought, but little of his imagination; and though celebrated as the first English play written in blank verse, the measure, in Sackville's hands, is wearisomely monotonous, and conveys no notion of the elasticity and variety of which it was afterwards found capable, when used by Marlowe and Shakespeare. The tragedy is not deficient in terrible events, but even its murders make us yawn.

It is probable that the fifty-two plays performed at court between 1568 and 1580, and of which nothing is preserved but the names, contained little to make us regret their loss. Neither at the Royal Palace, nor the Inns of Court, nor the Universities, - at all of which plays were performed, could a free and original national drama be built up. This required a public theatre, and an audience composed of all classes of the people. Ac

cordingly, the most important incident in the history of the English stage was the patent granted by the crown, in 1574, to James Burbage and his associates, players under the protection of the Earl of Leicester, to perform in the City and Liberties of London, and in all other parts of the kingdom; "as well," the phraseology runs, "for the recreation of our loving subjects, as for our own solace and pleasure, when we shall think fit to see them."

But the Corporation of London, thorough Puritans, were determined, as far as their power extended, to prevent the Queen's subjects from having any such "recreation," and her Majesty herself from enjoying any such "solace and pleasure." "Forasmuch as the playing of interludes, and the resort to the same, are very dangerous for the infection of the plague, whereby infinite burdens and losses to the city may increase; and are very hurtful in corruption of youth with incontinence and lewdness; and also great wasting both of the time and thrift of many poor people; and great provoking of the wrath of God, the ground of all plagues; great withdrawing of the people from public prayer, and from the service of God; and daily cried out against by all preachers of the word of God; — therefore,” the Corporation ordered, "all such interludes in public places, and the resort to the same, shall wholly be pro

hibited as ungodly, and humble suit made to the Lords, that like prohibitation be in places near the city."

The players, thus expelled the city, withdrew to the nearest point outside the Lord Mayor's jurisdiction, and, in 1576, erected their theatre in Blackfriars. Two theatres, "The Curtain" and "The Theatre," were erected by other companies in Shoreditch. Before the end of the century there were at least eleven. To these round wooden buildings, open to the sky, with only a thatched roof over the stage, the people flocked daily for mental excitement. There was no movable scenery; the female characters were played by boys; and the lowest theatres of our day are richer in appointments than were the finest of the age of Elizabeth. "Such," says Malone,


was the poverty of the old stage, that the same person played two or three parts; and battles on which the fate of an empire was supposed to depend were decided by three combatants on a side." It is difficult for us to conceive of the popularity of the stage in those days. One of the spies of Secretary Walsingham, writing to his employer in 1586, thus groans over the taste of the people: "The daily abuse of stage plays is such an offence to the godly, and so great a hindrance to the Gospel, as the Papists do exceedingly rejoice at the blemish thereof, and not without cause; for every day in the week the player's bills are set up in sundry places

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