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brings us to No. 21st, in which, after a speech from Pilate, reviling the audience, calling them "harlots, dastards, thieves, and michers," and telling them to keep still, the hands of Christ are bound, and the cross erected. The Torturers then taunt and mock Him, speaking of Him as a king just going to ride in a tournament. This is followed by the nailing of Him to the cross ; after which the Torturers draw cuts for Llis garment. At last, "a blind knight,” Longius by naine, being led in, thrusts a spear into the Saviour's side, when some blood flows upon his eyes, and their sight is immediately restored. - These four pieces, it would seem, were meant to be performed together; being, in effect, much the same as the several acts or scenes of a regular drama.
No. 23d sets forth the descent into hell. Adam sees the “ gleam” of Christ's coming, and speaks of it to Eve and the Prophets, who sing for joy. Rybald, the porter of hell, calls in terror on Beelzebub to make ready for resistance ; and divers fiends, together with “ Sir Satan our sire," are summoned, while “watches are set on the walls.” Satan, angry at being disturbed, threatens to knock out Beelzebub's brains. The devils refusing to open the gates, Christ exclaims, Attollite portas, and they forthwith burst. Satan from below orders the fiends to hurl Him down: being answered “that is soon said,” he then goes up from the pit of hell; Christ tells him He has come to fetch His own, and the Father hath sent Him. Satan then argues with Him on the injustice of releasing those already damned: his arguments failing, he begs Christ to release him also. Christ replies, that He will leave him the company of Cain, Judas, Achitophel, and some others ; and that such as obey His laws shall never come thither: whereat Satan rejoices, that hell. will soon be more populous than ever, as he means to walk east and west, seducing mankind into his service; but Christ exclaiming, “ Devil, I command thee to go down into thy seat, where thou shalt sit,” he “sinks into hell-pit.
Adam, Eve, Moses, and the Prophets being then set free, conclude by singing Te Deum laudamus.
The Chester and Coventry plays, for the most part, closely resemble the Towneley series, both in the subjects and the manner of treating them; so that little would be gained for our purpose by dwelling much upon them. A portion, however, of the Coventry series, from the 8th to the 15th, inclusive, have certain peculiarities that call for special notice, as they show the first beginnings or buddings of a higher Cramatic growth, which afterwards resulted in what are called Moral-plays. This part of the set all - form, in effect, one piece, and, for our present purpose, may as well be so regarded. They relate to matters connected with the Saviour's birth, and are partiy founded on an apocryphal gospel. One of the persons is named Contemplation, who, though having no part in the action, serves as speaker of prologues, and moralizes on the events. This, evidently, is an allegorical personage, that is, an abstract idea personified, such as afterwards grew into general use, and gave character to the stage-performances. And we have other allegorical personages, Verity, Justice, Mercy, and Peace.
The eighth play represents Joachim sorrowing that he has no child, and praying that the cause of his sorrow may be removed: Anna, his wife, heartily joins with him, taking all the blame of their childlessness to herself. In answer to their prayers, an angel descends, to announce to them the birth of a daughter, who shall be called Mary. Next follows the presentation of Mary, which is done in dumb show, Contemplation remarking on what passes. Mary is represented "all in white, as a child of three years' age;" and after a long interview between her and the Bishop, Contemplation informs the audience that fourteen years will elapse before her next appearance, and promises that they shall soon see “the Parliament of heaven." Next, we have the ceremony of Mary's betrothment. The Bishop summons the males of David's house to appear in the temple, each bringing a white rud; being divinely assured that he whose rod should bud and bloom was to be the husband of Mary. Joseph comes as one of them: after a deal of urging, he offers up his rod, and the miracle is at once apparent, "a dead stock beareth flowers free." When asked if he will be married to the maiden, he deprecates such an event with all his might, and pleads his old age in bar of it; nevertheless the marriage proceeds. Then we have many words of tender farewell between the Virgin and her parents, the mother saying to her, among other things, —
“I pray thee, Mary, my sweet child,
Be lowly and buxom, meek and mild,
While this is doing, Joseph goes out, but presently returns, and informs the Virgin that he has “ hired a pretty little house" for her and her maids to live in, and that he will “ go labouring in far country” to maintain her. Then comes the Parliament of heaven, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost taking part in the deliberations. The Virtues plead for pity and grace to man; the Father replies that the “time is come of reconciliation;" Verity objects, urging that there can be no peace made between sin and the law; this calls forth an earnest prayer from Mercy in man's behalf; Justice takes up the argument on the other side; Peace answers, that “if man's soul should abide in hell, between God and man ever would be division," in which case she, Peace, could not live; which brings them all to accord, as “heaven and earth is pleas’d with peace.” The Son then raises the questior. how the thing shall be done : after Verity, Justice, Mercy, and Peace have tried their wit and found it unequal to the cause, a council of the Trinity is held, when the Son offers to undertake the work by assuming the form of a man, the Father consents, and the Holy Ghost agrees to co-operate. Gabrie is then sent on an errand of salutation to Mary: he makes known to her the decree of the Incarnation; after which the Holy Ghost, the Son, and the Father descend to her, each giving her three benedictions.
Joseph is absent some months. On returning, he discovers the condition of Mary, is in great affliction, and reproaches her; but, an angel coming to him and explaining the matter, he makes amends. Then comes the visit of Joseph and Mary to Elizabeth. After which, Ahizachar the Bishop holds a court, and his officer summons to it a large number of people, all having English names, the purpose being, tc make sport for the audience, who are told to “ring well in their purse” thus showing that money was collected for the performance. Mary is brought before this court, to be tried for infidelity, and Joseph also, for tamely submitting to it. Two Detractors appear as their accusers. The innocence of Joseph is proved by his drinking, without harm, a liquid which, were he guilty, would cause spots on his face. Mary also drinks of the same, unhurt; whereupon one of the accusers affirms that the Bishop has changed the draught; but is himself compelled to drink what there is left, which cures him of his unbelief. No. 15th relates to the Nativity. It opens with a dialogue between Joseph and Mary: he, it seems, is not fully satisfied of her innocence, but his doubts are all removed in this manner : Mary, seeing a high tree full of ripe cherries, asks him to gather some for her; he replies, that the father of her child may help her to them ; and the tree forthwith bows down its top to her hand. Soon after, the Saviour's birth takes place on the stage.
The necessities of the subject, or what seem such to us, must be our excuse for stating some of these things; which, though doubtless full of solemnity to the simple minds who witnessed them, are apt to strike us as highly ludicrous ; so that they can hardly be mentioned without seeming irrev. erence.
Besides these three sets of Miracle-plays, there are several other specimens, some of which seem to require notice. The first to be mentioned is a set of three, known as the
Digby Miracle-plays, on the Conversion of St. Pau.. These are opened and closed by Poeta, in person. St. Paul first enters on horseback, and after his conversion he puts on a “ disciple's weed.” One of the persons is Belial, whose appearance and behaviour are indicated by the stage-direction,
“Here to enter a Devil with thunder and fire." He makes a soliloquy in self-glorification, and then complains of the dearth of news ; after which we have the stage-direction, — “Here shall enter another Devil called Mercury, with a firing, coming in haste, crying and roaring.” Ile tells Belial of St. Paul's conversion, and declares the belief that “the devil's law” is done for ; whereat Belial also is in dismay. They plot to stir up the Jewish Bishops in the cause ; which done, they “vanish away with a fiery flame and a tempest.”
The play to be next considered relates to Mary Magdalen. This seems to have required four scaffolds for the exhibition, us Tiberius, Herod, Pilate, and the Devil have each their several stations; and one of the directions is, —“Here shall enter the prince of devils on a stage, and hell underneath the stage.” Mary lives in a castle inherited from her father, who figures in the opening of the play as King Cyrus. A ship owned by St. Peter is brought into the space between the scaffolds, and Mary and some others make a long voya age in it. The heroine's castle is besieged by the Devil with the Seven Deadly Sins, and carried: Leckery then beguiles her with a flattering speech ; Luxury takes her to a tavern; there a gallant named Curiosity treats her to “sops and wine,” and seduces her. The raising of Lazarus, who also had Cyrus for his father, takes place in the performance; and the process of Mary's repentance and amendment is carried through in proper order. Tiberius makes a long speech glorifying himself ; a parasite named Serybil flatters him on his good looks, and he in return blesses Serybil's face, which was probably carbuncled as badly as Bardolph's. Herod mikes as boast in similar style, and afterwards goes