Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

struction, merely following the incidents of Scripture or of the Pseudo-evangelium, the dialogue being maintained by the characters there introduced. By degrees, however, more invention was displayed, especially with reference to the persons concerned in the conduct of the story. Although Miracles, or Plays of Miracles, are the source and foundation of our national drama, they have hitherto been passed over with little notice ; and, owing to want of that knowledge which can only be obtained by due examination, extraordinary mistakes have been committed regarding them. Among these mistakes may, perhaps, be included the sup

nominates them “Plays of Miracles'. In the Household-book of Henry VII they are once entered as ‘Marvels', but ‘marvel' and “miracle' may, perhaps, be considered synonymous. “Plays', as a generic term, was also very early in use; and, that they might not be confounded with games, they were subsequently distinguished as ‘stage-plays'. The word ‘interludes’ became the most frequent appellation for them in the reign of Henry VII; but, perhaps, strictly speaking, it had reference to a particular species of dramatic entertainment. The title of a tract, by John Bale, would appear, to those who have not seen it, to contradict this position: it is called The Mysterye of Imyguyte, Iniquity being the name of a personage who figured very prominently in some of our older dramatic representations, called “Morals', though not in ‘Miracles'. Bale's tract is, however, merely a prose answer to a Roman Catholic poem, The Genealogy of Ponce Panto/abus, which attacked seriatim all the principal reformers: it was printed at Geneva, in 1545, by Michael Woode. With regard to the employment of the word Mistère, by the French, Roquefort, in his Glossaire de la Langue Romane (8vo. Paris, 1808). informs us, that Miracles were par suite called Mistères, and that both meant pièces de motre ancien theótre; but under the word Mistère, he says nothing of its application. It was not only well understood in France to mean a dramatic performance, but in time it was used synonymously with Comédie, and, according to Gouget (Bibl. Franç., xi, 212), in the reign of Louis XII, Gringoire obtained the title of Compositeur, Historien, et Facteur de Mistères ou Comédies. The compound term of Miracle-play seemed to us best adapted, according to the old authorities, to express briefly the origin and nature of the representation.

[ocr errors]

position, that as England possesses an earlier record of the
performance of a Miracle-play than has yet been produced
by any foreign country, they were indigenous. Some of the
ensuing remarks may warrant the inference, that if we did not
derive them from France, they were originally written in the
language of that country.
Two conjectures have been hazarded respecting the origin
of these performances in Europe: the one is that of Voltaire,
(in his Essais sur les Maeurs et l'Esprit des Mations), that
Gregory Nazianzen, in the fourth century, wrote his play of
Christ's Passion, and others of the same kind, at Constanti-
nople, pour /es of poser aur ouvrages dramatigues des anciens
Grecs et des anciens Romains :" the other conjecture also, ac-
cording to Warton, is that of a French writer, who contends
that the monks of the middle ages employed this species of
dramatic amusement, to supersede the dancing, music, mimicry,
and profane mummeries at ancient fairs.” Both these posi-

' Stephen Gosson, one of the most zealous enemies of our theatrical representations in the middle of the reign of Elizabeth, assigned a reason for the invention by Nazianzen sufficiently absurd. The advocates of the stage had adduced Christ's Passion, by Nazianzen, to show that he and other fathers approved dramatic performances; to which Gosson replies, that Nazianzen wrote his piece to reform the then existing and established Popish plays on the feast of Corpus Christi, which was not made a festival for eight or nine centuries afterwards: “For Nazianzen (says he), detesting the corruption of the Corpus Christi plays, that were set out by the Papists, and inveighing against them, thought it better to write the

Passion of Christ in numbers himself, that all such as delight in numer

osity of speech might read it—not behold it on the stage, where some
base fellow, that played Christ, would bring the person of Christ into
contempt.”—Plays Confuted in Five Actions. No date, but printed in
I 581 or 1582. Sign E, 5 b.
* Hist, Engl. Poet., iii, 195, edit. 8vo. Warton does not name his
author, but calls him merely ‘a judicious French writer now living',
having just before mentioned La Féte de Four. It is possible that he

tions may be well founded, as they are certainly not inconsistent with each other : Gregory Nazianzen may have been the inventor of these religious plays, and ecclesiastics may have used them at a later period to reform the people, and to introduce among them a convenient knowledge of the Scriptures." If Miracle-plays had their origin in Constantinople, they would soon find their way into Italy, and from thence they may have been dispersed over the rest of Europe. The history of the French stage has not been carried higher than the thirteenth century: au freixième siècle mous avons déjà de drames, are the words of Le Grand :” in this country we have seen, on the authority of Matthew Paris, that the Miracleplay of Saint Katherine was acted at Dunstable very early in the twelfth century.” Although the French have no records of so remote a date, it is admitted that the piece just named was got up by a Norman monk, who was also a member of the University of Paris.” It has been established by Mr. Markland, with as much

meant Du Tilliot, who, in 1741, published at Lausanne a small and learned work in 4to. on La Féte de Four, and who might be living when Warton published the second 4to. volume of his Hist. Engl. Poet, in 1778. Du Tilliot's words are merely these :- -“Lorscue les Payens embrassèrent le Christianisme, ils eurent peine a perdre l’habitude ou ils étoient de célébrer certaines fêtes rejouissantes: ils substituérent de nouvelles aux anciennes, d'abord avec moins de licence, ce qui engagea peut-être les évêques a les tolérer quelque tems, quoigue l’on puisse dire qu'ils n'épargnèrent rien pour les abolir dans la suite.’ * Warton (Hist. E. P., iii, 195, edit. 8vo.), referring to both these conjectures, inclines to Voltaire, without perceiving that they might be reconciled. * Fab/iaur ou Contes du XII et du X/// Siècle, tom. ii, p. 122, edit. 1781. * Annals of the Stage, vol. i., p. 13. * The French had a Mistère de Sainte Catherine, which, according to the MS. Histoire de Metz Véritable, as cited in a work attributed to Les Frères Parfait (Hist, du Théat. Franç., ii, 351), was performed in 1434.

clearness as after the lapse of so many centuries could be expected, that the Miracle-plays annually performed at Chester, with some interruptions, until 1577," were originally produced in 1268, during the mayoralty of John Arnway.” The author

ship has been assigned to Ralph Higden, the compiler of the

Polycronicon , but if they were first acted in 1268, he could have had no connection with them then : he died, according to others, in 1377, and, in either case, was not born when they were originally represented.

* At least one of the series of Miracle-plays, annually exhibited at Chester, was performed in 1577; this fact appears from Harl, M.S. 1944, which is a copy, with some additions and variations, of the work of Archdeacon Rogers upon Chester; the following extracts refer to about the period of which we are speaking :— ‘A. D. I 57 I.–In this yeare the Whitson playes weare played in Chester.” ‘A. D. 1574.—The Whitson playes weare played in this Cittie this yere.” ‘A. D. 1577–The Earle of Darbie did lye 2 nightes at his [the Mayor’s] howse: the Shepheardes play was played at the highe crosse with other triumphes.’ Had the performances not been interrupted in the intervals, Rogers would hardly have thought it necessary to specify that the plays were performed in these particular years I 57 I, 1574 and I 577. By Aarl. MS. 2 IOS, consisting of Short Annals of Chester, from 1348 to 1580, it seems evident that, at an earlier date, a temporary stop had been put to the exhibition of the Miracle-plays: under the year 1545 is the following entry:-‘William Holcroft, Mayor. In this yere M. HolCroft died, and M. John Walley was chosyn mayor, and the plaies went that same yeare.’ Probably during the controversies of the Reformation, the performance of Popish Miracle-plays, as they were called, was forbidden, and in 1545 they were, for the first time, allowed to be revived. In 1529, a different species of dramatic entertainment had been substituted, by the performance of a play founded upon the romance of Robert of Cicily. See Ammals of the Stage, vol. i. p. 112. * In his learned and comprehensive ‘Dissertation’, prefixed to two of the plays (one founded upon the Old and the other upon the Mew Testament), which he printed for the use of the Roxburghe Club, and which, It is not, perhaps, to be disputed that Higden was in some way, and at some period, concerned in the performance of the Chester Whitsun plays: the question is, in what way and at what period 2 There are two MS. copies of these productions in the British Museum, and in a note to one of them (MS. Harl. No. 2124) it is said (and in our present view the expression is important) that Higden “was thrice at Rome before he could obtaine leave of the Pope to have them in the English tongue’. Warton thought the inference was, that prior to the date when Higden obtained this “leave', performances of the kind were in Latin, and it never seems to have struck him as possible that they should have been in French." If before that permission the Chester Whitsun plays were in French, and if in consequence of it Higden translated, or ‘made' them into English, and so had them represented about the year I.338, it will reconcile dates, and remove much of the difficulty that has hitherto surrounded the subject. The Mayoralty of Arnway in 1268, and the instrumentality of Higden, in 1338, ‘to have’ the plays “in the English tongue’, have been sometimes confounded. As the conjecture, that the Miracle-plays at Chester were first performed in French, has not before been started, it will be necessary to advert with a little particularity to the grounds on which it rests. The law requiring that “all pleas in the Courts of the King, or of any other lord, shall be pleaded and judged in the

[graphic]

with some additional notes by him, has since been incorporated in Malone's Shakespeare by Boswell, vol. iii. It is to be regretted that this Essay, displaying much general as well as particular information on the subject, is not there followed by the ancient religious dramas it was written to illustrate.

.” Hist. Engl. Poet., iii, 16, edit. 8vo, note d.

« ZurückWeiter »