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up and acting of Miracle-plays devolved into the hands of the trading companies, each guild undertaking a portion of the performance, and sustaining a share of the expense. The authentic information regarding the exhibition of the Corpus Christi plays at Coventry, extends from 1416 to 1591, and during the whole of that period there is no indication that the clergy in any way co-operated." The records at Chester also establish, that the whole management of these representations there was in the hands of laymen. In 1409, we learn from Stowe,” that the performance of religious plays in London was undertaken by the parish clerks; and there is, we believe, no instance of the trading companies of the metropolis having been, at any date, so employed. In Chaucer's Miller's Tale, which contains such repeated allusions to pieces of this description, “Jolly Absalon', the “parish clerk', is said to have sustained the part of Herod. 3 The clergy sometimes assisted in dramatic representations, when it does not appear that they acted : in the performance of the play of St. George at Basingbourne, in 1 5 I I, John Hobard, ‘a brotherhood priest’, received 2s. 8d. for ‘bearing the book', or, in other words, for filling the office of prompter. Perhaps he was the author of the piece then represented. It was provided in the Northumberland family, at the commencement of the reign of Henry VIII, that if the Earl's chaplain were also “a maker of interludes', he was to be allowed a servant for writing out the parts; and it has been seen in the Ammals of the Stage (vol. i., p. 87), that William Peeres, who was the chaplain of the Northumberland family in 1526, was the author of an interlude, for making which he received 13s. 4d. Henry Medwall, the chaplain of Cardinal Morton (who died just before the commencement of the sixteenth century), was “a maker of interludes', and one of his productions of this kind has survived, a very curious performance, which will be examined in its proper place.” It is thrown out merely as a conjecture, that the introduction of Miracle-plays in various parts of this kingdom, if not in various parts of Europe, was more contemporaneous than it has been hitherto believed to have been. They were adopted at Chester within four years after the institution of the feast of Corpus Christi in 1264, and the same causes which led to their exhibition in that city would operate elsewhere. That the religious bodies, even in remote parts of the country, kept up a communication with other ecclesiastical establishments at home and abroad, requires no proof; and that which was the object of one must, more or less, have been the object of all. If it were considered the interest of the church that religious knowledge should to a certain degree be extended by these means, the attempt might be made in populous places simultaneously; or, supposing the
* Dugdale (Hist. Warw., p. 216) tells us that in the reign of Henry VII these religious dramas were acted before the King “with mighty state and reverence by the Grey-friars'. It is possible that they interfered on that occasion for the sake of more perfect exhibition.
* Chronicle, p. 549, edit. 1600.
* Henry the Seventh’s Household-book, which contains such frequent mention of ‘players' of the King, of London, of Essex, of Mile-end, and of different nobility, states also that on January 1, 8 Henry VII, the the King gave 20s. in reward ‘to the players of Wymborne Minster’. Warton (H. E. P., iii, 42, edit. 8vo.) notices the play of the Descensus ad Inferos, performed before the King by the Puer: Eleemosynarii of Hyde Abbey and St. Swithin's Priory. ... *
* Warton, H. E. P., iv, 151, edit. 8vo.
* Morthumberland Household-book, p. 44, edit. 1827.
* “AWature, a goodly interlude.” It was written about 1490, and printed, without any printer's name, about 1520.
experiment to have been successful in one town, the example without delay would be followed in others. The general, and sometimes particular, resemblances of these performances in distant parts of England may slightly confirm this notion. The fact would at least indicate that the pieces had a common origin, if it did not lead to the conclusion that they were introduced at a common date. Several passages might be quoted from Chaucer's Miller's Tale (already referred to) to show that the knowledge of Scripture then possessed by the lower orders was derived chiefly from Miracle-plays ; one of these passages alludes to an incident found, with some variations, in the Widkirk Collection, in the Chester series, and in the pageants represented at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, but not at all warranted by Scripture; and it constitutes one of the particular resemblances to which allusion has just been made : it is where Nicholas reminds the Carpenter of the quarrel between Noah and his wife, before she could be induced to enter the Ark :— ‘Hast thou not herde (qd Nicholas) also The sorow of Noe with his feleshippe, Or that he might gete his wife to shippe?’ In the same tale, when the carpenter speaks of ‘Christ's Passion', and swears by “him that harrowed Hell', the terms he employs prove the popular source of his information. An examination of the various Miracle-plays before enumerated supplies evidence, that at different periods they have been altered and interpolated ; sometimes to render them more amusing, by adapting them on revival to existing manners, and sometimes for other causes, connected chiefly with the state of religion. That the Pseudo-evangelium was very early resorted to for subjects is clear from the fact, that the most ancient piece of the kind extant, before noticed, is founded upon the apocryphal gospel of Nicodemus—the
“harrowing' or invading of Hell. The Widkirk Collection has been handed down to us in a comparatively pure state, and whatever transcriptions the plays may have undergone previous to the existing copy, written about the reign of Henry VI, the additions have been few. They were certainly acted after the Reformation, and some doctrinal passages, regarding the seven sacraments and transubstantiation, were then omitted." The series next in point of antiquity, as far as the age of the manuscript is concerned—the Ludus Coventriae—has many comparative modernizations, which are also to be found, though not to the same extent, in the Chester Whitsun plays. Each succeeding transcriber seems to have taken liberties with the text, and as in some cases they followed the ancient mode of spelling, and in others adopted that which was employed when they lived, the Chester series affords specimens of orthography of different ages, from the middle of the fourteenth to the beginning of the seventeenth century.” It remains to speak briefly of the mechanical contrivances for the representation of Miracle-plays. They were acted on temporary erections of timber, indifferently called scaffolds, stages and pageants;” and there is no doubt that in some instances they were placed upon wheels, in order that they might be removed to various quarters of large towns or cities, and the plays exhibited in * These passages are cancelled with red ink, but are still very legible: opposite one of them in the margin, and in a hand-writing perhaps of the reign of Edward VI, are the words ‘corrected and not played'. * Mr. Sharp, in his Dissertation, has published a Coventry Miracleplay, from a transcript made by one Robert Croo, in 1534, who professes that it is ‘newly correcte’. -- . * Scaffold and Stage we have from the old French Eschasaud and
Estage, but the etymology of pageant is by no means so clear. Mr. Sharp, in his Dissertation, refers to all the authorities on the subject, succession." The testimony of Archdeacon Rogers, who wrote his account of Chester prior to the death of Elizabeth, seems decisive upon this point, as far as the performances there are concerned : he says that the scaffold consisted of two rooms, a higher and a lower: in the lower, the performers attired themselves, and in the higher they acted ; which was open at the top, in order that all might be able to see the exhibition.” The same authority would lead to the conclusion, that only one scaffold, stage, or pageant, was present at the same time in the same place, and doubtless such was the fact, according to the arrangement of the plays to which Archdeacon Rogers refers. It is indisputable, however, that the Chester Miracle-plays, as they exist in the British Museum, could not have been so represented. Some of the pieces require the employment of two, and even of three scaffolds, independent of other contrivances: the street also must
and arrives at the conclusion, that Pageant is derived from the Greek triryvvut, in consequence of the pieces of timber of which it is composed being compacted together. The plays themselves were often called pageants, from the elevations on which they were exhibited. * The scaffold, or at least the frame on wheels, on which it used to be placed, seems at a later date to have had the name of the carriage. By a MS. among the second Randle Holme's Collections in the British Museum, it appears that “at an assembly holden in the Common Hall of Pleas' in Chester, the Tailors' company had leave to build upon a piece of ground where their “carriage-house' formerly stood. This was in I631, and it is one of the latest and faintest traces regarding Miracleplays in England. * See Malone's Shakespeare by Boswell, iii, 335. It is to be observed, that Mr. Sharp, in his work on the Coventry plays, adds a covering to the stage. Sometimes this lower room seems to have been employed to represent Hell, the Devils rising out of or falling into it. MS. Digby, 133, in the Bodleian, is the Miracle-play of Mary Magdalem's Repentance, and one of the stage directions in it is the following:—‘Here enters the Prynse of the Devylls in a stage, with hell onderneth the stage.”