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CHAPTER III.

MIRACLE PLAYS.

1. Emergence of the Drama from the Mystery-Ecclesiastical Con

demnation of Theatres and Players-Obscure Survival of Mimes from Pagan Times — Their Place in Medieval Society. II. Hroswitha-Liturgical Drama.-III. Transition to the Mystery or Miracle Play-Ludi- Italian Sacre Rappresentazioni-Spanish Auto --French Mystère-English Miracle.-IV. Passage of the Miracle from the Clergy to the People-From Latin to the Vulgar Tongue--Gradual Emergence of Secular Drama.–V. Three English Cycles -Origin of the Chester Plays – Of the Coventry Plays--Differences between the Three Sets-Other Places famous for Sacred Plays.VI. Methods of Representation – Pageant — Procession - Italian, French, and Spanish Peculiarities—The Guilds-Cost of the ShowConcourse of People-Stage Effects and Properties.-VII. Relation of the Miracle to Medieval Art-Materialistic Realism---Place in the Cathedral-Effect upon the Audience.–VIII. Dramatic Elements in the Miracles— Tragedy-Pathos-Melodrama-Herod and the Devil.— IX. Realistic Comedy-Joseph-Noah's Wife—The Nativity ---Pastoral Interludes.—X. Transcripts from Common Life-Satire -The Woman Taken in Adultery-Mixture of the Sacred and the Grotesque.—XI. The Art of the Miracles and the Art of Italian Sacri Monti.

N.B.—The text of the Widkirk or Towneley Miracles will be found in the Surtees Society's Publications, 1836. That of the Coventry and Chester Plays in the Old Shakespeare Society's Publications, 1841, 1843.

1. The gradual emergence of our national Drama from the Miracle, the Morality, and the Interlude has been clearly defined and often described. I do not now propose to attempt a learned discussion of this process. That has been ably done already by Markland, Sharp, Wright, Collier, and others, whose labours have been briefly condensed by Ward in his History. But, as a preface to any criticism on the English Drama, some notice must be taken of those medieval forms of art which are no less important in their bearings upon the accomplished work of Shakspere's age than are the Romanesque mosaics or the sculpture of the Pisan school upon the mature products of the Italian Renaissance. Art, like Nature, takes no sudden leaps, nihil agit per saltum; and the connection between the Miracles and Shakspere's Drama is unbroken, though the æsthetic interval between them seems almost infinite.

A drama on Christ's Passion, called the Xplotòs Tráoxwv, ascribed to Gregory of Nazianzus in the fourth century, is still extant. This play, as its name denotes, conformed to the spirit of Greek tragedy, and professed to exhibit the sufferings of Christ upon the cross, as those of Prometheus upon Caucasus had been displayed before an Attic audience. But it was impossible in the decadence of Greek literature, in the age which witnessed the fierce strife of Arians and Athanasians, and the Pagan revival attempted by Julian, to treat that central fact of Christian history with literary freedom. Gregory's Passion-play is a series of monologues rather than a drama, a lucubration of the study rather than a piece adapted to the stage. Its scholastic origin is betrayed by the author's ingenuity in using passages and lines extracted from Athenian tragedies; and his work at the present day owes its value chiefly to the centos from Euripides which it contains. Moreover, at this epoch the theatre was becoming an abomination to the Church. The bloody

DRAMA IN EARLY MIDDLE AGES.

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shows of Rome, the shameless profligacy of Byzantium, justified ecclesiastics in denouncing both amphitheatre and circus as places given over to the devil. From the point of view of art, again, the true spirit of dramatic poetry had expired in those orgies of lust and cruelty.

With the decline of classic culture and the triumph of dogmatic Christianity, the Drama, which had long ceased to be a fine art, fell into the hands of an obscure and despised class. It is impossible to believe that the race of players expired in Europe. Indeed, we have sufficient evidence that during the earlier Middle Ages such folk kept alive in the people a kind of natural paganism, against which the Church waged ineffectual

The stigma attaching to the playwright's and the actor's professions even in the golden age of the Renaissance may be ascribed to monastic and ecclesiastical denunciations, fulminated against strolling mimes and dancers, buffoons and posture-makers, 'thymelici, scurræ, et mimi,' in successive councils and by several bishops. Undoubtedly, these social pariahs, the degenerate continuators of a noble craft by the very fact that they were excommunicated and tabooed, denied the Sacraments and grudgingly consigned at death to holy ground, lapsed more and more into profanity, indecency, and ribaldry. While excluded from an honoured status in the commonwealth, they yet were welcomed at seasons of debauch and jollity. The position which they held was prominent if not respectable, as the purveyors of amusement, instruments of pleasure, and creatures of fashionable caprice. Among the Northern races circumstances favoured the amelioration of their lot. The bard and the skald

held high rank in Teutonic society; and it was natural that a portion of this credit should fall upon the player and buffoon. With the advance of time, we find several species of their craft established as indispensable members of medieval society. It must, moreover, be remembered that all through the Middle Ages, in spite of prevalent orthodoxy and the commanding power of the Church, a spirit survived from the old heathen past, antagonistic to the principles of Christian morality, which we may describe as naturalism or as paganism according to our liking. This spirit was at home in the castles of the nobles and in the companies of wandering students. It invaded the monasteries, and, in the person of Golias, took up its place beside the Abbot's chair. The ‘Carmina Vagorum' and some of the satires ascribed to Walter Mapes sufficiently illustrate the genius of these pagans in the Middle Ages. The joculatorcs, whom the Church had banned, became in course of time jongleurs and jugglers. To them we owe the fabliaux. Meanwhile the ministeriales, or house-servants of the aristocracy, took the fairer name of minstrels. Lyric poetry rose, in the new dialects of the Romance nations, to a place of honour through the genius of troubadours and trouvères, who were recognised as lineal descendants from mimi and histriones. Taillefer himself, who led the van on Senlac field, tossing his sword into the air and singing Roland, is thus described by Guy of Amiens in verses which retain the old prejudice against the class of players :

Histrio, cor audax nimium quem nobilitabat ...
Incisor-ferri mimus cognomine dictus.

VARIOUS KINDS OF PLAYERS.

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Rhapsodes, again, who recited the Chansons de Geste, so popular among the Franks and Normans, laid the foundations of imaginative literature in their Songs of Roland and Charlemagne. Descendants from the citharista of base Latin, these left the name of jester in our English speech. Thus it is hardly too much to say that the despised race of players in the Middle Ages helped to sow the seeds of modern lyrical and epical poetry, of social and political satire, of novel and romance. They contributed little, in the earlier age at least, to the development of the Drama. The part they played in this creation at a later period was, however, of considerable moment. This will be manifest when we come to the point at which the clergy began to lose their hold upon the presentation of Mysteries and Miracles.

II.

Meanwhile another species of dramatic art had been attempted in the cloister during the tenth century. Hroswitha, a Benedictine nun of Gandersheim, wrote six comedies in Latin for the entertainment of her sisterhood. Inspired with the excellent notion of not letting the devil keep the good tunes to himself, she took Terence for her model, and dramatised the legendary history of Christian Saints and Confessors. It is needful to pay this passing tribute to Hroswitha, if only for the singularity of her endeavour. But it would be uncritical in the highest sense of the word to regard her, any more than the Greek author of the Χριστός πάσχων, as a founder or precursor of the modern

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