Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

stage. The real origins of our drama have to be sought elsewhere.

Recent investigations have thrown a flood of new light on what is now known as the Liturgical Drama. It has been pointed out that the Office of the Mass is itself essentially dramatic, and that from very early times it became a custom to supplement the liturgy with scenic representations. The descent of the angel Gabriel at the Feast of the Annunciation, the procession of the Magi at Epiphany, the birth of Christ at Christmas, the Resurrection from the tomb at Eastertide, may be mentioned among the more obvious and common of these shows invented by the clergy to illustrate the chief events of Christian history, and to enforce the principal dogmas of the faith upon an unlettered laity by means of acting. The parish priest, aided by the good folk of the village, inanaged these theatrical displays, of which the scene was usually the church, and the occasion service time on festivals. This appears from a somewhat ribald episode in the old novel of. Howleglas,' which narrates the pranks played by the rogue upon the priest, his master for the time. 'In the mean season, while Howleglas was parish clerk, at Easter they should play the Resurrection of our Lord : and for because the men were not learned and could not read, the priest took his leman, and put her in the grave for an Angel : and this seeing, Howleglas took to him three of the simplest persons that were in the town, that played the three Maries; and the parson played Christ, with a banner in his hand.' The lives of the Saints were treated after the same fashion ; and since it was needful to instruct the

[ocr errors]

LITURGICAL PAGEANTS.

99

people through their senses, dramatic shows on all the more important feast days formed a regular part of the Divine service. From the Church this custom spread by a natural transition to the chapels of religious confraternities and the trade-halls of the guilds, who celebrated their patron saints with scenic shows and pageants. To what extent words were used on these occasions, and at what date dialogue was introduced, is doubtful. Yet this is a matter of purely antiquarian interest. The passage from dumb show, through simple recitation of such phrases as the Angel's ' Ave Maria gratia plena,' to a more dramatic form of representation, was inevitable; while our copious collections of Latin hymns, lauds, litanies, and Passion monologues, prove that appropriate choral accompaniments were never wanting. The chief point to be borne in mind is that from an early period of the Middle Ages the Church accustomed men to acting in connection with her services; and that, while the clergy took care to keep this adjunct to the liturgy in their control, the people participated, and thus became familiarised with drama as a form of art. When we reflect that the Scripture and the legends of the Saints formed almost the whole intellectual treasure of the laity, we shall better understand the importance of the religious Drama which thus came into existence. It was not, as it now might be, a thing apart from life, reserved for pious contemplation. It gave artistic shape to all reflections upon life ; presented human destinies in their widest scope and their most striking details ; incorporated medieval science, ethics, history, cosmography, and politics ;

H 2

bringing abstractions vividly before the eyes and ears of folk who could not read.

III.

The transition from the liturgical drama and the ecclesiastical pageant to the Miracle or Mystery was simple. Exactly at what date plays setting forth the Scripture history and legends of the Saints in words intended to be spoken, were first composed, we do not know. But from the extant specimens of such plays in the chief languages of Europe, it seems clear that they were already widely diffused before the middle of the thirteenth century; and it is probable that the festival of Corpus Christi, instituted in 1264 by Urban IV., gave an impulse to their performance. The text was written by monks, and in the first instance almost certainly in Latin. The common name for them was Ludus. Thus we read in the Friulian Chronicles that a Ludus Christi, embracing the principal events from the Passion to the Second Advent, was acted at Cividale in the Marches of Treviso in 1298. Our Coventry Miracles are called Ludus Coventria. As early as 1110 a 'Ludus de S. Katharina' was represented at Dunstaple by Geoffrey, Abbot of S. Albans.

As these sacred dramas became more popular, the vernacular was substituted for Latin in their composition, their scope was enlarged until it embraced the whole of Christian history, and the artistic form assumed a different shape and name in different countries. In France a distinction was drawn between the Mystère and the Miracle ; the former being adapted from Scrip

GROWTH OF A RELIGIOUS DRAMA.

IOI

ture, the latter from the legend of a saint. One of the very earliest religious dramas in a modern language is the Mystère de la Résurrection, ascribed to the twelfth century. In Italy the generic name for such plays in the vulgar tongue was Sacra Rappresentazione ; while subordinate titles like Divozione, Misterio, Miracolo, Figura, Passione, Festa, and so forth, indicated the specific nature of the subject in each particular case. Italy, it may be said in passing, developed the religious drama on a somewhat different method from the rest of Europe. The part played in its creation by private confraternities was more important than that of the Church ; and with the exception of the Friulian Ludus already mentioned, we are not aware of any very early plays in Italy exactly corresponding to those of the North. In Spain the name of Auto became consecrated to the sacred Drama. In England, after the use of Ludus had gone out of fashion, that of Miracle obtained. William Fitz-Stephen, writing about the end of the twelfth century, describes the plays of London as ‘repræsentationes miraculorum quæ sancti confessores operati sunt, seu repræsentationes passionum quibus claruit constantia martyrum.' Matthew Paris, half a cen. tury later, says that Geoffrey's ‘Ludus de S. Katharina' was of the sort which ‘miracula vulgariter appellamus.' Wright, in his edition of the Chester Plays, quotes from a medieval Latin tale a similar phrase, spectacula quæ miracula appellare consuevimus.' This name of Miracle was never lost in England. Langland in * Piers Ploughman'speaks of Miracles, and Chaucer of Plays of Miracles.

Not only did the name thus vary, while the sub

stance of the thing was much the same through Europe; but the mode of treatment differed considerably. In France, although both Mysteries and Miracles ran to an inordinate length, counting many thousands of lines, and requiring more than one day for their presentation, they were confined to certain episodes and portions of the Sacred History. In Italy this limitation of the subject was even more marked ; while none of the Sacre Rappresentazioni exceed the proportions of a moderate modern play. The distinctive point about the English Miracle, as we possess it, is that it incorporated into one cycle of plays the whole history of the world from the Creation to the Last Judgment; successive episodes being selected to illustrate God's dealings with the human race in the Fall, the Deluge, the Antitypes of Christ, our Lord's birth, life, and death, His Resurrection, Ascension, and Second Advent. This needs to be specially noted; for it is a characteristic of the Sacred Drama in our island.

IV.

The Miracles and Mysteries remained for a long while in the hands of the clergy. They were composed by monks, and acted in churches, monasteries, or on meadows conveniently situated near religious houses. Yet we have seen already that, side by side with these ecclesiastical players, there existed a class of popular and profane actors; and also that the laity were pressed into the service of the Liturgical Drama. therefore, natural that in course of time laymen should encroach upon this function of the clergy. According

It was,

« ZurückWeiter »