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ground for supposing them to have been ever revived after 1574*. A second copy in the same collection, No. 2124, transcribed by James Miller, is dated 1607; but in the latter the Banes are not given. A third copy, and which is believed to be the only remaining one in existence, transcribed by William Bedford in 1604, is preserved in the Bodleian Library. Each MS. contains twenty-four Mysteries, comprehending, according to the usual plan, a representation of the most striking incidents recorded in the Old and New Testament, from the Creation of the World to the Last Judgment; but as the subjects are not only distinctly mentioned in the Banes, but assigned to the different trading companies, at whose expence they were performed, it is unnecessary again to particularize them. Mr. Tyrwhitt preferred the Bodleian transcript to the others': but the variations it contains are too inconsiderable to claim for it any decided superiority.
It happens unfortunately, owing to the liberties taken by the several copyists in departing from the author's text, or in having themselves made use of later transcripts, that we are disabled from forming
* Smith dates his facts one year later, 1575, from taking for his year the latter half of the mayoralty. Ormerod’s Cheshire, i. 298.
In the MS. of Archdeacon Rogers, before quoted, it is expressly stated that the performance in 1574 “ was the laste tyme that the weare played-and we have all cause (continues the writer) to power out oure prayers before God, that neither wee nor oure posterities after us maye ever see the like abomination of desolation, with such a clowde of ignorance, to defile with so high ? hand, the most sacred scriptures of God. But of the merseie of oure God, for the tyme of our ignorance he regarded it not."
From a Roll amongst the Parliamentary Registers of France, dated 9th Dec, 1541, the following singular argument appears for suppressing Religious Plays in that country : “ Davantage y a plusieurs choses au Vieil Testament qu'il n'est expedient declarer au peuple, comme gens ignorans et imbecilles, qui pourroit pren. dre occasion de Judaiisme à faute d'intelligence," Rymer's “Short View of Tragedy," 1693, p. 177.
s Tyrwhiti's Chaucer, ii. 43).
an accurate judgment of the original diction and orthography of these compositions, and are thus de prived of the most certain means of fixing their genuine date. Yet, notwithstanding these alterations, many words and phrases of frequent occurrence in Chaucer and earlier poets have kept their place. In the present work the Harleian transcript, No. 2013, is taken for the text, and the variations in the two others of any importance are preserved in the margin.
Various proofs occur that the composers of religious plays did not adhere very rigidly to the text of Scripture, but introduced both characters and incidents calculated to relieve the solemnity of the plot, and to amuse the fancies of a mixed, and, for the most part, an unlettered audience. In the Deluge, the quarrel between Noah and his wife forms a prominent feature. It occurs also in the Coventry and Townley ?, series of Mysteries, and is probably to be
• The Coventry Mysteries have come down to us in a purer state than those of Chester, and from their extreme curiosity, Mr. Sharp, of Coventry, has been induced to print, for distribution amongst his antiquarian friends, a very limited number of “The Pageant of the Company of Sheremen and Taylors," which comprizes the Annunciation, Nativity, and Murder of the Innocents. To this he has subjoined the Songs that were introduced during the performance, and specimens of other pageants represented at different times in that City, when visited by Royalty.
9 Of the Townley Mysteries some account may not be uninteresting. They are contained in a folio volume, fairly written upon vellum. The MS. was evidently transcribed in or about the reign of Edward IV. but the diction and orthography bear traces of a still earlier period. Had an equally genuine copy of the Chester Plays existed, a comparison between the two series of Mysteries, in the mode of dramatizing the same subjects, might have been satisfactorily instituted, and we should in that case have been enabled to fix with precision the relative degree of antiquity which they bear to each other.
There are some remarkable peculiarities in the versification of the Townley Mysteries. It partakes in a greater or less degree of the alliterative style, that favourite ornament of our older writers; the Cæsura also is studiously preserved, and though requisite to divide the lines into hemistichs, it often throws the sense into
found in every English play, where this narrative is dramatized. In the Milleres Tale of Chaucer, when Nicholas is conferring with John the Carpenter, he asks him,
“ Hast thou not herd (quod Nicholas) also
“ Or that he might get his wif to ship? 8" It is perhaps impossible to trace the origin of this absurd dispute, except to the stage. Warton was not aware that it occurred in any supposititious book of Genesis; and as we find the second Mystery, “ De
utter confusion. There is occasionally a singular and complicated arrangement at the close of the second hemistich, in order to connect it with a following one, that must have rendered these compositions a trial of no little skill and patience to the author. Several of the lines are deccasyllabic; but no systematic rule has been followed in their construction. In the use of the double couplet, the writer probably took for his model Robert de Brunne, who partially employed it in his translation of Langtoft's Chronicle, and in the general arrangement of the stanza we trace some resemblance to a specimen given by Dr. Whitaker, in the preface to his edition of Peirs Plouhman, (p. xvii.) from the story of Susanna, which he considers a solitary specimen of that peculiar rhythm, and to be nearly as ancient as the celebrated work to which it is prefixed.
THE MYSTERIES ARE THUS ENTITLED: 1. A Soliloquy by the Deity, (to which the following invocation is prefixed,) “ In Dei noie Amen assit principio sča Maria mea Wakefeld.” 2. Mactacio Abel. *3. Processus Noe cũ filiis. 4. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Pcessus pphetag. 5. Pharao. 6. Cesar Augustus. 7. Annunciacio. 8. Salutacio Elezabeth. 9. Pagina pastoz. 10. Alia eozdem. 11. Oblačo magoz. 12. Fugacio Josep e me i egipm. 13. Magnus Herodes. 14. Purificab M°. 15. Johës bapt. 16. Cõspiraco pl. 17. Coliphizaćo. 18. Flagellacio. 19. Pcessus. crucis. 20. P.cesse talētoa. 21. Extracão aiaz ab inferna. 22. Resurrecão dñi. '23. Pegrini. 24. Thomas Indie. 25. Ascencio dñi etc. 26. Judiciũ. 27. Lazarus. 28. Suspenão Jude. 1.8 Canterbury Tales, v. 3538, (Tyrwhitt's edit. 4to, vol. i. 199.)
occisione Innocentium,” referred to in the same tale, Mr. Tyrwhitt's conjecture acquires additional strength, that Nicholas quoted it from the Mysteries, with which the Carpenter was doubtless better acquainted than with his Bible. .
When discussing this mixture of historical fact with fable, and of tragedy with farce, Warton's reasoning appears somewhat inconclusive. “Neither the writers nor the spectators (he observes) saw the impropriety, nor paid a separate attention to the comic and the serious part of these motley scenes; at least they were persuaded that the solemnity of the subject covered or excused all incongruities. They had no just idea of decorum, consequently but little sense of the ridiculous : what appears to us to be the highest burlesque, on them would have made no sort of impression !.” Now it may be asked, if the composers of the Mysteries had not had some object in view, in the introduction of burlesque incidents and characters, why did they depart from the plain narrative of Scripture? A passage in the Banes 2 tends to remove all doubt upon the subject, as it proves that the gratification of the populace was one of the chief motives for acting these plays, and that this end would not have been obtained had not the sombre character of the plots been relieved by a species of buffoonery adapted to their taste.. It should also be remembered that the Moralities had their Vice, and that the Fools and Clowns of Shakspeare still keep possession of the stage. · The traces of resemblance apparent in the English
9" Sometime to shew his lightnesse and maistrie,
“ He plaieth Herode on a skaffold hie." Ver. 3383. · Hist. Eng. Poet. i. 242.
“ In pagentes set fourth, apparently to all eyne,
and Foreign Mysteries, as well in the choice of subjects, as in the manner of treating them, are so numerous and striking, that we cannot but attribute these productions to one common source. How far the Chester Mysteries may claim the priority of invention ascribed to them by Mr. Malone, can now, as far as internal evidence is concerned, be matter of conjecture only, from the comparatively modern orthography of the existing copies, and the changes which their diction appears to have undergone, in order to render them intelligible to the audience at successive periods. But from the many proofs that have been adduced of their remote antiquity, we may surely regard them as having been, in their original state, amongst the very earliest dramatic performances of Europe.
In the second Mystery of “ The Murder of the Innocents,” the Child of Herod is stated to be destroyed in the general massacre; and this, like the domestic quarrel of Noah and his Wife, is another instance of circumstances being admitted into religious Plays “not warranted by any writt” of Scripture. The same incident is introduced by Jean Michel into a French Mystery, entitled, “ Le Mystere de la Conception, Nativité, Mariage et Annonciation de la Benoîte Vierge Marie” (Paris 1486); and from this writer it is probable that Margaret de Valois, Queen of Navarre, borrowed the hint for one of her religious dramas, founded upon this subject, called “ Comedie des Innocens," 1547. Her Majesty has nevertheless heightened the cruelty of Herod's character, by causing him to receive the intelligence of his son's death with little regret, from the certainty of having accomplished the object of his massacre. In answer to
3 An outline of both plays will be found in Bibliothèque du Théâtre François depuis son origine (par le Duc de la Vallière). Dresden, 1768, volo 1. 58, 121.