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the entreaties of the nurse to avenge the loss of his child, “ tant aymable," the father replies with great coolness,
J'ay un filz perdu,
Metz en sepulture
She has also put into the nurse's mouth the wellknown saying, that it were “ better to be Herod's hog than his son.”
Son porc, non son filz, vault mieux estré
The Murder of the Innocents was undoubtedly a very favourite plot in the age when these performances prevailed. It occurs amongst the religious plays of York and Coventry, and in the Townley MS. A play with a similar title was acted at Constance, as noted in a preceding page, in the year 1417; and in Hawkins's Collection of Plays we have a Mystery, entitled, “ Candlemas Day, or the Killing of the Children of Israel.” The editor informs us that it was written “ by one Ihan Parfre in 1512,” and refers his readers to the original, (Cod. MSS. Kenelmi Digby, 1734, 133) should any doubt arise as to the
4 Macrobius is usually referred to as the authority for this anecdote. “Cum audivisset Augustus, inter pueros, quos in Syria Herodes rex Judæorum intra bimatum jussit interfici, filium quoque ejus occisum, ait, ‘Melius est Herodis porcum esse quam Alium.'" Macrobii Saturnal. 1. 2. c. 4.
See Taylor's Life of Christ, (8vo, edit.) vol. ii. 125.
authenticity of this date 5. Warton seems to regard it as the identical play performed at Constance. If this notion be well founded, Parfre must have been merely the translator or transcriber, or he might have compiled a new play from older materials, as the representation at Constance took place nearly a century prior to the date given by Hawkins. It bears a close resemblance both in language and incident to the Chester Mystery ; but -as the comparison can be so readily instituted, it is unnecessary to supply extracts. The comic character of Watkin the “ Messanger," a boaster and a coward, and who may be regarded as the Sir Kayo of Herod's court, appears to have been substituted for Sir Lancelot and Sir Grimbald, who figure in the latter. The introduction of these knights of romance at the court of Judæa, and the defiance which they breathe against a King of Scotland, are amusing instances of that total disregard of all chronological accuracy apparent in these homely compositions. We find that Herod upon many occasions appeals to Mahound or Mahomet as the object of his adoration. This was an effectual mode of increasing the indignation of the audience against his atrocious massacre, “ from the generous contempt in which our ancestors held infidels of every description?.” In the Townley Mystery, intituled Magnus Herodes, there is a boast of Herod's near relationship to the Prophet, being styled “ Cousyn to Mahowne;"> and in the play of Candlemas-day, the King, at the
s Hawkins on the Origin of the English Drama, vol. i. p. 3.
6 Sir Kay, it will be remembered, was foster brother of King Arthur, and also seneschal of his feasts ; " always boasting of his prowess, often fighting, and as often beaten." See Way's Fabliaux, i. 203, (edit. 1815.)
7 Rose's Partenopex de Blois, p. 145. In le Mystere de la Conception, &c. we are told “ que l'auteur fait Hérode Payen; Cirinus, Gouverneur de Judée, Mahométan." Bibl. du Theat. François, i. 59.
point of death, thùs commends himself to the impos
“ My Lord Mahound, I pray the with hert enteer,
When the legendary stories of the Saracens were fashionable (says Warton) Mahound or Mahomet was a formidable character on our stage: thus Skelton:
“ Like Mahound in a play,
The Sowdan, or Soldan, an eastern tyrant, was a . personage of the same description, equally grim and terrific, and obnoxious to the feelings of the audience.
If we regard the state of literature, religion, and manners, during the period when these performances prevailed, we cannot wonder that they should be promoted by the Church, or that their popularity amongst the laity should have been so extensive and lasting! Ecclesiastics perceiving with jealousy the avidity with which the lays of the Minstrels were received, determined by similar arts to engage the exclusive attention of the people, even in their amusements. The following lines seem to confirm this supposition, as they prove that on the festival of Corpus Christi, celebrated by the performance of Plays at Coventry, York, and other places, the fictions of the Minstrels were at one period resorted to for recreation.'.
8 Warton's Obs. on the Fairy Queen, vol. ii. 266. Percy's Re. liques, i. 76. Ritson's Metrical Romances, iii, 258.
9 Of their attractive influence we have abundant proofs ; but. the passages cited by Warton from Peirs Plouhmans' Crede, and the Wife of Bath's Prologue, are sufficient evidence of the fact. Hist. Eng. Poet. i. 236. VOL. III.
“ Ones y me ordayned, as y have ofte doon,
The popular fictions of romance certainly offered much richer materials, but the Clergy could only with propriety be engaged in dramatic representations of a religious character, and thus the Bible, and the legendary histories of Saints and Martyrs, were resorted to, from absolute necessity. Excluded from society and from secular concerns, the Monks would not unwillingly promote a species of amusement, which relieved the tedium of monastic life, and afforded them occasional opportunities of mixing with the world. It has been often urged, that Mysteries and Moralities taught little except licentiousness and impiety. The coarse language, the irreverent use of sacred names, and the familiar exhibition of the most awful events, must now be acknowledged extremely offensive; but we must be cautious not to judge of the simplicity of those times by the sensitive delicacy of our own, They at least conveyed some scriptural knowledge, and diverted the mind from an exclusive devotion to war and warlike sports. In those days, when “ darkness covered the earth, and gross darkness the people,” the Bible was to the multitude a sealed book, and religion was impressed upon their minds by the gorgeous ceremonies of the Church, or by its terrific anathemas, rather than by the pure and simple precepts of its divine Founder. But the insight even thus afforded into the most striking narra
? Percy's Reliques, ii. 285. A few mis-readings have been corrected by Mr. Douce; from the MS. in his possession, being the one referred to by Dr. Percy.
tives of Holy Writ, by sensible representations of awful facts, where the punishment of vice, and the reward of virtue, were unfolded, could have taught nothing hurtful; and in this view these religious dramas rest upon much less questionable principles of morality than many of the popular productions of more civilized ages. Might not these plays also excite the desire of examining the source whence they were derived, and thus conduce, in a partial degree, to a general knowledge of the Scriptures, an investigation of the errors of the existing creed, and eventually to the overthrow of the papal power ? In a later age the stage was successfully resorted to, as an auxiliary to the pulpit. Both the Roman Catholics and Protestants rendered religious plays the vehicles of opinion”, where truths were frequently elicited, though too often sullied by expressions of the bitterest censure and intolerance'. Amongst the Reformers, Bale stood foremost in seizing this weapon, and, whilst dramatizing in his “ Comedies” various parts of the Scriptures, he powerfully exposed the abuses of the Romish Church “, and inculcated
2 Burney's Hist. Music, iv. 83.
3 The Privy Council in the reign of Queen Mary, (30th April, 1556,) addressed a letter to the Earl of Shrewsbury, “ President of the Counsell in the North," (and which is briefly quoted by Mr. Malone at p. 44); stating that they had lately been informed “ that certaine lewde psonnes, to the nombre of 6 or 7 in a company, naming themsellfs to be Servaunts unto Sir Frauncis Leek, and wearing his livery, and badge on theyrsleves, have wandered abowt those North partes, and represented certaine playes and enterludes, conteyning very naughty and seditious matter touching the King and Quene's Ma.“, and the state of the realme, and to the slaunder of Christe's true and Catholik religion.” The performance of such playes is then prohibited, the Servants of Sir F. Leek are to be sought for, “and ordred according to theyr deserts,” and on any repetition of the offence to be “punished as vagabounds.” Lodge's Illustrations, i. 212.
4 Amongst the Plays of Bale may be enumerated, “ A brefe Comedy or Enterlude of lohan Baptystes preachynge in the Wyldernesse. [Harl. Miscel. i. 97.]