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stage, and others, as contributing to the origin of the earliest form of the modern drama. About the time that it took its rise, the mad furor connected with the Crusades was at its height, and everything and everybody connected with religion enjoyed the greatest popularity. The people were never wearied of hearing the highly coloured stories narrated by the pilgrims and palmers of their adventures on their pious journeys. Menestrier, a French antiquary, quoted in Bayle's Dictionary, ascribes the origin of the mystery to the habit of the pilgrims who had returned from the Holy Land, the shrine St. James of Compostella, and other holy places, composing songs on their travels, mixing them with a recital of the life and death of the Son of God, or of the last judgment, miracles of saints, etc. These pilgrims, we are told, who went in companies, and who took their stand in streets and public places, where they sang with their staves in their hands, and their hats and mantles covered with shells and painted images of divers colours, formed a kind of spectacle which pleased and excited the piety of some citizens of Paris to raise a fund for purchasing a proper place to erect a theatre, in which to represent these mysteries on holy days, as well for the instruction of the people as for their diversion. It appears also to have been the custom of the merchants who frequented the many fairs held throughout Europe from the time of Charlemagne, to be accompanied with jugglers, minstrels, and buffoons, who used every art to inveigle the people to become purchasers of their masters' wares. These exhibitions soon became very popular, and for various reasons were regarded with disfavour by the clergy, who, when they saw they could not extinguish them, substituted in their stead dramatic exhibitions of a religious character.
It appears to us, then, that one might venture to assert that, from the time the Greek drama was instituted by Thespis, down to the present time, dramatic representation in one form or other has been kept alive in Europe. We have seen that at a very early period of the Christian era, the clergy attempted to substitute plays of a religious character for those pagan dramas which they deemed must exercise an evil influence on the people. What little record we have, seems to authorize a presumption that the drama was kept alive in monasteries and convents, where it was not unusual to represent subjects of a religious character, and even the plays of the Latin comedians; for we are told that Nun Roswitha, in the tenth century, wrote the religious plays formerly referred to as a substitute for the comedies of Terence, which were favourites with the nuns. But, as we have already said, what especially gave rise to the modern mystery and miracle play, was the more dramatic character assumed by the mass in the eleventh century, combined with the farcical exhibitions connected with the celebration of
the Feast of Fools and the Feast of the Ass; the other causes mentioned above no | doubt contributing to render them more and more popular and common.
As the reader will have perceived, what we have written above concerning the origin of the religious drama of the middle ages refers chiefly to France :
we have no direct means of knowing what were the earliest causes at work in | England in the same direction, although doubtless most of the above statements
would apply, to a greater or less extent, to nearly all the Catholic countries of Europe. The main reason, however, why we have been so particular in setting forth the influences at work in France which tended to originate the religious drama, is, that there seems to be no doubt that from that country the earliest miracle plays were imported into England. There is no record of anything which could in any strict sense be called a drama having existed among our stolid ancestors the Anglo-Saxons. Their gleemen, like the ancient Greek Thapsodists, went about among the palaces of the Anglo-Saxon princes, reciting
or chanting the deeds of their heroes, and no doubt, like their prototypes, would put as much action into their recitations as possible ; but the idea of dramatic representation apparently never occurred to them. Still it is possible, nay probable, especially in the later period of Anglo-Saxon domination, that, as in the religious houses of the Continent, religious and even profane plays were performed by the monks and nuns for their own amusement: for there was a considerable amount of good scholarship among the Anglo-Saxon clergy. This, however, is mere conjecture. It would be a waste of space and time to 'go back to the Celtic period.
The scanty records we have concur with probability in authorizing us to assign to the French the introduction of the earliest form of the modern drama into England. The Norman Conquest (1066) took place just about the time when the various causes above referred to were conspiring to give a regular form tó, and render popular, the religious drama or miracle play. That event, we know, made French influence for the time supreme in England: all offices of any importance were taken out of the hands of the conquered AngloSaxons, and filled with the French followers of William; and among others, all the important offices connected with the Church were speedily filled with French ecclesiastics. As there can be no doubt that both clergy and laity would bring with them from France their recently formed tastes for religious dramatic representations, we might naturally expect to find the religious drama soon becoming an English institution. Facts show that this was actually the case. According to Mr. Collier, the learned historian of the English stage, 'no country of Europe, since the revival of letters, has been able to produce any notice of theatrical performances of so early a date as England.' Matthew Paris, writing about 1240, informs us that Geoffrey, who afterwards became Abbot of St. Albans, was at first brought from Normandy to teach the school there, but that, in consequence of some delay, he took up his residence at Dunstable; and while there he brought out the play of St. Catherine, borrowing copes from the neighbouring monastery of St. Albans for the purpose of decorating those who took part in the play. As Geoffrey was raised to the dignity of Abbot of St. Albans in 1119, it is certain that the above performances must have taken place before that date; Warton says about the year 1110, and Collier thinks possibly even earlier. According to Bulæus, who refers to the performance of the play in his History of the University of Paris, the above performance was no novelty, sed de consuetudine magistrorum et scholarum- but was according to the custom of masters and scholars.' The performance of miracle plays, however, is referred to by a much earlier writer than Matthew Paris, viz. William Fitzstephen, the biographer of Thomas à Becket, who, as he speaks of what came within his own observation, is a witness of the highest value. Fitzstephen probably wrote about the year 1180; and in giving a description of the city of London, he tells us that in that city holy plays were enacted—representations of those miracles which were wrought by the holy confessors, or of the sufferings in which the martyrs so signally displayed their fortitude.' This latter statement shows that, so early as the twelfth century, the representation of religious plays was quite a common thing in London ; and from the former, we might infer that they were occasionally to be seen even in the provinces.
The allusions to the performance of these religious plays are exceedingly rare until we come down to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries; but the few notices that are to be met with warrant us in inferring that, during the course of the thirteenth century, they had become a recognised and regularly established amusement in England. Under the year 1258 there is a passage in the
Annales Burtonenses forbidding the performance of plays by histriones, which probably here means strolling players, who were no doubt laymen, for as yet the clergy were not only the composers, but the only authorized actors of these plays. In an Anglo-French poem entitled Manuel de Peché, generally ascribed to Bishop Grossetete, who lived about the middle of the thirteenth century, there is a minute account of the authors of miracle plays, their subjects, and the circumstances under which they were usually performed. The institution of the festival of Corpus Christi in 1264 appears to have given a strong impulse to the more general performance of miracle plays,-one of the chief features of that festival, even at the present day, being pageants and processions. It is supposed that four years after the institution of this festival, i.e. about 1268, the custom of performing plays in the streets of large towns was introduced into this country; and Collier and other authorities think that it was about this date that the annual representation of miracle plays during Whitsuntide was instituted at Chester. Exhibitions of a similar kind took place at Coventry, York, Newcastle-uponTyne, Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Preston, Bristol, Witney, Cambridge, Manningtree, and other places; and it may be conjectured that they were originally introduced into large towns nearly contemporaneously, for the purpose of disseminating a certain degree of knowledge of Scripture history.' During the fourteenth century frequent allusions are made to these performances in contemporary poets, chronicles, and statutes. They are spoken of in Piers Plowman's Creede, and Chaucer refers to them again and again, attending 'plays of miracles' being one of the amusements indulged in during Lent by the lusty Wife of Bath. In the latter part of the fourteenth century the choristers and scholars of St. Paul's Cathedral petitioned Richard 11. to prohibit certain persons, probably laymen, 'from acting the history of the Old and New Testament, to the great prejudice of the clergy of the Church, who had expended considerable sums for a public representation of plays founded upon that portion of Scripture at the ensuing Christmas ;' and in 1391, according to Stow, the parish clerks of London performed a play at Skinner's Well, near Smithfield, in presence of the king, queen, and nobles, which lasted three days.
As we are more concerned here with the literature of the drama than with the history of the stage, it is unnecessary to pursue this part of the subject further. Sufficient evidence has been adduced to show that the earliest form of the British drama is nearly as old as the Norman Conquest; that the custom of representing miracle plays at certain Church festivals, and on other great occasions, gradually spread itself over the length and breadth of the land: the custom was almost as universal as the celebration of the Church festivals themselves. During the fifteenth century these exhibitions had made such progress, that nearly every large city had its own company of performers, generally composed of the various trade corporations; and the king himself, and many of the nobility, kept among their retainers complete companies of players, who often went about from place to place giving performances. They continued to be as common and popular as ever during the sixteenth century, even after the regular drama had been developed, and did not cease to be represented in England till at least the beginning of the seventeenth century. Miracle plays have never entirely ceased to be represented on the Continent, and still continue to be acted in Germany, Spain, and Italy. Some years ago an article appeared in Macmillan's Magazine, giving a minute description of a most elaborate and well-acted religious drama on the Passion, which was represented in the open air in a most decorous manner at Oberammergau, in Bavaria, in the year 1860. This representation takes place every ten years, in fulfilment of a vow made by the inhabitants in the 17th
century. In All the Year Round is an interesting description of one on the same subject, which took place at Brixlegg, in the Tyrol, in August 1868. There were 300 performers and sixteen acts: the play began at nine in the morning, and, with the exception of an hour for refreshment, lasted till four in the after
The most recent English religious drama is Byron's Cain, a Mystery. As we have already remarked, miracle plays originated with the clergy; and they were for a long time mostly written and performed by them as a part of the celebration of Church festivals, of which they were a regular adjunct down to the time of the Reformation. Even after the corporations of the towns and choristers of the churches had become the regular performers in these religious dramas, which practice probably began to be common during the fifteenth century, there is evidence that, so late as about 1540, the clergy occasionally took part in the performances, probably in the country districts; and so long at least as the Roman Catholic religion maintained its ground, they seem generally to have acted as superintendents and directors. This we need be neither surprised nor shocked at, if we bear in mind the origin and object of these religious plays: they arose, as we have seen, from the very nature of the Roman Catholic Church service, some parts of which even at the present day are of a highly dramatic character; and whether or not the clergy had this object in view in encouraging them, they were the only means within the reach of the great majority of the people of obtaining a knowledge of the events of Scripture history. No doubt these exhibitions gave rise to many disorders, and the language of the plays themselves was often very coarse, and even what we should call blasphemous; but there is no doubt that, had it not been for the superintendence of the clergy, these evils would have been immeasurably aggravated : witness the ribaldry and licentiousness that characterized the Feasts of Fools and of the Ass mentioned above. Indeed, Collier supposes that certain great disorders, 'revellings, drunkenness, shouts, songs, and other insolences,' which took place at York during the representation of the Corpus Christi plays previous to 1426, arose from the non-interference of the clergy. These miracle plays, the manner of their representation, and all their accompaniments and consequences, were quite in keeping with the character of the people and the times, and were no outcome of a spirit of irreverence or irreligion: their character arose from the very materialistic notions of religion that then prevailed; and need be no more shocked at the people of those times indulging in such amusements, than we need be at an uncultured hind of the present day preferring the tumbling, grimaces, and rude jests of a clown to the performance of Shakespeare's Hamlet. It is within the memory of some still living, that scenes not unlike what attended the performance of these miracle plays, were the usual concomitants of the celebration of the Communion in many of our Scotch country districts: any one may read of them in Burns's Holy Fair.
As the clergy were the originators, and for long the only performers, in these holy plays, so it is certain that churches and monasteries were the theatres in which they were at first represented. We formerly mentioned that the abuses which arose from the performance of those dramas were carried to such a height, that various edicts were issued by the Church authorities, forbidding the clergy to take part in them, and prohibiting the churches from being used as theatres for their performance. In the reign of Alexander II. of Scotland, penalties were decreed against all players who desecrated by their performances either the inside of the church or the churchyard; and in a provincial synod held at Worcester in 1240, the clergy were forbidden to appear at such exhibitions. The Manuel de Peché, mentioned above, expressly mentions both the interior and the cemeteries of churches as the scenes of such performances. Even long after it had become
customary to exhibit miracle plays on scaffolds or platforms constructed for the purpose, and erected in the open air, churches were occasionally made use of as theatres. So late as 1542, Bishop Bonner issued a proclamation to the clergy of his diocese, prohibiting all manner of common plays, games, or interludes, to be played, set forth, or declared within their churches and chapels.' From a tract published in 1572, quoted by Mr. Collier, the practice seems to have been not altogether given up even then. The author, speaking of the manner in which the clergy neglect their duties, says: “He again posteth it (the service) over as fast as he can gallop: for either he hath two places to serve, or else there are some games to be played in the afternoon, .. or an interlude to be played ; and if no place else can be gotten, it must be done in the church.'
It is certain, however, that at a very early period, in the large towns the clergy ceased to take an active part in the getting up and representation of these religious plays, the task being taken up by various corporations. We have seen that in London the corporation of parish-clerks exhibited a miracle play at Skinner's Well; but in most instances it was the trading companies of the various cities where these plays were represented that took upon themselves the duty of management, each guild undertaking a portion of the performance, and sustaining a share in the expense. In the case of the Chester plays, for example, it was the duty of the tanners to represent The Fall of Lucifer; the drapers undertaking to set forth The Creation and Fall; the waterdrawers of the Dee, Noah's Flood; The Slaughter of the Innocents devolving upon the goldsmiths; The Passion of Christ falling to the lot of the fleshers, bowyers, coopers, and strangers; and The Crucifixion to the ironmongers. From the number of actors engaged, the elaborate nature of the properties, and the amount of time consumed, the corporations must have been put to considerable expense in these representations.
At an early period the representations seem at times to have taken place in the
open air. The Manuel de Peché, written about the middle of the thirteenth century, alluded to above, particularly reprobates the performance of miracle plays in the streets of cities ;' and it is well known that, when the acting of these plays devolved upon the city trade corporations, the performances always took place in the streets, attracting immense crowds from all the districts round about. The stage was generally a scaffold, which in its most perfectly developed form consisted of three platforms or storeys; but on this point we shall take the liberty of quoting from Mr. Collier, still the greatest authority on all matters connected with the early British drama. Miracle plays,' he says, ' 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 parts of large towns or cities, and the plays exhibited in succession. The testimony of Archdeacon Rogers, who wrote his account of Chester prior to the death of Elizabeth, seems decisive on 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