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three scaffolds, independent of other contrivances: the street also must have been used, as several of the characters enter and go out on horseback. In the Coventry Plays, “the place” and “the mid-place " are mentioned; and there can be no doubt, from the terms of some of the stage directions, that two, three, and even four scaffolds were erected round a centre—the performers proceeding, as occasion required, from one to the other, across “the mid-place.” In one Widkirk play Cain is exhibited at plough with a team of horses; and in another it is absolutely necessary for the story that something like the interior of a cottage should be represented, with a peasant's wife in bed, who pretends to have been just delivered of a child, which lies by her side in a cradle.' Strutt, however, according to Hone, informs us that the stage consisted of three platforms, one above another. On the uppermost sat God the Father, surrounded by his angels; on the second, the glorified saints; and on the last and lowest, men who had not yet passed from this life. On one side of the lowest platform was the resemblance of a dark pitchy cavern, from which issued the appearance of fire and flames; and when it was necessary, the audience was treated with hideous yellings and noises, in imitation of the howlings and cries of wretched souls tormented by relentless demons. From this yawning cave the devils themselves constantly ascended to delight and to instruct the spectators. Mr. Wright, editor of the Chester Plays, says that he has somewhere read of charges for coals to keep up hell-fire; and that on one occasion hell itself took fire, and was nearly burnt down. Among other extracts from the books of accounts connected with the representation of some of these plays, are found the following articles of expenditure :-'Item, paid for mending hell-mouth, 2d. ;' 'Item, paid for keeping of fire at hell-mouth, 4d. ;' 'Paid for setting the world on fire, 5d.' This last entry would lead us to infer that the sensation drama' is, after all, not quite so modern as the days of Mr. Boucicault, who, if he were consulting some of these antiquated miracle plays, might get a few hints as to the production of certain stage effects that would completely eclipse any 'sensation'scene hitherto attempted. We learn from some other entries in the records connected with the performance of these plays, that the actors must have dressed in character, and also that they must have been allowed either a certain salary or so much for necessary expenses. Some of these entries will sound to modern ears ludicrously profane, but certainly no feeling of impiety or irreverence actuated those who dictated them. Thus we meet with such entries as, 'God's coat of white leather, (6 skins); ' Cheverel (peruke) for God;' 'Paid to God, 2s.;' 'Item, to Herod, 3s. 4d. ;' 'Item, to the devil and to Judas, 18d. ;' 'Item, paid to the two angels, 8d.;' Item, paid to the demon, 16d.' So rigid, indeed, were their notions of dressing in character, and so strictly did our simple ancestors adhere to the letter of what is written, that in the Chester and Coventry plays on The Creation, Adam and Eve are made to appear on the stage in all the simplicity of immortal costume,' until, after having eaten of the forbidden fruit, they discover their nakedness. In the Chester play, Adam, after having tasted the 'griefful' (to use an obsolete but expressive term) fruit, says: Out! alas! what aileth me?

Naked we ben both for thy,s
I am naked, well I see! ...

And of our shape ashamed.

Adam, husband, I rede we take


These fig-leaves for shame's sake, Alas, this adder hath done me [nye !]' And to our members a hilling* make Alas, her rede? why did I ?

Of them for thee and me.

i nye—annoyance, injury.

? gede-advice.

3 for thytherefore.


The stage directions instruct that · Adam and Eve shall cover their members with leaves, hiding themselves under the trees.' Warton observes that this extraordinary spectacle was beheld by a numerous company of both sexes with great composure: they had the authority of Scripture for such a representation, and they gave matters just as they found them in the third chapter of Genesis.' It is only fair to mention, however, that Mr. Wright is strongly inclined to think that it is altogether an error to suppose that the representatives of our first parents appeared in a perfectly nude condition on the stage—that the direction is merely figurative, and that they were only to be supposed to be in a state of nudity. "Still,' he adds, that part of the performance which related to the fig-leaves could not be otherwise than what would now be considered very indecorous.' Altogether, when we take into account the subjects of these miracle plays, the language put into the mouths of the dramatis persone, the actors, the stage appointments, and all the accompanying details, together with the absurd beliefs which they lead us to infer must have been held by those who looked upon them as a genuine representation of reality, we cannot fail to be amused at the simplicity of our ancestors ; at the same time regarding them with that feeling cf tender pity with which every thoughtful man is filled when he thinks on the trifles that afforded him infinite pleasure, and the absurd beliefs he cherished, in the days of his childhood and boyhood. We must now, however, review the plays themselves, which we can afford to do briefly, as we intend to give a specimen of one.

This earliest form of the British drama, as the reader will have perceived, is indifferently denominated Miracle Play or Mystery; the latter term, however, seems to have been a late importation from France,—the only names under which these religious dramas were known to our ancestors being Miracles or Plays of Miracles. In France there was always a distinction made between the application of the two terms: the term mystery was used to designate a drama founded on some incident or story in the Old or New Testament, or in the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus ; miracle play being applied to one founded on some miraculous incident in the life of a saint. The two terms, however, as we have said, are applied indifferently by English writers to the same thing. The origin of the term miracle or miracle play as applied to these early dramas is obvious, as in most of them, from the nature of their subjects, there is a strong infusion of the supernatural. The word mystery, again, it is generally said, is appropriately used in this connection to indicate that the plays thus denominated were intended to set forth to the populace the mysteries of the Christian faith. But this is the case with very few of these dramas, most of which are founded on simple narratives devoid of all mystery, taken from both the Old and New Testaments. Moreover, in many French manuscripts the word is written mistère, -its origin, according to some of the latest and best authorities, being found in the Latin ministerium, service,' "office,' pointing to the time when these plays formed a regular part of religious service or worship. At all events, we know that the English miracle play or mystery was a drama founded on some historical part of the Old or New Testament, or on some incident in the life of a saint: those extant are mostly of the former character.

The oldest specimen of a miracle play extant is a fragment of that alluded to formerly as generally ascribed to Gregory Nazianzen, which has been translated into French. The oldest extant specimen of a miracle play in English is, according to Mr. Collier, to be found among the Harleian Manuscripts in the British Museum, the us. being as old as the earlier part of the reign of Edward III., i.e. the early half of the fourteenth century. It is founded upon the sixteenth

chapter of the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus—which is the source of many later ones—and relates to the descent of Christ to hell to liberate Adam, Eve, John the Baptist, and the prophets. However, the principal extant miracle plays written in English consist of three separate sets known as the Towneley or Widkirk collection, consisting of thirty plays supposed to have belonged to Widkirk Abbey before the suppression of the monasteries, the manuscript of which appears to have been written about the reign of Henry vi. (1422–1461); the Coventry Plays, forty-two in number, consisting of miracle plays said to have been represented at Coventry on the feast of Corpus Christi

, the manuscript of which was written at least as early as the reign of Henry VII. (1485-1509); the Chester Whitsun Plays, twenty-four in number, of which the oldest extant manuscript was written in 1581,—there being four others of the dates 1592, 1600,1604, 1607 respectively. The first collection has been published by the Surtees Society, and the two others by the Shakespeare Society. Although the manuscripts are of the above dates, the plays themselves bear internal evidence of being very much older, although it is impossible to fix the dates with anything like certainty, especially as most of the plays have apparently been modernized and otherwise tampered with. The Chester plays, according to the prologue, were originally composed in the mayoralty of John Arnway by one Done Randall, a monk of Chester Abbey, whom certain good authorities suppose to have been no other than Randal, Ranulph, or Ralph Higden, author of the Polychronicon ; but this can scarcely be credited, if, as the best authorities say, Higden died about 1360. A note on one of the British Museum Manuscripts of these plays mentioned above, however, says that Higden was thrice at Rome before he could obtain leave of the Pope to have them in the English tongue,' which indicates that the writer of the note believed that these plays were not originally written in English. Warton conjectured that they must have been written in Latin ; but Mr. Collier's hypothesis, that they were originally in French, is far more likely to be the truth. This supposition he bases on certain remarkable coincidences in language between some of the Chester plays and old French plays on the same subjects, and on the fact that, at the time these are said to have been composed, French was still the prevailing fashionable and literary language. Another note, apparently written at the end of the sixteenth century, appended to a 'proclamation' used for these plays in the time of Henry vill., contained in another Harleian manuscript, contains the following statement :

—Sir John Arnway, mayor, 1327 and 1328, at which time these plays were written by Randall Higgenett, a monk of Chester Abbey, and played openly in the Whitsun week.' The inference from these statements is, that when the Chester plays were first instituted in 1268, the dramas exhibited were written in French, but that when English became the recognised and prevailing language of all classes under Edward 11., these plays were translated from French into English, possibly by Ralph Higden the chronicler, who may have added a few of his own composition. We know that plays were regularly performed at Chester and other large towns shortly after the institution of Corpus Christi festival; and the probability is, that the dramas now extant are those which were used from the beginning, the language having been at various periods modernized in order to suit the changes undergone by the English tongue. "The Chester series,' says Mr. Collier, 'affords specimens of orthography of different ages, from the middle of the fourteenth to the beginning of the seventeenth century.' The Coventry plays have been altered even to a greater extent; the Widkirk collection being the only one which has been handed down in a comparatively pure state.

The dramas in these three collections are nearly all on the same subjects; and


the language and mode of treatment are in many instances so very much alike, as to lead to the belief that they were translated or adapted from a common

The subjects are mostly taken from the Old and New Testaments, and from the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus,—the Chester series, however, drawing very sparingly from the latter source. The language of most of these plays is very rude, and often disgustingly coarse and obscene: the most sacred and divine persons are frequently made to speak in a manner that would be now considered unbecoming even in Billingsgate, though no doubt the language was regarded by those who heard it as perfectly proper and appropriate. As the writers of these dramas were not likely to make their characters and the language they used coarser and more nauseous than what they saw and heard around them in their contemporary men and women, we may safely regard them as a very faithful picture of society at the time the plays were written. No doubt the scene between Noah and his wife in the play of The Deluge, common to the three collections, may be regarded as a faithful picture in language and action of scenes then common in the married life of all classes of society; and indeed, scenes not very different, and language equally forcible, are not so rare, even at the present day, between husband and wife among certain classes of society. The progress of refinement in manners and language must indeed be very slow, since even at this distance from the time at which these plays were written, improvement in these as in other respects is only slowly working its way down through the lower strata of society. In the structure and conduct of the miracle plays, as might be expected, there is little or no display of art or taste; and although occasionally we meet with scenes and language naively natural and life-like, full of dramatic effect, and even of gentle and tender sentiment,' still, on the whole, they are devoid of literary merit. The composers of these plays seein to have felt bound to mix the dulce with the utile, and therefore in almost every one of them we meet with scenes of the coarsest humour and most riotous and inappropriate fun, which no doubt well served the purpose for which they were intended, viz. to keep the rude audience in good humour by furnishing them with food for uproarious laughter. Altogether, they will seem to readers of the present day—what they certainly were not meant to be by their writers, and assuredly were not considered by the audiences who witnessed them-coarse caricatures of the inost sacred persons and events in holy writ, and a lamentable picture of the state of society in the time of our ancestors. Few of them can be said to be intrinsically interesting : they soon pall upon the modern taste, and are likely to be perused with profit only by the antiquarian, diligent historian, and persevering student of manners.

The Towneley plays are the coarsest of the three collections; the Coventry series being the best in language, and least indelicate in sentiment; and the Chester dramas a shade better than the Towneley. As a specimen of the subjects of these primitive dramas, we shall here transcribe the titles of the mysteries contained in the Chester collection. From these the reader will perceive that many of the most important episodes in Scripture history, and especially in the life of Christ, were dramatized, and doubtless would serve the same purpose in these dark and rude ages as the ' Pictorial Bible' does at the present day. The following are the titles of the Chester plays as they occur in the Shakespeare Society edition :

1. The Fall of Lucifer.
2. The Creation and Fall, and Death of


3. Noah's Flood.
4. The Histories of Lot and Abraham.
5. Balaam and his Ass.

6. The Salutation and Nativity.

16. The Passion of Christ. 7. The Play of the Shepherds.

17. The Crucifixion. 8. The Three Kings.

18. The Harrowing of Hell.' 9. The Offering and Return of the Three 19. The Resurrection of Christ. Kings.

20. Christ and the Disciples on the way to 10. The Slaughter of the Innocents.

Emmaus. 11. The Purification of the Virgin.

21. Christ's Ascension. 12. The Temptation, and the Woman taken 22. The Election of Matthias, and the Emisin Adultery.

sion of the Holy Spirit. 13. Lazarus.

23. Ezekiel. 14. Christ's Entry into Jerusalem.

24. On the Appearance of Antichrist. 15. The Lord's Supper and Christ's Betrayal. 25. On the Last Judgment.

As a specimen of these miracle plays, and to give the reader the means of forming for himself an idea of what they really were, we have given at the end of this Introduction the greater part of the one entitled Noah's Flood.

Having dwelt with such comparative minuteness on the origin, history, and nature of the earliest form of the British drama, we shall now briefly trace its progress through the intermediate phase of what is known as the 'morality,' till it reached its full development in that form which has been consecrated by the genius of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. As we shall give at the end of this Introduction specimens illustrating the gradual progress of the drama to what is known as its ‘legitimate'form, there is no great necessity for discursiveness here.

At a comparatively early period there were occasionally introduced into miracle plays characters of an abstract or allegorical nature, intended to represent virtues, vices, passions, etc. ; but when this innovation was first made, there is no means of ascertaining. One of the earliest specimens of a drama of this kind is to be found in the Coventry series, in the eleventh play of which Truth, Justice, Peace, and Pity are introduced into the Parliament of Heaven. In other plays of the same series, Death and the Mother of Death are represented as taking part; “until at length such characters as Reufin and Lyon were employed, partaking of greater individuality, though still personifying the feelings and passions which are supposed to have actuated the Jews against our Saviour.' Gradually such characters became more and more numerous, until, instead of being merely subsidiary to the scriptural characters forming the dramatis persona of the miracle play, they ultimately put the latter into the shade, and a kind of play was established in which they were the sole or chief part of the characters. This kind of drama was called a "Moral' or 'Moral Play,' though now it is generally known under the name of a Morality.' It must not, however, be imagined that these moral plays entirely superseded the mysteries, which long after the invention of the former continued to be almost as popular as ever, and, as we have seen, did not entirely cease out of the land until the beginning of the seventeenth century.

A moral or moral play is well defined by Collier to be a drama, the characters of which are allegorical, abstract, or symbolical, and the story of which is intended to convey a lesson for the better conduct of human life. Evidence can be adduced to show that early in the fifteenth century the morality was in a state of considerable advancement; and Warton thinks it reached the highest perfection of which it was capable about the end of the same century, although, as Collier remarks, it subsequently acquired a greater degree of complication, and exhibited more labour and ingenuity in its construction. As much of what we have said with regard to miracle plays is equally applicable to moral plays, it is not necessary here to enter into a minute examination of the cha

Tie. The descent of Christ into hell, to release Adam and other old saints. This is taken from the Gospel of Nicodemus.

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