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Many licentious pleasantries, as Mr. Warton | had not been the case, the dramatists were has observed, were sometimes introduced into ignorant what to reject and what to rethese religious representations. lain."
"I must not omit," adds Mr. Warton, “an anecdote entirely new, with regard to the mode of playing the Mysteries at this period [the latter part of the fifteenth century], which yet is perhaps of much bigher antiquity. In the year 1487, while Henry the Seventh kept his
"This might imperceptibly lead the way to subjects entirely profane, and to comedy; and perhaps earlier than is imagined. In a mystery of The Massacre of the Holy Innocents, part of the subject of a sacred drama given by the English fathers at the famous Council of Constance, in the year 1417, a low buffoon of Herod's court is in-residence at the castle of Winchester, on octroduced, desiring of his lord to be dubbed a knight, that he might be properly qualified to go on the adventure of killing the mothers of the children of Bethlehem. This tragical business is treated with the most ridiculous levity. The good women of Bethlehem attack our knighterrant with their spinning-wheels, break his head with their distaffs, abuse him as a coward and a disgrace to chivalry, and send him to Herod as a recreant champion with much igno- | miny.It is certain that our ancestors intended no sort of impiety by these monstrous and unnatural mixtures. Neither the writers nor the spectators 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. We must not wonder at this, in an age when courage, devotion, and ignorance, composed the character of European manners; when the knight going to a tournament, first invoked his God, then his mistress, and afterwards proIceeded with a safe conscience and great resolution to engage his antagonist. In these mysteries I have sometimes seen gross and open obscenities. In a play of The Old and New Testament, Adam and Eve are both exhibited on the stage naked, and conversing about their nakedness; this very pertinently introduces the next scene, in which they have coverings of fig-leaves. This extraordinary spectacle was beheld by a numerous assembly 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 would have been absolute heresy to have departed from the sacred text in personating the primitive appearance of our first parents, whom the spectators so nearly resembled in simplicity; and if this
casion of the birth of Prince Arthur, on a
But whatsoever was the source of these ex
hibitions, they were thought to contribute so much to the information and instruction of the people on the most important subjects of religion, that one of the popes granted a pardon of one thousand days to every person who re-like toye I myself, being then a childe, once sorted peaceably to the plays performed in the Whitsun-week at Chester, beginning with the creation, and ending with the general judgment; and this indulgence was seconded by the bishop of the diocese, who granted forty days of pardon: the pope at the same time denouncing the sentence of damnation on all those incorrigible sinners who presumed to interrupt the due celebration of these pious sports. It is certain that they had their use, not only in teaching the great truths of Scripture to men who could not read the Bible, but in abolishing the barbarous attachment to military games, and the bloody contentions of the tournament, which had so long prevailed as the sole species of popular amusement. Rude and even ridiculous as they were, they softened the manners of the people, by diverting the public attention to spectacles in which the mind was concerned, and by creating a regard for other arts than those of bodily strength and savage valour."
espiinge Christe to arrise, made a continuall noyce, like to the sound that is caused by the metynge of two stickes, and was therefore commonly called Jack Snacker of Wytney. The
I may add, that these representations were so far from being considered as indecent or profane, that even a supreme pontiff, Pope Pius the Second, about the year 1416, composed, and caused to be acted before him on Corpus Christi day, a Mystery, in which was represented the court of the king of heaven.
These religious dramas were usually represented on holy festivals in or near churches. In several of our old scriptural plays," says Mr. Warton, "we see some of the scenes directed to be represented cum cantu et organis, a common rubric in a missal; that is, because they were performed in a church where the choir assisted. There is a curious passage in Lambarde's Topographical Dictionary, written about the year 1570, much to our purpose, which I am therefore tempted to transcribe. in the dayes of ceremonial religion, they used at Wytney (in Oxfordshire) to set fourthe yearly in maner of a shew or interlude, the resurrection of our Lord, etc. For the which purposes, and the more lyvely heareby to exhibite to the eye the hole action of the resurrection, the priestes garnished out certain small puppettes, representing the persons of Christ, the Watchman, Marie, and others; amongest the which, one bore the parte of a waking watchman, who
saw in Powles Church, at London, at a feast of
In a preceding passage Mr. Warton has mentioned that the singing boys of Hyde Abbey and St. Swithin's Priory at Winchester, performed a Mystery before king Henry the Seventh in 1487; adding, that this is the only instance he has met with of choir-boys performing in Mysteries; but it appears from the accompts of various monasteries that this was a very ancient practice, probably coeval with the earliest attempts at dramatic representations. In the year 1378, the scholars, or choristers, of Saint Paul's cathedral presented a petition to King Richard the Second, praying His Majesty to prohibit some ignorant and unexperienced persons from acting the HISTORY OF THE OLD TESTAMENT, to the great prejudice of the clergy of the church, who had expended considerable sums for a public presentation of that play at the ensuing Christmas. About twelve years afterwards, the Parish Clerks of London, as Stowe informs us, performed spiritual plays at Skinner's Well for three days successively, in the presence of the King, Queen, and nobles of the realm. And in 1409, the tenth year of King Henry IV., they acted at Clerkenwell for eight days successively a play, which "was matter from the creation of the world," and probably concluded with the day of judgment, in the presence of most of the nobility and gentry of England.
We are indebted to Mr. Warton for some curious circumstances relative to these Miracle
Dr. Percy, in his Account of the English Stage, has given an Analysis of two ancient Moralities, entitled Every Man, and Lusty Juventus, from which a perfect notion of this kind of drama may be obtained. Every Man was written in the reign of King Henry the Eighth, and Lusty Juventus in that of King Edward the Sixth. As Dr. Percy's curious and valuable collection of ancient English Poetry is in the hands of every scholar, I shall content
plays, which " appear in a roll of the Church-sition to real historical personages was natural wardens of Bassingborne, in Cambridgeshire, and obvious.” which is an accompt of the expenses and receptions for acting the play of SAINT GEORGE at Bassingborne, on the feast of Saint Margaret, in the year 1511. They collected upwards of four pounds in twenty-seven neighbouring parishes for furnishing the play. They disbursed about two pounds in the representation. These disbursements are to four minstrels, or waits, of Cambridge, for three days, vs. vjd. To the players, in bread and ale, iijs. ijd. To the garnement-man for garnements and pro-myself with merely referring to it. Many other pyrts, that is, for dresses, decorations, and implements, and for play-books, xxs. To John Hobard, brotherhoode preeste, that is, a priest of the guild in the church, for the play book, ijs. viiid. For the crofte, or field in which the play was exhibited, js. For propyrtemaking, or furniture, js. ivd. For fish and bread, and to setting up the stages, ivd. For painting three fanchoms and four tormenters, words which I do not understand, but perhaps fantoms and devils - - - -. The rest was expended for a feast on the occasion, in which are recited Four chicken for the gentilmen, ivd.' It appears by the manuscript of the Coventry plays, that a temporary scaffold only was erected for these performances."
In the ancient religious plays the Devil was very frequently introduced. He was usually represented with horns, a very wide mouth (by means of a mask), staring eyes, a large nose, a red beard, cloven feet, and a tail. His constant attendant was the Vice (the buffoon of the piece), whose principal employment was to belabour the Devil with his wooden dagger, and to make him roar for the entertainment of the populace.
As the Mysteries or Miracle-plays "frequently required the introduction of allegorical characters, such as Charity, Sin, Death, Hope, Faith, or the like, and as the common poetry of the times, especially among the French, began to deal much in allegory, at length plays were formed entirely consisting of such personifications. These were called MORALITIES. The Miracle-plays or MYSTERIES were totally destitute of invention and plan: they tamely represented stories, according to the letter of the Scripture, or the respective legend. But the MORALITIES indicate dawnings of the dramatic art they contain some rudiments of a plot, and even attempt to delineate characters, and to paint manners. From hence the gradual tran
Moralities are yet extant, of some of which I shall give titles below. Of one, which is not now extant, we have a curious account in a book entitled, Mount Tabor, or Private Exercises of a Penitent Sinner, by R. W. (R. Willis), Esq. published in the Year of his Age 75, Anno Domini 1639; an extract from which will give the reader a more accurate notion of the old Moralities than a long dissertation on the subject.
"UPON A STAGE-PLAY WHICH I SAW WHEN I
WAS A CHILD.
"In the city of Gloucester the manner is as I think it is in other like corporations), that when players of enterludes come to towne, they first attend the Mayor, to enforme him what noblemans servants they are, and so to get licence for their publike playing; and if the Mayor like the actors, or would shew respect to their lord and master, he appoints them to play their first play before himself, and the Aldermen and Common-Counsell of the city; and that is called the Mayor's Play : where every one that will, comes in without money, the Mayor giving the players a reward as hee thinks fit to shew respect unto them. At such a play my father tooke me with him and made me stand between his leggs, as he sate upon one of the benches, where we saw and heard very well. The play was called The Cradle of
* Magnificence, written by John Skellon; Impatient Poverty, 1560; The Life and Repentance of Marie Magdalene, 1567; The Trial of Treasure, 1567; The Nice Wanton, 1568; The Disobedient Child, no date; The Marriage of Wit and Science, 1570; The Interlude of Youth, no date; The longer thou livest, the more Fool thou art, no date; The Interlude of Wealth and Health, no date; All for Money, 1578; The Conflict of Conscience, 1581; The Three Ladies of London, 1585; The Three Lords of London, 1590; Tom Tyler and his Wife, &c.
Security, wherein was personated a king or some great prince, with his courtiers of several kinds, among which three ladies were in special grace with him; and they keeping him in delights and pleasures, drew him from his graver counsellors, hearing of sermons, and listening to good councell and admonitions, that in the end they got him to lye down in a cradle upon the stage, where these three ladies joyning in a sweet song, rocked him asleepe, that he snorted againe; and in the mean time closely conveyed under the cloaths wherewithall he was covered, a vizard, like a swines snout, upon his face, with three wire chains fastened thereunto, the other end whereof being holden severally by those three ladies; who fall to singing againe, and then discovered his face that the spectators might see how they had transformed him, going on with their singing. Whilst all this was acting, there came forth of another doore at the farthest end of the stage, two old men; the one in blew, with a serjeant at armes his mace on his shoulder; the other in red, with a drawn sword in his hand, and leaning with the other band upon the others shoulders; and so they went along with a soft pace round about by the skirt of the stage, till at last they came to the cradle, when all the court was in the greatest jollity; and then the foremost old man with his mace stroke a fearfull blow upon the cradle; wherewith all the courtiers, with the three ladies, and the vizard, all vanished; and the desolate prince starting up bare-faced, and finding himself thus sent for to judgment, made a lamentable complaint of his miserable case, and so was carried away by wicked spirits. This prince did personate in the Morall, the wicked of the world; the three ladies, Pride, Covetousness, and Luxury; the two old men, the end of the world, and the last judgment. This sight took such impression in me, that when I came towards mans estate, it was as fresh in my memory, as if I had seen it newly acted."
The writer of this book appears to have been born in the same year with our great poet (1564). Supposing him to have been seven or eight years old when he saw this interlude, the exhibition must have been in 1371 or 1572.
I am unable to ascertain when the first Morality appeared, but incline to think not sooner then the reign of King Edward the Fourth (1460). The public pageants of the reign of King Henry the Sixth were uncommonly splendid; and being the first enlivened
by the introduction of speaking allegorical personages properly and characteristically habited, they naturally led the way to those personifications by which Moralities were distinguished from the simpler religious dramas called Mysteries. We must not, however, suppose, that, after Moralities were introduced, Mysteries ceased to be exhibited. We have already seen that a Mystery was represented before King Henry the Seventh, at Winchester, in 1487. Sixteen years afterwards, on the first Sunday after the marriage of his daughter with King James of Scotland, a Morality was performed. In the early part of the reign of King Henry the Eighth, they were perhaps performed indiscriminately; but Mysteries were probably seldom represented after the statute 34 and 35 Henry VIII. c. s, which was made, as the preamble informs us, with a view that the kingdom should be purged and cleansed of all religious plays, interludes, rhymes, ballads, and songs, which are equally pestiferous and noysome to the commonweal. At this time both Moralities and Mysteries were made the vehicle of religious controversy; Bale's Comedy of the Three Laws of Nature, printed in 1538, (which, in fact, is a Mystery), being a disguised satire against popery; as the Morality of Lusty Juventus was written expressly with the same view in the reign of King Edward the Sixth. In that of his successor, Queen Mary, Mysteries were again revived, as appendages to the papistical worship. "In the years 1556," says Mr. Warton, "a goodly stage-play of the Passion of Christ was presented at the GreyFriars in London, on Corpus-Christi-day, before the Lord Mayor, the Privy Council, and many great estates of the realm. Strype also mentions, under the year 1577, a stage-play at the Grey-Friars, of the Passion of Christ, on the day that war was proclaimed in London against France, and in honour of that occasion. On Saint Olave's day in the same year, the holiday of the church in Silver-Street, which is dedicated to that saint, was kept with great solemnity. At eight of the clock at night, began a stage-play of goodly matter, being the miraculous history of the life of that saint, which continued four hours, and concluded with many religious songs." No Mysteries, I believe, were represented during the reign of Elizabeth, except such as were occasionally performed by those who were favourers of the popish religion, and those already mentioned, known by the name of the Chester Mysteries, which had been
originally composed in 1328, were revived in | state of suspense and expectation. But in our the time of King Henry the Eighth (1533), and theatres there can be no novelty, no surprise: again performed at Chester in the year 1600.* insomuch that the spectator is more likely to be The last Mystery, I believe, ever represented in satiated with what he has already seen, than England was that of Christ's Passion, in the reign to have any appetite for what is to come. of King James the First, which Prynne tells us Upon this ground it was, that Euripides objected was performed at Elie-House in Holborne, to Eschylus, in The Frogs of Aristophanes, when Gundomar lay there, on Good-Friday at for having introduced Niobe and Achilles as night, when there were thousands present." mutes upon the scene, with a covering which entirely concealed their heads from the spectators."
In France the representation of Mysteries was forbid in the year 1548, when the fraternity associated under the name of The Actors of our Saviour's Passion, who had received letters patent from King Charles the Sixth, in 1402, and had for near 150 years exhibited religious plays, built their new theatre on the site of the Duke of Burgundy's house; and were authorised by an arrêt of parliament to act, on condition that "they should meddle with none but, profane subjects, such as are lawful and honest, and not represent any sacred Mysteries." Representations founded on Holy Writ continued to be exhibited in Italy till the year 1660, and the Mystery of Christ's Passion was represented at Vienna so lately as the early part of the present century.
Another practice, equally extraordinary, is mentioned by Bulenger in his treatise on the Grecian and Roman theatres. In his time, so late as in the year 1600, all the actors employed in a dramatic piece came on the stage in a troop, before the play began, and presented themselves to the spectators, in order, says he, to raise the expectation of the audience. I know not whether this was ever practised in England. Instead of raising, it should seem more likely to repress expectation. I suppose, however, this writer conceived the audience would be animated by the number of the characters, and that this display would operate on the gaping spectators like some of our modern enormous play-bills; in which the length of the show sometimes constitutes the principal merit of the entertainment.
Mr. Warton observes that Moralities were become so fashionable a spectacle about the close of the reign of Henry the Seventh, that “John Rastall, a learned typographer, brother-in-law to Sir Thomas More, extended its province, which had been hitherto confined either to moral allegory, or to religion blended with buffoonery, and conceived a design of making it the vehicle of science and philosophy.
Having thus occasionally mentioned foreign theatres, I take this opportunity to observe that the stages of France so lately as in the beginning of Queen Elizabeth's reign were entirely unfurnished with scenery or any kind of decoration, and that the performers at that time remained on the stage the whole time of the exhibition; in which mode perhaps our Mysteries in England were represented. For this information we are indebted to the elder Scaliger, in whose Poetics is the following curious passage: "At present in France [about the year 1556] plays are represented in such a manner, that nothing is withdrawn from the view of the spectator. The whole apparatus of the theatre consists of some high seats ranged in proper order. The persons of the scene never depart during the representation: he who ceases to speak, is considered as if he were no longer on the stage. But in truth it is ex-landys, the tracts of America recently distremely ridiculous, that the spectator should see the actor listening, and yet he himself should not hear what one of his fellow-actors says concerning him, though in his own presence and within his hearing as if he were absent, while he is present. It is the great object of the dramatic poet to keep the mind in a constant
With this view he published A new INterlude and a mery, of the Nature of the iiij Elements, declaring many proper Points of Philosophy naturall, and dyvers straunge Landys, etc. In the cosmographical part of the play, in which the poet professes to treat of dyvers straunge landys, and of the new-found
covered, and the manners of the natives are described. The characters are, a Messenger, who speaks the prologue, Nature, Humanity, Studious Desire, Sensual Appetite, a Taverner, Experience, and Ignorance."
As it is uncertain at what period of time the ancient Mysteries ceased to be represented as an ordinary spectacle for the amusement of the * This Mr. Markland has proved to be a mistake. people, and Moralities were substituted in their