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been given of the like practice among the French. The only persons who could now read were in the religious societies; and various circumstances, peculiarly arising from their situation, profession, and institution, enabled the monks to be the sole performers of these representations."
"As learning encreased, and was more widely disseminated, from the monasteries, by a natural and easy transition, the practice migrated to schools and universities, which were formed on the monastick plan, and in many respects resembled the ecclesiastical bodies."s
Candlemas-Day, or The Slaughter of the Innocents, written by Ihan Parfre, in 1512, Mary Magdalene, produced in the same year," and The Promises of God, written by John Bale, and printed in 1538, are curious specimens of this early species of drama. But the most ancient as well as most complete collection of this kind is, The Chester Mysteries, which were written by Ralph Higden, a monk of the Abbey of Chester, about the year 1228,'
• Warton's History of English Poetry, Vol. II. pp. 366, et
9 MSS. Digby, 133, Bibl. Bodl.
1 MSS. Harl. 2013, &c. "Exhibited at Chester in the year 1327, at the expence of the different trading companies of that city. The Fall of Lucifer, by the Tanners. The Creation, by the Drapers. The Deluge, by the Dyers. Abraham, Melchisedech, and Lot, by the Barbers. Moses, Balak, and Balaam, by the Cappers. The Salutation and Nativity, by the Wrightes. The Shepherds feeding their Flocks by Night, by the Painters and Glaziers. The three Kings, by the Vintners. The Oblation of the three Kings, by the Mercers. The killing of the Innocents, by the Goldsmiths. The Purification, by the Blacksmiths. The Temptation, by the Butchers. The last Supper, by the Bakers. The blind Men and Lazarus, by the Glovers. Jesus and the Lepers, by the Corvesarys. Christ's Passion, by the Bowyers, Fletchers, and Ironmongers. Descent into Hell, by the
of which a particular account will be found below. I am tempted to transcribe a few lines from the third of these pageants, The Deluge, as a specimen of the ancient Mysteries.
The first scenical direction is,-" Et primo in aliquo supremo loco, sive in nubibus, si fieri poterat, loquatur DEUS ad Noe, extra archam existente cum
Cooks and Innkeepers. The Resurrection, by the Skinners. The Ascension, by the Taylors. The Election of S. Mathias, sending of the Holy Ghost, &c. by the Fishmongers. Antichrist, by the Clothiers. Day of Judgment, by the Websters. The reader will perhaps smile at some of these combinations. This is the substance and order of the former part of the play. God enters creating the world; he breathes life into Adam, leads him into Paradise, and opens his side while sleeping. Adam and Eve appear naked, and not ashamed, and the old serpent enters lamenting his fall He converses with Eve. She eats of the forbidden fruit, and gives part to Adam. They propose, according to the stage-direction, to make themselves subligacula a foliis quibus tegamus pudenda. Cover their nakedness with leaves, and converse with God. God's curse. The serpent exit hissing. They are driven from Paradise by four angels and the cherubim with a flaming sword. Adam appears digging the ground, and Eve spinning. Their children Cain and Abel enter: the former kills his brother. Adam's lamentation. Cain is banished," &c, Warton's History of English Poetry, Vol. I. p. 243.
Mr. Warton observes in a note in his second volume, p. 180, that" if it be true that these Mysteries were composed in the year 1328, and there was so much difficulty in obtaining the Pope's permission that they might be presented in English, a presumptive proof arises, that all our Mysteries before that period were in Latin. These plays will therefore have the merit of being the first English interludes."
Polydore Virgil mentions in his book de Rerum Inventoribus, Lib. V. c. ii. that the Mysteries were in his time in English. "Solemus vel more priscorum spectacula edere populo, ut ludos, venationes,-recitare comædias, item in templis vitas divorum ac martyria repræsentare, in quibus, ut cunctis, par sit voluptas, qui recitant, vernaculam linguam tantum usurpant." The first three books of Polydore's work were published in 1499; in 1517, at which time he was in England, he added five
tota familia sua." Then the ALMIGHTY, after expatiating on the sins of mankind, is made to say :
"Man that I made I will destroye,
"The folke that are herone.
"That ever I made man.
"Therefore, Noe, my servant free,
"Of trees drye and lighte.
"To anoynte yt through all thy mighte," &c.
After some dialogue between Noah, Sem, Ham, Japhet, and their wives, we find the following stage direction; "Then Noe with all his family shall make a signe as though the wrought uppon the shippe with divers instruments, and after that God shall speake to Noe:
“Noe, take thou thy meanye,
"Of clean beastes with the thou take
"By live in that thou bring," &c.
"Then Noe shall go into the arke with all his familye, his wife excepte. The arke must be boarded round aboute, and uppon the bordes all the beastes and fowles hereafter rehearsed must be
painted, that there wordes maye agree with the pictures."
After all the beasts and fowls have been described, Noah thus addresses his wife:
"Noe. Wife, come in, why standes thou there?
"Thou art ever froward, that dare I swere,
"Come in on Godes halfe; tyme it were,
"For fear lest that wee drowne."
Wife. Yea, sir, set up your saile,
"I will not oute of this toune;
"And I may save ther life.
At length Sem and his brethren put her on board by force, and on Noah's welcoming her, " Welcome, wife, into this boate," she gives him a box on the ear adding, "Take thou that for thy
Many licentious pleasantries, as Mr. Warton has observed, were sometimes introduced in these reli
It is obvious, that the transcriber of these ancient Mysteries, which appear to have been written in 1328, represents them as they were exhibited at Chester in 1600, and that he has not adhered to the original orthography.
gious representations. "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,3 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 introduced, 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 knight-errant 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 ignominy.——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 comick 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 tornament, first invoked his God, then his mistress, and afterwards proceeded with a safe conscience and great resolution to engage his antagonist. In these Mysteries I have sometimes seen
MSS. Digby 134, Bibl. Bodl.