« VorigeDoorgaan »
1. SHAKSPERE AND THE ENGLISH DRAMA
The wonderful rapidity of the development of the English drama in the last quarter of the six-' teenth century stands in striking contrast to the slowness of its growth before that period. The religious drama, out of which the modern dramatic forms were to spring, had dragged through centuries with comparatively little change, and was still alive when, in 1576, the first theatre was built in London. By 1600 Shakspere had written more than half his plays and stood completely master of the art which he brought to a pitch unsurpassed in any age.
Much of this extraordinary later progress was due to contemporary causes; but there entered into it also certain other elements which can be understood only in the light of the attempts that had been made in the three or four preceding centuries.
In England, as in Greece, the drama sprang from religious ceremonial. The Mass, the centre of
the public worship of the Roman
church, contained dramatic mateShakspere.
rial in the gestures of the offici. ating priests, in the narratives contained in the Lessons, and in the responsive singing and chant.
The Drama before
ing. Latin, the language in which the services were conducted, was uninteligible to the mass of the people, and as early as the fifth century the clergy had begun to use such devices as tableaux vivants of scenes like the marriage in Cana and the Adoration of the Magi to make comprehensible important events in Bible history. Later, · the Easter services were illuminated by representations of the scene at the sepulchre on the morning of the Resurrection, in which a wooden, and afterwards a stone, structure was used for the tomb itself, and the dialogue was chanted by different speakers representing respectively the angel, the disciples, and the women. From such beginnings as this there gradually evolved the earliest forms of the MIRACLE PLAY.
As the presentations became more elaborate, the place of performance was moved first to the churchyard, then to the fields, and finally to the streets and open spaces of the towns. With this change of locality went a change in the language and in the actors, and an extension of the field from which the subjects were chosen. Latin gave way to the vernacular, and the priests to laymen; and miracle plays representing the lives of patron saints were given by schools, trade gilds, and other lay institutions. A further development appeared when, instead of single plays, whole series such as the extant York, Chester, and Coventry cycles were given, dealing in chrono.
logical order with the most important events in Bible history from the Creation to the Day of Judgment.
The stage used for the miracle play as thus developed was a platform mounted on wheels, which was moved from space to space through the streets. Each trade undertook one or more plays, and, when possible, these were allotted with reference to the nature of the particular trade. Thus the play representing the visit of the Magi bearing gifts to the infant Christ was given to the goldsmiths, and the Building of the Ark to the carpenters. The costumes were conventional and frequently grotesque. Judas always wore red hair and a red beard; Herod appeared as a fierce Saracen; the devil had a terrifying mask and & tail; and divine personages wore gilt hair.
Meanwhile the attitude of the church towards these performances had changed. Priests were forbidden to take part in them, and as early as the fourteenth century we find sermons directed against them. The secular management had a more important result in the introduction of comic elements. Figures such as Noah's wife and Herod became frankly farcical, and whole episodes drawn from contemporary life and full of local color were invented, in which the original aim of edification was displaced by an explicit attempt at pure entertainment. Most of these features were characteristic of the religious drama in gen.