affected the imaginations of their audience. The dialogue introduces a citizen, with his wife and servingman, flying from London during a visitation of the plague. Death meets them on their journey. The wife deserts her husband, 'for poverty and death will part good fellowship.' The servant runs away, and the citizen is left alone to parley with the awful apparition. He tries to bribe Death with money, and to soften him with prayers. But Death is obdurate; the man's hour has come; he must away from wife and children; no matter whether he leave his debts unpaid, his business in confusion. For,' says Death, 'I have commission to strike you with this black dart called the pestilence; my master hath so commanded me: and as for gold, I take no thought of it, I love it not; no treasure can keep me back the twinkling of an eye from you; you are my subject, and I am your lord.' Before executing his commission, the Angel of the Lord holds discourse with his victim upon the meaning of the three darts, plague, famine, and war, he carries in his hand. His speech ends with a solemn passage, worthy to be quoted side by side with Ralegh's famous apostrophe to 'eloquent, just, and mighty Death.' It runs as follows: 'I overthrow the dancer, and stop the breath of the singer, and trip the runner in his race. I break wedlock, and make many widows. I do sit in judgment with the judge, and undo the life of the prisoner, and at length kill the judge also himself. I do summon the great Bishops, and cut them through the rochets. I utterly banish the beauty of all courtiers, and end the miseries of the poor. I will never leave off until all flesh be utterly

destroyed. I am the greatest cross and scourge of God.'1


A whole group of the Moral Plays are devoted to subjects capable of more dramatic development, involving the outlines of a love-plot and a regular dénouement. Of these it may suffice to mention the Marriage of Wit and Wisdom’and the Marriage of Wit and Science,' the latter of which exists in two separate forms.

Wit is the son of Severity and Indulgence. The characters of the father and the mother are sharply contrasted and brought into bold relief by a few strong touches in the opening scene. They send Wit forth to court the maiden Wisdom, giving him Good Nurture for a guardian. But Idleness, the Vice, intrudes; and assuming many disguises, leads him astray. He first lures him under the name of Honest Recreation to Dame Wantonness, by whom Wit is besotted and befooled. Then he causes him, in the pursuit of tedious study, to be entrapped by Irksomeness, who always lurks in wait for Wisdom's suitors. The lady, however, rescues her knight, and gives him a sword with which he puts Irksomeness to flight. Wit has not yet learned by experience to walk straight forward to his end. Fancy, therefore, is able to decoy him into prison. Here Good Nurture discovers and releases him; and at last he is wedded

1 I am indebted to Mr. A. H. Bullen for the above extracts from this rare · Dialogue,' which he communicated to me while the proof-sheets of this book were passing through the press. It is to be hoped that before long he will edit a reprint of the whole tract.



to Wisdom, the virgin, who has waited for him all this while in desert places. The allegory of this play is clear ; its language has some delicacy, and the comic scenes are entertaining.

The plot of Wit and Science'is conducted on the same lines. Wit goes through similar adventures, and finally weds Science. It contains a curious comic scene, in which Idleness teaches the child Ignorance to spell, purposely making the lesson difficult. This corresponds to a passage in the Marriage of Wit and Wisdom,' where Idleness mocks Search by pretending to follow what he says, repeating all his words after him with ludicrous misinterpretations.

The Four Elements' introduces a different species of allegory. Nature undertakes to instruct Humanity in the physical sciences, and gives him Studious Desire as a companion. Humanity takes kindly to her tedious homilies until the Vice, named Sensual Appetite, appears upon the scene. He then plunges into a whirl of vulgar dissipation with the Vice and Ignorance and a Taverner, not, however, wholly intermitting his studies in cosmography and such like matters. There is, however, no cohesion between the several parts of the action ; and we may assume, I think, that in the piece, as we possess it, the mirth-making scenes, which bring the Vice and his comic crew into play, have overgrown the allegory to its ultimate confusion. Some interest attaches still to the ‘Four Elements,' because the type of allegory first displayed in it held the stage all through the golden period of art, in Masques and learned shows. Long after the publication of Shakspere's plays in 1637, Thomas Nabbes brought out a * Moral Masque' styled · Microcosmus,' in which Physander, or the natural man, is married to Bellanima, and receives for his attendants the Four Complexions and a Good and Evil Genius. Lured astray by the Evil Genius, he forsakes his chaste wife, and takes up his abode with the Five Senses in the house of Sensuality, a Courtesan. Bellanima tries in vain to reclaim him, until at last he is flung forth, weak, jaded, and good for nothing, from the halls of Sensuality. Then Bellanima and the Good Genius conduct him in sorry plight to Temperance, who cures him of his sickness, while Reason fortifies his soul against the attacks of Remorse and Despair and the Furies, whom the Evil Genius has summoned to accuse him at the bar of Conscience. At the end of the piece, which is a formal play divided into five acts, Bellanima and Physander ascend to Elysium.

I have given this rapid sketch of Microcosmus' in order to show how the motives of the Moral Plays were combined and treated by the later Elizabethan authors. In the interval between the date of the · Four Elements' and 'Mundus et Infans' and that of · Microcosmus,' they assumed a classical complexion, and a more elaborate form. But they remained at root the same. It would be easy to illustrate this point from many subsequent products of our stage—from the Misogonus' of Rychards, of which we have a MS. dated 1577; from Woodes' Conflict of Conscience,' printed in 1581; from the anonymous 'Contention between Liberality and Prodigality,' printed in 1602; and from such later works of literary ingenuity as Randolph's Muses' Looking Glass,' and Brewer's

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excellent ‘Lingua.' But enough has been already said to indicate the comparative vitality of the species; and it is probable that I shall have to draw particular attention at a later stage of these studies to some at least of the works which I have named.


Already, in the early period of which I am at present treating, efforts were made to disengage the Moral Play from its allegorical setting, and to present the pith of its motives in a form of proper Comedy. The ‘Nice Wanton,' for example, introduces us to a family consisting of Barnabas, Delilah, and Ismael, and their mother Xantippe. Xantippe spares the rod, and lets her children grow up as they list. Iniquity, who supports the chief action of the piece, seduces Delilah to wantonness, and Ismael to roguery. Both come to miserable deaths. Xantippe is on the point of dying of shame, when her son Barnabas, after rating his mother soundly for her weak indulgence, reminds her of God's mercy, and saves her from despair. The • Disobedient Child' presents a son, who scorns his father's good advice, marries a wanton wife, spends his substance in divers pleasures with her, and returns home penniless. Unlike the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, this stern parent contents himself with reminding the lad that he had told him so beforehand, and sends him about his business with a small dole. The Devil utters a long soliloquy in the middle of the play, but does not influence its action. A third piece, named Jack Juggler,' said to be written for children

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