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a scene as the great city of the Black Prince would have presented during the boyhood of Shakspere.
to the wide area on the north of Trinity Church and St. Michael's, for there is the pageant to be first performed. There was a The morning of Corpus Christi comes, and high house or carriage which stood upon soon after sunrise there is stir in the six wheels; it was divided into two rooms, streets of Coventry. The old ordinances for one above the other. In the lower room this solemnity require that the Guilds should were the performers; the upper was the be at their posts at five o'clock. There is to stage. This ponderous vehicle was painted be a solemn procession-formerly, indeed, and gilt, surmounted with burnished vanes after the performance of the pageant-and and streamers, and decorated with imagery; then, with hundreds of torches burning it was hung round with curtains, and a around the figures of our Lady and St. John, painted cloth presented a picture of the candlesticks and chalices of silver, banners subject that was to be performed. This of velvet and canopies of silk, and the mem- simple stage had its machinery, too; it was bers of the Trinity Guild and the Corpus fitted for the representation of an earthChristi Guild bearing their crucifixes and quake or a storm; and the pageant in most candlesticks, with personations of the angel cases was concluded in the noise and flame Gabriel lifting up the lily, the twelve apos- of fireworks. It is the pageant of the comtles, and renowned virgins, especially St. pany of Shearmen and Tailors, which is to Catherine and St. Margaret. The Reforma- be performed, the subject the Birth of tion has, of course, destroyed much of the Christ and Offering of the Magi, with the ceremonial; and, indeed, the spirit of it has Flight into Egypt and Murder of the Innoin great part evaporated. But now, issuing cents. The eager multitudes are permitted from the many ways that lead to the Cross, to crowd within a reasonable distance of the there is heard the melody of harpers and car. There is a moveable scaffold erected the voice of minstrelsy; trumpets sound, for the more distinguished spectators. The banners wave, riding-men come thick from men of the Guilds sit firm on their horses. their several halls; the mayor and aldermen Amidst the sound of harp and trumpet the in their robes, the city servants in proper curtains are withdrawn, and Isaiah appears, liveries, St. George and the Dragon, and prophesying the blessing which is to come Herod on horseback. The bells ring, boughs upon the earth. Gabriel announces to Mary are strewed in the streets, tapestry is hung the embassage upon which he is sent from out of the windows, officers in scarlet coats Heaven. Then a dialogue between Mary struggle in the crowd while the procession and Joseph, and the scene changes to the is marshalling. The crafts are getting into field where shepherds are abiding in the their ancient order, each craft with its darkness of the night-a night so dark that streamer and its men in harness. There are they know not where their sheep may be; "Fysshers and Cokes,-Baxters and Milners, they are cold and in great heaviness. Then -Bochers,-Whittawers and Glovers,-Pyn- the star shines, and they hear the song of ners, Tylers, and Wrightes,-Skynners,- "Gloria in excelsis Deo." A soft melody of Barkers, Corvysers,-Smythes,-Wevers, concealed music hushes even the whispers of Wirdrawers, Cardemakers, Sadelers, Peyn- the Coventry audience; and three songs are tours, and Masons,-Gurdelers,-Taylours, sung, such as may abide in the remembrance Walkers, and Sherman,-Deysters,-Drapers, of the people, and be repeated by them at Mercers."* At length the procession is ar- their Christmas festivals. "The first the ranged. It parades through the principal shepherds sing :"lines of the city, from Bishopgate on the north to the Grey Friars' Gate on the south, and from Broadgate on the west to Gosford Gate on the east. The crowd is thronging * Sharp's Dissertation,' page 160.
"As I rode out this enders + night,
Of three jolly shepherds I saw a sight,
↑ Enders night-last night.
They sang terli terlow:
So merrily the shepherds their pipes can blow." There is then a song "the women sing :”— "Lully, lulla, you little tiny child; By, by, lully, lullay, you little tiny child: By, by, lully, lullay.
O sisters two, how may we do
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling, for whom we do sing
Herod the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All young children to slay.
That woe is me, poor child, for thee,
And ever mourn and say,
For thy parting neither say nor sing
The shepherds again take up the song:-
So merrily the shepherds their pipes can blow.” The simple melody of these songs has come down to us they are part songs, each having the treble, the tenor, and the bass. The star conducts the shepherds to the "crib of poor repast," where the child lies; and, with a simplicity which is highly characteristic, one presents the child his pipe, the second his hat, and the third his mittens. Prophets now come, who declare in lengthened rhyme the wonder and the blessing:"Neither in halls nor yet in bowers Born would he not be,
Neither in castles nor yet in towers
The messenger of Herod succeeds; and very curious it is, and characteristic of a period when the king's laws were delivered in the language of the Conqueror, that he speaks in French. This circumstance would carry
* This very curious pageant, essentially different from the same portion of Scripture-history in the Ludus Coventriæ,' is printed entire in Mr. Sharp's Dissertation,' as well as the score of these songs.
back the date of the play to the reign of Edward III., though the language is occasionally modernized. We have then the three kings with their gifts. They are brought before Herod, who treats them courteously, but is inexorable in his cruel decree. Herod rages in the streets; but the flight into Egypt takes place, and then the massacre. The address of the women to the pitiless soldiers, imploring, defying, is not the least curious part of the performance; for example
"Sir knightes, of your courtesy,
This day shame not your chivalry,
But on my child have pity,"
is the mild address of one mother. Another
"He that slays my child in sight,
If that my strokes on him may light, Be he squire or knight,
I hold him but lost."
The fury of a third is more excessive :-
But I shall make his brains addle,
We have little doubt that he who described the horrors of a siege,
"Whiles the mad mothers with their howls con
Do break the clouds, as did the wives of Jewry At Herod's bloody-hunting slaughtermen," +— had heard the howlings of the women in the Coventry pageant. And so "fynes lude de taylars and scharmen."
The pageants thus performed by the Guilds of Coventry were of various subjects, but all scriptural. The Smiths' pageant was the Crucifixion; and most curious are their accounts, from 1449 till the time of which we are speaking, for expenses of helmets for Herod, and cloaks for Pilate; of tabards for Caiaphas, and gear for Pilate's wife; of a staff for the Demon, and a beard for Judas. There are payments, too, to a man for hanging Judas, and for cock-crowing. The subject of the Cappers' pageant
Henry V., Act II., Scene 1.
was the Resurrection. They have charges | true drama, has not been preserved.
would be curious to contrast it with the
"Paid to M' Smythe of Oxford the xyth daye of aprill 1584 for hys paynes for writing of the tragedye-xiij', vj3, viijd.”
We regret that this play, so liberally paid for when compared with subsequent payments to the Jonsons and Dekkers of the
It is clear, we think, that the pageants performed by the Guilds were altogether different from the Ludus Coventriæ,' which Dugdale expressly tells us were performed by the Grey Friars.
The pageant of The Nine Worthies' was often performed by the dramatic body of the Coventry Grammar School; the ancient pageant, such as was presented to Henry VI. and his Queen in 1455, and of which the Leet-book contains the faithful copy t. The lofty speeches which the three Hebrews, Joshua, David, and Judas Maccabeus; the three Infidels, Hector, Alexander, and Julius Cæsar; and the three Christians, Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Boulogne, utter in this composition, are singular specimens of the mock heroic. Hector thus speaks :
"Most pleasant princes, recorded that may be,
"I, Alexander, that for chivalry beareth the
Most courageous in conquest through the
† Sharp, page 145.
And Julius Cæsar thus :
"I, Julius Cæsar, sovereign of knighthood
Welcome you, princes, most benign and good.” Surely it was little less than plagiary, if it were not meant for downright parody, when, in a pageant of The Nine Worthies' presented a few years after*, Hector comes in to say
"The armipotent Mars, of lances the almighty, Gave Hector a gift, the heir of Ilion:
A man so breathed, that certain he would fight, yea,
From morn to night out of his pavilion.
I am that flower."
And Alexander :
"When in the world I lived, I was the world's commander;
By east, west, north, and south, I spread my conquering might:
My 'scutcheon plain declares that I am Alisander."
And Pompey, usurping the just honours of his triumphant rival :—
"I, Pompey am, Pompey surnamed the Great, That oft in field, with targe and shield, did make my foe to sweat."
BIBLE HISTORIES AND MORALITIES.
We have very distinct evidence that stories | ditory may return made merry in mind, from the Sacred Scriptures, in character perhaps very little different from the ancient Mysteries, were performed upon the London stage at a period when classical histories, romantic legends, and comedies of intrigue, attracted numerous audiences both in the capital and the provinces. At the period which immediately preceded the true drama there was a fierce controversy on the subject of theatrical exhibitions; and from the very rare tracts then published we are enabled to form a tolerably accurate estimate of the character of the early theatre. one of these tracts, which appeared in 1580, entitled 'A Second and Third Blast of Retrait from Plaies and Theaters,' we have the following passage:-"The reverend word of God, and histories of the Bible, set forth on the stage by these blasphemous players, are so corrupted by their gestures of scurrility, and so interlaced with unclean and whorish speeches, that it is not possible to draw any profit out of the doctrine of their spiritual moralities. For that they exhibit under laughing that which ought to be taught and received reverendly. So that their au
*Love's Labour's Lost,' Act. v.
but none comes away reformed in manners. And of all abuses this is most undecent and intolerable, to suffer holy things to be handled by men so profane, and defiled by interposition of dissolute words." (Page 103.) Those who have read the ancient Mysteries, and even the productions of Bishop Bale which appeared not thirty years before this was written, will agree that the players ought not wholly to have the blame of the "interposition of dissolute words." But unquestionably it was a great abuse to have "histories of the Bible set forth on the stage ;" for the use and advantage of such dramatic histories had altogether ceased. Indeed, although scriptural subjects might have continued to have been represented in 1580, we apprehend that they were principally taken from apocryphal stories, which were regarded with little reverence even by those who were most earnest in their hostility to the stage. Of such a character is the very curious play, printed in 1565, entitled A pretie new Enterlude, both pithie and pleasaunt, of the story of King Daryus, being taken out of the third and fourth chapter of the third book of Esdras.'
"The Prolocutor" first comes forward to | explain the object of "The worthy Entertainment of King Daryus :"
"Good people, hark, and give ear awhile,
For of this enterlude I will declare the style.
Now silence I desire you therefore, For the Vice is entering at the door." The stage-direction then says, "The Prologue goeth out and Iniquity comes in." This is "the formal Vice Iniquity of 'Richard III.;' the "Vetus Iniquitas" of 'The Devil is an Ass;' the Iniquity with "wooden dagger," and "a juggler's jerkin with false skirts," of "The Staple of News.' But in the interlude of 'Darius' he has less complex offices than are assigned him by Gifford-" to instigate the hero of the piece to wickedness, and, at the same time, to protect him from the devil, whom he was permitted to buffet and baffle with his wooden sword, till the process of the story required that both the protector and the protected should be carried off by the fiend, or the latter driven roaring from the stage by some miraculous interposition in favour of the repentant offender." The first words which Iniquity utters indicate, however, that he was familiar with the audience, and the audience familiar with him :
"How now, my masters; how goeth the world now?
I come gladly to talk with you."
And in a most extraordinary manner he does talk; swaggering and bullying as if the whole world was at his command, till
*Ben Jonson's Works. Note on The Devil is an Ass.'
Charity comes in, and reads him a very severe lecture upon the impropriety of his deportment. It is of little avail; for two friends of Iniquity-Importunity and Partiality-come to his assistance, and fairly drive Charity off the stage. Then Equity enters to take up the quarrel against Iniquity and his fellows; but Equity is no match for them, and they all make way for King Darius. This very long scene has nothing whatever to do with the main action of the piece, or rather what professes to be its action. Its tediousness is relieved by the Vice, who, however dull was his profligacy, contrived to make the audience laugh by the whisking of his tail and the brandishing of his sword, assisted no doubt by some wellknown chuckle like that of the Punch of our own days. King Darius, however, at length comes with all his Council; and most capital names do his chief councillors bear, not unworthy to be adopted even in courts of greater refinement-Perplexity and Curiosity. The whole business of this scene of King Darius is to present a feast to the admiring spectators. Up to the present day the English audience delights in a feast, and will endure that two men should sit upon the stage for a quarter of an hour, uttering the most unrepeatable stupidity, provided they seem to pick real chicken-bones and drink real port.
The Darius of the interlude feasted whole nations-upon the representative system; and here Ethiopia, Persia, Judah, and Media eat their fill, and are very grateful. But feasts must have their end; and so the curtain closes upon the eaters, and Iniquity "cometh in singing:"
"La, soule, soule, fa, my, re, re,
I miss a note I dare well say:
I should have been low when I was so high;
Again come his bottle-holders, Importunity and Partiality; and in the course of their gabble Iniquity tells them that the Pope is his father. Unhappily his supporters go out; and then Equity attacks him alone. Loud is their debate; and faster and more furious is the talk when Constancy and Charity come in. The matter, however,