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Many licentious pleasantries, as Mr. Warton | had not been the case, the dramatists were bas observed, were sometimes introduced into ignorant wbat to reject and what lo rethese religious representations. “This might lain.” imperceptibly lead the way to subjects entirely “I must not omit,” adds Mr. Warton, “an profane, and to comedy; and perhaps earlier anecdote entirely new, with regard to the mode than is imagined. In a mystery of The Mas- of playing the Mysteries at this period (the sacre of the Holy Innocents, part of the subject latter part of the fifteenth century), which yet of a sacred drama given by the English fathers is perhaps of much bigher antiquity. In the at the famous Council of Conslance, in the year year 1487, while Henry the Seventh kept his 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 casion of the birth of Prince Arthur, on a knight, that he might be properly qualified to Sunday, during the time of dinner, he was engo on the adventure of killing the mothers of the tertained with a religious drama called Christi children of Bethlehem. This tragical business Descensus ad Inferos, or Christ's Descent is treated with the most ridiculous levity. The into Hell. It was represented by the Pueri good women of Bethlehem attack our knight- Eleemosynarii, or choir-boys, of Hyde Abbey, errant with their spinning-wheels, break his and Saint Swithin's Priory, two large monashead with their distaffs, abuse bim as a coward teries at Winchester. This is the only proof and a disgrace to chivalry, and send him to I have ever seen of choir-boys acting the old Herod as a recreant champion with much igno- Mysteries : nor do I recollect any other instance miny.--It is certain that our ancestors in- of a royal dinner, even on a festival, accomtended no sort of impiety by these monstrous panied with this species of diversion. The and unnatural mixtures. Neither the writers story of this interlude, in which the chief nor the spectators saw the impropriety, nor characters were Christ, Adam, Eve, Abraham, paid a separate altention to the comic and the and John the Baptist, was not uncommon in serious part of these motley scenes; at least the ancient religious drama, and I believe made they were persuaded that the solemnity of the made a part of what is called the Ludus Passubject covered or excused all incongruities. Chalis, or Easter Plays. It occurs in the They had no just idea of decorum, conseguently Coventry Plays, acted on Corpus Christi day, but little sense of the ridiculous : what appears and in the Whitsun-plays at Chester, where it to us to be the bigbest burlesque, on them is called the HARROWING OF HELL. The rewould have made no sort of impression. We presentation is, Christ entering hell triumphmust not wonder at this, in an age when cou- antly, delivering our first parents, and the most rage, devotion, and ignorance, composed the sacred characters of the Old and New Testacharacter of European manners; when the taments, from the dominion of Satan, and conknight going to a tournament, first invoked bis veying them into paradise.—The composers of God, then his mistress, and afterwards pro- the Mysteries did not think the plain and proceeded with a safe conscience and great reso- bable events of the New Testament sufficiently lution to engage his antagonist. In these mys- marvellous for an audience who wanted only to teries I have sometimes seen gross and open be surprised. They frequently selected their obscenities. In a play of The Old and New materials from Books which had more of the Testament, Adam and Eve are both exhibited air of romance. The subject of the Mysteries on the stage naked, and conversing about their just mentioned was borrowed from the Pseudonakedness ; this very pertinently introduces the Evangelium, or the fabulous Gospel, ascribed next scene, in which they have coverings of 10 Nicodemus : a book, which logelber with the fig-leaves. This extraordinary spectacle was numerous apocryphal narratives, containing beheld by a numerous assernbly of both sexes infinite innovations of the evangelical history, with great composure : they had the authority and forged at Constantinople by the early of Scripture for such a representation, and they writers of the Greek church, gave birth to an gave matters just as they found them in the endless variety of legends concerning the life of third chapter of Genesis. It would bave been Christ and his apostles; and which, in the absolute heresy to have departed from the barbarous ages, was better esteemed than the sacred text in personating the primitive appea- genuine Gospel, on account of its improbabirance of our first parents, whom the spectators lities and absurdities.” so nearly resembled in simplicity; and if this But whatsoever was the source of these exbibitions, they were thought to contribute so espiinge Christe to arrise, made a continuall much to the information and instruction of the noyce, like to the sound that is caused by the people on the most important subjects of reli- metynge of two stickes, and was therefore gion, that one of the popes granted a pardon commonly called Jack Snacker of Wytney. The of one thousand days to every person who re- like toge I myself, being then a childe, once sorted peaceably to the plays performed in the saw in Powles Church, at London, at a feast of Whitsun-week at Chester, beginning with the Whilsantyde; wheare the comyoge down of the creation, and ending with the general judgment; Holy Ghost was set forthe by a wbite pigeon, and this indulgence was seconded by the bishop that was let to fly out of a hole that yet is to be of the diocese, who granted forty days of pardon: sene in the mydst of the roofe of the great ile, the pope at the same time denouncing the sen- and by a longe censer which descendinge out of tence of damnalion on all those incorrigible the same place almost to the verie grounde, was sinners who presumed to interrupt the due ce swinged up and downe at such a lengthe, that lebration of these pious sports. It is certain it reached with thone sweepe, almost to the that they had their use, not only in teaching west-gate of the churche, and with the other to the great truths of Scripture to men wbo could the quyre staires of the same; breathinge out not read the Bible, but in abolishing the bar- over the whole churche and companie a most barous attachment to military games, and the pleasant perfume of such swete thinges as bloody contentions of the tournament, which burned therein. With the like doome-shews had so long prevailed as the sole species of they used everie where to furnish sondrye popular amusement. Rude and even ridi- parts of theire church service, as by their culous as they were, they softened the man- spectacles of the nativitie, passion, and ascenners of the people, by diverting the public sion,' &c. attention to spectacles in wbich the mind was In a preceding passage Mr. Warton has menconcerned, and by creating a regard for other tioned that the singing boys of Hyde Abbey and arts than those of bodily strength and savage St. Swithin's Priory at Winchester, performed a Talour."
Mystery before king Henry the Seventh in 1487; I may add, that these representations were adding, that this is the only instance he has met so far from being considered as indecent or with of choir-boys performing in Mysteries ; profane, that even a supreme pontifs, Pope but it appears from the accompts of various Pius the Second, about the year 1416, com- monasteries that this was a very ancient pracposed, and caused to be acted before him on tice, probably coeval with the earliest allempls Corpus Christi day, a Mystery, in which was at dramatic representations. In the year 1378, represented the court of the king of heaven. the scholars, or choristers, of Saint Paul's ca
These religious dramas were usually repre- thedral presented a petition to King Richard sented on holy festivals in or near churches. the Second, praying His Majesty to prohibit "To several of our old scriptural plays,” says some ignorant and unexperienced persons from Mr. Warton, “ we see some of the scenes acting the HISTORY OF THE OLD TESTAMENT, directed to be represented cum can!u et organis, to the great prejudice of the clergy of the a common rubric in a missal ; that is, because church, who had expended considerable sums they were performed in a church where the for a public presentalion of that play at the choir assisted. There is a curious passage in ensuing Christmas. About twelve years afterLambarde's Topographical Dictionary, written wards, the Parish Clerks of London, as Stowe about the year 1570, much to our purpose, informs us, performed spiritual plays at Skinwhich I am therefore tempted to transcribe. ner's Well for three days successively, in the * In the dayes of ceremonial religion, they used presence of the King, Queen, and nobles of the at Wytney (in Oxfordshire) to set fourthe yearly realm. And in 1409, the tenth year of King in maner of a shew or interlude, the resur- Henry IV., they acted at Clerkenwell for rection of our Lord, etc. For the which pur- eight days successively a play, which poses, and the more lyvely heareby to exhibite maller from the creation of the world,” and tolhe eye the hole action of the resurrection, the probably concluded with the day of judgment, priestes garnished out certain small puppeltes, in the presence of most of the nobility and representing the persons of Christ, the Watch- gentry of England. man, Marie, and others; amongest the wbich, We are indebted to Mr. Warton for some one bore the parte of a waking watchman, who curious circumstances relative to these Miracle
plays, which “ appear in a roll of the Church- /sition to real historical personages was natural wardens of Bassingborne, in Cambridgeshire, and obvious.” wbich is an accompt of the expenses and re- Dr. Percy, in his Account of the English ceptions for acting the play of Saint George at Stage, has given an Analysis of two ancient Bassingborne, on the seast of Saint Margaret, Moralities, entitled Every Man, and Lusty in the year 1511. They collected upwards of Juventus, from which a perfect notion of this four pounds in twenty-seven neighbouring kind of drama may be obtained. Every Man parishes for furnishing the play. They dis- was written in the reign of King Henry the bursed about lwo pounds in the representation. Eighth, and Lusty Juventus in that of King These disbursements are to four minstrels, or Edward the Sixth. As Dr. Percy's curious waits, of Cambridge, for three days, vs. vid. and valuable collection of ancient English Poetry To the players, in bread and ale, iijs. ijd. To is in the hands of every scholar, I sball content the garnement-man for garnements and pro- myself with merely referring to it. Many other pyrts, that is, for dresses, decorations, and Moralities are yet extant, of some of which I implements, and for play-books, xxs. To shall give titles below.* Or one, which is not John Hobard, brotherhoode preeste, that is, a now extant, we have a curious account in a priest of the guild in the church, for the play book entitled, Mount Tabor, or Private Exbook, ijs. viiid. For the crofte, or field in ercises of a Penitent Sinner, by R. W. (R. which the play was exhibited, js. For propyrte- Willis), Esq. published in the Year of his making, or furniture, js. ivd. For fish and Age 75, Anno Domini 1639; an extract from bread, and to selling up the stages, ivd. For which will give the reader a more accurate nopainting three fanchoms and four formenters, tion of the old Moralities than a long dissertation words which I do not understand, but perhaps on the subject. fantoms and devils ----. The rest was expended for a feast on the occasion, in which
“UPON A STAGE-PLAY WHICH I SAW WHEN I are recited · Four chicken for the gentilmen,
WAS A CHILD, ivd.' It appears by the manuscript of the Co
“ In the city of Gloucester the manner is ventry plays, that a temporary scaffold only was erected for these performances.”
(as I think it is in other like corporations), In the ancient religious plays the Devil was
that when players of enterludes come to towne, very frequently introduced. He was usually they first altend the Mayor, to enforme him represented with horns, a very wide mouth (by what noblemans servanls they are, and so to means of a mask), staring eyes, a large nose, a
get licence for their publike playing; and if the red beard, cloven feet, and a tail. His con
Mayor like the actors, or would shew respect stant attendant was the Vice (the buffoon of to their lord and master, he appoints them to the piece), whose principal employment was to play their first play before himself, and the belabour the Devil with his wooden dagger, Aldermen and Common-Counsell of the city ; and to make him roar for the entertainment or and that is called the Mayor's Play:where every the populace.
one that will, comes in wilhout money, the As the Mysteries or Miracle-plays “fre- Mayor giving the players a reward as hee thinks quently required the introduction of allegorical fit to shew respect unto them. At such a play characters, such as Charity, Sin, Death, Hope, my father tooke me with him and made me Faith, or the like, and as the common poetry of stand between his leggs, as he sale upon one of the times, especially among the French, began the benches, where we saw and beard very to deal much in allegory, at length plays were
The play was called The Cradle of formed entirely consisting of such personifica
Magnificence, written by John Skellon ; Imtions. These were called MORALITIES. The patient Poverty, 1560 ; The Life and Repentance of Miracle-plays or Mysteries were totally des- Marie Magdalene, 1567 ; The Trial of Treasure, titute of invention and plan : they tamely re
1567; The Nice Wanton, 1568; The Disobedient
Child, no date; The Marriage of Wit and Science, presented stories, according to the letter of the
1570; The Interlude of Youth, no date; The longer Scriplure, or the respective legend. But the Thou livest, the more Fool thou art, no date ; The Moralities indicate dawnings of the dramatic Interlude of Wealth and Health, no date; All for art : they contain some rudiments of a plot, Money, 1578; The Conflict of Conscience, 1581 ; and even attempt to delineate characters, and to Lords of London, 1590 ; Tom Tyler and his
The Three Ladies of London, 1585; The Three paint manners. From hence the gradual tran- Wife, &c.
Security, wherein was personated a king or by the introduction of speaking allegorical persome great prince, with his courtiers of several sonages properly and characteristically habited, kinds, among which three ladies were in special they naturally led the way to those personificagrace with him; and they keeping him in delights tions by which Moralities were distinguished and pleasures, drew him from his graver coun- from the simpler religious dramas called Myssellors, hearing of sermons, and listening to teries. We must not, however, suppose, that, good councell and admonitions, that in the end after Moralities were introduced, Mysteries they got him to lye down in a cradle upon the ceased to be exhibited. We have already seen stage, where these three ladies joyning in a that a Mystery was represented before King sweet song, rocked him asleepe, that he snorted Henry the Seventh, at Winchester, in 1487. againe; and in the mean time closely conveyed Sixteen years afterwards, on the first Sunday under the cloaths wherewithall he was covered, after the marriage of his daughter with King a vizard, like a swines spout, upon his face, James of Scotland, a Morality was performed. with three wire chains fastened thereunto, the In the early part of the reign of King Henry other end whereof being holden severally by the Eighth, they were perhaps performed inthose three ladies; who fall to singing againe, discriminately; but Mysteries were probably and then discovered his face that the spectators seldom represented after the statute 34 and might see how they had transformed him, going 35 Henry VIII. c. s, which was made, as the on with their singing. Whilst all this was preamble informs us, with a view that the acting, there came forth of another doore at the kingdom should be purged and cleansed of all farthest end of the stage, two old men; the religious plays, interludes, rhymes, ballads, one in blew, with a serjeant at armes his mace and songs, which are equally pestiferous and on his shoulder; the other in red, with a drawn noysome to the commonweal. At this time svord in his hand, and leaning with the other both Moralities and Mysteries were made the band upon the others shoulders; and so they went vehicle of religious controversy; Bale's Comedy along with a soft pace round about by the skirt of the Three Laws of Nature, printed in 1538, of the stage, till at last they came to the cradle, (which, in fact, is a Mystery), being a disguised when all the court was in the greatest jollity; satire against popery; as the Morality of Lusty and then the foremost old man with his mace Juryentus was written expressly with the same stroke a fearfull blow upon the cradle ; where- view in the reign of King Edward the Sixth. with all the courtiers, with the three ladies, and in that of his successor, Queen Mary, Mysteries the vizard, all vanished; and the desolate prince were again revived, as appendages lo the starting up bare-faced, and finding himself thus papistical worship. “ In the years 1556," sent for to judgment, made a lamentable com- says Mr. Warton, “ a goodly stage-play of the plaint of his miserable case, and so was carried Passion of Christ was presented at the Greyaway by wicked spirits. This prince did per- Friars in London, on Corpus-Christi-day, sonate in the Morall, the wicked of the world; before the Lord Mayor, the Privy Council, and the three ladies, Pride, Covelousness, and many great estates of the realm. Strype also Luxury; the two old men, the end of the world, mentions, under the year 1577, a stage-play and the last judgment. This sight took such at the Grey-Friars, of the Passion of Christ, on impression in me, that when I came towards the day that war was proclaimed in London mans estate, it was as fresh in my memory, as against France, and in honour of that occasion. if I had seen it newly acled.”
On Saint Olave's day in the same year, the The writer of this book appears to have holiday of the church in Silver-Street, which been born in the same year with our great is dedicated to that saint, was kept with great poet (1564). Supposing him to have been solemnity. At eight of the clock at night, began seved or eight years old when he saw this a stage-play of goodly matter, being the mirainterlade, the exhibition must have been in culous history of the life of that saint, which 1371 or 1572.
continued four hours, and concluded with many I am unable to ascertain wben the first religious songs.' No Mysteries, I believe, Morality appeared, but incline to think not were represented during the reign of Elizabeth, sooner then the reign of King Edward the except such as were occasionally performed by Fourth (1460). The public pageants of the those who were favourers of the popish religion, reign of King Henry the Sixth were uncom- and those already mentioned, known by the monly splendid; and being the first enlivened name of the Chester Mysteries, which had been originally composed in 1328, were revived in | state of suspense and expectatlon. But to our the time of King Henry the Eighth (1533), and theatres there can be no novelly, 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 saliated 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 Æschylus, 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
In France the representation of Mysteries entirely concealed their heads from the speciawas forbid in the year 1548, when the frater-lors." nity associated under the name of The Actors Another practice, equally extraordinary, is of our Saviour's Passion, who had received mentioned by Bulenger in his treatise on the letters patent from King Charles the Sixth, in Grecian and Roman theatres. In his time, 1402, and bad for near 150 years exhibited so late as in the year 1600, all the actors religious plays, built their new theatre on the employed in a dramatic piece came on the stage sile of the Duke of Burgundy's house; and were in a troop, before the play began, and presented authorised by an arrêt of parliament to act, on themselves to the spectators, in order, says be, condition that “they should meddle with none to raise the expectation of the audience. I but, profane subjects, such as are lawful and know not whether this was ever practised in honest, and not represent any sacred Mysteries.” England. Instead of raising, it should seem Representations founded on Holy Writ conti
more likely to repress expectation. I suppose, nued to be exhibited in Italy till the year 1660, however, this writer conceived the audience and the Mystery of Christ's Passion was re-would be animated by the number of the chapresenled at Vienna so lately as the early part racters, and thal this display would operate of the present century.
on the gaping spectators like some of our modern Having thus occasionally mentioned foreign enormous play-bills; in which the length of theatres, I take this opportunity to observe that the show sometimes constitutes the principal the stages of France so lately as in the beginning merit of the entertainment. of Queen Elizabeth's reign were entirely un- Mr. Warton observes that Moralities were furnished with scenery or any kind of decora- become so fashionable a spectacle about the tion, and that the performers at that time close of the reign of Henry the Seventh, that remained on the stage the whole time of the “ John Rastall, a learned typographer, broexhibition; in which mode perhaps our Mys- ther-in-law to Sir Thomas More, extended ils leries in England were represented. For this province, which had been hitherto confined information we are indebted to the elder Sca- either to moral allegory, or to religion blended liger, in whose Poetics is the following curious with buffoonery, and conceived a design of passage : “At present in France (about the making it the vehicle of science and philosoyear 1556) plays are represented in such a phy. With this view he published A new manner, that nothing is withdrawn from the INTERLUDE and a mery, of the Nature of the view of the spectator. The whole apparatus iiij Elements, declaring many proper Points of the theatre consists of some high seats ranged of Philosophy naturall, and dyvers straunge in proper order. The persons of the scene Landys, etc. In the cosmographical part of the never depart during the representation : he who play, in which the poet professes to treat of ceases to speak, is considered as if he were no dyvers straunge landys, and of the new-found longer on the stage. But in truth it is ex-landys, the tracts of America recently distremely ridiculous, that the spectator should sec covered, and the manners of the natives are the actor listening, and yet he himself should described. The characters are, a Messenger, not hear what one of his fellow-actors says con- who speaks the prologue, Nature, Humanity, cerning him, though in his own presence and Studious Desire, Sensual Appelite, a Taverner, within his bearing : as if he were absent, while Experience, and Ignorance." he is present. It is the great object of the As it is uncertain at what period of time the dramatic poet to keep the mind in a constant 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