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The pageants thus performed by the Guilds of Coventry were of various subjects, but all scriptural. The Smith's 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 was the Resurrection. They have charges for making the play-book and pricking the songs; for money spent at the first rehearsal and the second rehearsal; for supper on the play-day, for breakfasts and for dinners. The subject of the Drapers' pageant was that of Doomsday; and one of their articles of machinery sufficiently explains the character of their performance-" A link to set the world on fire," following "Paid for the barrel for the earthquake." We may readily believe that the time was fast approaching when such pageants would no longer be tolerated. It is more than probable that the performances of the Guilds were originally subordinate to those of the Grey Friars; perhaps devised and supported by the parochial clergy. But when the Church became opposed to such representations-when, indeed, they were incompatible with the spirit of the age—it is clear that the efforts of the laity to uphold them could not long be successful. They would be certainly performed without the reverence which once belonged to them. Their rude action and simple language would be ridiculed; and, when the feeling of ridicule crept in, their nature would be altered, and they would become essentially profane. There is a very curious circumstance connected with the Coventry pageants, which shows the struggle that was made to keep the dramatic spirit of the people in this direction. In 1584 the Smiths performed, after many preparations and rehearsals, a new pageant, the Destruc
* 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.
tion of Jerusalem. The Smiths applied to one who had been educated in their own town, in the Free School of Coventry, and who in 1584 belonged to St. John's, Oxford, to write this new play for them. The following entry appears in the city accounts:"Paid to Mr Smythe of Oxford the xvth 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 true drama, has not been preserved. would be curious to contrast it with the beautiful dramatic poem on the same subject, by an accomplished scholar of our own day, also a member of the University of Oxford. But the list of characters remains, which shows that the play was essentially historical, exhibiting the contests of the Jewish factions as described by Josephus. The accounts manifest that the play was got up with great magnificence in 1584; but it was not played again until 1591, when it was once more performed along with the famous Hock Tuesday. It was then ordered that no other plays whatever should be performed; and the same order, which makes this concession "at the request of the Commons," directs" that all the May-poles that now are standing in this city shall be taken down before Whitsunday next, and none hereafter to be set up." In that year Coventry saw the last of its pageants. But Marlowe and Shakspere were in London, building up something more adapted to that age; more universal: dramas that no change of manners or policies can destroy.
The Chester Mysteries,' which appear greatly to have resembled those of Coventry, were finally suppressed in 1574. Archdeacon Rogers, who in his MSS. rejoices that “such a cloud of ignorance" would be no more seen, appears to have been an eye-witness of their performance, of which he has left the following description:--(See Markland's 'Introduction to a Specimen of the Chester Mysteries.')
every companye broughte forthe theire pa- | maior, and before that was donne the seconde giant, wch was the cariage or place wch the played in; and before these playes weare played, there was a man wch did ride, as I take it, upon St Georges daye throughe the Cittie, and there published the tyme and the matter of the playes in breeife: the weare played upon Mondaye, Tuesday, and Wensedaye in Whitson weeke. And thei first beganne at the Abbaye gates; and when the firste pagiante was played at the Abbaye gates, then it was wheled from thense to the Pentice, at the hyghe Crosse, before the
came; and the firste went into the Watergate Streete, and from thense unto Bridge Streete, and so one after an other 'till all the pagiantes weare played appoynted for the firste daye, and so likewise for the seconde and the thirde daye. These pagiantes or carige was a hyghe place made like a howse with 2 rowmes, beinge open on the tope; the lower rowme theie apparrelled and dressed themselves, and the higher rowme theie played, and thei stoode upon vi wheeles."
BIBLE HISTORIES AND MORALITIES.
We have very distinct evidence that stories 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 auditory may return made merry in mind,
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.
A certain king to you we shall bring in Whose name was Darius, good and virtuous; This king commanded a feast to be made, And at that banquet many people had.
And when the king in counsel was set
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 a "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 Pardrive Charity off the stage. Then Equity tiality-come to his assistance, and fairly 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 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,
ends seriously; and, they resolving that it is useless to argue longer with this impenitent sinner, "somebody casts fire to Iniquity," and he departs in a tempest of squibs and crackers. The business of the play now at length begins. Darius tells his attendants that the three men who kept his chamber while he slept woke him by their disputing and murmuring,— "Every man to say a weightier matter than the other."
The subject of their dispute was, what is the strongest thing; and their answers, as we are informed by the King's attendants, had been reduced to writing :
"The sentence of the first man is this,
The second also I will declare to you,
The third also I will declare
Women, saith he, is the strongest of all,
Of their respective texts the three young men are then called in to make exposition; and certainly, whatever defects of manners were exhibited by the audiences of that day, they must have possessed the virtue of patience in a remarkable degree to have enabled them to sit out these most prolix harangues. But they have an end; and the king declares Zorobabel to be deserving of signal honours, in his demonstration that, of all things, woman is the strongest. A metrical prayer for Queen Elizabeth, uttered by Constancy, dismisses the audience to their homes*.
The most precise and interesting account which we possess of one of the earliest of the theatrical performances is from the re
collection of a man who was born in the same year as William Shakspere. In 1639 R. W. (R. Willis), stating his age to be seventy-five, published a little volume, called 'Mount Tabor,' which contains a passage which is essential to be given in any history or sketch of the early stage :
*There is a copy of this very curious production in the Garrick Collection of Plays in the British Museum; and a transcript of Garrick's copy is in the Bodleian Library.
"UPON A STAGE PLAY, WHICH I SAW WHEN I WAS A CHILD.
"In the city of Gloucester the manner is (as I think it is in other like corporations) that, when players of interludes come to town, they first attend the mayor to inform him what nobleman's servants they are, and so to get license for their public playing; and if the mayor like the actors, or would show respect to their lord and master, he appoints them to play their first play before himself and the aldermen and common council of the city; and that is called the mayor's play, where every one that will comes in without money, the mayor giving the players a reward as he thinks fit, to show respect unto them. At such a play my father took me with him, and made me stand between his legs, as he sat upon one of the benches, where we saw and heard very well. play was called 'The Cradle of Security,' wherein was personated a king or some great prince, with his courtiers of several kinds, amongst which three ladies were in special grace with him, and they, keeping him in delight and pleasures, drew him from his graver counsellors, hearing of sermons, and listening to good counsel and admonitions, that in the end they got him to lie down in a cradle upon the stage, where these three ladies, joining in a sweet song, rocked him asleep, that he snorted again, and in the mean time closely conveyed under the clothes wherewithal he was covered a vizard like a swine's snout upon his face, with three wire chains fastened thereunto, the other end whereof being holden severally by those three ladies, who fall to singing again, and then discovered his face, that the spectator might see how they had transformed him going on with their singing. Whilst all this was acting, there came forth of another door at the farthest end of the stage two old men, the one in blue, with a sergeant-at-arms his mace on his shoulder, the other in red, with a drawn sword in his hand, and leaning with the other hand upon the other's shoulder, and so they two went along in a soft pace, round about by the skirt of the stage, till at last they came to the cradle, when all the
court was in greatest jollity, and then the foremost old man with his mace stroke a fearful blow upon the cradle, whereat all the courtiers, with the three ladies and the vizard, all vanished; and the desolate prince, starting up barefaced, and finding himself thus sent for to judgment, made a lamentable complaint of his miserable case, and so was carried away by wicked spirits. This prince did personate in the moral the wicked of the world; the three ladies, pride, covetousness, and luxury; the two old men the end of the world and the last judgment. This sight took such impres
sion in me, that when I came towards man's estate it was as fresh in my memory as if I had seen it newly acted."
It would appear from Willis's description that 'The Cradle of Security' was for the most part dumb show. It is probable that he was present at its performance at Gloucester when he was six or seven years of age. It evidently belongs to that class of moral plays which were of the simplest construction. And yet it was popular long after the English drama had reached its highest eminence.
men hath decayed, and they are thought to be covetous by permitting their servants, which cannot live by themselves, and whom for nearness they will not maintain, to live on the devotion or alms of other men, passing from country to country, from one gentleman's house to another, offering their service, which is a kind of beggary. Who, indeed, to speak more truly, are become beggars for their servants. For commonly the good-will men bear to their lords makes them draw the strings of their purses to extend their liberality to them, where otherwise they would not." Speaking of the writers of plays, the same author adds,—" But some perhaps will say the nobleman delighteth in such things, whose humours must be contented, partly for fear and partly for commodity; and if they write matters pleasant they are best preferred in Court among the cunning heads." In the old play of 'The Taming of a Shrew' the players in the 'Induction' are presented to us in very homely guise. The messenger tells the lord—
IN a later period of the stage, when the actors chiefly depended upon the large support of the public, instead of receiving the wages of noblemen, however wealthy and powerful, the connection of a company of players with a great personage, whose "servants" they were called, was scarcely more than a licence to act without the interference of the magistrate. But, in the period of the stage which we are now describing, it would appear that the players were literally the retainers of powerful lords, who employed them for their own recreation, and allowed them to derive a profit from occasional public exhibitions. In 'The Third Blast of Retreat from Plays and Theatres' we have the following passage, which appears decisive upon this point: —“ What credit can return to the nobleman to countenance his men to exercise that quality which is not sufferable in any commonweal? Whereas, it was an ancient custom that no man of honour should retain any man but such as was as excellent in some one good quality or another, whereby, if occasion so served, he might get his own living. Then was every nobleman's house a commonweal in itself. But since the retaining of these caterpillars the credit of noble- The stage-direction then says, Enter two
"Your players be come,
And do attend your honour's pleasure here."