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nature of the works : in Neckam and the Polychronicon the temple is merely mentioned as one of the long list of magical devices created by Virgil; in the play the interest is not in Virgil, and all that the spectator needs to know is that it was built by magic. The devil would signify much more to the audience at a mystery play, than would Virgil.
The evidence in Ch. II of Higden's authorship is very slight, and in itself of no significance. It consists merely of a few references to Lancashire (cf. notes to Ch. II. 117, 120.) One of the few facts known about Higden's life is that he was in some way connected with Lancashire.
Summary. According to a tradition preserved in nine sixteenth- and seventeenth-century manuscripts the Chester plays were written by Randall Higden, a monk of Chester, in the first half of the fourteenth century; chance references to other unimportant persons in these manuscripts can be verified, and the persons referred to identified, indicating that the tradition is an ancient one. A comparison of one of the plays with Higden's Polychronicon shows that the same material was used in both, and was drawn from the same sources. In another play we find perfectly gratuitous references to Lancashire, a county with which Higden was familiar. The whole trend of evidence points one way-to Higden's authorship, and the date 1328 given in MS. H is a most natural one for their composition.
1 Cf. Gayley, Plays of Our Forefathers, p. 130, for additional testimony to an early date, based on the general style of the plays.
B. Supposed French Influence. Whether or not the internal evidence presented above succeeds in determining the authorship of the plays, it is of great importance in throwing light on the old problem as to how much the Chester plays are indebted to French originals. The popular theory has always been that they are little more than translations or adaptations of some French play that is now lost, and the Nativity Play has always been used as one one of the strongest pieces of evidence.
There are four characteristics of Ch. I which are supposed to point directly toward France. They are: 1. The structure of the play. There are no di
visions between the Annunciation, Visitation, Joseph, and Nativity Plays, a characteristic of all Old
French plays, and not common in England. 2. The Roman scenes. None of the other English
plays include the Octavian-Sibyl or Temple of Peace scenes. The Old French Mystere du Viel Testament includes the former, and the Mystere de la Nativité describes the fall of a statue of Jupiter which it had been prophesied would stand
donec virgo pariat.' 3. The language is full of French forms and deriv
atives. Octavian makes a speech in French,
as do Herod, the Magi, and Pilate in later plays. 4. The first midwife's name is Tebel, as it always
is in Old French versions, not Zelomi, as in the
English plays and in the Apocryphal Gospels. Despite these somewhat striking resemblances, I am not inclined to believe that the French influence was particularly strong, or at any rate that the Chester dramatist followed slavishly the conventions of French plays, or borrowed directly from the latter. A few
general principles should be borne in mind. First, it should be remembered that a very small proportion of either English or French mysteries is extant. It is hardly safe, therefore, to make dogmatic assertions about what the general type of either must have been. Refutation of the first argument for French influence is easier if we bear this in mind. Although the subjectmatter of the English Nativity plays is more split up in the other three complete cycles, we find in the Coventry Pageant of the Shearmen and Taylors, which is essentially an English play, the same absence of division into separate plays as in the Chester Nativitiy. In other words, out of the five extant English Nativity plays, three are divided into separate plays, and two consist of single undivided plays. Moreover, in the Chester plays there is a division between the Nativity and Shepherds' Plays, a division which never appears in the French plays, and which is also lacking in the obviously English Coventry Pageant. Not much weight can therefore be given to the argument from the structure of the plays.
The second general principle to be borne in mind is that the inheritance of the church was the same in both countries, and that the material adaptable for Nativity plays was necessarily small. The appearance of the Octavian-Sibyl myth in plays of both countries does not necessarily show any connection between them, therefore. But it is just here that the study of the sources of the Chester plays and of Higden's connection with them is of great importance. Whether or no Higden was the author of the plays matters little here; the important thing is that he, who was at least a contemporary of the author and lived in the same abbey with him, quotes non-French authors as his sources for the same legends as appear in the plays. His quotation of the sources proves beyond reasonable doubt what the sources of the Chester plays were; for they agree in every case with what independent investigation would select as the sources. Moreover, after studying the many mediæval versions of these myths, one is more impressed with the differences between the English and French versions than with the resemblances.
The third argument is as easily overthrown. Strangely enough, Higden himself gives a satisfactory explanation of the French tone of the language. In the Polychronicon (1.59) he informs us that in his time
uplandish' men would liken themselves to gentlemen by busy efforts to speak French. All that need be said about the appearance of French forms, therefore, is that they were used to give an air of refinement to the plays. The language of the English court during the 14th century was still French. The only parts of the Chester Plays written entirely in French are speeches of kings and emperors, evidently inserted for the sake of local color.
The argument from the name of the first midwife can be readily answered. In the two accounts of the birth of Christ which quote Bartholomew as their source, i. e. in this play and in the Golden Legend, the name Tebel or Zebel occurs. It is a natural inference, therefore, that the form Tebel comes from Bartholomew (see notes to Ch. I. 528 and 568). Even in the different manuscripts of Pseudo-Matthew the name Zelomi assumes various forms, one coming as close to Zebelas Zahel. But the form Zebel is not confined to French literature (see note to 528). The only conclusion, therefore, that we may draw from the appearance of this name is that the Chester dramatist was following PseudoBartholomew, and the Coventry dramatist Pseudo-Matthew.
The French influence on the Chester dramatist, I am inclined to believe, was no stronger than upon any other educated and cultivated man of the time. The tradition recorded in MS. H, which in discussing the authorship problem we have seen is probably trustworthy, tells us that the author went thrice to Rome to obtain permission to give the plays. If this is true, he must, in those days of leisurely travel, have seen much of French life and customs, and perhaps also of French mysteries. The inclusion of the Roman legendary element in his Nativity play may even be due to his having seen it in some French Nativity; but he took his material from the Englishman Neckam, and from the churchman Martinus, and not from French literature.
Davidson's theory that the plays were originally in Anglo-Norman is based upon the remark in MS. H that Higden went to Rome to obtain permission to give the plays in the English tongue. This might better be interpreted as distinguishing between liturgical and vernacular dramas.
C. General Literary Characteristics. The value of the Chester plays lies rather in their matter than in their form; they are interesting rather for the problems they present than for any literary excellence. The Expositor's story of the Temple of Peace, the best constructed part of our two plays, shows that the author was a better story-teller than dramatist. His powers of realistic description were not of a low order, either; the Shepherds' Play, although as a whole a shapeless mass, countains much effective detail, which was used later by a real dramatist in the Towneley Prima Pastorum. Joseph's argument with the ‘Preco' is also a good bit of realism. The