« AnteriorContinuar »
the miracle to which it refers was wrought“ in the forest of Arragon, in the famous city of Araclea, in the year
of our Lord God 1461.” There can be no doubt that the scene of action was imaginary, being fixed merely for the greater satisfaction of the spectators as to the reality of the occurrences, and as little that a legend of the kind was of a much older date than that assigned in the manuscript, which was probably near the time when the drama had been represented.
In its form it closely resembles the miracle-plays which had their origin in Scripture-history, and one of the characters, that of the Saviour, common in productions of that class, is introduced into it: the rest of the personages engaged are five Jews, named Jonathas, Jason, Jasdon, Masphat, and Malchus; a Christian merchant called Aristorius, a bishop, Sir Isidore a priest, a physician from Brabant called “ Mr. Brundyche,” and Colle his servant + The plot relates to the purchase of the Eucharist by the Jews from Aristorius for 1001., under an assurance also that if they find its miraculous powers verified, they will become converts to Christianity. Aristorius, having possession of the key of the church, enters it secretly, takes away the Host, and sells it to the Jews. They put it to various tests and torments : they stab “ the cake” with their daggers, and it bleeds, while one of the Jews goes mad at the sight. They next attempt to nail it to a post, but the Jew who uses the hammer has his hand torn off; and here the doctor and his servant, Mr. Brundyche and Colle, make their appearance in order to attend the wounded Jew; but after a long comic scene between the quack and his man, highly illustrative of the manners of the time, they are driven out as impostors. The Jews then proceed to boil the Host, but the water turns blood-red, and, taking it out of the cauldron with pincers, they throw it into a blazing oven : the oven, after blood has run out “at the crannies,' bursts asunder, and an image of the Saviour rising, he addresses the Jews, who are as good as their word, for they are converted on the spot. They kneel to the Christian bishop, and Aristorius having confessed his crime and declared his repentance, is forgiven after a suitable admonition, and a strict charge never again to buy or sell.
of Sir Jonathas, the Jew, by Miracle of the Blessed Sacrament ;" but inferior Jews are converted, besides Sir Jonathas, who is the head of the tribe in the “ famous city of Araclea.”
* This name may possibly throw some light on an obscure passage, in a letter dated about 1535, and quoted in “ The History of Engl. Dram. Poetry, and the Stage,” I. 131, where a person of the name of Thomas Wylley informs Cromwell, Earl of Essex, that he had written a play in which a character called “ Colle, clogger of Conscience,” was introduced, to the great offence of the Roman Catholic clergy.
This very singular and striking performance is opened, as was usual with miracle-plays, by two Vexillators, who explain the nature of the story about to be represented in alternate stanzas; and the whole performance is wound up by an epilogue from the bishop, enforcing the moral, which of course was intended to illustrate, and impress upon the audience, the divine origin of the doctrine of transubstantiation. Were it necessary to our design, and did space allow of it, we should be strongly tempted to introduce some characteristic extracts from this hitherto unseen production; but we must content ourselves with saying, that the language in several places appears to be older than the reign of Edward IV., or even of Henry VI., and that we might be disposed to carry back the original composition of the drama to the period of Wickliffe, and the Lollards.
It was not until the reign of Elizabeth that miracleplays were generally abandoned, but in some distant parts of the kingdom they were persevered with even till the time of James I. Miracle-plays, in fact, gradually gave way to moral plays, which presented more variety of situation and character; and moral plays in turn were superseded by a species of mixed drama, which
was strictly neither moral play nor historical play, but a combination of both in the same representation.
Of this singular union of discordant materials, no person who has hitherto written upon the history of our dramatic poetry has taken due notice; but it is very necessary not to pass it over, inasmuch as it may be said to have led ultimately to the introduction of tragedy, comedy, and history, as we now understand the terms, upon the boards of our public theatres. No blame for the omission can fairly be imputed to our predecessors, because the earliest specimens of this sort of mixed drama, which remain to us, have been brought to light within a comparatively few years. The most important of these is the “Kynge Johan” of Bishop Bale. We are not able to settle with precision the date when it was originally written, but it was evidently performed, with additions and alterations, after Elizabeth came to the throne'. The purpose of the author was to promote the Reformation, by applying to the circumstances of his own times the events of the reign of King John, when the kingdom was placed by the Pope under an interdict, and when, according to popular belief, the sovereign was poisoned by a draught
• Bale died in Nov. 1563 ; but he is nevertheless thus spoken of, as still living, in B. Googe's “Eglogs, Epitaphes, and Sonnettes,” published, we have reason to believe, in the spring of that year: we have never seen this tribute quoted, and therefore subjoin it.
“Good aged Bale, that with thy hoary heares
With booke in hand to have thy dying daye.” Besides “ Kynge Johan,” Bale was the author of four extant dramatic productions, which may be looked upon as miracle-plays, both in their form and characters: viz. 1. “ The Three Laws of Nature, Moses and Christ;" 2. “ God's Promises ;" 3.“ John the Baptist ;" 4.“ The Temptation of Christ.” He also wrote fourteen other dramas of various kinds, none of which have come down to us.
administered to him by a monk. This drama resembles a moral play in the introduction of abstract impersonations, and a historical play in the adaptation of a portion of our national annals, with real characters, to the purposes of the stage. Though performed in the reign of Elizabeth, we may carry back the first composition and representation of “Kynge Johan” to the time of Edward VI.; but, as it has been printed by the Camden Society, it is not necessary that we should enlarge upon it.
The object of Bale's play was, as we have stated, to advance the Reformation under Edward VI.; but in the reign of his successor a drama of a similar description, and of a directly opposite tendency, was written and acted. It has never been mentioned, and as it exists only in manuscript of the time, it will not be out of place to quote its title, and to explain briefly in what manner the anonymous author carries out his design. He calls his drama “ Respublica,” and he adds that it was “made in the year of our Lord 1553, and the first year of the most prosperous reign of our most gracious Sovereign, Queen Mary the First.” He was supposed to speak the prologue himself, in the character of “a Poet;” and although every person he introduces is in fact called by some abstract name, he avowedly brings forward the Queen herself as “Nemesis, the Goddess of redress and correction," while her kingdom of England is intended by “ Respublica,” and its inhabitants represented by “ People:” the Reformation in the Church is distinguished as “ Oppression;" and Policy, Authority, and Honesty, are designated “ Avarice,” “ Insolence,” and “ Adulation.” All this is distinctly stated by the author on his title-page, while he also employs the impersonations of Misericordia, Veritas, Justitia, and Pax, (agents not unfrequently resorted to in the older miracle-plays) as the friends of “Nemesis,” the Queen, and as the supporters of the Roman Catholic religion in her dominions.
6 In the library of Mr. Hudson Gurney, to whom we beg to express our obligations for the use of it.
Nothing would be gained by a detail of the import of the tedious interlocutions between the characters, represented, it would seem, by boys, who were perhaps the children of the Chapel Royal; for there are traces in the performance that it was originally acted at court. Respublica is a widow greatly injured and abused by Avarice, Insolence, Oppression, and Adulation; while People, using throughout a rustic dialect, also complain bitterly of their sufferings, especially since the introduction of what had been termed “Reformation” in matters of faith: in the end Justitia brings in Nemesis, to effect a total change by restoring the former condition of religious affairs; and the piece closes with the delivery of the offenders to condign punishment. The production was evidently written by a man of education; but, although there are many attempts at humour, and some at variety, both in character and situation, the whole must have been a very wearisome performance, adapted to please the court by its general tendency, but little calculated to accomplish any other purpose entertained by the writer. In all respects it is much inferior to the “Kynge Johan” of Bale, which it followed in point of date, and to which, perhaps, it was meant to be a counterpart.
In the midst of the performance of dramatic productions of a religious or political characer, each party supporting the views which most accorded with the author's individual opinions, John Heywood, who was a zealous Roman Catholic, and who subsequently suffered for his creed under Edward VI. and Elizabeth, discovered a new species of entertainment, of a highly humorous, and not altogether of an uninstructive kind; which seems to have been very acceptable to the sovereign and nobility, and to have obtained for the author a