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and the most facred characters of the old and new teftaments, from the dominion of Satan, and conveying them into paradise.-The composers of the Mysteries did not think the plain and probable events of the new teftament fufficiently marvellous for an audience who wanted only to be surprised. They frequently selected their materials from books which had more of the air of romance. The subject of the Mysteries juft mentioned was borrowed from the Pfeudo-Evangelium, or the fabulous Gospel, ascribed to Nicodemus : a book, which together with the numerous apocryphal narratives, containing infinite innovations of the evangelical history, and forged at Constantinople by the early writers of the Greek church, gave birth to an endless variety of legends concerning the life of Christ and his apostles; and which, in the barbarous ages, was better esteemed than the genuine gospel, on account of its improbabilities and absurdities.'
“ But whatsoever was the fource of these exhibitions, they were thought to contribute so much to the informa
It is hence, I trowe, myles two a fifty;
A little before the resurrection.
And all my fryndes that herein be,
In blyfle for to dwelle.
With myrth ever mor to melle.
That now is forgiven my gret trespace,
Now shall we dwellyn in blyssful place, &c. The last scene or pageant, which represents the day of Judgment, begins thus:
tion and instruction of the people on the most important subjects of religion, that one of the popes granted a pardon of one thousand days to every person who resorted peaceably to the plays performed in the Whitsun week at Chester, beginning with the creation, and ending with the general judgment; and this indulgence was feconded by the bishop of the diocese, who granted forty days of pardon: the pope at the same time denouncing the sentence of damnation on all those incorrigible finners who presumed to disturb or interrupt the due celebration of these pious sports*. It is certain that they had their ufe, not only in teaching the great truths of scripture to men who could not read the bible, but in abolishing the barbarous attachment to military games, and the bloody contentions of the tornament, which had so long prevailed as the sole species of popular amusement. Rude and even ridiculous as they were, they softened the manners of the people, by diverting the public attention to spectacles in which the mind was concerned, and by creating a regard for other arts than those of bodily ftrength and savage valour."
I may add, that these representations were so far from being considered as indecent or profane, that even a supreme pontiff, Pope Pius the Second, about the year 1416, compofed and caused to be acted before him on Corpus Christi day, a Mystery, in which was represented the court of the king of heaven'
These religious dramas were usually represented on holy festivals in or near churches. " In several of our old scriptural plays,” says Mr. Warton, “ we see
Micbael. Surgite, All men aryse,
Venite ad Judicium ;
Historia Histrionica, 8vo. 1699, pp. 15, 17, 18, 19, • M. Harl. 2124. 2013. 9 Hiftriomastix, 4to. 1633, p. 112.
fome of the scenes directed to be represented cum cantu et
I P. 459, edit. 1730. 4to.
? This may serve to explain a very extraordinary passage in Stowe's Annales, p. 630, edit. 1605: “ And on the morrowe hee (King Edward the Fourth] went crowned in Paul's church in London, in the honor of God and S. Paule, and there an Angell came downe, and sensed bim." 3 Warton's Hist. of E. P. Vol. I. p. 240. VOL. I. Part II.
In a preceding palage Mr. Warton has mentioned that the singing boys of Hyde Abbey and St. Swithin's Priory at Winchester performed a Mystery before king Henry the Seventh in 1487; adding, that this is the only instance he has met with of choir-boys performing in Mysteries; but it appears from the accompts of various monasteries that this was a very ancient practice, probably co-eval with the earliest attempts at dramatick representations. In the year 1378, the scholars, or choristers of Saint Paul's Cathedral, presented a petition to king Richard the second, praying his Majesty to prohibit some ignorant and unexperienced persons from acting the History of the OLD TESTAMENT, to the great prejudice of the clergy of the church, who had expended confiderable fums for a publick present ation of that play at the ensuing Christmas. About twelve years afterwards, the Parih Clerks of London, as Stowe informs us, performed spiritual plays at Skinner's Well for three days fucceflively, in the presence of the king, queen, and nobles of the realm. And in 1409, the tenth year of king Henry IV. they acted at Clerkenwell for eight days successively a play, which “ was matter from the creation of the world,” and probably concluded with the day of judgment, in the presence of most of the nobility and gentry of England 4.
We are indebted to Mr. Warton for some curious cir. cumstances relative to these Miracle-plays, which “ appear in a roll of the Churchwardens of Baflingborne in
4 Probably either the Chester or Coventry Mysteries. “ In the ignorant ages the Parish-clerks of London might justly be considered as a literary society. It was an essential part of their profession not only to fing, but to read; an accomplishment almost wholly confined to the clergy; and, on the whole, they seem to come under the charac. ter of a religious fraternity. They were incorporated into a guild or fellowship by king Henry the third about the year 1240, under the patronage of saint Nicholas.- -Their profession, employment, and character, naturally dictated to this spiritual brotherhood the representation of plays, especially those of the scriptural kind: and their constant practice in thews, processions, and vocal musick, easily accounts for their address in detaining the best company which England afforded in the fourteenth century, at a religious farce, for more than one week,” Warton's Hist, or E. P. Vol. II. p. 396.
Cambridgeshire, Cambridgeshire, which is an accompt of the expences and receptions for acting the play of Saint George at Basfingborne, on the feast of saint Margaret, in the year 1511. They collected upwards of four pounds in twenty-seven neighbouring parishes for furnishing the play. They disbursed about two pounds in the representation. There disbursements are to four minstrels, or waits, of Cambridge, for three days, vs. vid. To the players, in bread and ale, iijs. ijd. To the garnement-man for garnements and propyrtss, that is, for dresses, deco rations, and implements, and for play-books, xxs. To John Hobard, brotherhoode preeste, that is, a priest of ihe guild in the church, for the play-book, ijs. virid. For the crofte, or field in which the play was exhibit. ed, js. For propyrte-making, or furniture, js. ivd. For fish and bread, and to setting up the stages, ivd. For painting three fanchoms and four tormentors, words which I do not understand, but perhaps fantoms and devils --- The rest was expended for a feast on the occasion, in which are recited Four chicken for the gentilmen, ivd.' It appears by the manuscript of the Coventry plays that a temporary scaffold only was erected for these performances 6."
5« The property-room," as Mr. Warton has observed, “ is yet known at our theatres.”
The following list of the properties used in a Mystery formed on the ftory of Tobit in the Old Testament, which was exhibited in the Broadgate, Lincola, in July 1563, (6 Eliz.) appeared in The Gentleman's Magazine for June, 1787:
“ Lying at Mr. Norton's bouse in tenure of William Smart. « First Hell-mouth, with a nether chap. ltem, A prison, with a Govering. I. Sarah's chamber."
" Remaining in Ss. Swirbin's cburcb. “ It. A great Idol. It. A tomb with a covering. It. The cyty of Jerusalem with towers and pinacles. It. The cyty of Rages, with towers and pinacles. It. The city of Nineveh. It. The kings palace of Nineveh. It. Old Tobyes house. It. The kyngs palace at Laches. It. A firmament with a firey cloud, and a double cloud, in the custody of Thomas Fulbeck, Alderman.”
6 Hist.or E.P. Vol. III. p. 326. « Strype, under the year 1559, fays, that after a grand feast at Guildhall, “ the same day was a scaffold set up in the hall for a play.” Ann. Ref. 1. 197. edit. 1725.