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Therfore made I my visitations
“ To playes of miracles, and mariages', &c. " And in Pierce Plowman's Creed, a piece perhaps prior to Chaucer, a friar Minorite mentions there Miracles as not less frequented than market-towns and
“ We haunten no taverns, ne hobelen about,
“ At markets and Miracles we meddle us never.' The elegant writer, whose words I have just quoted, has given the following ingenious account of the origin of this rude species of dramatick entertainment:
“ About the eighth century trade was principally carried on by means of fairs, which lasted several days. Charlemagne established many great marts of this sort in France, as did William the Conqueror, and his Norman successors, in England. The merchants who frequented these fairs in numerous caravans or companies, employed every art to draw the people together. They were therefore accompanied by jugglers, minftrels, and buffoons; who were no less interested in giving their attendance, and exerting all their skill on these occasions. As now but few large towns existed, no publick spectacles or popular amusements were eftablished; and as the sedentary pleasures of domestick life and private society were yet unknown, the fair time was the season for diversion. In proportion as these shews were attended and encouraged, they began to be set off with new decorations and improvements: and the arts of buffoonery being rendered itill more attractive, by extending their circle of exhibition, acquired an importance in the eyes of the people. By degrees the clergy observing that the entertainments of dancing, musick, and mimickry, exhibited at these protracted annual celebrities, made the people less religious, by promoting idleness and a love of festivity, proscribed s The Wif of Bathes Prologue, v. 6137. Tyrwhite's edit.
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these sports, and excommunicated the performers. But finding that no regard was paid to their censures, they changed their plan, and determined to take these recreations into their own hands. They turned actors; and instead of profane mummeries, presented stories taken from legends or the bible. This was the origin of sacred comedy. The death of Saint Catharine, acted by the monks of saint Dennis, rivalled the popularity of the professed players. Musick was admitted into the churches, which served as theatres for the representation of holy farces. The festivals among the French, called La fete de Foux, d l’Ane, and des Innocens, at length became greater favourites, as they certainly were more capricious and absurd, than the interludes of the buffoons at the fairs. These are the ideas of a judicious French writer now living, who has investi, gated the history of human manners with great come prehension and sagacity.”
« Voltaire's theory on this subject is also very ingenious, and quite new. Religious plays, he supposes, came originally from Conftantinople •; where the old Grecian stage continued to flourish in some degree, and the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides were represented, till the fourth century. About that period, Gregory Nazianzen, an archbishop, a poet, and one of the fathers of the church, banished pagan plays from the stage at Constantinople, and introduced stories from the old and new Testament. As the ancient Greek tragedy was a religious spectacle, a transition was made on the same plan; and the chorusses were turned into Christian hymns. Gregory wrote many sacred dramas
6" At Conftantinople" (as Mr. Warton has elsewhere observed,) « it seems that the stage flourished much, under Justinian and Theodora, about the year 540: for in the Bafilical codes we have the Oath of an actrefs, μη αναχωρείν της πορνείας.
Tom. VII. p. 682. edit. Fabrot. Græco-Lat. The ancient Greek fathers, particularly faint Chryfoftom, are full of declamation against the drama; and complain, that the people heard a comedian with much more pleasure than a preacher of the gospel." Warton's Hij of E. P. I.
for this purpose, which have not survived those inimitable compofitions over which they triumphed for a time: one, however, his tragedy called Xposlos sur YW, or Cbrift's Pasion, is still extant. In the prologue it is said to be an imitation of Euripides, and that this is the first time the Virgin Mary had been introduced on the stage. The fashion of acting spiritual dramas, in which at first a due degree of method and decorum was preserved, was at length adopted from Conftantinople by the Italians; who framed, in the depth of the dark ages, on this foundation, that barbarous species of theatrical representation called MYSTERIES, or sacred comedies, and which were soon after received in France. This opinion will acquire probability, if we consider the early commercial intercourse between Italy and Constantinople: and although the Italians, at the time when they may be supposed to have imported plays of this nature, did not understand the Greek language, yet they could understand, and consequently could imitate, what they saw.”
“ In 'defence of Voltaire's hypothesis, it may be further observed, that The feast of fools and of the Afs, with other religious farces of that fort, so common in Europe, originated at Conftantinople. They were inAituted, although perhaps under other names, in the Greek Church, about the year 990, by Theophylact, patriarch of Conftantinople, probably with a better design thar is imagined by the ecclesiastical annalists; that of weaning the minds of the people from the pagan ceremonies, by the substitution of christian spectacles partaking of the same spirit of licentiousness.- To those who are accustomed to contemplate the great picture of human follies which the unpolithed ages of Europe hold up to our view, it will not appear surprising, that the people who were forbidden to read the events of the facred history in the bible, in which they were faithfully and beautifully related, should at the same time be permitted to see them represented on the stage, disgraced with the groffest improprieties, corrupted with inventions and additions of the most ridiculous kind, sullied with
impurities, and expressed in the language of the lowest farce."
“ On the whole, the Mysteries appear to have originated among the ecclesiasticks; and were most probably first acted with any degree of form by the monks. This was certainly the case in the English Monasteries?. I have already mentioned the play of Saint Catharine performed at Dunstable Abbey by the novices in the eleventh century, under the superintendance of Geoffrey a Parisian ecclesiastick: and the exhibition of the Passion by the mendicant friers of Coventry and other places. Instances have been given of the like practice among the French. The only persons who could now read, were in the religious societies; and various circumstances, peculiarly arising from their situation, profession, and institution, enabled the Monks to be the sole performers of these representations."
“ As learning encreased, and was more widely disse. minated, from the monasteries, by a natural and easy transition, the practice migrated to schools and universities, which were formed on the monastick plan, and in many respects resembled the ecclesiastical bodies 8.”
Candlemas Day, or The Slaughter of the Innocents, writ. ten by Ihan Parfrein 1512, Mary Magdalene, produced in the same year', and The Promises of God, written by John Bale, and printed in 1538, are curious speci. mens of this early species of drama. But the most ancient as well as most complete collection of this kind is, The Chester Mysteries, which were written by Ralph Higden, a Monk of the Abbey of Cheiter, about the year 1328', of which a particular account will be found
below. 7 “ In some regulations given by Cardinal Wolsey to the monasteries of the Canons regular of Saint Austin, in the year 1519, the brothers are forbidden to be lu fores aut mimici, players or mimicks. But the prohibition means that the monks should not go abroad to exercise there arts in a secular and mercenary capacity.See Annal. Burtonenses, p.437."
In 1589, however, an injunction made in the MEXICAN COUNCIL was ratified at Rome, to prohibit all clerks from playing in the Mysteries even on Corpus Christi day. See HIST. OF E. P. 11. 201.
& Warton's HISTORY OF ENGLISH POETRY, II. pp. 366, et seq. 9 Mss. Digby, 133. Bibl. Bodl. 1 Mss. Harl. 2013, &c. " Exhibited at Chester in the year 1327,
below. I am tempted to transcribe a few lines from the third of these pageants, The Deluge, as a specimen of of the ancient Mysteries.
at the expence of the different trading companies of that city: The Fall of Lucifer, by the Tanners. Tbe Creation, by the Drapers. The Deluge, by the Dyers. Abraham, Melcbisedecb, and Lot, by the Barbers. Mofes, Balak, and Balaam, by the Cappers. The Saluta. sier and Nativity, by the Wrightes. I be Shepherds feeding ibeir fiacks by nigbr, by the Painters and Glaziers. Tbe three Kings, by the Vintners. Tbe Oblation of obe three Kings, by the Mercers. Tbe Killing of ebe Innocents, by the Goldsmiths. Tbe Purification, by the Blacksmiths, The Temptation, by the Butchers. The laft Supper, by the Bakers. Tbe blind Men and Lazarus, by the Glovers. Jesus end ebe Lepers, by the Corvesarys. Cbriff's Passion, by the Bowyers, Fletchers, and Ironmongers. Descent into Hell, by the Cooks and Innkeepers. The Resurrection, by the Skinners. Tbe Afcenfiun, by the Taylors. Tbe Election of S. Marbias, sending of the Holy Gloft, & c. by the Filhmongers. Anticbrift, by the Clothiers. Day of JudgeEent, by the Websters. The reader will perhaps smile at some of these combinations. This is the substance and order of the former part of the play. God enters creating the world; he breathes live into Adam, leads him into Paradise, and opens his side while Neeping. Adam and Eve appear naked, and not ashamed, and the old serpent enters lamenting his fall. He converses with Eve. She eats of the forbidden fruit, and gives part to Adam. They propose, according to the stagediređion, to make themselves subligacula a foliis quibus regamus pudenda. Cover their nakedness with leaves, and converse with God. God's curse. The serpent exit hilling. They are driven from Para. dise by four angels and the cherubim with a flaming sword. Adam appears digging the ground, and Eve spinning. Their children Cain and Abel enter: the former kills his brother. Adam's lamentation. Cain is banished," &c. Warton's Hist. OF E. P. I. 243.
Mr. Warton observes in a note in his first volume, p. 180, that " if it be true that these Mysteries were composed in the year 1328, and there was so much difficulty in obtaining the Pope's permiflion that they might be presented in English, a presumptive proof arises, that all our Mysteries before that period were in Latin. These plays will therefore have the merit of being the first English interludes."
Polydore Virgil mentions in his book de Rerum Inventoribus, Lib. V. c. 2, that the Mysteries were in his time in English. “ Solemus vel more priscorum spectacula edere populo, ut ludos, venationes , --recitare comædias, item in templis vitas divorum ac martyria repræsentare, in quibus, ut cun&tis par lit voluptas, qui recitant, vernaculam linguam tantum ufurpant." The first three books of Polydore's work were published in 1499; 10 1517, at which time he was in England, be added five more,