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something very similar to the Mysteries may be still seen even in the present day. In the retired valleys of Catholic Switzerland, in the Tyrol, and in some little-visited districts of Germany, the peasants still annually perform dramatic spectacles representing episodes in the life of Christ. The first stage in the process of laicizing the drama was the substitution for the Miracle-play of another kind of representation, entitled a Morality. This species of entertainment seems to have been popular from about the beginning of the fifteenth century, and gradually supplanted the exclusively religious Mystery. It is quite evident that the composition as well as the representation of these pieces was far less exclusively in the hands of ecclesiastics, who thus began to lose that influence over the popular mind which they derived from their monopoly of knowledge. Perhaps, however, it would be a more legitimate explanation of this change to say, that the spread of civilization among the laity, and the hostility which was gradually but rapidly undermining the foundations of Catholicism in England, had contributed to put an end to that monopoly; for many of our early Moralities, though the production of Churchmen, as in the case of Bishop Bale, were the production of Churchmen strongly tainted with the unorthodox opinions of the early reformers. The subjects of these dramas, instead of being purely religious, were moral, as their name implies; and the ethical lessons were conveyed by an action and dramatis personce of an abstract or allegorical kind. Thus, instead of the Deity and his angels, the Saints, the Patriarchs, and the characters of the Old and New Testament, the persons who figure in the Moralities are Every-Man - a general type or expression of humanity - Lusty Juventus — who represents the follies and weaknesses of youth — Good Counsel, Repentance, Gluttony, Pride, Avarice, and the like. The action was in general exceedingly simple, and the tone grave and doctrinal, though of course the same necessity existed as before for the introduction of comic scenes. The Devil was far too popular and useful a personage to be suppressed; so his battles and scoldings with the Vice, or Clown, were still retained to furnish forth “a fit of mirth.” Our readers may form some idea of the general character of these pieces by the analysis of one, entitled The Cradle of Security, the outline of which has been preserved in the narrative of an old man who had formed one of the audience in his early childhood. It was intended as a lesson to careless and sensual sovereigns. The principal personage is a King, who, neglecting his high duties and plunged in voluptuous pleasures, is put to sleep in a cradle, to which he is bound by golden chains held by four beautiful ladies, who sing as they rock the cradle. Suddenly the courtiers are all dispersed by a terrible knock at the door, and the king, awaking, finds himself in the custody of two stern and tremendous figures, sent from God to punish his voluptuousness and vice. In a similar way the action of the Morality. Lusty Juventus contains a vivid and even humorous picture of the extravagance and debauchery of a young heir, surrounded by companions, the Virtues and the Vices, some of whom endeavor in vain to restrain his passions, while others flatter his depraved inclinations. This piece also ends with a demonstration of the inevitable misery and punishment which follow a departure from the path of virtue and religion. It is impossible to draw any strong line of demarcation, either chronological or critical, between the Mys-, tery and Morality. The one species imperceptibly melts into the other; though the general points of distinction are clear and obvious enough. The Morality also had a strong tendency to partake of the character of the court masque, in which the Elements, the Virtues, the Vices, or the various reigns of nature, were introduced either to convey some physical or philosophical instruction in the guise of allegory, or to compliment a king or great personage on a festival occasion. Of this class is Skelton's masque, to which I have alluded in a former chapter, and to which he gave the title of Magnificence. A very industrious writer of these Moralities was BISHOP BALE (1495-1563), who will also be mentioned presently (p. 114) as one of the founders of our national drama.
§ 3. Springing from the Moralities, and bearing some general resemblance to them, though exhibiting a still nearer approach to the regular drama, are the Interludes, a class of compositions in dialogue much shorter in extent and more merry and farcical in subject, which were exceedingly fashionable about the time when the great controversy was raging between the Catholic church and the Reformed religion in England. A prolific author of these grotesque and merry pieces was JOHN HEYWOOD, a man of learning and accomplishment, but who seems to have performed the duties of a sort of jester at the court of Henry VIII. Heywood was an ardent Catholic; and the stage at that time was used by both religious parties to throw odium and ridicule upon the doctrines of their opponents; the Catholics delighting to bring forward Luther, Catherine de Bora, and the principal figures among the reformers, in a light at once detestable and ridiculous, and the Protestants returning the compliment by showing up the corruptions and vices of the Pope and the hierarchy. The Interludes, being short, were, it is supposed, performed either in the entr'actes of the longer and more solemn Moralities, or represented on temporary stages between the intervals of the interminable banquets and festivities of those days.
§ 4. In the preceding rapid sketch of the dramatic amusements of our ancestors, I have endeavored to give a general idea of these entertainments in their complete and normal form; that is, when the action selected for the subject of the piece was illustrated with dialogue, and the exhibitor addressed himself to the ears as well as to the eyes of his audience. It must not be forgotten that both the subjects of the Mysteries and those of the Moralities were sometimes exhibited in dumb show. A scene of Holy Writ or some event in the life of a saint was represented in a kind of tableau vivant by disguised and costumed personages, and this representation was often placed on a sort of wheeled platform and exhibited continually during those long processions which formed the principal feature of the festivities of ancient times. These tableaux vivants were also introduced into the great halls during the elaborate banquets which were the triumphs of ancient magnificence: and thus this species of entertainment is inseparably connected with those pageants so often employed to gratify the vanity of citizens, or to compliment an illustrious visitor. These pageants, whether simply consisting of the exhibition, on some lofty platform, in the porch or churchyard of a cathedral, in the Town Hall or over the city gate, of a number of figures suitably dressed, or accompanying their action with poetical declamation and music, necessarily partook in all the changes of taste which characterized the age : the Prophets and Saints who welcomed the royal stranger in the thirteenth century with barbarous Latin hymns, were gradually supplanted by the Virtues and allegorical qualities; and these in their turn, when the Renaissance had disseminated a universal passion for classical imagery, made way for the Cupids, the Muses, and other classical personages whose influence has continued almost to the literature of our own time. Such spectacles as I have just been alluding to, which were so common that the chronicles of every European nation are filled with records of them, were of course frequently exhibited at the Universities : but in the hands of these bodies the shows naturally acquired a more learned character than they had elsewhere. It was almost universal in those times that the students should employ Latin on all official occasions : this was necessary, partly from the multitude of nations composing the body of the students, and who required some common language which they could all understand. Latin, therefore, was by a thousand different laws and regulations obligatory; and this occurred not only in the Universities, but also in many conventual and monastic societies. It was therefore natural that the public amusements of the University should partake of the same character. A large number of pieces, generally written upon the models of Terence and Seneca, were produced and represented at this time. In the great outbreak of revolt against the authority of scholasticism which preceded the Reformation, the return to classical models in dramatic composition was general, and Reuchlin boasted that he was the first to furnish the youth of Germany with comedies bearing some similarity to the masterpieces of Terence. The times of Elizabeth and James were peculiarly fertile in Latin dramas composed at the Universities; and these sovereigns, the first of whom was remarkably learned in an age of general diffusion of classical studies, while in the second erudition had degenerated into pedantry, were entertained by the students of Oxford and Cambridge with Latin plays.
$ 5. We have now traced the progress of the Dramatic art from its first rude infancy in England, and have seen how every step of that advance removed it farther and farther from a purely religious, and brought it closer and closer to a profane character. The last step of the progress was the creation of what we now understand under the term dramatic, viz. the scenic representation, by means of the action and dialogue of human personages, of some event of history or social life. As in the first appearance of this, the most perfect form which the art could attain, the influence of the great models of ancient literature must have been very powerful, dramatic compositions class themselves, by the very nature of the case, into the two great categories of Tragedy and Comedy, and even borrow from the classical models details of an unessential kind, as for example the use of the Chorus, which, originally consisting of a numerous body of performers, was gradually reduced, though its name and functions were retained to a certain degree by the old English playwrights, to a single individual, as in seyeral of Shakspeare's dramas. It was about the middle of the sixteenth century that a considerable activity of creation was first perceptible in this department. JOHN BALE (1495-1563), the author of many semipolemical plays, partaking in some measure of the character of the Mystery, the Morality, and the Interlude, set the example of extracting materials for rude historical dramas from the Chronicles of his native country. His drama of King John occupies an intermediate place between the Moralities and historical plays. But the most remarkable progress in this department of literature is to be found in a considerable number of pieces, written to be performed by the students of the Inns of Court and the Universities, for the amusement of the sovereign on high festival occasions : for it must be remembered that the establishment of regular theatres and the formation of regular theatrical troops did not take place for a considerable period after these first dramatic attempts. The great entertainments of the rich and powerful municipal corporations, of which the Lord Mayor's annual Show in London, and similar festivities in many other towns, still exist as curious relics, prove that the same circumstances which had generated the annual performance of the Chester and Coventry plays, and maintained those exhibitions uninterruptedly during a very long succession of years, still continued to exist. Contrary to what might have been expected, the first tragedies produced in the English language were remarkable for the gravity and elevation of their language, the dignity of their sentiments, and the dryness and morality of their style. They are, it is true, extremely crowded with bloody and dolorous events, rebellions, treasons, murders, and regicides : but there is very little attempt to delineate character, and certainly not the slightest trace of that admixture of comic action and dialogue which is so characteristic of the later theatre of England, in which the scene struggled to imitate the irregularity and the vastness of human life. A good example of these early plays is the Tragedy of Gorboduc, or Ferrex and Porrex, written by Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst (the principal writer in the “ Mirrour for Magistrates "), and Thomas Norton, and acted in 1562 for the entertainment of Queen Elizabeth, by the gentlemen of the Inner Temple. The subject of this play is borrowed from the old halfmythological Chronicles of Britain, and the principal event is similar to the story of Eteocles and Polynices, a legend which has furnished the materials not only to the genius of Æschylus, but to that of Racine and Schiller. But though the subject of this piece is derived from the national records, whether authentic or mythical, the treatment exhibits strong marks of classic imitation, though rather after the manner of Seneca than of Æschylus or Sophocles. Seneca enjoyed a most surprising
reputation at the revival of Letters. The dialogue of Gorboduc is in blank verse,* which is regular and carefully constructed; but it is totally destitute of variety of pause, and consequently is a most insufficient vehicle for dramatic dialogue. The sentence almost invariably terminates with the line, and the effect of the whole is insupportably formal and heavy; for no weight and depth of moral and political apothegm, with which the work abounds, can compensate for the total want of life, of sentiment, and passion. Another work of a similar character is Damon and Pythias, acted before the Queen at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1566. This play, which is in rhyme, is a mixture of tragedy and comedy. Its author was RICHARD EDWARDS, the compiler of the miscellany called The Paradise of Dainty Devices (see p. 85). He also wrote Palamon and Arcite, the beautiful story so inimitably treated by Chaucer in The Knight's Tale, and afterwards in Beaumont and Fletcher's romantic play The Two Noble Kinsmen. In 1578 was acted Promos and Cassandra, by GEORGE WHETSTONE, chiefly curious as having furnished the subject of Shakspeare's Measure for Measure. All these plays are marked by a general similarity of style and treatment, and belong to about the same period.
$ 6. In the department of Comedy the first English works which made their appearance very little anterior to the above pieces, offer a most striking contrast in their tone and treatment. It would almost seem as if the national genius, destined to stand unrivalled in the peculiar vein of humor, was to prove that while in tragic and sublime delineations it might encounter, not indeed superiors, but rivals, - in the grotesque, the odd, the laughable, it was to stand alone. The earliest comedy in the language was Ralph Royster Doyster, acted in 1551, and written by NICHOLAS UDALL, who for a long time executed the duties of Master of Eton College. This was followed, about fourteen years later, by Gammer Gurton's Needle, composed by JOHN STILL, afterwards Bishop of Bath and Wells, and who had previously been Master of St. John's and Trinity Colleges in Cambridge. This piece was probably acted by the students of the society over which the author presided, and was long considered to have been the earliest regular comedy in the English language: but it was afterwards established that the work of Udall preceded it by a short interval. Both these works are highly curious and interesting, not only as being the oldest specimens of the class of literature to which they belong, but in some measure from their intrinsic merit. There can be no question that the former comedy is far superior to the second : it is altogether of a higher order, both in conception and execution. The action takes place in London, and the principal characters are a rich and pretty widow, her lover, and several of her suitors, the chief of whom is the foolish personage who gives the title to the play. This ridiculous pretender to gayety and
* Blank verse was first introduced by Lord Surrey in his translation of the Æneid (see p. 66). It was next used by Grimoald (see p. 70), who, according to Warton, gave it “new strength, elegance, and modulation.” Sackville was the third writer who employed it.