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and progress of the drama in England, will scarcely repay the labour of the inquiry. However, as the best introduction to an account of the internal economy and usages of the English theatres in the time of Shakspeare, (the principal object of this dissertation,) I shall take a cursory view of our most ancient dramatick exhibitions, though I fear I can add but little to the researches which have already been made on that subject.
Mr. Warton in his elegant and ingenious History of English Poetry has given so accurate an account of our earliest dramatick performances, that I shall make no apology for extracting from various parts of his valuable work, such particulars as suit my present purpose.
The earliest dramatick entertainments exhibited
in England, as well as every other part of Europe, were of a religious kind. So early as in the beginning of the twelfth century, it was customary in England on holy festivals to represent,in or near the churches, either the lives and miracles of saints, or the most important stories of Scripture. From the subject of these spectacles, which, as has been observed, were either the miracles of saints, or the more mysterious parts of holy writ, such as the incarna
The Case is altered
The Trial of Chevalry.
Also the following:
A Knack to know a Knave, 1594.
|Humorous Day's Mirth Summer's last Will and 1599 Testament.*
Jack Straw's Life and Death, 1594
A Knack to know an honest Man, 1596.
Two valiant Knightes, Clyomon and Clamydes, 1599.
Several dramatick pieces are also entered on the books of the Stationers' Company, within the above period, which have not been printed. Their titles may be found in Herbert's edition of Ames, and Egerton's Theatrical Remembrancer. REED.
tion, passion, and resurrection of Christ, these scriptural plays were denominated Miracles, or Mysteries. At what period of time they were first exhibited in this country, I am unable to ascertain. Undoubtedly, however, they are of very great antiquity; and Riccoboni, who has contended that the Italian theatre is the most ancient in Europe, has claimed for his country an honour to which it is not entitled. The era of the earliest representation in Italy, founded on holy writ, he has placed in the year 1264, when the fraternity del Gonfalone was established; but we had similar exhibitions in England above 150 years before that time. In the year 1110, as Dr. Percy and Mr. Warton have observed, the Miracle-play of Saint Catharine, written by Geoffrey, a learned Norman, (afterwards Abbot of St. Alban's,) was acted, probably by his scholars, in the abbey of Dunstable; perhaps the first spectacle of this kind exhibited in England.3 William Fitz-Stephen, a monk of Canterbury, who according to the best accounts composed his very 'curious work in 1174, about four years after the murder of his patron Archbishop Becket, and in the twenty-first year of the reign of King Henry the Second, mentions, that "London, for its theatrical exhibitions, has religious plays, either the representations of miracles wrought by holy confessors, or the sufferings of martyrs."4
• The French theatre cannot be traced higher than the year 1398, when the Mystery of the Passion was represented at St. Maur.
Apud Dunestapliam-quendam ludum de sancta Katerina (quem MIRACULA vulgariter appellamus) fecit. Ad quæ decoranda, petiit a sacrista sancti Albani, ut sibi capæ chorales accommodarentur, et obtinuit.". Vitæ Abbat. ad calc. Hist. Mat. Paris, folio, 1639, p. 56.
"Lundonia pro spectaculis theatralibus, pro ludis scenicis,
Mr. Warton has remarked, that " in the time of Chaucer, Plays of Miracles appear to have been the. common resort of idle gossips in Lent:
'Therefore made I my visitations
، To vigilies and to processions ;
، To prechings eke, and to thise pilgrimages,
ludos habet sanctiores, repræsentationes miraculorum quæ sancti confessores operati sunt, seu representationes passionum, quibus claruit constantia martyrum." Descriptio nobilissimæ civitatis Lundonia. Fitz-Stephen's very curious description of London is a portion of a larger work, entitled Vita sancti Thomæ, Archiepiscopi et Martyris, i. e. Thomas a Becket. It is ascertained to have been written after the murder of Becket in the year 1170, of which Fitz-Stephen was an ocular witness, and while King Henry II. was yet living. A modern writer with great probability supposes it to have been composed in 1174, the author in one passage mentioning that the church of St. Paul's was formerly metropolitical, and that it was thought it would become so again, "should the citizens return into the island." In 1174 King Henry II. and his sons had carried over with them a considerable number of citizens to France, and many English had in that year also gone to Ireland. See Dissertation prefixed to Fitz-Stephen's Description of London, newly translated, &c. 4to. 1772, p. 16.-Near the end of his Description is a passage which ascertains it to have been written before the year 1182: "Lundonia et modernis temporibus reges illustres magnificosque peperit; imperatricem Matildam, Henricum regem tertium, et beatum Thomam" [Thomas Becket]. Some have supposed, that instead of tertium we ought to read secundum, but the text is undoubtedly right; and by tertium, Fitz-Stephen must have meant Henry, the second son of Henry the Second, who was born in London in 1156-7, and being heir-apparent, after the death of his elder brother William, was crowned king of England in his father's life-time, on the 15th of July, 1170. He was frequently styled rex filius, rex juvenis, and sometimes he and his father were denominated Reges Anglia. The young king, who occasionally exercised all the rights and prerogatives of royalty, died in 1182. Had he not been living when Fitz-Stephen wrote, he would probably have added nuper defunctum. Neither Henry II. nor Henry III. were born in London. See the Dissertation above cited, p. 12.
The Wif of Bathes Prologue, v. 6137. Tyrwhitt's edit.
"And in Pierce Plowman's Creed, a piece perhaps prior to Chaucer, a friar Minorite mentions these Miracles as not less frequented than market-towns and fairs:
We haunten no taverns, ne hobelen about,
• At markets and Miracles we meddle us never.' "9
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, minstrels, 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 established; 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 still 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 pro
moting idleness and a love of festivity, proscribed 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, de 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 investigated the history of human manners with great comprehension and sagacity."
"Voltaire's theory on this subject is also very ingenious, and quite new. Religious plays, he supposes, came originally from Constantinople; " 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 Arch
"At Constantinople," as Mr. Warton has elsewhere observed, "it seems that the stage flourished much, under Justinian and Theodora, about the year 540: for in the Basilical codes we have the oath of an actress, μη αναχωρειν της πορνείας. Tom. VII. p. 682. edit. Fabrot, Græco-Lat. The ancient Greek fathers, particularly Saint Chrysostom, 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 History of English Poetry, Vol. I. p. 244, n.