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REPRESENTATIVE ENGLISH PLAYS

I. THE MIDDLE AGES

MIRACLE PLAYS

Pope Urban IV, when he instituted in 1264 ning process was likely to be thorough; while the church festival of Corpus Christi, be- the Cooks, well trained in taking things from came a real though unwitting patron of the the fire, could present, more fittingly than drama. On the continent, Corpus Christi any other craft, the Harrying of Heli, with Day, the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, its delivery of well-roasted prophets and was soon established as an occasion for pre- martyrs. senting religious plays. In England espe- The performances took place upon pageant cially was the day notable, for the trade

wagons, which could be drawn from place to guilds, the associations of craftsmen roughly | place through the town. At street corners or corresponding to the trade unions of our open squares stations were assigned for the day, adopted it as their chief holiday, and acting of the plays. When the play of the assisted the church in its celebration with creation had been acted at the first station & procession through the town. In another the pageant wagon moved on to the second way also they came to the aid of the church station, while the story of the fall of Adam by taking over a form of activity which had and Eve took its place at the first station, for some time been growing in disfavor with

and so on. This method made possible the the church authorities, namely, the per- simultaneous production of many plays, each formance of the liturgical plays. Originally little audience, of course, seeing the entire introduced at Christmas and Easter for the sequence in the proper order. The wagons edification of ignorant audiences, these be- seem usually to have been built with two came so popular that their primary didactic platforms, the lower curtained in and servpurpose was in danger of being forgotten. ing as a dressing room for the actors, the From motives in which religion and busi- upper as the stage. Stage properties were ness — for the church feast brought visitors of the simplest. Among the most prominent and trade to town were oddly mixed, the was Hell mouth, a great gaping pair of jaws guilds added pageantry to their procession, at one side of the stage, painted flame color

soon giving performances on and belching forth the smoke of the torment, scale more sumptuous than the church had from which leaped forth the Devil with his ever reached.

boisterous “ Ho! Ho!” and into which he By the time that the miracle, or, as they pitched the lost souls with his wooden pitchare sometimes called, mystery, plays passed fork and himself plunged at the end of the from the hands of Mother Church into the play. Some attempt was made at appropri. care of the guilds, they had already developed ateness of costume: God appeared in white into a great drama of many acts, covering leather, with gilded face and hair, the Devil seriptural and apocryphal history from the in black leather, with full equipment of Fall of the Angels to the Last Judgment. horns, hoofs, and a tail. But Herod boasted They were, therefore, well adapted for guild the full panoply of a knight of chivalry, and performance. Each guild took one section in general anachronism of attire as well as of the Bible story and tried to outdo its of speech was rampant. rivals in effectiveness of presentation. A We have records of such dramatic activity quaint humor often marked the distribution lasting from the thirteenth until far into the of the separate plays among the various sixteenth century, all over England, as well guilds. It is not difficult to see why, in the as in Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. Not only York plays, the Shipwrights undertook the the cathedral towns but market towns and Building of the Ark, and the Fishmongers the even villages had their collective or indiFlood; nor why in the same cycle the Gold- vidual miracle plays. The greatest activity, smiths selected the story of the Three Kings, however, seems to have been localized in cerwith their offerings of gold and spices; the tain places. There are extant manuscripts, Vintners, the Miracle at Cana; the Bakers, the earliest belonging to the fifteenth century, the Last Supper. To the Tanners was for four great cycles of miracle plays: the signed the Fall of Lucifer and the torments York, Chester, Towneley or Wakefield, and of the fallen angels in hell, where the tan- Coventry cycles. While each has its indi

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amusing things about the play is the naïveté with which the passage of time is recorded, (e. g., on p. 11). The local allusion of Noah's wife 7" Stafford blue," p. 8), and the oaths by Peter (p. 10), Mary (p. 8), and “ God's pain” (i.c., Christ's sufferings on the cross, p. 8), illustrate the lack of historical

sense.

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vidual characteristics, all cover about the same ground and influences of one cycle upon another are evident. Of the authors practically nothing is known, but we infer that they were churchmen. What we know of the history of the miracles makes it seem improbable that any one man should have created all the plays of a cycle. As they come down to us they may rather represent the bringing together and amplification of the work of many hands, and such a cycle as that of York, with its forty-eight episodes, may have been in process of development for decades before its text was reduced to the comparative orderliness of our manuscript version. Occasionally, as in some plays of the Towneley cycle, there are manifest excellences in the handling of situation, the characterization, and the quality of the verse, which lead us to infer composition by a hand more competent than that of the average clerical playwright.

A modern reader is likely to underestimate the dramatic effectiveness of the miracle plays. Their writers had, of course, little or no apprehension of the niceties of technique

they were concerned chiefly with making the teaching of the play so plain that the most ignorant spectator must understand; hence the wearisome repetitions, the expounding of Christian doctrines in long didactic passages which sadly interrupt the action, the introduction of Doctor or Expositor to drive the moral home. The literary value of the miracles is not great. But they possess the virtues of strength and sincerity and human interest. With no finesse but with indubitable power they present some of the great episodes in the Bible story, in particular those of Christ's life and passion. By frequent bits of homely realism they made their audiences realize the humanness of the Bible figures, and that was a useful service. The occasional coarseness of language and situation should not blind us to the simple reverence of purpose and treatment. The impressiveness of the Passion Play at Oberammergau is sufficient evidence that the theory of the miracle play is sound.

The three plays which follow fairly represent the miracle at its best. Though the long didactic beginning of the Towneley Noah's l'lood is characteristic in its dullness, the play brightens up at once when Noah returns to the bosom of his family. From the rank and file of miracle personages a few stand out with special clearness, usually because the spirit of comedy has touched them into life. Of these Noah's wife seems to have been a particular favorite, for in the York and Chester cycles she plays the shrew as she does here, and in them also the taming of the shrew is done in the same rough-andtumble fashion. One of the unintentionally

The Brome play is so called because the manuscript

found in Brome Hall, Suffolk. Abraham and Isaac is the most truly pathetic of all the miracle plays. The scene is pathetic rather than tragic because, since Abraham is from the first determined to obey the will of God, his natural revulsion against killing his son never reaches the intensity of the struggle with fate, involved in true tragedy. But this is as close an approach to tragedy as we find at this stage of the drama. Despite the ineptitude and slowness of the beginning, the playwright really understands how to handle his material in such a way as to produce on the audience the effect he desires. A briefer · treatment would have been better -- he holds the situation till he gets the maximum emotional response,

but the tension of suspense is undeniable. The characterization is not quite individual; we feel about Abraham and Isaac that they are rather types of parenthood and childhood than an individual father and an individual son. The child's actual physical terror of the bright sword and his messages to his mother are notable as showing how the miracle authors sometimes visualized and humanized their material.

The Towneley Second Shepherds' Play (Second because the Towneley cycle contains two versions of the announcement to the shepherds ) is the flower of the miracle plays. Here is an admirable acting play, with plot, characterization, atmosphere. The exposition is clear and reasonably rapid, providing a neat differentiation of the three shepherds as they make their appearance one after another. Mak and Gill are masterpieces in miniature of comic characterization, done with deftness and gusto. The action mounts steadily to the climax; the understanding of the value of suspense at the climactic point, when the discomfited shepherds actually leave the house, only to return in response to the youngest shepherd's kindly thought of a gift to the child is proof enough that the man who? made this play was a real dramatist. After the punishment of Mak there is an artless transition to the angels' song and the tradi. tional bit of the gifts to the Christ child. The blending of Yorkshire setting and figures with the Bible story is naïve and delightful. This episode of Mak is true farce comedy, comedy better than anything else England was to produce till the middle of the sixteenth century.

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abide,

Noah. Mightful God very, maker of all But burn in bale ? for ay; that is,

Shall they never dissever. Three persons without nay, one God in

Soon after that gracious lord to his likeendless bliss,

ness made man, Thou made both night and day, beast,

That place to be restored even as he befowl, and fish;

gan, All creatures that live may, wrought thou

of the Trinity by accord, Adam, and at thy wish,

Eve, that woman. As thou well might;

To multiply without discord in paradise The sun, the moon, verament,

put he them, Thou made, the firmament,

And sithens to both The stars also, full fervent,

Gave in commandment To shine thou made full bright.

On the tree of life to lay no hand. Angels thou made full even, all orders

But yet the false fiend that is,

Made him with man wroth, To have the bliss in heaven: this did thou

Enticed man to gluttony, stirred him to more and less,

sin in pride. Full marvelous to neven; 8 yet was there

But in paradise securely a might no sin unkindness More by folds seven than I can well ex- And therefore man full hastily was put press.

out in that tide, For why?

In woe and wandreth 10 for to be, pains 11 Of all angels in brightness

full unrid 12 God gave Lucifer most lightness;

To know, Yet proudly he flitted 4 his dais,

First in earth, sithen in hell And set him even him by.

With fiends for to dwell, He thought himself as worthy as him that

But 13 he his mercy mell 14

To those that will him trow.15 him made In brightness, in beauty; therefore he Oil of mercy he us hight,16 as I have him degraded,

heard rede,1? Put him in a low degree soon after, in a To every living wight that would love braid,

him and dread; Him and all his meinie, where he may But now before his sight every living be unglad

lede, For ever.

Most part day and night, sin in word and Shall they never win away

deed, Hence unto doomsday,

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Full bold; 1 denial. 5 moment. 9 certainly.

17 say. 6 company. 10 wretchedness.

14 'nterpose.

18 people. 7 torment. 11 MS. in pains.

15 believe. 4 forsook. 8 afterward.

16 promised. 5

13 unless.

2 truly. 3 name.

12 cruel.

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Some in pride, ire, and envy,
Some in covetyse 19 and gluttony,

, Some in sloth and lechery,

And otherwise many fold. Therefore I dread lest God on us will

take vengeance, For sin is now allowed without any re

pentance; Six hundred years and odd have I, with

out distance,20 On earth, as any sod, lived with great

grievance
Alway;
And now I wax old,
Sick, sorry, and cold,
As muck upon mould

I wither away.
But yet will I cry for mercy and call:
Noah thy servant am I, Lord over all!
Therefore me and my fry,21 shall with

me fall, Save from villainy, and bring to thy hall

In heaven,
And keep me from sin
This world within ;
Comely King of mankind,

I pray thee hear my steven ! 22
God. Since I have made all-thing that is

living, Duke, emperor, and king, with mine own

hand, For to have their liking by sea and by

sand, Every man to my bidding should be bow

ing
Full fervent,
That made man such a creature,
Fairest of favor;
Man must love me paramour,?

By reason, and repent.
Methought I showed man love when I

made him to be
All angels above, like to the Trinity;
And now in great reproof full low lies he
On earth, himself to stuff with sin that

displeases me
Most of all;
Vengeance will I take
On earth for sin's sake,
My grame

24 thus will I wake,
Both of 25 great and small.

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[To] him to mickle win 31 hastily will I

go, To Noah my servant, ere I blin,32 to warn

him of his woe. On earth I see but sin running to and

fro, Among both more and min,33 each one

other's foe
With all their intent;
All shall I fordo
With floods that shall flow,
Work shall I them woe,

That will not repent.
Noah, my friend, I thee command, from

cares thée to keel,34 A ship that thou ordain 35 of nail and

board full well. Thou was alway well working, to me true

as steel, To my bidding obedient; friendship shall

thou feel
To meed.36
Of length thy ship be
Three hundred cubits, warn I thee,
Of height even thirty,

Of fifty also in breadth.

19 covetousness; the

seven deadly sins

are here listed. 20 without dispute,

beyond doubt.

21 offspring; under.

stand who before

shall.
22 voice.
23 as a lover.

24 anger.
25 against.
26 rue.
27 unatoned.
28 destroy.

29 world.
30 uproar.
31 joy.
32 cease.
33 less.

84 cool, assuage.
35 make.
36 reward.

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