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Play Cycles

Presentation of these Plays

last, by order of the Pope, the priests withdrew and left it wholly a secular performance.

The miracle play was brought into England by the Normans during the twelfth century. Its popularity was so immediate that by the middle of the next century it had spread over the entire island. In certain cities, notably at Chester and York, there sprang up elaborate play cycles, written doubtless by ecclesiastics and enacted once each year by actors chosen from the citizens. One hundred and sixty-one of these plays have been preserved, and among them, by great good fortune, there are four complete cycles: the Chester cycle, of twentyfive plays, which was in continual use between the years 1268 and 1577; the Towneley cycle, which consisted of thirty-two; the Coventry, which consisted of forty-two; and the York, which contained forty-eight.

On the day chosen for the presentation of a cycle of plays the country for miles around was in motion; the city was thronged with eager multitudes. At an early hour the play began. A large van or platform, divided into two rooms, the lower to be used as a dressing-room, the upper as a stage, came rolling into the market-place in charge of one of the city guilds. After a short prologue the actors chosen from the guild of tanners began upon the stage to enact the fall of Lucifer. The play at length over, the van was drawn into the next street to repeat the performance to a new audience, while its place was taken by another van in charge of the plasterers, whose duty it was to enact the creation of the world. Then came the shipwrights, who represented the building of the ark; and the fishmongers and mariners, who enacted the episode of the flood. Thus

Their Literary Merit Small

Their Influence

one by one the vans, each in charge of its guild, rolled by, until the entire twenty-five plays had been presented. In many places the acting covered several days, and in one case a whole week was given over to the festivities.

The intrinsic merit of the plays, aside from their importance as germs of the drama, is not large. They were written with religious rather than literary intent, and compared with the elaborate productions of a later day they seem like the crude attempts of schoolboys. But let no one despise the drama that can hold for more than three centuries an unbroken popularity. The plays were made with all sincerity and earnestness, and they accomplished to the full the object for which they were created. Nor are they devoid of a certain unintentional art, which came from the very earnestness of the author to drive his lesson home. Unity of action is fully observed, all of the personages and episodes being grouped in every case about one central act or situation. Here and there, notably in the Brome version of Abraham and Isaac, there is a true pathos handled with dramatic skill; there are traces also of lyric inspiration, notably in the Brome play, which opens with the invocation:

Father of heaven omnipotent,

With all my heart to thee I call ;

and scattered everywhere through the plays may be found traces of humor, rude and boisterous, yet none the less effective, as in Noah's Flood, where the patriarch's wife refuses to enter the ark.

The influence of the miracle plays upon the rude peasantry, the majority of whom had no other way of acquiring Scriptural truths, must not be overlooked. The

They Soften and Civilize

the Saxon Mind

country boor witnessed with all reverence the scenes that passed before him. Biblical stories and lessons were impressed upon his slow mind with a vividness that nothing else could have given. The figure of the meek and lowly Christ, bearing with patience the insults heaped upon Him, and forgiving with His last breath the enemies who had slain Him, was made a living reality to the brutal Saxon; and the spectacle softened and civilized him more than would centuries of mere preaching. The miracle play not only molded his spiritual and religious life, but it gave intellectual stimulus as well. All classes, the high and the low, took unmeasured delight in it. It was almost their only intellectual amusement. It took the place of the old scop and minstrel; it was newspaper, novel, and theater combined, and it educated the masses more than can be estimated. Later, when the new impulse came, and England, awakened from the slumber of the Middle Ages, began to create a new and classic drama, it found an audience eager to receive and competent to appreciate. REQUIRED READING. The Brome version of Abraham and Isaac and the Towneley version of Noah's Flood, both in Manly, Specimens of the Pre-Shaksperean Drama, Athenæum Press Series.





OCCLEVE, C. 1365-c. 1450. 1399–1413. Henry IV.

1410. Death

of De Regimine Prin 1403.

Revolt of the Froissart. cipium.


1415. John Huss Lament for Chaucer. 1403–4. French de burned. JOHN LYDGATE, died c. scents upon England. 1420. 400 Greek 1450.

1405. James I. priso MSS. brought to The Siege of Troy. ner in England. Italy.

The Falls of Princes. 1413–1422. Henry V. 1431. Birth of VilJAMES I. OF SCOTLAND, 1415. Battle of Agin lon. 1394-1437.


1452–1498. SavonThe King's Quhair. 1417. Henry invades arola. CAXTON. C. 1422–1491. Normandy.

1453. ConstantinoReynard the Fox, 1481. 1422–1461. Henry VI.

ple taken. MALORY.

1428-9. Siege of Or- 1455. Guttenburg Morte d'Arthur, 1470. leans.

prints Mazarin BiSKELTON, C. 1460–1529. 1431.

Death of Joan ble. Colin Clout,

of Arc.

1469. Birth of MaPhilip Sparrow.

1450. Loss of Nor chiavelli. Why Come ye not to mandy.

1469–1492, Lorenzo Court?

1455. First Battle of de Medici. DUNBAR, C. 1460-c. 1530. St. Albans.


À Kempis' The Thistle and the 1461. Battle of Wake Imitation of Rose. field.

Christ. BALLADS,

1461-1483. Edward IV. 1474. Birth of AriThe Battle of Otter 1461. Battle of Tow osto. burn.


1483. Birth of Lu. Chevy Chace.

1461–71. Warwick the ther. Nut-Brown Maid, etc. king-maker. MIRACLE PLAYS,

1464. Edward marChester Cycle.

ries Lady Grey. York Cycle.

1471. Battles of BarTowneley Cycle.

net and Tewkesbury. Coventry Cycle.

1475. Edward invades

1483-1483. Edward V.
1483. Murder of Ed.

ward V.
1483-1485. Richard III.
1485. Battle of Bos-

worth Field.






The Later Renaissance. (The standard English history of the period is Symonds, Renaissance in Italy; a more condensed and convenient work for the general student is Schaff, The Renaissance. See also Mrs. Oliphant, The Makers of Florence, Taine, Lectures on Art, and Roscoe, Life of Lorenzo de' Medici.)

While England was lying thus in darkness, wasting its energies and starving its soul in endless civil wars, there was springing up in Italy—in Florence and Rome

a new life that was destined to spread over all Europe. The enthusiasm of the earlier Renaissance, of the days of Dante and Petrarch and Boccaccio, had almost ebbed away, but now it arose again with tenfold power. The immediate cause of the awakening was the renewal of contact between the Western and the Eastern civilizations of Europe. Early in the fifteenth century scholars from Byzantium had wandered to Italy, bringing with them the language and the masterpieces of ancient Greece. Still later, in 1453, when Constantinople, which for years had been the seat of the world's best civilization, yielded to the Turk, there was another migration of scholars westward. Manu

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