Alfred W. (Alfred William) Pollard.

English miracle plays, moralities, and interludes : specimens of the pre-Elizabethan drama online

. (page 1 of 26)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

EX

IV ELLIS-






l




ENGLISH MIRACLE PLAYS

MORALITIES AND INTERLUDES

SPECIMENS AND EXTRACTS

POLLARD



LONDON: HENRY FROWDE

OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS WAREHOUSE
AMEN CORNER, B.C.



I ) 1 1



ENGLISH MIRACLE PLAYS
MORALITIES AND INTERLUDES



SPECIMENS OF THE PRE-ELIZABETHAN DRAMA

EDITED, WITH AN INTRODUCTION

NOTES, AND GLOSSARY, BY

ALFRED W. POLLARD, M.A.

ST. JOHN'S COLLEGE, OXFORD




OXFORD

AT THE CLARENDON PRESS
1890



OXFORD :
PRINTED AT THE CLARENDON PRESS

BY HORACE HART, PRINTER TO THE UNIVERSITY.



TO THE

REV. WALTER W. SKEAT, Lrrr.D., LL.D.

ELRINGTON AND BOSWORTH PROFESSOR OF ANGLO-SAXON
IN THE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE

THIS VOLUME IS GRATEFULLY DEDICATED

IN ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF THE HELP WHICH ITS EDITOR

IN COMMON WITH ALL STUDENTS OF OUR EARLIER LITERATURE

HAS RECEIVED FROM HIS WRITINGS



PREFACE.



THE small attention devoted to the pre-Elizabethan
drama in all histories of English Literature is the best
excuse for the appearance of the present volume of
Specimens. Of the works from which these Specimens
have been drawn, the greater part are accessible to students
only in the Publications of Societies or in limited editions,
expensive and difficult to procure. It seemed therefore
to the Editor that a volume which should bring together
within a small compass illustrations of the English dramatic
literature of more than two centuries, with an unpretentious
introduction and commentary, might fairly escape the
charge of book-making, and be useful to many lovers of
literature unable to make the subject their special study.
It may be added that, while no sample can ever perfectly
represent the complete work from which it is taken, the
peculiar difficulty in illustrating dramatic work by means
of specimens hardly applies in this case. It is perhaps
ungrateful for one who has derived so much pleasure from
these old plays to accuse them of prolixity and lack of unity,
but a very small acquaintance with them will convince the
student that illustration by means of selected episodes offers
no injustice to the dramatists.

In writing the Introduction and Notes I have endeavoured
to make the best use of the labours of my predecessors, to



viii PREFACE.

most of whom I have made special acknowledgment as
occasion arose. I am also under obligations to Dr. Furni-
vall, Mr. Henry Bradley, Miss Toulmin Smith, Miss Emily
Hickey and Mr. York Powell for much kind help, and to
Mr. Gurney and His Grace the Duke of Devonshire for
permission to consult MSS.

ALFRED W. POLLARD.



May 2tfh, 1890.



CONTENTS.



PAGE

INTRODUCTION xi

YORK PLAY. THE BARKERS ....... i

CHESTER PLAYS

I. NOAH'S FLOOD 8

II. THE SACRIFICE OF ISAAC 21

TOWNELEY PLAY

SECUNDA PASTORUM 31

COVENTRY PLAY

XI. THE SALUTATION AND CONCEPTION .... 44

MARY MAGDALENE 49

THE CASTELL OF PERSEVERANCE 64

EVERYMAN 77

INTERLUDE OF THE FOUR ELEMENTS 97

SKELTON'S MAGNYFYCENCE 106

HEYWOOD'S THE PARDONER AND THE FRERE . . .114

THERSYTES 126

BALE'S KING JOHN 146

APPENDIX 155

MYSTERIUM RESURRECTIONIS D. N. JHESU CHRISTI . 157
LUDUS SUPER ICONIA SANCTI NICOLAI . . . .162

THE HARROWING OF HELL 166

BROOME PLAY OF ABRAHAM AND ISAAC . 173



x CONTENTS.

NOTES PAGE

YORK PLAY 177

CHESTER PLAYS-
NOAH'S FLOOD 180

THE SACRIFICE OF ISAAC 184

TOWNELEY PLAY

SECUNDA PASTORUM 188

COVENTRY PLAY

THE SALUTATION AND CONCEPTION . . . .191

MARY MAGDALENE 193

THE CASTELL OF PERSEVERANCE 197

EVERYMAN 202

FOUR ELEMENTS 204

SKELTON'S MAGNYFYCENCE 207

HEYWOOD'S THE PARDONER AND THE FRERE . .210

THERSYTES 213

BALE'S KING JOHN . . . . . . . .218

GLOSS ARIAL INDEX . 22;



INTRODUCTION.



AT the outset of his enquiries almost every student of the
modern drama is found instinctively peering through long
centuries of darkness for some glimmerings of the brilliant
torch-light of Greek tragedy. In this pious desire to connect
new things with old, to link together the names of ^Eschylus
and Shakespeare, the services of a motley crew are called into
requisition, in which poets, philosophers, saints, mimes, jugglers,
monks, nuns, bishops and tradesfolk have all to play their part;
but the pedigree is like that of many a modern genealogy, clear
at the beginning and the end, with a huge hiatus gaping be-
tween. Under the later Roman Empire the drama died a
natural death, not because the Church condemned it, but by
a lust for sheer obscenity and bloodshed which made true
dramatic writing impossible. Until the theatres in which men
were made to die and women to prostitute themselves, not in
show but in reality, had long been closed and forgotten, the stage
was something too vile and horrible for any attempt to Chris-
tianize it ; nor could the innate dramatic instincts of mankind
again find free play amid the unhealthy surroundings of a dying
civilization. Yet one piece of positive evidence has long been
quoted and re-quoted to the contrary. A drama entitled Xpicrroy
HuaxM, on the subject of the Passion of Christ and the sorrows
of the Blessed Virgin, has been generally attributed to St. Gregory
Nazianzene, a writer of the fourth century. Save for the absence
of lyrical choruses, it is cast strictly upon the lines of Greek
tragedy, and it is interesting to classical scholars because,
together with a few verses from yEschylus (chiefly from the
Prometheus Vinctus), the writer has incorporated into his play
several hundred lines of Euripides, many of which have not



xii INTRODUCTION.

been preserved in any other form. A cento such as this is
necessarily destitute alike of dramatic appropriateness and
religious feeling, and it is a pleasure to find some better reason
for denying its authorship to St. Gregory than the doubt as to
its strict orthodoxy, which, until quite recently, alone excited
suspicion. To Dr. J. G. Brambs J , the latest editor of the
XpiffTos nd<rx<w, belongs the credit of a conclusive proof that
the metre, prosody and grammar of this play are not those of
St. Gregory, nor of any other writer of the fourth century, and
cannot be reasonably attributed to an earlier period than some
six hundred years later. The Xpicrro? nda-x^v, whether, as
Dr. Brambs conjectures, the work of Joannes Tzetzes, or of one
of his contemporaries, in any case thus ceases to be the dramatic
landmark which it has long been represented, and falls into the
same class with the plays of the learned nun Hroswitha, to
which also a somewhat undue importance is generally at-
tributed.

This Hroswitha 2 was a nun of Gandersheim in Saxony, and
her six plays are planned in some measure on the comedies of
Terence. Not that, like the author of the Xpurros nao-^cov with
the Greek dramatists, she incorporated his verses into her own
work, or made any attempt to imitate his metres ; but that
Terence, of whom it has been said that he ' bore a charmed life
amid the monasteries of the middle ages,' appeared to the good
nun undeservedly and dangerously popular, and she wished to
show what much better comedies might be written to inculcate
strict moral and religious teaching. That she succeeded in this
attempt it is impossible to allow. What has been justly called
her ' supersensuous modesty' (Hase) s , is to modern readers
infinitely more offensive than the license of her original. Her
language is bald, and her characters without life or humanity.
In one of her comedies a wicked Roman Governor goes to visit

1 Chrislus Pattens. Tragccdia Christiana Gregorio Nazianzeno falso
attributa. Recensuit Dr. J. G. Brambs. Lipsiae, 1885.

2 Theatre de Hrotswitha, religictise allemande du X sihle. Tracluit
en franfais avec le texte latin, revue sur le manuscrit de Munich. Par
C. Magnen. Paris, 1845.

3 Miracle Plays. An historical survey. Translated by A. W. Jackson.
1880.



INTRODUCTION. xiii

the Christian virgins, whom, with some improbability, he has
caused to be imprisoned in the scullery of his palace. Suddenly
he is struck with madness, and addresses his embraces to the
pots and pans, covers himself with dirt, and is hustled by his
own bodyguard as a devil. This farcical scene is Hroswitha's
one attempt at humour ; for the rest her plays are written to
display the heroism of martyrs and the glories of chastity, and
deserve the credit due to goodness of intention, and little else.
Whether they were ever acted is a matter of controversy. On
the one hand some of her incidents could hardly have been
represented with modesty ; on the other, the really humorous
situation in the scullery is so baldly treated as to depend largely
upon acting for its effect, and throughout her plays the extreme
brevity of the diction and absence of any attempt at literary
grace, point to an appeal to an audience rather than to readers.
But the audience, it is needless to say, would have been con-
fined to the nunnery and its benefactors, and there is no reason
to suppose that, whether acted or not, the half dozen plays of
the literary nun exercised the smallest influence on the history
of the drama. But what Hroswitha did at Gandersheim other
religious persons were doing in other monasteries, if not con-
temporaneously, at all events within the next hundred years,
but with all-important differences. The comedies of Hroswitha
are exotics, based, at however great a distance, on a heathen
model, coined in the main from her imagination, having nothing
to do with the services of the Church. The dramatic repre-
sentations which we have next to describe are popular in their
aim, liturgical in their origin, taking as their subjects events
which belonged strictly either to sacred history or to accepted
legends.

Anyone who enters a Catholic Church at Christmas time
is likely to see near one of the altars a coloured illumination
representing the infant Saviour in His cradle, St. Joseph and
the Blessed Virgin watching Him, and an ox and an ass munch-
ing their food hard by. The children delight in it, and it brings
home to them the .scene at the manger-bed at Bethlehem more
vividly than a thousand sermons. In the thirteenth century St.
Francis of Assisi, at his altar in the forest, represented that scene
still more realistically, with a real child, real men and women, a



xiv INTRODUCTION.

real ox and ass. At any primitive little Italian town, when the
members of the different religious gilds and confraternities walk
in procession on Corpus Christi Day, little children toddle among
them, dressed, some with a tiny sheepskin and staff to represent
St. John the Baptist ; others in sackcloth as St. Mary Mag-
dalene ; others in a blue robe, with a little crown, as the Blessed
Virgin ; others again with an aureole tied to their little heads, as
the infant Saviour. Similar instances of the attempt to bring
home to an unlettered people the reality of the chief events con-
nected with the Christian religion might be multiplied indefinitely.
The shepherds who, at Christmas time come into Rome from the
Abruzzi, and pipe before the pictures of the Virgin, or the German
peasants who, down to the beginning of the present century,
used to go round their village in the guise of the Three Kings
from the East, illustrate the way in which the efforts of the
Church were seconded by the common people. Not from vapid
imitations of Euripides and Terence, but from such simple
customs as these did the religious drama take its beginnings.

1 A11 evidence points to Easter as the festival with which the
earliest religious dramas were most intimately connected, and
it is probable that the first form which the Easter Play assumed
was that of a ceremony in which the crucifix was solemnly buried
on Good Friday, and again disinterred on Easter Day amid a
pompous ritual. Most commonly the ' sepulchre ' in which the
crucifix was deposited was a wooden erection placed within a
recess in the wall or upon a tomb, but according to the interesting
article 'Sepulchre,' in Parker's Glossary of Architecture, several
English churches still contain permanent stone structures es-
pecially built for the purpose. Among the churches which Mr.
Parker mentions are those at Navenby and Heckinton, Lincoln-
shire ; Hawton, in Nottinghamshire ; Northwold, in Norfolk ;
and Holcombe Burnell, in Devonshire. In the temporary struc-
tures the lower part generally contained a representation of
sleeping soldiers, intended for the Roman guard, and in a curious
account of the delivery by a certain Maister Canynge on July
4th, 1470, of ' a new sepulchre well gilt with golde and a civer

1 The next few paragraphs are mainly quoted from an article on
Easter Plays contributed to the Guardian by the present writer, May
22, 1889.



INTRODUCTION. xv

thereto,' to the vicar of St. Mary Redcliffe, Bristol, there is
mention of ' 4 knights armed, keeping the sepulchre, with their
weapons in their hands ; that is to say, 2 axes and 2 spears, with
2 pave's.' In this sepulchre both hell and heaven were re-
presented, together with figures of angels and of still more sacred
persons. In Davig's Antient Rites of Durham we are told:

' Within the church of Durham, upon Good Friday, there was a
marvellous solemn service, in which service time, after the Passion was
sung, two of the ancient monks took a goodly large crucifix all of gold

of the picture of our Saviour Christ, nailed upon the Cross The

service being ended, the said two monks carried the Cross to the Sepul-
chre with great reverence (which Sepulchre was set up that morning on
the north side of the Quire, nigh unto the High Altar before the service
time), and there did lay it within the said Sepulchre with great devotion.'

At the cathedral of Rouen there was a special service for the
occasion called ' Sepulchri Offidum? Trace of the ceremony
still lingers in the custom of veiling the crucifix above the altar
from Holy Thursday to the first evensong of Easter. In its
original form it was of long continuance, and we are told that as
late as 1316 its popularity was so dangerous that in that year an
Archbishop of Worms ordained that thenceforth it should take
place within closed doors, and in the presence of the priests
only.

Other Easter services also bear traces of a dramatic origin.
After the Third Lesson, and before the Te Deum at Matins, the
clergy walked in procession to the high altar, and there two
choirmen would take the parts of SS. Peter and John, while
three others in albs would represent the Three Maries in the
following colloquy :

' Apostoli Die nobis Maria

Quid vidisti in via.
Prima Maria Sepulchrum Christi viventis

Et gloriam resurgentis.
Secunda Maria Angelicos testes

Sudarium et vestes.
Tertia Maria Surrexit Christus spes mea,

Praecedit vos in Galibeam.
Afostoli Credendum est magis soli

Marise veraci



xvi INTRODUCTION.

Quam Judseorum
Pravse cohort!.

Omnes Scimus Christum surrexisse
A mortuis vere.
Tu nobis, victor Rex, miserere.'

The same colloquy was repeated at Mass as part of the
sequence, Victims paschales laudes, and may be seen in its
entirety in the York Missal, not for Easter Day itself, but for the
following Tuesday. In modern missals the words from ' Cre-
dendum ' to ' cohorti ' are omitted, but the retention of the
other verses which are sung alternately by the basses and trebles,
is only one instance among several of the highly dramatic
character of the services of the Roman Church from Palm
Sunday onwards.

But the Easter plays soon attained a far higher development
than the simple ceremonies of which the services we have
quoted retain the trace. In an Appendix at the end of this
volume is printed in the text of Thomas Wright from a manu-
script of the thirteenth century, preserved in the Library of the
city of Orleans, a Latin play on the subject of the Resurrection,
which, while intended to be acted in church, and probably in
an interval of the service of the day, is no mere ceremony but a
real drama. Although some of the characters are women, the
play is acted exclusively by monks or clerks, and it begins by
three of these, attired as the Three Maries, slowly and sadly
advancing up the church to where a grave had been prepared,
singing the while a lamentation for the death of the Good
Shepherd. As they approach the grave they see at its head an
angel arrayed in an alb, with a mitre on his head, a palm in his
left hand, and a branch of candlesticks in his right. The gospel
narrative is followed in the ensuing dialogue, in the visit of
Peter and John to the tomb, and in the appearance to Mary
Magdalene of ' One arrayed in the likeness of a gardener.' The
angels then invite the congregation to behold the empty grave,
the sere-cloth is held up to view and placed on the altar, and the
Holy Women answer one another with outbursts of joy. The
next stage direction enjoins him ' who afore was the gardener
to come in the likeness of the Lord,' gorgeously arrayed. His



INTRODUCTION. xvii

appearance is greeted by the choir with Alleluias, and the play
ends with the singing of the Te Deum.

An early Christmas play on the subject of the Slaughter of
the Innocents (Interfectio Puerorum), which has been handed
down to us in the same manuscript, is cast upon very similar
lines to the Mystery of the Resurrection we have just been
considering. The part of the Innocents (the fact that they were
under two years of age is neglected !) was taken by the choir
boys, the other characters, including the women, would be
played by the monks. In one part of the church (pews, it will
be remembered, were a later invention) is erected a manger ;
in another a throne for Herod ; a distant corner is supposed to
represent Egypt. With this simple stage-arrangement the action
proceeds. The story is set forth in the fewest possible words,
interspersed with anthems for the choristers. Towards the end
of the play the boys (having arisen from the dead) enter the
choir ; the throne of Herod is taken by another actor, who
represents Archelaus ; an angel bids the Holy Family return
from Egypt, and then the Precentor begins the Te Deum and
the performance is over.

The manuscript which has preserved for us these two plays
contains also eight others, four of which are concerned with the
miracles of St. Nicholas, while the rest have as their respective
subjects the Adoration of the Magi, the Appearance of Christ to
the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, the Conversion of
St. Paul, and the Raising of Lazarus. All ten plays have the
same characteristics. They are all intended to be performed in
church, introducing anthems and hymns from the office of the
day, and requiring only the simplest stage-machinery. They
are all written with great brevity and simplicity, partly in prose,
partly in classical metres, partly in monkish rimes. A know-
ledge of classical Latin is indicated by adaptations from Virgil
in two of the plays, and by the tag from Sallust (Incendium
meum ruina restinguam), which is put into the mouth of Herod
in the Interfectio Puerorum ; but the plays themselves have no
pretensions whatever to any literary merit.

As has already been said, the Orleans manuscript, in which
the plays we have been considering are preserved, belongs to
the thirteenth century. Its contents, however, were probably

b



xviii INTRODUCTION.

composed before the year 1200, and may thus be reckoned as
contemporaneous with those of Hilarius, with which we have
next to deal. Of this Hilarius, both of his works and of what
little is known of his life, an excellent account is given in the
third volume of Professor Morley's English Writers, and a
shorter one in his Sketch of English Literature, so that the less
need be said here. He is thought, on good grounds, to have
been an Englishman, and we know from his writings that he
was a pupil of the celebrated Abelard. Of his three plays (all
in Latin), that on the history of Daniel was composed in
collaboration with two other writers, and was probably intended
for representation at Christmas. Another is on the Raising of
Lazarus ; while the third, which is printed in our Appendix, has
for its subject a miracle wrought by St. Nicholas in defence of
the honour of an image of himself, under the care of which a
heathen is supposed to deposit a treasure for safe keeping. The
treasure is stolen by robbers, and the heathen on his return
upbraids and beats the image which has played him so false.
Smarting under the blows, St. Nicholas appears to the robbers,
and in a speech, of which, from what we know of Hilarius, there
is no reason to suppose the humour unconscious, forces them to
restitution. The heathen returns again, and in his joy makes
honourable amends to the saint, and is converted to Christianity.
This play is noteworthy for its refrains in old French. Similar
French refrains are found in Hilarius' play on the Raising of
Lazarus, and are extended to short speeches in the Mystery of
the Ten Virgins, another early French play. Similarly German
and Latin are mingled in the episode of the anointing of the feet
of Christ by St. Mary Magdalene, in a play written about this
time in Germany. These refrains and short speeches paved the
way for the composition of whole plays in the vernacular, of
which in France we find very early specimens, e. g. the Norman
play on the subject of Adam, which belongs to the thirteenth
century.

2.

Before the Norman Conquest we have no reason to suppose
that dramatic representations were known in England. The
performance of the earliest play of which we have any mention



INTRODUCTION. xix

must probably be assigned to the reign of William Rufus.
According to Matthew of Paris (writing circ. 1240), a certain
Geoffrey, who afterwards became Abbot of St. Albans, while yet
a secular person, was invited from France to take the mastership
of the Abbey School. His arrival was delayed, and in the
meanwhile the school was given to another. He therefore
settled for a while at Dunstable, and while there borrowed from
the sacristan of St. Albans copes (capes chorales) in which to
array the performers of a Miracle Play in honour of Saint
Katharine. During the performance of the play these copes
were destroyed by fire, and Geoffrey took this disaster so much
to heart, that he abandoned the world and entered the Abbey of
St. Albans as a monk. By 1119 he had risen to be its Abbot,
and it is by reckoning back from this year that we arrive at the
end of the eleventh century as the probable date of the perform-
ance of his unlucky play. A century later such representations
had become common. William Fitzstephen, who wrote circ.
1182, in his Life of Saint Thomas d Becket, contrasts with the
theatrical spectacles of ancient Rome the ' holier plays ' of
London, in which were represented the miracles and sufferings
of the confessors and martyrs of the Church : reprcesentationes
miraculorum quce sancti confessores operati sunt, sive reprcesen-
tationes passionum quibus claruit constantia martyrum. The
word miraculorum in this quotation, and the phrase quern
miracula vulgariter appellamus, used by Matthew Paris in
writing of the play of St. Katharine, reminds us of a distinction
between Miracle Plays and Mysteries, of which a great deal is
made in all text-books of English Literature, but which in
England had no existence in fact during the centuries in which
the sacred drama chiefly flourished. ' Properly speaking,' says
Professor Ward (English Dramatic Literature, vol. i. p. 23),
' Mysteries deal with Gospel events only, their object being
primarily to set forth, by an illustration of the prophetic history
of the Old Testament, and more particularly of the fulfilling
history of the New, the central mystery of the Redemption of
the world, as accomplished by the Nativity, the Passion, and
the Resurrection. Miracle Plays, on the other hand, are con-
cerned with incidents derived from the legends of the saints of
the Church.' The distinction in itself is, as Professor Ward

b 2



xx INTRODUCTION.

remarks, a legitimate one, but it is rendered rather confusing by
the fact that, while in England we have no single extant example
of a pure Miracle Play as thus defined, all dramatic representations
on this subject were called by this name, and the word mystery
is said to have been first applied to them in this country by
Dodsley, in the preface to his collection of Old Plays, early in
the eighteenth century x . But the English preference for the
word miracula must have had some basis in fact, and its
predominance gives a certain plausibility to the theory of Pro-
fessor Ten Brink (Gesch. der alt. eng. Litt. 248), that in the
development of the sacred drama legendary subjects preceded