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

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them. In place of the whole of man's life in its relation to its
eternal issues, they deal with mere fragments of it, and their
moral teaching is confined to exhortations against the besetting
sins of youth, and to the praise of learning and studiousness.
In other plays for the sacramental teaching of the Church there
is substituted the Reformation controversy, and these polemics
of the stage were carried to such a length as to draw down on
themselves the royal prohibition. The word Interlude reminds
us of the more trivial nature of these later performances, from
which, however, most of the popular ideas about Morality plays
have usually been derived J .

The 'Enterlude of Hycke-scorner,' which, as printed by
Wynkyn de Worde, may be reckoned as one of the earliest
specimens of the new Moralities, is in many respects a good
example of its class. It opens with a colloquy between Pity
and Contemplation, who are soon joined by Perseverance.
They lament together over the wickedness of the times, and
their place is then taken by Freewill and Imagination, who
recount to each other the pranks they have been playing in

1 An example of this confusion is to be found in the prominence
assigned in all accounts of the Morality to the character of the Vice, to
whom allusion is made by Ben Jonson in his Staple of News, ii. i, and
The Devil is an Ass, i. i, and by other Elizabethan writers. In the
Morality proper the Vice has no part, but when the desire was felt for
some humourous relief in the didactic interludes, a character probably
dressed in the traditional garb of the domestic Fool was introduced and
attained great popularity. The etymology of the name is doubtful, for
in Heywood's Play of tJie Wether (1534), one of the earliest instances in
which the Vice is specifically mentioned by name, he plays the part of
Mery Report, who is a jester pure and simple, without any connection
with any of the deadly sins. So in Jack Juggler, Jack himself is called
the Vice, and in Godly Queen Hester (1561) the name is given to a jester
called Hardy Dardy. In other plays, however, the part of the Vice is
assigned to characters such as Sin, Fraud, Inclination, Ambition, &c.,
and the list given in the Devil is an Ass (Fraud or Covetousness, or
lady Vanity, or old Iniquity), confirms the theory that the obvious
etymology is the true one.

d 3


very unseemly language. To them enters Hickscorner, a
traveller, who soon proves himself a worthy comrade. He
comes to blows, however, with Imagination, and Pity returns
to help keep the peace. The three knaves, indignant at his
intervention, bind him and go their ways. Pity is released by
Perseverance and Contemplation, and goes in quest of his
adversaries. Meanwhile Freewill has been imprisoned in
Newgate for 'conveying' a cup, but has been delivered by
Imagination. He is now confronted by Perseverance and
Contemplation, who effect his conversion by their arguments.
Imagination again appears on the scene, at first only to scoff,
but in a little while he too is converted, and in this edifying
manner the play ends. Hickscorner, it will be noted, after
whom the interlude is named, disappears altogether unnoticed,
and there is no single dramatic touch in the whole production.
The play, however, must have enjoyed a fairly long life, for the
author of an Interlude of Youth, printed by Waley, probably in
the reign of Mary, took it as his model, and incorporated whole
sentences from it into his own work. With Hickscorner and
Youth may be classified ' an enterlude,' printed both by Vele
and by William Copland, ' called Lusty Juuentus, lyuely describ-
ing the frailtie of youth : of natur prone to vyce : by grace and
good counsayll traynable to vertue.' This very dull play, only
relieved by two rather good songs, was the work of a vehe-
mently Protestant author. The characters are : a Messenger,
Lusty Juuentus, Good Counsaill, Knowledge, Sathan the
deuyll, Hypocrisie, Feloivship, Abhominable Lyuyng, God's
Merciful Promises, and their names sufficiently indicate the
general course of the plot. Juventtis is nourished in the strictest
principles of the Reformation, until by direction of Satan,
Hypocrisy, under the name of Friendship, leads him first into
heresy and from heresy into unclean living, from which he is
finally rescued by his former friends Good Counsaill and Know-

Of the second class of the later Moralities, or, as I should pre-
fer to call them, didactic interludes, those namely which were
written in praise, not of religion, but of learning, the Interlude
of the Four Elements is the earliest that has come down to us.
The only known copy which has been preserved is unfortu-


nately imperfect, so that the course of the plot cannot be set
forth at length, but the writer's unflinching didacticism and the
expedients by which it is relieved, are sufficiently illustrated in
the short extracts quoted in the present volume. Another inter-
lude in praise of learning is the Wyt and Science of John Red-
ford, written probably towards the end of the reign of Henry
VIII, and first printed in the Shakespeare Society's Publications
for 1848. Though itself so long in obtaining the honours of
print, Redford's play served as a model to the anonymous author
of 'a new and pleasant enterlude, intituled the Marriage of
Witte and Science,' licensed in 1569-70 to its printer, Thomas
Marshe. This is a really amusing play, very brightly and
trippingly written, with scarcely a bad line in it. It was prob-
ably composed by a schoolmaster for performance by his boys,
and traces the mishaps of Wit in his endeavour to win the hand
of his lady Science, the daughter of Reason and Experience. In
all his adventures Wit has a charming companion and page in
Will, whose talk is much wittier, in the modern sense, than his
master's. The play is regularly divided into acts and scenes,
and in this and other respects is so widely removed from the
earlier didactic interludes, as hardly to come within the scope of
the present volume. In the same way the Nice Wanton and
the Disobedient Child, the latter by Thomas Ingelend, both
probably written during the reign of Elizabeth, have passed too
far into the regions of comedy to be treated here, though their
inculcation of the necessity of discipline in youth entitles them
to be ranked with the didactic interludes.

Two famous names recall us to an earlier period. John
Skelton and John Heywood are both of them known to English
literature in other capacities than as dramatists, but Heywood
put his best work into his plays, while Skelton's Magnificence
(c. 1520?), though learned and painstaking, and with some fine
passages, is a dull and lifeless performance, which its author's
fame as a satirist has caused to be somewhat overrated. The
minor characters are numerous and, as nearly all of them change
their names for the purpose of disguise, the thread of the play
(of which a brief summary is given in the Notes] is by no means
easy to follow. The same charge may fairly be brought against
a play by John Heywood, a unique copy of which exists in the


Bodleian Library, but has never yet provoked an editor to
reprint it. The play is on the subject of Love, and its cha-
racters Loving not Loved, Loved not Loving, Both Loving and
Loved, Neither Loved nor Loving, &c. are such mere puppets,
that the play is the most confusing the present writer has ever
grappled with. Yet there is much wit in the dialogue, as for
instance in this pitiful complaint of the woman Loved not
Loving, concerning the too pertinacious suit of her admirer :
For it doth lyke me evyn lyke as one
Shold offer me servyse most humbly
With an axe in his hande, contynually
Besechyng me gentylly that this might be sped,
To graunt hym my good wyll to stryke off my hed.

The play is really little more than a disputation (interrupted
by one long and not too pleasant narrative) as to the com-
parative intensities of the happiness and misery to be won from
love. As % such it is essentially undramatic, and the only in-
cident by which it is diversified, in which Neither Loved nor
Lovyng pretends to have set Loved not Lovyng on fire, is but
poor stuff. Hey wood's other plays are much better, and it is
strange that one of them, the Play of the Wether, of the two
editions of which unique copies respectively exist in the Bodleian
and the library of St. John's College, Oxford, has had to wait so
long for a modern editor. In this ' new and very mery interlude
all maner wethers,' Jupiter deputes Mery Report to hear and re-
count to him all the different prayers that the various characters
offer up for different varieties of weather. Mery Report's
account of his experiences gives so excellent a summary of the
play that I append it below 1 , with little doubt that its length

1 Merry Report

Now such an other sorte as here hath bene
In all the dayes of my lyfe I haue not sene,
No sewters now but women, knauys, and boys,
And all theyr sewtys are in fansyes and toys.
Yf that there come no wyser after thys cry
I wyll to the god and make an ende quyckely.
Oyes, yf that any knaue here
Be wyllynge to appere
For wether fowle or clere,
Come in before thys flocke,


will be excused. The didactic import of this interlude is obvious,
and it is thus connected with Thersites, that admirable lesson

And be he hole or syckly
Come shew hys mynde quyckly.

All thys tyme I perceyue is spent in wast,

To wayte for mo sewters, I se non make hast.

Wherfore I wyll shew the god all thys procys,

And be delynered of my symple offys.

Now, lorde, accordynge to your comaundement,

Attendyng sewters I haue ben dylygent,

And, at begynnyng as your wyll was I sholde,

I come now at ende to shewe what eche man wolde.

The fyrst sewter before your selfe dyd appere,

A gentylman desyrynge wether clere,

Clowdy, nor mysty, nor no wynde to blow,

For hurt in hys huntynge ; and then, as ye know,

The marchaunt sewde for all of that kynde

For wether clere and mesurable wynde,

As they maye best bere theyr saylys to make spede ;

And streyght after thys there came to me in dede

An other man who namyd hym selfe a ranger,

And sayd all of hys crafte be farre brought in daunger

For lacke of lyvynge, whyche chefely ys wynde fall,

But he playnely sayth there bloweth no wynde at al,

Wherfore he desyreth, for encrease of theyr fleesys,

Extreme rage of wynde trees to tere in peces.

Then came a water myller, and he cryed out

For water, and sayde the wynde was so stout

The rayne could not fall ; wherfore he made request

For plenty of rayne to set the wynde at rest,

And then, syr, there came a wynde myller in,

Who sayde for the rayne he could no wynde wyn,

The water he wysht to be banysht all,

Besechynge your grace of wynde contynuall.

Then came tlier another that wolde banysh all this,

A goodly dame, an ydyll thynge iwys ;

Wynde, rayne, nor froste, nor sonshyne wold she haue,

But fayre close wether her beautye to save.

Then came there a nother that lyueth by laundry,

Who muste haue wether hot and clere here clothys to dry.

Then came there a boy, for froste and snow contynuall,

Snow to make snowballys and frost for his pytfale,


against unseemly boasting, the work of an unknown author,
whose pen we may well wish to have been more prolific. In
Heywood's other plays, briefly mentioned and described in the
Notes, no didactic purpose can be traced. They may be classified
as satiric interludes, if the word satire can be rightly applied to
the work of a man whose temper was as genial and sunny as
that of Chaucer himself, to whose writings his own were
largely indebted. In these plays Heywood breaks away
altogether from the Morality, and becomes the precursor of
Nicholas Udall and of John Still or whoever was the author of
Gammer Gurtorfs Needle.

The last play from which extracts are given in the present
volume is the King John of Bishop Bale. Bale was not only a
Protestant controversialist, but an antiquary, and it is charac-
teristic of him that in his God's Promises and Johan Baptystes,
he should have endeavoured to infuse fresh life into the Miracle
play by adapting it to strictly Protestant teaching. In his King
John he again endeavours to unite new and old, by welding the
didacticism and personifications of the moral interlude with the
history of an English king. The play apparently remained in
MS. until printed by Mr. Collier in 1838, and there is no reason
to imagine that it in any way influenced the rise of the English
historical drama, which did not take place until more than a

For whyche, god wote, he seweth full gredely.

Your fyrst man wold haue wether clere and not wyndy ;

The seconde, the same saue cooles to blow meanly;

The thyrd desyred stormes and wynde most ext[re]mely;

The fourth, all in water and wolde haue no wynde;

The fyft no water, but all wynde to grynde ;

The syxst wold haue non of all these nor no bright son ;

The seuenth extremely the hote son wold haue wonne ;

The eyght and the last for frost and snow he prayd.

Byr lady we shall take shame I am afrayd!

Who marketh in what rnaner this sort is led

May thynke yt impossyble all to be sped.

This nomber is smale, there lacketh twayne of ten,

And yet, by the masse, amonge ten thousand men

No one thynge could stand more wyde from the other,

Not one of theyr sewtes agreeth wyth an other.

I promyse yon here is a shrewed pece of warke.


quarter of a century after its first composition '. It is thus as
a curious development of the didactic interlude, and not as the
forerunner of Shakespeare's chronicle-histories, that King John
finds a place in the present volume.

The last performance of the York Miracle plays took place in
!579> when Shakespeare had attained his Roman majority.
The Newcastle plays lasted ten years longer, by which time
his career as a dramatist had begun. The Chester plays were
acted till the end of the century ; the Beverly till 1604, when
Shakespeare's work was already drawing towards its close. Even
later than this we hear of a Passion Play acted before Gondomar,
the Spanish ambassador, but as to this allowance must be made
for foreign influence, and we may regard the Miracle play as
finally dying with the death of Elizabeth. In its prolonged
old age it had overlapped the noblest period of the English
drama, but its direct influence had long passed away 2 , and
the reminiscence of the Harrowing of Hell in the Porter's
speech in Macbeth, is perhaps the most notable trace which it
has left on the drama of the Shakespearian age. But the
Miracle plays had fostered a love of acting in almost every
county in England. They had prepared the ground from
which the Shakespearian harvest was to spring in all its
glorious abundance, and in this indirect manner their influence
had been potent for good.

The history of the Morality, in its later development as the
didactic interlude, is somewhat different. During the first half
of the reign of Elizabeth plays with many of the characteristic
features of the later Moralities enjoyed much popularity. Such
were the Triall of Treasure (printed 1 567), Like Will to Like
(printed 1568), All for Money (printed 1578), The Three Ladies
of London (printed 1584), and The Three Lords and 7^hree
Ladies of London (printed as late as 1590). The increasing

1 The play seems to have been revised after the accession of Elizabeth,
but was probably written in the reign of Edward VI.

a The influence of the old play of St. George of Cappadocia is remotely
traceable in the Christmas mummings still acted in a few out-of-the-way
villages in different parts of England.


individuality of the characterization in these plays was doubtless
in part only a natural development, but in part also it was due
to the influence of the comedies and tragedies founded on
classical and Italian models. But though the didactic Interlude
learnt something from these splendid rivals, it could not better
the instruction, and its latent promise of a domestic drama of
purely English growth was never fulfilled. For better or for
worse, however, the transformed Morality at this period takes
its place as one of the threads which went to make up the
wondrous web of the Elizabethan drama, and as such passes
out of the scope of the present volume. Here it must suffice us
to have attempted to follow the dramatic element in English
literature, from a date nearly coincident with the birth of
Chaucer, to the time when Shakespeare was old enough to play
a boy's part in some moral interlude in praise of learning at the
Grammar school of Stratford-on-Avon.




[SCENE I. Heaven^\

[DEUS.] Ego sum Alpha et O. % vita, via, Veritas, primus
et nouissimus.

1. I am gracyus and grete, god withoutyn begynnyng,

I am maker unmade, all mighte es in me,
I am lyfe and way unto welth wynnyng,

I am formaste and fyrste, als I byd sail it be.
My blyssyng o ble sail be blendyng, 5

And heldand fro harme to be hydande,

My body in blys ay abydande
Une[n]dande withoutyn any endyng.

2. Sen I am maker unmade, and moste so of mighte,

And ay sail be endeles, and noghte es but I, 10
Unto my dygnyte dere sail diewly be dyghte

A place full of plente to my plesing at ply,
And therewith als wyll I have wroght

Many dyvers doynges be-dene,

Whilke warke sail mekely contene, 15

And all sail be made even of noght.


3. But onely the worthely warke of my wyll

In my sprete sail enspyre the mighte of me,
And in the fyrste, faythely, my thoghts to full-fyll,

Baynely in my blyssyng I byd at here be 20

A blys al-beledande abowte me;

In the whilke blys I byde at be here

Nyen ordres of aungels full clere,
In lovyng ay lastande at lowte me.

Tune cantant angeli : Te deum laudamus, te dominum

4. Here undernethe me nowe a nexile I neven, 25

Whilke He sail be erthe now, all be at ones
Erthe haly and helle, this hegheste be heven,

And that welth sail welde sail won in this wones.
Thys graunte I jowe mynysters myne,

To-whils _)'he ar stabill in thoghte ; 30

And also to thaime that ar noghte
Be put to my presone at pyne. [To Lucifer.

5. Of all the mightes I have made moste nexte after me,

I make the als master and merour of my mighte,
I beelde the here baynely in blys for to be, 35

I name the for Lucifer, als berar of lyghte.
No thyng here sail the be derand

In this blys sail be ^hour beeldyng,

And have al welth in jvoure weledyng,
Ay whils jyhe ar buxomly berande. 40

Tune cantant Angeli, Sanctus sanctus sanctus, dominus deus


A ! mercyfull maker, full mekill es thi mighte,

That all this warke at a worde worthely has wroghte

Ay loved be that lufly lorde of his lighte,

That us thus mighty has made, that nowe was righte
noghte ;


In blys for to byde in hys blyssyng, 45

Ay lastande, in luf lat us lowte hym,
At beelde us thus baynely abowete hym,

Of myrthe nevermore to have myssyng.


All the myrth that es made es markide in me,

The bemes of my brighthode ar byrnande so bryghte,
And I so semely in syghte my selfe now I se, 51

For lyke a lorde am I lefte to lende in this lighte,
More fayrear be far than my feres,

In me is no poynte that may payre,

I fele me fetys and fay re, 55

My power es passande my peres.


Lord ! wyth a lastande luf we love the allone,

Thou mightefull maker that markid us and made us,

And wroghte us thus worthely to wone in this wone,
Ther never felyng of fylth may full us nor fade us,

All blys es here beeldande a-boute us, 61

To-whyls we are stabyll in thoughte
In the worschipp of hym that us wroghte

Of dere never thar us more dowte us.


O ! what I am fetys and fayre and fygured full fytt !

The forme of all fayrehede apon me es feste, 66
All welth in my weelde es, I wete be my wytte,

The bemes of my brighthede are bygged with the

My schewyng es schemerande and schynande,

So bygly to blys am I broghte, 70

Me nedes for to noy me righte noghte,
Here sail never payne me be pynande.
B 2



With all the wytt at we welde we wyrschip thi wyll,
Thu gloryus god that es grunde of all grace,

Ay with stedefaste Steven lat us stande styll, 75

Lorde ! to be fede with the fode of thi fayre face.

In lyfe that es lely ay lastande,
Thi dale, lorde, es ay daynetethly delande,
And who so that fode may be felande

To se thi fayre face es noght fastande. So


Owe ! certes ! what I am worthely wroghte with wyr-
shyp, i-wys !

For in a glorius gle my gleteryng it glemes,
I am so mightyly made my mirth may noghte mys,

Ay sail I byde in this blys thorowe brightnes of

Me nedes noghte of noy for to neven, 85

All welth in my welde have I weledande,

Abowne jyhit sail I be beeldand,
On heghte in the hyeste of hewven.

12. Ther sail I set my selfe, full semely to seyghte,

To ressayve my reverence thorowe right o renowne,
I sail be lyke unto hym that es hyeste on heghte ; 9 1

Owe ! what I am derworth and defte. Owe ! dewes !

all goes downe !
My mighte and my mayne es all marrande,

Helpe ! felawes, in faythe I am fallande.

Fra heven are we heledande on all hande, 95

To wo are we weendande, I warande.


[SCENE II. Hell.}


Owte owte ! harrowe ! helples, slyke hote at es here,
This es a dongon of dole that I am to-dyghte,

Whare es my kynde be-come, so cumly and clere,
Nowe am I laytheste, alias ! that are was lighte.

My bryghtnes es blakkeste and bio nowe ; 101

My bale es ay betande and brynande,
That gares ane go gowlande and gyrnande.

Owte ! ay walaway ! I well enew in wo nowe !


Owte ! owte ! I go wode for wo, my wytte es all wente
nowe 105

All oure fode es but filth, we fynde us beforn,
We that ware beelded in blys in bale are we brent

Owte ! on the Lucifer, lurdan ! oure lyghte has thu

Thi dedes to this dole nowe has dyghte us,

To spille us thu was oure spedar, no

For thou was oure lyghte and oure ledar,
The hegheste of heven hade thu hyght us.


Walaway ! wa ! es me now, nowe es it war thane it was.

Unthryvandely threpe j'he, I sayde but a thoghte.
SECUND. DIAB. We ! lurdane, thu lost us.
Luc. IN INF. Fhe ly, owte ! alias !

I wyste noghte this wo sculde be wroghte. 116

Owte on _yhow ! lurdans, ^he smore me in smoke.
SECUND. DIAB. This wo has thu wroughte us.
Luc. IN INF. Fhe ly, >'he ly !

SECUND. DIAB. Thou lyes, and that sail thu by,

We lurdans have at jowe, lat loke. .120


[SCENE III. Heaven.']


A ! lorde, lovid be thi name that us this lighte lente

Sen Lucifer oure ledar es lighted so lawe
For hys unbuxumnes in bale to be brente,

Thi rightwysnes to rewarde on rowe.
like warke eftyr is wroghte 125

Thorowe grace of thi mercyfull myghte,

The cause I se itt in syghte,
Wharefore to bale he es broghte.

17. DEUS. Those foles for thaire fayre-hede in fantasyes


And hade mayne of mighte that marked tham and

made tham, 130

For-thi efter thaire warkes were, in wo sail thai well,

For sum ar fallen into fylthe that evermore sail fade


And never sail have grace for to gyrth tham.
So passande of power tham thoght tham,
Thai wolde noght me worschip that wroghte tham,
For thi sail my wreth ever go with tham. 136

1 8. Ande all that me wyrschippe sail wone here, i-wys,

For-thi more forthe of my worke wyrke nowe I will.
Syn than ther mighte es for-marryde that mente all

Even to myne awne fygure this blys to fulfyll, 140
Mankynde of moulde will I make ;

But fyrste wille I fourme hym before,

All thyng that sail hym restore,
To whilke that his talents will take.

19. Ande in my fyrste makyng to mystyr my mighte, 145

Sen erthe is vayne and voyde, and myrknes emel,
I byd in my blyssyng jvhe aungels gyf lyghte
To the erthe, for it faded when the fendes fell.


In hell sail never myrknes be myssande,

The myrknes thus name I for nighte, 150

The day that call I this lyghte.

My after warkes sail thai be wyssande ;

20. Ande now in my blyssyng I twyne tham in two,

The nighte even fro the day, so that thai mete never,
But ather in a kynde courese thaire gates for to go,

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