in the new dramatic development. Little drama-
tic scenes from scriptural story began to find a
St. Nicholas Plays 91
place in the liturgy of the Church as early as the
tenth century. St. Nicholas plays are not much
later, and are the earliest ones handling scenes
drawn from outside the biblical story. They
begin not later than the first of the twelfth cen-
tury. St. Nicholas may almost be regarded as
the patron saint of the modern drama, since he
seems to have watched over its birth.
The St. Nicholas plays were represented ap-
parently by the choir boys in connection with the
celebration of the festival of their patron saint.
The language used was Latin, of a schoolboy
variety, but vernacular elements soon began to
appear. Forming, as they did, a part of the
school service, and presented, as they were, by
choir boys, as might be expected, they were for
the most part sung or chanted. Their purpose
to provide entertainment and their dissociation
from the older drama are indicated by the names
applied to these primitive dramas. Miracula
was the name given them when the subject-matter
was in mind; when their character and purpose
were in mind the name applied to them in Latin
was Indus, in French, jeu. The actors at a com-
paratively early time in English were called players
before the word 'play' had yet acquired its later
definitely dramatic meaning.
92 St. Nicholas
The subjects from the St. Nicholas story used
in these little plays have been mentioned. One
should notice what a range of interest is com-
prised in these four stories. They afford oppor-
tunity for the use of many of the cant phrases of
the modern dramatic critic. There was a melo-
drama of crime, a primitive detective play, with
St. Nicholas playing the part of detective in dis-
covering the crime of the innkeeper and his wife.
There was a play dealing with the rough road to
matrimony, ending in a triple marriage, hardly
surpassed in modern love comedy. There was a
sentimental comedy, with gripping heart interest,
in the story of the boy abducted and restored.
There was a screaming farce in the story of the
Jew that was robbed. It should be noted, too,
that the modern "tired business man" would find
the endings in all four as happy as could be wished.
One of the early St. Nicholas plays also is of
interest because it is one of three plays com-
posed by the earliest determinable personality in
connection with the authorship of modern drama.
The name of the author, Hilarius, seems to have
been no misnomer. He was probably an English-
man, 2 or an Anglo-Norman, who went to France
to study under Abelard. He is the author of a
number of innocent love poems, playful in tone,
St. Nicholas Plays 93
addressed to an English Rose and to his nun
friends, Bona and Superba. From his writings
we learn that he was not only lively, but fat.
Along with a number of other students, on account
of some misbehavior, he seems to have suffered a
kind of rustication and been obliged to leave the
monastery where he was studying and to take
up residence in a neighboring village. In a mock
elegy he feigns despair at being deprived of the
privilege of hearing lectures. Altogether the char-
acter of this medieval student is easy to asso-
ciate with the farcical little Latin play which he
wrote, back in the twelfth century, presenting
the story of the Jew who committed his valuables
to the care of the image of St. Nicholas.
This play, 3 or operetta, for it was intended for
song and chant by the choir boys, is composed
in rimed Latin stanzas, practically impossible to
reproduce in form and in spirit with any degree
of literalness in English, although Professor
Gayley has accomplished the miraculous with one
or two of them.
The dramatis persona in the play are: Barbarus
(a Heathen), owner of the treasure, corresponding
to the Jew in the Golden Legend version of the
story, four or six robbers, and St. Nicholas. At
first the Heathen, having assembled his treasures,
94 St. Nicholas
approaches an image of St. Nicholas (represented
by a man standing in a shrine) and puts them
in care of the image, saying (probably in song) :
" Nicolas, quidquid possideo,
hoc in meo misi teloneo;
te custodem rebus adhibeo ;
serva quae sunt ibi :
meis, precor, attende precibus;
vide, nullus sit locus furibus!
Pretiosis aurum cum vestibus
ego trado tibi."
The thought of which may be rendered freely:
Nicholas, all that I possess, I have put in this chest.
I leave it to you in charge; keep what is here. I pray
you, listen to my request. See to it that no thief
gets in. I am putting in your charge gold and pre-
In a second like stanza Barbarus expresses the
security that he feels now that his valuables are
in the charge of the image of St. Nicholas and at
the same time warns the image that there will be
trouble if anything happens to his property.
When Barbarus has gone, tramps, noticing the
house open and without guardian, carry off every-
thing. When Barbarus returns, he finds his
treasure gone and expresses his feelings in song.
His song consists of three Latin stanzas, each with
St. Nicholas Plays 95
a French refrain probably joined in by the other
members of the boy choir. It begins:
" Gravis sors et dura!
Hie reliqui plura,
sed sub mala cura;
Des! quel domage!
qui pert la sue chose, purque n'enrage? "
The rime scheme of which may be reproduced
something like this:
Hard luck and sad !
I left all I had,
But the care was bad.
Gad, what a shame !
If I am mad, I'm not to blame.
Two stanzas with the same refrain follow. Then
Barbarus turns to the image and lays on it the
blame in two additional stanzas with the threaten-
ing French refrain :
se ne me rent ma chose, tu ol comparras."
(If you don't give me back my things, I'll make
you pay for it.)
Barbarus then takes up a whip and vents his
feelings in two additional stanzas of the same sort,
the form and spirit of which Professor Gay ley
has admirably caught in English 4 :
96 St. Nicholas
By God, I swear to you
Unless you "cough up" true,
You thief, I'll beat you blue,
I will, no fear!
So hand me back my stuff that I put here !
The amount of whipping and other stage "busi-
ness" to accompany this recitative might safely
be trusted to choir boy impromptu. The Latin
text of the play at this point gives the following
simple directions: "Then St. Nicholas shall go
to the thieves and say to them:"
In four Latin stanzas he tells the thieves that
he has been whipped because he cannot restore
the things left in his charge, and threatens :
" Quod si non feceritis
suspensi eras eritis
crucis in patibulo;
vestra namque turpia,
(If you don't do this, you will be hanged to-morrow
on a gibbet, for your misdeeds and thievery, I will
The threats have the desired effect on the thieves,
who in fear return the goods, with no accompany-
ing words provided by the playwright.
When Barbarus finds his treasures again, in a
St. Nicholas Plays 97
series of three macaronic stanzas, Latin and
French, he expresses his joy and surprise, ending
with praise for the guardian :
" Quam bona custodia
jo en ai;
qua redduntur omnia!
De si grant mervegle en ai."
(What a good watch I have had! it returns every-
thing. I am quite surprised.)
The alternating lines in French form a refrain
in which, as in the other songs, the other choir
boys have a chance to join.
Then Barbarus approaches the image and in
three like stanzas, Latin and French, expresses
At this point St. Nicholas in person makes his
appearance. He disclaims any credit to himself,
and bids Barbarus praise God alone, through
Whom his things have been restored.
Barbarus in reply renounces heathen faith and
praises God, the maker of heaven and earth and
sea, Who has forgiven his sin.
The printed text of the little play is simple
enough, but the easy swing of the series of Latin
songs and the French refrains offering oppor-
tunity for choral participation, the beating of the
98 St. Nicholas
image, and the impromptu comedy "business"
which choir boys might be counted on to supply,
would provide as much entertainment at a
church festival to-day as they doubtless did in
the St. Nicholas' eve celebration of the twelfth
In a single manuscript there are preserved four
St. Nicholas plays of a century later. The stories
presented in these plays are the four mentioned
above. The play of the abducted son of Getro
may here represent the series.
This Latin play, s almost entirely in rimed coup-
lets, is more serious in tone and in general a more
elaborate production than the little play by Hila-
rius. It was staged in characteristic : medieval
fashion, with simultaneous set; th? J to say,
there were a number of prepared stations, side
by side, all visible, and the action shii< ed from
one station to another. A rubric in the manuscript
indicates the stage arrangement.
In order to represent how St. Nicholas freed th*.
son of Getro from the hands of Marmorinus, King of
the Agarenes, King Marmorinus shall appear, sur-
rounded by armed servitors and seated on a high
seat as if in his own kingdom. In another place,
shall be represented Excoranda, the city of Getro, and
in it Getro, with his consolers, his wife Euphrosina
and their son Adeodatus. East of the city of Excor-
St. Nicholas Plavs 99
anda shall be the church of St. Nicholas in which
the boy is taken captive.
The action shifts from one of these stations to the
other, all the stations and all the characters, how-
ever, being constantly visible.
In the opening scene the servitors approach
King Marmorinus, and, "either all together, or the
first one speaking for all," say:
Hail prince, hail greatest king. Do not delay to
declare thy will to thy servants; we are ready to do
what thou dost wish.
These words apparently are sung, since they are
in rimed verse and since song alone would be ap-
propriate for speech in unison. The king replies:
Go then, do not delay, and subject to my rule
whatever people you can; kill any that resist.
With this the action shifts to another station.
"In the meantime Getro and Euphrosina with
a band of schoolboys," the stage directions tell
us, "shall go to the church of St. Nicholas, to
celebrate his festival, and shall bring with them
their son; and when they shall see the armed ser-
vitors of the king coming there, they shall flee
to their own city, in their fright forgetting the
boy. But the servitors of the king shall seize
ioo St. Nicholas
the boy and bring him into the presence of the
king, and either the second of them or all in unison
shall say," apparently in song:
We have done, O king, what thou didst order; we
have subjected many people to thee and of the things
acquired, we are bringing to thee this boy.
Then the third one, or all in unison, shall say:
The boy is fair of face, of active mind, and noble
race; it is fitting, in our opinion, that he enter thy
Praise be to Apollo who rules all, and thanks to
you who have made so many countries subject and
And then, addressing the boy:
Good boy, tell us, what is thy land, what thy race;
what is the faith of the people of thy country; are
they gentile or Christian?
My father, Getro by name, is prince of the people
of Excoranda; he worships God, who rules the seas,
who made us and thee and all things.
St. Nicholas Plays 101
My god, Apollo, is the god that made me. He is
true and good. He rules the land, he reigns in the
air; him alone we ought to believe in.
Thy god is false and evil ; he is stupid, blind, deaf,
and mute. Thou shouldst not worship such a god,
who cannot rule even himself.
Say not such things; do not offend my god; for
if thou dost make him angry, thou canst not in any
In the meantime, the directions tell us, Euphro-
sina shall discover that her son has been forgotten
and shall return to the church. And when she
shall not find the boy, she shall sing the following
"Heu! heu! hcu mihi miseras!
Quid nunc agam? Quid quaem dicere?
Quo peccato merui perdere
natum meum, et ultra vivere?
Cur me pater infelix genuit?
Cur me mater infelix abluit?
Cur me nutrix lactare debuit ?
Mortem mihi quare non pracbuit?"
io2 St. Nicholas
The consolers shall come to her and say:
In what way does this grieving aid? Cease to
weep, and pray for thy son to the highest Father,
and he will give him aid.
Euphrosina, not heeding the words of consola-
tion, shall continue :
Dear son, most beloved child; child, the great
part of my soul; now thou art to us the cause of
sadness who wert the cause of joy.
Do not despair of the grace of God. He whose
great mercy gave thee this boy, will return to thee
either him or another.
My soul is disturbed within me. Why should
death delay? When I am not able to see thee, my
son, I prefer to die rather than to live.
Struggle, grief, and despair injure thee and do not
profit thy son; instead, from thy wealth give to
schoolboys and to the poor. Ask the kindness of
Nicholas that he may pray for the mercy of the Father
on high for thy son, that thy prayer may not fail.
St. Nicholas Plays 103.
Euphrosina (praying to St. Nicholas) :
Nicholas, most holy father, Nicholas most dear to
God, if thou wishest that I should worship thee longer,
cause my son to return. Thou that didst save many
in the sea, and three men from the bonds of death,
listen to the prayer of me, a suppliant, and assure me
that it will be granted. I will not eat of flesh longer,
nor partake of wine, nor enjoy anything more until
my son shall return.
Dear sister, cease to mourn: thy tears avail thee
nothing. But seek the propitiation of the Father
on high for our son. To-morrow is the festival of
St. Nicholas whom all Christianity ought to worship,
to venerate, to bless. Hear, then, my counsel. Let
us go to his festival. Let us praise his greatness and
seek his support. Perhaps it is an inspiration of
God that admonishes me on account of our son. With
the grace of God we must pray for the great kindness
Then they shall get up and go to the church
of St. Nicholas. And when they have entered,
Euphrosina shall stretch her hands out toward
heaven and say:
Highest Father, king of all kings, sole king, and sole
hope of mortals, make to be returned to us our son,
the solace of our life. Hear the prayers of us suppli-
104 St. Nicholas
ant. Thou that didst send thy Son into the world
to make us citizens of Heaven, to save us from the
bars of hell. Father God, thou whose power dost
supply everything good, do not cast off me a sinner,
but let me see again my son. Nicholas, whom we
call a saint, if all is true that we believe concerning
thee, let thy prayers go forth to God for us and our
"After these words," the directions tell us, "she
shall leave the church and go home and there
prepare a table with bread and wine for the en-
tertainment of schoolboys and the poor. When
these have been invited and have begun to eat,
Marmorinus (at the other end of the stage) shall
say to his servitors " :
My beloved, I want to tell you that I have never
in my life felt such hunger as I have to-day. I can't
stand it. Make ready what I ought to eat and save
my life. Why delay? Go quickly, prepare at once
something for me to eat.
The servitors then shall go and bear food to
the king and shall say :
We have prepared the food as thou didst command
and here it is. Now if thou dost wish, thou mayst
grow fat in extinguishing thy hunger.
Then water is brought, and the king washes his
hands and begins to eat and says:
St. Nicholas Plays 105
I was hungry, now I am thirsty. Bring me wine,
and no delay about it, my servant, son of Getro.
The boy, hearing this, shall sigh deeply, saying
to himself :
Alas! Alas, poor me! I should like to die, for
as long as I live, I shall never be free.
The king, addressing the boy :
Why dost thou sigh so? What ails thee? What
dost thou want?
I was thinking of my misery, of my father and my
native land. I began to sigh, and said to myself,
"It is a year to-day since I entered this country, and
was made a miserable slave, subject to royal power."
Poor wretch, why dost thou think about it? What
good does thy grieving do? None can take thee
from me as long as I do not care to lose thee.
"In the meantime," the directions tell us, "some
one in the likeness of Nicholas shall take up the boy
holding in his hand the cup with fresh wine, and
shall place him before his father's city and, as if
io6 St. Nicholas
not seen, shall depart. Then one of the citizens
shall say to the boy" :
Boy, who art thou, and where goest thou? Who
gave thee the cup with the fresh wine?
I am here and am not going farther. I am the
only son of Getro. Glory and praise to Nicholas
whose grace brought me back here.
Then that citizen shall run to Getro and say:
Be glad, Getro. Weep no more. Outside stands
thy son. Praise be to Nicholas whose grace restored
"When Euphrosina hears this message, she shall
run, and after kissing and embracing her son many
times, shall say":
To our God be glory and praise. Whose great
mercy, turning our grief to joy, has released our son.
To our father Nicholas be enduring praise and thanks,
whose prayer to God aided us in this affair.
The play ends with the choral singing of the
Latin hymn to St. Nicholas, beginning with the
words "Copiosce Caritatis."
As already remarked, these Latin plays of St.
St. Nicholas Plays 107
Nicholas are the earliest plays handling subjects
outside the scriptural narrative, also one of
the St. Nicholas stories is the subject of one of the
group of plays by the earliest medieval dramatist
known by name. In another way the name of
St. Nicholas is associated with the beginnings of
the modern drama, in that one of the St. Nicholas
stories provides the theme for one of the earliest
of plays in a vernacular tongue and produced
under secular control. The play in question is
the famous one by Jean Bodel produced at Arras
in the very first years of the thirteenth century.
The time of production was probably the eve of
St. Nicholas' day, and the producing actors were
the members of a secular fraternity of which St.
Nicholas was the patron saint, possibly, Gaston
Paris 6 suggests, the famous minstrel brother-
hood at Arras that had for its palladium the
famous candle, said to have set itself on the viol
of one of the brotherhood while he played before
The story told in this play is one already well
known as a subject for dramatic rendering in
Latin, one of three handled by Hilarius, the story
of the image of St. Nicholas and the robbers.
But in this vernacular play St. Nicholas himself
is overshadowed by the new elements that have
io8 St. Nicholas
been joined to the story. The Jew, or pagan, of
earlier versions of the story, here appears as a
Saracen king at war with the Christians. The
thieves are tavern revelers who steal in order to
pay their tavern score.
In condensed summary, following largely the
summary by Creizenach, 7 the story runs as
After a prolog in which the content of the story
is related, the messenger Auberon appears and
announces to the king that the Christians have
invaded his land. The king is enraged at his
idol Tervagant that this has been possible in spite
of the fact that the image has recently been richly
gilded. Auberon is sent forth to summon the
emirs with their armies. There follows a scene
between the Christians and Saracens, which is
imbued with all the ardor and spirit of the crusad-
ing times. The Christians show divinely inspired
bravery and are visited by an angel which en-
courages them in the fight. They are defeated in
battle, but the angel announces that they have
won a place in Paradise. The Saracens find on
the battlefield only one Christian alive, and he
is kneeling before an image of St. Nicholas. The
man with his image is brought before the Saracen
king, who in ridicule asks what the ugly old chap
St. Nicholas Plays 109
is good for. The Christian announces that the
image is excellent as a protector of treasure. The
king determines to test the image and causes his
herald Connart to proclaim that the treasure will
be left open, guarded only by the image of St.
Nicholas. The Christian prisoner is given over
to the hangman Durand to die if his patron saint
does not live up to his reputation.
The scene shifts to a tavern. The innkeeper
has his man servant announce that he has a fine
wine for the epicure, a wine which he describes in
most eloquent fashion. The rogues assemble,
and in a drawn-out scene manifest their apprecia-
tion of the good wine, but at the end are unable to
pay their score. They determine to steal the
unguarded royal treasure, and the innkeeper
agrees to receive the stolen goods. They enter
the treasure chamber, and with great labor, which
affords much comedy, get away with the heavy
The theft is discovered, and the Christian pris-
oner is ordered to be hanged, but gets a suspended
sentence of one day, and cheered by an angel,
awaits the intervention of the saint.
The thieves, in the meantime, have brought
the treasure to the tavern and continue their
revelry until they fall asleep. Hardly has sleep
no St. Nicholas
overtaken them; when the saint appears and in
gruff language demands the return of the treasure,
with the gallows as the alternative. The thieves,
panic-stricken, carry the treasure back. One of
them proposes that each take a handful of gold
pieces, but they are too much terrified, and in the
end the ringleader must leave his mantle with the
innkeeper in settlement.
The king, delighted at the protection afforded,
takes the Christian into high favor, naturally to
the disappointment of the hangman. He also
decides to abjure his old faith, and his emirs feel
it their feudal duty to follow his example, with the
exception of one, who, however, is compelled to
kneel before the saint's image. In the midst of
all this the image of Tervagant utters a frightful
shriek, but is, by command of the king, cast out
of the "Synagogue" in shame and disgrace while
the Christian starts a Te Deum, in which the actors,
and, perhaps, the spectators, join.
In this play it will be observed that the old
story is made to serve a new purpose. St. Nicholas
is made an exponent of the virtue of Christianity
as opposed to the Saracen faith. The story is
developed with much supporting detail. The
struggle between Christian and Saracen is repre-
sented with true crusading zeal, in the spirit
St. Nicholas Plays in
which pervaded f the contemporary romances of
Charlemagne and his paladins. On the other
hand, balancing with these scenes, noble in tone,
were the low comedy scenes provided by the tavern
revelers, drinking, casting dice, quarreling, and
speaking a slang often unintelligible to the modern
reader, in general affording remarkable genre
pictures of French life in the early thirteenth
In his two-sided development of the dramatic
values in this story, the author established a
method which one might have expected to be fol-
lowed by his contemporaries, a method actually
followed, a little later, in the development of the
native English drama. In reality, however, the
play occupies a solitary position in its own day and
age. To the author must be given the credit of
original creation, of being ahead of his time. But
this credit the author must share with the story of
his play, for has not the name of St. Nicholas
through all the centuries, down to our own time,
been constantly associated, not only with the
idea of noble beneficence, but with a peculiar
quality of good nature and frn?
ST. NICHOLAS AS PATRON SAINT
A NYONE brought up in a Protestant country,
** in the Protestant faith, will not find it easy
to form an adequate conception of the nature of
saint worship. Such a person, however, if he
should visit certain of the less progressive pro-
vinces of Catholic Christendom, would find sur-
viving in much of its pristine vigor, with much of
its original naivete, the saint worship once universal
in the Christian world. In Sicily, for instance,
he would find each city with its patron saint re-
vered and honored very much as in the earlier