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to bed, though merely in order, it seems, to make room for other actors. The devils, headed by Satan, perform a mock pagan mass to Mahound. The three kings of the World, the Flesh, and the Devil figure in the play, but not prominently. A priest winds up the performance, requesting the spectators not to charge the faults on the poet, but on his want of skill or cunning.
Here, again, we see the gradual introduction of allegorical characters, in the shape of virtues and mental qualities per sonified, as Lechery, Luxury, and Curiosity. This is carried still further in another play, of a later date, called The Life and Repentance of Mary Magdalen; where we have divers impersonations of abstract ideas, such as Law, Faith, Repentance, Pride, Cupidity, Carnal-concupiscence, and Infidelity; the latter very clearly foreshadowing the Vice or Iniquity, who figured so largely in Moral-plays. Infidelity acts as the heroine's paramour, and assumes many disguises, to seduce her into all sorts of vice, wherein he is aided by Pride, Cupidity, and Carnal-concupiscence. After she has reached the climax of sin, he advises her “not to make two hells instead of one, but to live merrily in this world, since she is sure of perdition in the next; and his advice succeeds for a while. On the other hand, Law, Faith, Repentance, Justification, and Love strive to recover her, and the latter half of the piece is taken up with this work of benevolence. At last, Christ expels the seven devils, who "roar terribly ;" whereupon Infidelity and his associates give her up. The piece closes with a dialogue between Mary, Justification, and Love, the latter two rejoicing in the salvation of a sinner.
This play was printed in 1567, and is described in the titlepage as "not only godly, learned, and fruitful, but also well furnished with pleasant mirth and pastime, very delectable for those which shall hear or read the same: made by the learned clerk, Lewis Wager.” It bears clear internal evidence of having been written after the Reformation ; and
the prologue shows that it was acted by itinerant players, and had been performed “at the university.”
Four Miracle-plays have come down to us, which were written by Bishop Bale, and printed somewhere on the Continent in 1538. The most notable point concerning them is, their being the first known attempt to use the stage in furtherance of the Reformation. One of them is entitled Christ's Temptation. It opens with Christ in the widerness, faint through hunger; and His first speech is meant to refute the Romish doctrine touching the efficacy of fasting. Satan joins Him in the disguise of a hermit, and the whole temptation proceeds according to Scripture. In one of his arguments, Satan vents his spite against “false priests and bishops," but plumes himself that “the Vicar of Rome” will worship and befriend him. In the epilogue, the author in his own person maintains the fitness of letting the people have the Bible to read, and belabours the Romanists for wishing to keep them in ignorance.
Another of Bale's Miracle-plays is called The Three Laws of Nature, Moses, and Christ. In his Expostulation or Complaint, he refers to this play, and says, "Therein it is largely declared, how that faithless Antichrist of Rome, with his clergy, hath been a blemish, darkener, confounder, and poisoner of all wholesome laws.” Bale also wrote several plays of another kind, of one of which some account is given in our Introduction to King John.
The Miracle-play of King Darius, printed in 1565, is founded on the Third Book of Esdras, which is excluded even from the Apocrypha of our Bible. It is scarce worth notice, except that Iniquity with his wooden dagger has a seading part in the action. He, together with Importunity and Partiality, has divers contests with Equity, Charity, and Constancy: for a while he has the better of them, but at last they catch him alone ; each in turn threatens him with sore visitings; then follows the direction, — “Here some body must cast fire to Iniquity;" who probably had some fireworks about his person, to explode for thc amusement of the audience as he went out.
The play of Abraham's Sacrifice, printed in 1575, is a translation by Golding; the original having been written by the celebrated Beza, and performed at Lausanne about 1550. It ojiens with a dialogue between Abraham and Sarah, who unite in singing a hymn. Satan then enters “in the habit of a monk," and makes a long speech to himself, exulting in the wicked pranks he has played in that disguise. He then slips aside ; a band of shepherds strike up a song, during which Abraham receives the Divine command, and he and Isaac take leave of Sarah. The fiend still trusts that Abraham's resolution will break down, and watches narrowly during the sacrifice, speaking aside. At first Abi aham's resolution falters, he drops the knife, then resolves again, and is about to strike, when the angel enters to stay his hand, and tells him to sheathe his knife. In this part, the play is much inferior to the corresponding plays of the Towneley, Chester, and Coventry sets ; which have some jets of tender pathos, such as to make the lip quiver, and put jewels in the eye.
Hitherto, we have met with scarce any thing that can be regarded as portraiture of individual character, though some what of that sort may be alleged in the case of Mak in No. 12th of the Towneley series. The truth is, character and action, in the proper sense of the terms, were hardly thought of in the making of Miracle-plays; the work aiming at nothing higher than a literal or mechanical reflection of facts und events; sometimes relieved indeed with certain generalities of popular humour and satire, but without any contexture of individual traits. We now come to a piece which deserves remark, as indicating how, under the pressure of general dramatic improvement, Miracle-plays tried to rise above their proper sphere, and still retain their proper form. It is entitled “A new, merry, and witty Comedy or Inter hude, treating upon the History of Jacob and Esau ;" was
printed in 1568, but probably written as early as 1557. It is of very regular construction, having five Acts, which are July subdivided into scenes. Besides the Scripture characters, are Ragau, Esau's servant; Mido, a boy who leads blind Isaac; Hanon and Zethar, two of his neighbours ; Abra, a girl who assists Rebecca; and Debora, an old nurse. It is opened by Ragau, who enters “ with his horn at his back and his hunting-staff in his hand, leading three greyhounds, or one, as may be gotten." His master, Esau, then comes, and they set forth together on a hunt ; Rebecca urges Jacob to secure his brother's birthright; Esau returns with a raging appetite, and Jacob demands his birthright as the condition of relieving him with a mess of rice pottage; he consents, and Ragau laughs at his simplicity, while Jacob, Rebecca, and Abra sing a psalm of thanksgiving. These things occupy the first two Acts : in the third Esau and his servant take another hunt. The blessing of Jacob occurs in the fourth Act; Rebecca tasking her cookery to the utmost, in dressing a kid, and succeeding in her scheme. In the last, Esau comes back, and learns from his father what has been done in his absence. The plot and incidents are managed with due propriety and decorum ; the characters are discriminated with considerable art ; the versification is remarkably good for the time; the comic portions show some neatness and delicacy of wit and humour ; and, all together, the play is far superior to any preceding attempt in the same line.
In the interlude, as it is called, of Godly Queen Esther, printed in 1561, we have a Miracle-play going still further out of itself. One of the characters is named Hardy-dardy, who, with some qualities of the Vice, foreshadows the Jester or professional Fool of the later Drama; wearing motley, and pretending weakness or disorder of intellect, to the end that his wit may run the more at large, and strike with the more effect. Hardy-dardy offers himself as a servant to Haman: after Haman has urged him with divers remarks in dispraise of fools, he sagely replies, that "some wise man must be fain sometime to do on a fool's coat.” Nor is he so ignorant but that he can quote Ovid and Valerius Maximus, Besides the Scripture characters, the play has several allegorical personages, as Pride, Ambition, and Adulation : these three are represented as making their wills, bequeathing all their bad qualities to Haman, and thereby ruining him. Three courtiers having discussed the merits of wealth, power, virtue, wisdom, and noble blood, King Ahasuerus has all the maiden beauties of his kingdom brought before him ; which done, he makes choice of Esther for his wife. After her elevation, Queen Esther has a chapel royal, well supplied with music and singers for her delight, thus imitating her royal sister, Elizabeth. One of the persons mentioning the likelihood of a war with Scotland and France, Hardy-dardy thereupon informs us that he gets his wine from the latter country. And there are divers other allusions to things and persons of England, though the scene lies in Assyria.
The purpose and idea of Miracle-plays was, to inculcate, in a popular way, what may be termed the theological verities : at first, they took their substance and form solely with a view to this end; the securing of an orthodox faith being then, from the recent prevalence of heathenism, naturally looked upon as the one all-important concern. In course of time, the thirst for novelty and variety drew them beyond their original sphere, of revealed religion, into that of natural ethics. By degrees, allegorical impersonations came, as we