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tings, the variety of the amusements, and the stage constantly represents hell and the splendour of the costume were unsur- paradise ; and Europe, Asia, and Africa, passed. On each of the eight days the are cantoned in three towers.
Some meprinces and nobles changed their dresses taphysical beings are most curiously perihree times; while the people were some- sonified. Dame Silence, for instance, times entertained with representations speaks the prologue; Human Succour, of the Glory of the blessed, at other Divine Grace, and Divine Comfort, are the times with the Torments of the damned, supporters of the heroes and beroines of and various other spectacles. In 1402, the piece, while hell exhibits monsters and by an edict of Charles VI. dated Dec. 4, devils, to frighten the audience. They the mystery of the conception, passion, are constantly abusing Proserpine, who and resurrection of Christ, was performed is introduced with all the trappings of at St. Maur, about five miles from Paris. Tartarean pomp into this performance, At the council at Constance, in the year where there are no less than ninety-two 1417, the English fathers played the mys- dramatis personæ, among whom are the tery of the massacre of the Holy Inno- Virgin and God the Father. cents. The mystery of the passion was The story of Le Mystere du Chevalier performed on the entrance of the kings of qui donne su Femme au Diable, played by France and England at Paris, on Decem- ten persons in 1505, is of a dissipated ber 1. 1420, in the street Kalende, before knight reduced by his profligacy to disthe palace, upon a raised scaffolding of tress and wickedness. In his misfortunes one hundred paces in length.
the devil appears, and proposes to make In the Royal Library of Paris, No. him richer than ever, if he will assign his 4350, is Le Mystere de la passion Jesus wife, that the devil may have her in seven Christ ; Paris, printed by Antoine Ver- years. After some discussion the knight ard, 1490, folio. This is a fine copy on consents, his promise is written out, and vellum with every page richly illuminat- he signs it with his blood. The seducer ed, and containing a MS. note in French, then stipulates that his victim shall deny purporting to be an extract from an old his God; the knight stoutly resists for a chronicle, entitled, “Histoire de Metz time, but in the end the devil gains his veritable,” whence it appears that its per- point, and emboldened by success venformance was attended by many foreign tures to propose that the knight shall deny lords and ladies whose names are specified, the Virgin Mary. This, however, being and that there were lanthorns placed in a still greater sin, he refuses to commit it the windows during the whole time of the with the utmost indignity and vehemence, plays: but the most curious part of the and the devil walks off baffled. At the MS. note is, that, “ in the year 1437, on end of seven years, the promise being the 3rd of July was represented the game due, the devil presents it to the knight, or play, de la Passion, N. S. in the plain who, considering it a debt of honour, preof Vexmiel, when the park was arranged pares to discharge it immediately. He in a very noble manner, for there were orders his wife to follow him to a certain nide ranges of seats in height rising by spot, but on their way she perceives a degrees; all around and behind were church, which after obtaining her husgreat and long seats for the lords and band's permission she enters, for the purladies. On the stage was represented the pose of offering her devotion; while thus mouth of hell, it is described as having engaged, the Virgin Mary recollecting the been very well done, for that it opened and knight's unsullied allegiance to her, asshut when the devils required to enter and sumes the semblance of his wife, and in come out, and had two large eyes of steel,” that character joins him. The moment
On the 27th of May, 1509, was per- that they both appear before the devil, he formed at Romans, in Dauphiny, before perceives who he has to deal with, and the Cordelier's church, the Mystery of the upbraids the unconscious knight for atThree Dons. In this religious play, which tempting to deceive him. The knight lasted three days, there are emissaries who protests his ignorance and astonishment, undertake very long journeys, and must which the Virgin corroborates, by telling come back before the play can he ended. the devil that it was her own plan, for the The scene, besmeared with the blood of rescue of two souls from his power, and the three martyrs, the Dons, is sometimes she orders him to give up the knight's at Rome, sometimes at Vienna, soon after promise. He of course obeys so high an at Lyons, and at other times in the Alps. authority, and runs off in great terror,
The Virgiu exhorts the knight to better cious reception; and from day to day, conduct in future, restores his wife to him, every day, so to continue to do, until the and the piece concludes.
perfection of the said Mystery.” It is not In the reign of Francis I., 1541, the necessary to trace these plays abroad; perforiuance of a grand mystery of the they continue to be represented there to acts of the Apostles, was proclaimed with the present hour. At Berlin, 1804 and 5, great solemnity, and acted at Paris for the grand sacred comedy of “ David,” in many successive days, before the nobility, five acts, with battles and choruses, was clergy, and a large assemblage in the performed by the comedians in the NaHotel de Flandres. These plays written tional Theatre. Throughout March, April, in French rhyme, by the brothers Gre- and May, 1810, the same play was reban, were printed in 2 vols. folio, black presented at Vienna ; and while the Conletter, under letters patent of the king to gress was held therein 1815, it was again William Alabat, a merchant of Bourges. performed with the utmost possible splenThe dramatis personæ, were a multitude dour. The back of the stage, extending of celestial, terrestial, and infernal per- into the open air, gradually ascended to sonages, amounting altogether to four a distance sufficient to admit carriages hundred and eighty-five characters. and horses, and to allow the evolutions Though the scenes of these plays were of at least five hundred Austrian soldiers, chiefly scriptural, yet many were from infantry and cavalry, who, habited in the apocryphal story, and the whole exhibi- characters of Jews and Philistines, carried tion was a strange mixture of sacred and muskets and carbines, defiled and deprofane history.
ployed, charged with the bayonet, let off Bayle calls the work entitled the Mys. their fire-arms, and played artillery, to tere des Actes Apostres, “ a very rare and represent the battles described in the uncommon work.” He obtained the loan Book of Kings. The emperor Alexander of a copy from sir Hans Sloane in Eng- of Russia, the king of Prussia, and other land, and largely describes the volume. monarchs, with their ministers, and the It is, however, more curious than rare. representatives of different courts, at the From the public instruments prefixed to Congress, attended these plays, which the work, and the circumstances related were exhibited at the great theatre (An by Bayle, it is evident that there was der Wien) to crowded audiences, at the much importance attached to these plays; usual prices of admission. but it cannot so well be conceived from The first trace of theatrical representaperusing them, as from the remarkable tion in this country is recorded by Matthew ceremonial of the public proclamation for Paris, who wrote about 1240, and relates, their performance, concerning which he that Geoffrey, a learned Norman, master says nothing, probably from the extreme of the school of the abbey of Dunstable, rarity of the tract, he had not seen it. It composed the play of St. Catharine, which ordained, that the proclamation of this was acted by his scholars. Geoffrey's play should be made by sound of trum- performance took place in the year 1110, pets, with the city officers and serjeants and he borrowed copes from the sacrist attending, and directed that the perform- of the neighbouring abbey of St. Albans, ance should take place “ in the hall of to dress his characters. Fitzstephen writthe Passion, the accustomed place for ing in 1174, says that, “ London, for its rehearsals and repetitions of the Myste- theatrical exhibitions, has religious plays, ries played in the said city of Paris; either the representations of miracles which place, being well hung with rich wrought by holy confessors, or the suffertapestry chairs and forms, is for the re- ings of martyrs." Besides those of Coception of all persons of honest and vir- ventry, there are MSS. of the Chester tuous report, and of all qualities therein mysteries, ascribed to Ranulph Higden, assisting, as well as a great number of compiler of the Polychronicon, and a citizens and merchants, and other persons, Benedictine monk of that city, where they as well as clergy and laity, in the pre- were performed at the expense of the in sence of the commissaries and officers of corporated trades, with a thousand days justice appointed and deputed to hear the of pardon from the pope, and forty days speeches of each personage; and these of pardon from the bishop of Chester are to make report, according to the to all who attended the representation. merit of their well doing, as in such case which is supposed to have been first had required, concerning which have a gra- in the year 1328.
It is related in the Museum MS., of conceive that a false glare might obscure ihese Chester plays, that the author, the dawnings of the human mind. The
was thrice at Rome before he could rising day of the Reformation had been obtain leave of the pope to have them in foretold by the appearance of its the English tongue.” The subjects of ing star," in the person of the intrepid these plays being “ from the Old and Wycliffe, who exercised the right of priNew Testament, to supply the vate judgment in England, a century and reasons for the difficulty in obtaining the a half before Luther taught it as a prinpope's consent. Scripture in English ciple in Germany. It was a period of had been scrupulously withheld from the fearful foreboding to the church. In 1404, people, and the pope probably anticipated, Henry IV. held a parliament at Coventry, that if they were made acquainted with a which, from its desire to compel the portion of it, the remainder would be clergy to contribute largely to the exi-, demanded; while the author of the plays, gencies of the state, was called the Laybetter acquainted than the pope with the men's Parliament. The country was in more immediate difficulty of altogether imminent danger; an abundant supply of repressing the curiosity that had been money was immediately necessary; the excited towards it, conceived, perhaps, church property and income were enorthat the growing desire might be delayed, mous; the parliament knew that this by distorted and confusing representations profusion of ecclesiastical wealth could of certain portions. Perhaps such cor- only have been acquired from the industry ruptions and absurdities, as are in these of the laity; and they represented that the plays, seconded by the eloquence of their clergy had been of little service to the author, abated the papal fears concerning king, while the laity had served in his the appearance of these scriptural inter- wars with their persons, and by contriludes in English, and finally obtained the butions for the same purpose had imsanction for their performance.
poverished their estates. The archbishop It may be supposed, that the Chester of Canterbury said, that if the clergy did plays, written in an early and dark age, not fight in person their tenants fought would contain a great mass of apocryphal for them, that their contributions had interpolation, and that the Coventry been proportion to their property, and plays, written much later, would contain that the church had offered prayers and less; yet the contrary is the fact. Among masses day and night for God's blessing the Chester mysteries, the “Descent into on the king and the army. The speaker, Hell” is the only one not founded on scrip- sir John Cheyne, answered, that the prayture, and that even has a colourable au ers of the church were a very slender thority by implication ; while among the supply. To this the archbishop replied, Coventry mysteries, which were produced that it might easily be seen what would ninety years afterwards, there are, be- become of the kingdom when such devout sides the “ Descent," no less than eight addresses were so slighted. The persistfounded on apocryphal Testament story. ence of the archbishop saved the church This remarkable difference of feature, at that time from the impending storm; may probably be accounted for. From but the priests saw that their exactions the fourth century, when Gregory Na- and their worship were only tolerated. zianzen, and the Apollonarii, turned por- Wycliffe had then been dead about twenty tions of the bible into tragedies and years. After a life wonderfully preserved comedies, the clergy of the continent from the unsparing cruelty of ecclesiastical must have done much in the same way, power, by the protection of Edward III., and with much of apocryphal engraft- his memory was affectionately revered, ment; and though “religious plays" and, as printing had not been discovered, prevailed in England, yet scriptural sub- his writings were scarce, and earnestly jects were new to the people, and the sought. The good seed of dissent had Chester mystery-maker of 1328, found germinated, and the appearance of disthese so numerous, as to render recourse senters at intervals, was a specimen of to the New Testament Apocrypha unne the harvest that had not yet come.
Nocessary. But the Coventry mystery- thing more fearfully alarmed the estabmaker of 1416, was under circumstances lishment than Wycliffe's translation of the that would suggest powerful motives to New Testament into English. All arts the cunning of a monkish mind for apo- were used to suppress it, and to enliven cryphal adoption. He was likely to the slumbering attachment of the people
to the “ good old customs ” of the church. “ Creation of the World," and subjects of There is abundant evidence of studious the like kind, for eight successive days, endeavours to both these ends in the Co- to splendid audiences of the nobility and ventry mysteries. The priests indus- gentry from all parts of England. The triously reported, that Wycliffe's Testa- parish-clerks' ancient performances is ment was a false one; that he had dis- memorialized in raised letters of iron, torted the language, and concealed facts. upon a pump on the east side of RagThere was no printing press to multiply street, now called Ray-street, beyond the copies of his book; biblical criticism was Sessions-house, Clerkenwell. scarcely known but by being denounced; The pump of the Skinner's-well is let the ecclesiastics anathematized scriptural into a low dead wall. On its north side inquiry as damnable heresy from their is an earthenware shop ;, and on the confessionals and pulpits; and as “the south a humble tenement occupied by a churches served as theatres for holy bird-seller, whose cages with their chirpfarces,” the Franciscan friars of Coventry, ing tenants, hang over and around the shortly after the meeting of the Laymen's inscription. The passing admirer of Parliament in that city, craftily engrafting linnets and redpoles, now and then stops stories from the pseudo-gospels upon awhile to listen to the melody, and renarratives in the New Testament, com fresh his eye with a few green clover posed and performed the plays called the turfs, that stand on a low table for sale Coventry mysteries. These fraudful pro- by the side of the door; while the monuductions were calculated to postpone the ment, denoting the histrionic fame of the period of illumination, and to stigmatize, place, and alluding to the miraculous dy implication, the labours of Wycliffe. powers of the water for healing incurable Yet, if the simulation succeeded for a diseases, which formerly attracted multi; while with the vulgar, it reinvigorated tudes to the spot, remains unobserved the honest and the persevering; and as beneath its living attractions. The prethe sun breaks forth after a season of cold sent simplicity of the scene powerfully and darkness, so truth, finally emerging contrasts with the recollection of its forfrom the gulph of the papal hierarchy, mer splendour. The choral chant of the animated the torpid intellect, and cheered Benedictine nuns accompanying the peal the “ long abused sight.”
of the deep-toned organ through their But to return. In 1538, Ralph Radcliffe, cloisters, and the frankincense curling its a scholar and a lover of graceful erudition, perfume from priestly censers at the altar, wrote plays in Latin and English, which are succeeded by the stunning sounds of were exhibited by his pupils. Among his numerous quickly plied-hammers, and comedies, were “ Dives and Lazarus," the smith's bellows flashing the fires of the “ Delivering of Susannah," “ Job's suf- Mr. Bond's iron-foundry, erected upon ferings,” the “ Burning of John Huss," the unrecognised site of the convent. &c. The scholars of St. Paul's school This religious house stood about half-way in London, were, till a comparatively late down the declivity of the hill, which period, in great celebrity for their theatri- commencing near the church on Clerkcal talent, which it appears was in full enwell-green, terminates at the river Fleet. exercise upon the mysteries so early as The prospect then, was uninterrupted by the reign of Richard II.; for in that year, houses, and the people upon the rising 1378, they presented a petition to his grounds could have had an uninterrupted majesty, praying him “ to prohibit some view of the performances at the well. unexpert people from presenting the his- About pistol-shot from thence, on the tory of the Old and New Testament, to N.N. E. part of the hill, there was a Bearthe great prejudice of the said clergy, who garden; and scarcely so far from the have been at great expense in order to well, at the bottom of the bill westward, represent it publicly at Christmas.” and a little to the north, in the hollow of
But the more eminent performers of Air-street, lies Hockley-in the Hole, where mysteries in London, were the society of different rude sports, which probably parish clerks. On the 18th, 19th, and arose with the discontinuance of the
pa20th of July, 1390, they played interludes
, rish clerks’acting, were carried on, within at the Skinner's-well, as the usual place the recollection of persons still living, to of their performance, before king Richard the great annoyance of this suburb. II., his queen, and their court; and at the The religious guild, or fraternity of same place, in 1490, they played the Corpus Christi at York, was obliged an
nually to perform a Corpus Christi play. what is more remarkable, it was as much
Friars, before the lord mayor, the privyCorpus Christi day, at Newcastle-upon- council, and many great estates of the Tyne, was celebrated with similar exhibi- realm. In 1577, the same play was peztions by the incorporated trades. The formed at the same place, on the day that earliest mention of the performance of war was proclaimed in London against mysteries there, is in the ordinary of the France; and in that year, the holiday of coopers for 1426. In 1437, the barbers St. Olave, the patron of the church in played the “Baptizing of Christ.” In 1568, Silver-street, dedicated to that saint, the “Offering of Abraham and Isaac" was being celebrated with great solemnity, at exhibited by the slaters. About 1578, eight o'clock at night, a play of the “mirathe Corpus Christi plays were on the de- culous Life of St. Olave,” was performed cline, and never acted but by a special for four hours, and concluded with many command of the magistrates of Newcastle. religious plays. The acting of religious They are spoken of as the general plays plays experienced interruption during the of the town of Newcastle, and when reign of Elizabeth, and occasionally at thought necessary by the mayor to be set other periods. Malone thinks that the forth and played, the millers were to per- last mystery represented in England, was form the “Deliverance of Israel;" the house that of “ Christ's Passion," in the reign of carpenters, the “Burial of Christ;" the ma. king James I. Prynne relates that it was sons, the “ Burial of our lady Saint Mary performed at Ely-house, in Holborn, the Virgin.” Between the first and last when Gondomar, the Spanish ambassador, mentioned periods, there are many mic lay there, on Good Friday, at night, and nutes in the trades' books of the acting in that thousands were present.
Concerning the Coventry mysteries, In the reign of Henry VII., 1487, that Dugdale relates, in his “ History of Warking, in his castle of Winchester, was en- wickshire," published in 1656, that, “Betertained on a Sunday, while at dinner, fore the suppression of the monasteries, with the performance of Christ's “Descent this city was very famous for the pageants into Hell,” by the choir boys of Hyde that were played therein, upon Corpus abbey and St. Swithin's priory, two large Christi day (one of their ancient faires) monasteries there; and in the same reign, which occasioning very great confluence 1489, there were shows and ceremonies, of people thither from far and near, was and (religious) plays, exhibited in the of no small benefit thereto : which papalace at Westminster.
geants being acted with mighty state On the feast of St. Margaret, in 1511, and reverence by the Grey Friars, had the miracle play of the “Holy Martyr St. theatres for the several scenes, very George," was acted on a stage in an open large and high, placed upon wheels, field at Bassingborne, in Cambridgeshire, and drawn to all the eminent parts at which were a minstrel and three waits of the city, for the better advantage hired from Cambridge, with a property- of spectators, and contained the story of man and a painter.
the Old and New Testament, composed in It appears from the Earl of Northum- the Old Englishe rithme, as appeareth by berland's Household-book, (1512,) that an ancient MS. (in Bibl. Cotion. Vesp. the children of his chapel performed D. VIII.) intituled, Ludus Corporis mysteries during the twelve days of Christi, or Ludus Coventriæ. I have Christmas, and at Easter, under the di- been told,' says Dugdale, ‘by some old rection of his master of the revels. Bishop people, who in their younger years were Percy cites several particulars of the regu- eye-witnesses of these pageants so acted, lated sums payable to “parsones” and that the yearly confluence of people to others for these performances. The exhi see that shew was extraordinary great, biting scripture dramas on the great fes- and yielded no small advantage to this tivals entered into the regular establish- city. The celebrity of the performances ment, and formed part of the domestic may be inferred from the rank of the regulations of our ancient nobility; and audiences; for, at the festival of Corpus