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Easter they should play 'the Resurrection of our Lorde;' and for because than the men wer not learned, nor could not read, the priest took his leman, and put her in the grave for an Aungell; and this seeing Howleglas, toke to hym three of the symplest persons that were in the town, that played the ïïj Maries and the person (i. e. Parson or Rector) played Christe, with a baner in his hand. Than said Howleglas to the symple persons, Whan the Aungel asketh you, whome you seke, you may saye, 'the parson's leman withe one iye.' Than it fortuned that the tyme was come that they must playe, and the Aungel asked them whom they sought, and than say'd they, We seke the priest's leman with one iye.' And than the priest might heare that he was mocked. And whan the prieste's leman heard that, she arose out of the grave and would have smyten with her fist Howleglas upon the Cheke,—but she missed him, and smote one of the symple persons that played one of the thre Maries; and he gave her another, and than toke she him by the heare (hair); and that seeing his wyfe, came running hastely to smite the prieste's leman, and than the priest seeing this, caste down his baner, and went to helf his woman, so that one gave the other sore strokes, and made great noise in the Churche. And then Howleglas seying them lyinge together by the eares in the bodi of the Churche went his way out of the village and came no more there."
Considered as literary performances, these plays were beneath Criticism, being very rarely moulded upon the Greek model, but upon the capricious and false taste of every ignorant Monk who might choose to try his hand at this sort of Composition. Besides these, which (as already mentioned) were denominated “Mysteries,” other dramatic pieces were brought forward by the same parties, styled “Moralities,” or moral plays, wherein allegorical personages were introduced, such as Death, Sin, Good-deeds, Discretion, &c., requiring more skill and invention. Several instances are on record of the performance of both sorts in our own country during the 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th centuries; and of these perhaps the most remarkable are the “ Chester Mysteries," composed by Randle Higgenett or Higden (not the compiler of the Polychronicon), a monk of the Abbey there, who lived in the 13th century. * They were first enacted at that City in the year 1328, according to one account, and according to another in 1339, at the expense of the different Guilds or trading Companies. The “fall of Lucifer" was got up by the Tanners—"the Creation" by the Drapers—"the Deluge" by the Dyers, &c.; and from the New Testament, “Christ's passion” by the Bowyers, Fletchers and Ironmongers—the “Descent into Hell ” by the Cooks and Innkeepers—the "Resurrection” by the Skinners-and
• Harleian MSS. in the British Museum, Nos. 1948, 2013, 2057, 2124; and Ormerod's Cheshire, vol. i. p. 298.
and however of een ante date, pri tinglish werablishing the recently bro
the "Ascensión” by the Taylors. They took place during Whitsun-week, and were continued until the year 1574, Clement, one of the Popes, having granted a pardon of 1,000 days to all persons resorting peaceably to them, to which 40 days were added by the Bishop of the diocese. Sentence of damnation was likewise pronounced against all who interrupted these performances. It is true that our illustrious countryman Roscoe asserts * that these Interludes, which have been preserved among the Harleian manuscripts, have been antedated by nearly two centuries. In support however of this assertion no authority is adduced by him, and the evidence more recently brought forward by Mr. Ormerodt, in establishing the date above mentioned, proves that the English were not in this respect behind Italy or any other country of Europe.
It has been already mentioned that these performances were replete with improprieties, to which was added the frequent use of ridiculous and overstrained types drawn from the Old Testament, and exhibited by action and scenery, in order to illustrate to an unlearned audience the life and actions of our Saviour and his disciples. Most Christian Sects have in all ages laid great stress upon the doctrine of Scripture types, and have not limited themselves to such persons or things recorded in the Old Testament as were expressly declared by Christ or his Apostles to have been designed as prefigurations of persons or things relating to the New Testament. Many writers have thus given the most unbounded license to the exuberance of their fancy, and strangely twisted the meaning of passages in the Old Testament, to adapt them to their own peculiar views or Dogmas. Thus Cardinal Bellarmine, the great Controversial antagonist of the Protestants, asserts that the Mass is typified in Melchizidec bringing forth bread and wine-he being a priest of the most high God. The Cardinal likewise declares, that the secession of the Protestants, under Luther, was typified by the secession of the ten tribes of Israel under Jeroboam; while the Lutherans with equal reason asserted that Jeroboam was a type of the Pope, and that the secession of Israel from Judah foreshadowed not the secession of the Protestants under Luther-but that of the Church of Rome from Primitive Christianity.
Though not possessed of the learning and acuteness of these Controversialists, the parties who enacted the Holy Plays contrived to interweave the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament in such a manner as to amuse if not to edify their audience.
• Life of Lorenzo de' Medici, vol. i. p. 299. 4to.
Notwithstanding they appear to have considered the whole of the Old Testament as a prefiguration of the Christian dispensation, they were not contented without occasionally enlisting additional recruits from the Apocryphal writers and even from profane authors—all of whom might easily pass muster during so unenlightened a period. A very good illustration of this is presented in the “ Speculum humanæ salvationis," the most remarkable among that class of Works denominated Books of Images or Block books, which preceded the invention of printing, and supposed to have been executed about the year 1440. This book is composed upon the plan of presenting, in consecutive portions of each chapter-first the Antitype, being some event in the history of Christ, and then three types from the Old Testament, &c. -a wood engraving of each being given, followed by an explanation in Leonine or rhyming Latin verses, cut likewise in the wood. Two examples taken promiscuously shall be given. The Nativity of our Saviour is shadowed forth by the three following types : 1st, the dream of Pharoah's butler; 2nd, the rod of Aaron, which budded ; 3rd, the Sybil pointing out to Augustus Cæsar in Rome, at the moment of our Saviour's birth, a bright Circle in the Sky, wherein was seated the blessed Virgin with the Infant in her lap; this last being given on the authority of Peter the Lombard. The other example presents us with Christ suspended on the Cross, typified, 1st, by Nebuchadnezar's Dream; 2nd, by King Codrus devoting himself to death for the deliver. ances of his countrymen the Athenians; and 3rd, by Eleazar meeting with his own death by reason of the Elephant, which he had stabbed, falling upon him. In this case the second type is of course borrowed from the Greek historians, and the last from the Apocryphal book of Maccabees.
On the revival of letters at the beginning of the 16th century, the performance of Holy Plays began to be superseded in Italy by Dramatic productions formed upon the old Grecian model, which called into action not merely the patronage, but even the pen of Lorenzo the magnificent.* These were followed by more elaborate compositions, the Virginia of Accolti, the Sophonisba of Trissino,t the Rosmunda of Rucellai, the Torismondo of Tasso, and the sacrificed Abraham of Beza ; and our own Island was able to boast of still more classical productions, the Jeptha and John Baptist of Buchanan in Latin, and the Sampson Agonistes of Milton in English. But the genius and taste of the ultramon. tane nations became subjected to new impulses. The play wri
• Roscoe's Lorenzo de' Medici, vol. i. p. 300, 4th edit.
+ In the Sophonisba of Trissino was introduced for the first time the blank verse or Versi sciolti of the Italian language.
ters of Spain and France disdained the trammels which had been imposed by the severe laws of the Athenian drama; and their example was followed in our own country by one who for the absence of the Unities has repaid us fifty-fold by the coruscations of his sublime imagination, and by his accurate transcripts of human sympathies and passions. Among the few pieces which have been constructed in more modern times after the Greek, it must be acknowledged that the “Elfrida" and the “ Caractacus" of Mason are truly classical. In some of the Roman Catholic countries attempts have occasionally been made to revive the Mysteries and Moralities, but by the Protestant nations of Europe they have long been altogether discarded. In our own country the famous John Bale appears to have been the last writer of these Holy Plays. Before his conversion from Popery he composed many Scriptural Interludes, chiefly from incidents of the New Testament, such as “ The resurrection of Lazarus," “ St. John the Baptist,” “Simon the leper,” &c. &c. After he had received from Edward the Sixth the protestant Bishoprick of Ossory, he is said to have caused two or three of them to be performed at the market Cross of Kilkenny on a Sunday, and he employed his dramatic talents (such as they were,) in the promotion of the new doctrine. A play of his called “Kynge Johan" has been lately printed by the “Cambden Society," in which the avowed object was to confirm the Reformation and to put down Popery with its “Latyne horors and popetly playes.” A similar object had been aimed at, by the writer of a piece entitled “New Custome,” given in the 1st volume of Dodsley's collection of Old Plays. In several of these old English pieces a Chorus formed a regular part of the Drama, and sometimes each act was introduced by what was called “a Domme Shew," designed to prefigure or epitomise the moral to be deduced from what was to follow.
In a remote part of Europe however (Upper Bavaria) a most interesting sacred Drama has been exhibited at intervals during the last two hundred years, which, though constructed for the most part after the Grecian model, is likewise accompanied with many of the more pleasing features of the Holy Plays. The decennial period of its representation having again come round, some friends of the writer proceeded on Sunday the 26th of July last from Partenkirk to Oberammergau, about half way between Munich and Inspruck, for the purpose of witnessing it. In their toilsome ascent through this mountainous and romantic district they were accompanied by some few of the better classes, and by very many of the fine Tyrolese and Bavarian peasantry, decked in their gayest attire, and intent upon the like errand. Hundreds were known to have come from an immense distance from all parts of Switzerland and from the confines of Italy. Many of the young men from the Tyrol wore upon their pointed hats the rare and beautiful feathers given as prizes at the rifle-contests for which this people is so celebrated. Of these peasants about six thousand, as it afterwards appeared, were collected from the surrounding country. The origin of the exhibition is as follows : in the year 1633 there raged in this part of Bavaria a disorder so fatal and so contagious, that notwithstanding the inhabitants used every precaution, few remained alive. At this season of dismay the little commune of Ammerthal implored help from the Almighty; and made a solemn vow to represent publicly every tenth year the Passion of Jesus the Saviour of the World, as an edifying spectacle and a testimonial of gratitude and adoration.* A total cessation of the disorder was the reward of this vow, which was religiously observed by the performance of the piece in the following year (1634), and statedly from that period to the present. In each of these years the whole is repeated ten times during the summer months, the performance commencing (at least on this last occasion) at nine o'clock, and lasting until five or six in the evening, with the interval of one hour for dinner. The language of the piece was German, interlarded however with provincialisms. The admission was by ticket, and the proceeds are applied to the repair or rebuilding of such cottages as may have been injured by avalanches. The Title of the piece is as follows: “The great Offering of Reconciliation at Golgotha, or the History of the passion and death of Jesus, according to the four Evangelists, with types or figures from the Old Testament, to be performed for admiration and edification," 8c. &c. Music by Dedler." · In resemblance of the primitive theatres of Greece, the place of representation was an enclosure surrounded with rough railing, but open to the sky, with the exception of one small shed for invalids; and the interest of the whole spectacle was greatly enhanced by the romantic grandeur of the surrounding Alps, towering on all sides, but especially towards the South, over the valley. The stage occupied a large space, and was disposed in a great measure after the Greek fashion. The number of performers must have exceeded in the whole, three hundred. They were divided into three classes : 1st, Those who carried on the ordinary dialogue of the tragedy; 2nd, the chorus; and 3rd, the persons who represented in dumb show, or what may be