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A minute investigation, therefore, of the origin and progress of the drama in England, will fcarcely repay the labour of the inquiry. However, as the beft introduction to an account of the internal economy and ufages of the English theatres in the time of Shakspeare, (the principal object of this differtation,) I shall take a curfory view of our most ancient dramatick exhibitions, though I fear I can add but little to the researches which have already been made on that fubject.
Mr. Warton in his elegant and ingenious Hiftory of English Poetry has given fo accurate an account of
moralities, interludes, and tranflated pieces,) now extant, written antecedent to, or in, the year 1592. Their titles are as follows:
our earliest dramatick performances, that I fhall make no apology for extracting from various parts of his valuabe work, fuch particulars as fuit my prefent purpose.
The earlieft dramatick entertainments exhibited in England, as well as every other part of Europe, were of a religious kind. So early as in the beginning of the twelfth century, it was cuftomary in England on holy festivals to reprefent, in or near the churches, either the lives and miracles of faints, or the most important ftories of Scripture. From the fubject of thefe fpectacles, which, as has been obferved, were either the miracles of faints, or the more mysterious parts of holy writ, fuch as the incarna
Between the years 1592 and 1600. the following plays. were printed or exhibited; the greater part of which, probably, were written before our author commenced playwright.
Woman in the Moon
The virtuous Octavia
Blind Beggar of Alex- 1593 andria
Every Man in his Humour,
Two angry Women of
The Trial of Chevalry
tion, paffion, and refurrection of Chrift, these fcriptural plays were denominated Miracles, or Myfteries. At what period of time they were first exhibited in this country, I am unable to ascertain. Undoubtedly, however, they are of very great antiquity; and Riccoboni, who has contended that the Italian theatre is the moft ancient in Europe, has claimed for his country an honour to which it is not entitled. The era of the earliest reprefentation in Italy, founded on holy writ, he has placed in the year 1264. when the fraternity del Gonfalone was established; but we had fimilar、 exhibitions in England above 150 before that time. In the year 1110. as Dr. Percy and Mr. Warton have obferved, the Miracle-play of Saint Catharine, written by Geoffrey, a learned Nor-man, (afterwards Abbot of St. Alban's,) was acted, probably by his scholars, in the abbey of Dunftable; perhaps the firft fpectacle of this kind exhibited in England. William Fitz-Stephen, a monk of Canterbury, who according to the best accounts compofed his very curious work in 1174. about four years after the murder of his patron Archbishop Becket, and in the twenty-firft year of the reign of King Henry the Second, mentions, that "London, for its theatrical exhibitions, has
The French theatre cannot be traced higher than the year 1398. when the Myftery of the Paffion was represented at St. Maur.
Apud Duneftapliam quendam ludum de fancta Katerina (quem MIRACULA vulgariter appellamus) fecit. Ad qua decoranda, petiit a facrifta fancti Albani, ut fibi capæ chorales accommodarentur, & obtinuit." Vitæ Abbat. ad calc, Hift. Mat. Paris, folio, 1639. p. 56.
religious plays, either the reprefentations of miracles wrought by holy confeffors, or the sufferings of martyrs.
"Lundonia pro fpectaculis theatralibus, pro ludis fcenicis, ludos habet fanctiores, repræfentationes miraculorum quæ fancti confeffores operati funt, feu reprefentationes paffionum, quibus claruit conftantia martyrum." Defcriptio nobiliffima civitatis Lundonie. Fitz-Stephen's very curious defcription of London is a portion of a larger work, entitled Vita fancti Thoma, Archiepifcopi & Martyris, i. c. Thomas a Becket. It is afcertained to have been written after the murder of Becket in the year 1170. of which Fitz-Stephen was an ocular witnefs, and while King Henry II. was yet living. A modern writer with great probability supposes it to have been compofed in 1174. the author in one paffage mentioning that the church of St. Paul's was formerly metropolitical, and that it was thought it would become fo again,
fhould the citizens return into the island." In 1174 King Henry II. and his fons had carried over with them a confiderable number of citizens to France, and many English had in that year alfo gone to Ireland. See Differtation prefixed to Fitz-Stephen's Defcription of London, newly tranflated, &c. 4to. 1772. p. 16. Near the end of his Defcription is a paffage which afcertains it to have been written before the year 1182. Lundonia & modernis temporibus reges illuftres magnificofque peperit; imperatricem Matildam, Henricum regem tertium, & beatum Thomam" [Thomas Becket]. Some have fuppofed that inftead of tertium we ought to read fecundum, but the text is undoubtedly right; and by tertium, Fitz-Stephen muft have meant Henry, the fecond fon of Henry the Second, who was born in London in 1156-7. and being heir-apparent, after the death of his elder brother William, was crowned king of England in his father's lifetime, on the 15th of July, 1170. He was frequently ftyled rex filius, rex juvenis, and fometimes he and his father were denominated Reges Anglia. The young king, who occafionally exercifed all the rights and prerogatives of royalty, died in 1182. Had he not been living when Fitz-Stephen wrote, he would probably have added nuper defun&tum. Neither Henry II. nor Henry III. were born in London. See the Differtation abovecited, p. 12.
Mr. Warton has remarked, that" in the time of Chaucer, Plays of Miracles appear to have been the common refort of idle goffips in Lent:
Therefore made I my vifitations
To vigilies and to proceffions;
To prechings eke, and to thife pilgrimages,
"And in Pierce Plowman's Creed, a piece perhaps prior to Chaucer, a friar Minorite mentions these Miracles as not lefs frequented than markettowns and fairs:
We haunten no taverns, ne hobelen about,
The elegant writer, whofe words I have juft quoted, has given the following ingenious account of the origin of this rude fpecies of dramatick entertainment:
"About the eighth century trade was principally carried on by means of fairs, which lafted feveral days. Charlemagne eftablifhed many great marts of this fort in France, as did William the Conqueror, and his Norman fucceffors in England. The merchants who frequented these fairs in numerous caravans or companies, employed every art to draw the people together. They were therefore accompanied by jugglers, minftrels, and buffoons; who were no less interested in giving their attendance, and exerting all their skill on thefe occafions. As now but few large towns exifted, no publick fpectacles or popular amufements were established;
5. The Wif of Bathes Prologue, v. 6137. Tyrwhitt's edit,