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Mr. Warton has remarked, that " in the time of Chaucer, Plays of Miracles appear to have been the common resort of idle gossips in Lent:
'Therefore made I my visitations
To prechings eke, and to thise pilgrimages,
ludos habet sanctiores, repræsentationes miraculorum quæ sancti confessores operati sunt, seu representationes passionum, quibus claruit constantia martyrum." Descriptio nobilissimæ civitatis Lundoniæ. Fitz-Stephen's very curious description of London is a portion of a larger work, entitled Vita sancti Thomæ, Archiepiscopi et Martyris, i. e. Thomas a Becket. It is ascertained to have been written after the murder of Becket in the year 1170, of which Fitz-Stephen was an ocular witness, and while King Henry II. was yet living. A modern writer with great probability supposes it to have been composed in 1174, the author in one passage mentioning that the church of St. Paul's was formerly metropolitical, and that it was thought it would become so again, "should the citizens return into the island." In 1174 King Henry II. and his sons had carried over with them a considerable number of citizens to France, and many English had in that year also gone to Ireland. See Dissertation prefixed to Fitz-Stephen's Description of London, newly translated, &c. 4to. 1772, p. 16.-Near the end of his Description is a passage which ascertains it to have been written before the year 1182: "Lundonia et modernis temporibus reges illustres magnificosque peperit; imperatricem Matildam, Henricum regem tertium, et beatum Thomam" [Thomas Becket]. Some have supposed, that instead of tertium we ought to read secundum, but the text is undoubtedly right; and by tertium, Fitz-Stephen must have meant Henry, the second son 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 life-time, on the 15th of July, 1170. He was frequently styled rex filius, rex juvenis, and sometimes he and his father were denominated Reges Anglia. The young king, who occasionally exercised 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 defunctum. Neither Henry II. nor Henry III. were born in London. See the Dissertation above cited, p. 12.
The Wif of Bathies Prologue, v. 6137. Tyrwhitt's edit.
"And in Pierce Plowman's Creed, a piece perhaps prior to Chaucer, a friar Minorite mentions these Miracles as not less frequented than markettowns and fairs:
'We haunten no taverns, ne hobelen about,
At markets and Miracles we meddle us never."
The elegant writer, whose words I have just quoted, has given the following ingenious account of the origin of this rude species of dramatick entertainment:
"About the eighth century trade was principally carried on by means of fairs, which lasted several days. Charlemagne established many great marts of this sort in France, as did William the Conqueror, and his Norman successors 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, minstrels, and buffoons; who were no less interested in giving their attendance, and exerting all their skill on these occasions. As now but few large towns existed, no publick spectacles or popular amusements were established; and as the sedentary pleasures of domestick life and private society were yet unknown, the fair-time was the season for diversion. In proportion as these shews were attended and encouraged, they began to be set off with new decorations and improvements: and the arts of buffoonery being rendered still more attractive, by extending their circle of exhibition, acquired an importance in the eyes of the people. By degrees the clergy observing that the entertainments of dancing, musick, and mimickry, exhibited at these protracted annual celebrities, made the people less religious, by pro
moting idleness and a love of festivity, proscribed these sports, and excommunicated the performers. But finding that no regard was paid to their censures, they changed their plan, and determined to take these recreations into their own hands. They. turned actors; and instead of profane mummeries, presented stories taken from legends or the Bible. This was the origin of sacred comedy. The death of Saint Catharine, acted by the monks of Saint Dennis, rivalled the popularity of the professed players. Musick was admitted into the churches, which served as theatres for the representation of holy farces. The festivals among the French, called La fete de Foux, de l'Ane, and des Innocens, at length became greater favourites, as they certainly were more capricious and absurd, than the interludes of the buffoons at the fairs. These are the ideas of a judicious French writer now living, who has investigated the history of human manners with great comprehension and sagacity."
"Voltaire's theory on this subject is also very ingenious, and quite new. Religious plays, he supposes, came originally from Constantinople;" where the old Grecian stage continued to flourish in some degree, and the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides were represented, till the fourth century. About that period, Gregory Nazianzen, an Arch
"At Constantinople," as Mr. Warton has elsewhere observed, "it seems that the stage flourished much, under Justinian and Theodora, about the year 540: for in the Basilical codes we have the oath of an actress, μη αναχωρειν της πορνείας. Tom. VII. p. 682. edit. Fabrot, Græco-Lat. The ancient Greek fathers, particularly Saint Chrysostom, are full of declamation against the drama; and complain, that the people heard a comedian with much more pleasure than a preacher of the gospel." Warton's History of English Poetry, Vol. I. p. 244, n.
bishop, a poet, and one of the fathers of the church, banished Pagan plays from the stage at Constantinople, and introduced stories from the Old and New Testament. As the ancient Greek tragedy was a religious spectacle, a transition was made on the same plan; and the chorusses were turned into Christian hymns. Gregory wrote many sacred dramas for this purpose, which have not survived those inimitable compositions over which they triumphed for a time: one, however, his tragedy called Xpolos wasxwv, or Christ's Passion, is still extant. In the prologue it is said to be an imitation of Euripides, and that this is the first time the Virgin Mary had been introduced on the stage. The fashion of acting spiritual dramas, in which at first a due degree of method and decorum was preserved, was at length adopted from Constantinople by the Italians; who framed, in the depth of the dark ages, on this foundation, that barbarous species of theatrical representation called MYSTERIES, or sacred comedies, and which were soon after received in France. This opinion will acquire probability, if we consider the early commercial intercourse between Italy and Constantinople and although the Italians, at the time when they may be supposed to have imported plays of this nature, did not understand the Greek language, yet they could understand, and consequently could imitate, what they saw."
"In defence of Voltaire's hypothesis, it may be further observed, that The feast of Fools, and of the Ass, with other religious farces of that sort, so common in Europe, originated at Constantinople. They were instituted, although perhaps under other names, in the Greek Church, about the year 990, by Theophylact, patriarch of Contantinople, pro
bably with a better design than is imagined by the ecclesiastical annalists; that of weaning the minds of the people from the pagan ceremonies, by the substitution of christian spectacles partaking of the same spirit of licentiousness.-To those who are accustomed to contemplate the great picture of human follies, which the unpolished ages of Europe hold up to our view, it will not appear surprising, that the people who were forbidden to read the events of the sacred history in the Bible, in which they were faithfully and beautifully related, should at the same time be permitted to see them represented on the stage, disgraced with the grossest improprieties, corrupted with inventions and additions of the most ridiculous kind, sullied with impurities, and expressed in the language of the lowest farce."
"On the whole, the Mysteries appear to have originated among the ecclesiasticks; and were most probably first acted with any degree of form by the monks. This was certainly the case in the English monasteries. I have already mentioned the play of Saint Catharine, performed at Dunstable Abbey, by the novices in the eleventh century, under the superintendance of Geoffrey a Parisian ecclesiastick: and the exhibition of the Passion by the mendicant friers of Coventry and other places. Instances have
"In some regulations given by Cardinal Wolsey to the monasteries of the Canons regular of St. Austin, in the year 1519, the brothers are forbidden to be lusores aut mimici, players or mimicks. But the prohibition means that the monks should not go abroad to exercise these arts in a secular and mercenary capacity. See Annal. Burtonenses, p. 437.”
In 1589, however, an injunction made in the MEXICAN COUNCIL was ratified at Rome, to prohibit all clerks from playing in the Mysteries, even on Corpus Christi day. See History of English Poetry, Vol. II. p. 201.