Imágenes de páginas

generally cultivated, the most ready method of literary communication was through theatrical representation. It was for that reason that play-writing was the best means of literary remuneration, if we except the profit derived from the practice which, to some extent, survives, though its disgraceful motive has ceased, of dedicating books to rich men for the sake of the fee they would give. It is said that books have actually been printed in consideration of the profits of the dedication. Especially in the composition of plays was it judged expedient to minister to the depraved public taste by indecent expressions, or allusions broad and sly. The playwright was at the mercy of an audience who were critical on that point, and in a position, if he should not come up to the required standard, to damn him and his work in an instant. From these remarks must be excepted the writings of Milton, which are nowhere stained by such a blemish. And yet posterity will perhaps with truth assert that Milton's "Para“Paradise Lost” has wrought more intellectual dise Lost.” evil than even its base contenu poraries, since it has familiarized educated minds with images which, though in one sense sublime, in another are most unworthy, and has taught the public a dreadful materialization of the great and invisible God. A Manichean composition in reality, it was mistaken for a Christian poem.

The progress of English literature not only offers striking proofs of the manner in which it was The English affected by theatrical representations, but also theatre. furnishes an interesting illustration of that necessary course through which intellectual development must pass. It is difficult for us, who live in a reading community, to comprehend the influence once exercised by the pulpit and the stage in the instruction of a non-reading people.

As late as the sixteenth century they were the only means of mental access to the publ lic, and we should find, if we were to enter on a detailed examination of either one or the other, that they furnish a vivid reflexion of the popular intellectual condition. Leaving to others such interesting researches into the comparative anatomy of the English pulpit, I may, for a moment, direct attention to theatrical exhibitions.

There are three obvious phases through which the Its successive drama has passed, corresponding to as many phases. phases in the process of intellectual development. These are respectively the miracle play, corresponding to the stage of childhood; the moral, corresponding to that of youth; the real, corresponding to that of manhood. In them respectively the supernatural, the theological, the positive predominates. The first went out of fashion soon after the middle of the fifteenth century, the second continued for about one hundred and fifty years, the third still remains. By the iniracle play is understood a re presentation of Scripture incidents, enacted, however, without any regard to the probabilities of time, place, or action; such subjects as the Creation, the fall of man, the Deluge, being considered as suitable, and in these scenes, without any concern for chronology, other personages, as the Pope or Mohammed, being introduced, or the Virgin Mary wearing a French hood, or Virgil worshipping the Saviour. Our forefathers were not at all critical historians; they indulged without stint in a highly pleasing credulity. They found no difficulty in admitting that Mohammed was originally a cardinal, who turned heretic out of spite because he was not elected Pope ; that, since the taking of the true cross by the Turks, all Christian children have twenty-two instead of thirty-two teeth, as was the case before that event; and that men have one rib less than women, answering to that taken from Adam. The moral play personifies virtues, vices, passions, goodness, courage, honesty, love. The real play introduces human actors, with a plot free from the supernatural, and probability is outraged as little as possible. Its excellence consists in the perfect manner in which it delineates human character and action. The miracle play was originally introduced by the

Church, the first dramas of the kind, it is said, their cha-->> having been composed by Gregory Nazianzen. racter. They were brought from Constantinople by the Crusaders; the Byzantines were always infatuated with theatrical shows. The parts of these plays were often enacted by ecclesiastics, and not unfrequently the representations took place at the abbey gate. So highly did the Italian authorities prize the influence of these exhibitions on the vulgar, that the pope granted a thousand days of pardon to any person who should submit to the pleasant penance of attending them. All the arguments that had been used in behalf of picture-worship were applicable to these plays; even the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension were represented. Over illiterate minds a coarse but congenial influence was obtained ; a recollection, though not an understanding of sacred things. In the play of “the Fall of Lucifer," that personage was introduced, according to the vulgar acceptation, with horns, and tail, and cloven hoof; his beard, however, was red, our forefathers having apparently indulged in a singular antipathy against hair of that colour. There still remain accounts of the expenses incurred on some of these occasions, the coarse quaintness of which is not only amusing, but also shows the debased ideas of the times. For instance, in “ Mysteries,” enacted at Coventry, are such entries as “paid for a pair of gloves for God;” “paid for gilding God's coat;” “dyvers necessaries for the trimmynge of the Father of Heaven.” In the play of the “Shepherds” there is provision for green cheese and Halton ale, a suitable recruitment after their long journey to the birthplace of our Saviour. “Payd to the players for rehearsal: imprimis, to God, iis. viiid.; to Pilate his wife, iis.; item, for keeping fyer at hell's mouth, iiid.A strict attention to chronology is not exacted; Herod swears by Mohammed, and promises one of his councillors to make him pope. Noah's wife, who, it appears, was a termagant, swears by the Virgin Mary that she will not go into the ark, and, indeed, is only constrained so to do by a sound cudgelling administered by the patriarch, the rustic justice of the audience being particularly directed to the point that such a flogging should not be given with a stick thicker than her husband's thumb. The sentiment of modesty seems not to have been very exacting, since in the play of “the Fall of Man” Adam and Eve appear entirely naked; one of the chief incidents is the adjustment of the fig-leaves. Many such circumstances might be related, impressing us perhaps with an idea of the obscenity and profanity of the times. But this would


scarcely be a just conclusion. As the social state improved, we begin to find objections raised by the more thoughtful ecclesiastics, who refused to lend the holy vestments for such purposes, and at last succeeded in excluding these exhibitions from consecrated places. After dwindling down by degrees, these plays lingered in the booths at fairs or on market-days, the Church having resigned them to the guilds of different trades, and these, in the end, giving them up to the mountebank. And so they died. Their history is the outward and visible sign of a popular intellectual condition in process of passing away. The mystery and miracle plays were succeeded by the

ese moral play. It has been thought by some, who their cha- have studied the history of the English theatre,

that these plays were the result of the Reformation, with the activity of which movement their popularity was coincident. But perhaps the reader who is impressed with the principle of that definite order of social advancement so frequently referred to in this book, will agree with me that this relation of cause and effect can hardly be sustained, and that devotional exercises and popular recreations are in common affected by antecedent conditions. Of the moral play, a very characteristic example still remains under the title of “Everyman.” It often delineates personification and allegory with very considerable power. This short phase of our theatrical career deserves a far closer attention than it has hitherto obtained, for it has left an indelible impression on our literature. I think that it is to this, in its declining days, that we are indebted for much of the machinery of Bunyan's “ Pilgrim's Progress.” Whoever will compare that work with such plays as “Everyman" and “Lusty Juventus,” cannot fail to be struck with their resemblances. Such personages as “Good Council,” “ Abominable Living," - Hypocrasie," in the play, are of the same family as those in the Progress. The stout Protestantism of both is at once edifying and amusing. An utter contempt for “ holy stocks and holy stones, holy clouts and holy bones,” as the play has it, animates them all. And it can hardly be doubted that the immortal tinker, in the carnal days when he played at tipcat and romped with the girls on the village green at

Elstow, indulged himself in the edification of witnessing these dramatic representations.

As to the passage from this dramatic phase to the real, in which the character and actions of man are Real plays. portrayed, to the exclusion or with the subordina- Shakespeare. tion of the supernatural, it is only necessary to allude with brevity-indeed, it is only necessary to recall one name, and that one name is Shakespeare. He stands, in his relations to English literature, in the same position that the great Greek sculptors stood with respect to ancient art, embodying conceptions of humanity in its various attributes with indescribable skill, and with an exquisite agreement to nature.

Not without significance is it that we find mystery in the pulpit and mystery on the stage. They ap- The pulpit pertain to social infancy. Such dramas as those and the stage. I have alluded to, and many others that, if space had permitted, might have been quoted, were in unison with the times. The abbeys were boasting of such treasures as the French hood of the Virgin, “her smocke or shifte,” the manger in which Christ was laid, the spear which pierced his side, the crown of thorns. The transition from this to the following stage is not without its political attendants, the prohibition of interludes containing anything against the Church of Rome, the royal proclamation against preaching out of one's own brain, the appearance of the Puritan upon the national stage, an increasing acerbity of habit and sanctimoniousness of demeanour.

With peculiar facility we may, therefore, through an examination of the state of the drama, determine national mental condition. The same may be done by a like examination of the state of the pulpit. Whoever will take the trouble to compare the results cannot fail to observe how remarkably they correspond.

Such was the state of the literature of amusement; as to political literature, even at the close of the period we are considering, it could not be expected to flourish after the judges had declared that no man could pub- Newspapers lish political news except he had been duly and coffee authorized by the crown. Newspapers were, bo

houses. however, beginning to be periodically issued, and, if occasion

« AnteriorContinuar »