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) N XXXIV.
In a work of this general and comprehensive nature, in which the fluctuations of genius are surveyed, and the dawnings or declensions of taste must alike be noticed, it is impossible that every part of the subject can prove equally splendid and interesting. We have, I fear, been toiling for some time through materials, not perhaps of the most agreeable and edifying nature. But as the mention of that very rude species of our drama, called the MORALITY, has incidentally diverted our attention to the early state of the English stage, I cannot omit so fortunate and seasonable an opportunity of endeavouring to relieve the weariness of my reader, by introducing an obvious digression on the probable causes of the rise of the MYSTERIES, which, as I have before remarked, preceded, and at length produced, these allegorical fables. In this respect I shall imitate those map-makers mentioned by Swift, who
O’er inhospitable downs,
Place elephants for want of towns. Nor shall I perhaps fail of being pardoned by my reader, if, on the same principle, I should attempt to throw new light on the history of our theatre, by pursuing this enquiry through those deductions which it will naturally and more immediately suggests,
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 En
Compare vol. ii. p. 67.
gland". The merchants, who frequented these fairs in numerous caravans or companies, employed every art to draw the people together. They were therefore accompanied by juglers, 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 public spectacles or popular amusements were established; and as the sedentary pleasures of domestic 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, music, and mimicry, exhibited at these protracted annual celebrities, made the people less religious, by promoting idleness and a love of festivity, proscribed these sports, and excommunicated the performers. But finding that no regard was paid to their censurés, 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. Music 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
to See supr. vol. ii. p. 115.
abolish the Festum Asixorum, cum sit i For a most full and comprehensive vanitate plenum, et voluptatibus spurcum, account of these fcasts, see “ Nemoires which used to be annually celebrated in pour servir a l'histoire de la FETE DE Lincoln cathedral on the feast of the Foux, qui se faisoit autrefois dans plu- Circumcision: Grossetesti EPISTOL.xxxii. sieurs eglises. Par M. du TILLIOT, gen- apud Browne's FascICUL. P. 331. edit. tilhomme ordinaire de son Altesse royale Lond. 1690. tom. ii. Append. And Monseigneur le duc de Berry. A Lau- p. 412. Also he forbids the archdeaSANNE et a GENEVE, 1741." 4to. Grost. cons of his diocese to permit Scor-ALES head, bishop of Lincoln in the eleventh in their chapters and synods, (Spelm. Gl. century, orders his dean and chapter to p. 506.) and other LUDI on holidays.
became greater favorites, 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. * Abont
Ibid. Epistol. xxii. p. 314. (See supr. prohibited female Christian proselytes vol. ii. p. 82.] See in the MERCURE from appearing upon the stage ; who Francois for September, 1742, an ac were thus allowed to resume their procount of a mummery celebrated in the fession, without the fear of spiritual cencity of Besançon, in France, by the sure. (Mimas diversis adnotationibus canons of the cathedral, consisting of liberatas ad proprium officium summâ dancing, singing, eating and drinking; instantiâ revocari decernimus. L. xv. in the cloisters and church, on Easter Cod. Th. Tit. 7. L. 13.) The capture day, called BERCERETTA, or the Song of of Carthage (439) was effected by GenTHE SHEPHERDS ; which remained un- seric, whilst the inhabitants were engaged abolished till the year 1738. From the at the theatre; and the language of ThegRitual of the church, pag. 1950, ad doret upon this occasion, unless we are ann. 1582. See Carpentier, SUPPL. Du to accept it as a mere rhetorical flourish; Cang. Lat. Gloss. tom. i. p. 528. in V. might be strained to imply, that the And ibid. V. BOCLARE, p. 570.
dramas of Æschylus and Sophocles were * [The profane drama, however de still exhibited in the Empire, or at least generated, maintained its footing both that they were generally known. An in the East and West, much later than edict of Justinian, only forbids deacons, the æra assumed in the text. It may priests, and bishops, from attending any be worth while to offer a few illustra. species of scenic representation; and untions of this position. The Imperial der the same emperor (589), Gregory edict of 399, which abolished the feast bishop of Antioch was publicly defamed of Majuma, gave free permission for the by the spectators at the theatre, and ricontinuance of all other public enter- diculed by the actors on the stage. In tainments; and among these the theatre the year 692 the council of Trullo prowas of course included. The petition of hibited all christians, both clergy and the African bishops, drawn up in the laity, under pain of suspension or exsame year according to Godefroy, or in communication, from following the oa 401 according to Baronius, merely so- cupation of a player, and from frequentlicits the suppression of plays upon Sun- ing the games of the circus and thie' the days, and other days observed as festivals atre. (Can:51.) And lastly, the canons of in the Christian church ; and begs an Nicephorus, and of Photius, both framed exemption for all Christians from being in the ninth century, only re-echo tlie compelled to attend them. Nor was it edict of Theodosius, that the theatre till the year 425, that the prayer of this ought to be closed upon Sundays and petition was confirmed by Theodosius days of solemn festival.The history of the younger; and then restricted to the the West will afford us nearly similar most important feasts in the calendar. notices. The theatres of France and Four years after, the same emperor found Italy, especially those of Rorne and Marit necessary to rescind the law, which seilles, continued in high celebrity long
that period, Gregory Nazianzen, an archbishop, a poet, and one of the fathers of the church, banished pagan plays from the stage at Constantinople, and introduced select stories from the Old and New Testament. As the antient Greek tragedy was a religious spectacle, a transition was made on the same plan ; and the choruses 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 XCIOTOS TAO Xay, or Christ's Passion, is still extantm. In the prologue it is said to be in imitation of Euripides, and that this is the first time the Virgin Mary has been produced 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 afterwards 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
after the first incursions of the barba- under the denunciations of his predecesrians; and the policy of Theoderic sors. (Satiat præterea et inebriat Hifound it expedient to tolerate a pastime striones, Mimos, turpissimosque et vawhich he secretly condemned, and to nissimos Joculares, cum pauperes Ecencourage an abuse he could neither clesiæ fame discruciati intereant. Agochasten nor correct. (Hæc nos fovemus bard, de Dispens. p. 299.) See Discours necessitate populorum. Expedit inter- sur la Comedie par Pierre Le Brun. dum désipere, ut possumus populi de Paris, 1731.-EDIT.] siderata gaudia continere.) For a pe See supr. vol. ii. p. 78. riod indeed, these amusements appear to * Op. Greg. Nazianz. tom. ii. p. 253. have been suspended, by the ravages of In a manuscript cited by Lambeccius, Totila in Italy and of the Franks in" it is called Apoema ræt Eugipidmr. iv. 22. France. But in the time of Charle- It seems to have been falsely attributed magne, the Mimi and Histriones are to Apollinaris, an Alexandrian, bishop spoken of in much the same terms of of Laodicea. It is, however, written invective, cast upon their profession hy with less elegance and judgement than the early Christian teachers ; nor does most of Gregory's poetical pieces. Apolthe language of Agobard warrant a be- linaris lived about the year 370. - lief, that he was characterizing a diffe. " Hist. Gen. Addit. p. 138. rent order of men, from those who fell
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 Constantinople, probably with a better design than is imagined by the ecclesiastical annalists ; that of weaning the minds of the people from the pagan ceremonies, particularly the Bacchanalian and calendary solemnities, by the substitution of christian spectacles, partaking of the same spirit of licentiousness. The fact is, however, recorded by Cedrenus, one of the Byzantine historians, who flourished about the year 1050, in the following words. “ Εργον εκείνου, και το νυν κρατουν εθος, εν ταις λαμπραις και δημοτελεσιν εορταις υβριζεσθαι τον θεον, και τας τον αγιων μνημας, δια λογισματων απρεπων και γελωτων, και παραφορων κραυγων, τελουμένων των θειων ύμνων ους εδει, μετα καταλυξεως και συντριμμου καρδιας, υπερ της ημων σωτηριας, προσφερειν τω θεω. Πληθος γαρ συστησαμενος επιρρητων ανδρων, και εξαρχον αυτοις επιστησας Ευθυμιον τινα Κασνην λεγουμενον, ον αυτος Δομέστικος της εκκλησιας προυβαλλετο και τας σατανικας ορχησεις, και τας ασημους κραυγας, και τα εκ τριοδων και χαμαιτυπειων mpanionessia dojata talsio bas edidacev.” That is, “ Theophylact introduced the practice, which prevails even to this day, of scandalising god and the memory of his saints, on the most splendid and popular festivals, by indecent and ridiculous songs, and enormous shoutings, even in the midst of those sacred hymns, which we ought to offer to the divine grace with compunction of heart, for the salvation of our souls. But he, having collected a company of base fellows, and placing over them one Euthymius, surnamed Casnes, whom he also appointed the superintendant of his church, admitted into the sacred service, diabolical dances, exclamations of ribaldry, and ballads borrowed from the streets and brothelso.” This
a Cedren. Compend. Hist. p. 639. B. NAL, sub ann. 956. tom. X. p. 752. C. edit. Paris. 1647. Compare Baron. Ar- edit. Plantin, Antw. 1603. fol. (Per