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In the year 1556, a goody stage-play of the PAssion of CHRIST was presented at the Grey friers in London, on CorpusChristi day, before the lord mayor, the privy-council, and many great estates of the realm'. Strype also mentions, under the year 1557, a stage-play at the Grey-friers, of the Passion of Christ, on the day that war was proclaimed in London against France, and in honour of that occasion *. On saint Olave's day in the same year, the holiday of the church in Silver-street which is dedicated to that saint, was kept with much solemnity. At eight of the clock at night, began a stage-play of goodly matter, being the miraculous history of the life of that saint", which continued four hours, and was concluded with many religious songs". *
Many curious circumstances of the nature of these miracleplays, appear in a roll of the church-wardens of Baffingborne in Cambridgeshire, which is an accompt of the expences and receptions for acting the play of SAINT GeoRGE at Bassingborne, on the feast of saint Margaret in the year 1511. They collected upwards of four pounds in twenty-seven neighbouring parishes for furnishing the play. They disbursed about two pounds in the representation. These disbursements are to four minstrels, or waits, of Cambridge for three days, v, s. v.j, d. To the players, in bread and ale, iij, s. if, d. To the garnementman for garnements, and propyrts *, that is, for dresses, decorations, and implements, and for play-books, xx, s. To John Hobard brotherhoode presle, that is, a priest of the guild in the church, for the play-book, ij, s. viijd. For the crofte, or field in which the play was exhibited, j, s. For propyrte-making, or furniture, j, s. iv, d. “For fish and bread, and to setting up the “ stages, iv, d.” For painting three fanchoms and four tormentors, words which I do not understand, but perhaps phantoms and devils . . . The rest was expended for a feast on the occasion, in which are recited, “Four chicken for the gentilmen, iv, d.” It appears from the manuscript of the Coventry plays, that a temporary scaffold only, was erected for these performances. And Chaucer says, of Absolon a parish-clerk, and an actor of king Herod's charaćter in these dramas, in the M1 LLER's TALE,
y MSS. Cott. Vitell. E. 5. St Rype. See Life of siR Thomas Pope, PREF. p. xii. * Eccl. Me M. vol. iii. ch. xlix. .* Strype, ibid. p. 379. With the religious pageantries, other antient sports and spectacles also, which had fallen into disuse in the reign of Edward the fixth, began to be now revived. As thus, “On “the 3oth of May was a goodly May“game in Fenchurch-street, with drums, “ and guns, and pikes, with the NINE “WoRT H 1 Es who rid. And each made “his speech. There was also the Morice
“dance, and an elephant and castle, and “ the Lord and Lady of the May appear“ed to make up this show.” Strype, ibid. 376. ch. xlix.
° Ludovicus Vives relates, that it was customary in Brabant to present annual plays in honour of the respective saints te which the churches were dedicated : and he betrays his great credulity in adding a wonderful story in consequence of this custom. No T. in Augustin. De Civ 1 T. DE 1. lib. xii. cap. 25. C.
* The property-room is yet known at our theatres.
Scenical decorations and machinery which employed the genius and invention of Inigo Jones, in the reigns of the first James and Charles, seem to have migrated from the masques at court to the public theatre. In the instrument here cited, the priest who wrote the play, and received only two shillings and eight pence for his labour, seems to have been worse paid in proportion than any of the other persons concerned. The learned Oporinus, in 1547, published in two volumes a collection of religious in
* Mill. T. v. 275. Urr. Mr. Steevens and Mr. Malone have shewn, that the accommodations in our early regular theatres were but little better. That the old scenery was very simple, may partly be collected from an entry in a Computus of Winchester-college, under the year 1579. viz. Comp. Burs. Coll. Winton. A. D. 1573. Eliz. xv".—“Custus Au Lae. Item, pro “ diversis expensis circa Scaffoldam erigen“dam et deponendam, et pro Domunculis “de novo compositis cum carriagio et re“carriagio ly joysłes, et aliorum mutuato“rum ad eandem Scaffoldam, cum vi linckes “et j" [uno] duodeno candelarum, pro lu“mine expensis, tribus noćtibus in Ludis
T t in
“ comediarum et tragediarum, xxv, s. viij, “d.” Again in the next quarter, “Pro “vij } linckes deliberatis pue, is per M. “Informatorem [the school-master] pro “Ludis, iij, s.” Again, in the last quarter, “Pro removemdis Organis e templo in “Aulam et preparandis eisdem erga Lu“dos, v, s.” By Do Mun culis I understand little cells of board, raised on each side of the stage, for dressing rooms, or retiring places. Strype, under the year 1 : 50, says, that after a grand feast at Guildhall, “the same day was a Scaffold “ set up in the hall for a play.” Ann. REF. i. 197. edit. 1725.
terludes, which abounded in Germany. They are in Latin, and
not taken from legends but the Bible. The puritans were highly offended at these religious plays
representation of the christian than of the gentile story. Yet for different reasons. To hate a theatre was a part of their creed, and therefore plays were an improper vehicle of religion. The heathen fables they judged to be dangerous, as too nearly resembling the superstitions of popery.
* A very late scripture-play is, “A
“newe merry and witte comedie or enter“lude, newlie imprinted treating the his. “tory of Jacob AND Esau, &c.” for H.
Bynneman, 1568. 4to. Bl. Lett. But this
play had appeared in queen Mary's reign, “An enterlude vpon the history of Jacobe “ and Esawe, &c.” Licenced to Henry
Sutton, in 1557. Regist R. Station. A.
fol. 23. a. It is certain, however, that the fashion of religious interludes was not entirely discontinued in the reign of queen
Flisabeth. For, I find licenced to T. Hac. kett in 1561, “A newe enterlude of the “ij synnes of kynge Dauyde.” Ibid. fol. 75. a. And to Pickeringe in 1560-1, the play of queen Esther. Ibid. fol. 62. b.
Again, there is licenced to T. Colwell, in 1565, “A playe of the story of kyng “Darius from Esdras.” Ibid. fol. 133. b.
Also “A pleasaunte recytall worthy of “the readinge contaynynge the effecte of “iij worthye squyres of Daryus the kinge “ of Persia,” licenced to Griffiths in 1565. Ibid. fol. 132. b. Often reprinted. And in 1566, John Charlewood is licenced to print “An enterlude of the repentance “ of Mary Magdalen.” Ibid. fol. 1; 2. a. Of this piece I have cited an antient manuscript. Also, not to multiply instances, Colwell in 1568, is licenced to print “The “playe of Susanna.” Ibid. fol. 176. a. Ballads on scripture subjects are now innumerable. Peele's David AND BAths Hs
BA is a remain of the fashion of scriptureplays. I have mentioned the play of Holofer Nes ačted at Hatfield in 1556. Life of siR Thomas Pope, p. 87. In 1556, was printed “A ballet intituled the histo“rye of Judith and Holyfermes.” RFc 1st R. ut supr. fol. 154. b. And Registr. B. fol. 2:7. In Hearne's manuscript Collect A NEA there is a licence dated 1571, from the queen, directed to the officers of Middlesex, permitting one John Swinton Powlter, “to have and use some playes “ and games at or uppon nine severall son“ daies,” within the said county. And because greate resorte of people is lyke to come thereunto, he is required, for the preservation of the peace, and for the sake of
ood order, to take with him four or five #. and substantial men of those places where the games shall be put in pračice, to superintend duringe the contynuance of the games or player. Some of the exhibitions are then specified, such as, Shotinge with the brode arrowe, The lopping for men, The pytchynge of the barre, and the like. But then follows this very general clause, “With all suche other games, as haue at “anye time heretofore or now be lycensed, “used, or played.” Coll. MSS. Hearne, tom. lxi. p. 78. One wishes to know, whether any interludes, and whether reli
ious or profane, were included in this instrument.
S E C T.
T appears, however, that the cultivation of an English style began to be now regarded. At the general restoration of knowledge and taste, it was a great impediment to the progress of our language, that all the learned and ingenious, aiming at the chara&ter of erudition, wrote in Latin. English books were written only by the superficial and illiterate, at a time when judgment and genius should have been exerted in the nice and critical task of polishing a rude speech. Long after the invention of typography, our vernacular style, instead of being strengthened and refined by numerous compositions, was only corrupted with new barbarisms and affectations, for want of able and judicious writers in English. Unless we except fir Thomas More, whose DIALog UE on TRIBULATION, and HIs Tor Y of RICHARD THE THIRD, were esteemed standards of style so low as the reign of James the first, Roger Ascham was perhaps the first of our scholars who ventured to break the shackles of Latinity, by publishing his Toxoph ILUs in English ; chiefly with a view of giving a pure and correót model of English composition, or rather of shewing how a subjećt might be treated with grace and propriety in English as well as in Latin. His own vindication of his condućt in attempting this great innovation is too senfible to be omitted, and reflects light on the revolutions of our poetry. “As for the Lattine or Greeke tongue, “euerye thinge is so excellentlye done in Them, that none can “do better. In the Englishe tongue contrary, euery thing in “ a maner so meanlye, both for the matter and handelinge, that “ no man can do worse. For therein the learned for the most T t2 “ part
part haue bene alwayes most redye to write. And they which had least hope in Lattine haue bene most bould in Englishe: when surelye euerye man that is most ready to talke, is not most able to write. He that will write well in any tongue, must folow this counsell of Aristotle; to speake as the common people do, to thinke as wise men do. And so shoulde euerye man vnderstand him, and the iudgement of wise men alowe him. Manye Englishe writers haue not done so ; but vsinge straunge wordes, as Lattine, French, and Italian, do make all thinges darke and harde. Ones I communed with a man, which reasoned the Englishe tongue to be enriched and encreased thereby, sayinge, Who will not prayse that feast where a man shall drincke at a dinner both wyne, ale, and beere Truly, quoth I, they be al good, euery one taken by himselfe alone; but if you put Malmesye and sacke, redde wyne and white, ale and beere, and al in one pot, you shall make a drinke neither easye to be knowen, nor yet holsome for the bodye. Cicero in folowing Isocrates, Plato, and Demosthenes, encreased the Lattine tongue after another sort. This way, because diuers men that write do not know, they can neyther folow it because of their ignoraunce, nor yet will prayse it for uery arrogancy: two faultes seldome the one out of the others companye. Englishe writers by diuerfitie of tyme haue taken diuers matters in hand. In our fathers time nothing was red, but bookes of fayned cheualrie, wherein a man by readinge should be led to none other ende but only to manslaughter and baudrye. If anye man suppose they were good enough to passe the time withall, he is deceiued. For surely vaine wordes do worke no smal thinge in vaine, ignorant, and yong mindes, specially if they be geuen any thing thervnto of their owne nature. These bookes, as I haue heard say, were made the most part in abbayes and monasteries, a very likely and fit fruite of such an ydle and blind