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TRANSITIONAL SPECIES OF PLAYS.
This, Luggins, is your negligence ;
They count their money, and find wherein it fails. But Wit mends the whole matter ; for when the Chancellor sweeps by to Court, he bids his lordship notice that two of the eight angels have been somehow dropped in the rushes. More calls his servant to account, rights the players, and goes forth on affairs of State.
This scene, which in some of its incidents reminds us roughly of Hamlet's interview with the Players, was no doubt intended to mark the character of More, and bring his humour and good nature into relief. But it serves our present purpose of vividly presenting the circumstances under which a strolling company of actors may have oftentimes in noble houses found the opportunity to play some more or less mangled version of a popular Morality.
Before taking final leave of the Moral Plays, it will be necessary to notice three pieces which may be described as hybrids between this species and the serious drama of the future. The first of these is ‘King Johan,' by John Bale the controversialist. Written certainly before Mary's accession to the throne of England, this play is the earliest extant specimen of the History, which was reserved for such high treatment at the hands of Marlowe and Shakspere. King John plays the chief part, and the legend of his death by poison is followed. But the interesting feature of the performance is that personifications, including the Nobility, the Clergy, Civil Order, the Commonalty, Verity and Imperial Majesty, are introduced in dialogue with real historical beings. The Vice too, under the name of Sedition, plays his usual pranks, while Dissimulation hatches the plot of the king's murder. King Johan' must be read less as a history-drama than as a pamphlet against Papal encroachment and ecclesiastical corruption. But it has some vigorous and some tolerably amusing scenes, and contains the following very curious old wassail song :
Wassail, wassail, out of the milk pail ;
Besides this piece, John Bale wrote a Moral Play in seven parts, with the title of God's Merciful Promises,' and two sacred plays on “The Temptation of our Lord' and ' John Baptist,' both of which are survivals from the elder Miracles. These are in print. Others of the same description by his hand remain in MS.
The anonymous tragedy of Appius and Virginia' is a dramatised version of the Roman legend which had previously been handled by Chaucer in his · Doctor of Physic's Tale. A leading part is assigned to the Vice, Haphazard ; and allegorical personages, Con
*KING JOHAN' AND OTHERS.
science, Rumour, Comfort, Reward, Memory, and Doctrine, are intermingled with the mortal personages. The same hybrid character distinguishes Preston's • Cambyses. Here, the Vice is styled Ambidexter ; and a crowd of abstractions jostle with clowns and courtiers-Huff and Ruff, Hob and Lob, Smirdis and Sisamnes, Praxaspes and the Queen. Neither of these clumsy attempts at tragedy invites a close analysis. It is enough to have mentioned them as intermediate growths between the Moral Play and the emancipated drama.
THE RISE OF COMEDY.
1. Specific Nature of the Interlude-John Heywood— The Farce of
Johan the Husband'— The Pardoner and the Friar.'-II. Heywood's Life and Character.-I11. Analysis of 'The Four P's'-Chaucerian Qualities of Heywood's Talent.—IV. Nicholas Udall and Ralph Roister Doister'-Its Debt to Latin Comedy.–V. John Still—Was He the Author of 'Gammer Gurton's Needle'?—Farcical Character of this Piece-Diccon the Bedlam.—VI. Reasons for the Early Development of Comedy
N.B. The three pieces reviewed in this chapter will be found in Hazlitt's Dodsley, vols. i. and iii.
The passage from Moral Plays to Comedy had been virtually effected in such pieces as Calisto and Melibea' and 'The Disobedient Child,' both of which are wrought without the aid of allegories. In dealing with the origins of the Drama, it would, however, be impossible to omit one specifically English form of comedy, which appeared contemporaneously with the later Moralities, and to which the name of Interlude has been attached. The Interlude, in this restricted sense of the term, was the creation of John Heywood, a genial writer in whom the spirit of Chaucer seems to have lived again. In some of his productions, as · The Play of the Weather' and The Play of Love, he adhered to the type of the Morality. Others are simple dialogues, corresponding in form to the Latin
Disputationes, of which mention has been made above. But three considerable pieces, “The Merry Play between Johan the Husband, Tyb his Wife, and Sir John the Priest,'The Four P's,' and · The Merry Play between the Pardoner and the Friar, the Curate and Neighbour Pratt, detach themselves from any previous species, and constitute a class apart. The first is a simple farce, in which a henpecked husband sits by fasting, while his wife and the jovial parish priest make a good meal on the pie which was provided for the dinner of the family. It contains abundance of broad humour, and plenty of coarse satire on the equivocal position occupied by the parson in Johan's household. The third has no plot of any kind. Its point consists in the rivalry between a Pardoner and a Friar, who try to preach each other down in church, vaunting their own spiritual wares with voluble and noisy rhetoric. The speeches are so managed that when the Pardoner has begun a sentence, it is immediately intercepted by the Friar, with a perpetual crescendo of mutual interruptions and confusing misconstructions, till the competition ends in a downright bout at fisticuffs. Then the Curate interferes, protesting that his church shall not be made the theatre of such a scandal. He calls Pratt to his assistance; and each of them tackles one of the antagonists. But Pratt and the Curate find themselves too hardly matched; and at length they send both Pardoner and Friar to the devil with the honours of the fray pretty equally divided. It may be incidentally mentioned that Heywood has incorporated some fifty lines of Chaucer's · Pardoner's Prologue’ almost