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HISTORY OF CRITICISM.
seller, Dodsley, published twelve volumes of old plays. Gifford spent pains upon the text of some of them, and Scott used their defunct reputation for a mask to headings of his chapters. They became the shibboleth of a coterie. Coleridge and Hazlitt lectured on them. Charles Lamb made selections, which he enriched with notes of purest gold of criticism. The 'Retrospective Review' printed meritorious notices of the more obscure authors. After those early days, Alexander Dyce, Hartley Coleridge, J. O. Halliwell, Thomas Wright, and many others, began to edit the scattered works of eminent dramatists with antiquarian zeal and critical ability; while J. P. Collier illustrated by his industry and learning the theatrical annals of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Continuing this pious tradition, a host of eloquent and genial writers have risen to vindicate the honours of that Drama in our times. I have attempted in the preface to this volume to recognise the luminous and solid labours of contemporary scholars in this field. It cannot now be said that the English Drama has not received its due meed of attention from literary men. But it may still be said that it is not sufficiently known to the reading public.
For the close of this exordium and prelude to more detailed studies, I will borrow words from a prose writer in whom the spirit of old English rhetoric lived again with singular and torrid splendour. De Quincey writes about our Drama : “No literature, not excepting even that of Athens, has ever presented such a multiform theatre, such a carnival display, mask and antimask, of impassioned life-breathing, moving, acting, suffering, laughing :
Quicquid agunt homines : votum, timor, ira, voluptas,
All this, but far more truly and more adequately than was or could be effected in that field of composition which the gloomy satirist contemplated, whatsoever in fact our medieval ancestors exhibited in the “Dance of Death,” drunk with tears and laughter, may here be reviewed, scenically draped, and gorgeously coloured. What other national Drama can pretend to any competition with this ?'
1. Emergence of the Drama from the Mystery-Ecclesiastical Con
demnation of Theatres and Players-Obscure Survival of Mimes from Pagan Times Their Place in Medieval Society. — II. Hroswitha-Liturgical Drama.—III. Transition to the Mystery or Miracle Play-Ludi- Italian Sacre Rappresentazioni-Spanish Auto
-French Mystère-English Miracle.--IV. Passage of the Miracle from the Clergy to the People-From Latin to the Vulgar Tongue-Gradual Emergence of Secular Drama.--V. Three English Cycles --Origin of the Chester Plays - Of the Coventry Plays-Differences between the Three Sets--Other Places famous for Sacred Plays.VI. Methods of Representation Pageant -- Procession — Italian, French, and Spanish Peculiarities—The Guilds-Cost of the Show Concourse of People—Stage Effects and Properties.-VII. Relation of the Miracle to Medieval Art-Materialistic Realism---Place in the Cathedral--Effect upon the Audience.–VIII. Dramatic Elements in the Miracles-Tragedy-Pathos-Melodrama-Herod and the Devil.--IX. Realistic Comedy-Joseph-Noah's Wife-The Nativity
- Pastoral Interludes.—X. Transcripts from Common Life-Satire --The Woman Taken in Adultery-Mixture of the Sacred and the Grotesque.-XI. The Art of the Miracles and the Art of Italian Sacri Monti.
N.B.—The text of the Widkirk or Towneley Miracles will be found in the Surtees Society's Publications, 1836. That of the Coventry and Chester Plays in the Old Shakespeare Society's Publications, 1841, 1843.
I. The gradual emergence of our national Drama from the Miracle, the Morality, and the Interlude has been clearly defined and often described. I do not now propose to attempt a learned discussion of this process. That has been ably done already by Markland, Sharp, Wright, Collier, and others, whose labours have been briefly condensed by Ward in his History. But, as a preface to any criticism on the English Drama, some notice must be taken of those medieval forms of art which are no less important in their bearings upon the accomplished work of Shakspere's age than are the Romanesque mosaics or the sculpture of the Pisan school upon the mature products of the Italian Renaissance. Art, like Nature, takes no sudden leaps, nihil agit per saltum; and the connection between the Miracles and Shakspere's Drama is unbroken, though the æsthetic interval between them seems almost infinite.
A drama on Christ's Passion, called the Xplotos Táoxwv, ascribed to Gregory of Nazianzus in the fourth century, is still extant. This play, as its name denotes, conformed to the spirit of Greek tragedy, and professed to exhibit the sufferings of Christ upon the cross, as those of Prometheus upon Caucasus had been displayed before an Attic audience. But it was impossible in the decadence of Greek literature, in the age which witnessed the fierce strife of Arians and Athanasians, and the Pagan revival attempted by Julian, to treat that central fact of Christian history with literary freedom. Gregory's Passion-play is a series of monologues rather than a drama, a lucubration of the study rather than a piece adapted to the stage. Its scholastic origin is betrayed by the author's ingenuity in using passages and lines extracted from Athenian tragedies; and his work at the present day owes its value chiefly to the centos from Euripides which it contains. Moreover, at this epoch the theatre was becoming an abomination to the Church. The bloody
DRAMA IN EARLY MIDDLE AGES.
shows of Rome, the shameless profligacy of Byzantium, justified ecclesiastics in denouncing both amphitheatre and circus as places given over to the devil. From the point of view of art, again, the true spirit of dramatic poetry had expired in those orgies of lust and cruelty.
With the decline of classic culture and the triumph of dogmatic Christianity, the Drama, which had long ceased to be a fine art, fell into the hands of an obscure and despised class. It is impossible to believe that the race of players expired in Europe. Indeed, we have sufficient evidence that during the earlier Middle Ages such folk kept alive in the people a kind of natural paganism, against which the Church waged ineffectual
The stigma attaching to the playwright's and the actor's professions even in the golden age of the Renaissance may be ascribed to monastic and ecclesiastical denunciations, fulminated against strolling mimes and dancers, buffoons and posture-makers,
thymelici, scurræ, et mimi,' in successive councils and by several bishops. Undoubtedly, these social pariahs, the degenerate continuators of a noble craft by the very fact that they were excommunicated and tabooed, denied the Sacraments and grudgingly consigned at death to holy ground, lapsed more and more into profanity, indecency, and ribaldry. While excluded from an honoured status in the commonwealth, they yet were welcomed at seasons of debauch and jollity. The position which they held was prominent if not respectable, as the purveyors of amusement, instruments of pleasure, and creatures of fashionable caprice. Among the Northern races circumstances favoured the amelioration of their lot. The bard and the skald