Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

held high rank in Teutonic society; and it was natural that a portion of this credit should fall upon the player and buffoon. With the advance of time, we find several species of their craft established as indispensable members of medieval society. It must, moreover, be remembered that all through the Middle Ages, in spite of prevalent orthodoxy and the commanding power of the Church, a spirit survived from the old heathen past, antagonistic to the principles of Christian morality, which we may describe as naturalism or as paganism according to our liking. This spirit was at home in the castles of the nobles and in the companies of wandering students. It invaded the monasteries, and, in the person of Golias, took up its place beside the Abbot's chair. The 'Carmina Vagorum' and some of the satires ascribed to Walter Mapes sufficiently illustrate the genius of these pagans in the Middle Ages. The joculatorcs, whom the Church had banned, became in course of time jongleurs and jugglers. To them we owe the fabliaux. Meanwhile the ministeriales, or house-servants of the aristocracy, took the fairer name of minstrels. Lyric poetry rose, in the new dialects of the Romance nations, to a place of honour through the genius of troubadours and trouvères, who were recognised as lineal descendants from mimi and histriones. Taillefer himself, who led the van on Senlac field, tossing his sword into the air and singing Roland, is thus described by Guy of Amiens in verses which retain the old prejudice against the class of players :

Histrio, cor audax nimium quem nobilitabat ...
Incisor-ferri mimus cognomine dictus.

VARIOUS KINDS OF PLAYERS.

97

Rhapsodes, again, who recited the Chansons de Geste, so popular among the Franks and Normans, laid the foundations of imaginative literature in their Songs of Roland and Charlemagne. Descendants from the citharistæ of base Latin, these left the name of jester in our English speech.

speech. Thus it is hardly too much to say that the despised race of players in the Middle Ages helped to sow the seeds of modern lyrical and epical poetry, of social and political satire, of novel and romance. They contributed little, in the earlier age at least, to the development of the Drama. The part they played in this creation at a later period was, however, of considerable moment. This will be manifest when we come to the point at which the clergy began to lose their hold upon the presentation of Mysteries and Miracles.

II.

[ocr errors]

Meanwhile another species of dramatic art had been attempted in the cloister during the tenth century. Hroswitha, a Benedictine nun of Gandersheim, wrote six comedies in Latin for the entertainment of her sisterhood. Inspired with the excellent notion of not

. letting the devil keep the good tunes to himself, she took Terence for her model, and dramatised the legendary history of Christian Saints and Confessors. It is needful to pay this passing tribute to Hroswitha, if only for the singularity of her endeavour. But it would be uncritical in the highest sense of the word to regard her, any more than the Greek author of the Χριστός πάσχων, as a founder or precursor of the modern

H

[ocr errors]

stage. The real origins of our drama have to be sought elsewhere.

Recent investigations have thrown a flood of new light on what is now known as the Liturgical Drama. It has been pointed out that the Office of the Mass is itself essentially dramatic, and that from very early times it became a custom to supplement the liturgy with scenic representations. The descent of the angel Gabriel at the Feast of the Annunciation, the procession of the Magi at Epiphany, the birth of Christ at Christmas, the Resurrection from the tomb at Eastertide, may be mentioned among the more obvious and common of these shows invented by the clergy to illustrate the chief events of Christian history, and to enforce the principal dogmas of the faith upon an unlettered laity by means of acting. The parish priest, aided by the good folk of the village, inanaged these theatrical displays, of which the scene was usually the church, and the occasion service time on festivals. This appears from a somewhat ribald episode in the old novel of 'Howleglas,' which narrates the pranks played by the rogue upon the priest, his master for the time.

In the mean season, while Howleglas was parish clerk, at Easter they should play the Resurrection of our Lord : and for because the men were not learned and could not read, the priest took his leman, and put her in the grave for an Angel: and this seeing, Howleglas took to him three of the simplest persons that were in the town, that played the three Maries; and the parson played Christ, with a banner in his hand.' The lives of the Saints were treated after the same fashion; and since it was needful to instruct the

LITURGICAL PAGEANTS.

99

[ocr errors]

people through their senses, dramatic shows on all the more important feast days formed a regular part of the Divine service. From the Church this custom spread by a natural transition to the chapels of religious confraternities and the trade-halls of the guilds, who celebrated their patron saints with scenic shows and pageants. To what extent words were used on these occasions, and at what date dialogue was introduced, is doubtful. Yet this is a matter of purely antiquarian interest. The passage from dumb show, through simple recitation of such phrases as the Angel's 'Ave Maria gratia plena,' to a more dramatic form of representation, was inevitable; while our copious collections of Latin hymns, lauds, litanies, and Passion monologues, prove that appropriate choral accompaniments were never wanting. The chief point to be borne in mind is that from an early period of the Middle Ages the Church accustomed men to acting in connection with her services ; and that, while the clergy took care to keep this adjunct to the liturgy in their control, the people participated, and thus became familiarised with drama as a form of art. When we reflect that the Scripture and the legends of the Saints formed almost the whole intellectual treasure of the laity, we shall better understand the importance of the religious Drama which thus came into existence. It was not, as it now might be, a thing apart from life, reserved for pious contemplation. It gave artistic shape to all reflections upon life; presented human destinies in their widest scope and their most striking details ; incorporated medieval science, ethics, history, cosmography, and politics ;

bringing abstractions vividly before the eyes and ears of folk who could not read.

III.

The transition from the liturgical drama and the ecclesiastical pageant to the Miracle or Mystery was simple. Exactly at what date plays setting forth the Scripture history and legends of the Saints in words intended to be spoken, were first composed, we do not know. But from the extant specimens of such plays in the chief languages of Europe, it seems clear that they were already widely diffused before the middle of the thirteenth century; and it is probable that the festival of Corpus Christi, instituted in 1264 by Urban IV., gave an impulse to their performance. The text was written by monks, and in the first instance almost certainly in Latin. The common name for them was Ludus. Thus we read in the Friulian Chronicles that a Ludus Christi, embracing the principal events from the Passion to the Second Advent, was acted at Cividale in the Marches of Treviso in 1298. Our Coventry Miracles are called Ludus Coventria. As early as 1110 a ‘Ludus de S. Katharina' was represented at Dunstaple by Geoffrey, Abbot of S. Albans.

As these sacred dramas became more popular, the vernacular was substituted for Latin in their composition, their scope was enlarged until it embraced the whole of Christian history, and the artistic form assumed a different shape and name in different countries. In France a distinction was drawn between the Mystère and the Miracle ; the former being adapted from Scrip

« PředchozíPokračovat »