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CHAPTER I.

THE ORIGIN OF THE ENGLISH DRAMA.

drama.

THE main source of the modern drama, of which the English is a branch, lies outside the domain of literature. It is to be sought in a popular outgrowth of religious the modern worship; and to trace the history of this must be the first part of my task. But a misconception may be avoided at the outset by remembering that other elements, partly of a purely literary character, partly at least connected with literary tendencies, co-operated in the early history of the modern drama, as well as prepared the way for it.

Nothing which has had a real life in literature wholly dies. Though the dramatic literature of the ancients is in no sense the main source of that of the moderns, there are links of connexion between the two which are not to be lost sight of from first to last. They influenced the future of the modern drama while it was yet unborn. They affected its growth before it had itself assumed a literary, and while it was still struggling into a popular, form.

The early Christian dramas, based immediately upon Classical examples, are essentially literary efforts, and as such, however imperfectly, bridge the gap between ancient and modern dramatic literature. That which was probably the earliest of their number constituted at the same time an assertion of the faith then consummating its conquest over the Roman world, and, as there seems good reason to believe, a protest against the derision to which that faith

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Main and subsidiary sources of

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Ludus VII
Sapientium.

Querolus.

Comedies of
Hroswitha.

had been subjected on the stage. Though the form in which the Xploròs Táoɣor has been preserved may contain considerable later admixtures, and though it has been doubted whether this work was known at all to the Western world till the middle of the sixteenth century, its authorship has been generally attributed to St. Gregory the Nazianzene, who died about A.D. 390. The author undertakes to narrate, after the manner of Euripides,' the Passion which redeemed mankind. His drama has a Chorus and a Messenger in the Greek manner; but its aim seems to have been essentially didactic, and it is uncertain whether it was ever acted on any stage1.

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The Ludus VII Sapientium, dating from the same century, by Decius Magnus Ausonius, is rather a series of declamations than a drama. On the other hand, the Querolus, variously dated as composed in the fourth or the seventh century, distinctly announces itself as imitation of the Aulularia of Plautus. It is a comedy, with a sufficiently ingenious plot, conveying the familiar moral of the biter bit;' but the influence of the Christian. doctrine of charity is perceptible in the management of its close3.

Of more vital significance, but likewise connecting themselves with that Latin comedy to which the Italian predecessors of our English comic dramatists were in the fifteenth century directly to resort, are the dramatic compositions of Hroswitha, the Benedictine nun of Gandersheim. She lived in the tenth century, in the current of a spiritual revival associated with a most memorable period of Teutonic history, the age of Otto the Great, whose praises she sang, and to whose house she is by some stated to have been akin. Her avowed object in her six comedies was to turn against the Gentile his own weapons, and to inculcate Christian morality in the form, and occasionally with the phraseology, of Terence. The endeavour to serve the ends of religion by the means of human art was characteristic of the Order to which the pious Hroswitha be2 Ib., 644 segg.

1 Klein, Geschichte des Dramas, iii. 599 seqq.
3 Ib., 638 seqq.

THE EARLY CHRISTIAN LITERARY DRAMA.

longed1. That she should have had recourse to the particular author whom she imitated is not surprising. It was the good fortune of Terence to lead a charmed life in the darkest ages of learning, through which his works survived under the safe guardianship of monastic libraries". Hroswitha, however, borrowed nothing but the outward form of Terence, against whose immorality she not only explicitly protests, but the tendency of whose plots is distinctly reversed in her own. Such an incident as the conversion of Thais in the Paphnutius, e.g., would have been absolutely unintelligible to the Roman writer. Her plays are dramatised legends of Christian saints and of miraculous conversions; but while they thus connect themselves intimately with the later miracle-plays, the drama of Fides, Spes et Charitas has elements of the moralities as well. Whether these dramas, which were written in Latin, were ever acted may fairly be disputed; probably they were recited by the nuns on stated occasions, and without any of the paraphernalia which attend a famous annual representation of her profane model at the present day. That they were acted outside the cloister there is at all events no reason to suppose3.

The example of Hroswitha was beyond a doubt largely

1 The church-music of the Church of Rome is due to the Benedictines. Southey, Life of Wesley, ii. 117.

2 Mr. Joseph Hunter has noted this fact in his treatise on English Monastic Libraries. Hroswitha herself says

Sunt etiam ...

Qui, licet alia gentilium spernant,

Terentii tamen figmenta frequentius lectitant.'

It was remarked of the famous Archbishop Bruno, the brother of Otto the Great, that when as a youth he read the comedies of Terence, he never smiled at the laughable passages, his attention being wholly absorbed by the beauty of the form. Cf. Giesebrecht, Geschichte der deutschen Kaiserzeit, i. 322. The great attention which Terence is again receiving at the present day is of course owing to the philological, rather than the literary, significance of his works.

3 Of Hroswitha's comedies an ample analysis will be found in Klein, iiì. 648-754. Hallam has directed attention to her in the first chapter of his Literature of Europe.-A curious parallel to the endeavours of Hroswitha may be pointed out in the drama of the Jewish poet Ezechiel (probably about 100200 B.C.), which ́in Greek form and language gives the story of Moses leading the Chosen People out of Egypt. Unhappily only a fragmet has been preserved. It has been edited by L. M. Philippson (Berlin, 1830).

3

astical lite

rary drama in the tenth

and eleventh centuries.

The ecclesi- followed. Apart from the unsubstantiated rumour of the composition of old Frisian monastic comedies at an even earlier date (ninth century), there is every reason to conclude that the comedies of Hroswitha were far from remaining an isolated phenomenon. Here and there a learned ecclesiastic, anticipating the spirit of the Renascence rather than following that of his own age, seems to have devoted himself to the classical models pure and simple. Thus the Andria of Terence was translated (by the Benedictine Notker of St. Gallen) early in the eleventh century (1020 A.D. circ.). Probably about the middle of the twelfth was produced, probably by Vital of Blois, the author of the comic narrative poem of the Geta, the Comadia Babionis, a purely literary effort in Latin distichs, but dramatic in form'. Generally, however, it was in accordance with the spirit of the age to seek, as Hroswitha had done, a combination of classical study with the ideas of the Christian religion. Sufficient attention is perhaps hardly paid, in broader surveys of the history of European civilisation, to the simultaneous revival of classical study and religious life in the middle of the tenth century. The centre of this movement was the school at the Emperor's court, an institution of Charles the Great restored by Archbishop Bruno under the protection of his brother Otto the Great; and hence it spread through the monastic schools of the Empire. It was the age when German kings once more dreamt of a world-empire under the sanction of the Church; and the tendencies which both powers encouraged rapidly communicated themselves to neighbouring lands. With the Norman Conquest they found their way across the sea; and the French ecclesiastics who filled the English monasteries brought with them the literary tendencies of the times. Thus it would only be in accordance with probability, that Latin religious dramas treating of the legends of the saints should have been performed in the English monasteries in the latter part of

1 They are both printed in Wright's Early Mysteries and other Latin Poems of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries (London, 1838).

* See Giesebrecht, Geschichte der deutschen Kaiserzeit, i. 329.

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