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expenses incurred by the city at these times of festivity were doubtless considerable. Guild vied with guild in bringing pageants forth with proper magnifi
It has been estimated that each show cost at least 151. In addition to the payment of the players, there were various disbursements for apparel and stage properties, carpentry, gilding upholstery, and painting. We read of such items as the following:
Paid to the players for rehearsal-Imprimis to God, iis. viiid.
Yet town and trades were amply repaid by the concourse which the plays drew. Lasting several days and filling the hostelries with guests from all the country side, each celebration served the purpose of a fair. . Dugdale, the antiquary, in his notice of the Coventry Miracles, writes as follows : 'I have been told by some old people, who in their younger days were eyewitnesses of these pageants so acted, that the yearly confluence of people to see that show was extraordinary great, and yielded no small advantage to this city.' Gentles and yeomanry filled the neighbouring country houses and farmsteads with friends for the occasion. Thousands of people; the motley crowd of medieval days; monks, palmers, merchants in their various costumes, servants of noble families with badges on their shoulders, hawkers of pardons and relics, pedlars, artificers, grooms, foresters, hinds from the farm and shepherds from the fells ; all known by special qualities
of dress and bearing; crowded the streets and thronged the taverns. Comely women, like Chaucer's Wife of Bath, made it their business to be present at some favourable point of view. The windows and the wooden galleries were hung with carpets. Girls leaned from latticed casements, and old men bent upon their crutches in the doorways. In these circumstances, it is not to be wondered at that Whitsuntide or Easter, when the Miracles were played, became a season of debauch and merry-making. A preacher of the fourteenth century inveighs against them in no measured words on this account. • To gather men together to buy their victuals the dearer, and to stir men to gluttony and to pride and boast, they play these Miracles, and to hold fellowship of gluttony and lechery in such days of Miracles playing, they beseen them before to more greedily beguiling of their neighbours, in buying and in selling; and so this playing of Miracles nowadays is very witness of hideous covetousness, that is maumetry.'' Similar complaints were made against the Brethren of the Passion in Paris. The Hotel of Burgundy, where they performed, was called “that sewer and house of Satan, whose actors, with shocking abuse, term themselves the Brothers of the Passion of Jesus Christ.
That place is the scene of a thousand scandalous assignations. It is the bane of virtue, the destroyer of modesty, the ruin of poor families. Long before the play begins, it is thronged with workmen, who pass their time in uncouth jests, with cards and dice, gormandising and drinking, from the which spring many quarrels and assaults.'
Reliquiæ Antiquæ, ii. 54, modernised.
STAGE AND PROPERTIES.
I do not seek to describe with any minuteness the stage properties and dresses used in Miracles ; yet a few details may be given, fit to place the reader at the proper point of view for thinking of them. The man who played God, wore a wig with gilded hair and had his face gilt. Special apology is made at Chester for the non-appearance of this personage on one occasion; and the reason assigned is, that this gilding disfigured the man.' How well founded the excuse was, can be gathered from a contemporary account of shows at Florence, where it is briefly said that the boy who played the Genius of the Golden Age, with body gilded for the purpose, died after the performance. Christ wore a long sheepskin, such as early frescoes and mosaics assign to the Good Shepherd. The Devil appeared in orthodox costume of horns and tail, with a fiery red beard to signify the place of flames in which he dwelt. Judas Iscariot had also a wig of this colour ; and it was common among German painters-witness the ‘Last Supper' by Holbein at Basel—to give this colour, eminently disagreeable in a Jew, to the archtraitor. How Paradise was represented, we may perhaps imagine to ourselves from the elaborate accounts furnished by Vasari of the Nuvole at Florence. These were frames of wood and iron wires, shaped like aureoles and covered with white wool, with sconces at their sides for candles. The celestial personages sat enshrined within these structures. Hell-mouth was a vast pair of gaping jaws, armed with fangs, like a shark's open swallow. Such representations of the place of torment may be seen in the · Biblia Pauperum’ and Speculum Humanæ Salvationis' and other books
illustrated with early woodcuts, all of which throw light upon the disposition of these medieval scenes. Dragons, with eyes of polished steel ; scaly whales ;
, asses that spoke; a serpent to tempt Eve, with female face and swingeing tail; added bizarre variety to the mere commonplace crowd of kings in gorgeous raiment, flaming Herods, mailed soldiers, and hideous uncouth ministers of torture. In the Coventry Miracles, Death once appeared upon the stage in all the horror of worm-eaten flesh and snake-enwrithed ribs, as is manifest from the speech upon his exit. Adam and Eve before the Fall, it may be said in passing, were naked ; and we have the right to assume that in the Doomsday some at any rate of the dead rose naked from their graves.
Reading the Miracle Plays of Widkirk, Chester, and Coventry, is not much better than trying to derive some notion of a great master's etchings from a volume of illustrative letter-press without the plates. The Miracles were shows, pageants, spectacles presented to the eye ; the words written to explain their tableaux and give motion to their figures, were in some sense the least part of them. Modern students should take this fact into account. Even the dramas of the greatest poets, Sophocles or Shakspere, suffer when we read them in the lifeless silence of our chamber. If this be so, how little can we really judge the artistic effect of a Miracle from the libretto which was merely meant to illustrate a grand spectacular effect! After making due allow
ance for this inevitable drawback, after taking the rudeness of the times into account, the undeveloped state of language and the playwright's simple craft, we shall be rather impressed with the colossal majesty and massive strength of structure in these antique plays, than with their uncouth details. Each Miracle, viewed in its entirety, displays the vigour and the large proportions of a Gothic church. It is with the master builder's skill that we must compare the writer's talent. Judging by standards of accomplished beauty, we feel that workmen and not artists in the highest sense of the word carved the statues on the front of Wells Cathedral and penned the dialogues of Chester. Art, except in architecture, hardly existed among the nations who produced the Mysteries and at the epoch of their composition. The æsthetic creations of medieval ingenuity, traceries in stone and beaten metal, illuminated windows, wrought wood-work upon canopy and stall, must always be regarded as subordinate to the Cathedral, not as having any independent end as works of art.
The same is true of those vast compositions which presented sacred history in shows beneath Cathedral arches to the Christian laity. Poetry is here the handmaid of religious teaching, the submissive drudge of dogma. Language in the Miracles barely clothes the ideas which were meant to be conveyed by figured forms; meagrely supplies the motives necessary for the proper presentation of an action. Clumsy phrases, quaint literalism, tedious homilies clog the dramatic evolution. As in the case of medieval sculpture, so here the most spontaneous and natural effects are grotesque. In the treatment of sublime and solemn