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welcomed with effusion by Satan and his crew, supplies the motive of what is practically a brief comic farce. A more distinct satiric aim is traceable in some parts of the Coventry Plays—for instance, in the monologue of the Great Duke of Hell,' who comes upon the
in the fashionable costume of a Court gallant, and reads a homily upon the modern modes of sinning ;' also in the
l curious interpolated pageant of the Assumption, which abounds in allusions to reformers and heretics, and is written in a harsh, coarse, controversial style, combined with much vulgarity of abuse. The introduction to the 14th Pageant of the Coventry series is a satire, the point of which has, I think, been missed by both Halliwell in his edition of these plays and Collier in his commentary on them. The Bishop's Court is about to be opened for the trial of Mary accused of incontinence. An usher enters, and makes proclamation :
Avoid, sirs, and let my lord the Bishop come,
And sit in the court the laws for to do ;
Those that be in my book, the court ye must come to.
He then reads out a list of names, obviously meant to indicate parishioners over whom the Bishop's Court had jurisdiction for sins of the flesh. They run in pairs mostly, men and women, as thus :
Cook Crane and Davy Drydust,
Both Bett the Baker and Robin Reed.
Lastly, having summoned these evil livers, he bids them put money in their purse, lest their cause fare ill
| Pageant 25.
in the Bishop's Court—a warning similar to that we find in Mapes's rhymes upon the Roman Curia :
And look ye ring well in your purse,
For else your cause may speed the worse. Both Halliwell and Collier interpret this passage to mean that entrance fees were paid at exhibitions of the
pageants. This, however, is inconsistent with the whole tenor of the proclamation, and is quite in contradiction with the last words of the usher :
Though that ye sling God's curse
Even at mine head, fast come away : where it is clear that the fellow is not inviting spectators to a show, but making believe to summon unwilling folk before the justice.
I shall close these remarks with yet another scene of dramatic realism, chosen from the Coventry Plays. It occurs in the Pageant of the Woman taken in Adultery. A Scribe and a Pharisee are consulting how they may entrap Christ, and bring Him to confusion. A third person, who is styled Accusator, suggests that they should present Him with the puzzling case of a woman detected in the act of sin :
A fair young quean here by doth dwell,
Both fresh and gay upon to look ;
way into her chamber right even he took.
Let us there now go straight thither ;
The way full even I shall you lead ;
While that they do that sinful deed. The Pharisee and Scribe assent. The Accuser leads them to the house. They break open the door, and
the tall man comes rushing out, pursued by the three
braccas in manu tenens, et dicit ACCUSATOR.]
That in advowtry here is found !
I shall him give a deadly wound.
Or we depart dead shall I be ;
I shall him kill or he shall me !
Great God his curse may go with thee !
With such a shrew will I not mell.
And queath you all to the devil of hell.
[Turning to the audience, and showing them in what a plight he stands.]
In faith I was so sore afraid
Of yon three shrews, the sooth to say,
I had such haste to run away :
I am full glad that I am gone.
And God his curse have ye everyone !
What follows, when the Scribe, the Pharisee, and the Accuser drag the woman forth, is too foul-mouthed for quotation. It proves that the monkish author of the text shrank from nothing which could make his point clear, or could furnish sport to the spectators. The scene
WOMAN TAKEN IN ADULTERY.
acquires dignity as it proceeds. Christ writes in silence with His finger on the sand, while the three witnesses utter voluble invective, ply Him with citations from the law of Moses, and taunt Him with inability to answer. At last He lifts His head and speaks :
But is of life cleaner than she,
nought, Clean out of sin if that ye be. (Hic Jesus iterum se inclinans scribet in terra, et omnes accusatores quasi confusi separatim in tribus locis se disjungent.]
I am afeard that I shall die.
Yon prophet did write before mine eye.
They will tell it both far and wide;
I wot never where mine head to hide ! The same effect is produced on the other witnesses by Christ's mystic writing in the sand. They slink away, abashed or silenced, while the woman makes confession and receives absolution :
When man is contrite, and hath won grace,
God will not keep old wrath in mind;
Very contrite when He them find. Some reflections are forced upon the mind by the mixture of comedy with sacred things in these old plays, and by their gross material realism. In order to comprehend what strikes a modern student as profanity, we must place ourselves at the medieval point of view. The Northern races who adopted Christianity, delighted
in grotesqueness. The broad hilarity of their Yule rites and festivals added mirth to Christmas. To separate the indulgence of this taste for humour from religion, would have been impossible; because religion was the fullest expression of their life, absorbing all their intellectual energies. The Cathedral, which embodied the highest spiritual aspirations in a monumental work of art, admitted grotesquery in details and flung wide its gate at certain seasons to buffoonery. Grinning gargoils, monstrous Lombard centaurs, mermaids clasped with men, indecent miserere stalls, festivals of Fools and Asses, burlesque Masses performed by boy-bishops, travesties of holiest rites did not offend, as it would seem, the sense of men who reared the spire of Salisbury, who carved the portals of Chartres, who glazed the chancel windows of Le Mans, who struck the unison of arch and curve and column, and could span in thought the vacant air with aisles more bowery than forest glades. We, in this later age of colder piety and half-extinguished art, explore the relics of the past, scrutinise and ponder, classify and criticise. It is hardly given to us to understand the harmony of parts apparently so diverse. It shocks our taste to dwell on coarseness and religion blent in one consistent whole. We forget that the artists we admire-our masters in design how unapproachably beyond the reach of modern genius !lived their whole lives out in what they wrought. For those folk, so
, simple in their mental state, so positive in their belief, it was both right and natural that the ludicrous and even the unclean should find a place in art and in religious mysteries.