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PARALLELS IN PLASTIC ART.
As a last word on the subject of Miracle Plays, I may suggest that those who are curious to form an adequate conception of the pageants as they were performed, should pay a visit to the Sacro Monte at Varallo. There, on the broad flat summit of a rocky hill some thousand feet above the valley of the Sesia, is a sanctuary surrounded with numberless chapels embowered in chestnut woods. Each chapel contains a scene from sacred history, expressed by figures of life size, vividly painted, and accompanied with simple scenery in fresco on the walls. The whole series sets forth the life of Christ with special reference to the Passion. Architecture, plastic groups and wall-paintings date alike from a period in the middle of the sixteenth century, and are the work of no mean crafts
The great Gaudenzio Ferrari plied his brush there together with painters of Luini's school. But the method of treatment, particularly in episodes of vehement emotion, such as the Massacre of the Innocents, the Flagellation, and the Crucifixion, indicates antique tradition. Designed for the people who crowd this festival in summer time on pilgrimage from all the neighbouring hill-country and cities of the plain, they are no finished masterpieces of Renaissance art, but simply realistic pageants bringing facts with rude dramatic force before the eyes. It seems to me impossible to approach the Miracles, as they were probably exhibited in Coventry and Chester, more closely than on this Holy Mountain, where the popular art of the sixteenth century is still in close relation with the religious sentiments of a rustic population.
1. Development of Minor Religious Plays from the Cyclical Miracle
Intermediate Forms between Miracle and Drama-Allegory and Personification.-II. Allegories in the Miracle-Detached from the Miracle-Medieval Contrasti, Dialogi, and Disputationes-Emergence of the Morality-Its essentially Transitional Character.—III. Stock Personages in Moral Plays—Devil and Vice-— The Vice and the Clown.-IV. Stock Argument- Protestant and Catholic—Mundus et Infans.'-V. The Castle of Perseverance'--'Lusty Juventus'-'Youth.' -VI. “Hick Scorner'-A real Person introduced-New Custom'*Trial of Treasure '— Like will to Like.'-VII. “Everyman'— The Allegorical Importance of this Piece.-VIII. Moral Plays with an Attempt at Plot—'Marriage of Wit and Wisdom_Marriage of Wit and Science'--' The Four Elements'-Microcosmus.'— IX. Advance in Dramatic Quality—The Nice Wanton?—“The Disobedient Child.' --X. How Moral Plays were Acted-Passage from the old Play of ‘Sir Thomas More.'-XI. Hybrids between Moral Plays and Drama King Johan'-Mixture of History and Allegory—The Vice in Appius and Virginia'-In Cambyses.' (N.B. The majority of the Plays discussed in this chapter will be
found in Hazlitt's Dodsley, vols. i. ii. iii. iv. v. vi.)
The examples already given of humorous passages occurring in the Miracles, suffice to prove that comedy was ready to detach itself from the religious drama, and to assert its independence. But other causes had to operate, and a whole phase of evolution had to be accomplished before the emancipation of tragedy, that far more highly organised artistic form, could be effected. In proportion as the Miracles passed more
and more into the hands of laymen, and characters like Herod or Pilate acquired greater prominence, the transition from the Cyclical Mystery to an intermediate type, out of which the serious drama of History and Tragedy ultimately emerged, was rendered gradually possible. Sacred plays with titles like the following, 'Godly Queen Esther,' King Darius,'· The Conversion of Saul,'. Mary Magdalen,' show the tendency to select some episode of Biblical history for separate treatment, and while maintaining the conventional structure of the Miracle, to concentrate interest on some single personage. In the Cyclical Miracle, the human race itself had been the protagonist, and the action was commensurate with the whole scheme of man's salvation. In these minor Miracles one man or woman emerged into distinctness, and the dramatic action was determined by the character and deeds of the selected hero.
It was not possible, however, for the art to free itself upon these simple lines. Instruction had been the chief end of the sacred play, and to this purpose the drama still clung in its passage toward liberty. Allegory and personification supplied the necessary intermediate form. We have only to remember what a commanding part was played by Allegory through the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries all over Europe-in the Divine Comedy of Dante, in Giotto's painting and Orcagna's sculpture, in the French Romance of the Rose, in the mysticism of the German Parzival, in the Vision of our English Ploughman-in order to comprehend the reasons why this step was inevitable, and why the type determined by it for the drama was
not then without attraction. Three centuries of militant and triumphant humanism, of developed art, and of advancing science have rendered allegory irksome to the modern mind. We recognise its essential imperfection, and are hardly able to do justice to such merits as it undoubtedly possessed for people not yet accustomed to distinguish thought from figured modes of presentation. It is our duty, if we care to understand the last phase of medieval culture, to throw ourselves back into the mental condition of men who demanded that abstractions should be clothed for them by art in visible shapes—men penetrated in good earnest with the Realism of the Schools, and to whom the genders of the Latin Grammar suggested sexesmen who delighted in the ingenuity and grotesquery of what to us is little better than a system of illustrated conundrums ; for whom a Prudence with two faces or a Charity crowned with flames seemed no less natural than Gabriel kneeling with his lily at the Virgin's footstool-men who naturally thought their deepest thoughts out into tangibilities by means of allegorical mythology.
The Miracles in England had already brought personifications upon the stage. In the Coventry Plays, Justice, Mercy, Truth, and Peace hold conference with the three Persons of the Trinity. Death strikes Herod down among his knights. Contemplation acts the part of hierophant, explaining mysteries of faith. Medieval literature, moreover,
abounded in debates and dialogues between abstractions. From the Latin poems attributed to Walter Mapes in England, we might quote a Disputatio inter Corpus et Animam,' and a 'Dialogus inter Aquam et Vinum. The Italian Contrasti, some of which, like the Commedia dell'Anima,' are undoubtedly of great antiquity, bring the scheme of human destiny before us under the form of personified abstractions conversing and disputing. To take a further step; to detach the element of allegory already extant in the Miracles from the framework in which it was embedded, and to combine this dramatic element with the moral disputations of scholastic literature, was both natural and easy. This step was taken at a comparatively early period. Moral plays, extant in MS., have been ascribed to the reign of Henry VI. In the reign of Henry VII. they were both popular and fashionable, and they kept their vogue through that of his successor, increasing in complexity. The artistic type which resulted from this process made no unreasonable demands upon the imagination of a laity imbued with allegorical conceptions, and accustomed by the plastic arts to figurative renderings of abstract notions. Yet the defect adherent to all allegory in poetic art renders these figures ineffective. Intended for the stage, they strike us as being even more ineffective than they might have been in a poem meant to be perused. This defect may be plainly stated. According to the allegorical method, persons are created to stand for qualities, which qualities in all living human beings are blent with other and modifying moral ingredients. Being qualities isolated by a process of abstraction and incarnated by