Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

a process of reflective art, brought into æsthetical existence in order to symbolise and present single facets of character, they cannot delude us into taking them for personalities. They fail to attain concrete reality or to convey forcible lessons in human ethics. How cold and lifeless, for example, are the struggles of Juventus between Pity and Abominable Living, matched with the real conflict of a young man trained in piety, but tempted by a woman !

It was thus that the Morality came into existence : an intermediate form of dramatic art which had less vogue in England than in France, and which preserves at this time only a faint antiquarian interest. To touch lightly upon its main features will serve the purpose of a work which aims at literary criticism rather than at scientific history. The chief point to be insisted on is the emergence through Moralities of true dramatic types of character into distinctness. The Morality must, for our present purpose, be regarded as the schoolmaster which brought our drama to self-consciousness. It has the aridity and mortal dullness proper to merely transitional and abortive products. The growth of a brief moment in the evolution of the modern mind, representing the passage from medieval- . ism to the Renaissance, from Catholic to humanistic art, this species bore within itself the certainty of short duration, and suffered all the disabilities and awkwardnesses of a temporary makeshist. We might compare it to one of those imperfect organisms which have long since perished in the struggle for existence, but which interest the physiologist both as indicating an effort after development upon a line which proved to be the

CHARACTERS OF THE MORALITIES.

149

weaker, and also as containing within itself evidences of the structure which finally succeeded. This comparison, even though it be not scientifically correct, will serve to explain the nature of the Morality, which can hardly be said to lie in the direct line of evolution between the Miracle and the legitimate Drama, but rather to be an abortive side-effort, which was destined to bear barren fruit.

III.

Let us pass the actors in a prefatory review. From their names we shall learn something of the drama which they constituted. Perseverance, Science, Mundus, Wit, Free-will, the Five Senses reduced to one spokesman, Sensual Appetite, Imagination, a Taverner, Luxuria, Conscience, Innocency, Mischief, Nought, Nowadays, Abominable Living, Ignorance, Irksomeness, Tutivillus, the Seven Vices, Anima, Garçio (figuring Young England), Humanum Genus, Pity, Everyman, Honest Recreation—such are some of the strange actors in these moral shows. Abstract terms are personified and quaintly jumbled up with more familiar characters emergent from the people of the times. An effort is clearly being made to realise dramatic types, which after trial in this shape of metaphysical entities, will take their place as men and women animated by controlling humours, when the stage becomes a mirror of man's actual life. For the present period the stage has ceased to be the mirror of God's dealings with the human race in the scheme of creation, redemption, and judgment. It has not yet accustomed itself to reflect true men and women as they have been, are, and will

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

be for all time. This intermediate dramatic form is satisfied with bodying forth the figments of the mind. It reflects logical generalities in the mirror of its art, investing these with outward form and allegorical impersonation.

Prominent among this motley company of abstract characters moved the Devil, leaping upon the stage dressed like a bear, and shouting Ho! Ho!' and

Out Harrow !' His frequent but not inseparable comrade was the Vice—that tricksy incarnation of the wickedness which takes all shapes, and whose fantastic feats secure a kind of sympathy. The Vice was unknown in the English Miracles, and played no marked part in the French Moralities. He appears to have been a native growth, peculiar to the transitional epoch of our moral interludes. By gradual deterioration or amelioration, he passed at length into the Fool or Clown of Shakspere's Comedy. But at the moment of which we are now treating, the Vice was a more considerable personage.

He represented that element of evil which is inseparable from human nature. Viewed from one side he was eminently comic; and his pranks cast a gleam of merriment across the dullness of the scenes through which he hovered with the lightness of a Harlequin. Like Harlequin, he wore a vizor and carried a lathe sword. It was part of his business to belabour the Devil with this sword; but when the piece was over, after stirring the laughter of the people by his jests, and heaping mischief upon mischief in the heart of man, nothing was left for the Vice but to dance down to Hell upon the Devil's back. The names of the Vice are as various as the characters

a

[blocks in formation]

which he assumed, and as the nature of the play required. At root he remains invariably the same—a flippant and persistent elf of evil, natural to man. Here are some of his titles, taken from the scenes in which he figures : Iniquity, Hypocrisy, Infidelity, Hardydardy, Nichol Newfangle, Inclination, Ambidexter, Sin, Desire, Haphazard. The names, it will be noticed, vary according as the play is more or less allegorical, and according to the special complexion of human frailty which the author sought to represent.

The part of the Vice was by far the most original feature of the Moralities, and left a lasting impression upon the memory of English folk long after it had disappeared from the stage. The Clown in Twelfth Night'sings:

[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

Ben Jonson, who preserved so much of old stage learning and tradition in the introductions to his comedies, brings Satan and the impish demon Pug, together with Iniquity, into the first scene of “The Devil is an Ass.' Satan opens the play with 'Hoh, hoh, hoh, hoh, hoh, hoh, hoh, hoh, hoh, hoh !' Pug begs to be sent up to earth to try his budding devilhood on human kind :

O chief!
You do not know, dear chief! what there is in me!
Prove me but for a fortnight, for a week,
And lend me but a Vice, to carry with me!

• What Vice?' answers Satan.

Why, any : Fraud,
Or Covetousness, or Lady Vanity,
Or old Iniquity.

Iniquity is forthwith summoned, and comes leaping on the stage in his Harlequin's costume :

What is he calls upon me, and would seem to lack a Vice ?
Ere his words be half spoken, I am with him in a trice;
Here, there, and everywhere, as the cat is with the mice :
True Vetus Iniquitas. Lack'st thou cards, friend, or dice ?
I will teach thee to cheat, child, to cog, lie, and swagger,
And ever and anon to be drawing forth thy dagger.

And so forth, rattling along in a measure suited to his antic dance. Satan, however, tells Pug that the Vice is half a century too old :

Art thou the spirit thou seem’st ? So poor, to choose
This for a Vice, to advance the cause of Hell,
Now, as vice stands this present year? Remember
What number it is, six hundred and sixteen.
Had it but been five hundred, though some sixty
Above ; that 's fifty years agone, and six,
When every great man had his Vice stand beside him,
In his long coat, shaking his wooden dagger,
I could consent that then this your grave choice
Might have done that, with his lord chief, the which
Most of his chamber can do now'.

The Vice, in fact, is out of date, discredited, no

« PředchozíPokračovat »