Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

III.

[ocr errors]

The Four P's,' which I propose to examine more closely, is an excellent comic dialogue. More than this it cannot claim to be; for it has no intrigue, and aims at the exhibition of characters by contrast and collocation, not by action. Its motive is a witty situation, and its dénouement is a single humorous saying. Thus this Interlude has not the proportions of a play, although its dialogue exhibits far more life, variety, and spirit than many later and more elaborate creations of the English stage. It is written in pure vernacular, terse and racy if rude, and undefiled by classical pedantry or Italianising affectation. Heywood, here as elsewhere, reminds us of Chaucer without his singing robes. As Charles Lamb called his namesake Thomas Heywood a prose Shakspere, so might we style John Heywood a prose Chaucer. The humour which enchants us in the · Canterbury Tales,' and which we claim as specifically English, emerges in Heywood's dialogue, less concentrated and blent with neither pathos nor poetic fancy, yet still indubitably of the genuine sort.

The Four P's are four representative personages, well known to the audience of Heywood's day. They are the Palmer, the Pardoner, the Poticary, and the Pedlar. The Palmer might be described as a professional pilgrim. He made it his business to travel on foot all through his life from shrine to shrine, subsisting upon alms, visiting all lands in Europe and beyond the seas where saints were buried, praying at their tombs, seeking remission for his sins through their intercessions and

[blocks in formation]

a

entrance into Paradise by the indulgence granted to pilgrims at these holy places.' His wanderings only ended with his death. Pardoners are described in an old English author ascertain fellows that carried about the Pope's Indulgences, and sold them to such as would buy them.'? Since this was a very profitable trade, it behoved the purchasers of their wares, which, besides Indulgences, were generally relics of saints, rosaries, and amulets, to see that their credentials were in order ; for, even supposing, if that were possible, that a Pardoner could be an honest man, and his genuine merchandise be worth the money paid for it, who could be sure that impostors, deriving no countenance from the Roman Curia, were not abroad? Therefore all Pardoners displayed Bulls and spiritual passports from the Popes, which, if duly executed and authenticated, empowered them to sell salvation at so much the groat. The difficulty of testing these credentials put wary folk in much perplexity. Ariosto has used this motive in a humorous scene of one of his best comedies, where a would be purchaser of pardon insists on taking the friar's Bull to his parish priest for verification. Chaucer alludes to the custom of Pardoners exhibiting their Bulls, in the exordium of his · Pardoner's Tale,' and Heywood in the

1 Dante defines a Palmer thus in the Vita Nuova: Chiamansi Palmieri inquanto vanno oltra mare, laonde molte volte recano la palma : Peregrini, inquanto vanno alla casa di Galizia ; Romei inquanto vanno a Roma.' In England a distinction was drawn between Palmers and Pilgrims. 'The pilgrim had some home or dwelling-place; but the palmer had none. The pilgrim travelled to some certain designed place or places; but the palmer to all. The pilgrim went at his own charges ; but the palmer professed wilful poverty, and went upon alms,' &c. See Note 2 to p. 331 of Hazlitt's Dodsley, vol. i.

2 Hazlitt's Dodsley, i. 343, Note 2. 3 Scolastica, Act iv. Scene 4.

[ocr errors]

Interlude of The Pardoner and the Friar' makes merry for many pages with the same motive. The sale of Indulgences, as is well known, brought large profits to the Papal exchequer ; and when the extravagance of

: Leo X. plunged him into deep financial difficulties, his eagerness to stimulate this source of revenue drove Germany into the schism of the Reformation. While S. Peter's was being built with commissions upon pardons, Luther was taunting the laity with 'buying such cheap rubbish at so dear a price.'

Chaucer's portrait of the Pardoner forms so good a frontispiece to Heywood's Interlude, that a quotation from it may be here acceptable :

a

This pardoner hadde heer as yelwe as wex,
But smothe it heng, as doth a strike of flex;
By unces hynge his lokkes that he hadde,
And therewith he his schuldres overspradde.
Ful thinne it lay, by culpons on and oon;
But hood, for jolitee, ne werede he noon.

A
voys

he hadde as smal as eny goot.
No berd ne hadde he, ne nevere scholde have,
As smothe it was as it were late i-schave.

[ocr errors]

But trewely to tellen atte laste,
He was in churche a noble ecclesiaste.
Wel cowde he rede a lessoun or a storye,
But altherbest he sang an offertorie.

The Poticary, or Apothecary, and the Pedlar require no special introduction to a modern audience. Both are much the same in our days as in those of Queen Mary—the Pedlar with his pack stuffed full of gauds and gear for women ; the Poticary taking life as a philosopher inclined to materialism.

| See Hazlitt's Dodsley, vol. i. pp. 212-223.

THE PARDONER.

191

The scene opens with a monologue of the Palmer. He recites a long list of the shrines which he has visited:

I am a Palmer, as ye see,
Which of my life much part have spent
In many a fair and far country :
As Pilgrims do, of good intent.
At Jerusalem have I been
Before Christ's blessed sepulchre :
The Mount of Calvary have I seen,
A holy place, you may be sure.
To Jehosaphat and Olivet
On foot, God wot, I went right bare :
Many a salt tear did I sweat,
Before my carcase could come there.
Yet have I been at Rome also,
And gone the stations all a-row;
S. Peter's shrine and many mo,
Than, if I told all, ye do know.

Beginning with the holiest places, Jerusalem and Rome, he runs through the whole bede roll of inferior oracles, until he comes to :

Our Lady that standeth in the oak.

While he is still vaunting the extent of his excursions, as a modern globe-trotter might do, the Pardoner breaks in upon him :

And when ye have gone as far as ye can,
For all your labour and ghostly intent,
Ye will come home as wise as ye went.

This ruffles the Palmer's pride and self-esteem. Is the fame of his achievement nothing? Is the palm for which he has been travailing, of no avail ? The Pardoner says : Nay, your object was a worthy one; the saving of your soul is a great matter; it is not for

But

a man of my trade to cheapen his own wares.
consider the thing calmly :

Now mark in this what wit ye have,
To seek so far, and help so nigh !
Even here at home is remedy ;
For at your door myself doth dwell,
Who could have saved your soul as well
As all your wide wandering shall do,
Though ye went thrice to Jericho.

This is the very argument which the Pardoning Friar in Ariosto's 'Scolastica' uses to Don Bartolo. That conscience burdened jurisconsult was minded to make a pilgrimage to Compostella for his soul's peace. The Friar told him he was little better than a fool. By laying out on pardons considerably less than his journey money, he might stay at home and be saved at ease.

The Palmer in our Interlude makes much the same reply to the Pardoner as Don Bartolo made to the Friar :

Right seldom is it seen, or never,
That truth and pardoners dwell together.
For be your pardons never so great,
Yet them to enlarge ye will not let
With such lies that ofttimes, Christ wot,
Ye seem to have that ye have not.
Wherefore I went myself to the self thing
In every place, and without saying
Had as much pardon there assuredly,
As ye can promise me here doubtfully.

The Palmer preferred the real article--pardons at the shrine, however toilfully obtained, to pardons signed and sealed by Papal licences. He was in the position of an invalid who travels to drink the waters at the spring, instead of taking them corked and bottled in his sick-room. In spite of brands upon the

« PředchozíPokračovat »