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appear by brief analyses of some of them. The Towneley set being the most ancient, my first specimens will be from that.
The first play of the series includes the creation, the revolt of Lucifer and his adherents, and their expulsion from Heaven. It opens with a short address from the Deity, who then begins the creation, and, after a song by the cherrubim, descends from the throne, and retires ; Lucifer usurps it, and asks his fellows how he appears. The good and bad angels have different opinions about that; but the Deity soon returns, and ends the dispute by casting the rebels with their leader out of Heaven. Adam and Eve are then created, and Satan winds up the piece with a speech venting his envy of their happiness in Eden.
The second play relates to the killing of Abel, and is opened by Cain's ploughboy with a sort of prologue in which he warns the spectators to be silent. Cain then enters with a plough and team, and quarrels with the boy for refusing to drive the team. Presently Abel comes in, and wishes Cain good-speed, who meets his kind word with an unmentionable request. The murder then proceeds, and is followed by the cursing of Cain; after which he calls the boy, and gives him a beating. Cain owns the murder, and the boy counsels flight, lest the bailiffs catch him. Next we have a course of buffoonery: Cain makes a mock proclamation in the King's name, the boy repeats it blunderingly after him, and is then sent off with the team; and the piece closes with a speech by Cain to the spectators, bidding them farewell.
The third of the series is occupied with the Deluge. After a lamentation by Noah on the sinfulness of the world, God is introduced repenting that he made man, telling Noah how to build the Ark, and blessing him and his, Noah's wife is an arrant shrew, and they fall at odds in the outset, both of them swearing by the Virgin Mary. Noah begins and finishes the Ark on the spot; then tells his spouse what is coming, and invites her on board: she stoutly refuses to embark, which brings on another flare-up; he persuades her with a whip; she wishes herself a widow, and the same to all the wives in the audience; he exhorts all the husbands to break in their wives betimes : at length harmony is restored by the intervention of the sons; all go aboard, and pass three hundred and fifty days talking about the weather; a raven is sent out, then a dove, and they debark.
Two plays of the set are taken up with the adoration of the shepherds; and the twelfth is worthy of special notice as being a piece of broad comedy approaching to downright farce, with dashes of rude wit and humour. The three shepherds, after talking awhile about their shrewish wives, are on the point of striking up a song, when an old acquaintance of theirs named Mak, whose character is none of the best, comes among them. They suspect him of meditating some sly trick; so, on going to bed, they take care to have him lie between them, lest he play the wolf among their woolly subjects. While they are snoring, he steals out, helps himself to a fat sheep, and makes off. His wife, fearing he may be snatched up and hanged, suggests a scheme, which is presently agreed upon, that she shall make as if she had just been adding a member to the family, and that the sheep shall be snugly wrapped up in the cradle. This done, Mak hastens back, and resumes his sleeping-place. In the morning the shepherds wake much refreshed, but Mak feigns a crick in the neck; and, while they are walking to the fold, he whips away home. They soon miss the sheep, suspect Mak, and go to his cottage : he lets them in, tells them what his wife has been doing, and begs them not to disturb her; and, as the least noise seems to pain her, they are at first deceived. They ask to see the child ; he tells them the child is asleep, and will cry badly if waked ; still they insist; pull up the covering of the cradle, and know their sheep by the ear-mark; but the wife assures them it is a child, and that evil spirits have transformed it into what they see. They are not to be duped again; beat Mak till they are tired, then lie down to rest; the star in the East appears, and the angel sings the Gloria in Excelsis ; whereupon they proceed to Bethlehem, find the infant Saviour, and give him, the first “a bob of cherries,” the second a bird, the third a tennis-ball.
The Chester and Coventry plays, for the most part, closely resemble the Towneley series, both in the subjects and the manner of treating them. A portion, however, of the Coventry set, from the eighth to the fifteenth, inclusive, deserve special notice, as they show the first beginnings or buddings of a higher dramatic growth, which afterwards resulted in what are called Moral-Plays. For instance, Contemplation, who serves as speaker of prologues, and moralizes the events, is evidently an allegorical personage, that is, an abstract idea personified, such as afterwards grew into general use, and gave character to stage performances. And we have other like personages, Verity, Justice, Mercy, and Peace.
The eighth play represents Joachim grieving that he has no child, and praying that the cause of his grief may be removed : Anna, his wife, heartily joins with him, taking all the blame of their childlessness to herself. In answer to their prayers, an angel announces to them the birth of a daughter who shall be called Mary. Then follows the presentation of Mary, and, after an interview between her and the bishop, Contemplation informs the audience that fourteen years will elapse before her next appearance, and promises that they shall soon see the Parliament of Heav
Next we have Mary’s betrothment. The bishop summons the males of David's House to appear in the temple, each bringing a white rod; he being divinely assured that the man whose rod should bud and bloom was to be the husband of Mary. Joseph, after a deal of urging, offers up his rod, and the miracle is at once apparent. When asked if he will be married to the maiden, he deprecates such an event with all his might, and pleads his old age in bar of it; nevertheless the marriage proceeds. Some while after, Joseph informs the Virgin that he has hired“ a pretty little house" for her to live in, and that he will go labouring in far country” to maintain her. Then comes the Parliament of Heaven. The Virtues plead for pity and grace to man ; Verity objects, urging that there can be no peace made between sin and the law; this calls forth an earnest prayer from Mercy in man's behalf; Justice takes up the argument on the other side; Peace answers in a strain that brings them all to accord. The Son then raises the question how the thing shall be done. Verity, Justice, Mercy, and Peace having tried their wit, and found it unequal to the cause, a council of the Trinity is held, when the Son offers to undertake the work by assuming the form of a man; the Father consents, and the Holy Ghost agrees to co-operate. Gabriel is then sent to salute Mary and make known to her the decree of the Incarnation.
Joseph is absent some months. On his return he is in great affliction, and reproaches Mary, but, an angel explaining the matter to him, he makes amends. The bishop holds a court, and his officer summons to it a large number of people, all having English names, and tells the audience to “ring well in their purse”; which shows that money was collected for the performance. Mary is brought before the court, to be tried for naughtiness, and Joseph also for tamely bearing it. His innocence is proved by his drinking, without harm, a liquid which, were he guilty, would cause spots on his face. Mary also drinking of the same, unhurt, one of the accusers affirms that the bishop has changed the draught, but is cured of his unbelief by being forced to drink what is left. The fifteenth play relates to the nativity. Joseph, it seems, is not yet satisfied of Mary's innocence, and his doubts are all removed in this manner: Mary, seeing a tall tree full of ripe cherries, asks him to gather some for her; he replies that the father of her child may help her to them; and the tree forthwith bows down its top to her hand.
This is soon followed by the Saviour's birth.
Besides the three sets of Miracle-Plays in question, there are other specimens, some of which seem to require notice. Among these are three, known as the Digby Miracle-Plays, on the Conversion of St. Paul. One of the persons is Belial, whose appearance and behaviour are indicated by the stage-direction, "Enter a Devil with thunder and fire." He makes a soliloquy in self-glorification, and then complains of the dearth of news: after which we have the stage-direction, “Enter another Devil called Mercury, coming in haste, crying and roaring.” He tells Belial of St. Paul's conversion, and declares his belief that the Devil's reign is about to end; whereat Belial is in stark dismay. They then plot to stir up the “ Jewish Bishops” in the cause, and soon after “ vanish away with a fiery flame and a tempest.”
A Miracle-Play relating to Mary Magdalen is remarkable as having required four scaffolds for the exhihition ; Tiberius, Herod, Pilate, and the Devil having each their several stations; and one of the directions being, “Enter the Prince of Devils on a stage, and Hell underneath the stage.” Mary lives in a castle inherited from her father, who figures in the opening of the play as King Cyrus. A ship owned by St. Peter is brought into the space between the scaffolds, and Mary and some others make a long voyage in it. Of course St. Peter's ship represents the Catholic Church. The heroine's castle is besieged by the Devil with the Seven Deadly Sins, and carried ; Luxury takes her to a tavern where a gallant named Curiosity treats her to “sops and wine."
The process of Mary's repentance and amendment is carried through in due order. Tiberius makes a long speech glorifying himself; a parasite named Serybil flatters him on his good looks, and he in return blesses Serybil's face, which was probably carbuncled as richly as Corporal Bardolph's. Herod makes his boast in similar style, and afterwards goes to bed. The devils, headed by Satan, perform a mock pagan mass to Mahound, which is the old name for Mohammed. The three Kings of the