Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

printed, in the English tongue, touching matters then in controversy, unless the same had been first allowed by public authority. The King, however, was not at all averse to the stage being used against the Reformers; the purpose of that measure being, so far as regarded plays, to prevent any using of them on the other side.

This is most aptly shown in a notable event that happened in November, 1527. Catholic Europe had just been scandalized beyond measure by the course of Charles the Fifth, who had made war on the Pope, and had actually captured the city of Rome; and who, moreover, was then holding the children of Francis the First as prisoners in Spain. King Henry was mightily stirred up against the Emperor on this account, and was for going into a mortal buffeting with him in behalf of the Holy See. The arrival of a French Embassy at the English Court was the occasion of the event referred to. The Ambassadors were entertained with great splendour by the King at Greenwich; a part of the entertainment being a Moral-Play in Latin, performed by the boys of St. Paul's School. The principal characters were as follows: Religio, Ecclesia, and Veritas, like three widows, in garments of silk, and suits of lawn and cypress; Heresy and False Interpretation, like sisters of Bohemia, apparelled in silk of divers colours; the heretic Luther, like a party friar, in russet damask and black taffety; Luther's wife, like a frau of Spiers, in red silk; Peter, Paul, and James, in habits of white sarcenet, and three red mantles; à Cardinal in his apparel; the Dauphin and his brother, in coats of velvet embroidered with gold; three Germans, in apparel all cut and holed in silk; Lady Peace, in apparel white and rich; Lady Quietness and Dame Tranquillity. The subject of the play was the captivity of the Pope and the oppression of the Church. St. Peter put Cardinal Wolsey in authority to free the Pope and restore the Church; and by his intercession the Kings of England and France took part together, and got the Pope delivered. Then the French King's children complained to the Cardinal that the Emperor kept them as hostages, and desired him to work for their deliverance, and he effected this also.

This matter is so very curious in several respects, that I give it with more than usual fulness. Only three years later, King Henry himself was quarrelling with the same Pope, and the Emperor was acting as the Pope's champion.

In 1543, an Act of Parliament was passed for the restraining of dramatic performances. The preamble states that divers persons, intending to subvert the true and perfect doctrine of Scripture, have presumed to use in that behalf not only sermons and arguments, but printed books, plays, and songs; and the body of the statute enacts that no person shall play in interludes, sing, or rhyme any matter contrary to the Church of Rome; the penalty being a fine of £10 and three months' imprisonment for the first offence; for the second, forfeiture of all goods, and perpetual imprisonment.

When Edward the Sixth came to the throne, in 1547, legislation took a new turn, and the Act of 1543 was repealed. There arose, however, so great an excess on the part of printers and players, that in 1552 a strong proclamation was issued, forbidding them to print or play any thing without a special license under the sign manual, or under the hands of six of the Privy Council, the penalty being imprisonment without bail, and fine at the King's pleasure.

Soon after the accession of Mary, in 1553, was set forth a proclamation against “busy meddlers in matter of religion, and for redress of preachers, printers, and players”; the intent of which was to prevent the printing or playing of any thing adapted to further the Reformation. The thing seems to have been effectual for more than two years, after which further measures were found necessary. But all would not do; the restraints kept giving way. In 1557, “certain naughty plays” broke loose even in London; and the Lord Mayor was called upon by the Court to discover and arrest the players, and “to take order that no play be made henceforth within the city, except the same be first seen, and the players authorized.” Nevertheless Mary was far from discouraging plays and players: on the contrary, she kept up the theatrical establishment of her father to the full. The old Miracle-Plays, being generally of the right Roman Catholic stamp, were revived under the patronage of the Court. In 1556, the play of Christ's Passion was presented at the Greyfriars in London, before the Lord Mayor, the Privy Council, and many of the nobility. The next year it was repeated at the same place; and also, on the feast of St. Olave, the miraculous life of that Saint was performed as a stage-play in the church dedicated to him.

Elizabeth succeeded to the crown, November 17, 1558; and in May following she issued a proclamation forbidding any plays or interludes to be performed in the kingdom without special license from the local magistrates; and also ordering that none should be so licensed, wherein either matters of religion or of State were handled. This was probably deemed necessary in consequence of the strong measures which had lately been used for putting down all plays that smacked of the Reformation.

The Moral-Play of Lusty Juventus, printed some time after 1551, is full of shots against what are called the superstitions of Rome. Its arguments and positions are exceedingly scriptural, chapter and verse being quoted or referred to with all the exactness of a theological treatise. And the tenets of the new “gospellers” are as openly maintained as those of Rome are impugned. Juventus, the hero, who is bent on going it while he is young, starts out in quest of his companions, to have a merry dance: Good Counsel meets him, warns him of the evil of his ways,

and engages him on the spot in a prayer

to aid him in his purpose of amendment. Just at this moment Knowledge comes up, and prevails on him to spend his time chiefly in hearing sermons and reading the Scriptures. This puts the Devil in great alarm; he has a soliloquy on the subject, then calls in Hypocrisy, and sets him to work in the cause.

for grace

a

While Juventus is on his way to hear a preaching," Hypocrisy encounters him, argues with him against forsaking the traditions of his fathers, and diverts him from his purpose. Some while after, Good Counsel finds him in the lowest state of debauchery, and reclaims him; and God's Merciful Promises undertakes to procure his pardon.

The Longer Thou Livest the More Fool Thou Art is the title of a piece probably written early in Elizabeth's reign. Moros, the hero, is represented as an ignorant and vicious fool, thinking of nothing but ballads and songs, and constantly singing scraps of them. Discipline finds him venting this humour, and reproves him; Piety and Exercise add their efforts to reform him, but discover him to be as much knave as fool. The two latter hold him while Discipline lays on the whip, till he affects contrition; but he is soon wheedled into a relapse by Idleness, Incontinence, and Wrath, who, however, profess to hold him in contempt. Wrath gives him the Vice's sword and dagger, and they all promise him the society of Nell, Nan, Meg, and Bess. Fortune then endows him with wealth; he takes Impiety, Cruelty, and Ignorance into his service; Impiety stirs him up against “these new fellows," that is, the Protestants, and he vows to “hang, burn, and kill” them without remorse. When they are gone, People enters, complaining of the hero's cruelty and oppression, but runs off in a fright as soon as he returns. God's Judgment then comes and strikes him down; Confusion follows; they strip off his “goodly gear," and put on him a fool's coat. Being required by Confusion to go with him he replies

“ If it please the Devil me to have,

Let him carry me away on his back." We are left to infer that Confusion, who is the Devil of the piece, takes him at his word.

The Marriage of Wit and Science is the earliest known instance of a Moral-Play regularly distributed into five Acts, and these again into scenes. The allegory is quite elaborate and wire-drawn; and the piece has something of humour in the matter, and of melody in the versification. Like Will to Like, Quoth the Devil to the Collier, printed in 1568, has some rude approaches to individual character; which is my reason for noticing it. Nichol Newfangle, though in fact the hero, enacts the Vice, and is armed with the wooden dagger; among his friends are Ralph Royster, Tom Tosspot, Philip Fleming, Pierce Pickpurse, and Cuthbert Cutpurse, who have some lines of individual peculiarity. To these are added several allegorical personages, as Good Fame, Severity, Virtuous Life, and Honour. Lucifer also figures in the piece; Newfangle claims him as godfather, and is at last carried off by him. The Conflict of Conscience is worthy of notice as being one of the earliest germinations of the Historical Drama. The hero, though called Philologus, is avowedly meant for Francis Speira, an Italian lawyer, who, it is said, “forsook the truth of God's Gospel, for fear of the loss of life and worldly goods." The characters of the piece are partly historical, partly allegorical.

If The Conflict of Conscience deserves mention as an approach to Tragedy, Tom Tiler and his Wife equally deserves it as an early sprout of Comedy. It contains a mixture of allegorical and individual persons, the latter, however, taking the chief part of the action. Tom Tiler has a spouse named Strife, who is not only a great scold, but hugely given to drinking with Sturdy and Tipple. Tiler meets his friend Tom Tailor, an artificer of shreds and patches, and relates his sufferings. Tailor changes clothes with him; in this disguise goes to Strife as her husband, and gives her such a drubbing that she submits. Tiler then resumes his own clothes, goes home, and pities his wife, who, ignorant of the trick, vows she will never love him again: to appease her, he unwarily owns up; whereupon she snatches a stick, and belabours him till he cries out for life; and she declares that Tailor had better eaten her than beaten her. Tiler flies to his friend Tailor, and tells him what has happened; Tailor then falls to beating him; and

« AnteriorContinuar »