« ÎnapoiContinuați »
example, which he would have been equally ready to set, I have many friends to thank for welcome and necessary assistance. I am not aware that in a single instance I have omitted separately to state my obligations; but, nevertheless, I cannot refuse myself the gratification of placing their names in connexion here, that it may be seen at once how many individuals, distinguished in their various departments, have taken an interest in the progress and success of my undertaking :-Sir Charles Young, Garter King at Arms; Sir Henry Ellis, Principal Librarian of the British Museum; Sir Frederick Madden, Keeper of the Manuscripts in the same institution ; Sir N. Harris Nicolas; the Rev. Dr. Bandinel, Curator of the Bodleian Library; the Rev. Dr. Bliss, Registrar of the University of Oxford; the Rev. Dr. Todd, of Trinity College, Dublin ; Mr. Amyot, Treasurer of the Society of Antiquaries, for whose unceasing encouragement and ever prompt advice I cannot be too thankful; Mr. Lemon, of the State Paper Office, whose aid in the biography of Shakespeare it will be seen has been most valuable; the Rev. Charles Howes, of Dulwich College; the Rev. H. Barry; Mr. Bruce; the Rev. W. Harness; Mr. Prime; Mr. W. H. Black; Mr. H. C. Robinson ; Mr. Laing and Mr. Turnbull, of Edinburgh ; Mr. Barron Field; the Rev. John Mitford; Mr. Halliwell; Mr. Wright; Mr. Thoms; Mr. F. G. Tomlins; Mr. N. Hill; and my zealous and wellinformed friend, Mr. Peter Cunningham. If I am not able to add to this enumeration the names of the Rev. Alexander Dyce, and of the Rev. Joseph Hunter, it is because, when I found that they were engaged upon works of a character akin to my own, I refrained from asking for information, which, however useful to their own purposes, they would have been unwilling to refuse.
THE ENGLISH DRAMA AND STAGE :
THE TIME OF SHAKESPEARE.
In order to make the reader acquainted with the origin of the English stage, such as Shakespeare found that stage
when he became connected with it, it is necessary to mention that a miracle-play, or mystery (as it has been termed in modern times) is the oldest form of dramatic composition in our language. The stories of productions of this kind were derived from the Sacred Writings, from the pseudo-evangelium, or from the lives and legends of saints and martyrs.
Miracle-plays were common in London in the year 1170; and even as early as 1119 the miracle-play of St. Katherine had been represented at Dunstaple. It has been conjectured, and indeed in part established', that some of these performances were in French, as well as in Latin; and it was not until the reign of Edward III. that they were generally acted in English. We have three existing series of miracle-plays’, all of which have been recently printed ; the Towneley collection by the Surtees Club, and those known as the Coventry and Chester pageants by the Shakespeare Society. The Abbotsford Club has likewise printed, from a manuscript at
See Hist. of Eng. Dram. Poetry and the Stage, Vol. ii. p. 131. ? Since the above was written, in 1844, a fourth series of Miracle.plays has come to light: it is a MS. upon vellum of about the reign of Henry VI., and in all essential particulars it seems to accord with other collections of scriptural dramas. The Shakespeare Society would have printed it, uniformly with their volumes of the Coventry and Chester plays, but the owner, for some unexplained reason, was unwilling that it should appear in type, and thus we have been prevented from instituting any close comparison,
Oxford, three detached miracle-plays which once, probably, formed a portion of a connected succession of productions of that description.
During about 300 years this species of theatrical entertainment seems to have flourished, often under the auspices of the clergy, who used it as the means of religious instruction; but prior to the reign of Henry VI., a new kind of drama had become popular, which by writers of the time was denominated a moral, or moral-play, and more recently a morality. It acquired this name from the nature and purpose of the representation, which usually conveyed a lesson for the better conduct of human life, the characters employed not being scriptural, as in miracle-plays, but allegorical, or symbolical. Miracle-plays continued to be represented long after moralplays were introduced, but from a remote date abstract-impersonations had, by degrees not now easily traced, found their way into miracle-plays: thus, perhaps, moral-plays, consisting only of such characters, grew out of them.
A very remarkable and interesting miracle-play, not founded upon the Sacred Writings, but upon a popular legend, and all the characters of which, with one exception, purport to be real personages, has been discovered in the library of Trinity College, Dublin, in a manuscript certainly as old as the later part of the reign of Edward IV.: It is perhaps the only specimen of the kind in our language; and as it was unknown to all who have hitherto written on the history of our ancient drama, it will not here be out of place to give some account of the incidents to which it relates, and of the persons concerned in them. The title of the piece, and the year in which the events are supposed to have occurred, are given at the close, where we are told that it is “ The Play of the Blessed Sacramento,” and that the miracle to which it refers was wrought “in the forest of Arragon, in the famous city of Araclea, in the year of our Lord God 1461.” There can be no doubt that the scene of action was imaginary, being fixed merely for the greater satisfaction of the spectators as to the reality of the occurrences; and as little
3 We are indebted for a correct transcript of the original to the zeal and kindness of the Rev. Dr. J. H. Todd, V.P., R.I.S.A.
In another part of the MS. it is called “The Play of the Conversion of Sir Jonathas, the Jew, by Miracle of the Blessed Sacrament;" but inferior Jews are converted, besides Sir Jonathas, who is the head of the tribe in the “famous city of Araclea."