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and as the fedentary pleafures of domeftick life and private fociety were yet unknown, the fair-time was the feafon for diverfion. In proportion as these fhews were attended and encouraged, they began to be fet off with new decorations and improvements and the arts of buffoonery being rendered fill more attractive, by extending their circle of exhibition, acquired an importance in the eyes of the people. By degrees the clergy obferving that the entertainments of dancing, inufick, and mimickry, exhibited at these protracted annual celebrities, made the people less religious, by pro-, moting idleness and a love of feftivity, profcribed these sports, and excommunicated the performers. But finding that no regard was paid to their cenfures, they changed their plan, and determined to take thefe recreations into their own hands. They turned actors; and inftead of profane mummeries, prefented stories taken from legends or the Bible. This was the origin of facred comedy. The death of Saint Catharine, acted by the monks of faint Dennis, rivalled the popularity of the profeffed players. Mufick was admitted into the churches, which ferved as theatres for the reprefentation of holy farces. The feftivals among the French, called La fête des Foux, de l' Ane, and des Innocens, at lengh became greater favourites, as they certainly were more capricious and abfurd, than the interludes of the buffoons at the fairs. Thefe are the ideas of a judicious French writer now living, who has inveftigated the hiftory of human manners with great comprehenfion and fagacity."

"Voltaire's theory on this fubject is also very ingenious, and quite new. Religious plays, he


fuppofes, came originally from Conftantinople; where the old Grecian flage continued to flourish in some degree, and the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides were represented, till the fourth century. About that period, Gregory Nazianzen, an archbishop, a poet, and one of the fathers of the church, banished pagan plays from the ftage at Conftantinople, and introduced ftories from the Old and New Teftament. As the ancient Greek tragedy was a religious fpectacle, a tranfition was made on the fame plan; and the choruffes were turned into Christian hymns. Gregory wrote many facred dramas for this purpose, which have not furvived thofe inimitable compofitions over which they triumphed for a time: one, however, his tragedy called Xpiolos Tacxav, or Chrift's Paffion, is ftill extant. In the prologue it is faid to be an imitation of Euripides, and that this is the first time the Virgin Mary had been introduced on the ftage. The fashion of acting spiritual dramas, in which at firft a due degree of method and decorum was preserved, was at length adopted from Conftantinople by the Italians; who framed, in the depth of the dark ages, on this foundation, that barbarous fpecies of theatrical reprefentation called


6" At Conftantinople" as Mr. Warton has elsewhere obferved, "it feems that the ftage flourished much, under Juftinian and Theodora, about the year 540. for in the Bafilical codes we have the oath of an altrefs, μη αναχωρειν της πορνείας. Tom. VII. P: 682. edit. Fabrot. Græco-Lat. The ancient Greek fathers, particularly faint Chryfoftom, are full of declamation against the drama; and complain, that the people heard a comedian with much more pleasure than a preacher of the gofpel." Warton's Hiftory of English Poetry, Vol. I. p. 244. n.

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MYSTERIES, or facred comedies, and which were foon after received in France. This opinion will acquire probability, if we confider the early com、 mercial intercourfe between Italy and Conftantinople: and although the Italians, at the time when they may be fuppofed to have imported plays of this nature, did not understand the Greek language, yet they could understand, and confequently could imitate, what they faw."

In defence of Voltaire's hypothefis, it may be further observed, that The feast of Fools, and of the Afs, with other religious farces of that fort, fo common in Europe, originated at Conftantinople. They were inftituted, although perhaps under other names, in the Greek Church, about the year 990. by Theophylact, patriarch of Conftantinople, probably with a better defign than is imagined by the ecclefiaftical annalifts; that of weaning the minds of the people from the pagan ceremonies, by the fubftitution of chriftian fpectacles partaking of the fame spirit of licentioufnefs. To those who are accustomed to contemplate the great picture of human follies, which the unpolifhed ages of Europe hold up to our view, it will not appear furprising, that the people who were forbidden to read the events of the facred history in the Bible, in which they were faithfully and beautifully related, fhould at the fame time be permitted to fee them reprefented on the ftage, difgraced with the groffeft improprieties, corrupted with inventions and additions of the most ridiculous kind, fullied with impurities, and expreffed in the language of the loweft farce."

On the whole, the Mysteries appear to have

originated among the ecclefiafticks; and were most · probably first acted with any degree of form by the monks. This was certainly the cafe in the English monafteries. I have already mentioned the play of Saint Catharine, performed at Dunftable Abbey, by the novices in the eleventh century, under the fuperintendance of Geoffrey, a Parifian ecclefiaftick: and the exhibition of the Paffion by the mendicant friers of Coventry and other places. Inftances have been given of the like practice among the French. The only perfons who could now read were in the religious focieties; and various circumftances, peculiarly arifing from their fituation, profeffion, and institution, enabled the monks to be the fole performers of these representations."

"As learning encreased, and was more widely diffeminated, from the monafteries, by a natural and easy transition, the practice migrated to schools and univerfities, which were formed on the monaftick plan, and in many respects refembled the ecclefiaftical bodies."

Candlemas-Day, or The Slaughter of the Innocents, written by Ihan Parfre, in 1512. Mary Magdalene,

7" In fome regulations given by Cardinal Wolfey to the monafteries of the Canons regular of St. Auflin, in the year 1519. the brothers are forbidden to be lufores aut mimici, players or mimicks. But the prohibition means that the monks fhould not go abroad to exercise these arts in a secular and mercenary capacity. See Annal. Burtonenfes, p. 437."

In 1589. however, an injunction made in the MEXICAN COUNCIL was ratified at Rome, to prohibit all clerks from playing in the Myfteries, even on Corpus Chrifti day. See Hiftory of Eng. Poetry, Vol. II. p. 201.

Warton's History of English Peetry, Vol. II. pp. 366, & fcq,

produced in the fame year, and The Promifes of God, written by John Bale, and printed in 1538, are curious fpecimens of this early fpecies of drama. But the moft ancient as well as moft complete collection of this kind is, The Chefter Myfteries, which were written by Ralph Higden, a monk of the Abbey of Chester, about the year 1328,"

9 MSS. Digby, 133. Bibl. Bodl.


MSS. Harl. 2013. &c. 66 Exhibited at Chefter in the year 1327. at the expenfe of the different trading companies of that city. The Fall of Lucifer, by the Tanners. The Creation, by the Drapers. The Deluge, by the Dyers. Abraham, Melchifedech, and Lot, by the Barbers. Mofes, Balak, and Balaam, by the Cappers. The Salutation and Nativity, by the Wrightes. The Shepherds feeding their Flocks by Night, by the Painters and Glaziers. The three Kings, by the Vintners. The Oblation of the three Kings, by the Mercers. The killing of the Innocents, by the Goldfmiths. The Purification, by the Blacksmiths. The Templation, by the Butchers. The laft. Supper, by the Bakers. The blind Men and Lazarus, by the Glovers. Jefus and the Lepers, by the Corvefarys. Chrift's Paffion, by the Bowyers, Fletchers, and Ironmongers. Defcent into Hell, by the Cooks and Innkeepers. The Refurrection, by the Skinners. The Afcenfion, by the Taylors. The Election of S. Mathias, fending of the Holy Ghoft, &c. by the Fifhmongers. Antichrift, by the Clothiers. Day of Judgement, by the Webflers. The reader will perhaps fmile at fome of these combinations. This is the fubftance and order of the former part of the play. God enters creating the world; he breathes life into Adam, leads him into Paradife, and opens his fide while fleeping. Adam and Eve appear naked, and not ashamed, and the old ferpent enters lamenting his fall. He converfes with Eve. She eats of the forbidden fruit, and gives part to Adam. They purpofe, according to the ftage-direction, to make themfelves fubligacula a foliis quibus tegamus pudenda. Cover their nakednefs with leaves, and converfe with God. God's curfe. The ferpent exit hiffing. They are driven from Paradife by four angels and the cherubim with a flaming fword. Adam appears digging the ground, and Eve fpinning.

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