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species of mixed drama, which was strictly neither moral play nor historical play, but a combination of both in the same representation.
Of this singular union of discordant materials, no person who has hitherto written upon the history of our dramatic poetry has taken due notice; but it is very necessary not to pass it over, inasmuch as it may be said to have led ultimately to the introduction of tragedy, comedy, and history, as we now understand the terms, upon the boards of our public theatres. No blame for the omission can fairly be imputed to our predecessors, because the earliest specimens of this sort of mixed drama which remain to us have been brought to light within a comparatively few years. The most important of these is the “ Kynge Johan” of Bishop Bale. We are not able to settle with precision the date when it was originally written, but it was evidently performed, with additions and alterations, after Elizabeth came to the throne. The purpose of the author was to promote the Reformation, by applying to the circumstances of his own times the events of the reign of King John, when the kingdom was placed by the Pope under an interdict, and when, according to popular belief, the sovereign was poisoned by a draught administered to him by a monk. This drama resembles a moral play in the introduction of abstract impersonations, and a historical play in the adaptation of a portion of our national annals, with real characters, to the purposes of the stage. Though performed in the reign of Elizabeth, we may carry back the first composition and representation of Kynge Johan” to the time of Edward VÌ.; but, as it has been printed by the Camden Society, it is not necessary that we should enlarge upon it.
The object of Bale's play was, as we have stated, to 1 Bale died in Nov. 1563; but he is nevertheless thus spoken of, as still living, in B. Googe's "Eglogs, Epitaphes, and Sonnettes,” published, we have reason to believe, in the spring of that year: we have never seen this tribute quoted, and therefore subjoin it,
“Good aged Bale, that with thy hoary heares
Doste yet persyste to turne the paynefull booke ;
With booke in hand to have thy dying daye.” Besides "King Johan," Bale was the author of four extant dramatic productions, which may be looked upon as miracle-plays, both in their form and characters : viz. 1. "The Three Laws of Nature, Moses and Christ;" 2. "God's Promises;" 3. "John the Baptist ;" 4. "The Temptation of Christ.” He also wrote fourteen other dramas of various kinds, none of which have come down to us.
advance the Reformation under Edward VI.; but in the reign of his successor a drama of a similar description, and of a directly opposite tendency, was written and acted. It has never been mentioned, and as it exists only in manuscript of the time, it will not be out of place to quote its title, and to explain briefly in what manner the anonymous author carries out his design. He calls his drama “ Respublica," and he adds that it was “ made in the year of our Lord 1553, and the first year of the most prosperous reign of our most gracious Sovereign, Queen Mary the First.” He was supposed to speak the prologue himself
, in the character of “a Poet;" and although every person he introduces is in fact called by some abstract name, he avowedly brings forward the Queen herself as “ Nemesis, the Goddess of redress and correction," while her kingdom of England is intended by “ Respublica,” and its inhabitants represented by “People:" the Reformation in the Church is distinguished as “ Oppression;" and Policy, Authority, and Honesty, are designated “ Avarice,” “ Insolence,” and “ Adulation." All this is distinctly stated by the author on his title-page, while he also employs the impersonations of Misericordia, Veritas, Justitia, and Pax, (agents not unfrequently resorted to in the older miracle-plays) as the friends of “ Nemesis,” the Queen, and as the supporters of the Roman Catholic religion in her dominions.
Nothing would be gained by a detail of the import of the tedious interlocutions between the characters, represented, it would seem, by boys, who were perhaps the children of the Chapel Royal; for there are traces in the performance that it was originally acted at court. Respublica is a widow greatly injured and abused by Avarice, Insolence, Oppression, and Adulation; while People, using throughout a rustic dialect, also complain bitterly of their sufferings, especially since the introduction of what had been termed « Reformation” in matters of faith: in the end Justitia brings in Nemesis, effect a total change by restoring the former condition of religious affairs; and the piece closes with the delivery of the offenders to condign punishment. The production was evidently written by a man of education; but, although there are many attempts at humour, and some at variety, both in character and situation, the whole must have been a very wearisome performance adapted to please the court by its general tendency, but little calculated to accomplish any other purpose entertained by the writer. In all respects it is much inferior to the
1 In the library of Mr. Hudson Gurney, to whom we beg to express our obligations for the use of it.
“ Kynge Johan” of Bale, which it followed in point of date, and to which, perhaps, it was meant to be a counterpart.
In the midst of the performance of dramatic productions of a religious or political character, each party supporting the views which most accorded with the author's individual opinions, John Heywood, who was a zealous Roman Catholic, and who subsequently suffered for his creed under Edward VI. and Elizabeth, discovered a new species of entertainment, of a highly humorous, and not altogether of an uninstructive kind; which seems to have been very acceptable to the sovereign and nobility, and to have obtained for the author a distinguished character as a court dramatist, and ample rewards as a court dependent.' These were properly called “interludes," being short comic pieces, represented ordinarily in the interval between the feast and the banquet; and we may easily believe that they had considerable influence in the settlement of the form which our stage-performances ultimately assumed. Heywood does not appear to have begun writing until after Henry VIII. had been some years on the throne; but, while Skelton was composing such tedious elaborations as his “ Magnificence," which, without any improvement, merely carries to a still greater length of absurdity the old style of moral plays, Heywood was writing his * John Tib and Sir John," his “Four Ps,” his "Pardoner and Friar," and pieces of that description, which presented both variety of matter and novelty of construction, as well as considerable wit and drollery in the language. He was a very original writer, and certainly merits more admiration than any of his dramatic contemporaries.
To the commencement of the reign of Elizabeth we may refer several theatrical productions which make approaches, more or less near, to comedy, tragedy, and history, and still retain many of the known features of moral plays. “ Tom Tiler and his Wife" is a comedy in its incidents; but the allegorical personages, Desire, Destiny, Strife, and Patience, connect it immediately with the earlier species of stageentertainment. “The Conflict of Conscience," on the other hand, is a tragedy on the fate of an historical personage; but Conscience, Hypocrisy, Avarice, Horror, &c., are called in aid of the purpose of the writer. “ Appius and Virginia” is in most respects a history, founded upon facts; but Rumour, Comfort, and Doctrine, are importantly concerned
1 John Heywood, who flourished in the reign of Henry VIII., is not to be confounded, as some modern editors of Shakespeare have confounded him, with Thomas Heywood, who became a dramatist more than half a century afterwards, and who continued a writer for the stage until near the date of the closing of the theatres by the Puritans. John Heywood, in all probability, died before Thomas Heywood was born.
the treacherous help of his associate, endeavours to gain the affections of Custance. He writes her a letter, which Merrygreek reads without a due observance of the punctuation, so that it entirely perverts the meaning of the writer: he visits her while she is surrounded by her female domestics, but he is unceremoniously rejected: he resolves to carry her by force of arms, and makes an assault upon her habitation; but with the assistance of her maids, armed with mops and brooms, she drives him from the attack. Then, her betrothed lover returns, who has been misinformed on the subject of her fidelity, but he is soon reconciled on an explanation of the facts; and Ralph Roister Doister, finding that he has no chance of success, and that he has only been cajoled and laughed at, makes up his mind to be merry at the wedding of Goodluck and Custance.
In all this we have no trace of anything like a moral play, with the exception, perhaps, of the character of Matthew Merrygreek, which, in some of its features, its love of mischief and its drollery, bears a resemblance to the Vice of the older drama." Were the dialogue modernised, the comedy might be performed, even in our own day, to the satisfaction of many of the usual attendants at our theatres.
In considering the merits of this piece, we are to recollect that Bishop Stiil's “Gammer Gurton's Needle," which, until of late, was held to be our earliest comedy, was written some twenty years after “Ralph Roister Doister:" it was not acted at Cambridge until 1566, nine years subsequent to the death of Udall; and it is in every point of view an inferior production. The plot is a mere piece of absurdity, the language is provincial (well fitted, indeed, to the country where the scene is laid, and to the clownish persons engaged in it) and the manners depicted are chiefly those of illiterate rustics. The story, such as it is, relates to the loss of a needle with which Gammer Gurton had mended Hodge's breeches, and which is afterwards found by the hero, when he is about to sit down. The humour, generally speaking, is as coarse as the dialogue; and though it is impossible to deny that
y "the older drama," we mean moral plays, into which the Vice was introduced for the amusement of the spectators: no character so called, or with similar propensities, is to be traced in miracle-plays. He was, in fact, the buffoon of our drama in, what may be termed, its second stage; after audiences began to grow weary of plays founded upon Scripture-history, and when even moral plays, in order to be rolished, required the insertion of a character of broad humour, and vicious inclinations, who was sometimes to be the companion, and at others, the castigator, of the devil, who represented the principle of evil among mankind. The Vice of moral plays subsequently became the fool and jester of comedy, tragedy, and history, and forms another, and an important, link of connexion between them.