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represented in the old English mysteries which would now be considered indecorous, but it should be borne in mind that every age has, within certain limits, its own conventional and frequently irrational sentiments of toleration and propriety. Adam and Eve attired in white leather and pensonified by men, for actresses were then unknown, scarcely could have realized to the spectator even a generic idea of the nude, but at all events there was nothing in any of the theatrical costumes of the early drama which can be fairly considered to be of an immodest character, although many of them were extravagantly whimsical. Thus Herod was always introduced wearing red gloves, while his clothes and headgear seem to have been painted or dyed in a variety of colors, so that, as far as costume could assist the deception, he probably appeared, when brandishing his flaming sword, as fierce and hideous a tyrant as could well have been represented. Pontius Pilate was usually enwrapped in a large green cloak, which opened in front to enable him to wield an immense club. The latter was humanely adapted to his strength by the weight being chiefly restricted to that of the outer case, the inside being lightly stuffed with wool. The Devil was another important character, who was also grotesquely arrayed and had a mask or false head which frequently required either mending or painting. Masks were worn by several other personages, though it would appear that in some instances the operation of painting the faces of the actors was substituted. Wigs of false hair, either gilded or of red, yellow, and other colors, were also much in request.

That Shakespeare, in his early youth, witnessed representations of some of these mysteries,


not admit of a reasonable doubt; for although the ordinary church-plays were by no means extinct, they survived only in particular localities, and do not appear to have been retained in Stratford or its neighborhood. The performances which then took place nearly every year at Coventry attracted hosts of spectators from all parts of the country, while, at occasional intervals, the mystery players of that city made theatrical progresses to various other places. It is not known whether they favored Stratford-on-Avon with a professional visit, but it is not at all improbable that they did, for they must have passed through the town in their way to Bristol, where it is recorded that they gave a performance in the year 1570. Among the mysteries probably recollected by Shakespeare was one in which the King was introduced as Herod of Jewry, in which the children of Bethlehem were barbarously speared, the soldiers disregarding the frantic shrieks of the bereaved mothers. In the collection known as the Coventry Mysteries, a soldier appears before Herod with a child on the end of his spear in evidence of the accomplishment of the King's commands, a scene to be remembered, however rude may have been the property which represented the infant; while the extravagance of rage, which formed one of the then main dramatic characteristics of that sovereign, must have made a deep impression on a youthful spectator. The idea of such a history being susceptible of exaggeration into burlesque never entered a spectator's mind in those days, and the impression made upon him was probably increased by the style of Herod's


Besides the allusions made by the great dramatist to

the Herod of the Coventry players, there are indications that other grotesque performers were occasionally in his recollection, those who with blackened faces acted the parts of the Black Souls. There are several references in Shakespeare to condemned souls being of this color, and in one place there is an illusion to them in the language of the mysteries. Falstaff is reported to have said of a flea on Bardolph's red nose that "it was a black soul burning in hell;" and, in the Coventry plays, the Black or Damned Souls appeared with sooty faces and attired in a motley costume of yellow and black. It is certainly just possible that the notions of Herod and the Black Souls may have been derived from other sources, but the more natural probability is that they are absolute recollections of the Coventry plays.

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The period of Shakespeare's boyhood was also that of what was practically the last era of the real ancient English mystery. There were, it is true, occasional performances of them up to the reign of James the First, but they became obsolete throughout nearly all the country about the year 1580. Previously to the latter date they had for many generations served as media for religious instruction. In days when education of any kind was a rarity, and spiritual religion an impossibility or at least restricted to very few, appeals to the senses in illustration of theological subjects were wisely encouraged by the Church. The impression made on the rude and uninstructed mind by the representations of incidents in sacred history and religious tradition by living characters, must have been far more profound than any which could have been conveyed by the genius of the sculptor or painter, or by the eloquence of the priest.

Notwithstanding, therefore, the opposition that these performances encountered at the hands of a section of churchmen, who apprehended that the introduction of the comic element would ultimately tend to feelings of irreverence, it is found that, in spite of occasional abuses, they long continued to be one of the most effectual means of disseminating a knowledge of Scriptural history and of inculcating belief in the doctrines of the Church. In the Hundred Mery Talys, a collection which was very popular in England throughout the sixteenth century, there is a story of a village priest in Warwickshire who preached a sermon on the Articles of the Creed, telling the congregation at the end of his discourse,-"these artycles ye be bounde to beleve, for they be trew and of auctoryté; and yf you beleve not me, then for a more suerté and suffycyent auctoryté go your way to Conventré, and there ye shall se them all playd in Corpus Cristi playe." Although this is related as a mere anecdote, it well illustrates the value which was then attached to the teachings of the ancient stage. Even as lately as the middle of the seventeenth century there could have been found in England an example of a person whose knowledge of the Scriptures was limited to his recollections of the performance of a mystery. [The Rev. John Shaw, who was the temporary chaplain in a village in Lancashire in 1644, narrates the following curious anecdote respecting one of its inhabitants,—“one day an old man about sixty, sensible enough in other things, and living in the parish of Cartmel, coming to me about some business, I told him that he belonged to my care and charge, and I desired to be informed in his knowledge of religion; -I asked him how many Gods there were; he said, he

knew not;-I, informing him, asked him again how he thought to be saved; he answered he could not tell, yet thought that was a harder question than the other;-I told him that the way to salvation was by Jesus Christ, God-man, who, as He was man, shed His blood for us on the crosse, etc.;-Oh, sir, said he, I think I heard of that man you speak of once in a play at Kendall called Corpus Christi Play, where there was a man on a tree and blood ran downe, etc., and after he professed that he could not remember that ever he heard of salvation by Jesus Christ but in that play." It is impossible to say to what extent even the Scriptural allusions in the works of Shakespeare himself may not be attributed to recollections of such performances, for in one instance at least the reference by the great dramatist is to the history as represented in those plays, not to that recorded in the New Testament. The English mysteries, indeed, never lost their position as religious instructors, a fact which, viewed in connection with that of a widely-spread affection for the old religion, appears to account for their long continuance in a practically unaltered state while other forms of the drama were being developed by their side. From the fourteenth century until the termination of Shakespeare's youthful days they remained the simple poetic versions in dialogue of religious incidents of various kinds, enlivened by the occasional admission of humorous scenes. In some few instances the theological narrative was made subservient to the comic action, but as a rule the mysteries were designed to bring ⚫ before the audience merely the personages and events of religious history. Allegorical characters had been occasionally introduced, and about the middle of the fifteenth

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