Page images
PDF
EPUB

car.

a scene as the great city of the Black Prince to the wide area on the north of Trinity would have presented during the boyhood Church and St. Michael's, for there is the of Shakspere.

pageant to be first performed. There was a The morning of Corpus Christi comes, and high house or carriage which stood upon soon after sunrise there is stir in the six wheels ; it was divided into two rooms, streets of Coventry. The old ordinances for one above the other. In the lower room this solemnity require that the Guilds should

were the performers ; the upper was the be at their posts at five o'clock. There is to stage. This ponderous vehicle was painted be a solemn procession—formerly, indeed, and gilt, surmounted with burnished vanes after the performance of the pageant—and and streamers, and decorated with imagery ; then, with hundreds of torches burning it was hung round with curtains, and a around the figures of our Lady and St. John, painted cloth presented a picture of the candlesticks and chalices of silver, banners subject that was to be performed. This of velvet and canopies of silk, and the mem- simple stage had its machinery, too ; it was bers of the Trinity Guild and the Corpus fitted for the representation of an earthChristi Guild bearing their crucifixes and quake or a storm ; and the pageant in most candlesticks, with personations of the angel cases was concluded in the noise and flame Gabriel lifting up the lily, the twelve apos- of fireworks. It is the pageant of the comtles, and renowned virgins, especially St. pany of Shearmen and Tailors, which is to Catherine and St. Margaret. The Reforma- be performed, — the subject the Birth of tion has, of course, destroyed much of the Christ and Offering of the Magi, with the ceremonial ; and, indeed, the spirit of it has Flight into Egypt and Murder of the Innoin great part evaporated. But now, issuing cents. The eager multitudes are permitted from the many ways that lead to the Cross, to crowd within a reasonable distance of the there is heard the melody of harpers and There is a moveable scaffold erected the voice of minstrelsy; trumpets sound, for the more distinguished spectators. The banners wave, riding-men come thick from men of the Guilds sit firm on their horses. their several balls; the mayor and aldermen Amidst the sound of harp and trumpet the in their robes, the city servants in proper curtains are withdrawn, and Isaiah appears, liveries, St. George and the Dragon, and prophesying the blessing which is to come Herod on horseback. The bells ring, boughs upon the earth. Gabriel announces to Mary are strewed in the streets, tapestry is hung the embassage upon which he is sent from out of the windows, officers in scarlet coats Heaven. Then a dialogue between Mary struggle in the crowd while the procession and Joseph, and the scene changes to the is marshalling. The crafts are getting into field where shepherds are abiding in the their ancient order, each craft with its darkness of the night—a night so dark that streamer and its men in harness. There are they know not where their sheep may be ; “ Fysshers and Cokes,- Baxters and Milners, they are cold and in great heaviness. Then -Bochers,—Whittawers and Glovers,—Pyn- | the star shines, and they hear the song of ners, Tylers, and Wrightes, -Skynners, “Gloria in excelsis Deo." A soft melody of Barkers,—Corvysers -Smythes -Wevers, - concealed music hushes even the whispers of Wirdrawers,—Cardemakers, Sadelers, Peyn- the Coventry audience; and three songs are tours, and Masons, -Gurdelers,—Taylours, sung, such as may abide in the remembrance Walkers, and Sherman,-Deysters,—Drapers, of the people, and be repeated by them at Mercers.”

At length the procession is ar- their Christmas festivals. “ The first the ranged. It parades through the principal shepherds sing :"lines of the city, from Bishopgate on the

“As I rode out this enders t night, north to the Grey Friars' Gate on the south,

Of three jolly shepherds I saw a sight, | and from Broadgate on the west to Gosford

And all about their fold a star shone bright; Gate on the east. The crowd is thronging * Sharp's . Dissertation,' page 160.

Enders night-last night.

raves

They sang terli terlow:

back the date of the play to the reign of So merrily the shepherds their pipes can blow.” Edward III., though the language is occaThere is then a song “the women sing :"

sionally modernized. We have then the

three kings with their gifts. They are “Lully, lulla, you little tiny child ;

brought before Herod, who treats them By, by, lully, lullay, you little tiny child:

courteously, but is inexorable in his cruel

By, by, lully, lullay. decree. Herod rages in the streets ; but O sisters two, how may we do

the flight into Egypt takes place, and then For to preserve this day

the massacre. The address of the women to This poor youngling, for whom we do sing the pitiless soldiers, imploring, defying, is By, by, lully, lullay?

not the least curious part of the perform

ance; for exampleHerod the king, in his raging, Charged he hath this day

“Sir knightes, of your courtesy, His men of might, in his own sight,

This day shame not your chivalry, All young children to slay.

But on my child have pity,"

is the mild address of one mother. Another That woe is me, poor child, for thee, And ever mourn and say, For thy parting neither say nor sing

“He that slays my child in sight, By, by, lully, lullay.”

If that my strokes on him may light,

Be he squire or knight, The shepherds again take up the song :

I hold him but lost." “Down from heaven, from heaven so high,

The fury of a third is more excessive :-
Of angels there came a great company,
With mirth, and joy, and great solemnity:

“Sit he never so high in saddle, They sang terly, terlow:

But I shall make his brains addle, So merrily the shepherds their pipes can blow.”

And here with my pot ladle

With him will I fight." The simple melody of these songs has come

We have little doubt that he who described down to us : they are part songs, each having the treble, the tenor, and the bass.. the horrors of a siege,The star conducts the shepherds to the

“ Whiles the mad mothers with their howls con“crib of poor repast,” where the child lies ;

fused and, with a simplicity which is highly cha

Do break the clouds, as did the wives of Jewry racteristic, one presents the child his pipe,

At Herod's bloody-hunting slaughtermen,”+the second his hat, and the third his mittens. had heard the howlings of the women in the Prophets now come, who declare in length- Coventry pageant. And so "fynes lude de ened rhyme the wonder and the blessing :- taylars and scharmen.” “ Neither in halls nor yet in bowers

The pageants thus performed by the Born would he not be,

Guilds of Coventry were of various subjects, Neither in castles nor yet in towers

but all scriptural. The Smiths' pageant That seemly were to see.”

was the Crucifixion ; and most curious are

their accounts, from 1449 till the time of The messenger of Herod succeeds; and very which we are speaking, for expenses of helcurious it is, and characteristic of a period mets for Herod, and cloaks for Pilate ; of when the king's laws were delivered in the tabards for Caiaphas, and gear for Pilate's language of the Conqueror, that he speaks wife ; of a staff for the Demon, and a beard in French. This circumstance would carry for Judas. There are payments, too, to a This very curious pageant, essentially different from

man for hanging Judas, and for cock-crowthe same portion of Scripture-history in the 'Ludus Co- ing. The subject of the Cappers' pageant tentria,' is printed entire in Mr. Sharp's • Dissertation,'as well as the score of these songs.

† Henry V., Act 1a., Scene Ill.

was the Resurrection. They have charges | true drama, has not been preserved. It for making the play-book and pricking the would be curious to contrast it with the songs; for money spent at the first rehearsal beautiful dramatic poem on the same suband the second rehearsal ; for supper on the ject, by an accomplished scholar of our own play-day, for breakfasts and for dinners. day, also a member of the University of OxThe subject of the Drapers' pageant was ford. But the list of characters remains, that of Doomsday; and one of their articles which shows that the play was essentially of machinery sufficiently explains the cha- historical, exhibiting the contests of the racter of their performance—“A link to set | Jewish factions as described by Josephus. the world on fire,” following “Paid for the The accounts manifest that the play was got barrel for the earthquake.” We may readily up with great magnificence in 1584 ; but it believe that the time was fast approaching was not played again until 1591, when it when such pageants would no longer be was once more performed along with the tolerated. It is more than probable that famous Hock Tuesday. It was then ordered the performances of the Guilds were origin- that no other plays whatever should be perally subordinate to those of the Grey Friars; formed ; and the same order, which makes perhaps devised and supported by the paro- | this concession “at the request of the Comchial clergy*. But when the Church be- mons," directs" that all the May-poles that came opposed to such representations--when, now are standing in this city shall be taken indeed, they were incompatible with the down before Whitsunday next, and none spirit of the age—it is clear that the efforts hereafter to be set up.” In that year Coof the laity to uphold them could not long ventry saw the last of its pageants. But be successful. They would be certainly per- Marlowe and Shakspere were in London, formed without the reverence which once building up something more adapted to that belonged to them. Their rude action and age; more universal: dramas that no change simple language would be ridiculed ; and, of manners or policies can destroy. when the feeling of ridicule crept in, their The pageant of The Nine Worthies’ nature would be altered, and they would be- was often performed by the dramatic body come essentially profane. There is a very of the Coventry Grammar School; the ancurious circumstance connected with the cient pageant, such as was presented to Coventry pageants, which shows the struggle Henry VI. and his Queen in 1455, and of that was made to keep the dramatic spirit which the Leet-book contains the faithful of the people in this direction. In 1584 the copyt. The lofty speeches which the three Smiths performed, after many preparations Hebrews, Joshua, David, and Judas Macand rehearsals, a new pageant, the Destruc- cabeus ; the three Infidels, Hector, Alexantion of Jerusalem. The Smiths applied to der, and Julius Cæsar; and the three Chrisone who had been educated in their own tians, Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of town, in the Free School of Coventry, and Boulogne, utter in this composition, are who in 1584 belonged to St. John's, Oxford, singular specimens of the mock heroic. to write this new play for them. The fol- Hector thus speaks :lowing entry appears in the city accounts :

“Most pleasant princes, recorded that may be, * Paid to M' Smythe of Oxford the xyth daye I, Hector of Troy, that am chief conqueror, of aprill 1584 for hys paynes for writing of the Lowly will obey you, and kneel on my knee." tragedye-xiij', vj”, viija."

And Alexander thus : We regret that this play, so liberally paid “I, Alexander, that for chivalry beareth the for when compared with subsequent pay- ball, ments to the Jonsons and Dekkers of the

Most courageous in conquest through the * It is clear, we think, that the pageants performed by

world am I named, the Guilds were altogether different from the · Ludus

Welcome you princes.” Coventriæ,' which Dugdale expressly tells us were performed by the Grey Friars.

+ Sharp, page 145.

I am that flower.”

And Julius Cæsar thus :-
“I, Julius Cæsar, sovereign of knighthood
And emperor of mortal men, most high and

mighty,
Welcome you, princes, most benign and good."
Surely it was little less than plagiary, if it
were not meant for downright parody, wher,
in a pageant of The Nine Worthies' pre-
sented a few years after*, Hector comes in
to say-
* The armipotent Mars, of lances the almighty,

Gave Hector a gift, the heir of Ilion:
A man so breathed, that certain he would

fight, yea,
From morn to night out of his pavilion.

And Alexander :-
“ When in the world I lived, I was the world's

commander;
By east, west, north, and south, I spread my

conquering might: My ’scutcheon plain declares that I am Alis

ander."

And Pompey, usurping the just honours of
his triumphant rival :-
“I, Pompey am, Pompey surnamed the Great,
That oft in field, with targe and shield, did

make my foe to sweat."

CHAPTER II.

BIBLE HISTORIES AND MORALITIES.

We have very distinct evidence that stories | ditory may return made merry in mind, from the Sacred Scriptures, in character per- but none comes away reformed in manners. haps very little different from the ancient And of all abuses this is most undecent Mysteries, were performed upon the London and intolerable, to suffer holy things to be stage at a period when classical histories, handled by men so profane, and defiled by romantic legends, and comedies of intrigue, interposition of dissolute words.” (Page 103.) attracted numerous audiences both in the Those who have read the ancient Mysteries, capital and the provinces. At the period and even the productions of Bishop Bale which immediately preceded the true drama which appeared not thirty years before there was a fierce controversy on the sub- this was written, will agree that the players ject of theatrical exhibitions; and from the ought not wholly to have the blame of the very rare tracts then published we are en-“interposition of dissolute words.” But unabled to form a tolerably accurate estimate questionably it was a great abuse to have of the character of the early theatre. In “ histories of the Bible set forth on the one of these tracts, which appeared in 1580, stage;" for the use and advantage of such entitled ' A Second and Third Blast of Re- dramatic histories had altogether ceased. trait from Plaies and Theaters,' we have the Indeed, although scriptural subjects might following passage :—“The reverend word of have continued to have been represented in God, and histories of the Bible, set forth on 1580, we apprehend that they were princithe stage by these blasphemous players, are pally taken from apocryphal stories, which so corrupted by their gestures of scurrility, were regarded with little reverence eren by and so interlaced with unclean and whorish those who were most earnest in their hosspeeches, that it is not possible to draw any tility to the stage. Of such a character profit out of the doctrine of their spiritual is the very curious play, printed in 1565, moralities. For that they exhibit under entitled “A pretie new Enterlude, both laughing that which ought to be taught pithie and pleasaunt, of the story of King and received reverendly. So that their au- Daryus, being taken out of the third and *Love's Labour's Lost,' Act. V.

fourth chapter of the third book of Esdras.'

8

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

“ The Prolocutor first comes forward to Charity comes in, and reads him a very explain the object of “The worthy Enter- severe lecture upon the impropriety of his tainment of King Daryus :"

deportment. It is of little avail ; for two “Good people, hark, and give ear awhile,

friends of Iniquity-Importunity and ParFor of this enterlude I will declare the style.

tiality—come to his assistance, and fairly

drive Charity off the stage. Then Equity A certain king to you we shall bring in

enters to take up the quarrel against Whose name was Darius, good and virtuous; Iniquity and his fellows; but Equity is This king commanded a feast to be made, no match for them, and they all make way And at that banquet many people had. for King Darius. This very long scene has

nothing whatever to do with the main acAnd when the king in counsel was set tion of the piece, or rather what professes to Two lords commanded he to be fet,

be its action. Its tediousness is relieved by As concerning matters of three young men; the Vice, who, however dull was his profligacy, Which briefly showed their fantasy then:

contrived to make the audience laugh by the In writings their meanings they did declare,

whisking of his tail and the brandishing of And to give them to the king they did not his sword, assisted no doubt by some wellspare.

known chuckle like that of the Punch of our Now silence I desire you therefore,

own days. King Darius, however, at length For the Vice is entering at the door.”

comes with all his Council; and most capi

tal names do his chief councillors bear, not The stage-direction then says, “ The Pro- unworthy to be adopted even in courts of logue goeth out and Iniquity comes in.” greater refinement-Perplexity and Curiosity. This is “ the formal Vice Iniquity of The whole business of this scene of King * Richard III.;' the “Vetus Iniquitas” of Darius is to present a feast to the admiring · The Devil is an Ass ;' the Iniquity with spectators. Up to the present day the a “wooden dagger,” and “a juggler's jerkin English audience delights in a feast, and | with false skirts,” of “The Staple of News.' will endure that two men should sit upon But in the interlude of ‘ Darius' he has less the stage for a quarter of an hour, uttering complex offices than are assigned him by the most unrepeatable stupidity, provided

Gifford—“to instigate the hero of the piece they seem to pick real chicken-bones and i to wickedness, and, at the same time, to pro- drink real port. The Darius of the intertect him from the devil, whom he was per- lude feasted whole nations—upon the repremitted to buffet and baffle with his wooden sentative system; and here Ethiopia, Persia, sword, till the process of the story required Judah, and Media eat their fill, and are very that both the protector and the protected grateful. But feasts must have their end; should be carried off by the fiend, or the and so the curtain closes upon the eaters, latter driven roaring from the stage by some and Iniquity “cometh in singing:"miraculous interposition in favour of the re

“La, soule, soule, fa, my, re, re, pentant offender.”* The first words which

I miss a note I dare well say: Iniquity utters indicate, however, that he

I should have been low when I was so high; was familiar with the audience, and the

I shall have it right anon verily." audience familiar with him :“How now, my masters; how gocth the world

Again come his bottle-holders, Importunity now?

and Partiality; and in the course of their I come gladly to talk with you.”

gabble Iniquity tells them that the Pope

is his father. Unhappily his supporters go And in a most extraordinary manner he out; and then Equity attacks him alone. does talk ; swaggering and bullying as if | Loud is their debate ; and faster and more the whole world was at his command, till furious is the talk when Constancy and

Charity come in. The matter, however,

* Ben Jonson's Works. Note on "The Devil is an Ass.'

« PreviousContinue »