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So fully impressed with this opinion is a Cambridge divine, that, not twenty years ago, he preached four sermons in the University Church in support of them.-Before his day, Archbishop Tillotson was not backward to give testimony in their favour, by declaring, they put some follies and vices out of countenance, which could not be so decently reproved, nor so effectually exposed and corrected, any other way. A history of the stage (says Mr. Burke) is no trivial thing to those who wish to study human nature, in all shapes and positions. It is of all things the most instructive, to see, not only the reflections of manners, and characters of several periods, but the modes of making their reflection, and the manner of adapting it at those periods to the taste and disposition of mankind. The stage, indeed, may be considered as the republic of active literature, and its history, as the history of that state. In our own times, we find how closely it is connected with the prevailing taste and fashion, and there is no doubt, but that it has always been so, from the days when comedy and tragedy were no higher than the exhibitions of our itinerant mountebanks, until those of Tom and Jerry, where imaginary sprees upon the stage are practically imitated in the streets.
A just theatrical representation is the best picture of human nature; with this peculiar attendant advantage, that in this instructing academy, the young spectator may frequently learn the manners of the world, without encountering its perils. Besides, as pleasure is the object in view of the greater part of mankind, (and most justly so, whilst this object is continued under the guidance of reason,) all well-regulated States have judged it proper, both in a political and moral sense, to have some public exhibitions, for the entertainment of the people. In tracing the rise and progress of the drama, the purposes to which it has been applied, and the important consequences that have arisen from it, a source of investigation is opened alike instructive to the philosopher, and gratifying to the feelings of the poet. Our limits, indeed, will only allow us to give that general account of it, which is more particularly connected with the subject of the present article, THE LATIN PLAYS ACTED BEFORE THE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE.
In the opinion of Voltaire, religious plays came first from Constantinople, where the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides were represented, till the fourth century. About this period Gregory Nazianzen, an archbishop and poet, with a view of banishing pagan plays from the stage at Constantinople, composed many sacred dramas, taken from stories in the old and new Testament, intended to be substituted for the Greek tragedies, with hymns in lieu of choruses. These have not survived the inimitable compositions over which they triumphed
for a time only one of them, a tragedy; called Xpisos Tax, or Christ's passion, is now extant.*
In the prologue, it is said to be in imitation of Euripides, and that this is the first time the Virgin Mary has been produced on the stage. Warton, in his history of English poetry, † has, however, given us a more early and singular specimen of the representation of sacred history.-Some fragments of an ancient Jewish play, in Greek Iambics, are preserved in Clemens Alexandrinus: it is on the Exodus, or departure of the Israelites from Eygpt, under their leader and prophet Moses. The principal characters are Moses, Sapphora, and God from the Bush, or God speaking from the burning bush.-Moses delivers the prologue, or introduction, in a speech of sixty lines, and his rod is turned into a serpent on the stage. The author of this piece is Ezechiel, a Jew, who is called the tragic poet of the Jews whether a theatre existed among them, is a curious speculation..
These compositions, passing first into Italy, suggested the writing of mysteries, which, from thence, found their way into France, and the rest of Europe.-They appear to have originated among the ecclesiastics; and were, most probably, first acted, at least with any degree of form, by the monks. The only persons who could read, were in the religious societies; and they were glad to have in their own hands the direction of a popular amusement, capable of rivalling the scandalous pantomimes and buffooneries exhibited at fairs, by the itinerant minstrels, whom the merchants carried with them for the purpose of attracting
It is not the province of this article to enter into the comparative degree of antiquity that the English Stage possesses over those of other countries of Europe. A difficulty must always attend the inquiry, from the doubts that exist, whether the earliest recorded performances of each country were accompanied with dialogue, or were mere pantomimical exhibitions. The language of Matthew of Paris, however, when speaking of the plays acted in the Abbey of Dunstable, and in London, in
*See Greg. Nazianzeni Opera, 1. ii. p. 253, &c. edit. Parisiis, fol. 1630; there is opposite à Latin version by U. Roilletus: the Tragedy of Grotius, called Christus Patiens, is quite different.
+ See vol. ii. p. 371, 372.
The earliest writer of Latin plays, after the fall of the Roman Empire, was Rosiritha, a Nun, A. D. 970, whose dramatic compositions are published in a very rare and beautiful book, printed at Nuremberg, about 1500. See Vade, Trithemius, &c.
Reuchlin, a learned German, was the first dramatic writer of that nation he is said to have opened a theatre at Heidelberg.
Gulielmus Druræus wrote plays, that were acted at Douay, the
the twelfth century, can scarcely be deemed equivocal, but as referring to written compositions. One argument, in favour of their having been united with dialogue, is grounded on the circumstance, that a specimen of the Corpus Christi Pageant, instituted at York, early in the thirteenth century, is yet in existence amongst the archives of that city. These early spectacles were called miracles: the Play of St. Catherine, acted at Dunstable, about the year 1110, by the boys of the Abbey School,
beginning of the seventeenth century, called Aluredus, Mors, and Reparatus. See Edit. Duaci. 12mo. 1628. Josephus Simon also wrote plays that were acted at Douay, at Rome, at Naples, at Seville, and other places: the edition of Rome, 1748, 8vo. contains Zeno Tragadia; and Mercia Tragoedia, acted at the English College, at Rome, 1648. It was represented six times with great applause. Zeno exists in MS. in the Harleian Collection, 5024; and in the University Library, Cambridge; (Ii—6—35,) it was acted before the University, in the year 1631. Dramatic pieces on scriptural subjects were written by Nicholaus Caussinus, a Jesuit, called Solyma, Nabuchodonosor, and Felicitas: he also wrote Theodoricus, and Hermenigildus.―see edit. Parisiis, 12mo. 1629. Nicolaus Vernuleus wrote ten Tragedies, called, Conradinus, Crispus, Theodoricus, Henricus Octavus, Joanna Darcia, Stanislaus, Ottocarus, Thomas Cantuariensis, Eustachius, and Gorcomienses. See edit. Lovanii. 8vo. 1631. Nicodemus Frischlinus wrote six comedies, Rebecca, Susanna, Hildegar, Julius Redivivus, Priscian Vapulans, Helvetio Germani; and two Tragedies, Venus, and Dido. See edit. Argentorati, 12mo. 1621. Grotius wrote Sophompaneas, a tragedy, and Christus Patiens, a Tragedy. See edit. Amst. 1635. 12mo.-Joannes Jacomotus wrote Agrippa Ecclesiomastrix, a tragedy, printed at Geneva, 8vo. 1597. Christopherus Schoneus wrote a Christian Terence, Terentius Christianus, containing the two tragedies of Tobaus and Juditha, to which is added Pseudostratistes, fabula jocosa ac ludicra, Lond. 8vo. 1641: but the best edition of his plays is that of Plantin, 8vo. 1598, divided into three parts, the first containing Nehemias, Saulus, Naaman and Josephus; the second part printed at Coloniæ, 8vo. 1609, containing six comedies, Susanna, Daniel, Triumphus Christi, Typhlus, Pentecoste, and Ananias: and the third part containing Baptistes, Dyscoli Pseudostratiota, Cuna, and Vitulus. Vincentius Guinisius wrote a tragedy called Ignatius, printed by Plantin, 12mo. 1637.
Coriolanus Martiranus wrote Christus, a tragedy: printed at Naples, in 12mo. 1556. Xystus Betuleius wrote Judith, a Tragi-comedy: printed at Darmstad, by Balthasar Auleander, 12mo. without a date. Theodorus Rhodius wrote sacred Dramas, Simson, Agagus, and Hagne; a tragedy, Colignius; and two comedies, Debora, and Thesaurus: printed at Franckfort, in 12mo. 1615; also another Tragedy, Josephus printed at Darmstad, in 12mo. 1619. Others may be mentioned, but these will be perhaps sufficient.
and written by Geoffrey, a learned Norman, was, perhaps, the first of the kind that was ever attempted, and the first trace of theatrical representation which appeared in England. To this succeeded the Chester Mysteries, so called, because acted in that city. The researches of Mr. Markland,* upon this head, enable us to date them before the year 1328. They, as well as the Coventry Mysteries, afford various proofs, that their composers did not adhere too rigidly to the text of Scripture, but introduced many licentious pleasantries, calculated to relieve the solemnity of the plot, and amuse the audience. In a play of the old and new Testament, Adam and Eve are both exhibited on the stage naked, and conversing about their nakedness; this very pertinently introduces the next scene, in which they have coverings of fig-leaves.t In the Deluge, the quarrel between Noah and his wife forms a prominent feature: After some dialogue between Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japhet, and their wives, we find the following stage directions. "Then Noe, with all his family shall make a signe, as though they wrought uppon the shippe with divers instruments; and after that, God shall speake to Noe." Then Noe shall go into the arke with all his familye, his wife excepte." But his wife declares she will not stir
"Out of this toune;
But I have my gossepes everich one!"
At length, Shem and his brethren put her on board by force; and upon Noah's welcoming her, "welcome, wife, into this boate," she gives him a box on the ear: adding,
"Take thou that for thy note."
In the Millere's Tale, of Chaucer, when Nicholas is confering with John the Carpenter, he asks him,
"Hast thou not herd (quod Nicholas) also
It is impossible to trace this absurd dispute, except to the stage: plays of miracles were the common amusement in Lent; and the Carpenter would be more likely to draw his notions of divinity from them, than from his Bible.
* "See History of the Chester Mysteries," privately printed for the Roxburgh Club.
+ See Malone's Hist. of the English Stage.
See Canterbury Tales, v. 3538. ed. Tyrwhitt.
Our Universities soon adopted this popular species of amusement. In the year 1350, William de Leune, and Isabel his wife, gave, at their admission into the Gild of Corpus Christi, twenty shillings, in alms, twelve-pence for wax, and expended, in Ludo Filiorum Israelis, half-a-mark. This is the earliest example we have of theatrical exhibitions in the University of Cambridge; though, from the wording of the above extract, it would appear they had existed before that time. The murder of the Innocents was undoubtedly a very favourite plot in the age when these performances prevailed. It occurs among the religious plays of Coventry and York; and in the Townly MS. a play with a similar title was acted at Constance, in the year 1417; and in Hawkins's origin of the English Drama, we have a Mystery, entitled Candlemas-day, or the killing of the Children of Israel. See Retros. Rev. vol. i. p. 339, 340.
It was a custom, not only then subsisting, but of very high antiquity, to act tragedies and comedies in the University of Paris and not forty years after the representation of the Filii Israelis, in the year 1386, in the fragment of an ancient accompt roll of the dissolved College of Michael-House, Cambridge, the following expense is entered: " Pro pallio brusdato et pro sex larvis et barbis in comadia. For an embroidered pall, or cloak, and six visors, and six beards, for the Comedy." There can be little doubt, but that Cambridge occasionally had its share in hearing some of the numerous moralities and interludes, that were written in the two next centuries, especially since the Bilious Bale, one of its members, was a voluminous writer of them, and translated into Latin the next we shall notice. But all information concerning these academic amusements ceases until the year 1544: from which time, down to the usurpation of Cromwell, Latin plays were annually (as there is every reason to suppose) acted in the different Colleges. The most celebrated actors were the men of Trinity, St. John's, and King's Colleges: with the exceptions of two Plays at Christ's, [Pammachius, and Gammer Gurton's Needle,] three at Queen's [Lelia, Senile Odium, and Valetudinarium,] and two at Clare Hall; [Ignoramus and Club Law,] no other Colleges acted them. Masters of arts, bachelors, and under-graduates, without any distinction, were the performers. The practice was well known to Shakspeare, who notices it in Hamlet, Act iii. Scene ii.
"Haml. My Lord, you played once in the University, you say? Pol. That did I, my Lord; and was accounted a good actor.
* See Masters's Hist. of Corpus Christi Coll.