Miracles And Moralities, religious and allegories 1 plays, which constituted the drama of the middle ages. They were often called miracle plays and moral plays, and in later times have'more frequently been indiscriminately styled mysteries. The subjects of the miracles were either the narratives of the Bible or the legends chiefly of the lives of the saints; and the moralities, which appeared later, intermingled allegory with sacred history, or were represented exclusively by allegorical personages. In the first ages of Christianity baptism was refused to any one concerned with the theatre, and both the Greek and Latin fathers anathematized the dramatic art. In the 4th century the church succeeded in extin-guishing the theatre everywhere except in Constantinople, where the genius and the arts of antiquity lingered in decay. This triumph had hardly been accomplished when from the bosom of the church sprang a new drama and spectacle. The emperor Julian ridiculed the asceticism of the church by a law forbidding any Christian to be taught in heathen learning. Apollinaris, presbyter of Laodicea, and his more celebrated son of the same name, bishop of that see (died about 390), were fine classical scholars.
The former versified the Pentateuch and the history of Israel, and the latter paraphrased the gospels after the manner of the dialogues of Plato. Soon the sacred ceremonies and commemorations of the Christian faith, in the name of which profane games had been proscribed, were transformed into dramatic representations. Gregory Nazian-zen, patriarch of Constantinople, is the reputed author of a play on Christ's passion, and of others of the same kind, written to supersede those of Sophocles and Euripides. The progress of this Christian drama cannot be traced till about the 11th century, when Theophylact of Constantinople introduced the feast of fools, the feast of asses, and other religious pastimes, which were celebrated in churches. To these sport- the clergy added the acting of miracle plays, which originally were not only composed by ecclesiastics, but were performed by them in churches and the chapels of monasteries.They were afterward exhibited by companies of tradesmen, each guild sharing the expense and undertaking a portion of the performance; and they served the purpose of amusing the people on public occasions and festivals, while the clergy were at length for-bidden by popes and councils to take any part in them. Jugglers and minstrels attended the travelling companies.
The stages, either temporary or portable on wheels, usually consisted of three platforms, one above another. On the uppermost sat the Pater Ccelestis, surrounded by his angels; on the second appeared the saints and glorified men; while living men occupied the lowest. On one side of the stage was a dark, pitchy, flaming cavern, from which issued hideous bowlings, as of souls tormented by demons; its occupants were the greatest jesters and buffoons of the company, who frequently ascended upon the stage to act the comic parts. It is probable that miracles were introduced, perhaps by returning pilgrims, from Constantinople into Italy, and thence into France and England. The oldest known are in Latin, but in the 12th and 13th centuries they became common in the modern languages; and with some exceptious there is a general resemblance in subjects, characters, and theatrical machinery between those of different countries. They probably had a common origin, and were introduced about the same date, being communicated from one religious body to another.
Three Latin miracles written early in the 12th century by Hilarius, a disciple of Abelard, are extant; the subjects are the raising of Lazarus, the life of St. Nicholas, and the history of Daniel. The miracle of St. Catharine, by Geoffrey, abbot of St. Albans, was performed in Dunstable, England, and in Paris about the same time, and it was then no novelty. Other Latin plays are preserved which seem to have been very popular, both as scholastic exercises among the younger monks, and as popular exhibitions, the greater part of the story being told by pantomime. The mystery of the wise and foolish virgins, in which Latin and Provencal are used alternately, indicates the period of transition to the vernacular languages, and may stand at the beginning of European dramatic literature. - The miracle of the passion was one of the earliest and most wide-spread, and from it the first theatrical company of Paris, established in 1402, was called the brethren of the passion. It embraced the principal events in the life of Christ, was exhibited with splendid pomp, and its representation occupied several days. Among its characters were the three members of the Trinity, angels or archangels, the apostles, devils, and Herod with all his court.
The Virgin Mary is a favorite character in French mysteries, and several of them bear the title of miracles de Notre Dame. Others are entitled mysteries of the conception, of the nativity, of the resurrection, and of divers events in the legends of the saints and in the narratives of the Old and New Testaments. The splendor of the theatrical decorations and appliances for inspiring terror increased during the 15th century. In one of the Parisian mysteries St. Barbara was hung up by the heels on the stage, and, after uttering her remonstrances, was torn with pincers and scorched with lamps before the audience. In a mystery exhibited at Mentz in 1437, an immense dragon sprang out of hell, and threw the spectators into consternation by spreading his wings close by them. The mystery of the "Acts of the Apostles " was acted for many successive days in 1541 before the nobility, the clergy, and a large popular assemblage in Paris. The dramatis persona are God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the Virgin and Joseph, archangels, angels, the apostles and disciples, Jewish priests, emperors, philosophers, magicians, Lucifer, Satan, Beelzebub, Belial the attorney general of hell, Cerberus the porter, and a multitude of other personages, amounting altogether to 485. A large number of French miracles exist in manuscript, and many have been printed or reprinted during the present century. - The Germans have numerous miracle plays, two of which cannot be traced in the contemporary productions of other European nations.
The subject of the first of these is Dr. Faustus, which represents the life, death, and damnation of a daring libertine. The subject of the second is the canonization of Pope Joan, which was written in 1480 and attained general popularity. It has 25 characters, among which are the devil and his mother Lilis, three good angels, the Virgin Mary, her Son, Pope Basil, four cardinals, a Roman senator, and Death. The scene shifts between earth, hell, purgatory, and heaven. It begins with a council of devils, who agree to tempt Jutta, the heroine, to profane the papacy. She assumes boy's clothes, accompanies a young clerk to the university of Paris, acquires a doctor's degree, goes to Rome, and is made successively cardinal and pope. The Virgin Mary sends an angel to ask Jutta whether she prefers perdition or penance and final pardon. She resolves to repent, but death suddenly seizes upon her soul while she is lying-in, and carries it to the devils in hell. The Virgin again intercedes, and sends an angel from the throne of grace to release her from torment. The play terminates with the magnificent spectacle of her ascension into heaven. Germany was celebrated for its Fastnachtss'piele, or carnival plays, in which religious subjects were treated with unbounded license.
In one of them, which is extant, Virgil accompanies the shepherds to adore the new-born Christ. - The records of English miracle plays are at least as ancient as those of France or Germany. Their early popularity is attested by Langlande and Chaucer, and subsequently immense crowds assembled with the greatest enthusiasm to witness their performance. They may be traced from the beginning of the 12th century, but whether they were originally in Latin or in Norman French is not certain. Iligden, who wrote, translated, or compiled the Chester plays in 1328, is said to have been obliged to visit Rome three times before he could obtain leave to have them acted in the English tongue. The Chester, Coventry, and Towneley mysteries form three great series. As early as 1268 religious dramas were exhibited by the incorporated trades in Chester, where they continued with some interruptions till 1577. They consist of 24 dramas, which were annually represented from Whit Monday to the following Wednesday. Among the subjects are the fall of Lucifer, performed by the tanners; the creation, by the drapers; the deluge, by the dyers; Abraham, Melchizedek, and Lot, by the barbers and wax chandlers; Moses, Balak, and Balaam, by the hatters and linen drapers; the killing of the innocents, by the goldsmiths; the descent into hell, by the cooks; the ascension, by the tailors; Antichrist, by the dyers; and the day of judgment, by the websters.
The sacred dramas of Coventry drew immense multitudes to that city, as well from its central position as from the patronage of royalty. They were performed by the trade companies of Coventry on Corpus Christi day, from 1416 to 1591. The subjects are nearly identical with those of the two other series, but more numerous, the plays being 42 in number. The friars encouraged them as a means of stigmatizing the labors of Wycliffe, branding his Testament as false, anathematizing Scriptural inquiry as heresy, and enlivening the attachment of the people to the "good old customs " of the church. The Towneley mysteries, so named from the family having possession of the manuscripts, belonged according to tradition to the abbey of Widkirk, and are supposed to be the plays written and performed by the Augustinian friars of Woodkirk. Fairs were held there annually on the feast of the Assumption and on the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Mary, and internal evidence indicates that these were the occasions of their exhibition. The series consists of 32 plays, bearing a near resemblance to those of the Chester and Coventry collections.
The artificers and tradesmen of York also annually celebrated a Corpus Christi play, and the same day was similarly observed by the incorporated trades at New-castle-on-Tyne and several other large towns, and by the parish clerks and gray friars of London. Christmas also was observed in this way in connection with the festivities of the abbot of misrule. At York every trade was obliged to furnish out a pageant to adorn the occasion, and these pageants were 54 in number in 1415. The first part of the miracle of that year, in which God the Father appears creating the heavens, the angels, archangels, Lucifer, and the angels that fell with him, was performed by the tanners. The second part, in which God the Father creates the earth and all which is therein in the space of five days, was represented by the plasterers. The third part, in which God the Father creates Adam and Eve and breathes into them the spirit of life, was played by the card makers. The 54th part, which includes Jesus, Mary, the apostles, four angels with trumpets, four angels with lances and scourges, four good and four bad spirits, and six devils, was performed by the mercers.
There are in the Bodleian library three miracle plays in the Digby manuscripts relating to the conversion of St. Paul, and two manuscripts containing the Cornish plays of the deluge, the passion, and the resurrection. Only a single example of the Newcastle mvsteries remains, entitled "Noah's Ark, or the Shipwrights' Ancient Play," in which God, an angel, Noah and his wife, and the devil are the characters. According to Malone, the last mystery performed in England was that of Christ's passion in the reign of James I., hut other authorities say they were acted in churches, and even on Sunday, as late as the reign of Charles I. They had, however, generally ceased to he written from the time of John Hale (1538). The principal English miracle plays have been published, and no other portion of mediaeval literature is so strikingly marked by mingled drollery and solemnity. - From the reign of Henry VI. miracles had been encroached upon and superseded by moral plays or moralities, in which abstract allegorical personages took the place of Scripture characters. The change was gradual. In one of the Coventry miracles the representatives of Veritas, Justitia, Pax, and Miserieordia appear in the parliament of heaven.
Death and the mother of Death were successively add-ed; and as these characters increased, Biblical history fell into the background and was ! at length eliminated. Moralities reached their highest perfection in the reigns of Henry VIT. and Henry VIII., though they subsequently exhibited greater complication and ingenuity. They contained two standing characters, the Devil and the Vice. The former, the leader of the Seven Deadly Sins, was made as hideous as possible, shaggy, bottle-nosed, and with a tail. He entered upon the stage crying " Ho, ho, ho! " and his part consisted largely in roaring when castigated by the Alee. The latter, though represented as "most wicked by design and never good by accident," was chiefly employed in belaboring the Devil. He was generally dressed in a fool's habit, and the character was gradually blended with that of the domestic fool. Moralities were abundant in France and England in the 15th and 10th centuries. The interludes of John Heywood mark tlu- transition in England from them to legitimate tragedy and comedy.
In Paris the devout buffoonery of the brethren of the passion gave offence and caused their suppression in 1547, and the company which purchased the Hotel de Bourgogne was enjoined to abstain from "all mysteries of the passion, or other sacred mysteries." In French the Mora lite tresnvqii-her, el trenbonne den blasphemateurs du nam de Dieu is one of the most celebrated; and in Skelton's - Magnyfycence," designed to show the vanity of worldly grandeur, in which the characters are Felicity, Liberty, Measure, Adversity, Poverty, Despair, Mischief, Good-hope, Redress, Circumspection, Perseverance, Fancy, Folly, and Crafty-conveyance. - Mys-teries are stdl occasionally performed at several places in Europe, the most celebrated being that of Ober-Ammergau, in southern Bavaria, which is represented every tenth year. (See Ober-Ammergau.) - See Onesime Le Roy, Etudes sur les mysteres (Paris, 1837); Achille Jubinal, Mysteres inedits du quinzieme siecle (2 vols., Paris, 1837); Heinrich Hoffmann, Fund-gruben far Geschichte deutscher Sprache und Literatur (Breslau, 1830-'37); "The Chester Mvsteries" (London, 1818); William Hone, "Ancient Mysteries Described" (1823); Thomas Sharp, "A Dissertation on the Pageants or Dramatic Mysteries anciently Performed at Coventry" (Coventry, 1825); Collier, "History of English Dramatic Poetry" (3 vols., London, 1831); "Ancient Mysteries from the Digby MSS." (Edinburgh, 1835); " The Towneley Mysteries," published for the Surtees society (London, 1836); William Marriott, "A Collection of English Miracle Plays " (Basel, 1838); Thomas Wright, "Early Mysteries, and other Latin Poems of the 12th and 13th Centuries" (London, 1838); Edwin Norris, "The Ancient Cornish Drama" (Oxford, 1859); and H. N Oxenham, "Ober-Ammergau in 1871 " (London, 1871). A large number of the French miracles and moralities have been published separately, among which are Les blasphemateurs (1831) and La vendition de Joseph (1835), both exact reproductions in form and type of the manuscripts in the national library.