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of plays to present universal history, as conceived by the church, from the creation to the judgment day. In England a particular scene was assigned to each craft, an arrangement which resulted in bitter rivalry and lavish expenditure. Noah's ark, for instance, was entrusted to the boat builders. The stage was what to-day would be called a float. Various stations were established, and when the first craft reached the first station it stopped while its occupants acted the creation of the world, then passed to second station, where the performance was repeated while the second craft stopped at the first station to act the sin of Adam and Eve, and so on. In this fashion between 30 and 40 scenes would be enacted in the course of a day. The ungrateful and by no means easy task of keeping order while a play was in progress was usually entrusted to a tyrant like Herod or Pilate.
Of these processional plays, we possess three complete or nearly complete cycles—those of York, Wakefield, and Chester, besides single plays from the cycles of Coventry, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and Norwich. The York cycle contains 49 plays, the Wakefield 32, the Chester 25. They are similar but not identical. In the York plays, for example, tyrants are depicted with powerful realism; in the Wakefield there is abundant rude humor, especially in the delineation of Noah's domestic troubles, the shepherds' Christmas Eve scenes, and the figure of Cain, who is a coarse, unmannerly rustic; the Chester plays are less dramatic and more didactic, so much so that they required an expositor, who accompanied the float on horseback for the purpose of explaining the action. The Coventry plays, unlike those of York, Wakefield, and Chester, were acted on immovable stages; instead of the play coming to the audience, the audience went to the play.
From the mystery and miracle there developed toward the end of the fourteenth century a new form of drama known as the morality play. In these are represented allegorically the battle which the vices and virtues wage for the possession of the human soul. By no means the least edifying of these is by a schoolmaster named Redford, who tries to show that a regular course of study is a conflict against hostile powers. Perhaps the best of them is “Everyman,” which is impressive even now both in reading and on the stage. Its subject is the hour of death. Everyman has three friends, Fellowship, Kindred, and Good
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Deeds; but only Good Deeds is willing to go with him after death and plead his cause before the throne of God, and Good Deeds is fettered by Everyman's sins. Good Deeds, however, directs him to Knowledge and Confession, so that he finally leaves the world well prepared. The morality, in one respect, marks an important advance over the mystery in dramatic development; its story not being prescribed by tradition, it allows the author more freedom to be original.
Farces, known as interludes, were also numerous and popular during the Middle Ages. The term (inter—" between "plus ludus
play ") probably does not mean a play in the interval of something else, but a play carried on between two or more actors. The Pyramus and Thisbe” that is acted by the rude mechanicals in "A Midsummer Night's Dream ” may very well preserve for us an exquisitely realistic picture of the representation of one of these interludes as it appeared to the greatest of all reporters while he was still a youth at Stratford. Two of the interludes of John Heywood (1498?-1587?), the “Wether" and the" Four P's," are noteworthy. In the former, Jupiter consults all manner of people before deciding what kind of weather to send. The gentleman wants dry and windless weather suitable for hunting, the merchant variable but not violent winds, the ranger good
rage of blustrying and blowynge,” the water-miller rain which will not fall while the wind blows, the wind-miller wind without “rayne," the gentlewoman clouds lest the sun injure her complexion, the “launder” perpetual sun to dry his clothes, and the boy snow that he may catch “brydes ” and see his snow " ballys light on his felowes heddys.” In the “ Four P's," a palmer, a pardoner, and a 'potecary, with a pedler as umpire, engage in a contest to decide who can tell the biggest lie. The 'potecary does well, but is outdone by the pardoner, who tells how he rescued Margery Corson from hell by promising Lucifer that he would see to it that there come no mo women to hell. To this the palmer replies that he cannot understand why women can be such shrews in hell, as he has known 500,000 of them yet never seen or known one out of patience, a declaration which at once secures him the victory.
Among the results of the Renascence was the study of Roman comedies in English schools and universities. Between 1520 and 1583
there are numerous records of these plays having been performed at St. Paul's, Eton, Westminster, Shrewsbury, Oxford, and Cambridge. From these representations the step to translation and to the production of English comedy written on classical lines was easy. Accordingly, in 1530 we find Terence in English; and about 1552 Nicholas Udall, headmaster of Westminster, wrote a play named "Ralph Roister Doister” and modelled on Plautus, which is fairly entitled to rank as the first English comedy. Ten years later, in January, 1562, there was acted before Queen Elizabeth the first English tragedy, entitled “Gorbuduc," by Thomas Sackville and Thomas Norton. With these productions there came into the English drama a dignity, a feeling for form, and a unity which had previously been unknown on the English stage. In them also iambic pentameter blank verse makes its appearance on the English stage. Here, however, their merit ends. They are in the main crude, stiff, and cold.
It was left for a group of young men who are known in literature as the university wits to take the farther step of making English tragedy and comedy live. These were John Lyly, Thomas Lodge, George Peele, Robert Greene, and Thomas Nashe. To John Lyly (1553-1606) is due the discovery that graceful prose is a fitter instrument for comedy than verse; he raised the intellectual level of the drama and gave it delicacy, grace, subtlety. His lyrics are charming. During his brief career he produced over 40 plays, poems, and tales. From his lyrics, “ Content," from the “Farewell to Folly "; “Sephestia's Song to her Child,” from“ Menaphon”; and the“ Shepherd Wife's Song," from the “Mourning Garment,” are worthy of being copied into every student's notebook. In “Much Ado about Nothing” and “As You Like It” there is ample evidence that Shakespeare knew his Lyly well. George Peele (1552–1598) had some of the Shakespearean power of painting a definite picture in a few words. Robert Greene (1558–1592) was a master of verisimilitude, simple human feeling, and plot construction. Lodge and Nashe were less important, but all five men, when Shakespeare arrived in London, were in the heyday of a popularity such as some novelists enjoy to-day.
In this, however, they were perhaps surpassed by Thomas Kyd (1558–1596), whose "Spanish Tragedy ” was rewritten by Ben
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Jonson and whose “Hamlet” formed the basis for Shakespeare's
Hamlet.” He shows a gift for displaying character superior to that of any of his predecessors, though Jonson, in derision, called him 'sporting Kyd.”
A reproduction of a sketch by Johannes De Witt, a Dutch scholar, made in about 1569,
of the Swan Theatre, London The greatest of Shakespeare's forerunners in the drama, however, was Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593). He has left us four tragedies: “ Tamburlaine," " The Jew of Malta,” “ Dr. Faustus,” and “ Edward II," which were immensely and deservedly popular in his own day, and which, aside from Shakespeare's, have no superiors in English.
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“Tamburlaine the Great " was successfully staged in 1587, was printed in 1590, and long retained its popularity. The grandeur of its style and the fact that it revolutionized the diction of the popular drama by substituting blank verse for rhymed couplets led Ben Jonson justly to refer to “Marlowe's mighty line." No student of English literature can afford to omit reading it and all of Marlowe's other plays. Somebody has said that it made Tamburlaine better known in England than in his own Tartary. Its success, says Walter Raleigh, is perhaps the greatest event in the history of English literature.
It was followed by the “ Tragical History of Dr. Faustus,” which relates with scarcely less splendor than Goethe's "Faust" the story of a mediæval necromancer who gave his soul to Lucifer in return for 24 years of unlimited enjoyment. The closing scene, which begins
And then thou must be damned perpetually,”
The“ Jew of Malta ” is in some respects a prototype of the “Merchant of Venice.” Like Shylock, Barrabas is stripped of his wealth by the Christians, but, unlike him, he is so inhuman in his revenge that he inspires no sentiments save horror and aversion. Like all of Marlowe's plays, however, the “ Jew of Malta ” is rich in poetry.
The last of Marlowe's plays, “ Edward II," was the first of that great list of chronicle plays to which Shakespeare was the chief contributor but which was enriched in the last century by Tennyson's “Harold," “ Beket," and "Queen Mary," Marlowe thus has the distinction of founding a type. It has been suggested that the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 turned his attention to this patriotic theme and made the people welcome other plays on subjects taken from English history. “Edward II " is not much surpassed even by Shakespeare's “ King John.” Its closing scene, like the closing scene of “ Dr. Faustus " and unlike the closing scenes in some of Shakespeare's tragedies, is the best in the play.
Marlowe was killed at 29 in a tavern brawl. His career thus came to an end just as Shakespeare's was beginning. When we reflect