It resumes the spirit of the Renascence well, and bears witness to the appetite for knowledge which caused schools and colleges to be born in the land. The comic element is supplied by an episode in which Ignorance is heard blundering thorugh a lesson in the alphabet given him by his mother, Idleness The mistress, who represents the old somnolent methods of teaching, is no less ridiculous than her idiot pupil. The Reformation on the Stage. John Bale. Very early, the Reformation attempted to take possession of the morality and use it for its own ends.
Passion, inevitably unjust and sometimes brutal, gave life to more than one Protestant morality play. They appeared in the north and in the south. The first in date was written by the Scot Sir David Lyndsay, whose reforming zeal we have already seen. His Satire of the Thrie Estaitis was played in at Linlithgow before the King of Scotland, the bishops, and the people.
It is as political as it is religious. The three estates are the nobles, the clergy, and the merchants, and all three are pilloried together, censured for giving too much ear to Sensuality, Wantonness, and Deceit.
The grieevances which John the Common Weal, the man of the people, has against them are just enough, and it is pleasant to see him obtain the needed reforms with the help of Good Counsel and Correction. Lyndsay's special attack is against the Church. Dame Veritie, who desires access to the king, finds her way barred by the lords spiritual, scared at her advent. An abbot wishes to cast her into prison, and a parson recommends that she be put to death, under cover of the king's momentary subjection to Dame Sensuality.
The same priest summons Veritie to declare by what right she is addicted to preaching. He threatens her with the stake, and when she refuses to retract, Flattery, a monk, exclaims:. In a comic interlude the social satire is dominant. Pauper recounts his misadventures. He used to keep his old father and mother by his labour and owned a mare and three cows. When his partents died the landlord took the mare as a heriot; the vicar seized the best cow at his father's, and the second best at his mother's, death.
The third cow went the same way when his wife died of grief, when also the vicar's clerk bore off the uppermost clothes of the family. There is nothing left for Pauper to do but to beg. The parish priest has refused him Easter communion because he no longer pays tithes. He has only one farthing in his pocket with which to plead for justice.
A Pardoner arrives, boasting of his relics and insulting the New Testament, which sells to the injury of his trade. With his last farthing Pauper buys a thousand years' indulgence, but when he asks to see his purchase a fight ensues and the relics fall into the gutter.
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These passages give an idea of the violence of the attack and of the life it imparted to the morality. The Protestants of England were no less ferocious. Their most famous dramatic champion was Bishop John Bale , who even attempted to turn the fixed and traditional miracle plays to Protestant uses. Under the name of tragedies, comedies, and interludes, he wrote scenes in harmony with the reformed faith, taking them from sacred history and principally from the life of Christ. But he gave the chief of his efforts to morality plays, combined with history which was sometimes contermporary, as in his Proditiones Papistarum and Super utroque Regis Coniugio.
The most interesting of his dramatic essays is, however, his allegory King Johan , in which he recasts history to his liking. He makes of the deplorable John a great king, hated and calumniated by the clergy. For John had been bold enough to rebel against Rome, and all his faults, crimes, and cowardice are therefore wiped out. He is represented as a man misunderstood, a noble victim, the first Protestant. This play merits a particular place in the history of the theatre. It is the half-open chrysalis, the morality play whence the historical drama is about to emerge.
Real and allegorical characters are mingled in it. John is betrayed by Dissimulation and threatened by Sedition. Moreover, abstractions are changed in the course of the play into living beings. This is a travesty of history and yet history, and, through the medium of another and Elizabethan work on the same reign, it was to leave its mark on Shakespeare's King John. Heywood's Interludes. Two of them were printed as early as Heywood, a good Catholic and the friend of Thomas More, wrote in the medieval tradition, in the spirit of the fabliaux which certainly did not spare churchmen.
He was original in avoiding morality plays and in having no purpose but to amuse. His interludes are mere comic dialogues, scenes from fabliaux sometimes modelled on the French.
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But he is of his own nation almost the only representative of this school of dramatic writing. The four interludes which he certainly wroter are controversies in burlesque. In Witty and Witless, James and John discuss whether it is better to be a fool or a wise man; they are echoing the Dyalogue du fol et du sage performed at the court of Louis XII. In Love, an unloved lover and his unloving mistress seek, each of them, to prove himself the more miserable, while another couple, a lover beloved and a man who is neither loved nor a lover, dispute the right to be called the happier.
In The Play of the Weather, ten characters demand of Jupiter that he sends them weather suited to their needs or desires, and the god finally decides that each of them shall be satisfied in turn. The pilgrim declares that in all his travels he has never seen a woman lose patience, and the others themselves allow that he has won the prize. These plays are, it is seen, without plot, but Heywood puts life into his characters and expresses himself with a drollery which recalls Chaucer.
There is a grotesque description of hell equal to the Sompnour's in the prologue to his Tale. Good humour reigns everywhere. Yet these writings are hardly dramas. If, as is probable, Heywood also wrote The Pardoner and the Friar and Johan Johan, the story of a husband deceived by his wife, Tyb, and Sir Johan, the parish priest, he came much nearer to farce in them. Their characters and incidents conform excellently to the old comic tradition, and their dramatization could not be more vigorous. Not, that is, unless the comic monologue Thersites, played about , may be ascribed to him on the evidence of style.
Its subject and its allusions are loaded with classical reminiscences. Antiquity supplied the material for this farce, which had many analogies with the Franc Archer de Bagnolet, and which brougth the braggart on to the English stage for the first time. The English playwright has kept only the first four of the sixteen acts of his original. He has changed the long crowded drama with its tragic conclusion to a romantic comedy having a moral and cheerful ending.
The character of the procuress Celestina, the descendant of Dame Siriz and the prototype of Macette, is indeed the same in the English as in the original version, but before she throws Meliboea into the arms of Calisto, the girl's father intervenes to save her on the brink of the abyss. Thus the didactic instinct cuts short a romantic drama. Progress of the theatre after There was no further change in the first half of the century, but from onwards innovations came thick and fast. It is about the middle of the century that the formation of troops of professional players, in addition to the amateurs who performed in the miracle plays, can be clearly traced.
In more than one school and more than one college of the universities there were performances especially of classical pieces, but usually they were written by the masters and acted by the pupils. But the people of the provinces as well as those of the capital wished to be amused, and they were no longer satisfied with the miracle plays and moralities. Interludes, otherwise farces, were in great demand and were provided by professional actors. These were at first poor wretches, always under suspicion, who were harried by the authorities as rogues and vagabonds. Before they could be left in piece they had to obtain the patronage of a magnate, a baron at the least.
There was no lack of such willing protectors who appreciated their services.
The first company to obtain letters patent was Leicester's, in , but it was not the first to stroll about the country. In London the players were at the mercy of the civic authorities, who made thir life hard, less perhaps from Puritan prejudice, than because the highly popular darmatic performances constantly gave occasion for disorder, and by attracting a great concourse of spectators might spread the plague, during these years in which it was endemic. Against the persecuting lord mayor the actors invoked the help of the queen and the magnates. Their chief plea was that they contributed to the queen's pleasure and had need of practice in order to be worthy to play before her.
The Privy Council supported them against the City. They first played in London in the courtyards of certain inns.
Then, to escape constant annoyance and prohibitions, some of them built, in , their first theatre , outside the city but on its confines, on waste land in Shoreditch. London meanwhile enjoyed more select peformances. The Inns of Court were a home for the drama of classical tendencies, and a connecting link between the stage of the uniersities and that of the popular theatres.
That the queen might be ensured a supply of worthy actors, the choristers or children of the Chapel Royal were trained to perform plays, both those specially written for them by the master of the Chapel Royal, and others. These bos, both singers and actors, performed for the public as well as for the court, and were for some fifty years the dreaded competitors of adult and professional actors. Their example was followed by other London schools—St.
Paul's, Westminster, and Merchant Taylors'—where the most gifted pupils were trained to act and were proud to contribute to the royal diversions. Nothing, nor Puritan disapproval nor civic alarms, could stem the growing passion for the theatre which was felt by the whole nation—nobles, burghers, and people. Instead of making the Westminster boys act Plautus, Udall wrote for them, according to the laws of the classical drama, a comedy in five acts, inspired by Latin comic plays.
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He borrowed some characters from the ancients, but took others straight from English life. The hero Ralph recalls the Pyrgopolinices and Therapontigone of Plautus, is swaggering, stupid, and fatuous as they. Since the play is intended for schoolboys, Udall does not make him a libertine as in the Latin original, but a man really in love, even sentimentally and tearfully amorous. As he endows him also with avarice, so that the keeps an eye on his lady's dowry, the character is confused and lacks versimilitude.