This text was taken from Godwin's Life of Chaucer by William Godwin, London: T. Davison, White-Friars; 1804.
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ORIGIN OF THE ENGLISH STAGE — PROFANE DRAMAS — MIRACLE PLAYS — PAGEANTS — MYSTERIES — MASKS.
But, among these accomplishments of the minstrels one has purposely been reserved, because it seems to have been almost universally overlooked by the ingenious writers who have undertaken to perpetuate their memory, and, by those who have just touched upon it, by no means insisted upon as its importance seems to deserve; and because it tends to elucidate a very important branch of our theatre. It will probably be found on a mature investigation, that the minstrels were the first composers and representers of dramatic performances in England.
It is not indeed extraordinary that this circumstance should be so little adverted to, as no one of their productions of this sort appears to have come down to us, as we are ignorant of the very names of the pieces and the subjects of which they treated, and as we are left to collect all that can now be known concerning them from indirect inferences and general circumstances.
One of the first particulars which might well lead us to some suspicion of the truth of the proposition here started consists in the names by which the professors of the minstrel art are frequently described by the Latin writers of the twelfth century, histriones and mimi . These writers, as has already appeared, were by no means incompetent judges of language, and ought not to be believed to have employed appellations of this sort without fully adverting to their meaning.
But, if we look more narrowly into these writers with a view of clearing the doubt here suggested, we shall find strong reason to confirm us in the opinion that, from the time of the retreat of the Romans, the minstrels were the first body of actors in England. No author can be a more competent witness in this point than John of Salisbury, whether we consider the degree of intelligence and elegance displayed in his writings, or the time in which he lived, he having been born and died in the twelfth century. As the fact here stated is of considerable importance, it may be worth our while to examine the assertions advanced by this author, with some degree of minuteness.
John of Salisbury, who was a monk of Canterbury, speaks, like all the monastic writers, with the utmost contempt and abhorrence of the order of minstrels. He has particularly treated of the most obvious topics respecting them in the sixth, seventh and eighth chapters of the first book of his treatise entitled Policraticus, De Nugis Curialium . We will enter into an abstract of each of these chapters.
The title of the sixth chapter is, De musica, et instumentis, et modis, et fructu eorum . [Of music, of instruments, tunes, and the profit to be derived from them.] The principle object of this chapter is a commendation of sacred music, and a censure of that which is effeminate and convivial, by which he particularly means to allude to the musical performances of the minstrels. By the way, as it is under the head of music that they are first introduced by John of Salisbury, it is fair to infer from this, in corroboration of a thousand other evidences, that music and song were always the chief, though by no means the only, objects of attention to the minstrels.
The title of the seventh chapter is, De dissimilitudine Augusti et Neronis . [Of the opposite dispositions of Augustus and Nero.] This chapter consists of a story of Augustus being roughly reprimanded by an old soldier who found him playing upon a musical instrument; a freedom which Augustus took in good part, and in consequence of which he ceased from practicing as a musician ever after. This is contrasted by the author with certain well known instances of the infatuation of Nero in this respect. The chapter concludes with a transition to the stage in these words, Histrionibus et mimis pecunians infinitas erogare noes gravabatur . [He (Nero) made no scruple of bestowing immense sums of money upon actors and stage-buffoons.]
The title of the eighth chapter is, De histrionibus, et mimis, et proestigiatoribus. . [Of actors, and stage-buffoons, and jugglers.] Here the author commences with a warm censure of the great men his contemporaries, who, though they would be unwilling to make common cause with Nero's infamy, were not backward to follow his example in this species of prodigal expence: and it is remarkable that he does not describe this expence as being employed in rewarding these modern histriones, but in exhibend&acap; malitia eorum . [On the exhibition of their wicked devices]. So that it would seem, here were not only plays, but plays which, in the theatrical phrase, cost considerable sums of money in the "getting up." The author then introduces a most contemptuous character of the spectacles thus exhibited. He says the players [ histriones] in Nero's time were comparatively respectable men, and worthy of countenance; and he mentions Plautus, Menander and Terence, apparently for the purpose of casting the greater odium upon these modern malitaioe. He expressly Denominates the objects against which he is inveighing spectacula, et infinita tyronicinia vanitatis, quibus qui omnino toiari non pussunt, perciciousius occupentur [spectacles, and innumberable ruiments of vanity, by which persons who could not endure to be totally idle might be occupied in worse than idleness]. To these words succeeds the enumeration already given of eight or ten denominations, which the author sums up under the term of tota joculatorum scoena, an appellation which, as has been shown, was by the Latin writers of that day particularly appropriated to the minstrels. He then adds some anecdotes of these exhibitors who were 'admitted in the greatest houses," which, if genuine, and not rather founded upon misinformation, cherished as it was likely to be by the prejudices of a monk, are well entitled to surprise us. He says that "they exposed the obscene parts of the body, and practiced such indecences respecting them before a public audience, as might make a cynic blush," and he concludes with a statement, which, if less profligate, is perhaps still more filthy, for which we refer the curious reader to the work itself.
It seems to be evident beyond question, from these passages of Jon of Salisbury, combined with the terms histriones and mimi, established appellations for the minstrels among the writers of that age, and with the consideration of the minstrels, whose epithets and accomplishments were so exceedingly varied, being the only persons who then travelled the country proffering their exhibitions to anyone who would pay them, that there existed profane dramatic entertainments early in the twelfth century in England, and that it was by this order of men that the characters which composed them were performed.
It is reasonable to believe that the plays, particularly of this early period, were, in point of composition, to the last degree mean, poor and inartificial. Not one of these pieces has come down to us, though we are in possession of many of the songs, and much of the diffuser poetry of that period. This argument however is not very decisive, since we have no books the production of so early an age, except those written by the monks: the balance of the minstrels were probably preserved by oral tradition Chaucer and Gower are among the earliest lay the authors in England whose works are of any considerable size. We may however recollect that the early dramatic pieces which are preserved in our language, though the production of a later and more enlightened period, scarcely deserve a better character than that given above. Perhaps the stories exhibited by the minstrels were performed only in dumb show. Perhaps the outline of the scene only was premeditated, and the dialogue was supplied by the performers on the spot. Some readers will imagine that performances so rude scarcely deserved the minute investigation in which we are engaged. But it will speedily be seen that the early history of the English stage can never be completely understood without this elucidation.
We may divide the early performance and personation of real or imaginary events in this country, into two classes, the profane and the sacred. The sacred were either Miracles, or Mysteries: the Miracle-plays being an exhibition taken from the history of some saint who had been canonized by the Church, and the Mysteries a representation of some event recorded in the Old or New Testament. The earliest record we possess of a sacred play is in Matthew Paris;a the story being taken from the legend of St. Catharine, and the play acted in the abbey of Dunstable, probably about the year 1110. The author of the piece was by name Gaufrid, a Norman and afterward abbot of St. Albans, one of the highest monastic dignities in England.
It is easy for any one who will attend to the proceedings of the church in this period of its history, to explain the policy which led it to cultivate so assiduously the exhibition of sacred dramas. The clergy were at this time nearly all-powerful; and they cannot be accused of any heedlessness or indolence as to the embracing every means to perpetuate and enlarge their power. Considered as a body, they were no visionaries, no dealers in spiritualities and abstractions to the neglect of the practical character of the practical character of the human species. They had much leisure through the means of their monastic institutions and their celibacy; and they reflected deeply, and in a sprit of cordial co-operation, upon the surest methods for swaying implicitly the minds of mankind. No expedients, of terror, of despotism, or austerity, were left untried by them but these were not their only expedients. They could be fierce with the forward, and the gentle with the submissive. They rendered themselves the confidents and the fathers of those who trusted them, and there was no fatherly office of encouragement, of soothing, of prudent counsel and seemingly disinterested sympathy, which they did not fully discharge.
But there was one principle which above all others stamped the policy of the clergy in the middle ages. They considered man as the creature of his senses, and addressed themselves most elaborately to this eye and his ear. This principle, which must always be important to those who wish to domineer, was especially so when mankind was so little enlightened and intellectualized. The clergy therefore sought, as far as they could, to engross to themselves every thing which was magnificent and awful. They went further than this. They desired to be the sole source of amusement to the people. to this purpose were directed their shows, their processions, and their festivals. Above all, they were jealous of the minstrels; and, as appears from what has been already said, not unreasonably so, for in this career the minstrels were formidable rivals. It is impossible to look into any of the monkish writers about this period, without being struck with the excessive antipathy they express to this order of men.
This then is the true explanation of the origin of the Miracle-plays, and the Mysteries. The clergy were not content with abusing the minstrels, treating them with the utmost contumely, and refusing them the sacred communion and Christian burial;b they desired, in addition to this, to rival them in their own arts. They wished to take away from the laity the very inclination to listen to them; and for this purpose they could think of no better expedient than to copy their amusements. This is probably the true reason why church-music was so assiduously cultivated in the early ages; for the clergy had the scalds and the gleemen to contend with, before the appearance of the minstrels. No sooner then had the minstrels brought forward a new species of entertainment, the dramatic, than the clergy thought it high time that they too should have their plays.
They were not deterred by the considerations which might influence the more demure and decorous churchmen of late ages. They understood the race of men they had to do with. They knew that they might exhibit Eve and the serpent, and God and they devil, on a public stage, without in the least degree shocking the passive audiences of the pious ages. They knew that their creed was too deeply fixed, and their spiritual pastors had too many avenues to their passions, to allow the mixture of laughter and ribaldry with all which was sacred and all which was mysterious, to be in the least degree dangerous to the stability of their faith. Sober thinking and extensive information must have taken their turn, before light laughter can produce any perceptible effect in overturning the most daring impositions.
Though we do not possess any very detailed account of the Miracle-plays of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, we find them mentioned by the writers of that period in a way which proves that they were extremely common. Fitzstephen, the biographer of Thomas of Becket, in his Description of London, treating of the amusements of this metropolis, has a passage, thus translated by Strype: "London, instead of common interludes belonging to the theatre, hath plays of a more holy subject; representations of those miracles which the holy confessors wrought, or of the sufferings, wherein the glorious constancy of martyrs did appear."c And Matthew Paris, a historian of the thirteenth century, in his account of the play of St. Catharine at Dunstable, above mentioned, remarks that it was of that species of performance, "which we usually call Miracles;"d a phrase strongly expressive of the frequency of such exhibitions.
The mention of profane plays and players occurs by no means less frequently in the old writers. Mr. Wartone has brought forward a record, which he ascribes to the year 1200, in which the king's permission is sold to a widow, to marry her daughter to whomever she pleases, except the king's mimics (mimici). The fourth general council of Lateran, which sat in the year 1215, made a decree prohibiting the clergy from attending secular plays.f In the year 1258 an injunction was given by the barons of England to the religious houses, that "secular plays (histrionum ludi) should not be seen, or heard, or permitted to be performed before the abbot, or his monks."g And in 1287 ludi theatrales are forbidden to be performed in churches and church0yards, on vigils and festivals, by the synod of Exeter.h
Nothing can be more certain than that the plays and players here censured were of the profane class. The sacred drama was long a favourite child of holy mother church, and was cherished and countenanced in the most pointed manner by popes and cardinals, as we shall have occasion repeatedly to observe in the sequel. Nor must we wonder when we find these denunciations and prohibitions of the clergy frequenting these secular plays, so often repeated. The monks in their convents, with the exception of the most zealous or the most learned, were of necessity devoured with ennui: and there was no amusement, however puerile, coarse or indecorous, which they thought they could enjoy undetected, to which they did not recur with avidity. A curious story in Antony Wood to this purpose,i has frequently been referred to by the writers on these subjects. It belongs to the period of the first introduction of the friars into England, in the early part of the thirteenth century. "Two holy Franciscans, having lost their way, arrived in the greatest distress at a grange belonging to the Benedictines of Abingdon, about six miles from Oxford. The porter, who opened the gate, judged from their squalid appearance, their tattered garments, and their foreign idiom, that they were farce-player or maskers (mimos quosdam, seu personatos), and carried the joyful tidings in all haste to his prior. The prior, with his sacristan, the cellarer and two younger monks, flew to the gate, and, urged by the hope of entertainment in the arts of gesticulation and dramatical performance (gesticulatoriis ludicrisque artibus ), intreated them to enter. The friars with a sad countenance assured the Benedictines that they had mistaken their men; that they were no players, but servants of God, engaged to live according to the rule of the apostles. On this the monks, exasperated at the disappointment of their joyful hopes, fell upon them at once, beat and kicked them in a cruel manner, and thrust them from their doors."
Respecting the nature of the profane plays exhibited at this period we can obtain very little light. The only species of secular personation we find distinctly mentioned, is that of the Pageants which were exhibited at royal marriages and on other public occasions, and these were probably conducted in dumb show. Of these we find one on occasion of the marriage of Henry III in 1236,k a second at the marriage of the eldest daughter of this monarch to Alexander III. king of Scots in 1252,k and a third in celebration of the victory of Edward I. over the Scots in 1298.l Many more might easily be traced.
The nature of the Pageants of these times may be illustrated by an incidental passage of Matthew Paris, applicable to this point. He is relating the dream or vision of one Thurcill, a villager of Essex, whose soul is said to have been transported from his body as he lay asleep, and introduced by a saint to a view of hell and heaven. In hell he sees, among the tormented, a knight who had passed his life in shedding innocent blood, in tournaments and robbery. He is completely armed and on horseback, and couches his lance at the demons who are commissioned to drag him to his destined torments. There are likewise a priest who never said mass, and a baron of the exchequer who took bribes. From hell Thurcill is conveyed to heaven. He is ushered into a garden, adorned with an immense variety of plants and flowers, and embalmed with the fragrance of odoriferous trees and fruits. In the midst of this garden Adam, a personage of gigantic proportion and beautiful symmetry, is seen reclined on the side of a fountain which sends forth four streams of different water and colour, and under the shade of a tree of uncommon size and height, laden with fruits of every kind of emitting the most delicious odours. The scenes of this vision Matthew Paris names the infernal pageants.m
The Miracle-plays, as we have seen, were extremely common during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. They are defined by Fitzstephen, as representing "either the miracles which the holy confessors wrought, or the sufferings in which the glorious constancy of martyrs did appear." No other species of sacred play is mentioned either by Fitzstephen, Matthew Paris or Chaucer. Of the Mystery no trace seems to be discoverable further back than about the close of the thirteenth century. It was a drama representing the events of the Old and New Testaments. It passed from the legend to the fundamental record of our religion, from the ornaments to the stamina of the faith, and in this respect appears to have been considered as a great improvement upon the sacred plays which had preceded it.
The earliest mention which seems to occur of a play founded on the incidents of sacred writ is in the year 1298. On the festival of Pentecost in that year the Play of Christ, representing his passion, resurrection, ascension, and the descent of the Holy ghost, was performed by the clergy of Civita Vecchia in Italy, in the hall of the patriarch of the Austrian dominions; and again in 1304 the chapter of Civita Vecchia represented a play of the creation of man, the annunciation of the virgin, the birth of Christ and other passages of holy scripture.n A collection of Mysteries said to have been performed at Chester at the expence of the different trading companies of that city, in the year 1327, but which the biographer of Lorenzo de Medicis peremptorily decides to be antedated nearly two centuries,o is still in existence.p The subjects of these Mysteries are the Fall of Lusifer; the Creation; the Deluge; Abraham, Melchisedec and Lot; Moses, Balaam and Balak; the Salutation and the Nativity; the Three Kings; the Massacre of the Innocents; &c, &amo;c. There is also a collection of Mysteries performed at Coventry, which pretends to nearly equal antiquity.q A play of the Children of Israel ( ludus filiorum Israelis ), probably the Exodus or departure out of Egypt, with the episode of the Red Sea, was performed by the guild of Corpus Christi at Cambridge in the year 1355.r The Coventry Mysteries are said to have been performed by the mendicants of the house of the Gray-Friars in that city.s In France we have and account of ten pounds being paid toward the charges of acting the Passion of Christ, which was represented by masks at Anjou in the year 1386:t and in 1398 certain citizens of Paris met at St. Maur to represent a piece on the same subject, but were prohibited by the magistrates of that city. Shortly after however they obtained a licence and patent of incorporation from the king.u
These exhibitions were conceived at this period to contribute so much to the civilising the minds of the common people, who were thus called off from sports in which mere brutal strength and corporeal dexterity were exerted, to amusements of a more intellectual class; and to conduce so essentially to the instructing persons who were unable to read, in the great facts and outline of their religion, that, as we are informed by a document annexed to the Chester Mysteries, the pope proclaimed a pardon of one thousand days to every on who resorted peaceably to these exhibitions during the festival of Whitsuntide, to which the bishop of the diocese, of his munificence, added an indulgence of forty days more; the pope at the same time denouncing eternal damnation against those reprobate persons who should presume to disturb or interrupt these sacred sports.
A memorable exhibition of a Mystery, entitled the Massacre of the Innocents, took place at Constance in the year 1417; being given by the English fathers, and performed before the members of the celebrated council then held at that place.v The account of this piece coincides in so many points with a drama on the same subject, written by John Parfre in 1512, and printed in Hawkin's collection entitled the Origin of the English Drama, as to make it probably that Parfre's piece is a liberal translation, or an abbreviation, of the play at Constance, which must be supposed to have been written in Latin. As the historian appears to recite certain expressions from the drama of 1417, we may conclude that it was not a mere exhibition in dumb show.
About the close of the fourteenth century the practice of acting sacred plays seems to have assumed a more systematical form, and to have approached more nearly to the modern prevailing ideas of a regular theatre. In Shakespear we meet with several allusions to the custom, sufficiently frequent in his time, of having the characters in plays wholly represented by boys: particularly there is a passage in his tragedy of hamlet which has often been quoted in this relation.w This custom was of long standing, and appears to have been as old as the time of Chaucer. In 1378, in the beginning of the reign of Richard II, a petition was presented by the scholars of St. Paul's School, praying the king "to prohibit some unexpert people from presentwng the History of the Old Testament, to the great prejudice of the said clergy, who have been at a great expence in order to represent it publicly at Christmas."x
In the same reign we meet with the representation of dramas of a similar description by society of the parish-clerks.y The idea of such a representation carries something ludicrous to our minds. But it certainly was not so understood at that time. It has justly been observedz that the parish-clerks might be considered in some sense as a learned society at a time when the art of reading was comparatively a rare accomplishment; and no one in the slightest degree accustomed to speculate upon the operations of the human mind, can fail to acknowledge that the self-estimation and honest thirst after excellence of any order of men, eminently depend upon the estimation in which they are held by their neighbours. The parish-clerks were incorporated into a guild by Henry III about the year 1240, under the patronage of St. Nicholas.aa It was anciently customary for men and women of the first quality, ecclesiastics and others, who were lovers of church music, to be admitted into this corporation; and they gave large gratuities for the support and education of persons practiced in this art. This society was usually hired as a band of vocal performers, to assist at the funerals of the nobility and other distinguished persons, which were celebrated in London or its neighbourhood.aa They clearly therefore held a very different place in the community from that which they occupy at this time.
Yet the circumstance of the Mysteries being now presented by the parish-clerks may perhaps be construed as an indication of growing refinement as an indication of growing refinement in European society. In the darker ages the high-spirited monk in his cloister, and the mortified and the mortified friar, did not scruple to take a part in these godly exhibitions. But now a suspicion seems to have darted into their minds, that the being thus accoutered in mummery, and personating fictitious rage and well-disabled grief, was not altogether consistent with the loftiness or purity of their professions. They resigned this office therefore to a more modest, and not less pliable order of men.
In the year 1391 the parish-clerks played certain interludes at Skinners well near London for three days successively, the king, queen, and many of the nobility being present at the performance.bb And in the year 1409 they represented at the same place "a great play, which lasted eight dayes, and was of matter from the creation of the world [that is, a sort of compendium of universal history]: there were to see the same, the most parte of the nobles and gentles in England: and forthwith after began a royall justing in Smithfielde, between the carle of Somerset, the seneshall of Henault,"cc and other distinguished personages.
Chaucer, as has already been observed, mentions the Miracles in his Canterbury Tales,dd but not the Mysteries: yet his Canterbury Tales were the last of his works, and it is therefore certain that the representations of Mysteries were by no means uncommon at the time of his writing this work. The mention of the Miracle-plays however is put into the mouth of a city-dame; and the intention of the author may have been to indicate that these as being of more ancient institution, were ordinary exhibitions; but that the Mysteries were of a select character, and had not yet descended to the vulgar.
Profane plays, masquings and pageants, no less than the sacred crama, seem to have made considerable advances in the fourteenth century. Before the year 1300 the ceremony of a king of France dining in public is thus described.ee During the entertainment the company were regaled with music by the minstrels, who played upon the kettle-drum, conet, flute, trumpet, violin, and various other instruments. Beside these, certain farcours, jongleurs, et plaisantins diverted the company with their drolleries and comedies. The historian adds, that many noblemen of France were entirely ruined by the expences they lavished upon this species of performers. About the year 1331 a law was made by the English Parliament, ordaining that a company of men styled vagrants, who had made masquerades through the whole city, should be whipped out of London, because they represented scandalous things in the petty alehouses, and other places where the populace assembled.ff These were probably some of the lower retainers of the order of minstrels.
In the year 1348 an item of expenditure is entered in the public accounts, for furnishing the plays or sports of the king ( ludos ), held in the castle of Guildford at the festival of Christmas.gg Among various dresses provided for this purpose, are fourteen visors representing the faces of women, fourteen of men with beards, and fourteen of angels, together with fourteen mantles embroidered with the eyes of peacocks, fourteen with the heads of dragons, fourteen with stars of gold and silver, and various other devices. An entertainment somewhat similar is described in 1377, the last year of Edward III, which was made by the citizens of London for the entertainment of Richard prince of Wales. One hundred and thirty citizens "in a mummerie" rode from Newgate Kennington, Where the prince resided, variously disguised; "one rihley arrayed like and emperour, and one stately tyred like a pope, whom followed twenty-four cardinals." This was a dumb show; for the historian adds, when they had entered the hall of the palace, they were met by the prince, his mother and the lords, "whome the saide mummers did salute, shewing by a paire of dice upon the table their desire to play with the prince, which they so handled," that the prince won of them a bowl, a cup and a ring of gold.hh Another entertainment, of a like kind to that of Edward III in 1348, is recorded to have taken place before Richard II in 1391.ii
Two masquerades in France and England, a little subsequent to this period, have become objects of general history by the political events with which they are connected Charles VI of France, the rival monarch of our Henry V, was subject to occasional fits of melancholy or frantic alienation of mind. This disease became more obstinate and confirmed by an accident which befell him in the year 1393. A masquerade was held at court, in which the king, attired as a satyr, led in a chain of four young noblemen in similar dresses. The garments they wore were daubed with resin, and surmounted with tufts and baldrics of tow. The duke of Orleans, the king's brother, accidentally approached with a flambeau too near to one of these dresses, which caught fire in a moment, and, communicating to the rest, the four lords were burned to death, and the life of the king was with the greatest difficulty saved.kk The English masquerade recorded by our general historians occurred in 1400. The dukes of Surry, Exeter and Albemarle formed a project for the assassination of king Henry IV. For this purpose they seized the occasion of the festival of Christmas, which Henry proposed to celebrate at Windsor with justings and other entertainments. Under colour of a mask or mummery they purposed to enter the caste and assault the king; but he, having received timely notice of their conspiracy, privately withdrew, and the plot of the malcontents, thus defeated, terminated only in the ruin of its contrivers.ll
Toward the close of the fourteenth century we meet with more definite and unquestionable records of the exhibition of profane plays, than in the periods preceeding. In 1378 a royal carousal was given by Charles V of France to his guest the emporer Charles IV, which was closed with a theatrical representation of the Conquest of Jerusalem by Godfrey of Bouillon.mm In 1392 the school-boys of Angiers are said to have represented the play of Robin and Marian, according to their annual custom:nn and in 1395 a play was acted at Paris on the interesting story of patient Grisilde, which has been printed several times, and, in the fashionable language of that age, is entitled Le Mystere de Grisildes marquies de Saluce , though it could scarcely be mistaken by any of the parties concerned for a story extracted from sacred writ.
An author whose work has been extensively read, says, speaking of the Miracle-play of St. Catharine acted in 1110, "Hence we might be led to conclude that this miracle-play was composed in dialogue, but there is reason to conjecture that the whole consisted in dumb shew, and that the author's only merit lay in the arrangement of the incidents and machinery. — Nor do I conceive it possible to adduce a dramatic composition in the English language, that can indisputably be placed before the year 1500; previous to which time they were common in Italy."
The phrases, "there is reason to conjecture," and "there is every reason to believe," certainly have a very imposing effect, when they proceed from the pen of a writer of credit. But, whatever weight they might have with us in a cursory reading, they must necessarily pass, in the discussion in which we are here engaged, for little or nothing. As the author has refrained from assigning his reasons, it is incumbent upon us to enquire for ourselves, what it is that there is most "reason to conjecture." Now, if we derive our arguments from the nature of the thing, it does not seem in any degree more obvious and easy to invent a silent, than a speaking, drama. A drama must necessarily be more or less an imitation of life, and in real life men do not discharge their most important concerns in silence, but with the intervention of words. To judge abstractedly, pantomime would strike us as the offspring of refinement, not as the first and most easy species of drama. The Greek theatre did not begin in pantomime. Speculative men are much too apt to invent great and striking epochs in the progress of society. In fact however it is difficult to assign the period when any memorable practice or instutution begins. It ordinarily begins unremarked, and continues for some time before it acquires a name. There is scarcely a nation in the world, except the most barbarous, which does not possess some rude outline of a drama. No sooner is the mode introduced for one individual to speak or sing for the entertainment of an assembly, than the idea of two persons speaking or singing alternately or in dialogue is close at hand. We have then immediately a species of comedy or opera. Examples of this under the head of singing might easily be adduced from the songs of the minstrels, thus we know that our ancestors at a very remote period had public entertainments in dialogue; we know that they had plots of incident performed in representation and action; and the question which remains is, whether the indirect hints of John of Sailsbury and others, together with the strong inferences of general reasoning, shall have sufficient weight to persuade us, that, from the earliest periods subsequent to the Norman conquest, the idea occurred to them of joining plot and dialogue together.
a Vitæ Viginti Trium Abbatum Sancti Albani, No. 16.
b De Nugis Curialium, Lib. I, cap. 8.
c Londonia pro spectaculis theatrelibus, pro ludis scenicis, ludos habet sanctiores, &c. Stephanides, apud Leland's Itinerary, Vol. VIII. Stow, Survey of London, by Strype, Appendix.
d Quem miracula vulgariter appellamus.
e History of English Poetry, Vol. I, Sect. vi. This work merits to be described as an immense treasury of materials, not always accurately collected, but always jumbled together in the most incoherent manner of which perhaps there is any example in the annals of literature.
f Dupin, Hist. Eccles. apud Henry, Book III, chap. vii.
g Annal. Burton. apud Warton, Vol. II, Sect. ix.
h Concil. Magn. Brit. per Wilkins, ditto.
i Historia Universitatis Oxoniensis, ad an. 1224.
k Matthæi Paris Historia Major, ad annos. Stow, Survey of London: sports and passtimes.
l Stow, ditto.
m Ludi demonum --- spectacula. Matt. Paris, ad ann. 1206.
n Chron. Forojul. apud Warton, Vol. I., Sect. vi.
o Life of Lorenzo, Chap. v.
p Among the Harleian manuscripts in the British Museum.
q Among the Cottonian manuscripts in the British Museum.
r Masters, apud Warton, Vol. I, Sect. vi.
s Stevens Monasticon apud Malone Historical Account of the English Stage prefixed to his edition of Shakespear.
tSuppl ad Du Cange apud Warton Vol I Sect vi.
u Beauchamps, Recherches sur les Theatres de France ditto.
v Enfant Hist Cone Constan ditto.
w Act II, Scene ii.
x Dodsley, Collection of Old Plays, Preface.
y Stow, Survey of London: sports and pastimes.
z Warton, Vol II, Sect xvi.
aa Stow, Surrey of London, by Strype, Book V Chap. xiv.
bb Stow, Surrey of Loudon: sports and pastimes.
cc Stow, Aaaals, A.D. 1409.
dd vers. 6140.
ee Du Cange, Dissertat. sur Joinv. apud Warton, Vol. I, Sect. vi.
ff Dodsley, Collection of Old Plays, Preface.
gg Wardrobe-roll of Edward III, apud Warton, Vol. I, Sect. vi.
hh Stow, Survey of London: sports and pastimes.
ii Wardrobe-roll, apud Warton, Vol. I, Sect. vi.
kk Voltaire, Histoire Générale, chap. lxvii.
ll Hollinshed, apud Warton, Vol. I, Sect. vi.
mm Felibien ditto.
nn Suppl. ad Du Cange, ditto. We shall find hereafter that Maid Marian was the favourite mistress of the celebrated Robin Hood.
oo Beauchamps, ditto. Warton, Vol. I, Sect. vi.
pp Roscoe, Life of Lorenzo, chap v.