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step was a natural and simple one, a dramatization of the events leading up to them, the Annunciation and Visitation. The only extant liturgical drama on these subjects includes both; it is from Processional C, Archives of the Chapter of Cividale, a fifteenth-century manuscript, printed in Coussemaker, Drames Liturgiques. The Annunciation follows the Scriptural account verbatim; there is no interval between the Annunciation and the Visitation, but Elizabeth begins her salutation with a rimed couplet, the only original part of the play. She salutes Mary as follows:
Salve chara, Deo grata,
Te saluto, sis beata. She then proceeds with the Benedicta tu in mulieribus, and Mary replies with the Magnificat, which the scribe did not trouble to write out after the first two lines (cf. Y. I. 240). After the play is the direction `Hoc completo Corarii intonent Te Deum.' From the records of Lincoln Cathedral we know that there the liturgical play of the Annunciation was given at Christmas time, instead of at the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on March 25; it therefore at an early date became part of the group of Christmas plays.
There is practically nothing in this drama which is at all significant in relation to the English plays; the version in Luke, the version in the liturgical play, and the version in the English plays, are practically identical. There is, however, in the English plays some evidence that liturgical dramas were the sources of the Annunciation and Visitation plays; for instance, in Ch. I. 1-4 Gabriel's salutation is not the Ave Maria from Luke, but the Church canticle Ave Maria, composed from the salutations of Gabriel and Elizabeth as recorded in Luke. Again, in Ch. I. 69-112 and C. III. 81.-126 we find the Church canticle, Magnificat, with the Gloria Patri at the end, a singular anachronism, to be explained only on the supposition that the author was careless in copying part of the Church liturgy. The fact that the only surviving liturgical drama does not contain these two errors is, of course, not at all significant, for it seems likely that the normal liturgical drama would follow the Church liturgy more closely than the Scripture. Owing to the nature of the case, and the impossibility of much variation in this narrative, such evidence as I have quoted seems quite significant. It also seems significant that with the exception of the Coventry plays, written by a very erudite man, none of the liturgical or vernacular plays include any of the details given in the Apocryphal gospels of the circumstances attending the Annunciation-the daily appearance of angels to Mary, her going to the well with her water-pot, etc. We have seen in the Shepherds' Play that the adoption of the Apocryphal version was largely due to the appearance of the midwives in the liturgical drama; it seems quite as probable that the absence of Apocryphal details in the Annunciation play is due to their absence in the liturgical play, where there was no such need of them as there was of the midwives in the Pastores.
We have now gone about as far as possible in tracing the relation of the vernacular to the liturgical play. It would be satisfactory, for the sake of completeness, if we could find any direct evidence to prove that there were liturgical plays on the subject of Joseph's trouble, which were the originals of the vernacular Joseph plays. For the possible relation of these plays to certain dialogues in the works of the Church Fathers, see note to C. II. 25 ff. Since all these dialogues are in sermons preached at the Feast
of the Annunciation, it is possible that they did develop into liturgical dramas in the same way that the pseudo-Augustinian sermon on the prophets did. Of such dramas, however, there is no record, and, until some record is found, we must admit that it is quite as probable that these vernacular plays are merely expansions of the verses on Joseph's trouble in Matt. 1.
There is one great and highly important change from the tradition of the liturgical drama which evidently occurred early in the history of the vernacular drama. This is the division of the Officium Pastorum into two parts, a Nativity play and a Shepherds' play. This division appears even in the Chester cycle, where there is none between the other Christmas plays. In the Towneley cycle the Nativity play was omitted.
In order to make two plays, much new material had to be introduced: in the Nativity play the source of this material was the Apocryphal Gospels, in the Shepherds' play the matter is new, and consists of realistic descriptions of the life of the shepherds on the hills.
Little need be said about the result in the English Nativity play; the plays speak for themselves. The miracles on the way to Bethlehem, the semi-theological discussions on the miraculous birth, the not very beautiful midwife story, all these are interesting and curious, but detract greatly from the charm, and eliminate almost entirely the religious fervor and devotion which are the chief literary glory of the tale. The York Nativity Play, which follows the simple Scripture narrative, is a notable exception. This play is marked throughout by the deepest and most tender feeling ; one of the most beautiful scenes in dramatic literature is Mary's adoration of the child in this play, her mingled love and awe, her joy in show
ing the child to Joseph, their kneeling together to worship him, and the description of the beasts kneeling on either side of the manger, and keeping the child warm with their warm breath.
The new material introduced into the Shepherds' play is not only interesting, and often good in itself, but is also important in the history of the English drama as furnishing the first comedy. The emphasis and centre of interest has shifted; it is no longer the manger and the adoration-scene which hold the center of the stage, but the life, the games, the quarrels, the jokes, and the hardships of the shepherds before the angel appears to them. The scene in the stable is, of course, preserved, and is often very beautiful in itself, but it generally holds a decidedly secondary place, and at times seems to be retained merely out of respect to convention. The Towneley dramatist, after writing the Mak interlude, although he was enough of an artist to write a good adoration-scene, nevertheless seems to have had little interest in it, and used material from the preceding play.
There seem to have been certain traditional humorous episodes for Shepherds' Plays which have survived in different cycles. For instance in the Chester and Coventry Shepherds' Plays we have the shepherds trying to imitate the Angel's song; in Ch. II and T. III we have descriptions of a grotesque meal; the impudent shepherd boy appears in both Ch. II and T. III, and the shrewish wife element appears not only in the Mak interlude but also in Ch. II and T. III. The fact that all these stock elements of humor appear in the Chester play might tend to show that instead of their being all derived from some parent cycle, the other Shepherds’Plays, and particularly the Towneley Prima Pastorum, are borrowed
from the Chester play. The fact that the prophetelement, present in all the others, is absent in the Chester play, would show, however, that there was some other general influence. The shepherd's complaint, common to all cycles, is so frequent in all Middle English literature that its presence in the mysteries is not at all significant; see note on T. IV. 1 ff.
The clever dramatist who contributed the two Shepherds' plays to the Towneley cycle transcended the work of all the others. The famous Mak interlude in T. IV is perhaps the best farce in English literature; it could hardly be improved in plot, in construction, or in characterization. But in minor details also, this dramatist shows his great ability. Notice particularly in the scene in T. IV. 201 ff., where Mak enters, the perfect picture of the gullible shepherds made nervous by Mak when he pretends that he is an ambassador from a great lord. But even if the Mak interlude had never been written, the description of the strife between Gyb and John Home in T. III. 100 ff. would have made the Towneley dramatist's fame as a humorist.
The Annunciation and Visitation plays in the English cycles call for little comment. All of them follow very closely the Scriptural story as it is given in the liturgical dramas. The Coventry Annunciation and Visitation have added to the simple story much theology and a mediæval interpretation of the story from Cardinal Bonaventura of Padua, but, as we shall see later, the original dramas seem to have been as simple as those in the other cycles, and remain in the remodeled plays as the foundation of the plot.
The Joseph plays, we have seen, are the only ones which probably do not come from liturgical dramas.