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In general, these plays are merely realistic pictures of the grief and anger of a man who discovers, or thinks that he discovers, that his wife has been false to him. It is interesting to compare the different ideas of our four dramatists as to what Joseph's state of mind would be. The Chester dramatist does not seem to be at all interested in any such psychological question, and although he does use the episode as a .conventional bit of the Christmas story, he dismisses it in a few lines and goes on to matter of greater interest to him. The Coventry dramatist gives us a long and unpleasant play on the subject; Joseph is unnecessarily coarse of speech and angry in heart; there seems also to be more or less tendency to use him as the traditionally humorous cuckold. This play, however, is superior to the Chester and York plays in that it does succeed in giving us a real character, although an unpleasant one. The York play is longer than the Chester, but no more real. The dramatist covers more space by making Joseph relate, quire gratuitously, the story of his betrothal to Mary, by introducing the popular Middle English Old Man's Lament,' and by making Joseph ask five times who the child's father is. There is no characterization, and no form, to the York play. The Towneley Joseph Play (written as part of the Annunciation, T. I. 155–373) is by far the best of all. Joseph is a very real and lovable old man; one sympathizes with him all the more because he is so tender and loving toward Mary, and his grief seems all the greater, because it is unmixed with anger. The story of the betrothal, so miserably managed in the York play, is one of the most charming features of the Towneley. Joseph in his lonely grief becomes reminiscent, and most naturally in his soliloquy recalls how he met Mary and how they were weddyd thus togedre.'
We have now analyzed the general characteristics of the Christmas plays, and have considered the developmentofthese characteristics. There are, however, parts of the plays which we have not touched upon at all, the scenes in Rome in Ch. I, the scene in heaven in C. I, the prologue to T. I, and the monologues of Contemplation in C. I and III. These may all be regarded as resulting from idiosyncrasies, as attempts of the several dramatists to elaborate and ornament their plays. The sources of these passages are given in notes; their significance in relation to other problems will appear later; but they are of little significance or importance in considering the general history and development of the Christmas plays. Yet it should be noted that the occurrence of the same themes in continental mysteries—the Octavien scenes in the Old French Mystere du Viel Testament, and the Mercy and Truth prologue in the Italian Annunciation (d'Ancona 1. 182)—shows that the use of this material in mystery plays was not original with the English dramatists, although they generally took their material from the original sources, and not from continental mysteries (see p. 25).
6. THE CHESTER Plays
A. Their Authorship and Date. Ch. I and II present some evidence as to the identity of their author, and therefore as to their date. The fact that this internal evidence is fully in accord with the external in the man to whom it points, strengthens materially the theory that the Chester plays were written by Randall or Ranulf Higden, a monk of St. Werburgh's, Chester, who took the vows in 1299 and died in 1364, and whose chief claim to fame has hitherto been the authorship of the Polychronicon.
Mr. E. K. Chambers (Mediæval Stage 2. 348-356) has discussed in full the external evidence for Higden's authorship; for details the student is referred to his work. In order to present a complete case I shall give a brief summary of Mr. Chambers' conclusions, and then proceed to present the internal evidence which I have come upon in studying the sources of these plays.
There are four sixteenth- and five seventeenthcentury manuscripts of proclamations and bans, besides manuscripts H and h of the plays, containing notes on the date and authorship of the Chester plays. From these notes we learn that the plays were written by Don Randle or Rondall (the later manuscripts add the name Higden or Heggenet), that Sir John Arneway was mayor of Chester when the plays were given, that Clement was pope, and that Sir Henry Francis obtained from the pope a thousand days' pardon for all those who attended the plays. Mr. Chambers has identified all these persons. Higden was a monk at St. Werburgh's from 1299-1364; Sir Henry Francis is mentioned in 1377, and again in 1382, as senior monk of Chester ; Clement VI was pope from 1342-1352. For a long time the chief argument against the credibility of this evidence was the mention in all the manuscripts of Sir John Arneway as mayor, for Sir John was mayor before either Higden or Francis was born. Mr. Chambers, however, has discovered that in Higden's time there was a mayor with a similar name, Richard Erneis or Herneys, and he suggests that it is quite possible that this man's name became confused with that of his more famous predecessor, the “Dick Whittington” of the city, John Arneway or Hernwey.'
The chief difficulty with this evidence, of course, is that it all appears in such late manuscripts—the earliest being two hundred years later than the plays -and that in this space of time it would be most natural for legend to have fathered the plays upon the most famous monk of Chester, the author of the Polychronicon. If, however, we find the same material taken from the same sources in both the plays and the Polychronicon, if that material is rather unusual, and if we find in the plays references which Higden would be apt to make, the external evidence is somewhat strengthened. Of course all this will not make the evidence conclusive; for the use of the same sources might merely show to what books the monks of St. Werburgh's had access; the author of the plays may merely have interested Higden in the material he was using, or vice versa ; and the source of all the external evidence we have may be the very internal evidence that I am about to present-that is, some sixteenthcentury scholar, noticing the resemblance between the plays and the history, may have asserted dogmatically that Higden wrote the plays also. The cumulative circumstantial evidence is, however, quite convincing, and the probability certainly lies on the side of Higden's authorship. I trust that further study into the sources of the other plays, a task which I have not yet had an opportunity of undertaking, may result in the discovery of further evidence.
In examining the many mediæval versions of the Octavian-Sibyl myth and the Temple of Peace myth, which form so large a part of Ch. I, I came to the conclusion that in five places the direct source of the Chester
version was in the Supputationes of Martinus Polonus (see notes to Ch. I. 201-208, 304–375, 348, 647–701, 714—715), and that the Temple of Peace myth came from Alexander Neckam (see note to Ch. I. 575–620). A few weeks later, in reading Higden's Polychronicon, I discovered that in Bk. 4, chap. 3, he quotes Martinus as his source for the same legends to which I have referred, and in Bk. 3, chap. 44, quotes Neckam as his source for the description of the Temple of Peace and the other Virgilian myths which he quotes. (In the passages of the Polychronicon which deal with the matter included in 11. 647–701 and 714-715, Higden quotes the Policratica 3.14, and not Martinus, but the two versions are practically identical.)
The versions in the plays and in the Polychronicon differ considerably in detail, but all differences are easily explicable on the ground that the two works are of so different a nature. The accounts in the Polychronicon are condensed, and often seem to be mere bibliographical references; those in the plays are naturally expanded and elaborated. There is one rather material change in Ch. I. 352-375, in the prophecy of the Sibyl. In Martinus and the Polychronicon the prophecy of the Erythræan Sibyl is put into the mouth of the Tiburtine Sibyl; in the play this error is corrected, and the prophecy is evidently improvised. The reason for this, however, is not far to seek ; it is probably not a conscious correction, but a means of avoiding what would have been a very difficult task, the translation of Latin acrostic verse into English acrostic verse, for if left in Latin it would mean little to the audience. Why in the plays the devil is said to have built the temple, and in the Polychronicon and Neckam Virgil is the artificer, is not quite so clear. It may have been due, again, to the different