Page images


English mysteries. After a time this cycle fell into the hands of an ecclesiastic who added the theology, and left the prologue as it was (with one omission; see first note on C. III). Whether or not this ecclesiastic was of Coventry we have no means of discovering. The fact that the friars of Coventry are the only ecclesiastics of England who are at least rumored to have given plays, adds some credibility to James' and Dugdale's theory. The objection from dialect is strong, but not insurmountable, for it is quite probable that the work of revision may have been done by a northern man. I have retained the name . Coventry! for the plays, instead of using ‘N. town' as Gayley suggests, or · Hegge,' as does Hone; for there is more reason for connecting them with Coventry than with any other town. “N. town’seems awkward, and “Hegge' inconsistent with the nomenclature of the other plays.

B. Their Composite Nature. In the preceding paragraph I have said that the Coventry plays are composed of two elements: first, the simple, typical, realistic English mystery play, and secondly, theological and scholastic amplifications and adornments. The second element is drawn entirely from the works of the fourteenth century Cardinal Bonaventura of Padua, è particularly from his Meditationes Vito Christi : sometimes the translation is verbatim. The sources are quoted in the notes, and are, I think, indisputable.

The Bonaventura element is most distinct and unmixed in the first 214 lines of C. I, and the two Contemplacion monologues of C. III. It is quite significant that no mention is made of the first 214

i Generally confused with St. Bonaventura, with whose works those of our Cardinal are published.

lines of C. I in the prologue (see first note on C. I), and that the prologue for C. III is omitted entirely. The reviser evidently thought it not worth while to change the Prologue for C. I, as it still described in outline the last part of the play; but when he came to C. III it was a different matter, for he had in his additions given quite a different version of the story from that in the original play. He therefore omitted the prologue for C. III entirely.

C. III offers the most striking evidence of the composite nature of the plays. We can trace in this play the simplest form of mystery play in the almost liturgical scene of the singing of the Magnificat, then the true English realism in the opening scene, the journey to Montana,' and finally the monologues. The fact that the removal of these monologues would result in improving not only the dramatic unity, but even the consistency of the plays, is strong evidence that they were added as a display of erudition. No man in sitting down to write a play with such a simple plot could succeed in giving such contradictory versions in a few lines. The story as we have it in the play proper is the conventional one, except that the character of Joseph has been added. Mary and Joseph go together to see Elizabeth; there is some humorous by-play about Zachary's dumbness ; then Elizabeth and Mary sing the canticles, and Mary and Joseph go home. After their departure, Contemplacion comes forward and gives us Bonaventura's version. This naturally follows the Scriptural account, and relates that Mary stayed three months. This three months' visit being impossible to represent on the stage, it was always omitted in mystery plays, including C., as we have seen. Contemplacion, however, describes how during the three months Mary served

Elizabeth, was present at the birth of John, and kissed him before she left. She finally describes how Zachary sang the Benedictus, and how the Church canticles were composed, finally indulging in a rhapsody on the blessedness of such a house in holding such inmates. All this matter, it is quite evident, is foreign to the spirit of mystery plays, and inconsistent with this particular play. Ll. 147–149 (see Variants and note) would suggest that there was an attempt to combine two distinct versions of this play into the one which we have. The absence of any notice of the play in the prologue may thus be accounted for.

It is impossible to say how much of the original play has survived in C. I. We have seen that the first 214 lines are late additions, but whether the Salutation Play proper was entirely rewritten, or merely ornamented with Bonaventuran theology, one cannot say. The main outline of that story could hardly be changed, and although the prologue describes the Salutation as it stands in our version, I think it probable that the whole play is a substitution for an earlier and simpler one.

The Joseph Play remains, I believe, in practically its original form. Here was a great chance for an ecclesiastic to work in some of his learning; but the reviser does not seem to have used his opportunity, and has left us a long and coarse realistic play-one, however, which reflects the layman rather than the churchman.

The Nativity and Shepherds Plays seem to be largely in their original form, as far as we can judge from the prologues, The remark in l. 1 of the prologue to the Shepherds' Play (see first note to C. V) probably means simply 'Christ shall have been born.' The opening scenes of the Nativity Play are in the same

[ocr errors]

he tone as we can

style as the Joseph Play, and the midwife-element is one of the oldest in all the mysteries. The Coventry Nativity Play has been left in its original form in every detail, so far as we can see.

The tone of the Shepherds' Play differs from the realistic parts of the other plays of this cycle and from the ShepherdsPlays of the other cycles. Some of the stock material of Shepherds' plays remains, however--the attempt to imitate the angel's song, the singing on the way to Bethlehem, &c. There is far more dignity and reverence in the description of the shepherds' visit than we generally find; their salutationlyrics are in very conventional Middle English verse, without much feeling, but very proper; the prophecies are made a rather conspicuous part of the play, and in the first few lines there is a gratuitous reference to the seven sacraments. These latter characteristics point toward the pedant who introduced the Bonaventuran element, although we do still find elements of the realistic play. The Shepherds' Play was therefore, I think, rewritten by the reviser, who still retained in his altered version some elements of the earlier one.

In order to distinguish between what I regard as practically certain and what I regard as merely probable, let me sum up my conclusions. I think it indubitable that the first part of the Coventry Annunciation (C. I. 1-214), the Contemplacion-monologues in the Visitation (C. III. 23-42 and 164-200), and also C. III. 147–149, are late additions. The evidence is almost equally strong that all of the Annunciation Play has been rewritten, parts of the old plays being perhaps used in such passages as 235–256. As to the composition of the other plays, I have only suggested what seemed probable to me personally.

the da

Gayley half of the

C. Date and Authorship. There is no direct evidence of any kind by which the date or authorship of this cycle can be determined. Gayley would date the ecclesiastical portions at about the first half of the fifteenth century, and assign the simpler portions, as bearing a close resemblance to the liturgical drama, to an earlier period. Our investigations into the sources of the ecclesiastical portions confirm the approximate correctness of the former date. Bonaventura wrote the Meditationes in 1376 (see Fabricius, Bibliotheca Eccles. Auctarium de Script. 442), the version in the plays is based upon an earlier English translation (see note to C. I. 1-186); it is therefore probable that the version in our plays did not appear before 1400.

Chambers (Med. Stage 2. 145) cites a rumor that Lydgate, the famous monk of Bury, was the author of these plays. This rumor seems to have arisen from the fact that Ritson (Bibl. Poet., p. 79), following Bishop Tanner, includes in the list of Lydgate's works a Procession of pageants from the creation', which has never been identified. If this is the only evidence (and I have been able to find no other), it is of course of no value whatever. It is interesting to note, however, that Lydgate includes the allegory of Mercy and Truth in his Life of Our Lady, that the date of his life (1370 ?-1450?) would harmonize with the date of the ecclesiastical portions of the plays, that there is another unconfirmed rumor that he studied at Padua, (if he did he would probably have been there just after the heroic death of Cardinal Bonaventura, who fell fighting as a 'defensor ecclesiasticæ libertatis' in 1389) and that he translated the not widely known hymn Stella cæli extirpavit, which is referred to in C. V (see note to C. V. 77). All

« PreviousContinue »