Page images
PDF
EPUB

drama, the Christmas play may claim precedence over the Easter play.

The earliest extant ancestor of the spoken drama is, however, in the Easter service. In the ninth century great elaboration and amplification of the liturgy took place, and it is through the change in Church music that the liturgical drama arose. The Gregorian chants had lost favor because of their simplicity, and hence many new melodies were inserted in them, sung at first not to words, but to vowelsounds. Soon texts to these melodies, called tropes, began to be written. There is a ninth-century Christmas trope which for some reason did not survive, but in this same ninth-century manuscript we find the parent of the liturgical drama in the famous Easter trope, 'Quem quæritis in sepulchro, O Christicolæ ?' A Christmas trope was modeled upon this Easter one, when first we do not know; the earliest one extant is in an eleventh-century manuscript of St. Gall, which I quote in full: :

In Natale Domini ad Missam sint parati duo diaconi, induti dalmaticis, retro altare dicentes :

Quem quæritis in præsepe, pastores, dicite ? Respondeant duo cantores in choro :

Salvatorem Christum Dominum, infantem pannis involutum, secundum sermonem angelicum. Item diaconi :

Adest hic parvulus cum Maria, matre sua, de qua vaticinando Isaias Propheta: ecce virgo concipiet et pariet filium. Et nuntiantes dicite quia natus est. Tunc cantor dicat excelsa voce :

Alleluia, Alleluia, iam vero scimus Christum natum in terris, de quo canite omnes cum propheta dicentes :

Puer natus est &c. (then follows the Introit.]

Two points should be noted in regard to this play: first, the original Christmas play is a Shepherds' Play; second, the prophecy of Isaiah is retained from the account of the birth of Christ in Matt. 1. 23.

The next step in the development of the Christmas play is well illustrated by this liturgical drama of the thirteenth century (printed in Coussemaker, Drames Liturgiques du Moyen Age, pp. 235 ff.):

In sancta nocte nativitatis Domini, post Te Deum, Angelus assistet, annunciet Christum natum esse et hoc dicat :

Nolite timere, ecce enim evangelizo vobis gaudium magnum quod erit omni populo; quia natus est vobis hodie Salvator mundi in civitate David. Et hoc vobis signum, invenietis infantem pannis involutum et positum in presepio.

Hoc audientes septem pueri, stantes in alto loco, dicant :
Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus bonæ voluntatis.

Audientes Pastores eant versus presepe, cantantes hoc responsorium.

Pax in terra nunciatur,

in excelsis gloria! Terra federatur

mediante gracia. Mediator homo Deus

descendit in propria,
ut ascendat homo reus
ad admissa gaudia.

Eya! Eya!
Transeamus, videamus

verbum hoc quod factum est;
transeamus ut sciamus

quod nunciatum est.

Versus :
In Judea Puer vagit,

Puer Salus populi,
quo bellandum se presagit

vetus hospes sæculi.

Accedamus, accedamus

ad presepe Domini, et dicamus

Laus fecundæ virgini.

Tunc Pastores gradiantur per chorum, in manibus baculos portantes, et cantantes, usque ad Christi presepe :

Transeamus usque Bethleem, et videamus hoc verbum quod factum est, quod fecit Dominus et ostendit nobis.

Illis venientibus, duo clerici in presepe cantent :
Quem quæritis in presepe, pastores, dicite ?
Pastores respondeant :

Salvatorem Christum Dominum infantem, pannis involutum, secundum sermonem angelicum.

Item obstetrices cortinam aperientes Puerum demonstrent, dicentes versus :

Adest hic parvulus cum Maria matre sua, de quo vaticinando Ysayas dixerat Propheta.

Ostendant matrem pueri dicentes :

Ecce virgo concipiet et pariet filium ; et euntes dicite quia natus est.

Tunc salutent pastores Virginem, ita dicentes :

Salve, virgo singularis,
Virgo manens Deum paris
ante secla generatum

corde patris;
adoremus nunc creatum

carne matris.

Versus :
Nos, Maria, tua prece
a peccatis purga fece
nostri cursum incolatus;

sic dispone
ut det sua frui natus

visione.

Tunc viso Puero, Pastores adorent eum, deinde vertant se ad chorum, dicentes :

Alleluia ! Alleluia ! Jam vere scimus Christum natum in terris, de quo canite omnes cum prophetis, dicentes:

Postea statim incipiatur Missa, et Pastores regant chorum et cano tent Gloria in excelsis Deo, et Epistola et Tropa. Et unus Pastorum legat lectionem : Populus gentium, Subdiaconus tunica indutus legat epistolam, nullo gradale intercepto. Duo Pastores cantent in pulpito gradale : Tecum principium. Duo de majore sede cantent in pulpito : Alleluia, Dominus dixit. Finita Missa, Sacerdos qui missam cantaverit vertat se ad Pastores et dicat hanc antiphonam usque ad Natum.

This play emphasizes most clearly the close connection of the liturgical play with the Church service, even after the play has gone beyond the mere stage of dialogue, and has become amplified and elaborated.

It is not yet a thing apart, arbitrarily inserted in the service, but remains an integral part of the ritual.

Many significant changes in the Christmas play occurred in the interval between the two plays that I have quoted; elements were introduced which have not only themselves remained in the vernacular plays, but which have also to a high degree directed the course of their development. Chief among these additions is the appearance of the midwives,' who were doubtless borrowed from the Apocryphal Gospel to take the place of the Maries in the Easter plays, and to give variety to the music by the introduction of boys' voices. But although no other element of the Apocryphal narrative appears in the liturgical play, the basis of most of the English Christmas plays, and of practically all the continental vernacular plays, is not the Scriptural but the Apocryphal narrative. The York Nativity Play proper (Y. III) is an exception, but in the other York Christmas plays the Apocrypha is used (cf. Y. II). There are two reasons for the adoption of the Apocryphal version: first, the Apocryphal account contains many more incidents and details which can be adapted for dramatic purposes ; and, secondly (and perhaps chiefly), given the midwife element in the liturgical drama, the natural development will be along the line of the version which includes that.

Other important additions are the shepherds' journey to Bethlehem, their song on the way, and their salutation-lyrics, all of which appear in the English plays, and the last two of which do not appear in the Scriptural or Apocryphal accounts. Notice also the retention of Isaiah's prophecy, but the omission of the

· The midwives first appear in the tenth-century Freising Christmas play. See Davidson, English Mystery Plays, p. 64.

command to make known abroad concerning the child' taken from Luke 2. 17, and included in the English plays (Ch. II. 654 ff., T. III. 491, 495, IV. 744).

It must be remembered that the liturgical plays which I have quoted are in no way to be regarded as sources of the English mysteries, but merely as suggestive of what these sources must have been. There are extant no Christmas liturgical dramas which were used in the English cathedrals, all having been destroyed with the destruction of the monasteries under Henry VIII; but there are records at Lincoln, York, Salisbury, and Lichfield, of liturgical plays having been given, and our only method of discovering what their nature must have been is to study the general type of Continental plays. Those quoted seem to be representative of the early and late forms respectively.

So far we have been tracing the course of the main current of the Christmas plays; it is now time to consider some of the tributaries. Of these the chief in its effect, the pseudo-Augustinian prophet-sermon, originated some three centuries before our first extant Officium Pastorum; and although it probably took dramatic form before the Pastores, the great popularity and superior appropriateness of the latter soon relegated the prophet-play to a secondary place. The origin and history of this sermon-play I have discussed in the notes to Y. I. 1–144 and 1-132 ; let me here again call attention to the significant combination of the prophet-element and the shepherd-element, resulting, in the English plays, in the use of the prophet-play as a transition from the Old Testament to the Christmas plays, and also in the inclusion of prophecies in the Shepherds’ Plays proper.

After the dramatisation of the story of the Birth of Christ and the Adoration of the Shepherds, the next

« PreviousContinue »