Wednesday, 7 September 2011



* It is rightly said that “the origins of drama have always been deeply rooted in the religious instincts of mankind”. In fact Churches became the cradle of the English drama. In the Middle Ages Church had a significant role in the life of community.
 * In order to preach the ignorant mass the clergy seemed eager to show them scriptural story in a visible form during special festivals as in Christmas or Easter. The services of the Church were in Latin and few could understand them.
* During the 10th century the Gospel stories being illustrated by the series of living pictures in which the performers acted the story in the dumb shows and in the next agate spoke as well as acted the parts. The actors were monks, priests, choir-boys in the service of the church. The plays were performed inside the church.

 * After the Norman Conquest in place of Latin, the liturgical play followed the French pattern and finally in place of French, vernacular English was used as the language.
* The crowds became more interested and they started to throng inside the church. As a result the church yard was opened and finally drama came to the open market place. The organization had begun to pass from ecclesiastical to lay hands.
* The growing secularization of the drama is reflected in an edict of 1210 forbidding clergy to take part in the plays.

 * From the clergy, control first passed to the religious and social guilds and then to the trade guilds under the general control of the council of the town.
* The guilds were wealthy and out of rivalry became responsible for the productions.

*The four guilds were generally known as Chester cycle, York cycle, Wakefield cycle and Coventry cycle (These cycles took their names after the names of the Towns).

 * Gradually the extension of the cycles led to the evolution of the ambulatory cycle, in which the play was performed on the two decked cart or pageant. This pageant consisted of one enclosed room, which served both as Hell and as a tiring room and a second storey open to the sky on which the action was performed.

 * For such outdoor per formation only summer festivals were really suitable. Most of the plays of the different cycle began to attach themselves to the feast of Corpus Christi which fell in May on June when the weather was likely to be good and the hours of daylight were long.

Mystery and Miracle Plays:

* The earliest species of the dramas are known as ‘Mystery’ and ‘Miracle’ plays.

It has long been the fashion to call the Biblical plays ‘mystery’ and those dealing with saints’lives‘Miracles.This division has come from France.

Though these kinds of plays were performed at first inside the church, gradually through the hands of four notable cycles they come to the open market. All the cycles more or less took the materials from the episodes of the Old and New Testaments.

 Their aim was to reveal to the common crowd the entire story of the human world from the Creation to the Resurrection.

 The productions of these plays were rather crude. There was very little stage property .There was a very few scenery and the dramatic effect was mainly brought out by means of some symbols. The actors were almost amateurs. But the audience was very responsive to the appeal of the play.

Now let us discuss how much the four cycles did their best for the development of the drama with the help of their production written by anonymous authors.

York Cycle:

* It consists of forty-eight (48) plays (though according to records 51 plays were acted).

* They were performed from the 14th to 16th century. The plays were written in the Northubrian dialect. They had dramatic life, and were on the whole reverent in tone. The plays deal with-

Creation of the World, Fall of Lucifer, Fall of Man, Cain and Abel, Life of Christ, Crucifixion etc.

The Wakefield Cycle (The Townley plays):

* The plays were acted at WoodKirk near Wakefield. The plays are entitled as Townley Hall in Lancashire.

* The Cycle consists of thirty-two (32) plays.

* The most important play of this cycle is The Shepherd’s Play which is supposed to be the first farce in English.

* The usual series of plays follow- Noah, Abraham and Issac, Jacob and Easu, Crucifixion, The Visit of Wise Men etc.      

Chester Cycle:

* It consists of twenty-five (25) plays. They are more serious and didactic in purpose.

* The plays were acted by the trade companies of the city on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in Whitsun week from 1268 to 1577 and again in 1600.

* Some important plays are- The Sacrifice of Issac, Fall of Lucifer, The Deluge, Balaam and the Ass etc.

The Coventry Cycle:

* It consists of forty-two (42) plays. As all the 42 plays were not acted in one year-the custom was to perform the first 28 in one year and the remaining in the next year. The plays were acted at Coventry on the festival of Corpus Christi.

The Morality Play:

* Basically nothing is exactly known regarding the transition of English drama from the Mysteries and Miracles to the Moralities. It is so named because of its association with some moral or ethical instruction. A Morality is a kind of allegorical play. The characters are personified abstraction like – Mankind, Mercy, Justice, Peace, Vice, Death, Beauty etc. The play is concerned with the conflict between good and evil over the possession of human soul. It generally ends wit the triumph of virtue and the good.

* The remarkable Moralities are- Everyman, Mankind, The Castle of Perseverance, The Three Estates etc.

The Interlude:

* The last predecessor of the regular drama in England was the Interlude which flourished in the middle of the 16th century. It had several distinguished points:-

* ‘It was a short play that introduced real characters, usually of humble rank, such as citizens and friars; there was an absence of allegorical figures; there was much broad farcical humour, often coarse; and there were set scenes, a new feature in the English drama. It will be observed that the interlude was a great advance upon the morality-play’.

* The Interlude aimed at amusement and entertainment. The most notable Interlude is John Heywood’sThe Four P’s’.

·         The Four P’s:

* It is written in doggerel verse.
* It describes a lying-match between a Pedlar, a Palmer and a Potycary.

Each one makes a trial of their skill in that direction. The Potycary tells the story of his visit to Purgatory and to Hell to recover a lost soul. Finally the Palmer tells that he has traveled through many towns and cities throughout many towns and cities throughout Christendom. He has seen five hundred thousand women yet in all the places he has been he had never seen or heard of “any woman out of Patience!”

Finally the Palmer is awarded the prize.

Other Interludes are- Johan, The Play of Weather, The Husband etc.

N.B. - Corpus Christi:

       It is a great Roman Catholic festival. It became popular when the Pope granted ‘pardon’ to the performers and threatened excommunication of those who should interfere with the performances. Corpus Christi play was ambulatory one where the whole performance was done on a stage which moved along the selected roads with the crowd assembled all along the route. It gave birth to different types of expression to the religious themes from creation to the Last Judgment. In different wagons different scenes were shown. Banner bearers rode about in advance, reading aloud banners which announced the subject matter of the scene. Spectators thronged in from nearby villages and thus the play flourished. The term came to be applied to any play which represented Passion and Resurrection at any date.

v Notes on some morality plays:

a)       Everyman:

* It is an allegorical play of some 900 lines.

* There are some controversies over the source of the play. Some tame ‘Elckerlijk’ (a Dutch Play) as the original source of the play. To some the inspiration has come from a parable which is told in the legend of ‘Balaam and Joseph’.

* Story: Gods sends Death to Everyman. Death summons him to undertake a journey. Everyman tries the turn the summoner away by bribes. Death tells him that he is to obey God’s command. Then Everyman gets the Death’s consent to have company on the journey. Everyman requests his friends- Fellowship, kindred, Good to accompany him but none agree. Then he remembers Good Deeds whom he has long given up. He goes to him and finds him lying on the ground weak and miserable but he hears his prayer, agrees to accompany with him and recommends him to his sister knowledge. Knowledge sends him to confession. Then as he begins his journey Beauty, Strength, Discretion and Five Wits depart in spite of their promise to follow him Knowledge would go with him but can not. Only Good Deeds is left. She alone is not vain and will plead for him to God. Everyman dies pure of sin and forgiven.

* Everyman is a perfect example of morality play. The characters are personified abstraction. The work is classically constructed. In ‘Everyman’ no comic scene is introduced to relieve its seriousness. The action is carried through with solemnity from first to last.

b)                     The Castle of Perseverance:

* It is written probably 1425.

* It describes the spiritual progress of Mankind from the day of his birth to the Day of Judgment. The Good Angels and Bad angels strive to possess the soul of Mankind. He forsakes the Good Angles and consorts with the Seven Deadly sins. From their power he is released by confession and Penance and safely lodged in the castle of Perseverance. The seven Deadly Sins attack the castle of and are repulsed by the roses discharged by the Virtues. He then is lured from the castle by Avarice and he completely surrenders to her. Finally Death tames him away. After his death he appears before the Judge for his judgment. “Let him drink as he brewed”- is the claim of Justice; but Mercy pleads the Passion of Christ and ultimately the soul of Mankind is saved.

* It is a complete morality play that strikes the Christian ethical note of Salvation of man.

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