Imatges de pàgina


The men of the Guilds sit firm on their horses. Amidst the sound of harp and trumpet the curtains are withdrawn, and Isaiah appears, prophesying the blessing which is to come upon the earth. Gabriel announces to Mary the embassage upon which he is sent from Heaven. Then a dialogue between Mary and Joseph, and the scene changes to the field where shepherds are abiding in the darkness of the night—a night so dark that they know not where their sheep may be; they are cold and in great heaviness. Then the star shines, and they hear the song of " Gloria in excelsis Deo." A soft melody of concealed music hushes even the whispers of the Coventry audience; and three songs are sung, such as may abide in the remembrance of the people, and be repeated by them at their Christmas festivals. "The first the shepherds sing:"

"As I rode out this enders* night,

Of three jolly shepherds I saw a sight,
And all about their fold a star shone bright;
They sang terli terlow :

So merrily the shepherds their pipes can blow."

There is then a song "the women sing:"

"Lully, lulla, you little tiny child;

By, by, lully, lullay, you little tiny child:

By, by, lully, lullay.

O sisters two, how may we do

For to preserve this day

This poor youngling, for whom we do sing

By, by, lully, lullay?

Herod the king, in his raging,

Charged he hath this day

His men of might, in his own sight,
All young children to slay.

That woe is me, poor child, for thee,
And ever mourn and say,

For thy parting neither say nor sing
By, by, lully, lullay."

The shepherds again take up the song:*

"Down from heaven, from heaven so high,

Of angels there came a great company,
With mirth, and joy, and great solemnity :
They sang terly, terlow:

So merrily the shepherds their pipes can blow."

The simple melody of these songs has come down to us; they are part songs, each having the treble, the tenor, and the bass. The star conducts the shepherds to the "crib of poor repast," where the child lies; and, with a simplicity which

* Enders night-last night.

+ This very curious Pageant, essentially different from the same portion of Scripture-history

in the Ludus Coventric,' is printed entire in Mr. Sharp's 'Dissertation,' as well as the score of


these songs.

is highly characteristic, one presents the child his pipe, the second his hat, and the third his mittens. Prophets now come, who declare in lengthened rhyme the wonder and the blessing :

"Neither in halls nor yet in bowers
Born would he not be,

Neither in castles nor yet in towers
That seemly were to see."

The messenger of Herod succeeds; and very curious it is, and characteristic of a period when the king's laws were delivered in the language of the Conqueror, that he speaks in French. This circumstance would carry back the date of the play to the reign of Edward III., though the language is occasionally modernized. We have then the three kings with their gifts. They are brought before Herod, who treats them courteously, but is inexorable in his cruel decree. Herod rages in the streets; but the flight into Egypt takes place, and then the massacre. The address of the women to the pitiless soldiers, imploring, defying, is not the least curious part of the performance; for example―

[blocks in formation]

And here with my pot ladle

With him will I fight."

We have little doubt that he who described the horrors of a siege,

"Whiles the mad mothers with their howls confus'd
Do break the clouds, as did the wives of Jewry
At Herod's bloody-hunting slaughtermen,"


had heard the howlings of the women in the Coventry pageant. And so "fynes lude de taylars and scharmen."

The pageants thus performed by the Guilds of Coventry were of various subjects, but all scriptural. The Smiths' pageant was the Crucifixion; and most curious are their accounts, from 1449 till the time of which we are speaking, for expenses of helmets for Herod and cloaks for Pilate; of tabards for Caiaphas

* Henry V., Act II., Scene 1.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

and gear for Pilate's wife; of a staff for the Demon, and a beard for Judas. There are payments, too, to a man for hanging Judas and for cock-crowing. The subject of the Cappers' pageant was the Resurrection. They have charges for making the play-book and pricking the songs; for money spent at the first rehearsal and the second rehearsal; for supper on the play-day, for breakfasts and for dinners. The subject of the Drapers' pageant was that of Doomsday; and one of their articles of machinery sufficiently explains the character of their performance "A link to set the world on fire," following "Paid for the barrel for the earthquake." We may readily believe that the time was fast approaching when such pageants would no longer be tolerated. It is more than probable that the performances of the Guilds were originally subordinate to those of the Grey Friars; perhaps devised and supported by the parochial clergy.* But when the Church became opposed to such representations—when, indeed, they were incompatible with the spirit of the age-it is clear that the efforts of the laity to uphold them could not long be successful. They would be certainly performed without the reverence which once belonged to them. Their rude. action and simple language would be ridiculed; and when the feeling of ridicule crept in, their nature would be altered, and they would become essentially profane. There is a very curious circumstance connected with the Coventry pageants which shows the struggle that was made to keep the dramatic spirit of the people in this direction. In 1584 the Smiths performed, after many preparations and rehearsals, a new pageant, the Destruction of Jerusalem. The Smiths applied to one who had been educated in their own town, in the Free School of Coventry, and who in 1584 belonged to St. John's, Oxford, to write this new play for them. The following entry appears in the city accounts:

"Paid to Mr Smythe of Oxford the xvth daye of aprill 1584 for hys paynes for writing of the tragedye-xiij', vja, viija.

We regret that this play, so liberally paid for when compared with subsequent payments to the Jonsons and Dekkers of the true drama, has not been preserved. It would be curious to contrast it with the beautiful dramatic poem on the same subject, by an accomplished scholar of our own day, also a member of the University of Oxford. But the list of characters remains, which shows that the play was essentially historical, exhibiting the contests of the Jewish factions as described by Josephus. The accounts manifest that the play was got up with great magnificence in 1584; but it was not played again till 1591, when it was once more performed along with the famous Hock Tuesday. It was then ordered that no other plays whatever should be performed; and the same order, which makes this concession "at the request of the Commons," directs" that all the May-poles that now are standing in this city shall be taken down before Whitsunday next, and none hereafter to be set up." In that year Coventry saw the last of its pageants. But Marlowe and Shakspere were in London, building up something more adapted to that age; more universal: dramas that

*It is clear, we think, that the pageants performed by the Guilds were altogether different from the Ludus Coventriæ,' which Dugdale expressly tells us were performed by the Grey Friars.

[ocr errors]

no change of manners or of policies can destroy. The Pageants of Coventry have perished, as her strong gates and walls have perished. They belonged essentially to other times. They are no longer needed. A few fragments remain to tell us what they were; and upon these the learned, as they are called, will doubt and differ, and the general world heed them not.

And now the men of Coventry lead the way of the strangers to another spot, with the cry of "The Hock-play, the Hock-play!" There was yawning and illrepressed laughing during the pageant, but the whole population now seems animated with a spirit of joyfulness. As one of the worthy aldermen gallantly presses his horse through the crowd, is there not a cry, too, of "A Nycklyn, a Nycklyn!" for did not the worthy mayor, Thomas Nycklyn, three years ago, cause "Hock Tuesday, whereby is mentioned an overthrow of the Danes by the inhabitants of this city, to be again set up and showed forth, to his great commendation and the city's great commodity?"* In the wide area of the Crosscheaping is the crowd now assembled. The strangers gaze upon "that stately Cross, being one of the chief things wherein this city most glories, which for workmanship and beauty is inferior to none in England." It was not then venerable for antiquity, for it had been completed little more than thirty years; but it was a wondrous work of a gorgeous architecture, story rising above story, with canopies and statues, to a magnificent height, glittering with vanes upon its pinnacles, and now decorated with numerous streamers. Around the square are houses of most picturesque form; the balconies of their principal floors filled with gazers, and the windows immediately beneath the high-pitched roofs showing as many heads as could be thrust through the open casements. The area is cleared, for the play requires no scaffold. The English and the Danes marshal on opposite sides. There are fierce words and imprecations, shouts of defiance, whisperings of counsel. What is imperfectly heard or ill understood by the strangers is explained by those who are familiar with the show. There is no ridicule now; no laughing at Captain Cox, in his velvet cap, and flourishing his tonsword; áll is gravity and exultation. Then come the women of Coventry, ardent in the cause of liberty, courageous, much enduring; and some one tells, in the pauses of the play, how there once rode into that square, in a death-like solitude and silence, a lady all naked, who, "bearing an extraordinary affection for this place, often and earnestly besought her husband that he would free it from that grievous servitude whereunto it was subject ;"§ and he telling her in mockery that if she would so do her prayer should be granted, and permitting her so to do, she won that boon, and the city was free. Noble-hearted

* Extract from manuscript Annals of Coventry in Sharp's Dissertation,' p. 129. + Dugdale.

[ocr errors]

The Cross has perished, not through age, but by the hands of Common-councilmen and Commissioners of Pavement. The Turks broke up the Elgin marbles to make mortar for their Athenian hovels, and we call them barbarians. These things go on amongst us even now. In an old Chapel of Ease in the neighbourhood of Stratford was, a few years ago, one of the very fine recumbent figures of a Templar. The figure was missed by a clergyman who sometimes visited the place, and he asked the sexton what had become of it? The answer was, "What! that crosslegged chap? Oh! I mended the road wi' he; a saved a deal o' limestone." § Dugdale.

women such as the Lady Godiva were those of Coventry who assisted their husbands to drive out the Danes; and there they lead their captives in triumph; and the Hock-play terminates with song and chorus.

But the solemnities of the day are not yet concluded. In the space around Swine Cross, and near St. John's School, is another scaffold erected; not a lofty scaffold like that of the drapers and shearmen, but gay with painted cloths and ribbons. The pageant of The Nine Worthies' is to be performed by the dramatic body of the Grammar School; the ancient pageant, such as was presented to Henry VI. and his Queen in 1455, and of which the Leet-book contains the faithful copy. Assuredly there was one who witnessed that performance carefully employed in noting down the lofty speeches which the three Hebrews, Joshua, David, and Judas Maccabæus; the three Infidels, Hector, Alexander, and Julius Cæsar; and the three Christians, Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Boulogne, uttered on that occasion. In the Coventry pageant Hector thus speaks :


And Alexander thus:

"Most pleasant princes, recorded that may be,

1, Hector of Troy, that am chief conqueror,
Lowly will obey you, and kneel on my knee.”

And Julius Cæsar thus :


'I, Alexander, that for chivalry beareth the ball,

Most courageous in conquest through the world am I named,-
Welcome you, princes."

"I, Julius Cæsar, sovereign of knighthood

And emperor of mortal men, most high and mighty,
Welcome you, princes most benign and good."

Surely it was little less than plagiary, if it was not meant for downright parody, when, in a pageant of The Nine Worthies' presented a few years after, Hector comes in to say—


And Alexander :

"The armipotent Mars, of lances the almighty,
Gave Hector a gift, the heir of Ilion:

A man so breath'd, that certain he would fight, yea,
From morn till night, out of his pavilion.
I am that flower."

"When in the world I liv'd, I was the world's commander;

By east, west, north, and south, I spread my conquering might:
My 'scutcheon plain declares that I am Alisander."

And Pompey, usurping the just honours of his triumphant rival :

"I Pompey am, Pompey surnamed the great,

That oft in field, with targe and shield, did make my foe to sweat."

[ocr errors][merged small]
« AnteriorContinua »