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INTERLUDES.' The Interludes were something between the Moral Plays and the modern Drama. The Moral Plays were frequent in the reign of Henry VI. (1422—1461.) In the reign of Henry VII. (1485—1509) they flourished in all their glory, and continued in force down to the latter half of the sixteenth century. But it was at length found that a real human being, with a human name, was better calculated to awaken the sympathies, and keep alive the attention of an aud ace, and not less so to impress them with moral truths, than a being who only represented a notion of the mind. The substitution of these for the symbolical characters, gradually took place during the earlier part of the sixteenth century, and before its close the English drama, in the writings of Shakspeare, reached its highest excellence.
One of the most successful writers of Interludes was John Heywood, or as he was commonly called, “ Merry John Heywood.” He was a native of London, but the year of his birth is unknown. He studied for some time at Oxford, but did not take his degree. He was of a social, festive genius, the favorite of Henry VIII., and afterwards of his daughter, Queen Mary, who were delighted with his dramatic representations. It is rather singular that the latter should have been so much pleased, as Heywood exposed, in terms of great severity, the vicious lives of the ecclesiastics. The play which perhaps best illustrates the genius of Heywood, is that called the “ Four P's," which is a dialogue between a Palmer,2 a Pardoner, a Poticary,3 and a Pedler. Four such knaves afforded so humorous a man as Heywood was, abundant materials for satire, and he has improved them to some advantage. The piece opens with the Palmer, who boasts of his peregrinations to the Holy Land, to Rome, to Santiago in Spain, and to a score of other shrines. This boasting was interrupted by the Pardoner, who tells him that he has been foolish to give himself so much trouble, when he might have obtained the object of his journey—the pardon of his sins-at home.
For at your door myself doth dwell,
Though ye went thrice to Jericho. The Palmer will not hear his labors thus disparaged, and he thus exclaims to the impostor, the relic-vender:
Right seldom is it seen, or never,
That truth and Pardoners dwell together. The Pardoner then rails at the folly of pilgrimages, and asserts in strong terms the virtues of his spiritual nostrums;
With small cost, and without any pain,
These pardons bring them to heaven plain. The Poticary now speaks, and is resolved to have his share of the merit. Of what avail are all the wanderings of the one or the relics of the other, until the soul is separated from the body? And who sends so many into the other world as the apothecary? Except such as may happen to be hanged, (which, for any thing he knows, may be the fate of the Palmer and Par. doner,) who dies by any other help than that of the apothecary? As, therefore, it is he, he says, who fills heaven with inmates, who is so much entitled to the gratitude of mankind? The Pardoner is here indignant, and asks what is the benefit of dying, and what, consequently, the use of an apothecary, even should he kill a thousand a day, to men who are not in a state of grace? And what, retorts the other, would be the use of a thousand pardons round the neck, unless people died? The Poticary, who is the most sensible of the three, concludes that all of them are rogues, when the Pedler makes his appearance.
1 A species of farce, so called because they were played at the intervals of festivity. 2 Every Palmer was a Pilgrim, but every Pilgrim was not a Palmer. The Pilgrim so called was one who had visited any foreign shore, and who on his return wore some badge peculiar to the place visited. Those, for instance, who visited the statue of St. James at Santiago (Spain) wore, on their return, the scallop-shell so frequent in that neighbourhood. But the term Palmer was applied to those only who had visited the holy places of Palestine, in token of which he bore in his hat a small portion of the palm, which so much abounds in that region. 8 In early times the apothecary and physician were united in the same person.
He, like his companions, commends his wares. How can there be any love without courtship? And how can women be won without such tempting gifts as are in his sack?
Who liveth in love and love would win,
Even at this pack he must begin. He then displays his wares, and entreats them to buy: but the churchmen of that day were beggars, not buyers; and the Poticary is no less cunning. At length the Pardoner reverts to the subject of conversation when the Pedler entered, and, in order to draw out the opinion of the last comer, states the argument between himself and his two companions. The Pedler seems, at first, surprised that the profession of an apothecary is to kill men, and thinks the world may very well do without one; but the other assures him he is under a mistake; that the Poticary is the most useful, and for this notable reason, that when any man feels that his “conscience is ready,” all he has to do is to send for the practitioner, who will at once despatch him.
Weary of their disputes for pre-eminence of merit and usefulness, the Pedler proposes that the other three shall strive for the mastery by lying, and that the greatest liar shall be recognised as head of the rest. The task he imposes on them cannot, he says, be a heavy one, for all are used to it. They are each to tell a tale. The Poticary commences, and the Pardoner follows. Their lies are deemed very respectable, but the Palmer is to be victorious, as he ends his tale in these words :
Yet have I seen many a mile,
Any one woman out of patience. Nothing can exceed the surprise of the other three at this astounding assertion, except the ingenuity with which they are made to express—unwillingly yet involuntarily—the Palmer's superiority in the most ancient and notable art of lying.”
Poticary. By the mass, there's a great lie!
Pedler. A greater! nay, knew you any one so great?
To John Still, master of arts of Christ's College, Cambridge, and subsequently archdeacon of Sudbury, and lastly bishop of Bath and Wells, is ascribed the first genuine comedy in our language. It was first acted in 1566, and was printed in 1575, under the following title : “A ryght pithy, pleasant, and merie Comedy, intytuled Gammer Gurton's Nedle; played on the stage not longe ago in Christe's Colledge, in Cambridge. Made by Mr. S., master of art.” As the first comedy in our language, it would demand attention, independent of its merit. But it has a sort of merit in its way. It is written in rhyme. The humor is broad, familiar, and grotesque. The characters are sketched with a strong, though coarse outline, and are to the last consistently supported. Some of the language, however, and many of the incidents, are such as give us no very favorable view of the manners of the times, when the most learned and polished of the land, the inmates of a university, could listen with delight to dialogue often tinctured with phrases of the lowest and grossest character, and that, too, written by a prelate. But, as a curiosity, we will give the outline of this old piece.
The characters consist of Diccon, a cunning wag, who lives on stolen bacon and mischief; Hodge, a mere bumpkin; Gammer Gurton, and Dame Chat, two brawling old wives; Mas Doctor Rat, an intermeddling priest, who would rather run the risk of a broken head than lose a tithe-pig; and Gib, the cat. The plot turns upon the loss of the Gammer's only needle,
A little thing with an hole in the end, as bright as any siller,
Small, long, sharp at the point, and straight as any pillar. The disaster happens while the dame is mending an article of clothing of her man Hodge. In the midst of the operation, Gib, the cat, who is no un. important personage in the play, disturbs the Gammer's serenity by making a furtive attempt on a pan of milk. The Gammer, in a passion, throws the before-mentioned article of apparel at Gib, and that valuable instrument of female economy is most unhappily lost. After a fruitless search in all imaginable places, Diccon, the bedlam, seeing that this affair would afford some sport, straightway hies him to Dame Chat, and tells her how Gammer Gurton has accused her of stealing her poultry. He next applies to the Gammer, and vows he saw Dame Chat pick up the needle at the Gammer's door. This brings the two old ladies together. The one accuses the other of steal. ing her goods, and from words they soon proceed to blows, in which Dame Chat comes off victorious. In this extremity the Gammer applies for relief to the curate, Doctor Rat. Here again Diccon interposes, and persuades the learned ecclesiastic to creep in the silent hour of night into Dame Chat’s, house, when he will see her at work with the aforesaid needle. Meanwhile Diccon gives Dame Chat notice that Hodge will that night pay an evil-inten. tioned visitation to her poultry. The dame accordingly prepares for his reception, and instead of the needle, the doctor meets with a door-bar, wielded by the masculine hand of the Dame, (who conceives it to be Hodge,) to the no small detriment of the said Doctor's skull. To the baily Gammer Gurton has now recourse; when, after a long argument, the author of the mischief is discovered, and enjoined a certain ceremony by way of expiation; and as a preliminary step, gives Hodge a smart thump on part of his person, that, to the recipient's great discomfiture, leads to the detection of the invaluable needle, which it seems had been securely lodged in that aforementioned article of clothing on which the Gammer had been at work.
Hoage's preparation for the pursuit of the fugitive needle, and his attempt to elicit a friendly spark from Gib's eyes to help him to light his candle, is described with great humor. The Gammer's boy says:
-Gammer, if ye will laugh, look in but at the door,
-some fire to find among the ashes dead,
And Hodge he hied him after, till broke were both his shins.
ROGER ASCHAM. 1515-1568.
The name of Roger Ascham deservedly ranks high in English literature. He was born in 1515, and took his degree at the University of Cambridge at the age of nineteen. That he was pre-eminently skilled in the Greek language, is evident from the fact that a few years after he left the University he was invited by Sir John Cheke to become preceptor of the learned languages to Elizabeth; which office he discharged for two years with great credit and satisfaction to himself, as well as to his illustrious pupil. Soon after this, he went abroad, and remained about three years in Germany. On his return he was selected to fill the office of Latin secretary to Edward VI., but on the death of the king he retired to the University. On the accession of Elizabeth he was immediately distinguished, and read with the queen, some hours every day, in the Latin and Greek languages. In this office, and in that of Latin Secretary, he continued at court for the remainder of his life. He died in September, 1568, at the age of fifty-three.
1 “Ascham entered Cambridge at a time when the last great revolution of the intellectual world was filling every academical mind with ardor or anxiety. The destruction of the Constantinopolitan empire, (1453) had driven the Greeks with their language into the interior parts of Europe, the art of printing had made the books easily attainable, and Greek now began to be taught in England. The doctrines of Luther had already filled all the nations of the Romish communion with controversy and dissension. New studies of literature, and new tenets of religion, found employment for all who were desirous of truth, or ambitious of fame. Learning was at that time prosecuted with that eagerness and perseverance which in this age of indifference and dissipation it is not easy to conceive. To teach, or to learn, was at once the business and the pleasure of academical life; and an emulation of study was raised by Cheke and Smith, to which even the present age perhaps owes many advantages, without remembering or knowing its benefactors." Read-Johnson's “Life of Ascham,” xii. 308, of Murphy's edition.
The two principal works of Ascham are the “Toxophilus” and “The School Master." The Toxophilus! is, as its name imports, a treatise upon archery; and the main design of Ascham in writing it was to apologize for the zeal with which he studied and practised the art of shooting, and to show the honor and dignity of the art in all nations and at all times, and its acknowledged utility not only in matters of war, but as an innocent and engaging pastime in times of peace. The whole work is in the dialogue form, the speakers being Toxophilus, a lover of archery, and Philologus, a student. After a very graceful introduction, Toxophilus proceeds to show that some relaxation and pastime are to be mingled with “sadde matters of the minde," a position which the studious Philologus endeavors to controvert.?
Philologus.—How much is to be given to the authority either of Aristotle or Tully, I cannot tell; this I am sure, which thing this fair wheat (God save it) maketh me remember, that those husbandmen which rise earliest, and come latest home, and are content to have their dinner and other drinkings brought into the field to them, for fear of losing of time, have fatter barns in the harvest than they which will either sleep at noon time of the day, or else make merry with their neighbours at the ale. And so a scholar that purposes to be a good husband, and desireth to reap and enjoy much fruit of learning, must till and sow thereafter. Our best seed time, which be scholars, as it is very timely and when we be young, so it endureth not over long, and therefore it may not be let slip one hour.
Toxophilus.-For contrarywise, I heard myself a good husband at his book once say, that to omit study some time of the day, and some cime of the year, made as much for the increase of learning, as to let the land lie some time fallow, maketh for the better increase of corn. This we see, if the land be ploughed every year, the corn cometh thin up; the ear is short, the grain is small, and when it is brought into the barn and threshed, giveth very evil faule. So those which never leave poring on their books, have oftentimes as thin invention as other poor men have, and as small wit and weight in it as in other men's. And thus your husbandry, methink, is more like the life of a covetous snudge that oft very evil proves, than the labour of
good husband, that knoweth well what he doth. And surely the best wits
1 From toron (Tokov), "a bow," and philcs (Pelos), “a friend." The original title runs thus:-"Toxophilus, the Schole or Partitions of Shootinge, contayned in II Bookes. Written by Roger Ascham 1544, and now newly perused. Pleasaunt for all Gentlemen and Yeomen of Englande, for theyr pastime to reade, and profitable for theyr use to followe, both in Warre and Peace."
2 For an admirable criticism of the works of Roger Ascham, see Retrospective Review, tv. 76: also, Johnson's Life, just quoted from : also, a well-written life in Hartley Coleridge's “Lives of Distinguished Northerns."