MEDIEVAL drama, in England as elsewhere, owes nothing to the tragedy and comedy of insolent Greece and haughty Rome. Before the Christian era began these were already a closed account. The plays of Seneca were probably intended for readers only. In the theatre of Pompey legendary stories were sung to the dancing of a pantomimus, and mimi, long branded with infamy, performed satirical and shameless farces. They did not spare the new religion, and in return the theatrical performances became the subject of many condemnations by ecclesiastical writers from the De Spectaculis of Tertullian onwards, and in more formal pronouncements by early councils of the western Church. If Augustine and others still retain some interest in the classical playwrights, it is as literature only, not as living drama. The degenerate theatre finally disappeared during the barbaric invasions of the sixth century, and the dispossessed histriones, as they were then called, were driven afoot, to merge with the descendants of the story-telling Teutonic poets, in the miscellaneous body of entertainers who haunted the towns and thoroughfares of the Middle Ages. They are still mimi and histriones, but also ioculatores, and, in so far as they became domesticated in courts or great houses, ministeriales, minstrels. Some tradition of impersonation, which, at any rate when accompanied with dialogue, amounts to drama, survived amongst them. There is playing of 'japis' or jests, as well as of more serious things, in the fourteenth century 'L'uns fet l'ivre, rautre le sot.' There are estrifs or disputes, and débats. As a body the minstrels inherit the clerical hostility evoked by the infamous element in their ancestry. They are condemned by the canon law, as codified by Gratian in the twelfth century, and by the Decretals of Gregory IX in the thirteenth. The Penitential of Thomas de Cabham, a little later, is more discriminating, and recognizes a higher as well as the lower element in minstrelsy. A few writers, in the twelfth century, and again in the fourteenth, use language which shows a consciousness of a theatrical origin for the lower element. Thus Walter Reynolds, who became Archbishop of Canterbury
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Publication information: Book title: English Literature at the Close of the Middle Ages. Contributors: E. K. Chambers - Author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1945. Page number: 1.
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