English Miracle Plays, Moralities and Interludes: Specimens of the Pre-Elizabethan Drama


At the outset of his enquiries almost every student of the modern drama is found instinctively peering through long centuries of darkness for some glimmerings of the brilliant torch-light of Greek tragedy. In this pious desire to connect new things with old, to link together the names of Æschylus and Shakespeare, the services of a motley crew are called into requisition, in which poets, philosophers, saints, mimes, jugglers, monks, nuns, bishops and tradesfolk have all to play their part; but the pedigree is like that of many a modern genealogy, clear at the beginning and the end, with a huge hiatus gaping between. Under the later Roman Empire the drama died a natural death, not because the Church condemned it, but by a lust for sheer obscenity and bloodshed which made true dramatic writing impossible. Until the theatres in which men were made to die and women to prostitute themselves, not in show but in reality, had long been closed and forgotten, the stage was something too vile and horrible for any attempt to Christianize it; nor could the innate dramatic instincts of mankind again find free play amid the unhealthy surroundings of a dying civilization. Yet one piece of positive evidence has long been quoted and re-quoted to the contrary. A drama entitled Xριστὸς IIάσχων, on the subject of the Passion of Christ and the sorrows of the Blessed Virgin, has been generally attributed to St. Gregory Nazianzene , a writer of the fourth century. Save for the absence of lyrical choruses, it is cast strictly upon the lines of Greek tragedy, and it is interesting to classical scholars because, together with a few verses from Æschylus (chiefly from the Prometheus Vinctus), the writer has incorporated into his play several hundred lines of Euripides, many of which have not . . .

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • Oxford
Publication year:
  • 1927
  • 8th


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