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Catholic And Protestant Dramas
by [?]

Literature, and the arts connected with it, in this free country, have been involved with its political state, and have sometimes flourished or declined with the fortunes, or been made instrumental to the purposes, of the parties which had espoused them. Thus in our dramatic history, in the early period of the Reformation, the Catholics were secretly working on the stage; and long afterwards the royalist party, under Charles the First, possessed it till they provoked their own ruin. The Catholics, in their expiring cause, took refuge in the theatre, and disguised the invectives they would have invented in sermons, under the more popular forms of the drama, where they freely ridiculed the chiefs of the new religion, as they termed the Reformation, and “the new Gospellers,” or those who quoted their Testament, as an authority for their proceedings. Fuller notices this circumstance. “The popish priests, though unseen, stood behind the hangings, or lurked in the tyring-house.”[1] These found supporters among the elder part of their auditors, who were tenacious of their old habits and doctrines; and opposers in the younger, who eagerly adopted the term Reformation in its full sense.

This conduct of the Catholics called down a proclamation from Edward the Sixth, (1549,) when we find that the government was most anxious that these pieces should not be performed in “the English tongue;” so that we may infer that the government was not alarmed at treason in Latin.[2] This proclamation states, “that a great number of those that be common players of interludes or plays, as well within the city of London as elsewhere, who for the most part play such interludes as contain matter tending to sedition, etc., etc., whereupon are grown, and daily are like to grow, much division, tumult, and uproars in this realm. The king charges his subjects that they should not openly or secretly play in the English tongue any kind of Interlude, Play, Dialogue, or other matter set forth in form of Play, on pain of imprisonment,” etc.[3]

This was, however, but a temporary prohibition; it cleared the stage for a time of these Catholic dramatists; but reformed Enterludes, as they were termed, were afterwards permitted.

These Catholic dramas would afford some speculations to historical inquirers: we know they made very free strictures on the first heads of the Reformation, on Cromwell, Cranmer, and their party; but they were probably overcome in their struggles with their prevailing rivals. Some may yet possibly lurk in their manuscript state. We have, printed, one of those Moralities, or moral plays, or allegorical dramatic pieces, which succeeded the Mysteries in the reign of Henry the Eighth, entitled “Every Man:” in the character of that hero, the writer not unaptly designates Human Nature herself.[4] This comes from the Catholic school, to recall the auditors back to the forsaken ceremonies of that church; but it levels no strokes of personal satire on the Reformers. Percy observed that, from the solemnity of the subjects, the summoning of man out of the world by death, and by the gravity of its conduct, not without some attempts, however rude, to excite terror and pity, this Morality may not improperly be referred to the class of Tragedy. Such ancient simplicity is not worthless to the poetical antiquary; although the mere modern reader would soon feel weary at such inartificial productions, yet the invention which may be discovered in these rude pieces would be sublime, warm with the colourings of a Gray or a Collins.

On the side of the Reformed we have no deficiency of attacks on the superstitions and idolatries of the Romish church; and Satan, and his old son Hypocrisy, are very busy at their intrigues with another hero called “Lusty Juventus,” and the seductive mistress they introduce him to, “Abominable Living:” this was printed in the reign of Edward the Sixth. It is odd enough to see quoted in a dramatic performance chapter and verse, as formally as if a sermon were to be performed. There we find such rude learning as this:–