This document was originally published in The Drama: Its History, Literature and Influence on Civilization, vol. 7. ed. Alfred Bates. London: Historical Publishing Company, 1906. pp. 11-13.

Notwithstanding the intermittent hostility of the Parlement, farce outlived the graver drama from which it sprang. For some time past the popularity of the Mysteries and Miracles had been steadily declining. They had been spun out until the representation of the shortest occupied days, and the most pious spectator must have found them wearisome. They had ceased to be in harmony with the temper of the age. The dawn of latter-day civilization had broadened into what seemed almost as the perfect day. The intellectual agitation induced by the events of the last hundred years--the revival of ancient literature, the overthrow of the Ptolemaic system, the downfall of the Moors in Spain, the discoveries of Iberian navigators, political changes and the partial liberation of the Church--had lifted the human mind out of the narrow ruts in which it had so long been content to move. New idead began to hold sway; an ardent and restless spirit of inquiry was abroad in the land; opinions which seemed to be bound up with life itself were rejected or essentially altered. Unlike other medieval institutions, chivalry not excepted, religion emerged with added strength from the ordeal; for while a vague skepticism may have found expression in the pages of Rabelais and Montaigne, among the nation at large the old child-like simplicity of faith gave way to a higher sense of the dignity and grandeur of Christianity.

The Renaissance also served to raise the standard of literary taste, inasmuch as, aided by the invention of printing, it was bringing imperishable monuments of ancient poetry and prose within the reach of all who could read. Under these circumstances the sacred drama, with its odd intermixture of the sublime and the grotesque, its crudeness of form and substance, rapidly lost the charm it had once possessed. Catholics and Huguenots united in denouncing it as likely to bring religion into contempt, and its defects in the way of style were glaring enough to evoke a flood of ridicule. The Brethren of the Passion, so far from appreciating the necessity of reforming their entertainments, sought to compensate themselves for the coldness of the lettered playgoers by appealing more than ever to the unlettered--in other words, by giving increased prominence to satire and scandal. By this change of policy they simply accelerated their doom; and a few years later, the French religious drama, the oldest institution of the kind in western Europe, passed away with the state of society which permitted such things to exist.


The great majority of the priesthood could not reconcile themselves to the purely secular drama, especially after they saw that a great revolution was in progress about them. Might not the theatre be employed to disseminate ideas more or less inimical to their doctrines and pretensions? Were they not really warming a viper in their bosom? The decree of 1548, abolishing the religious drama, did away with the only reason they had for dissembling their hostility to the farce--namely, a reluctance to throw discredit upon an institution which partly devoted itself to the service of Christianity. Henceforward the clergy were uncompromising opponents of theatrical amusement in any shape. They reprehended play-going as incompatible with true devotion, purity of life and sobriety of thought. They condemned the actor to a kind of social outlawry, declaring that, unless he solemnly forswore his profession, he could not receive the holy communion or be entitled to Christian burial.

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