Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

Home Main Menu Order Support About Search



Share page  


Previous Contents Next

THE CHRISTIAN FEAST
the market-place, and to be played not only by the clergy but by laymen. This change had extremely important effects on their character. In the first place the vulgar tongue crept in. As early, possibly, as the twelfth century are the Norman " Adam " and the Spanish " Misterio de los Reyes Magos," the former, as we have seen, an extended vernacular " Prophetae," the latter, a fragment of a highly developed vernacular " Stella." They are the first of the popular as distinguished from the liturgical plays ; they were meant, as their language shows, for the instruction and delight of the folk ; they were not to be listened to, like the mysterious Latin of the liturgy, in uncomprehending reverence, but were to be understanded of the people.
The thirteenth and fourteenth centuries saw a progressive supplanting of Latin by the common speech, until, in the great cycles, only a few scraps of the church language were left to tell of the liturgical origin of the drama. The process of populariza­tion, the development of the plays from religious ceremonial to lively drama, was probably greatly helped by the goliards or vagabond scholars, young, poor, and fond of amusement, who wandered over Europe from teacher to teacher, from monastery to monastery, in search of learning. Their influence is shown not merely in the broadening of the drama, but also in its passing from the Latin of the monasteries to the language of the common folk.
A consequence of the outdoor performance of the plays was that Christmas, in the northern countries at all events, was found an unsuitable time for them. The summer was naturally preferred, and we find comparatively few mentions of plays at Christmas in the later Middle Ages. Whitsuntide and Corpus Christi became more popular dates, especially in England, and the pieces then performed were vast cosmic cycles, like the York, Chester, Towneley, and "Coventry" plays, in which the, Christmas and Epiphany episodes formed but links in an immense chain extending from the Creation to the Last Judgment, and representing the whole scheme of salvation. It is in these Nativity scenes, however, that we have the only English renderings of the Christmas story in drama,9 and though they
128
Previous Contents Next