Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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Late examples of French Christmas mysteries are the so-called " comedies " of the Nativity, Adoration of the Kings, Massacre of the Innocents, and Flight into Egypt contained in the "Marguerites" (published in 1547) of Marguerite, Queen of Navarre, sister of Francois I. Intermingled with the traditional figures treated more or less in the traditional way are personified abstractions like Philosophy, Tribulation, Inspiration, Divine Intelligence, and Contemplation, which largely rob the plays of dramatic effect. There is some true poetry in these pieces, but too much theological learning and too little simplicity, and in one place the ideas of Calvin seem to show themselves.20
The French mystery began to fall into decay about the middle of the sixteenth century. It was attacked on every side : by the new poets of the Renaissance, who preferred classical to Christian subjects ; by the Protestants, who deemed the religious drama a trifling with the solemn truths of Scripture ; and even by the Catholic clergy, who, roused to greater strictness by the challenge of Protestantism, found the comic elements in the plays offensive and dangerous, and perhaps feared that too great familiarity with the Bible as represented in the mysteries might lead the people into heresy.21 Yet we hear occasionally of Christmas dramas in France in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. In the neighbourhood of Nantes, for instance, a play of the Nativity by Claude Macee, hermit, probably written in the seventeenth centurv, was commonly performed in the first half of the nineteenth.22 At Clermont the adoration of the shepherds was still performed in 1718, and some kind of representation of the scene continued in the diocese of Cambrai until 1834, when it was forbidden by the bishop. In the south, especially at Marseilles, " pastorals " were played towards the end of the nine­teenth century; they had, however, largely lost their sacred character, and had become a kind of review of the events of the year.23 At Dinan, in Brittany, some sort of Herod play was performed, though it was dying out, in 1886. It was acted by young men on the Epiphany, and there was an " innocent" whose throat they pretended to cut with a wooden sword.24
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