Home  »  Volume III: English RENASCENCE AND REFORMATION  »  § 12. Magnyfycence

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume III. Renascence and Reformation.

IV. Barclay and Skelton

§ 12. Magnyfycence

The morality Magnyfycence, written about 1516, is the only specimen of the poet’s dramatic production that has come down to us. The hero, Magnyfycence, is brought to ruin by the joint efforts of Fancy, Counterfet Countenaunce, Crafty Conveyaunce, Clokyd Colusyon, Courtly Abusyon, Lyberte and Folly. Left alone after his fall, “naked as an asse,” he is visited by Adversyte, Poverte, Dyspare and Myschefe, and is just about to slay himself, when Goodhope, Redresse, Sad Cyrcumspeccyon and Perseveraunce save him and restore him to his former prosperity. There is a good deal of tedious moralising in the play. Especially at the end, Magnyfycence, whose change of mind is somewhat sudden, is simply drowned in good lessons. His grandiloquence before his fall, reminding one of Herod in the miracle-play, is as exaggerated as are his pitiful lamentations after it. The intrigue is rather cheap and by no means new; and the allegorical characters, except, perhaps, Poverty, are not so well drawn as in The Bowge of Courte, where Skelton had treated a similar subject. The length of the play is out of proportion to its meagre contents, and the whole is somewhat monotonous and lifeless, except for a few comic scenes, written in the short verse Skelton favoured. There are many satirical hints all through the play, and it has been suggested that it was meant as a warning to Henry VIII and as a first veiled attack on Wolsey. In construction and plan, Magnyfycence is very much like the older moralities, and there are analogies even in single traits. In one respect, however, it is entirely different. Whereas, in the others, the subject is always very much the same, namely, the struggle of good and evil in human nature, we find here, for the first time, an attempt to treat a special case. Magnyfycence is not man in general, who falls, repents and is forgiven, but he is the type of a nobleminded prince who is ruined by misapplied liberality. So, in spite of its obvious shortcomings, the play holds an important place in the history of English drama. It marks the transition from the older purely religious moralities to the secular allegorical drama.