Home  »  Volume V: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part One  »  § 10. Opposition of the Clergy to secular entertainments

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

I. The Origins of English Drama

§ 10. Opposition of the Clergy to secular entertainments

Gradually, the professional secular entertainers, who, as we saw, were unlikely to forego such a chance of attracting the public, sought to compete with the clerics and to interfere with their monopoly; in the middle of the thirteenth century, it was certainly no unheard-of thing for secular players to solicit the favour of audiences—surely by means of plays in the vernacular; in 1258, they were forbidden to give such performances in the monasteries of the land. Either this prohibition was effectual, or the practice never became quite common; for, a century and a half later, Lydgate, though in some of the verses he wrote to accompany the mummings of his age he showed a strong dramatic instinct, makes no mention of players in his poem Danse Macabre, while among the representatives of divers classes of men he introduces minstrels and “tragitours” (i.e. jugglers).

Thus, then, it seems clear that what dramatic performances were to be seen in England during the later part of the eleventh, the twelfth and the greater part of the thirteenth centuries, were mainly in the hands of the clergy. Attempts were not wanting, even in this early period, to free from exclusive clerical control a species of entertainment the popularity of which was continually on the increase; and there doubtless were from the first, as there certainly were later, voices in the church itself which reprobated loudly and authoritatively this method of attracting the public to the church door or its vicinity.