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

V. Early English Comedy

§ 11. Continental Humanist Drama

Both Calisto and Melebea and Lucrece, though designed in interlude form, show the influences of the classical revival. It was from this revival and the neo-Latin drama which followed in its wake that English comedy, in the full sense, finally sprang. The influence of the Roman stage never became entirely extinct throughout the medieval period, as Hroswitha’s religious adaptations of Terence in the tenth century help to testify. Among his services to dawning humanism, Petrarch, about 1331, wrote a Terentian comedy, Philologia, and later products of a kindred type in Italy were Aretino’s Poliscene (c. 1390) and Ugolino’s Philogena, before 1437. The recovery of the twelve lost plays of Plautus in 1427 was a powerful stimulus to the study of Roman dramatists in Italy and to the representation of their works and of neo-Latin imitations of them. This movement soon spread beyond the Alps. A representation of Terence’s Andria in the original took place at Metz in 1502, though the first attempt to perform it had to be abandoned owing to the riotous conduct of the spectators who did not understand Latin. Ravisius Textor, professor of rhetoric in the college of Navarre, at Paris, and, afterwards, rector of the university of Paris, wrote a number of Latin Dialogi for performance by his pupils. They were published, after his death, in 1530, and, though more akin to the interlude than to Roman comedy, they exercised, as will be seen, considerable influence. In Teutonic countries, neo-Latin drama had a still more vigorous growth. The German humanist, Reuchlin, in his Henno (1498) put the rogueries of Patelin into Terentian dress. Holland, early in the sixteenth century, produced a school of dramatists who, touched by the moral fervour of the reformation movement, gave the setting of Roman comedy to Biblical themes. A notable group of these plays, written for performance by young scholars, were variations on the story of the Prodigal Son. The most brilliant and popular plays of this type were the Asotus and the Rebelles of George Macropedius, the Acolastus of William Gnaphaeus, and the Studentes of Christopher Stymmelius. Another group of Biblical comedies, including those by Xystus Betuleius of Basel, centred round such figures as Ruth, Susanna and Judith. Scriptural personages of a different type, such as Haman, furnished protestant controversialists with materials for polemical plays directed against the Roman pontiff. This anti-papal drama culminated in the Pammachius (1538) of Thomas Kirchmayer (Naogeorgos) in which the Roman anti-Christ was overwhelmed in an unparalleled prodigality of saturnine humour.