Home  »  Volume V: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part One  »  § 2. Estrifs

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

§ 2. Estrifs

A certain species of English dialogues, however, to which reference is made in the next chapter, and of which examples are to be found both before and after the Norman conquest, the estrifs, one of the forms of the Old French débats, must be allowed to contain dramatic elements, or the possibilities of dramatic development; and one of these, The Harrowing of Hell, dealt with a theme afterwards treated in religious drama (both in an isolated piece and in two of the collective mysteries). In The Pride of Life, which, in its turn, has been described as the earliest written text of an English morality, a contention of this sort, as we learn from the prologue to the fragmentary play, was introduced in the shape of a disputation between body and soul, held at the request of the Blessed Virgin, after the devils had laid hands on the King of Life’s soul, in the struggle of the King with Death. Other debates of the kind may, likewise, have incidentally influenced the early growth of English drama; but no general connection between it and Old English literature has been proved.