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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.

II. Secular Influences on the Early English Drama

§ 2. Influence of English Minstrels on Religious Plays

In France, where conditions were more favourable, a definite influence was exerted by professional minstrels on the religious drama. In England, it was not so. There is, indeed, some slight evidence that minstrels, to some extent, took up the composition and performance of religious plays. For the most part, however, their share appears to have been limited to supplying the music and, occasionally, some comic relief, in the later days when town, parish or guild had taken over from the church the production of the miracle.

When, therefore, we look for the influence of the minstrel on the formation of the English drama, we find it to be, at any rate until the fifteenth century, of the very slightest. The superior class, whose art descended from that of scop and trouvère, may have prepared the ground for the morality by the composition, if not the recitation by two mouths, of estrifs in dialogue form. The lower class may have been of service in two ways: first, by their preservation of the art of the puppet-show or “motion,” though, even here, during the later period, when a dramatic literature for puppets can be distinctly traced and the nascent secular drama was ripe for its influence, that art appears to have been chiefly practised by new-comers from the continent; and, secondly, by their relation, noted above, to the art of farce. But, perhaps, the most genuine service performed by both classes up to the fifteenth century was nothing more than that of keeping alive the desire to be amused; while, in the case of the lower class, we may add to this the fact that they did consistently carry on, no matter how poorly, the practice which lies at the root of dramatic art and of the pleasure to be gained from it—that of pretending to be someone or something else.