Home  »  Volume V: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part One  »  § 2. School Dramas of Hilarius

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

III. The Early Religious Drama

§ 2. School Dramas of Hilarius

Another species of Latin church drama consisted of the plays acted by pupils in monastery schools in honour of their patron saints. The younger pupils honoured as their patron St. Nicholas, whose cult, after the transportation of his body from Asia Minor to Bari in 1087, spread over all Europe, and of whom legends told how, on one occasion, he restored to life three convent pupils put to death for the sake of their money. The patron of older pupils was St. Catharine of Alexandria, who had been victorious in disputes against heathen philosophers. The best evidence of the existence of these plays is, again, furnished from England. About the year 1110, Godefroy of Le Mans, a Frenchman, headmaster of the monastery school at Dunstable, caused his pupils to perform a play on St. Catharine; as costumes for the players, he borrowed church robes from the abbey of St. Albans, to which the school belonged. As it chanced that, on the following night, these robes were burnt in his lodgings, Godefroy—so Matthew Paris tells us—offered himself in compensation and entered the monastery as a monk. But the most remarkable of all school dramas are those composed by HIlarius, a pupil of Abelard, about 1125. Hilarius, probably, was an Englishman, for a large proportion of his verses are addressed to English persons; at all events, he is the first definite personality in the way of a dramatic author who crosses the student’s path. In the collection of his poems, worldly merriment and loose libertinism are apparent, together with all the enchanting melody characteristic of the songs of vagrant clerks. This collection contains three small religious dramas, two of which belong to the Christmas- and Easter-cycles, respectively; the third is a half-humorous play about St. Nicholas, who helps a barbarus to recover a treasure stolen from him. In this play, the poet intersperses his Latin verses with French.