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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.

III. The Early Religious Drama

§ 5. Jacob and Esau

The earliest purely English drama known to us (if ten Brink’s date be right) was a play on Jacob and Esau, now only preserved as part of one of the large collections of mysteries of the fifteenth century, the Towneley Mysteries, where it is distinguished from its surroundings by its short, detached manner of representing facts, as well as by the simplicity of its versification (short riming couplets). It is possible that this play, in its original connection, belonged to a series of prophetical plays: that is to say, plays in which some of the chief passages from Old Testament history are selected in chronological order, and which were produced in the Christmas season, with the intention of showing forth the birth of Christ as the fulfilment and conclusion of the whole process of historical evolution preceding it.