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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

§ 6. Miracles of Mary

Hereupon, however, the tendency manifested itself to compose in English, too, legendary narratives of miracles, besides Bible stories. We met with early instances of this in the period immediately after the Norman conquest; and the custom was specially fostered by the increasing cult of the Virgin Mary in the Roman Catholic church. Ever since the great religious movement of the eleventh century, we find in all European literatures a multitude of miraculous stories, which relate how those who devote themselves to the service of Mary are aided by her in seasons of oppression and peril, and how her protection is not denied even to wrongdoers and criminals, if they but show her the reverence which is her due. Dramatic handlings of the miracles of Mary are particularly frequent in French literature, where an example occurs so far back as the thirteenth century; and, in a MS. dating from the beginning of the fifteenth century, no less than forty of these plays are preserved. Events which have, originally, nothing to do with the legend of Mary are here, also, represented in dramatic form: thus, for instance, the story of Bertha, mother of Charlemagne, is fitted into this cycle by the single link of the heroine’s losing her way in a wood, where the Mother of God appears to her and consoles her. Such plays were probably known and popular in England also, though only one possible specimen of this group is now extant. In a parchment roll of the fourteenth century, a single part belonging to a drama in the east-midland dialect has been preserved: that of a duke Moraud. It is still recognisable that this drama was based on a story widely spread in medieval literature: that of a daughter who lived in incest with her father and, to keep the crime secret, murdered her child and her mother; whereupon, the father repenting of his sin, she murdered him also, but, shortly afterwards, fell herself into a state of deep contrition, confessed her crimes with tears and died a repentant sinner. This story was certainly quite suitable for dramatic treatment after the manner of the miracles of Mary; though this cannot be said to be satisfactorily proved by the one part preserved, that of the father. From the first words, addressed by the duke to the spectators, we learn that the play was produced for payment, within an enclosed space (“fold”)—whether by the members of some brotherhood, as was usually the case with French miracles, is not evident.