Home  »  Volume V: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part One  »  § 8. The Harrowing of Hell

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

§ 8. The Harrowing of Hell

A poem on Christ’s descent to hell, from the middle of the thirteenth century (The Harrowing of Hell), which has often been called the oldest English drama, does not, in reality, belong to this species; it is, for the most part, in dialogue; but, in the beginning, the author says: “A strif will I tellen on, Of Jesu and of Satan”; and, at the end, he likewise speaks in his own person. Evidently, the poem was intended to be delivered, with changes of voice, by a professional reciter—an art that had been brought to great perfection by the wandering Jongleurs.