Drama in England originated from religion. In the Middle Ages, church services were conducted in Latin which most of the congregation did not understand. The church wanted to provide people delight as well as spiritual uplift. The clergy, therefore, used to act episodes from the life of Christ or scenes from the Bible especially on special occasions like Christmas and Easter. Elaboration of the church ritual and liturgy became the earliest kinds of dramatic Performances. Soon the Latin dialogue was replaced by the vernacular. Later purely vernacular plays were composed. one of the earliest plays was ‘Adam’ . Such plays were performed within the church and the monks and priests participated as actors. As time passed the churches could not accommodate the large crowds that assembled to see the church plays. So the performances were taken outside into the areas surrounding the church. This change of locale and the introduction of the vernacular marked a breakaway from the church tradition. Drama, thus, became secular, more humorous, and less rigid. Soon dramatic performances were taken over by the town guilds and this tradition continued till the 16th century.
MIRACLES AND MYSTERIES:
The trade guilds produced a connected series or cycle of dramas under the supervision of the church. These plays dealt with scriptural events. By the 14th century, two types of drama came into existence – the miracles and the mysteries. The Miracle plays dealt with the lives of saints and the Mystery plays with themes taken from the Bible. They were shown at separate ‘stations’ in the town on wheeled theatres or stages drawn by horses. Actors were the members of the guilds; spectacular theatrical effects were produced on the stage; costumes were simple and humourous elements were provided. Four such cycles of Mystery plays are preserved today. These plays are chaotic in construction and the language used is often stilted. But the Mysteries gave the people of England a taste for theatrical shows and prepared the ground for the Elizabethan drama.
MORALITIES AND INTERLUDES:
By the middle of the 15th century, the drama began to show new trends. It substituted moral teaching for religious instruction. Characters were no longer Biblical figures but personified virtues and vices. A stock character was ‘vice’. These plays were called Moralities. The best known among them was ‘ Everyman’. The cardinal feature of the Moralities was the pursuit of Everyman by evil forces and his rescue by Conscience or Wisdom. These plays were poetic and imaginative. The thoughts and emotions of characters were personified and there was even some sense of construction and unity. Morality plays to mark the beginning of soul struggle which later became a marked trait of Elizabethan Drama. Two other important Morality plays were ‘ Mankind’ and ‘ The castle of Preservance’. Towards the close of the 15th century, a new form of drama called The Interlude appeared. It may be defined as a play midst other festivities. It was a transitional form of drama between Morality and Elizabethan drama. Interludes were marked by witty dialogue and discussion. The best writer of Interludes was John Heywood. His important interludes are ‘ The Play of the Weather’, ‘A Play of Love’ and ‘The Fours Ps’. Interludes were free from didacticism. There was a mixture of fun and rich sentiment in them. Comedy and farce began with the Interludes. Sir Thomas More and Rastell were two other important writers of interludes.