Interludes: in The Development of English Comedy

Also Read

      In passing from the Morality proper to the Interludes, we pass from symbolism to realism. It has to be noted that unless we confine the term Interlude to those plays of a realistic sort, we can find no strict line of demarcation between it and the term 'Morality'. The Hyckescomer is in the main a morality, yet shows a clear development towards the greater elaboration of purely comic elements. It is with Rastell, Medwall, Sir Thomas More and John Heywood, that we begin to move into a new realm. These Interludes had several peculiar features- it was a short play that introduced real characters usually of humble rank, such as citizens and friars; allegorical figures were absent; there was much broad farcical humor, often coarse, and there were set scenes, a new feature in the English drama. In these respects, Interludes mark a further advance upon morality plays.

Interludes mark an advancement upon morality plays.

      Morality Plays and Interludes. A later stage in the evolution of the drama is marked by the morality play. This, like the miracle play, was didactic; but its characters, instead of being taken from sacred narratives, or the legends of the saints, were personified abstractions. The rise of this form of drama was very natural at a time when allegorical poetry was immensely popular. All sorts of mental and moral qualities thus appeared embodied in types—Science, Perseverance, Mundus, Free Will, the Five Senses, the Seven Deadly Sins (separately or together), Good and Bad Angels, Now-a-Days, Young England, Lusty Juventus, Humanum Genus, Everyman. Among such personifications (of which the foregoing are, of course, only examples), there was generally a place for the Devil, who had held a prominent position in the miracle plays. A later introduction of much importance was the so-called Vice, who was some humorous incarnation of evil taken on the comic side, and as such was the recognized fun-maker of the piece. He sometimes scored a tremendous popular success by jumping on the Devil’s back, sticking thorns into him, belaboring him with a dagger of lath, and making him roar with pain. He is specially interesting as the direct forerunner of the clown of the Elizabethan stage. As the morality play was not, like the miracle play, obliged to follow the prescribed lines of any given story, it had greater freedom in the handling both of plot and of characters. During the excitement of the Reformation period it was much used for purposes of exposition, and even of controversy by both religious parties; one of the finest extant examples, the play of Everyman, for instance, being written expressly to inculcate the sacramental doctrines of the Catholic Church. Little by little, as the personified abstractions came more and more to resemble individual persons, the morality passed insensibly into comedy.

      What is known as the interlude was also a late, product of the dramatic development of the morality play. There is indeed some confusion regarding the exact scope and proper use of this word, for many so-called interludes are only modified forms of the morality; but in its more specific sense it seems to mean any short dramatic piece of a satiric rather than of a directly religious or ethical character, and in tone and purpose far less serious than the morality proper. This form grew up early in the sixteenth century, and is rather closely associated with the name of JOHN HEYWOOD (1497-1580), who for a time was court musician and general provider of entertainment to Henry VIII. His Four Ps, a dialogue in which a Palmer, a Pardoner, a Pothecary, and a Pedlar exchange racy stories, and finally enter into competition as to which of them can tell the biggest lie, is the most amusing specimen of its class. Interludes were also used for scholastic purposes, as in the Interlude of the Four Elements while in such a production as Thersytes, the addition of action turns the form into a sort of elementary comedy.

      One of the plays whose authorship is claimed for John Rastell is that of Calisto and Melebea. The writer based his play on an English version of the Spanish rogue story of Celestina. The English writer fails to employ the Spanish story to the full and while he opens with two lovers, he has such a firm eye on his moral conclusion that he achieves little by way of plot.

      It is to John Heywood (1497-1580), a jester at the Court of Mary goes the credit for raising the Interlude to the distinct dramatic form known as comedy. His plays are arguments and disputations between a number of characters with the addition of a comic element. Of these the neatest in its movement is The Play of the Wether (1532). Jupiter appoints Merry Report to call the people before him so that he may listen to the complaints of mortals on the weather. Merry Report is a comic rascal who addresses his master in the witty and impertinent conservation which Shakespeare's fools employ.

      Another of Heywood's plays was The four P's which is described as a new and very merry Interlude of a palmer, a pardoner, a apothecary and a pedlar. It is discussion and its strength lies in the vigor of the dialogue. The Four began telling lies. It is arranged that the one who tells the greatest lie will win a wager. The climax comes in the story of the pardoner, who tells of a visit to Hell, and of the rescue of a shrew. The palmer breaks in with the question, "Are there shrews in Hell?" he is surprised, for in all his travels he has never met a woman out of patience. His lie wins. The purpose of the play is comedy and not didacticism.

      Another Interlude which deserves mention is Fulgens and Lucres by Henry Medwall. A Roman senator has a daughter Lucres who has two suitors, one of humble birth and the other a noble. She asks her father what to do and her father asks the senate. The two suitors plead before the senate and nothing is decided. This unpromising plot is handled in the play with great skill. This play is an indication of what could be done already in the 15th century, independently of Italian models. The plays like 'Calisto and Malebea' and 'Fulgens and Lucres' are the basis on which was created the pure romantic comedy of Greene, Lyly and Shakespeare.

Previous Post Next Post

Search Your Questions