Reference > Cambridge History > The Drama to 1642, Part One > The Early Religious Drama > Object and value of the production of Mysteries
  Saints’ Plays Early Moralities  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume V. The Drama to 1642, Part One.

III. The Early Religious Drama.

§ 17. Object and value of the production of Mysteries.


That the production of mysteries was a pious and godly work, so long as humour did not enter into them too largely, seems, in the period during which this species of plays flourished, to have been as little doubted in England as in other countries. It was believed that men were effectually deterred from sin if the punishment of it by the devil was shown forth in a play; that, by the bodily representation of the sufferings of Christ and the saints, spectators could be moved to tears of pity, and, in this way, become possessed of the gratia lacrimarum, to which medieval ascetics attached a great value. And, besides, they thought that it was very useful for common folk to see the events of sacred history thus bodily and visually presented before them and that, since occasional relaxation was a common need, religious plays were indisputably better than many other diversions. A singular exception to this universal opinion occurs in an English tract, composed towards the end of the fourteenth century, and evidently connected with the Wyclifite movement.  2  The author of this tract points out that, by the mysteries, people are drawn away from more precious works of love and repentance, and allows no moral value to the tears of spectators of the passion, since Christ Himself blamed the women who wept for Him. In several points, the author’s ideas already resemble the later puritan opposition to the stage.   24

Note 2. Cf. Vol. VI, Chap. XIV. [ back ]

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  Saints’ Plays Early Moralities  
 
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