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FRANCISCAN INFLUENCES ON EARLY ENGLISH DRAMA In the past century much scholarly work has been done on medieval English religious drama. Surviving texts have been carefully edited. Origins and development have been studied. The influence of medieval religious plays on the dramatic flowering of sixteenthcentury England has been investigated and evaluated. Repeatedly in this scholarship the Franciscans are mentioned in passing as having made an important contribution to medieval religious drama in England. But nowhere is there to be found a detailed treatment of this contribution by the Friars Minor, despite the bulk of Franciscana which has arisen in English literature in the last three generations. It would seem, therefore, that there is a call for a study with a two-fold purpose: First, to examine die Franciscan vocation and spirit to see if it offers a basis for the favoring of drama, and second, to gather together as many specific examples as possible which show Franciscan influence on medieval English drama. It is extremely fortunate diat diere has been preserved one piece of Middle English literature which specifically treats of the dramatic presentations of the Friars Minor; it is a verse satire of the latter half of the fourteenth century entitled On the Minorite Friars. After an examination of the Franciscan spirit for drama-favoring qualities, and an enumeration of activities of the Franciscans in medieval England which directly or indirectly show a dramatic spirit, a detailed analysis and interpretation will be made of On the Minorite Friars. The net result of this study will show the great importance of the Friars Minor in relation to the whole dramatic movement of the middle ages in England. I. THE FRAClSCAN SPIRtT OF DRAMA AND ITS MANIFESTATIONS IN MEDIEVAL ENGLAND In order to see the contribution of the Franciscans to early English drama in proper perspective, it is necessary to show that 383 384FRANCISCANS AND EARLY ENGLISH DRAMA the dramatic spirit is inherent in the Order of Friars Minor. Closely linked to this spirit of drama is the Order's constant tradition of song and joy. These properties of the Franciscan Order were a direct heritage from St. Francis himself. That the spirit of song sprang from Francis is seen in the fact that he loved to sing in French, and played imaginary tunes with two crossed sticks as his violin and bow. There is a story that he sang in competition widi a nightingale, but confessed himself beaten; and he vainly pleaded with a stiffly decorous brother, whom the Lord have given the grace of musicianship, to play a tune for him; but his plea did *hot go unheard - legend tells that an angel appeared and enraptured Francis' poetic soul with heavenly music. After Francis had composed the Canticle of the Sun he seriously contemplated having his sons sing it at the end of their sermons; finally, his beloved Sister Death came to embrace Francis, and as the Saint died singing a psalm, celestial music of ineffable beauty was heard ringing around his deathbed.1 As for the dramatic element in St. Francis' life, it is clearly seen in his dramatization of the Nativity as related by St. Bonaventure: Contigit autem anno tertio ante obitum suum, ut memoriam nativitatis pueri Jesu ad devotionem excitandam apud castrum Graecii disponeret ager, cum quanta maiori solemnitate valeret. Ne vero hoc novitati posset ascribi, a Summo Pontífice petita et obtenta licentia, fecit praeparari praesepium, apportari foenum, bovem et asinum ad locum adduci. Advocantur Fratres, adveniunt populi, personat silva voces, et venerabilis ilia nox luminibus copiosis et claris laudibusque sonoris et consonis et spendens efficitur et solemnis. Stabat vir Dei coram praesepio pietate repletus, respersus lacrymis et gaudio superfusus. Celebrantur Missarum solemnia super praesepe, levita Christi Francisco sacrum Evangelium decantante. Praedicat deinde populo circumstanti de nativitate pauperis Regis, quem, cum nominare vellet, puerum de Bethlehem prae amoris teneritudine nuncupabat. Miles autem quidam virtuosus et verax, qui, propter Christi amorem saeculari relicta militia, viro Dei magna fuit familiaritate conjunctus, dominus Joannes de Graeccio, se vidisse asseruit puerulum quendam valde formosum in illo praesepio dormientem, quern beatus pater Franciscus, ambobus complexans brachiis, excitare videbatur a somno. 1.Cf. Vida Scudder, The Franciscan Adventure (Letchworth, Herts: The...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-9718
Print ISSN
0080-5459
Pages
pp. 383-417
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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