London – The First Theatres – 1378 – Parish Clubs

This article is from the book London – Volume 3 published in 1824 by Sholto and Reuben Percy – Brothers of the Benedictine Monastery – it covers the history of London’s theatres from the 1100s through to the 1800s.

London – The First Theatres – 1378 – Parish Clubs

The mysteries were succeeded by the moralities, which made a nearer approach to dramatic representation. They were, as Mr. Hone, in his work on Ancient Mysteries, observes, “dramatic allegories, in which the characters personify certain vices or virtues, with the intent to inforce some moral or religious principle. “A curious copy of one of those moralities, entitled the “Castle of Good Perseverance,” was formerly in the library of the late  Dr. Cox Macro, the first leaf of which contains not only directions to the players, but the colour of the dresses they shall wear. The three daughters are denoted to be clad, “i metelys,” that is appropriately; Mercy with righteousness in red altogether, Truth in sad green, and Peace all in black; and the person that plays Belial is particularly cautioned to have gunpowder burning in pipes in his hands, eyes, and other places when he goeth to battle.

When the reformation took place, mysteries and moralities, which had been expressly employed in favour of the Roman Catholic religion, were resorted to in order to overturn it, and was found a good auxiliary for such a purpose.

The parish clubs appear to have been rivalled in the performing of mysteries and moralities by “the children of Powles,” as a body of juvenile actors, to whom the English drama is considerably indebted, was called. They can be traced back as far as the year 1378, when they petitioned Richard II. to prohibit ignorant persons from acting the history of the Old Testament, as they had been at great expense in preparing it for the ensuing Christmas. The place of exhibition was generally their school room near St. Paul’s, where they continued to act their mysteries and moralities until the year 1580, when, on account of the plague, all interludes were prohibited and the house pulled down. The price of admission was about two pence. The children of Paul’s sometimes exhibited before Queen Elizabeth at Whitehall and Greenwich, and after their school had been erased to the ground they performed at Blackfriars.

Excerpt from London Volume 3 1824 by Sholto and Reuben Percy – Brothers of the Benedictine Monastery

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Further reading and external links

William Shakespeare on Wikipedia

The Globe Theatre on Wikipedia

Sholto and Rueben Percy